A Better Way to Define Retirement

Imagine for a moment that you have your grandchild sitting on your lap, and you’re telling stories about when you were younger…when all of a sudden, out of the blue, your grandchild asks, “what’s retirement?”

After you get over the shock of hearing that question from your grandchild, and wondering where he or she ever came up with “that one”, stop and think about how you would answer that question?

This is a big issue because how you define retirement is a major factor in how you will live the rest of your life.

Society’s Definition = ROADBLOCK

For years, society has defined retirement as that period of time in your life when you stop working…when you get to enjoy the fruits of your lifetime of work.

For many people I’ve I met with, that definition is perfect. 

For many others, however, that definition is a big ROADBLOCK!

One of the reasons for this is they’re just not ready to stop working.  They’ve done it for so long, and it has become so much a part of who they are, that the thought of not working scares them a little.

What I’ve discovered in studying and working hands-on with so many individuals and couples who now confidently continue their same (or better) lifestyle into their retirement years without worrying about money is that their goal is not necessarily to stop working

They just want to know that they can afford to if they want to.

And, there’s a big difference.  Knowing that you don’t “have” to work changes everything.

A Better Definition of Retirement For You

So, a better definition of retirement that you can tell your grandchild is spending all of your time doing exactly:

  • what you want
  • when you want
  • where you want
  • with whomever you choose

And, most importantly, all without living under the constraints of worrying about money, i.e. with no dependence on a paycheck from work to support you.

If that includes working, great!  There is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, for many of our Relaxing Retirement members, I encourage it.

As long as you’re not working because you think you “have” to. 

That’s retirement!

To experience that, however, requires an abundance of financial confidence. 

One of the biggest challenges I’ve witnessed over the last 30+ years is transitioning from working, receiving a paycheck, and saving money your whole life, to no longer receiving that paycheck from the work you do.

To make matters even more difficult, you then have to begin spending the money you’ve taken your entire life to save.

I understand how strange this feels, so we created The Relaxing Retirement Coaching Program™ to help you implement the essential strategies and mindsets needed for an anxiety-free transition from your working years to your retirement years.

The program helps answer three key questions about your retirement transition so you can free yourself from dependence on a paycheck and enjoy total financial independence:

  1. Do we have enough built up to stop working (if we choose to)?
  2. How much can we afford to spend without the anxiety of running out of money?
  3. How should we position our hard-earned savings to make it last? 

Whether you choose to remain in your current field, migrate to a new pursuit, or start exploring more leisurely interests, you’ll feel prepared and confident making your decisions. Take advantage of a Free 2nd Opinion Retirement Strategy Assessment and find out if you’re on the right track.

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Be Aware of Which “Hat” You Have On

During periods of turmoil and above average volatility, there’s a very distinctive habit that all successful investors have formed.

That habit is making a clear distinction between which “hat” they’re wearing, and properly managing their “state” to match it.

Let me give you an analogy first.

In life, we all wear many hats.  For example, a few of them for me are:

  • Father
  • Husband
  • Business
  • Retirement Coach
  • Brother
  • Friend
  • Sports Coach
  • Conscientious American

To be effective, each of these roles requires me to have a certain mindset or “state.”

However, the correct mindset for one is unlikely to be the correct mindset for another.

For example, if I’ve been intimately engaged at the office all day, I had to have my “Retirement Coach” or “Business” hat on.

And, that requires a very specific mindset or “state” in order to be effective.

However, when I’m home over the weekend, for example, in order for me to be the father I want to be, I need to have my “Father” hat on.

If I still have my “Retirement Coach” or “Business” Hat on when I’m home, how effective (and pleasant) am I going to be?

For reasons I’m certain you can visualize, it’s going to be a disaster!

How Does This Apply to You?

Let’s carry that same analogy forward to another example.

In life, due to our experiences, upbringing, education, and interactions, we all develop our own unique set of belief systems.  And, over time, those belief systems morph into our own personal philosophies which, in turn, govern the way we feel about and the way we react to various situations.

As an example, each of us has a belief system about justice and the way things “ought to be” when it comes to the role government and business plays in our lives.  This certainly flares up right around tax time each year.

Let’s label this your justice consciousness” hat!

As such, when we sit back and listen to any political figure on either side of the aisle discuss tax policy, environmental policy, or the economy in general with our “justice consciousness” hat on, each of us has beliefs about what’s wrong, who’s to blame, and how it should be fixed.

Some more strongly than others!

At the same time, each of us has developed an “Investor” hat.  Hopefully, that’s based on a very specific, rational, long-term focused system like our Relaxing Retirement Formula™.  

And, in order to be effective, you wear that “Investor” hat, and the proper mindset that comes with it, when making investment decisions.

When Things Get Ugly

Now, here’s distinction…..

