When it comes to helping clients clarify their most important financial planning goals and priorities, many advisors may find it difficult to facilitate the insightful conversations necessary to guide clients through an exploration of these values. Clients may be tempted to postpone having such intimately personal discussions, and advisors may not be certain how to frame the discussion so that it is both productive and comfortable for the client. But by first establishing trust and guiding the client through an exploration of what their ideal future looks like, advisors can ask specific questions that help the client identify what specifically is most important to them in their lives right now, that will be most impactful in helping them structure their ideal future.
George Kinder, the father of Life Planning, developed a 3-question discovery process designed to help advisors achieve this by helping clients assess their life values and identify their most important personal priorities. While the first question asks clients to explore what their ideal future looks like (as they deepen a shared trust with their advisor, co-creating a future vision together), the second helps clients imagine the future goals that would be needed to realize their ideal future. The third and final question encourages clients to examine what they would need to do right now, in the present moment, to ultimately achieve their most important goals.
While the first 2 Life Planning questions are forward looking, asking the client to contemplate aspects of their future selves, the third question requires clients to consider what feelings they would have about the future they just imagined if they were told they only had 1 day left to live. What would they miss? What did they not get to be? What did they not get to do? Notably, the question refrains from using the word “regret”, which can have a negative association that, for many people, may discourage them from having an open and positive exploration of their feelings. Despite this, the client’s regret is really the essence of what is being examined by this question, as a way to identify the gap between the client’s dream of a perfect future and the reality of their current situation.
Importantly, because regret can be a powerfully negative emotion that can raise very uncomfortable feelings for the client, it is critical that the third Life Planning question be asked carefully, with unconditional positive regard and empathy for the client. To do this, advisors can offer their support and guidance as a facilitator, responding in a nonjudgmental manner to the client’s responses. In addition, asking thoughtful and engaging follow-up questions can keep the conversation flowing and allow the client to dig deeper into their underlying motivations. While planning recommendations should not be made during the discussion of the 3 Life Planning questions (which is time devoted for the client to explore and imagine their future dreams), the responses and insights that are shared during the process can eventually be used to develop a meaningful and actionable financial plan for the client.
Ultimately, the key point is that George Kinder’s 3 Life Planning questions can help the advisor and client better understand what the client genuinely values most and what they can start doing now to bridge the gap existing between where they currently are and where they want to be in the future. And by helping clients visualize the path they need to take with clarity and objectivity, advisors can provide the support and guidance to help them realize their most meaningful futures!
George Kinder, the father of Life Planning, is well known for his 3-question discovery process that aims to help clients create more holistic financial planning goals by accounting for their life values and helping them identify their most important personal priorities. For advisors who want to use this approach with their own clients, it is useful to understand how the 3 questions are designed to build on one another and the specific sequence to use them.
The first question, discussed in a previous article, helps clients identify their ideal vision of what they want their future to look like, building trust between the financial advisor and the client for what is yet to come in the next two questions, and asks:
I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is… how would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.
The second question, also discussed in a past article, helps clients begin prioritizing their most important goals by asking:
This time, you visit the doctor who tells you that you have only 5 to 10 years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick (you will remain as healthy as you are today for at least 5 years). The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live? Will you change your life? How you will do it?
The third and final question, which is the focus of this article, is meant to encourage clients to understand how important the goals they identified earlier, by addressing Questions 1 and 2, really are to them and to motivate them to develop a plan of action to start realizing those goals right now.
Notably, because the third question may elicit powerful emotions from clients – often more than even the first 2 questions – a critical point for using Life Planning questions is to understand how to ask them correctly (and sensitively!) so that clients have an overall rewarding and relevant outcome in helping them identify and achieve their goals. Because even though the conversations that come up during this process can be challenging for clients, advisors who successfully use these Life Planning questions to channel their clients’ emotional energy can help them home in on the deeper reasons behind why their goals are so important to them, establishing a powerful and meaningful connection to their financial plan.
George Kinder’s Third Life Planning Question Examines What Clients Would Regret If They Ran Out Of Time
George Kinder’s third Life Planning question pushes the client one step further into the process of contemplating the meaning and significance of their goals by asking them to again consider their future, but now with only 1 day left to live. Importantly, this conversation relies on the trust that has been established between the advisor and client from the conversations addressing Questions 1 and 2, which is why it is so important to ask these questions in order. Through these earlier discussions, the advisor and client have both been hard at work co-creating an experience in which the client has shared their personal feelings about their ideal future. Specifically, Question 3 asks:
This time your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?
