Articles

How do you remain focused on your goals?

   Achieving our goals is critical in our pursuit of becoming better versions of ourselves. But with the constant drags on our attention, how do we remain focused on our goals versus tackling the latest urgent problem that needs to be dealt with? 

   These problems assault us constantly, threatening to derail us from our objectives. The urgent work problem that requires us to put in overtime, rippling outward and disrupting our evening schedules and bumping gym-time off the daily agenda. These urgent problems of now war and rage against our dreams of a brighter future. 

   This situation came up in one of my coaching calls recently, as fitness goals started collecting dust on the shelf, while my client was putting out the endless fires at work and school. As days went by, losing the momentum of consistent action, the question was raised: 

How do I remain focused on my goals when life is pulling me a thousand different directions?

   The resulting discussion revealed a couple of areas that we all fall prey to. The first was the desire to do better, expressed as a hope. 

“I hope to get back to the gym next week.”  

   When we began looking into this desire for improvement more, it seemed that hope wasn’t the right word. Hope could be trumped by being busy, hope could lose out to not feeling like it, hope wasn’t a strong enough commitment. 

Don’t rely on hope.

   To remain focused on your goals, you must first tell yourself what you must do, not what you hope to do. These are called non-negotiables. When pursuing your goals, you need to make them non-negotiable, they will be done, no matter what.

   For myself, a couple of my non-negotiables are reading and working out. I try and have these done in the morning, so that I don’t give myself the opportunity to be distracted first. My time table works for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone. But the principle is the same, what are your non-negotiables? What are the steps that you take towards your goals each day? And will you commit, that you won’t end your day without taking those steps?

   That commitment makes your goals non-negotiable.

   There is another aspect of uncertainty held in the statement, “I hope to get back to the gym next week.” This is the lack of specificity surrounding when this gym time will occur. It is one thing to say “I must do this each day.” And another thing entirely to give those plans a set time and place. 

   When we have a meeting, or a scheduled time commitment, we almost always show up. By scheduling time for your goals, you are declaring that nothing else can take up that time. This means your non-negotiable is on your calendar, planned, and ready to be acted upon at that time.

   Going back to my morning, at 7:15 am every working day, I walk into the gym. This is my non-negotiable, and 7:15 am is the time that I have allocated to my fitness goals. Do you know what your non-negotiables are? What steps you need to take to achieve your goals? Do you know when, and where, you will be to take those steps towards success?

   By determining your non-negotiables, and scheduling them in your calendar, you are doing what it takes to remain focused. Because they are a must for you, you will take the actions necessary to drive achievement. There is no room for excuses, too busy, not enough energy, don’t feel like it. Those excuses, other people’s demands, the inevitable fires you have to put out elsewhere in your life; that all happens outside of your scheduled achievement time.

   The discipline to follow through with your non-negotiables is the key to remaining focused on your goals. And that discipline makes you unstoppable. Your achievement, the heights you will go, only you can say when you will stop.

Where are you spending your money?

   Do you think you could save some more money now for a brighter future?

   Many of us look at our current circumstances and believe that we’re stretched thin as it is. The moderate savings we make each month, that’s all we can afford. When we’re asked to find a little bit extra, our initial reaction is, I can’t do that.

   How well do you know your spending habits? Do you know where you are spending your money now? We often have a general sense, but when we get into specific details of where each dollar goes, the results are often eye-opening.

Get to know your spending habits.

   Becoming aware of your spending habits is quite easy these days, with the majority of our transactions occurring through credit cards and electronic payment methods. It is a simple, and not overly time consuming process to look at last months statements and learn where you are spending your money. 

   That knowledge alone can help you make better financial decisions in the future, and may even uncover some areas for additional savings.

   But you can take that process one step further, by becoming proactive versus reactive to your spending. 

Becoming Proactive in your Spending

   To become proactive, you need to be putting thought into your purchase decision, and what that means, before you actually swipe your credit card. One highly effective strategy to do this is to carry around a small notebook, and before every purchase write down what you are spending on, and the amount. This notebook will put a small interruption between the usual tap-and-go buying that you are habitually used to. That brief pause gives you time to reflect, do you really want or need that candy bar or bottle of pop?

   Our financial goals are usually not derailed my large decisions, rather they suffer death by a thousand cuts. It’s the small, habitual purchases that we make that robs us of the extra few dollars each week to contribute towards our financial goals. By tracking, especially proactively by using a notebook, you take back some control over your wallet. That small, powerful step puts you back in charge of your financial destiny. Financial freedom is yours for the taking, if only you get out of your own way.

Flippin’ Success

When do you become successful?

   Is there a certain mark, a single accomplishment that, once reached, signifies that you are a success? 

   To most single people, finding a loving relationship would be an appropriate goal. But with divorce rates skyrocketing, simply entering into a relationship cannot be sufficient to call yourself a success. As any married couple will tell you, the hard work begins after the wedding day, and every day from then on. 

   If success in your relationships isn’t found in a single act, in one defining moment, where does that success lie?

   This question applies to all areas of our lives. To our friendships, our financial health, and certainly our physical health. Have you ever looked at pictures of someone losing weight? Or even looked in the mirror every day as you strive to fulfill this years’ resolution of going to the gym 5 times a week? Just like a flip book, the image changes almost imperceptibly each day.

   When does that overweight person on the cover of the flip book become healthy? Is it on page 6? Page 49? Page 152? If we compare the pictures one page to the next, they look almost identical. Even comparing one week to the next provides almost no visible change. But as we flip through those pages quickly, the change is definitely noticeable.

   This is very much similar to how we view success in our own lives. We step on the scale each morning, and beat ourselves up for seemingly no progress after a grueling workout the day before. We frown at our bank account, barely increasing since the last time we got paid. Or we become frustrated in our careers because we’re doing similar things as last month, as last quarter. 

   Taking a short term view of our accomplishments is frustrating and unrewarding, but it’s what so many of us do. As such, we never feel like we are becoming successful in our pursuits. These feelings lead us to thinking we’ll never become successful.

What is the solution?

   We need to expand our frame of comparison. We can’t look at our progress today, compared to where we were yesterday. We need a wider lens to view our success. With my coaching clients, we take a deeper look at progress every quarter. This 90-day lens allows us to see real progress, that we wouldn’t be exposed to when only looking daily or weekly. Seeing progress is important, for two reasons. First, it allows you to make adjustments, to see what is working, and what isn’t. And secondly, seeing progress feels good. We all like to know we’re improving, that we’re going somewhere, and taking a wider lens to view our efforts provides that reassurance. 

When do you become successful?

   Surely there is no date, no grandiose accomplishment that says “I made it.” You become successful by making sure each day you are working towards your grander goals. Each small, almost imperceptible step is a success. And remember, to see those successes add up, don’t look at yesterday’s results, but expand your lens. Achieving anything worthwhile is a slow process, but by taking a small step each day, you can achieve your dreams.

Why You Need a Will Now

Is your family protected in the case of your death?

   You work hard to take care of your friends and family, that’s why you have taken an interest in achieving more. But what if the worst happens, and you aren’t around to support your family and community further? This is where a will becomes essential, to ensure what you worked hard for in life goes to where you want it to after your passing.

What is a Will?

   A will is a legal document that tells the courts what you want to happen to your property, and the care of any children still considered minorities, in the event of your death. 

Why are Wills important?

   Without a will, your property and any young children will be assigned to the courts to deal with. This creates a lengthy, time consuming, and often expensive process. Furthermore, disagreements over your property causes more stress on loved ones, and can result in fractured relationships as well as your property being distributed in a way you wouldn’t want.

   A will helps alleviate these issues, by telling the courts exactly what you want to have happen with your property. Through this document, you can allocate bank balances, property ownership, and distribution of family heirlooms to different people. You are also able to donate to charities or institutions. By creating a will, you are also able to create tax savings through gifting allowances, etc. This ensures more of the assets you gathered through your efforts are given to the right people, and less is lost in estate taxes to the government.

   Perhaps the most important aspect for parents of young children though, is the ability to direct who will be caring for your children in your absence.

And if I don’t have a will?

   If you don’t have a will, a probate court will assign an administrator to consolidate the value of the estate, and disburse the property and assets based on court decisions. This almost always splits the estate among the surviving spouse and children, if applicable. If neither of these options is available, the government takes ownership of the estate.

