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Better Strategies

This is the time of year when we do two things: predict the future and make resolutions. In my experience, neither has been very helpful. The predictions, breathlessly reported by the print media and cable financial channels, seem to be doomed on arrival, because they reflect the consensus view that always gets surprised by new circumstances. And the resolutions die a slow death as old habits inevitably reassert themselves.

Perhaps this time, in 2015 and going forward, we can change our strategy. Many years ago, I resolved to be surprised by events and expect surprises, and I have to say it seems to work a lot better than anchoring on expectations or thinking I know what's coming around the next bend. That doesn't mean I can't talk about the future, but it does help me to be cautious about trying to pin down exactly what's going to happen, and it seems to add a certain resiliency to my responses whenever something unexpected comes up.

As for resolutions, I think we need to acknowledge, up-front, that changing habits is hard-and that's especially true about habits that don't serve us well. We wouldn't ever decide, intellectually, to be lazy about exercise, spend too much or eat certain unhealthful foods. We do those things because something other than our higher cognitive abilities periodically takes charge and makes decisions that our cerebral mind is not (for whatever reason) able to overcome. My solution, which may not work for everyone, is to replace resolutions with goals.

When you set goals, and especially when you keep your goals visible on your computer screen, it accomplishes two things. First, it takes you out of the business of changing behavior (eat fewer desserts) and into the business of achieving something concrete (lose 8 pounds by March). You can still eat that piece of cake for dessert, but now, when you boot up your computer screen, you realize that last night's cake has to be worked off by an hour or two at the gym. As you get in the habit of achieving goals, your dysfunctional habits might change, slowly, as a byproduct.

I think these strategies could be applied by some of the people who affect our profession as well. Instead of asking (screaming, in the case of Mary Schapiro) for more funding from Congress, the SEC could set a goal of having every enforcement person who inspects advisor offices raise his/her number of inspections from three a year to something more reasonable, like 10 or 15-which is still less than a third the number that most advisors would achieve if they were hired and given the task. Meanwhile, instead of inviting their guests to make wild exciting predictions about where the market will be in six months, the financial TV hosts could ask about timeless saving and investing strategies, or debate the merits of dollar-cost averaging. (My advice to you: Don't hold your breath.)

As we cross the threshold into 2015, I want to wish all of you reading this a productive, prosperous and fulfilling 2015. And more than that, I want to become a resource to help you achieve this goal. Please let me know what you'd like me to write about, or research, that would make Inside Information a better resource for you and your practice. All of my best ideas come from you, so I'll read everything you send with interest and respect.

Meanwhile, please accept my sincere thanks for being a part of our Inside Information community and for giving us the opportunity to help you shape the future of the profession–and for sharing your insights over the past year.

I will ask one more favor of you, on behalf of others in the profession. Please feel free to share this issue of our newsletter with one other advisor who might benefit from our services, somebody who you feel is doing great work for his/her clients, and ask them to get in touch with me for a free trial subscription (three months) to see if it does, indeed, impact their professional lives in a positive way. I think the new year is going to be terrific–because I'm confident we'll make it so.