Financial Architects - January 2019



RETHINKING RESOLUTIONS The Importance of Environment

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I have a bone to pick with New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t believe in setting long-term goals or that people shouldn’t try to improve themselves — after all, helping people do these things is what my job is all about. However, it’s because of this experience that I can’t help but feel many people — myself included — approach these yearly resolutions in the wrong way. Traditional New Year’s resolutions frame major life changes as being a matter of willpower. Whether your goal is to lose weight or cut back on your spending, you may often think of these shifts as being purely about personal choice and self-control. But when it comes to accomplishing something as monumental as changing deeply rooted habits, relying on yourself to change at the drop of a hat is a recipe for disappointment. The numbers back me up. The University of Scranton researched the completion rate of New Year’s resolutions as well as they could, relying largely on self-reporting volunteers. They found that only 8 percent of Americans accomplish their resolutions each year. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to play those odds. So how can you rethink resolutions to make them more successful? Attempting to answer this question for myself, I picked up a book that has been making a lot of waves in the business community:

“Willpower Doesn’t Work” by Benjamin Hardy. A Ph.D candidate in organizational psychology, Hardy’s core thesis is that altering your surroundings is the first step to reaching your goals. If you really want to change yourself, you need to change your environment first. Anyone who has raised children can relate to this. No matter how much you impart good morals to your kids, and no matter how willful they may be, if they hang out with the wrong crowd long enough, they’ll eventually pick up some of those behaviors. Sure, maybe 8 percent of those kids has what it takes to not give in to social pressures, but the truth is most people — not just kids — are affected by their environments. Take your standard “health kick” resolution. People resolve to lose weight but neglect to remove temptations from their fridges. They continue to eat with friends and family who aren’t on a diet and fail to adapt their daily schedules to make room for exercise. To really make a habit stick, the people and environment around you need to positively reinforce that change. This applies to finance as well. So often, friends, family, and societal expectations can negatively influence your spending habits. Some feel like they have to drive a car as nice as their next-door neighbor’s or take the same lavish vacations as their relatives regardless of their own financial

reality. Social pressure, in particular, is a huge factor. Many parents feel like they have to bankrupt themselves just to send their kids to college debt-free. So how do you change your financial environment for the better? You can’t exactly cut out toxic social pressures from your life the way you can clean out sugary, processed foods from your fridge. But you can make sure you’re in contact with positive influences. That’s why we value personalized relationships here at Financial Architects. Beyond helping you build a financial framework to reach your long-term goals, we’re always there to answer questions and provide insight. Maybe paying for 100 percent of your children’s tuition just isn’t realistic, and that’s okay. We’re here to help you parse those difficult decisions and help you find the best route for you and your family. If you’re struggling with those resolutions at the outset of the year, consider this your Get Out of Jail Free card. When it comes to willing yourself to personal improvement, the numbers just don’t add up. Instead, you can resolve to spend more time with those who make a positive impact on your life and start changing your environment for the better.

Here’s to a bright new year,

–Chris Cousins



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