Notably, this question omits using the word “regret”, even though regret is the essence of what this question is truly addressing, because people tend to explore their emotions and feelings more openly and positively without the negative association they can have when specifically thinking about their regrets. And this invitation to think openly may encourage the client, at least subliminally, to keep their focus on what is most meaningful to them right now, instead of despairing over a future that no longer exists for them.
This is, however, not to suggest that the future is unimportant. On the contrary, the Kinder Life Planning process is very much about the future. Eliminating an individual’s hypothetical future and asking them to consider, “What did you miss?” and “Who did you not get to be?” specifically helps the client pinpoint their most important goals and priorities that they haven’t yet realized.
By asking these questions, the advisor (and the client, themselves) can better understand who the client can still become as they contemplate the possibilities. And when they realize and acknowledge the gap that exists between where they currently are and where they want to be in the future, clients can see the path they need to take with more clarity and objectivity, and advisors can help guide them with recommendations and support to help them achieve their most meaningful futures.
Regret Can Help Individuals To Make Sense Of Past Events And Motivate Them To Take Action
Even though regret is not explicitly called out by the third Life Planning question, a client’s regrets are inevitably going to creep into the conversation. However, even though feelings of regret can be uncomfortable, they are not necessarily feelings that should be ignored because exploring regret, if done skillfully, can be extremely powerful.
This is because the regret we experience when taking responsibility for undesired outcomes can serve as a valuable learning opportunity, as it may offer insight into how we value and honor our own priorities. Even more importantly, this lesson can also help us identify how to reorient our behavior for better outcomes in the future.
Example 1: Jodie met with his advisor, Benson, and instructed him to make a major purchase of Soap Company stock after he heard exciting radio advertisements promoting new cleaning products the company had just released. While Benson advised Jodie that this would be a dangerous transaction for his portfolio, Jodie disregarded his warning, ensured Benson that he knew what he was doing, and told him that it was a risk he needed to take.
Benson tried to explain the value of diversification, but Jodie refused to change his mind and ordered Benson to purchase the stock. Complying with his client’s very clear wishes, Benson bought $500K shares of Soap for Jodie. One week later, Soap Co. tanked, and Jodie’s shares were only worth $5,000.
In their next meeting together, Jodie was extremely remorseful for disregarding Benson’s advice and explained his feelings of regret with Benson. Jodie admitted that he only pretended to understand what Benson was trying to tell him, and that he didn’t know as much about investing as he thought he did – he realized that he had just gotten caught up in the thrill of a foolish get-rich-quick possibility that had clouded his real priority of saving for retirement more sensibly.
Because of this realization, Jodie wanted to better understand how investments really worked, and asked Benson if he would help him understand why diversification was so important. After many conversations together with Benson, and doing his own personal research, Jodie proceeded to work with his advisor to build up a well-diversified portfolio of mutual funds and index-based ETFs.
To further examine the value and utility of regret, psychology professor Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management, together with researchers Colleen Saffrey and Amy Summerville, published research in 2008 determining that regret was the emotion considered most favorably of 12 different negative emotions surveyed (including anger, anxiety, boredom, disappointment, fear, guilt, jealousy, sadness). Additionally, regret was found to be an effective motivator for “making sense of past experiences, facilitating approach behaviors, facilitating avoidance behaviors, gaining insights into the self, and in preserving social harmony.”
These principles can extend to the work advisors do with their clients, too. Which means that by exploring what their clients would regret today, if they had no future to look to, advisors can help clients to make sense of their own past experiences, which can potentially motivate them to identify changes they can make and areas they can focus on to realize their most important goals. And this is exactly what George Kinder’s Life Planning questions do. Clients are encouraged to consider the question, “Where am I in the world, and what does that mean to me?” These questions not only help clients clarify their values and the unrealized goals (so far) that are most important to them, but, by showing clients how the regrets that arise if clients were denied the opportunity to pursue those goals, these questions also encourage clients to begin seeking out ways to begin acting on those goals immediately.
In determining the role that regret can play in influencing motivation, Roese’s research study examined its impact on decision-making and found that regret can influence people to stop doing things that don’t make them happy (e.g., quitting a job they hate) and to start engaging in more enjoyable activities (e.g., spending more time with friends and family). And ultimately, discouraging what makes a person unhappy and inviting what makes them happy are both essential factors, not just to conceptualize their ideal future, but also to affect the required changes needed to realize that future.