   Aside from stressing the relationships of surviving loved ones, a court appointed administrator must follow certain formulas and rules for distributing the assets of the estate. This could result in the family home being given to someone you wouldn’t have intended, or even forcing the sale of assets to divide the proceeds among the beneficiaries. When this happens, the tax laws come into play, and you can lose a substantial amount of value of your estate in taxes, leaving far less to your beneficiaries than you would like.

How do you prepare a will?

   There are a variety of ways to prepare a will, including some very low cost solutions. At the expensive end, you can hire a lawyer to assist in the preparation. They will help you compile a list of all your assets and debts (liabilities). From there, you can indicate who should receive what asset, or part of an asset. That same process is followed by the cheaper options, websites or even DIY kits that you can find on Amazon!

   Once prepared, the will should be witnessed by 2 adults who aren’t included as beneficiaries. The final element of creating a will is to name an executor, someone who will work under court supervision to ensure that your will is followed. Other than being an adult, there are few restrictions on naming an executor, and you can easily name a spouse or child to deal with this. The executor’s role is important in ensuring the smooth settlement of your estate, including discharging any remaining debts you have, and informing government and financial institutions. 

   Now that you have a will, store it in a safe place! A home safe is usually best for this.

   You work hard for your success. Make sure that those efforts aren’t wasted for your loved ones, family, friends, and community that you leave behind. Taking the time to create a will is an important step in ensuring that your assets are distributed fairly, without losing excessive amounts to taxes. And if you have young children, this step is even more important as it will ensure they are cared for by the people you nominate.

   A will is an important element of your financial plans, that will ensure your achievements keep paying off to your loved ones long after you’ve moved onto your afterlife adventures.

It is Never Good Enough

   I hated doing dishes growing up. It was never the mountains of dirty dishes that somehow made our family look like a ravenous army. Or the soapy water that inevitably went cold and grungy. It was the glee on my sibling’s faces when they were able to hand back that pot that I swear was always dirty.

   “Good enough.” I’d grumble, lamenting as it was handed back for a second washing attempt.

   Oh brother was I ever wrong. What seemed to be a pain in the ass back then now seems like a blessing. Not the re-washing part, of course. But reaching into the cupboard and pulling out a dirty dish, ugh, I cringe just thinking of that. And as the cold sweat and shivers run down my spine, we come to the lesson of the letter. It is never, “Good enough”.

   Good enough, is not a reflection on the task at hand. It is a reflection of your values; of the thoughts, actions and words that define who you are, both to yourself and to the world you encounter. 

   Everywhere you look you will be confronted with the half-finished work and poor quality results of the “Good enough” crowd. It’s in the trash on the sidewalk, the mess on every counter and surface, all the little things that aren’t done quite right. There is enough of that already. Hold yourself to a higher standard.

   So next time you go to do the dishes, don’t let that mountain get in your head. That cold, murky water isn’t so bad. And make sure when you’re ready to move that never-clean pot to the dish drying rack, that this time, it’s clean.

   Apply that level of care to everything you do, because you’re worth the price of excellence.

   Every day is a use of our energy, our time. Don’t spend time on re-work, on fixing the little things that could easily have been done right the first time round. It’s never good enough, it’s simply, good. Because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

How to Finance your Goals

   There are a tonne of things you’d like to do, right? Go on vacation, upgrade your vehicle, go to that fancy hotel restaurant, learn something new, etc. Our bucket lists are long, and they should be! There is so much in this world to experience, and it would be a shame to not do all we want to. But most of your goals come at a price. 

How do you finance your goals?

   For many people, they would like to do a great deal of things. They talk all about those plans, without actually putting together an action plan to follow through. Often this ends up with most of that vacation, or the new TV purchase, or any other item on the bucket list, being charged to a credit card.

   Financing anything through a credit card is a risky proposition, and while credit cards have definite advantages, they shouldn’t be used in lieu of a plan. Instead, they should be a key part of your plans.

   We all know for big ticket items, like a house or wedding, that we must save for quite a while before we are able to purchase them. But are we regularly setting aside money for the rest of the things in our lives? With consumer debt on the rise, and an estimated $ 500 Billion of non-mortgage related debt held by Canadians (as of September 2019), many people are financing their lives through borrowed money. Delinquency rates, or people not paying their debts on time, is also on the rise. Too much lifestyle funding without a plan is getting people into trouble!

   Many Business Minded readers are in a better than average financial positions, and are certainly more likely to be paying off their credit cards every month. But that doesn’t mean having a structured plan isn’t valuable! 

   As with most aspects of your financial lives, you probably don’t want to spend much time thinking about budgets for your goals. So to make sure you stay on track, without spending much time or energy, we need to turn to automation to help us out. For the major events and purchases that we’d like to experience in our lives, we need to automatically allocate a small amount of funds to separate accounts. Over time, these accounts will grow, and when it comes time to take that vacation, or buy the new phone or computer, we have the funds ready to spend. 

   I try to take at least one vacation every year. To ensure I am able to do that, I allocate a small amount of funding each month to a separate high-interest e-savings account. Over the year, those funds build up until I take my planned vacation. And the process repeats itself from there. Automatically save, achieve my goal, rinse and repeat. 

   Having systems that look out for us protects us from ourselves. Knowing that my money is already spent on a vacation that will occur in 8 months helps curb my impulse purchases today. And when it comes time to take my vacation, I am not left stressing about where all that money will come from. 

Financing through a Simple System

   Automate your goals. This system seems simple, yet for the vast majority of us, it is a system we never put the time in to implement. So today, take 15 minutes and create your simple system.

1)   Decide which goals you are pursuing, and when. How much will those items cost? Divide the cost by the time until you need to pay, and you have your amount to save each period.

2)   Open a separate account to hold the monies. This shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes through online banking. 

3)   Set up automatic contributions to your new account, contributing the amount you calculated in step 1 each period, automatically.

4)   Enjoy life!

   The systems you put in place to control your impulses and make sure you live life to the fullest are dull. Systems don’t inspire anyone. But spending 15 minutes today can provide you the resources you need, when you need them. Achieving your goals doesn’t need to be any more intimidating than it already is. Make sure you have the financial systems in place to help reach your goals. 

   This system will help you avoid the pitfalls of consumer debt, and prevent you from needing to borrow from your future to pay for your today.

How to become more valuable at work

   When I was younger, I worked construction for a few summers. As anyone who has ever laid patio stones, decking, or fencing can tell you, a string-line is very important. We use the string, stretched out between two posts, to ensure we are operating on a straight line. That way, the newly constructed patio isn't wavy and unsightly. But as anyone who has used a string line knows, they get tangled into the most unusable mess of knots.

   As part hazing ritual, part real need, any new hire was given the task of untangling knots from these string lines. Often this was an irritating, but relatively fast process, taking only a few minutes to complete.

   One late spring day however, the knotted mess of string was worse than it had ever been, and Justin was our most recent new hires. Arriving early, our boss set the task to Justin, untangle the string. And there Justin sat in the front yard untangling string. The sun rose high in the sky as the rest of the crew were digging, sawing, and hammering away. Then the sun started sinking down, and exhausted, the crew made ready to leave. It was then that we noticed Justin, still sitting in the front yard, untangling string.

Do you know what the tasks you do every day are worth?

   In our professional lives, we often come across tasks that are time consuming. The question we must ask ourselves is, is this task worth it?

   Untangling string for those 10 hours certainly wasn't worth it for Justin. That $ 8.00 string line ended up costing the company well over $ 100 in wages on that spring day. And the cost was far beyond the simple wages cost, there was also the opportunity cost of doing valuable work for that day. 

   In today's work environment, being busy is worshiped. Running from meeting to meeting, task to task. And this busy-ness is destroying the value that we can command. Instead of focusing on being busy, we need to focus on becoming more valuable. 

How do we become more valuable at work?

   Ask yourself what the estimated cost of each task that you are doing is. You do this by taking your annual earnings divided by 2,000 hours. This will estimate what your hourly rate is. Next, multiply that hourly rate by the amount of time the task will take. The result is the cost of you completing the task. Now ask yourself, is the task worth the cost of that time commitment? Or could you be adding more value if you worked on something else instead?

   Understanding what the most valuable task that you could be working on at any given time makes you more valuable. Instead of sitting for hours untangling string, or some other equally unrewarding task, you will demonstrate your value when you focus on the task with the highest payoff.

How do you determine the value of a task?