When things are good financially, i.e. no big crisis going on, cash flow is good, and markets are moving in a positive direction, it’s easier to make the distinction between which “hat” you should wear to be effective at which time.

It’s easy to be rational and look at the long-term, big picture.

However, when things get ugly like they are right now during this Covid-19 pandemic, i.e. a crisis brews, markets turn upside down, the media outlets pile it on thick, and our reptilian “fight or flight” mechanism flares up, it becomes much harder to draw the line as to which “hat” we should wear. 

The result during times like this is an inability to distinguish between which hat we’re wearing, and with it, the inability to be effective in any area of our lives.

For example, when you’re watching wall to wall coverage of the Covid-19 crisis on television, it’s highly likely that your “justice and health consciousness” hat is on your head.   

That’s normal and perfectly effective for the moment.

However, it becomes dangerously ineffective when all of the emotions and fight or flight triggers that come with it are carried over to your investment decisions. 

And, that’s what happens to the overwhelming majority of investors. 

Everything’s fine while markets move in a positive direction like they did in 2019.  However, when markets temporarily correct and move the other way (as they’ve always done and always will in the future), their rational, educated, long term “investor” hat gets thrown out the window.

In contrast, the investors who achieve the best results are those who make a very clear distinction between the two and are very conscious as to which “hat” they’re wearing at all times.

This allows them to make consistent, disciplined, and effective decisions that are in line with their carefully drawn-out plans.

The Strategy

So, the Strategy I recommend for you is to be very aware and conscious of which “hat” you’re wearing at all times. 

There’s nothing wrong with wearing any of them.  The challenges come when you mix hats or wear the wrong hat for the wrong situation.

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Don’t Let it Take a Crisis

Now in my 32nd year in this business, I can say without any reservation that I have thoroughly enjoyed every day I’ve spent in it.  I continue to wake up each morning before any alarm clock excited to get my day going. 

With the exception of owning and running an NFL franchise, for which I’m only a couple billion dollars short at the moment, I can’t even remotely imagine ever doing anything else. 

With that said, as I’ve shared with many of you over the years, the one downside of our business is having Relaxing Retirement members, whom we’ve known and worked with intimately for many, many years, become sick and pass away.  Even in situations where we know they’ve been through treatment for a while, it’s always awful when we receive the news, especially when they’ve occurred in bunches.   

In a single two-week period, I learned that one of our members, a woman I’d worked with for years, had been diagnosed with leukemia, and that another member’s rapidly progressing Alzheimer’s now required he not be left alone. I heard from yet another member that his wife, after five years in remission, was back in the hospital, and soon to start a new round of chemotherapy. And finally, one of our newer Relaxing Retirement members who had only retired last year, developed a degenerative nerve disease which had already cost him much of his eyesight.

So, why am I sharing all of this sad news with you?  I’m sharing it to motivate you not to wait! 

Another Wake Up Call

The convergence of all of this sad news has provided another one of my life’s “wake up calls.”

We’ve all heard the phrase, “don’t wait for a crisis in your life to motivate you to prioritize and do what you really want to do.”

It would be great if it didn’t take a convergence of sad news to people close to you, or a crisis to get us to think and prioritize differently.

For me, one of those crisis events occurred when my mother got sick and passed away at the very young age of 57 when I was 20 years old. 

After dealing with the reality of losing my mother (unfortunately, she was terminally ill for 19 months), the lesson for me was to never wait to do anything because you never know when it can all be taken away from you. 

I would certainly have preferred that it didn’t take losing my mother for me to learn that lesson and prioritize a little better.

Compound Interest

One of the great advantages of “Phase II” of your financial life is that you are free of your dependence on your paycheck to support your lifestyle, and of the daily pressures you had to face at work.  However, without the deadlines and structure that work provides, some people feel lost.    

That’s why it’s so important, whether you’re still working, or if you’ve already stopped, to give significant thought on an ongoing basis to what you want most out of life, and then get busy doing it. 

As you objectively look around at all the people you know and see, something becomes obvious: certain individuals are more successful and happy than others. 

Not only that, but in stark contrast to most people whose optimism fades with age, these same individuals are more energetic, enthusiastic, and confident.  I see this clear as day among our Relaxing Retirement members. 

There are many explanations for this, but the number one reason for a loss of momentum during the “retirement” stage of life is a lack of constant and never-ending prioritizing and goal setting.  Without it, everyone loses their sense of direction and confidence.

Instead of being excited about what lies ahead, too many retirees become increasingly nostalgic about their youthful years, and the “good old days.”

However, those who continuously clarify and act on their priorities, goals, and plans benefit from the law of compound interest, i.e. just like with money, the more you invest in visualizing and working toward a better future for you and everyone around you, the better your future automatically becomes.