Clients know when they are not living their ideal dream and that there is often a gap between who they are and who they really want to be. And if they don’t, the first 2 Kinder Life Planning questions help them identify these things very clearly through the ‘dream of freedom’ that the client and the advisor co-created together. However, when it comes to taking action on these realizations, an immense amount of mental and emotional strength is typically required.
While the 3 Life Planning questions are designed to build sequentially on one other, they also come full circle. As while the 1st question asks the client to identify their dream of freedom and the 2nd question helps them organize their values and priorities, the 3rd question relies on the regrets that surface, motivating clients to take action and move toward the dream of freedom identified in the 1st question. Most importantly, the discussions that arise from these 3 questions help the client visualize their ideal future based on what matters most to the client, through the process of co-creating that scenario with their advisor, so that a clear and realistic plan can be designed – one that will motivate the client to implement and follow… right now.
How Financial Advisors Can Help Clients Explore Regrets Productively Using Kinder’s Third Question
The key instruction around using the 3rd Life Planning question successfully is to acknowledge that regret can be a powerfully negative emotion that can raise very uncomfortable feelings for the client, no matter how useful any of the ensuing discussions may be. Therefore, using regret as a planning tool can be compared to working with a knife edge, as when the knife is sharply honed and used correctly, things can go very well and result in clients being clear and motivated to proceed on the path ahead. On the other hand, if the blade is dull and not used properly, the conversation can result in clients who are emotionally overwhelmed and unable and/or unwilling to continue the discussion.
Which is why it is crucial to display both empathy and unconditional positive regard for clients when discussing their feelings of regret. Unconditional positive regard is a principle of client-centered therapy, developed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. It is based on a practice of “respecting the client as a human being with [their] own free will and operating under the assumption that [they are] doing the best they can.” Unconditional positive regard is a central tool used in Life Planning, and is especially crucial when asking the 3rd Life Planning question to explore regrets.
The analogy of a water bucket is useful here. Asking clients about dreams they may never have mentioned to anyone before, as well as their regrets for never having fulfilled those dreams, can be compared to asking them to fill a bucket of water, where the weight of the water is an analogy for the emotional energy we are asking the client to share. When filled, the bucket is heavy and difficult to hold, especially when the water is sloshing around. Likewise, maintaining one's composure when discussing feelings that can be highly emotional and painful, especially when those thoughts and feelings are in complete turmoil, can be unbearable for the client.
Yet, just holding onto the bucket is not the only option the client has. Instead, they can choose to empty the bucket, put the bucket down, actively seek help with carrying the bucket, or accept the help that is already being offered. For advisors who want to support their clients and who value the relationships they have with them, the last thing they want to do is to leave the client holding their bucket full of water all on their own, unaware of what their options are. Which means that when a client provides highly charged emotional responses to their advisor’s questions, the advisor can help their client best by offering support to share the emotionally heavy burden.
In order to do this, advisors can offer their support and guidance as professional facilitators. This starts with the advisor reassuring the client that, regardless of what they share, the advisor will be there to help carry their bucket. This can be through telling the client to set the bucket down, lending a hand to carry the bucket for a while, or helping the client pour the bucket out.
Wrangling buckets of emotions is not an easy job, but it is not an impossible job. In fact, there are many great training programs, including George Kinder’s program for Registered Life Planners, that help support financial advisors in their quest for more education and that help them practice working with emotion. Other training programs that can help advisors learn more about this field include the Financial Transitionist Institute, Financial Therapy Association, and the Financial Behavioral Specialists.
How To Support Clients Through An Emotionally Charged Conversation
To illustrate how advisors can support their clients when the conversation heats up with emotional energy, consider the following example.
Example 2: Penny is a financial planner and is meeting with Carla, a brand new client. Penny has gone through the first 2 Life Planning questions with Carla, and when Penny gets to the third question, Carla reveals her passion for the arts, and that she regrets that she set up her trust to leave all of her money to her kids when she dies.
As Carla contemplates this more, she shares her realization that she doesn’t really want to leave anything to her children because she doesn’t think they have the capacity to spend money responsibly.
When she hears herself say this to Penny, Carla immediately feels deep shame and is hit by an enormous emotional bomb of remorse. She begins to cry, exclaiming that she can’t believe that she just said that, and that she doesn’t know what to do.