   For many of you, each task doesn't have a clear cut line to profits or expenses. If you can measure the cost in terms of time commitment, but not the value you derive from completing the task, how do you prioritize based on value? To measure this, mark all tasks by which of your top 3 goals they support. Often, the majority of our To-Do lists will be unassigned, meaning the task doesn't directly contribute to our valuable goals. These tasks need to be either delegated, or eliminated wherever possible.

   Focusing on the tasks where the value, or contribution towards your goals, exceeds the cost of action will help you increase your value.

What to do with the unassigned tasks that can't be delegated or eliminated?

   Some tasks that pop up on our To-Do lists can't be given away or ignored. When confronted with these tasks, carefully consider if there are other options. If so, what are these other options, and are they the better course of action? In our example, Justin should have recognized the futility of such a task quickly, and we could have bought a new string line saving a day of wasted efforts. Identifying better alternatives is another way to increase your value, as you become known as someone who solves problems. Of course, sometimes the task can't be done in another, better way. In these cases, if the task is truly important, the best course of action is to buckle down and grind it to completion.

   We become more valuable when we think about what we are doing, and what we are trying to accomplish. Making sure our efforts are aligned with our goals helps us achieve more, and increase our value. When those moments come up where we must do things that don't directly add value, we should consider if there are better alternatives. Only if the task is essential, and no better alternatives are available should we commit the resources to accomplishing it. If we do this, we'll spend less time untangling string, and more time adding real value.

Will your retirement savings be enough?

Will your retirement savings be enough?

   This question is enough to cause concern among many people. How much do you need to retire? With news media throwing around words like economic recession, these concerns also bring another element to consider, sequence risk.

   Sequence risk is the danger posed by an economic downturn on an investment portfolio in the short term. While a recession provides an excellent opportunity to build wealth for a younger person, that same recession could greatly impact retirement accounts for those already in retirement or close to it. Simply put, sequence risk is the threat of withdrawing money in a downturn.

   Despite an economic downturn, you still require money to live. Because of this, when your portfolio loses value, you need to withdraw more of it as a % of total to end up with the same benefits. Burning through your retirement portfolio too quickly can lead to more life at the end of your money, not a comfortable place to be in.

   To illustrate, we’ll look at a retirement portfolio of $ 1 million, invested in stocks. (We’ll pretend like you didn’t read the asset allocation articles and didn’t realize that 100% invested in stocks is risky!) If you retired in 2008, your $ 1 million portfolio would have been hit with a loss of approximately 38%. That takes your portfolio down to $ 620,000, and you’ll still need to withdraw to pay for retirement! Those withdrawals are $ 50,000 in the first year of retirement, which is 8.06% of the portfolio!

   If you had retired in 2011 instead, where the stock market virtually didn’t grow, with an average growth of approximately -0.00 %. A withdrawal of 50,000 from your $ 1 million nest egg would only be a withdrawal of 5%.

   That is the impact of sequence risk, that you may be withdrawing more as a total % of your portfolio in a market downturn. Spending through your retirement savings too fast, even when the dollar amount doesn’t change, is something that is almost impossible to recover from.

How can you mitigate sequence risk?

   Understanding what sequence risk is, and how it can impact your retirement savings allows you to create a financial strategy to mitigate the risk. There are many options available here, and anyone close to retirement would be wise to consider them.

   More heavily weighting your portfolio into fixed income, or bonds provides relative safety from stock market fluctuations, and can provide cash flow in the form of interest. While this will help deal with threats posed by sequence risk, bonds also have a much lower rate of return. 

   Also on a similar line as fixed income, you can also hold cash reserves, which again is a safe asset allocation approach, albeit with an even lower risk and returns. Ensuring you don’t have to liquidate your more volatile investments, like stocks, during an economic downturn will help you weather the storm. Historically in the longer term, stocks have always increased in value. As a result, if you don’t need to sell during market low points, you can ride out the financial storms.

   There are other options that provide some protection against sequence risk. Owning rental real estate properties can help generate extra cash flows. This again is a more diverse investment portfolio, and that diversification provides options.

   But what if you are close to retirement, and don’t already have the appropriate asset allocation or real estate? The good news is, it’s not too late to start making your portfolio more conservative, or look at alternate investment options. Another key consideration is phasing into retirement more slowly. This could involve working part time, scaling back hours while still generating some income, which lowers the amount you need to withdraw from your retirement accounts in the short term.

   Sequence risk can throw a wrench in our best laid investment plans. And with concerns over an impending recession, it’s never a better time to explore your options in case the global economy does slow down. There are many options that you can look into; from changing asset allocation to more conservative (less volatile) investments, to exploring real estate investment properties, or even working longer to weather an economic storm. Tough times will pass, and with the right tools at your disposal, those tough times don’t need to derail your financial future.

What is a Target Date Fund?

   Asset allocation is an extremely important lever controlling your investment risk and returns. Knowing how much risk you should have at each stage in your life will help you invest effectively, without chancing losing it all. To assist with this asset allocation, a type of fund called “Target Date Fund” were created.

What is a target date fund?

   Target date funds are portfolios of investments that are managed on the basis of risk. The idea behind these funds is that you select a date in the future, usually when you plan on retiring. The fund will then handle the asset allocation for you, gradually shifting from a stock-heavy weighting at the onset to a more balanced or fixed income heavy weighting at your target date. 

   Alright, target date funds do the asset allocation part of investing for me. Surely it’s not that simple?

What other factors impact target date funds?

   Not all funds are created equal. While the premise is the same, some target date funds will target different areas of stocks. For example, one fund may invest more heavily in natural resource companies stocks, while yet another fund focuses more on financial companies stocks. Each fund is trying to out-do other funds, while maintaining the asset allocation risk levels based on your target date. 

   Even the risk level can vary by a few percentage points across different funds. For example, several funds with a target date of 2045 may have different levels of stocks. Some funds might have only 85% stocks in the portfolio, and yet others may go as high as 92% of stocks. This could have significant impacts on both the risk and return of the fund.

   When investing in target date funds, research is required to make sure that you are investing in a fund that aligns with both your social and financial goals.

What happens when the Target Date is reached?

   Target date funds are usually used for long term investing. The target date is not the end of the fund, but rather the end of when you are expected to be contributing to the fund. After that date, it is expected that you will be withdrawing from the fund, as in the case of retirement. This means that the monies in the fund will be more heavily weighted in fixed income and cash, providing you marginal returns while reducing risk.

   Once again, this is a general case. Some funds do actually force a “liquidation” of sorts, and convert your target date fund into a different, more conservative portfolio. When picking a target date fund, this is an important question to ask; “What happens on the target date?”

   Target Date Funds provide a relatively straight-forward way to invest in a diversified portfolio, while also ensuring an appropriate asset allocation strategy is being followed. The fund will reduce risk as you approach the target date, ensuring that your long term investments will be better protected against market fluctuations when you expect to draw on those investments.

   As with all investment decisions, research and counsel from a financial planner is advised. But the most important element is that you take action and invest now, as soon as possible.

   Financial freedom is a goal of all of us, and target date funds provide an easy way to step into the world of investing with a reasonably good strategy right out of the pamphlet. Investing in your future is the only way to ensure that future meets your dreams. While the world of investing sometimes seems complicated, target date funds might just be the answer you were looking for!

Lessons from the Scotiabank Marathon

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Toronto, Canada 

   Race day finally arrived. My first road-based marathon, a goal that had been set at the beginning of spring this same year. 

   Amidst a chorus of cheers and pump-up music, the pack of runners took off with me caught up in the midst. The excitement was contagious for those first few kilometers (miles), as we thundered down the streets of Toronto, several thousand strong. Passed the first few aid stations, and along the spectator lined race course.

   It was around the halfway mark, 20 kilometers (13 miles) that the pack really started to separate, with the marathoners continuing on for the grueling back half of the race. It's the back half that separates the trained from the untrained. It's the back half where your mettle is tested. It's the back half where I learned the lessons of success.

The process is painful.

   Around 28 kilometers I found out what endurance athlete's refer to when they "hit the wall". Exhaustion sets in, your legs hardly want to move. And when they do stride forward, each strike of the pavement is agony. This is part of running marathons. But this is also the first lesson of success. The process is painful.

   There will come a point in any large undertaking when pushing forward seems unbearable. The obstacles seem nigh insurmountable. Those challenges have knocked you down, leaving you bloodied and bruised, black and blue. But just like the quote on the guy's shirt in front of me said, Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.

   In the pursuit of any goal that you pursue, you will inevitably face challenges and obstacles that will hurt. To achieve success, you must endure the pain, with the belief that the reward is worth the cost.