Part of this ongoing process is being keenly aware of the amount of time you spend in what I refer to as “bad energy environments,” i.e. in activities and with people who drain your precious energy.  A mentor of mine once labeled them, “batteries not included,” i.e. they drain your energy and confidence.

Always Progressing

The most exciting part of life is knowing that you’re progressing toward something.  And, that’s why it’s so important to have ongoing written goals and plans, not just weakly stated ones like new years’ resolutions that quickly turn sour. 

Your retirement years provide you with a new lease on life.  You now have the opportunity to clean the slate and spend all of your time doing what you want, when you want, where you want, and with whomever you choose.  

However, that doesn’t just fall into place without careful thought and action.  To get what you really want, you have to plan and act constantly.

As I shared earlier, life can be short.  Don’t let it have to take a crisis in your life to realize this. 

Get out there and soak it all up.  Be busy!  Be exhausted! 

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What We Can ALL Learn From The Ageless Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones

My wife Colleen and I had the pleasure of seeing The Stones play at Gillette Stadium I the summer of 2019, and we were thrilled that we made the “investment” to see it!  It was nothing short of spectacular and inspirational at the same time. 

I was the youngest of four children (by 5 years) and I can vividly recall spending many happy hours in my older brother and sister’s rooms listening to Stones albums.  Clearly, I wasn’t the only one to have this childhood experience because the entire packed stadium of 55,000+ sang every word to every song!

What blew us away was watching Mick Jagger captivate the crowd with his singing and dancing, still 100% on his game….at the soon-to-be age of 76!  Yes, 76! He was awesome!  All of the band members are in their 70s, they’re still playing, and they’re still good!

Jagger didn’t stop moving for one minute and still had the same command of the audience he had 30 years ago.  He appeared ageless.  What an inspiration!

As Colleen and I were discussing his motivation while driving home (clearly not money as his net worth is in the hundreds of millions), I shared with her some of the conversations I’ve had with so many of our members over the years about why they still do what they do well past the point of “needing” to.  (I strongly recommend taking a moment to read the excerpt from my book The Relaxing Retirement Formula on this very topic of refusing to adhere to conventional and severely limiting societal definitions and norms surrounding the concept of retirement and creating your ideal lifestyle.)

I shared our inspirational experience of the ageless Mick Jagger this morning with a very active Relaxing Retirement member who just turned 90 and still manages his commercial real estate property in addition to an extensive social and travel schedule.  I jokingly stated, “I’m not sure I know of two more inspiring examples.  What’s everyone else’s excuse?”

His response was so prophetic that I have to share it with you, “Others age because they listen to constant reminders that they are getting old. And unfortunately, they start believing it. We are constantly reminded by well-meaning family members (our biggest “enemies”) of all the things we can’t or shouldn’t be doing. Turn a deaf ear and mind to all that b.s.  If you think old and act old then, guess what…you’re old. Shoot me.“

Wow!  How’s that for an answer!  I wonder what Jagger’s response would have been!

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A Revealing Conversation

This past week, I had a very revealing and important conversation with a Relaxing Retirement member who lost her husband a few years ago.  While protecting her identity, I’d like to share a key part of it with you. 

The reason for her call was to find out if she could “afford” to hire a landscaper to not only cut the grass, but to take care of her plantings and keep her beds free from weeds.  She’s been doing this for years, but it has reached the point where the upkeep is stressing her out, and it is preventing her from scheduling anything into the future.

Respectful of the terribly sad nature of the position she’s now in after losing her husband of more than thirty years, what made her question so interesting is that she asked the question in the first place.  Having worked together to design their Retirement Blueprint™ for years prior to her husband’s passing, I know that she can not only afford to hire a really good landscaper to do everything, but because they did such a good job building their Retirement Bucket™,  she can afford to virtually double her total annual spending if she chose to without negative impact!

Given this, why is she asking the question?  Well, this is a great example of the phenomenon we’ve witnessed for many years, i.e. the strong earning-and-saving-habit-force developed by a tiny percentage of Americans during their decades long working lives is hard to break!  For the dedicated saver, “Flipping the Switch” to spending what you’ve saved is hard.  “It just feels weird” is the comment we hear most. 

She has conditioned herself to feel as though she “should” worry because that’s what they’ve always done.  While that was valid for years, and it served them very well, she has earned the right not to have to sweat this anymore.  Like the countless number of members I have similar conversations with, she simply needed to have this reinforced with facts before she confidently moved forward without guilt or the feeling of being reckless.  

Altering 40+ years of habit is challenging.  Confidently spending what you’ve saved so you can live the life you’ve earned requires being in regular contact with your numbers so you can make educated and rational decisions based on fact vs. your conditioned opinion.    

Download a free copy of our Report: 3 Critical Strategies to Free Yourself From Dependence on Your Paycheck and develop the confidence you need to live the life you’ve earned: https://theretirementcoach.com/3strategies/.