If Penny wants to be supportive of her client, she must respond in a nonjudgmental manner that shows Carla that she is on her side. Regardless of how Penny may feel personally about Carla’s revelation, her priority is to support and guide her client through a difficult time. She will not shame Carla for her feelings about her children or the arts, and will emphasize that she will help her manage whatever changes Carla wants to make to her plan going forward.
But how would an advisor convey these things? What exactly could they do and say?
Using Regret As A Framework For Action
In the example above, Penny could respond to her client by framing the situation as an auspicious opportunity to work on something personally meaningful for Carla. For example, Penny may tell Carla something like, “I am so glad you are letting these emotions come up and that you are sharing them with me. This information helps us figure out exactly what we need to work on, and I will be here to support you. Thank you for being open to going this deep and sharing these ideas and beliefs with me – we will work on this together.”
A key point to discussing emotionally heavy topics with clients is acknowledging and honoring the client’s feelings and not dismissing them. In the example above, Penny would not have helped her client feel as supported if she had responded with something like, “Thank you for sharing that. This means you will have to change your estate plan.” A response like this might cause the client to feel foolish or dismissed, with the message that the advisor does not want to hear more about the emotional impact of the important goals they are contemplating.
Additionally, there are instances where an advisor may have personal feelings in conflict with a client’s goals or actions. Even if there are good reasons to discuss these conflicting views with the client, the important thing to bear in mind is that the point of the Life Planning questions is to walk the client through an exploratory process that helps them realize what’s most important to them. Which means that playing devil’s advocate and offering alternative suggestions should be saved for another conversation, preferably when emotions are not running so high.
Ultimately, the process of implementing a financial plan can be a lifelong process for the client, and there will be ample time along the way to iron out how to adjust and modify the goal as the client’s priorities change.
In the case of Penny and Carla presented in the example above, Penny will eventually discuss with Carla the specific mechanics of what will actually happen to the kids’ inheritance, but Penny knows this is not the time and place. Penny knows that right now, her job is to help Carla through this emotionally difficult conversation first – to share the burden of holding her bucket, and not to leave Carla alone to hold the bucket by herself.
Additional questions that Penny can ask to explore Carla’s thoughts in more depth (and without judgment) at this point include:
- How does this revelation or new idea feel to you?
- Tell me a bit more about your thought process; what is coming up for you?
Questions about thought processes and feelings can be good ways to learn more about what a client may be going through and what they may actually be envisioning. They are also good ways for the advisor to show they are interested in and care about what the client has to say. There is no judgment made, and no recommendations or potential next steps being discussed here. The discussion around these questions serves to help the advisor learn more about their client's values, and also helps the client to process important ideas they may never have articulated before.
Acknowledging Regret To Move Past Guilt
When clients answer the Life Planning questions with feelings of guilt and remorse over past actions, advisors may have difficulty framing the conversation as a way to move forward with an action plan. Consider the example below.
Example 3: Penny is a financial planner and is meeting with Casey, a brand new client. Penny has gone through the first 2 Life Planning questions with Casey, and when Penny gets to the third question, Casey gets very emotionally upset, noting that she had gotten into a huge fight with her sister over money over a month ago, and that her sister will no longer speak with her.
Casey tells Penny that if she had only one day left to live, she’d be heartbroken that her relationship had fallen apart and that she’d never know if her sister would ever forgive her.
In this scenario, Casey has revealed that she has a deep love for her sister, but she hasn’t really identified any actionable forward-looking goals. In this case, Penny recognizes that the emotional burden caused by her sister is potentially blocking Casey from focusing on creating her own future goals. She feels that encouraging her client to put her bucket down, and even to pour it out, would be most helpful to begin moving forward on her client’s financial plan.
In response to her client, Penny acknowledges the weight of Casey’s regret, and then encourages her to put her bucket down for now. She tells Casey, “I hear that you wish that things in the past had turned out differently and how much your sister means to you. However, let’s pause for a moment and think about how we want to move forward. We can’t change the past, but we can certainly take action to shape our future, which is where we want to focus right now. The emotions we experience can be powerful guides to help us do that, so tell me, what do you want to do differently with your money moving forward?”
The key point here is that it doesn’t help clients to dwell on things that they cannot change; it only leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Instead, advisors can help clients shift their focus onto realizing their most exciting and meaningful future goals, using the Life Planning questions to motivate clients in positive ways. Because there will always be things clients can start (or stop) doing that can bring them closer to the goals and priorities identified in their dream of freedom.