Public goals help you push on when you feel like quitting.

   That period of exhaustion, where every step was agony lasted for quite a while. And with each agonizing step, those dark thoughts started to creep into my mind. Maybe I can't do this. Maybe I needed to train harder. Maybe I should quit. These thoughts were only compounded by the series of injuries that plagued my training. Nobody would blame me if those injuries prevented me from finishing the race. 

   These insidious excuses pushed me ever closer to quitting. And the worst part about those excuses? I believed that they were real. Heck, I really was injured throughout most of my training! But, there was one thing more powerful than my excuses. I had told everyone that I would be doing the marathon. Doing. Not attempting. I promised that I would cross the finish line. No matter the pain I was experiencing, I did not want to let down those people who were counting on me to finish. Therein lies the second lesson of success - publicly stated goals keep us accountable.

   It's easy to fall short of our goals when we keep our targets to ourselves. We can rationalize these shortcomings a million different ways, and as long as we're simply talking to ourselves, there's nobody to poke holes in our hollow excuses. That's why we need to publicly state our goals. When we have declared our goals out loud, those around us will keep us accountable for achieving them. 

   That is not to say that you will achieve every goal you announce, but simply that when you feel like quitting, you readily evaluate your reasons. There were several runners that I saw that certainly made their goals public, but for genuine health reasons they were unable to achieve. And that's okay! We shouldn't die in pursuit of a finisher's medal! We just need to be sure that our reasons are valid, and mixed up in the pain and exhaustion, even the smallest molehill seems like a mountain in our minds. And having a public goal helps us make the distinction between real hardship and in-the-moment difficulties.

Break a large task (42kms) down into games.

   Again, we return to those last 12 kilometers, feet hurting, toes bleeding, slapping down on the cracked pavement of downtown Toronto. When 12 kilometers seemed to stretch on forever, my heart pounding inside my chest. My mouth was dry, my tongue felt like sandpaper as I sucked in breath after breath of warm, dry air. And suddenly I wasn't really looking at 12 kilometers, I was only looking at the next water station 3 kilometers away. If I could reach that in the next 20 minutes, I'd be alright. Once I made it, it was only another 3 kilometers to the next drink of water, I could beat those last 20 minutes! How about doing it in 19 minutes. Then 18 minutes. Then, wait, the next stop is the finish line!

   Taking a larger task and breaking it down makes each bite more manageable. But if you add a game element into it, "beat my last 3 km time", the process becomes much more tolerable. Those 12 kms that seemed so far a moment ago was really only 3 short games and the finish line! These games keep us going when our minds would otherwise tell us to quit.

   When you break down your huge goals into smaller tasks, the goal becomes much more manageable. But you can take this concept further by making each task a game, allowing yourself to feel joy over a smaller accomplishment, and motivating you to keep going. And like any sporting series, enough wins in those small games will lead you to the championship!

   I pushed through to the finish line, and had achieved my athletic goal of the summer. But the real achievement isn't found in a new medal hanging on the wall, the real achievement lies in the hours of training that got me to that point. The real achievement is not my finishing time on the race web page, but in the lessons that I learned about success along the way. Lessons that we can all apply to whatever our goals are.

   The process is painful. You won't achieve anything worthwhile easily. There will be hardships and heartbreaks along the way. These painful experiences are there not to break you, but to build you into a stronger version of yourself. A version of yourself that is worthy of the goals you want to achieve. 

   To keep you focused on those goals, you can announce them to the world. The people you tell, of what you are planning to accomplish will hold you accountable. And when you feel like quitting, you will think twice before throwing in the towel, are the hardships really too much to bear? Would you feel comfortable telling all those that you announced your intentions to that your goal really was out of reach this time?

   If the answer is no, and you determine you can continue in the pursuit of success, breaking the remaining journey down into smaller games will help. Each mini game will lead you one step closer to the finish line, and give you a small dose of satisfaction and motivation each step along the way.

   These lessons helped me cross the finish line at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and they can help you reach your goals. Apply these lessons well, and there's no telling what you can accomplish in your life!

An Apple a Day

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. 

   We’ve all heard the cliche, often spoken by our parents or grandparents. And while apples may not keep us healthy all the time, there is certainly a positive lesson to learn. Making a small positive choice each day puts us in a healthier state. These positive choices add up over time, eventually bringing with them the succulent fruits of success. 

What are your Apples?

   The apple a day helps with our health. We’re selecting a fruit instead of something else, like chips or cookies. This trade-off provides a positive ROI, as we strengthen our bodies through improved nutrition, and stay away from foods that would do us harm. But that’s only one aspect of our lives where we are making a positive choice daily. To truly capture the essence of this advice, we need to find other apples, other positive choices that support all our goals.

   This could be reading industry news to stay abreast of the technological advancements in our careers. Or listening to a positive themed podcast in the morning, putting ourselves in an upbeat mood for the day. These apples help strengthen the important aspects in our lives. Perhaps far more important than goals, these small positive choices are the actions that we can take that lead us to both goal achievement, and the grander vision we have for our future.

What’s the catch?

   An apple a day, that seems so simple. And it is. It is also extremely simple not to do. Staying consistent with small positive choices is essential for reaping the rewards of long-term investing in ourselves.

How do we stick with these positive choices?

   If we consider each daily action like eating that apple, as a choice, then we are destined to fail. The issue here, is that we are allowing our willpower to decide if we eat the apple or the chocolate bar. Willpower is a fickle substance, and cannot be relied upon to deliver the same result day after day. 

   A far superior strategy is to create routines. These routines cost a lot of willpower up front, but then put you on an unconscious path to success. After a month or two, those decisions you used to make? They aren’t there anymore. You’ll find yourself subconsciously reaching for the apple every time that option comes up.

Time to go Apple Picking

   Now it’s your turn. What is your “apple a day”? What small thing, or things, can you do consistently to make sure you are on the right track to success? And how can you build these into a routine to make sure that you follow the path to success without relying on willpower in the future?

What is Asset Allocation?

   There are three fundamental principles to successful investing: asset allocation, market timing, and time in the market. To achieve optimal financial returns, while balancing an appropriate level of risk, we look at asset allocation.

What is Asset Allocation?

   Asset Allocation is an investment strategy that involves investing part of your portfolio in different investment classes; stocks, fixed income, and cash. These assets, or investments, make up a portion of each balanced portfolio. The amount of risk associated with the portfolio is determined by how much of each asset class is held. For example, a 100% stock portfolio is much more risky than a 50% stock, 50% fixed income portfolio.

   Okay, so Asset Allocation simply refers to how much of my investment portfolio is made up of stocks, bonds (fixed income), and cash. I’m with you so far, but why are you telling me this?

Why is Asset Allocation important?

   As one of the three levers that controls investing, Asset Allocation is the most easily adjusted. While we cannot invest earlier, and correctly timing the market is a statistical impossibility, asset allocation is our best bet to invest effectively.

   Asset allocation is widely considered the most important investment decision, with far greater impact than the specific stocks in your portfolio. The asset mix, between stocks, bonds, and cash determines the risk / return rating of each portfolio.

   In general, stocks are the riskiest, yet offer the highest returns. Fixed income is safer, but the returns are lower than stocks. And cash, or Certificate of Deposits (CDs), are the safest of all investments, yet yield the lowest returns. Asset allocation is important to understand, as it governs risk and expected returns. 

   Alright, Asset allocation is important. How do we use it best?

How to use Asset Allocation?

   Financial advisers will often recommend asset allocation based on your age, as a general approach to determine how much risk you are open to. The traditional formula is 100 minus Age = asset allocation weighting. For example, let’s say you are 30 years old. 100 - 30 = 70. This means that 70% of your portfolio should be invested in stocks, while fixed income (bonds) and cash make up the remaining 30%. 

   The traditional formula doesn’t take into consideration the increasing life expectancy, and I would advocate that for our younger readers, the asset allocation benchmark formula should be 115. For our 30 year old reader, that would look like 115 - 30 = 85. Therefore, 85% of a 30-year old's investment portfolio should be in stocks, with the remaining 15% invested in fixed income and cash. 

   This benchmark system makes a very important assumption, that the investments are made with a long-term focus. This long-term focus looks towards retirement, not shorter term financial goals like home-buying or weddings. If the monies will be needed within the next 5 years, a far more conservative asset allocation is recommended.