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A New Year: The World is Your Oyster!

A tumultuous and challenging 2020 for everyone is coming to a close so it’s time to turn the page to 2021 and a new year of opportunities to live your Best Life!

Before you say goodbye to 2020, as challenging as it might seem at first glance given the COVID world we’ve experienced, take a moment to reflect and feel good about what improvements took place in your life this year.

With life moving so fast these days, and with so much negativity being shown on the news, we all tend to selectively remember things.  Especially good things!

There’s a concept known as primacy in recency, which means we tend to recall what just occurred vs. what occurred at some moment in the past. 

We then put more emphasis on what recently occurred and forget to contrast what’s true in your life today vs. last year at this very time.

Because of this, it is increasingly important to pause, take stock, and proactively recall the positive. So, before you do anything, STOP and take a moment to reflect on the past twelve months.

Write down anything and everything that comes to mind.  For example:

  • Health (without it, nothing else matters very much),
  • Vacations taken: did you take the vacations that you planned on, or did they have to go on hold?
  • Fitness: did you stick with your plan?
  • Projects: did you have any projects that you wanted to complete? (house, business, etc.)
  • Books read (it’s been said that the difference between who you are now and who you’ll be in 10 years will be the books you read and the people you meet and interact with)
  • Time spent being “present” with your family?

After listing them all out, take an extra minute and, for each one, write down:

  1. Why it was important to you
  2. What further progress you’d still like to make in that area, and
  3. What’s the first step you need to take right now to do so

Keep your momentum going by taking the next step immediately!

Positive Mode

What this first step does is allow you to recognize success in your life.  That it’s not only possible, but that it has already occurred

While experiencing this higher level of confidence, now it’s time to move into your bigger and better life going forward. 

Yes, better!  What keeps you alive and vibrant is knowing that your future will be even more bright than your past.

In today’s world of massive distractions, mixed messages, and more and more people vying for your attention to advance their own personal agendas, it becomes more and more important to take greater and greater responsibility, ownership, and control over your life.

Don’t allow anyone or anything to distract you from living exactly the way you want. 

A Clear Statement of Priorities

The secret to this is to clearly state what’s most important to you.  If you don’t, others will do it for you and you will be on your deathbed someday questioning why your life turned out the way it did.

I’m a big believer in having lots of clearly defined goals going all the time; some big, some small.  It’s what keeps me going.

I certainly don’t accomplish every one of them, nor do I accomplish them on the timeline I set. 

However, having them keeps me focused and allows me to “filter out” and prioritize when confronted with the myriad of options available to me at any given moment in time.  This alone makes this process worth it. 

It’s natural for everyone to want to improve their lives.  Pursuing what’s in your rational long-term best interest is not something that has to be taught. 

You’re born with that inside of you. And, as long as you don’t use force or fraud against others to achieve what you want, you should never be discouraged from doing so no matter how guilty someone else tries to make you feel.    

Progressing Toward Something

The most exciting part of life is knowing that you’re progressing toward something.  And, that’s why it’s so important to have written goals (clear statements of what’s most important to YOU), not just weakly stated ones like “new year’s resolutions” that go sour the moment you state them. 

A crystal-clear statement of what you want (goals) has a way of magnetically pulling you forward to what’s most important to you. However, like anything else, it requires action on your part.  You have to constantly and consistently evaluate and adjust your approach.

I actually began doing this way back in high school.  Writing down my goals actually led me to change high schools before my senior year.  (As you can imagine, the overwhelming majority of friends and family members weren’t exactly thrilled with my decision.)

However, had I not done so, I wouldn’t have been recruited by and attended Holy Cross College.  Had I not gone to Holy Cross, I would never have met my wife Colleen, had Caroline and Michael, and likely wouldn’t even be living in Massachusetts.   

If I didn’t live in Massachusetts, you and I wouldn’t have the relationship we have, and I wouldn’t be writing this to you. 

Making that decision based on my written goals led me down a path which put me closer to what I wanted vs. what I didn’t want.

Inspiring Goals Come From Asking Yourself Questions

As we enter a brand new year, it’s a perfect time to ask yourself, “am I closer to or further away from what I really want?

To answer that question, you have to first be clear on what you really want, not what everyone else or “society” thinks you should want

If you don’t know, then you’re at the mercy of those who have plans for you to carry out what they want! (Think of politicians!)

While you’re thinking about it right now, go to a quiet place, take out a pad of paper, close the door, and allow yourself to just think without interruptions. 

Ask yourself this question:

If I was sitting here 3 years from today, and I was looking back over those 3 years back to today, what would have to have happened in order for me to feel happy with my progress?”                

Now, I’m not just talking about your financial life.  I’m talking about your entire life. 

