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Turning Desires Into Goals

The start of a New Year is traditionally a time for making new goals and plans. The definition of a plan is “a series of actions designed to achieve a desired result”. So what exactly is the result that you desire?

I listened to an interesting programme on Radio Four on the subject of “Desire” (you can listen to it here). The aim of the programme was to define what is desire, and to explore how it affects us as humans. It got me thinking about the role of desire in the financial planning process.

One of the interviewees on the programme suggested that, whilst we may often be consumed by desire, we actually aren’t at all clear what it is that we really want. I was struck by his statement that it is only through interaction with other people that we discover the true nature of our desires, which seemed a strange thing to say. Surely we know what we want?

The more I thought about it, though, the more I find myself in agreement. Reflecting on the hundreds of financial planning meetings I have conducted during my career, I realise that on very many occasions - perhaps most occasions - my clients object of desire does not start out as a clear goal, but rather as a feeling of optimism or dissatisfaction that needs to be nurtured, explored and clarified before it can be categorised as a goal.

Let’s take an example. Often, when asked to name an important goal, a person might refer to their desire to move home. But what is prompting this desire? I’ve found it productive to explore the underlying reason for a wish to move. Is it to get away from something (poor environment, unpleasant neighbours, cramped space) or towards something (a place to raise a family, be nearer to friends, access the countryside)? How will the move improve your life? What will your new home look like? Feel like? Sound like?

Asking these questions helps to clarify in a person’s mind the true nature of their desire, and as a result they can bring focus to their goal.

Here’s another example. I had a conversation recently with a professional couple, and they both expressed a desire to own property. I inquired as to the principal reason for their desire. Was it to make use of the property to improve their lifestyle, perhaps in the form of a holiday home? Or would their objective be to own property as an investment, and if so, to what end? How would they know what property to buy if they weren’t clear about its purpose? They seemed somewhat confused by the question, as though it should be obvious that ownership of a property for its own sake is a valid enough reason for harbouring this particular desire. I explained that, from my perspective, they seemed to be in love with the idea of property ownership and not the reality. If we were going to work on building an effective plan for them, we needed to separate and understand these desires.

It’s situations such as these that reinforce my view that good financial planning is about much more than simply putting together a portfolio of investments and organising someone’s tax affairs, in the same way that employing an architect to build your dream home is not just about specifying the bricks to be used and the room dimensions. Great architects take lots of time to discuss their clients’ requirements, asking plenty of questions about the way they will use their home, their family arrangements, hobbies, working patterns and future plans before they will be able to sit down and start designing a building that caters for the client’s unique situation. Having been through this process when we remodelled our home, I realise that our discussions with our architect helped to crystallise our desires, recognise them for what they were, and make plans that were much more practical in their execution. We are very much enjoying living in the home that resulted from this work.

So when it comes to getting clarity around your goals, it’s good to talk. Conversation helps crystallise ideas, and great questions help you to explore attitudes, beliefs and wishes to help you to discover what you truly desire. This discovery process is an essential step in creating a plan that is not only practical and achievable, but harnesses those desires in a way that is uniquely motivating. It’s why our planners are trained in coaching skills as well as money knowledge, and it’s why our clients report such a great experience when they work with us.

So this is a good place to ask; What is your desire? And do you need some help to find out?

Andy Jervis, CFP

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