Key Learning Notes:

   Asset allocation is the single most important lever to control your financial investments. The term refers to how much you invest in a single area, between stocks, fixed income (bonds), and cash. The more heavily weighted in stocks, the riskier the portfolio, and the higher expected returns. As a general rule, a good benchmark for asset allocation can be established by using 115 (or 100) minus Age = allocation for stocks. This benchmark is effective if using a long term focus, for example saving for retirement.

Action Item: 

Perform the asset allocation benchmark calculation for your long term investment accounts. What is your benchmark score?

Now look at your investments. How much, as a percentage, do you have invested in stocks? Fixed income? Cash?

Is there any re-balancing required? Ideally, this exercise is conducted once or twice a year.

Pillars of Gratitude

   Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving!

   The first thanksgiving was back in 1621, as a way of celebrating the harvest that would sustain people throughout the winter months. Today, we still have such abundant feasts as we celebrate the fall season. Underpinning the entire holiday is the central theme of giving thanks.

   Gratitude is an essential mindset that helps highlight the various elements of our lives that we are grateful for. In the spirit of this season of giving thanks, I would like to encourage you to think of each of the pillars of your life. What are you grateful for in your; financial life? Career? Mental / Spiritual headspace? Physical health? Relationships with family and friends? And your romantic life?

   A few things that I am grateful for this thanksgiving:

Business Minded Tribe

   My career is the one area that I am most grateful for. That gratitude is directed entirely towards you, my loyal readers, who’s continued support allows me to do what I love. I appreciate all your stories when an article helps change your perspective, or encourages you to chase your dreams. Your success is the fire that keeps me going.

   A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has shared an article with their family and friends, or written in with a story of their own success, and to all who show up reliably every week to continue their pursuit of success with us.

My Pillars of Gratitude

   This Thanksgiving I was fortunate enough to spend hiking with my girlfriend, exploring Algonquin Provincial Park as we basked in the glory of the changing fall colours. This experience humbled me in its beauty, and helped me reflect on the many positives in my life. Having the physical fortitude to hike is a blessing, and the companionship of my girlfriend is second to none. Finding time to just exist with nature helps put the daily stresses into perspective, and clears my mind and spirit for the future.

Fall colours on our Thanksgiving hike
Fall colours on our Thanksgiving hike

   And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without spending time with family and friends. Having the good fortune to be able to afford a lavish turkey feast, surrounded by loved ones, is truly a gift that so many unfortunate families do not get to share.

What are you Grateful for this Thanksgiving?

   Gratitude doesn’t have to be a monumental occasion. It’s often the small things that bring us the most joy, and as we give thanks this fall season, it is important to remember those things. Something as simple as good health, which many of us take for granted each day, is truly a blessing.

   What are you grateful for this year? Think in terms of your Pillars of Success, the areas you set your goals in; financial health, physical health, career, mental / spiritual health, relationships with family and friends, and your romantic pursuits. These areas are a good start when expressing gratitude for all the things that are going well in your life.

How to Achieve Success, Simply.

   There are a lot of tips and tricks, productivity hacks, decision making criteria, time management techniques that I talk about in these Success articles you receive each week. 

   Tips and tricks are good. They can help us get more done, in a more sane manner. They can lead to success, but only when used correctly. Layering strategy on top of strategy doesn’t help, you need to select the best strategy for you, and use that. Simplify your decisions, simplify your work, simplify your success. 

The formula for success is actually quite simple: a few positive steps taken daily. 

   Deciphering what these steps are for you can be complicated, and that’s where different tips and techniques come in handy. Sometimes these techniques can change the steps we take in pursuit of success. But sometimes the steps that work for other people don’t work for us, and that is okay. That is normal. After all, we define success for ourselves, so what does work for someone else may only help you if your goal is exactly the same.

How does this look in practice?

Fitness

   The way I define success in my fitness pillar is: below 15% body fat, and over 40% muscle mass. Achieving these goals will enable me to be best equipped, physically, for any challenge life throws at me. Having defined my goal, my definition of success, I now need the routines and action steps that will lead me to those goals. 

   Learning what other people do helps tremendously, and it enables me to carefully evaluate what steps help other people, and if those same steps would work for my lifestyle and goals. For example, when you do a quick search for fitness tips you will be bombarded with a long list of different tips and tricks that work for some people: yoga, spin class, cross-fit, weight lifting, running, walking. 

   That list only grows exponentially when you throw a health query into the mix: green juices, keto diet, intermittent fasting, vegan diet, carnivore diet, nutrient and vitamin supplements, and the list goes on.

   It’s easy to get lost in the articles promoting each of these tips and tricks, and depending on your fitness goals, some might help you. But as I said, the path to success is simple. It might not be easy, but it’s simple. 

   To achieve my fitness goals I need to spend 3 days a week lifting weights, 4 days a week doing at least 30 minutes of heart-rate elevated cardio, and moderate sugars from both foods and alcohols. When compared to the “top 100 fitness trends of 2019”, these action steps are thankfully simple. And knowing that they are simple, I am more easily able to take these steps each day, each week. That consistent drive along the path of success leads me to my goals.

Career

   Your career is another area you need goals. Isolating one or two areas to grow will help cut down the clutter from a list of 10,000 things we could do better, and allow you to focus on those key areas. For example; my growth area that will drive future career growth, is improved communication skills. To do this, I need to make reading, writing, and speaking a daily practice. 

   These simple steps will help me grow, that that growth helps me tackle bigger projects and challenges in my career. 

   What are the simple steps that you can take in each of the 6 essential areas, or pillars, of your life? What are your goals financially, in your career, your physical health, your mental / spiritual health, your social relationships, and your romantic relationship? 

   Finding success in your life means achieving your goals in all of these areas. But that doesn’t have to be complicated. A few steps in the right direction each day, and you’ll be living a life of success on your journey to grow and achieve more.

How to Achieve Your Goals

(Zig Ziglar's method for Achievement)

   As we’ve discussed before, setting goals is essential for success. I actively promote the SMART methodology, renowned for its effectiveness. But having a goal alone does not guarantee achievement. To that end, let’s look at a method for achievement from a personal development icon, Zig Ziglar.

   Zig Ziglar, a true professional in goal setting, gives us another take on both the importance of, and execution of goals. His process takes us not only through the assigning of a goal, but continues until we have a concrete plan with which to take action. The steps are: Identify your goal, set a deadline, identify obstacles, identify people and skills that can overcome the obstacle, and developing a plan. Let’s briefly look at each of the steps.

Identify Your Goal

   We all have much we want to accomplish, and that’s good. But having widespread ambition can only take you so far. To truly accomplish anything, we need to focus. This involves setting a specific target that we can work towards. The imperative element is the target must be specific; such as lose 10 pounds, or achieve a manager promotion, or save $ 2,000 for a vacation. The specific nature of our goal gives us a clear target to strive towards.

Set a Deadline

   As with the T element in SMART goal setting, having a time element, or deadline, helps frame the problem and allows us to more clearly define the action plan. In Zig’s speech on goal setting, he uses his weight-loss goal to illustrate. He decided on the amount of weight to lose, and the deadline with which to achieve this by. Working backwards, he was able to determine a monthly, a weekly, and even a daily amount of weight he planned on losing.

   By setting a deadline, the big goal is more easily broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks, with an even closer time horizon. This allows us to measure and track our progress, and make corrective actions if required.

Identify Obstacles

   We all face challenges and obstacles when it comes to achievement. After all, if those obstacles weren’t there we would have already achieved our goals. There is much clarity to be gained from identifying what those obstacles are. For me, when I focus on my health goals, I know I cannot store beer in the fridge unless I plan on drinking it. Both the calories, and the lethargy that comes with consuming a beer with dinner is counter-productive to my health goals. Having beer in the fridge is hence an obstacle for me to achieving a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

   Once we know what the obstacle is, we can work towards overcoming that challenge.

Identify People and Skills to Overcome your Obstacles

   We don’t need to face our obstacles alone. There are people and resources that we can tap into to make our journey easier. This could be speaking to someone who has overcome the obstacle themselves. Or it could be as simple as asking a friend or a coach to keep you accountable for taking action. 

   What does this look like? If you have a career goal, you can identify several people who have achieved the success you seek. These people are valuable resources as you surmount the obstacle yourself. Achieving a fitness goal might need a session with a personal trainer or a nutritionist. The resources are out there, if you look for them.