Specifically:

  • What would you like to eliminate
  • What opportunities would you like to take advantage of? 
  • What strengths would you like to build on

  (I personally go through this exercise every quarter)

If you’re having a difficult time answering this question, begin with this:  What’s most important to me in ________ (my life, my relationships, my health, etc.)?

Then, what has to happen in order for me to experience ________ (whatever it is that is most important to you)?

As I’ve mentioned before, take money out of the equation for now.  Don’t let “perceived” financial limitations govern your thought process.  Remember, money is only a means to get you what you really want.  It’s not the end.

Allow your mind to wander a little and just write down everything that comes to mind.    

To increase the likelihood of getting what you want, take 4 more quick steps: 

  1. Rewrite the list in order of priority and put it where you can easily see it every day,
  2. Immediately write a plan of action and list out who you need help from (you’d be surprised how much people will help you get what you want, starting with me.  Just ask!)
  3. Measure and Adjust: Nothing ever happens in a straight line.  Expect to be confronted by opposition and to have to make adjustments along the way,
  4. Remember: it’s about progress, not perfection.  Reward yourself for your progress!

Here’s to a happy, HEALTHY, and prosperous 2021 for you

Happy New Year!

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The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee

I’d like to begin by wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Although this is a very different year, it’s more important than ever to pause, connect with our families, and be grateful for everything we have.   

In honor of Thanksgiving Day, I’d like to take a brief sabbatical from our financial strategies in order to share a fabulous story that you will want to pass on and discuss with the rest of your family. 

Several years back, one of our Relaxing Retirement members exposed me to this tale and I thought it was a terrific analogy for all of us to take to heart, especially on Thanksgiving.

Enjoy this…

The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle… When 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class with some items in front of him.  When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty industrial sized plastic mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls

He then asked the students if the jar was full. 

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into a jar.  He shook the jar gently.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. 

He then asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else. 

He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with a unanimous “yes”.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. 

The students laughed!

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided.  “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost, and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

“The pebbles are the other things that matter like your work, your house, and your car.”

“The sand is everything else…the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

“The same goes for your life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are most important to you.”

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Take time to get medical checkups.  Take your spouse out to dinner.”

“Play another 18.  There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.”

“Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter.  Set your priorities.  The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.  The professor smiled.

“I’m glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

* * *

Well said! 

On this annual day of “Thanks”, take a minute and write down what your golf balls and pebbles are. 

It’s never too late to re-prioritize.

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Election Season Hangover

Elections have the ability to stir up emotions like nothing else, and this election season, in the middle of a global pandemic, has taken it to another level. It’s been incredible. 

Although we now know that Joe Biden has won the presidency, the final make-up of the House and Senate is still unknown, especially in the Senate where the run-off for both seats in Georgia will determine if Republicans maintain a majority or if  Democrats control all three at the same time.  The results have significant impact on the likelihood of policy changes.  

Given all of this uncertainly, how should we react?  Well, at some point pretty soon, we’ll have winners declared and we can all go about our business and carry on with our lives. 

While competition creates tension, which gives the appearance of above average divisiveness, all elections are divisive just like all market crashes appear to be unique and much worse that any in history when we’re right in the middle of one. 

Most important, in my opinion, is that we all have the capacity to remain in control of our own lives, and we all have a choice of how we react, interpret and respond to events and election results.        

How We Interpret and Respond is Our Choice

The best example I ever heard of this was from a famous speaker and author who was to speak to an audience at 7:00 p.m. on the day of the space shuttle crash back in 1986.

He always made a point not to watch news on the day of a speaking engagement so that he could remain focused on delivering the best possible talk to his large audience. 

Five minutes before he walked on stage, someone asked him what he thought about the terrible space shuttle crash that took place earlier that morning.   Because he hadn’t watched the news that day, he was just hearing about it for the first time as he walked on stage.

Tremendously moved by it all, he began his talk by asking the audience what they thought made him feel so terrible at that moment.  And, of course, they all mentioned the space shuttle disaster. 

He disagreed and proceeded to point out a very important distinction.  If the crash was going to make him feel bad, it would have made him feel bad ten hours ago when it occurred. 

What made him feel terrible right now was not the event.  It was his interpretation of the event.  And, that was his choice. For contrast, as incredible as it may seem, there were some in other parts of the world who cheered this as payback for American greed. 

We all have a choice when it comes to how we interpret, and thus feel and respond to events like elections. 

I just did some quick math: a Democrat has been in the White House during 42% of my life, and a Republican for 58%.  I have achieved a wide range of positive and negative results during my entire life.  Because I’ve chosen to take full responsibility for every outcome I’ve experienced, I can state unequivocally that none of them was attributable to who was in the White House at the time, or who my Senator, Congressperson, or Governor was. 

2020 has certainly been a test on all fronts.  Take a moment to pause, reflect, and consciously choose your interpretation of it all.  And, then respond by confidently living the life you’ve earned!  I promise you that it’s all still there for you no matter who holds elected office.

