Over the holiday weekend, I took up an activity that I hadn’t done in years. I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle, a 600-piece global map, isn’t one that I chose personally. To be honest, I’m not sure how we even came to own it. All I know is once my 4-year-old discovered it, the game was afoot. We cleared out space on our kitchen table, organized our snack bowl, and got to work.
We had several sessions over the course of the weekend to work on the puzzle. The financial planner in me did my best to organize our endeavor so that it wouldn’t be mass chaos. We began by collecting all of the black pieces, which would make up the frame. This was a simple task, and it set the stage for our work together. I showed my son the picture on the box, and I shared with him that the picture would give us the visual guide we needed to complete the puzzle.
Once we got the frame put together, I thought it would be best to begin working our way towards the middle from the outside edges. My geography skills are still surprisingly good, so it was easy to organize the pieces into piles that represented the major continents. As we began to put the continents together, we made a discovery—the countries didn’t interlock like normal puzzle pieces. This would mean that any slight nudge or movement would separate the delicately placed borders between pieces.
Our pace for completing the puzzle quickly slowed. We had to call an audible. Instead of continuing to work on the land masses, we turned our focus to building the oceans, which would hold the land pieces in place. The ocean pieces would interlock, so once we had them together, they were unified with our cause.
Now might be a good time to remind you that our planet’s surface is roughly 70% ocean.
Attacking the oceans was difficult. The makers of the puzzle had decided to print demographic information for each country onto the pieces that formed the oceans. Each of these pieces was also the exact same shade of blue, so forget any effort to quickly glance at the pieces for visual cues. We had to begin studying each piece.
More than once I thought to myself that there should be some kind of formula or cheat code to get these oceans assembled in a more timely manner. I didn’t find anything helpful until I discovered a crucial error on my part–I failed to fully read the instructions. On day 2 of working on this puzzle, long after my son had lost interest, there it was in plain English-
“The countries are listed in alphabetical order so that you can easily locate where they should be placed in forming the oceans. Once the oceans have been formed, they will create a frame to build the continents.”
The process for assembling the puzzle was there the whole time. I simply had been too confident in my own abilities to really look for it. Taking my own abilities for granted, I opened the box and we dove headfirst into the effort. Don’t get me wrong, I was enjoying the challenge of working on the puzzle. It was great mental escape. Had I followed the puzzle maker’s process, we would have completed the task in a much shorter time frame.
Process is important. You’ve probably heard something similar at some point. As a former athlete, I’ve heard this phrase countless times. Now, as a financial planner. the more I learn about retirement planning, selecting investment choices, psychology, and investor behaviors; the more I’m convinced that process is paramount. The puzzle story is a simplified example of how powerful an effective process can be—even when nothing is at stake.
When we are seeking investment help, choosing a financial advisor, or creating retirement income plans, how BIG are those stakes? When we are planning to make a permanent exit from work at our retirement age and transition into retirement, how crucial are those stakes? When the stakes are high, we cannot trust our emotions to guide us. One of my friends and favorite authors, Dr. Daniel Crosby, puts it this way:
“…the truth remains that emotion appears to be the enemy of great investing. In a joking-but-not-really moment, neurologist Antoine Bechara ventured that investors ought to be like ‘functional psychopaths’ to excel at making money. Effectively, they ought to drive out emotion at every turn.” (The Behavioral Investor, Crosby 2018)
Nature abhors a vacuum, so if we are going to work on driving out our emotions, we must replace them with something more reliable. This is where investors should look to time-tested and refined processes to guide decision making with their retirement accounts.
How do you begin to do this when planning for retirement? It all starts with creating a financial plan that reflects your true goals and values. Once you are clear on the true objectives, you can begin the process of stripping away everything that doesn’t support the cause.
I’m in the process of developing a new Goals & Aspirations worksheet for use in our practice. I’ve already stated that I believe that the first step towards achieving your financial goals should be to create a financial plan. However, it can also be helpful to spend some time getting clear about what you really want. In my experience, the greatest results tend to come when we use a planning process that aligns our dollars with our values.
If you’d like me to send you a copy of our Goals & Aspirations exercise, let’s connect!