   Other times it is additional skills that you need. Identifying what those skills are will help give you an action plan. Learn the skills, and you will be able to overcome the obstacle. In my previous example, the skills I needed to learn was environment design. By simply moving the tempting but unhealthy items from the fridge and out of plain sight, I was able to significantly reduce my consumption. This skill helped me overcome the obstacle to one of my health goals.

Develop a Plan

   By this stage you know where you’re going (your goal), what is stopping you right now (obstacle), who to turn to for guidance, and what skills you need to be successful. This is the framework of your plan, you simply need to put the pieces in place. Who will you talk to for guidance this week? What skills are you going to start developing? How? Books, seminars, online courses, all of these are available to increase your skills so that you can overcome your obstacles.

   Your plan is your way forward, your road map to achieving those grand goals and desires that you have. In this way, you will overcome the obstacles and reach for success. Not simply to leap the hurdle, but to grow and become a better version of you in the process.

   Set a goal, determine the obstacles preventing you reaching that goal, and identify the people and skills you need to overcome your obstacles. Putting these pieces into place reveals the beauty of your successful life, hidden among the puzzle pieces. That puzzle reveals a beauty that Zig saw, and that I see, if only you follow the steps to build it.

   Zig Ziglar’s guidance has helped hundreds of thousands achieve more in their lives. You could be the next, if you choose to chase those big dreams. Are you up for the challenge?

What’s something you wish you knew in your 20s?

   I was reading the forums this week, when this question popped up. Sure there are some generic answers: “you’re young, enjoy life”, “don’t worry so much”, etc. But there was a couple of answers that hit right at the heart of what we talk about at Business Minded.

“Spend less time worrying about investing small sums of money and focus on growing my career. Must have spent 100’s of hours reading forums, reading books, local real estate listings and figuring out which ETF was perfect for my small amount of savings.”

   This lady, or gentleman, is not your typical internet forum troll. The lesson that they are trying to impart here is both essential and ageless. No matter how old we are, if you are working in a career, you can increase your earning potential. We can increase what we are worth, by being able to bring more value to our customers, whether those customers are inside a company or external clients. By increasing our value, we are rewarded far in excess of the rate of return on the stock market.

   The earlier we begin to invest in ourselves, the more we will be able to earn in our lifetime. And that can have a dramatic effect over the course of several years. 

   There is no better example of this than a situation I advised one friend on. Andy (not his real name) found himself in a particularly wonderful situation early in his career. He had two opportunities on the table, his current job (Job A) at $ 70,000 annually, or an offer on the table (Job B) for more responsibility and a $ 85,000 annual salary. Seems like a no brainer right? But as always, there’s a complicating factor. Job A was offering an investment opportunity for equity in the company. The expected return was 400% after 5 years. With an astronomical return like that, the decision just became a lot more complicated. 

   From a numbers standpoint, the opportunities would be equal if Andy made 15,000 * 5 years = $ 75,000 on the investment deal. At a 400% return, that means an initial investment of $ 18,750. Andy has on hand approximately $ 30,000 to invest in Job A’s equity, which would result in $ 120,000. With a 5 year lens, which for many of us is beyond where we can reliably predict, Job A is far superior, to the tune of $ 45,000.

But what happens after 5 years? How far does that $ 45,000 advantage go?

   The skills we develop pay off now, but they keep paying us dividends into the future. A higher earning potential leads to our ability to generate substantial resources over the course of our careers. The job experience alone from an earned promotion can raise our financial outlook to untold heights, as we grow and increase our value. 

   Back to Andy, assuming his earning potential increases at the same rate for the rest of his career, 20 years from now with $ 15,000 extra per year leads to a gain of $ 300,000. That far in away exceeds the return of the $ 45,000 investment from Job A. When faced with the numbers, the decision became clear, Job B was the better route.

   How much time do we spend worrying about our investments right now? How valuable could we become if we spent that time learning, growing, increasing our earning potential?

   Investing in ourselves has the highest return on investment out of any investment we could possibly make. And the right time to invest is now. Invest in yourself. You can increase your value, and improve your future for the rest of your life.

Unsure of what the best way to increase your value is? The Career Growth coaching platform is designed to help you take control over your professional growth. Check it out here, or send me an email directly to brian.marchant@businessminded.ca to discuss if our program is the next step to take you to greater professional heights.

3 Questions to Align Your Goals

Are your goals really going to take you to the good life?

We all have goals in some capacity, focused on each of the areas of our life. Maybe that’s more money, a healthier lifestyle, more close friendships, or more impact in our careers. Many of these goals were set either some time ago, and we’re working towards them. Or they came about through social pressures; I should be healthier, I should chase more career success, I should save more money. Both these reasons for setting goals are valid and effective, but only when they are aligned with your values and your vision for your life.

And it is this alignment that we need to ensure exists.

But how do we know if our goals are aligned?

We can do this by looking at three different questions. These questions have been cultivated by some of the iconic thought leaders and speakers of our time, Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and others. By spending time reflecting on the answers, we can determine if our current goals are in alignment with our life plan. Let’s look at the questions, and how they help us find that alignment.

What would you set as a goal for yourself if you won 5 million dollars? What would you do differently?

This two part question eliminates some of the constraints that we often consider when setting goals. Often times our goals, and the action plan associated with them, are influenced by our limited resources. Of the three limiting resources, this question reduces the impact of the financial side.

Take a look at your list of goals that you have today. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you change about that list? How would your goals be different? What would that do to your action plan, how you spend your time and energy each day?

What would you do if you only had 6-months to live?

A real eye-opener, which unfortunately some people actually do hear. Many of our goals are set with a long time horizon in mind. Saving for retirement 30 years from now, living a healthy life so we can experience those years with energy and vitality. Or climbing the corporate ladders to reach our highest levels of impact 10 or more years from now. But what if that time wasn’t there?

How differently would you act? How would your priorities change? This question helps clarify what is truly important in our lives, so that we can include more of that in today’s plans. If your answer involves adventure, what adventures can you take now? If your answer includes family and friends, are you spending enough time with them now? Are you showing them how much they mean to you?

What one great thing would you dare to dream if you KNEW you could not fail?

This final question asks about our current goals. Are they big enough?

Again, our current goals are often constrained by certain elements; our time, our energy, and our money. But there’s one other constraint we often don’t consider, but one that shapes our entire existence. The thought that maybe we might not succeed. This fear stops us from attempting those grand schemes and desires that would really make our lives great.

If you didn’t have that fear, what would you dare to dream?

Finding alignment between our goals and how we plan for life to turn out can be hard. By asking ourselves the right questions, we are able to find clarity over what is truly important. Knowing what we find essential to our lives helps us build more of that into our goals and vision for the future. Answer those questions, identify what is important to you. And most importantly, dare to dream that it is possible. You can have that life you dream of.

Action Item:

Break out a sheet of paper or a new word document. Answer the 3 questions:

  1. What would you set as a goal for yourself if you won a million dollars? What would you do differently?
  2. What would you do if you only had 6-months to live?
  3. What one great thing would you dare to dream if you KNEW you could not fail?

Now reflect on the answers, are your goals leading you to the life you desire? And one last challenge; I dare you to dream of what is possible for you in your life.

5 Benefits of Credit Unions

   As we grow in our ability to bring value to the marketplace, we earn more money. Knowing what our options are to handle that money is therefore an essential starting place. While we all know about the big banks, there is an alternative to be found in Credit Unions.

What is a Credit Union?

   A credit union is a member owned financial institution, that operates similar to a bank. Historically credit unions have restricted membership on the basis of company worked for, geographical location, or any other criteria. In recent years however, membership requirements have been loosened, which provides many of us an alternative to the banks. In terms of product types offered, credit unions and banks are generally the same. There is one major distinction between banks and credit unions. Credit unions are not-for-profit entities. This leads to a myriad of benefits to using a credit union.

1. Lower Account Fees

   Banks are for-profit companies, and as such they levy fees for the services they provide, in an effort to increase shareholder returns. Credit unions, on the other hand are not-for-profit, so the fees (if any at all) are lower. Without the need to drive shareholder returns, credit unions are only trying to cover operating expenses. This allows credit unions to charge significantly lower fees for services.

2. Lower Interest Rates on Debt

   Similar to the above, without the drive for consistently increasing shareholder returns, credit unions are able to offer slightly lower fees on borrowings. A December 2018 report released by the American National Credit Union Association (NCUA) shows that credit union loans charged lower interest rates for a variety of products, including home equity loans, car loans, and shorter term mortgages. These lower interest rates could save you thousands of dollars, depending on your borrowing requirements.