Political Bias

While political debate is healthy from a democratic process perspective, it can be very dangerous if you allow politics to influence your investment decisions.  

I can’t possibly stress how important this is.  I’ve witnessed countless examples of pent up emotions clouding investment judgment over the last 30+ years.

And, it has happened on both sides of the aisle.  The political preferences of our Relaxing Retirement members span the entire spectrum and I’ve heard every potential doomsday scenario vividly predicted to me over the last few months if “X” gets elected vs. “Y.” 

The biggest blunder occurs when the political season is in high gear, our emotions run high, and we make predictions about the trajectory of stock market performance based on which candidates have won, and/or which party has control of the House and Senate when the final votes are tallied.   

Although we subjectively want to believe otherwise, if you go back and study stock market returns during various presidencies and various mixtures in congress, you can’t find one common thread among them except that their results are mixed.

Given this, election results can’t be part of your long-term investment policy decisions.  Please resist all temptation to alter your carefully thought out strategy due to your political bias.

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Playing The Odds at Every Turn – Part II

In the last issue, I walked you through a spirited conversation we had with a friend over dinner about health, and my statistical findings on the leading causes of death from The World Health Organization’s website www.who.int.  

This was all sparked by our friend’s comment, “All your exercise and attention to healthy eating is great, but there’s no guarantee you won’t still drop dead of a heart attack.  My father and grandfather both died of a heart attack before they were 62.”

What we discovered through our research was that 71% of all deaths world-wide (and 88% in high income countries like the United States) are related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), i.e. not an epidemic and not an accident.

And, that among the four leading NCDs, the startling commonality is that they are not random, and not genetic.  They’re primarily brought on by lifestyle choices and the physical effects these choices have on our body:

  • Eating: what do we eat, when do we eat, and how much do we eat?
  • Drinking: how much alcohol do we consume? How much water do we consume?
  • Smoking
  • Exercise: how often, and what type
  • Stress
  • Sleep: how much do you get, and what’s the quality of your sleep?

In health, it’s 100% true that you could get hit by a bus and die.  It’s also true that genetics plays a role in your longevity.

However, as The World Health Organization statistics suggest, your lifestyle choices have a much greater impact on your health, vitality, and ultimately, your longevity. 

If you have a sincere desire to be healthy and live a long life, why would you not play the odds? 

Study how to eat better, drink much more water and less alcohol, stop smoking cigarettes, exercise rigorously on a daily basis, etc.

Those like our friend who choose to focus on the role that genetics or accidents play in our long-term health, etc. prefer believing it’s out of their control because it absolves them of any responsibility or role in the outcome.  After all, “there’s no guarantee.”

What they’re really saying is they prefer not to make the proper choices and, instead, just do whatever feels good in the moment without any regard to the long-term ramifications.

It’s easier to say it’s out of our control, it’s random, or it’s predetermined. 

However, that’s a rejection of the reality that we all have the freedom to make the choice to play the odds at every turn and reap the rewards the statistics demonstrate.

I know I run the risk of that coming across as mean spirited when pointing this out.  Or, that I’m not sympathetic.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My mother died of a brain tumor which later spread to her lungs at the age of 57. 

She strictly ate three square meals a day, never smoked a cigarette in her life, and she consumed one cocktail a year on Christmas Eve.  She played the odds and still passed away at a very young age. 

My Revelation: The Analogy to Financial Health

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with financial health?

In short…everything!

When you read or listen to the majority of individuals (and, by extension, the financial media) talk about those who have achieved financial success, what do you hear?

  • Right Place, Right Time, Luck: Those who have done well had the luck of good timing, choosing to work for many years for company X vs. Y, the business they created benefitted from outside events, etc. and they earned a large income,
  • Trust fund kid, i.e. they inherited it (despite Forbes annual statistics of the remotely small minority to have sustained wealth coming from inheritance),
  • Magic Investment: they somehow obtained information, probably unethically or unfairly, that lead to a great investing outcome,
  • Education: they went to X school and thus had connections that nobody else had.

Do you see the commonality in all of this? 

It all adds up to the belief that financial independence and success is all random, luck, and good fortune, and you have very little influence over the financial outcomes in your life.

As potentially mean spirited as this may sound, just as it is with the health examples I gave, it’s easy and convenient to believe that financial independence and success is all random, luck, and good fortune.

Believing that absolves them of the responsibility of focusing on the long-term and making the necessary choices you have made which have generated your financial independence! 

It’s easier to just block all of that out and focus on what brings instant, short term pleasure today, i.e. a new car I can’t afford, a 60-inch flat screen television, eating out five nights a week and running up the balance on my credit cards, or investing in a new “can’t miss hitting a home run” venture I heard about with money borrowed from my home equity line of credit.

