Even though in the end much of the success in a financial planning engagement ultimately comes down to behavior change - helping a client alter whatever he/she was doing towards something that will better allow them to achieve their goals - there is still remarkably little education and training for financial planners focused directly on behavior change. Instead, advisors must turn to resources from other industries and professions to find ideas and best practices about how to help their clients actually make the behavioral changes necessary to achieve their goals.
A recent new book, however, makes headway in this regard. "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath, provides one of the most accessible books yet on understanding behavior change and the techniques that can help to bring it about. Using a fantastic series of metaphors, the Heath brothers liken the battle in our brains between the rational and emotional sides as an elephant and its rider - noting that at best, the rational rider can help to steer the direction that the two will go, but that ultimately it's the energy and drive of the elephant that will dictate most outcomes. Accordingly, the authors suggest that the best way to ultimately achieve behavior change is through a combination of efforts, to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path that the pair must follow to help guide the outcome.
The book provides a remarkably good framework for financial planners, who arguably spend a great deal of time oriented towards directing the rational rider to long-term goals, but don't spend very much time at all focused on how to motivate the elephant or shape its environment. In fact, many planners are notorious for focusing entirely on the "rational" solutions without engaging "messy" client feelings (a classic "rider-centric" planning approach), and we often spend almost no time at all thinking about how clients can reshape their environment to help themselves succeed (for instance, by encouraging clients to find a social support group for their problematic spending behaviors, or suggesting that they think about relocating to a neighborhood or getting a different group of friends who will be less likely to encourage their bad spending behavior). While the book "Switch" doesn't necessarily provide a lot of new and original research (at least for anyone who's read the works of many of the primary researchers in this space from Daniel Kahneman to James Prochaska), it provides what is easily one of the most accessible treatments of the topic that can help planners to think fresh about how they might incorporate more behavioral change techniques into their own practices!