The training process for financial advisors seeking to become Registered Life Planners requires them to experience the Life Planning process themselves, as if they were the client. This helps them understand the power and importance of empathy on a very personal level.
Asking Clients Good Questions To Keep The Conversation Moving Forward
So how can an advisor keep the conversation moving forward, serving as a supportive guide and offering empathy along the way? One vital tool to help advisors achieve this is to have a good arsenal of follow-up questions ready. Advisors can ask clients to consider how the feelings and ideas that are coming up for them have meaning for them, how the information might be providing insights on what they can change, and what actions they actually want to take.
Notably, advisors do not have to give advice while discussing any of the 3 Life Planning questions, at least not yet. The job of the advisor during these conversations is primarily to facilitate the client’s own self-discovery process. Let’s return to the dialogue between Penny Planner with her clients Carl and Cheryll, continuing from previous articles where Penny has guided them through the 1st question to explore their dreams and the 2nd question to examine their priorities, to see how Penny can keep the conversation flowing as she uses the 3rd question to help them prioritize what’s most important to them.
Example 4: Penny Planner is meeting with her clients Carl and Cheryll to guide them through George Kinder’s 3 Life Planning questions, which she had emailed to them prior to the meeting. She has just finished working through the first 2 questions, tying their thoughts back to the plan after each question.
It is now time to ask Carl and Cheryll the final Life Planning question.
(Note: Even though this conversation is broken across multiple blog articles, it is important to note that all 3 of the Kinder Life Planning questions are designed to be asked during a single meeting.)
Penny: Okay, so now we’re ready to get into the 3rd question that I sent in the email. Cheryll, let’s start with you. This time around, imagine that you have visited the doctor and now the news is that you have only 1 day left to live. I would like for you to notice the feelings that are coming up for you as you confront this news.
[Penny pauses for a moment to let Cheryll gather her thoughts.]
Please ask yourself: What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?
Cheryll: I struggled with how to answer this one. I can honestly say I have done what I set out to do – I enjoy my career, I love my family, I like who I am, and I don’t feel the need to be someone different. I mentioned before that I do want to volunteer more – As a working mom myself, I have always felt a personal connection to other working mothers, and I know I can do more to support them. I think I would have liked it if I had a chance to do more to establish an aspect of my legacy that would have somehow supported women in their careers as mothers.
Penny: Thank you, Cheryll, that’s wonderful. Let me repeat back what I am hearing. You are content with the life you have lived, but if you knew you would be gone tomorrow, one thing you would wish you could have done was to support other women balancing their work and family life. Potentially, to the extent of tying it to your legacy.
Cheryll: Yes. I think that sums it up.
Penny: Alright, good. The good news is that there is no reason to believe you will actually be gone tomorrow; we do have more time to work on this. So let me ask you this, now that you have identified this important goal. How do you want that to impact your financial plan and our work together?
Penny is offering support to Cheryll (who mentioned how she struggled with the question) by helping her ‘carry her bucket’ and bear the burden of contemplating an imminent death by reassuring her that there is actually nothing to be worried about – that she still has time to work on these goals. She is also keeping the ideas that Cheryll has shared with her, and objectively framing them in the context of how they will work together.
Cheryll: Hmm. I was thinking about leaving money to an MBA scholarship for working mothers, but I think more than that, I’d like to focus on volunteering.
Penny: We can certainly work on gifting strategies, but tell me more about how you envision spending your time volunteering.
Regardless of how Cheryll may answer, Penny now has the basis for including important priorities in her client’s financial plan. The key point illustrated here is Penny’s use of effective follow-up questions: How does Cheryll want to volunteer more? What does that look like to her? What type of gifting does she want to do? How does Cheryll want these things to impact their work together?
These are all questions that relate back to the idea of what the advisor and client are going to do with this bucket of dreams and regrets that the client has filled – what are they jointly holding, what have we chosen to pour out, and what are we setting down?
All of these questions have helped Penny identify and place structure around designing relevant action steps toward Cheryll’s goals.
After a lengthy discussion with Cheryll about her goals and the actions Cheryll wants to take to design her legacy, Penny shifts her focus on to Carl.
Penny: Your turn Carl, same question. Imagine you have visited the doctor and this time the news is that you have only 1 day left to live. I would like for you to notice what feelings are coming up for you as you confront your very real mortality.
[Again, Penny pauses for a moment to let Carl gather his thoughts.]
Please ask yourself: What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?