Stark Contrast

The reality that I have witnessed amongst our Relaxing Retirement members over the last 32 years is that almost none inherited anything.  The majority did not earn extraordinarily large incomes during their working years.  And, very, very few went to Harvard or Yale!

The reason they have achieved total financial independence has nothing to do with any of the traditional dogma most folks conveniently buy into, or that Hollywood loves to portray and demonize.

They made decisions long ago that they stuck with over their lifetime to spend much less than they made, i.e. live within their means, and save and intelligently invest the difference.

They took 100% responsibility for the outcome they’ve experienced.  They didn’t look for a mystical guarantee, or a magic pill (investment). 

In short, they played the odds slow and steady.

And, this is what it all boils down to.  There are no guarantees and no magic pills, so you may alert anyone and everyone you know to call off the search.

There are, however, successful formulas built on highly probable odds in both health and finance that are in plain view for all of us to see. 

I’ve often said that if I fail, it’s certainly not going to be because I wasn’t prepared or I wasn’t willing to accept 100% responsibility for whatever outcome I realized.

In health, and in finance, we should all welcome our wonderful freedom to exercise control and choose our actions.  And, happily do whatever is necessary to play the odds at every turn.

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Playing The Odds at Every Turn – Part I

Last summer, I had a “spirited” conversation with friends over dinner about health which led to some research on my part, and a revelation about the remarkable similarities to “financial health.”

The debate with our friends essentially boiled down to the leading causes of death and the role that luck and genetics play vs. the choices we make.

It all started when our friend said, “All your exercise and attention to healthy eating is great, but there’s no guarantee you won’t still drop dead of a heart attack.  My father and grandfather both died of a heart attack before they were 62.”

I’m sure you’ve heard some version of this comment before.  Ultimately, it’s the same as, “you can do everything right and still get hit by a bus!”  Or, “I know a guy who was healthy who collapsed and died while running.”

All of that may very well be true, but it certainly doesn’t change the facts about the overwhelming leading causes of death, and what those are predominantly attributable to.   

Let’s look at some updated statistics I pulled from The World Health Organization website www.who.int about the leading causes of death (the italicizing and bolding is mine for emphasis).

World Health Organization

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) were responsible for 71% of all deaths globally in 2016, up from 68% in 2012 and 60% in 2000.

What’s even more telling is that NCDs account for 88% of deaths in upper and middle-income countries like the United States.  That’s remarkable!

Of the top 10 causes of death in upper and middle-income countries, only two are not NCDs: lower respiratory infections and road injuries which are numbers 6 and 8. 

The 4 main Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claimed 3.0 million lives in 2016, while lung cancer (along with trachea and bronchus cancers) caused 1.7 million deaths. Diabetes killed 1.6 million people in 2016, up from less than 1 million in 2000.

Deaths due to dementias more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, making it the 5th leading cause of global deaths in 2016 compared to 14th in 2000.

  1. Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs)

CVDs are the number one cause of death globally: More people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause.

An estimated 17.7 million people died from CVDs in 2015, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.7 million were due to stroke.

Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol using population-wide strategies.

  1. Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, with 8.8 million cancer related deaths in 2015.  Nearly one in six deaths is due to cancer.

Around one third of cancer deaths are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use.

Tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer causing around 22% of global cancer deaths.

  1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

It is estimated that 3 million deaths were caused by COPD in 2016, which is equal to 5% of all deaths globally that year, and 90% of those deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

The primary cause of COPD is exposure to tobacco smoke (through tobacco use or second-hand smoke).

Many cases of COPD are preventable by avoidance or early cessation of smoking.

  1. Diabetes

The number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014!

In 2015, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes comprises 90% of people with diabetes around the world and is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.

Healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

What’s the Commonality?

As you read through all of this, do you notice any commonalities?

First, more than two thirds of all deaths (and 88% of deaths in upper income countries like the U.S.) are related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), i.e. not an epidemic and not an accident.

Among the four leading NCDs, the startling commonality is that they are not random, and not genetic.  They’re primarily brought on by lifestyle choices and the physical effects these choices have on our body:

  • Eating: what do we eat, when do we eat, and how much do we eat?
  • Drinking: how much alcohol do we consume? How much water do we consume?
  • Smoking
  • Exercise: how often, and what type
  • Stress
  • Sleep: how much do you get, and what’s the quality of your sleep?

There’s No Guarantee

Armed with these statistics from the WHO, let’s now go back to my dinner conversation with our friend and her comment: “All your exercise and attention to healthy eating is great, but there’s no guarantee you won’t still drop dead of a heart attack.  My father and grandfather both died of a heart attack before they were 62.”