3. Higher Interest Rates on Investments

   While saving money on interest is good, on the flip side, credit unions also can offer higher interest rates for deposits. On the same report by the NCUA, certificate of deposits paid out higher interest rates for any time duration. This means that your extra cash can be put to work, making you more money.

4. Better Customer Service

   Since credit unions are member owned, customer service is generally better than big banks. Members are able to vote on initiatives at the credit union, which leads to a bigger focus on customer service. Contrast this to a bank, which focuses on profits and often leads to cost cutting, especially in the area of customer service. If there’s one thing we can agree on, its when there’s an issue with your money, sitting on hold to reach an unresponsive call-center is not the ideal situation.

5. Expansive ATM Network

   Credit unions typically have fewer brick-and-mortar locations, and even those are centered in a specific geographical area. To deal with this level of access, many credit unions enter into ATM agreements, allowing surcharge free access to an expansive ATM network. These agreements often result in thousands, or tens of thousands of no-fee ATMs spread across North America.

   We work hard to earn our money, which means handling it well is important. Credit unions are becoming increasingly more accessible, and provide an alternative to traditional banking options. From higher interest rates on investments, to lower account fees or interest rates on borrowings, credit unions offer some distinct advantages for our financial well-being. Couple those financial advantages with excellent customer service and extensive ATM access, and credit unions might just make your financial life a little easier.

Valuable Decisions

   Knowing what to say Yes to is difficult. Being able to distinguish between what is often two good choices is therefore essential to achieving more.

So how do you make that decision?

   There are a few different approaches to decision making that are useful. One such approach is a values based decision making system.

What is a values-based decision making system?

   This system involves running each decision through your core values, and only taking action on the choices that support your values. By basing decisions on core values, you will never find yourself in a situation where your actions cause you discomfort, because if the choice doesn’t feel right, you won’t do it.

   This approach to decision making is able to be applied universally to every situation in whichever area of your life that is required. It also helps reduce the decisions to the same criteria, which makes it easier to evaluate when other options affect a different part of your life. For example, a career decision of working overtime can be evaluated against a health or social option much more easily. 

How does this work in practice?

   At Business Minded, some of our core values are Presence, Balance, and Growth. Each decision made must support one of these values for the action to be beneficial. For example, working late is run through the Balance value. If I haven’t been able to spend time with my significant other, or managed to get to the gym for a workout, working late is not conducive to finding balance in my life. For that reason, I will say no to working late in order to say yes to the gym or the girlfriend.

   The decisions we make don’t have to be monumental either, this could be as simple as abiding by the presence value, and not picking up my phone during time with friends and family. This small action helps me be more present, and hence strengthens my relationships with those that I value.

How do I find my values?

   We do not all share the same values, and that is good. Our values are what make us interesting and unique. To find your values, simply look inwards. There are things that you feel are important, and these are where you find your values. Soul searching can be hard though, so an alternative method is thinking about what other people do that irk you. Identifying what upsets you helps shine a light on the behaviors and traits that you value.

I know my values, what now?

   Once you know your values, run each decision through them. Is saying yes going to drive success for you based on your values? If not, what could you do with your time, money, or energy instead? Using a values based decision-making  system will help you stay true to who you are. 

A values based decision-making framework is, well, valuable.

   When you focus on doing things that support who you are, you’ll find more enjoyment in everything you are doing. There are so many options and choices in how we spend our lives. With the constant bombard of opportunities and requests of us, filtering each opportunity through our values will help clear out some of the noise. We might not always be able to avoid negative choices, such as having to work to meet a deadline when we’d rather be anywhere else. But when we are conscious of our values, we’ll be able to make choices that further reinforce who we are, and what we stand for. And I think we can all agree, living life on our terms is certainly important if we’re to make our life a successful one.

Action Item:

What are your values? Write out a few core values that define who you are, and use them to evaluate the choices that come your way. Remember, whenever you say “Yes”, you are also saying “No” to something else. Let’s make sure that the things you actually do help make you the person you want to be.

What are you saying Yes to?

What are you saying ‘Yes’ to?

   In today's world there are constant pressures to do this or that, read this, act on the right now moment. These constant pulls on our attention, our time, our energy, they leave us scrambling. We’re always busy.

But the question is, busy doing what?

   We have been conditioned to say yes. Yes to avoid conflict. Yes to avoid the FOMO. Yes, yes, yes. So often we’ve said yes, we’ve forgotten what it really means. Sure we’re busy, but we’re busy operating on someone else’s plan. And we’re okay with it, because we said Yes!

   From the time we’re old enough to start making decisions, we are being conditioned to say yes. This desire to please everyone starts to become ingrained in our minds, our operating system. Soon enough, we forget what it means to say no. 

   No is disappointment. No is conflict. No means we’re not part of what’s going on. These are the thoughts we have, this is how we’re conditioned. But we’ve got it wrong.

   We haven’t forgotten how to say “No”. We actually say no all the time. You see, every time we say yes, we’re also saying no. Yes to a social night out with friends means no to date night. Yes to that extra project or overtime at work means no to our passion pursuits at home. Yes to those unhealthy snacks means no to our health plan.

   The problem lies therein, to how we process decisions about saying yes. Because we all have limited resources, be it financial, time, or energy. And due to these constraints, we can’t do everything. Recognizing this, and understanding that every yes is a no to something else helps us regain clarity to the bustle of our daily lives.

What should we do?

   First, we need to work on our decision making skills. Making a decision is a skill, and through practice, we can become better at it. This means we need to step out of our default state of saying “Yes”, and give the request some serious thought. And once we know what to say yes to, and why, we get to the next step, saying “No”.

   Just as we need to practice making decisions, we need to practice saying no. After years and years of “yes” being ingrained in our behaviors, saying no will feel uncomfortable. We need to practice saying no to become comfortable saying no. And make no mistake, at first saying No will feel uncomfortable.

   As we take control over the small, seemingly insignificant choices we say yes to right now, we will start to see remarkable changes in our lives. We begin to find time, energy, even money that we can spend in areas that improve our lives. And that improvement? That is growth. That is success.

Ripples of Success

   Balance is essential in the pursuit of success. As we grow, we need to make sure our life’s pillars, the foundations that support our success, are strong. This ensures that instead of reaching for success over the precipice of cliffs, we have a firm place to stand as we reach for success.

   Achieving this balance sounds on the surface like a lot of work. Devoting time to our financial well-being, career advancement, physical fitness, mental or spiritual soundness, strength in our relationships, and love in our romantic pursuits. With a list like that, it is easy to become overwhelmed and forget one or two of our pillars. Fortunately, there is a way forward. As Mark Twain put it:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

   Taking one small action helps us start down the path. Continued by another action, and another. And the good news? These small wins enable us to win at other areas in life, almost without thinking about it. Like a single drop in the middle of the lake, our success ripples out in all directions.

What does this look like in practice?

   We start by walking around the block. And we do that simple, small action every day. Before too long, we start to feel stronger in our legs, our heart, our lungs. That physical win is noticeable. Before long we start to realize that we have slightly more energy at work, simply because we have better blood flow. The result is we get a little more done each day, nothing crazy, just an extra few minutes of productivity. Soon enough those extra few minutes mean we stop working late once or twice a week, and get to spend more time on social activities, and we’re still home in time for an extra meal or two with our loved ones. And we’re still walking around the block, so if we’ve taken that first step of getting moving, feeling healthier, we might just change our diet a little bit. Since we have extra energy at work, we cut back on that caffeinated soda at lunch in favor of water. After all, it’s healthier, and we feel great. 

   The above example is very real, I’ve seen similar results in my own life, where one small change seemingly changed the world. With the ripples of success washing over each other, it’s possible to see these incremental improvements. Seeing growth is both comforting and inspiring, which motivates us to keep going, and strengthens our own sense of self-worth.

   As our success ripples outwards from one small change we can make today, our entire lives are strengthened. These ripples of success lead to more balance, and a firmer foundation to stand upon as we reach for future successes.

   It’s your turn. What one small positive change can you make today, and stick to, that will start the ripples of success improving your life?

Walking to Success

Can walking make you smarter?

   In a recent study published on nature.com, scientists have concluded that “Significant positive relationships between endurance and cognitive performance[1]”. In non-science speak, walking makes you smarter.

What does this mean for us?