Carl: [taking a deep breath before speaking slowly] I am not present in my life and I haven’t been for a long time. I missed many opportunities to connect with my kid. I did not get to be a super-dad. I did not get to try to be the best grandfather.
Penny: Carl, thank you. I really feel where you’re coming from. [Penny places her hand over her heart and smiles empathetically at Carl.]
If I may ask, now that you see this, how do you want this realization to impact your current life?
Penny is taking in this powerful ‘regret’ statement Carl has just shared with her, and pauses to offer her support and empathy by thanking Carl and letting him know that she hears him. But she then moves the conversation back to the present and asks Carl to focus on how he might use what he’s discovered to shape his behavior going forward. Penny is not letting Carl stand by himself to hold the bucket on his own; she is trying to figure out what he wants to do with it and assuring him that he is not alone.
This is not easy to do, but it is important to keep a client’s feelings of regret from taking over the conversation. Penny acknowledges Carl’s emotions, but then she uses them as a springboard to bring the conversation back to the present. Penny is serving as a sturdy leader for Carl – she does not leave him hanging, feeling bad about what he regrets; instead, she guides him back to the present to help him identify how he can take action about his discoveries.
Carl: I want to be more present for my family.
Penny: You mentioned earlier that you wanted to have more dinner dates and special moments together with Cheryll; can you now give me an example of how you see yourself being more present with your children and grandkids?
Penny will continue her dialogue with Carl, just as she did with Cheryll, to learn more about what Carl is thinking and feeling, and how his thoughts and feelings relate to his financial plan and their work together.
An important point about Penny’s conversation with Carl is how she focused on change. Carl released some powerful emotions when answering his question, including guilt, sadness, and regret. Without some means of defusing these difficult emotions, it’s easy to imagine that Carl could quickly become overwhelmed by the conversation and feel like he is left with the bucket. However, Penny helps Carl carry his emotional bucket by pausing to tell him that she can relate to his feelings, and that she knows where he is coming from.
Furthermore, by continuing the conversation with her action-oriented follow-up questions, Penny keeps Carl from becoming overwhelmed and adding more to his already-full bucket, especially because letting Carl dwell on his regrets won’t help them make progress on their work today. At the same time, Penny helps Carl identify options about what he can do with the bucket going forward – in addition to asking how he is feeling and what he is thinking, Penny wants to know what Carl hopes to do with what he has discovered and how they can potentially address those goals, working together over the next 20 or 30 years.
Penny continues by once again summarizing their discussion, framing what Carl and Cheryll have shared with her in the context of their financial plan.
Penny: Thank you both again so much for all you’ve shared here today. Having these conversations has been really hard work and you’ve been very brave to dive into these questions. I feel very honored to be on this journey with you.
If I may, I would like to summarize what I have heard, and then I would like for us to organize some immediate action items. These action items will serve as important milestones in our continued work together.
Carl & Cheryll: [smiling] We are ready.
Throughout her meeting with Carl and Cheryll, Penny has used thoughtful and engaging follow-up questions to help her client identify and reflect on how they want to move forward, using regret in a positive way. Cheryll and Carl are motivated by the discussion and, more importantly, have a way to get started.
Using regret to create a little stress and cognitive dissonance (but not so much as to cause anxiety) can be an effective way to help clients clarify meaningful ways to implement change and improve their lives. For Registered Life Planners, grounding the emotional energy that clients release during the Life Planning process is done through the creation of a “Torch Statement”. Similar to a company’s mission statement, the Torch Statement helps clients summarize their most important goals, but applies to their very personal ‘dream of freedom’ ideals and uses all 5 senses to describe what their most fulfilling future looks, tastes, smells, and feels like.
Like a Life Planning Torch Statement, a financial plan can also serve to ground the emotional energy that clients release after discussing the Life Planning questions with their advisor. The plan can then be used as a powerful tool to help clients stay focused on their most important priorities, and can be revisited periodically to maintain progress toward their goals.
In the example dialogue above, Penny has collected lots of goals and objectives from Carl and Cheryll and has helped them organize their priorities. Now, it is a matter of documenting their actions going forward, and revisiting the plan on a regular basis until Carl and Cheryll can both say they are living their ideal dream lives.
George Kinder’s 3 Life Planning questions form the basis of a powerful process that involves much more than just asking questions – they also give insight into many of the psychological levers and gears in action that influence a client’s behavior; this helps the client understand how to better navigate the path leading to their ideal life, and also helps the financial advisor design a relevant financial plan with goals that will ultimately help the client reach their destination!