I again sympathize with the loss of her father and grandfather because I lost my mother to cancer at age 57, but the fact that they both died of a heart attack before age 62 doesn’t necessarily suggest that it was genetic.  What are the chances that their lifestyle choices, and the negative long-term effects they had on their bodies, were similar?

More important, however, was our friend’s choice of the word “guarantee.”  It’s a very, very important word and one that led to my “revelation” about financial health.

Everyone desires certainty in their lives.  Most would prefer guarantees with everything (health, finances, etc.)

Unfortunately for the majority who seek it, life is not a straight line.  There are virtually no guaranteed results in anything.

Given this, to achieve whatever it is that you want, use your freedom to choose. 

Research and Play the Odds at Every Turn!

In health, it’s 100% true that you could get hit by a bus and die.  It’s also true that genetics plays a role in your longevity.

However, as The World Health Organization statistics suggest, the tremendous news is your lifestyle choices have a far, far greater impact on your health, vitality, and ultimately, your longevity. 

If you have a sincere desire to be healthy and live a long life, why would you not study how to eat better, drink much more water and less alcohol, stop smoking cigarettes, and exercise rigorously on a daily basis.

Those like our friend who choose to focus on the role that genetics or accidents play in our long-term health, etc. prefer believing it’s out of their control because it absolves them of any responsibility or role in the outcome.  After all, “there’s no guarantee.”

What they’re really saying is they prefer not to make the proper choices and just do whatever feels good in the moment without any regard to the long-term ramifications.

It’s easier to say it’s out of our control, it’s random, or it’s predetermined. 

However, that’s a rejection of the reality that we all have the freedom to make the choice to play the odds at every turn and reap the rewards the statistics demonstrate.

Stay tuned for the next issue as I reveal my revelation, i.e. the amazing analogy to financial health!

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Your Racetrack

Have you ever driven a car at high speeds around a racetrack?

I haven’t, but I have a friend who has done so many times, and there’s a great lesson he shared with me that is incredibly useful for all of us in many other aspects of life including investing.

As he shared, your margin for error when driving around a racetrack decreases as your speed increases, so you must have a very definitive plan if something goes wrong.  A critical strategy, as you will learn in a moment, is to always keep your eyes on your target, i.e. where you want to go.

That seems simple enough.

Inevitably, however, weather conditions and fuel spills create “tests” for all drivers.  You’re humming along feeling confident on a straightaway when all of a sudden, as you head into a turn, you hit a fuel spill and your car spins out of control toward the wall. 

What follows is what all inexperienced drivers do: they panic, their focus changes, and their eyes get locked in on the wall they’re trying to avoid. 

When my friend experienced this for the first time, his instructor, who was seated next to him, simultaneously grabbed and turned my friend’s head while yelling “focus on where you want to go!

Amazingly, when my friend snapped his head back and adjusted his focus in the direction of the path of the track, the car responded and he steered back into control and avoided any contact with the wall!

The lesson for my friend: when in danger, don’t stare at the wall you’re trying to avoid.  Instead, remain focused on the track, i.e. where you want to go.

Guarded Confidence

So, why am I sharing this story with you?

Well, the path to investment success, your long term financial health, and a fulfilling life is littered with “fuel spills,” each of which has the potential to grab your attention, influence your mindset, change your focus, interrupt your long ingrained successful habits, and, thus tarnish the outcomes you have worked so hard for and deserve. 

If you have your eyes and ears open on any given day, you know how much more challenging this has become with 24/7 “news” on dozens of media outlets and devices. 

The days of watching Walter Kronkite, often sited as “the most trusted man in America,” on the 6:00 p.m. news for your daily dose of information are over. 

It seems as if everything today is “Breaking News,” and each dose carries with it the “potential” to interrupt your long ingrained successful habits, and throw you off your carefully chartered course. 

Essentially, you have two choices.  You can do what my coach, Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach, has done.  He made a conscious decision to eliminate television and hasn’t watched anything for 27 months.  Instead, he’s a voracious reader.

His first observation: “it’s amazing how the number of crises in the world has dropped significantly over those 27 months!” 

As we all know, the news media must manufacture and embellish events in order to repeatedly get our attention, so there are varying degrees of crisis.  However, each is reported as new and “different this time.”

Short of eliminating television completely, your second choice is to vigilantly guard your confidence against all forces competing for your attention including all forms of media, and friends, family, and co-workers who may very well have conflicting mindsets and biases. 

In many ways, my job as your Retirement Coach is very similar to the race car driving instructor.  You won’t find me physically grabbing your head and turning it, but every time there is a “crisis” of some degree reported, I want to be there to help you instantly gain perspective, keep your focus on where you want to go, and what I believe is the strategic path with the highest probability to get there. 

Just like the positive outcome my friend experienced when he adjusted his focus away from the wall he was about to crash into and back to where he wanted to go, condition yourself to remain focused on the long-term outcome you want and watch all the good that comes as a result.

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