   Business Minded promotes success through finding balance in our lives; strengthening our finances, careers, physical bodies, minds and spirit, our relationships, and our romantic pursuits. This further bolsters our approach, adding science to what we already knew. Finding balance in our lives helps us be more successful. As each area of our lives builds on each other, we need a holistic approach to chasing success.

What can you do?

   Fortunately, this study focuses on the act of walking, and the corresponding improvement in both walking endurance and cognitive function. Since each of us can walk (except for those extremely rare cases of physical impairment), we can easily do a couple of laps around the block to make ourselves smarter. This isn’t a rigorous workout regime, and nobody is asking you to run an ultra-marathon. In the study, participants found an increase in brain function (they were smarter) after only a 2-minute brisk walk.

What is the take-away? Simply add a walk into your daily routine.

   Physical fitness is an important part of retaining our health, energy, and vigor. Taking a walk and elevating the heart rate is an important practice for restoring our energy, especially when we start to feel lethargic and tired. The importance of this study adds to the benefits that a quick walk around the block can do, improving cognitive performance as well as restoring energy.

   In practice, when you’re starting to feel drowsy, or if you have an upcoming meeting that you want to be at your best for, try taking a walk around the block, or simply a loop around the office first.  Elevating your heart rate will help you not only remain focused, it will also make you smarter.

   If you want to experience more success in your life and career, adding a little exercise can go a long way. So go out there, make some strides towards success (figuratively and literally)!

 

Action Item:

When are you going to devote some time to walk today? Start with only 5 minutes, you’ll be smarter, healthier, and more energetic because of it!

 

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49301-y, Scientific Reports Volume 9, Article number: 12885 (2019)

Stepping to the Finish Line

… and Beyond

   In our last article we discussed leading behaviors and the steps to achieving goals. This time, we’ll be hopping back into leading behaviors in a more practical way.

   As a recap, leading behaviors are the steps that you can take today and every day that lead to your next goal. Unfortunately, we at Business Minded cannot tell you what those steps are for each of your goals. This is something you need to figure out based on your own individual goals.

   And that’s where this article comes in.

   Think about your current goal. Now start to think about the steps that it will take to reach that goal. We’ll throw a couple of examples your way to illustrate, but likely our examples are more simplified than your goals.

   Let’s say you’re looking to save an extra hundred dollars per month, to put towards your passion project, your retirement, the uses are your goal. What do you need to do each day to reach that goal. That could be brewing your own coffee at home each morning (we hate that example, but in this case it could work). Or it could be making your own lunch every day. (This saves you money and helps you control your diet, a far better example than your morning cup of jo.) Making your lunch every day will save you probably $5 or more a day (if you live in a city). That’s an extra $25 a week to put towards your goal, or an extra $100 a month. Your goal achieved. But you don’t even need to worry about saving the extra $5 a day or the $100 a month. You just need to focus on making lunch for the day, each day. In that case, making lunch is the leading behavior.

   To see this in action we should look at James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, and his research, on the paperclip strategy [https://jamesclear.com/paper-clips]. 

   Reading the article, we can see that the leading behavior was simply making a call. While James jumps into the various psychological cues of the behavior, the actual behavior itself is what drives success. [You can check out JamesClear.com for some advanced habit forming practices and rituals.] The behavioral trigger led to some incredible results, incredible successes, incredible finish lines crossed. 

   The habit, the progressive chase after the daily behavior trigger leads to successful accomplishment of goals. These are the steps that lead across the finish line. That’s why we have our daily and weekly checklist. This helps us track our daily behaviors that eventually lead to success. With enough check-marks in effective behaviors, success is inevitable.

   And so we leave on this; For each of your goals, for each of your pillars, what are the daily behaviors that you need to do that move the needle towards your next milestone? What can you do today to shape the future of tomorrow?

Steps to the Finish Line

   Goals are essential for achievement, which is why we’ve looked at setting SMART goals. The SMART goal setting framework is one of the most effective and most widely understood frameworks for goals, whether personal or professional. This provides us a clear “finish line” to reach. For our largest goals, we should break them down into shorter milestones to keep us focused. But even those milestones can seem out of reach sometimes.

   Achieving a goal is a lagging indicator. You see the completed goal when you sit back to reflect on your progress. All this happens after all the work has gone into your success. Therein lies the issue many of us face, we only see a positive result after we have worked tirelessly for an extended period of time. While it sounds easy to sit here and spout motivation for the grander vision, or talk of the success we feel when we accomplish something, real life doesn’t work that way. In real life, we could lose our drive from one day to the next, and have it back again just as fast. Real life is unpredictable. 

   To face that unpredictability, we can’t look only at the finish line, that marathon distance away. If we look too far into the future we will stumble. We need to know where we are going, looking down the road, but also be aware of what is happening right in front of us each day. That is why we need to focus on leading behaviors. 

   Leading behaviors are the steps that we take each day in the direction of our goals. These steps are few and small enough that we can count. And we need to, count that is. Keep track of the steps or behaviors we take each day, each week, as these will carry us across the finish line of our goals. 

   What does this look like? This is the salesman who makes 50 calls a day (insert a realistic number for your profession). These 50 calls, made with as much enthusiasm and energy as the first, will eventually lead to sales. This is the husband who shows his appreciation each day, leading to a long and loving marriage. This is the athlete hitting the gym each day (except for rest days, those are also important), striving to become better, faster, stronger with each rep. This is the monk, absorbing scriptures or meditating, or expressing gratitude. This is the banker, making her own lunches to have money to spend on what is truly important. This is the parent, carving out time each evening for their child’s development. This is the dreamer, putting in the unappreciated work after the sun goes down, or before the sun comes up, striving to build a better tomorrow.

   This is you, making the small daily choices that carry you across your finish lines, and beyond.

How to Answer Your Strengths Question

What are your greatest strengths?

   We’ve all heard that interview question at one point in our professional lives. The predictable strengths and weaknesses question, where we have the opportunity to highlight both achievements and character traits. The typical response to this question is to either grab from the top of the list of “traits every employer wants in their employees”. These overused and unsupported answers do little to further our cause. While the interviewer usually nods their head as their eyes glaze over with boredom, without some story that backs up the claim, these assertions come out as empty as an upside-down coffee mug.

   The other response is slightly better, we scramble through our list of professional achievements haphazardly, hoping we have done something that proves our value. Unfortunately, our memories are only effective at reaching some accomplishment in the last few days or weeks, and if we’re really lucky, a month or two. These accomplishments, while noteworthy, may not best represent the true value we can bring to the organization.

   Knowing this, we need a better approach to answering this question. We do this by routinely, systematically keeping track of the accomplishments we make on the job. By recording our successes and wins along the way, when that strengths question comes up, we have an answer ready.

   Just as you wouldn’t hire a photographer to capture moments with your children or at your wedding without first seeing some of their work, you also need a portfolio that showcases the fruits of your labor. This career portfolio helps remind you of your value, so when you sit down at your next meeting with your boss, or at that next interview, you can prove your worth.

So how do you create a career portfolio?

   I recommend each month writing down your biggest accomplishment of the previous month. You’ll need to record what the challenge was, how you reacted to it, and the result. This will provide you the flesh to your story that illustrates how you were able to create a positive impact. Any proof that you can show also goes a long way to building credibility. This could simply be an email of thanks from your boss, or an email you send to others that explains what the situation was, and how you resolved it.

   To get you started with your portfolio, you can also go back and write down accomplishments from the past. Even though you might not be able to find “proof” of your impact, you will still be able to showcase a pattern of value that you bring. Once your portfolio has some successes recorded, you are able to fall into the routine of adding to it monthly.

   Maintaining your portfolio monthly serves two purposes; recording achievements before you forget them, and focused on contributing some measure of success to your organization. Trying to have a positive impact monthly, even if it’s only because you want something else for your portfolio, will help you stand out among your peers. And because of this focus on achieving more, you will eventually be handsomely rewarded for your efforts, leading you to even higher levels of success.

   So next time someone asks you to “tell me a time when…” or “what are your strengths”, you’ll be prepared. Your career portfolio will help you ace those questions, with concrete examples of the challenges you overcame, and the successes you wrought. As you continue to seek new accomplishments to add to your career portfolio, you will stand out among your peers. Your pursuit of success will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and your career portfolio will continue to grow, paying dividends with each new deposit.

Action Item:

Start your career portfolio today. Write down at least 3 examples of challenges you have overcome professionally. 

What was the challenge?

What did you do?

What was the result?

And for bonus points, what were the attributes you displayed in this example? (These are your strengths!)