Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, November 6, 2016.
Question: So much of what goes on in financial matters is outside of my control. Sometimes it seems like all the planning in the world can be undone by some unforeseen circumstance. Am I wasting my time doing financial planning?
Answer: Don’t let the absence of perfection cause you to abort the process of progress. The fact that you cannot make your financial life absolutely air tight is hardly any reason to abandon making it better.
However, you are correct to observe that many things in life are out of your control. Let’s call these things the “results” of life.
I think consultant Wayne Cotton gets it right when he says, “You can’t manage results, you can only measure them. What you can manage are the key activities that lead to results.”
“Dreaming about the results you want to achieve might help you clarify your purpose or improve your mindset. That’s important, but wishful thinking won’t get you where you want to go,” he says.
Cotton concludes, “You’ll get there because you take consistent forward motion on the essential activities that lead directly to your desired result.”
Results cannot always be controlled. I can do my best to influence the outcome of a thing, but often I just have to admit the result is out of my control.
The salesman cannot make the prospect say yes. The entrepreneur cannot make the banker agree to the loan. The investor cannot make the market drive up the price of the investment he just selected. The young man cannot make his date want to give him a kiss goodnight. The father cannot make his child want to eat his vegetables.
But these things can be influenced. And they are influenced by the things you do. Let’s call these things the “activities” of life.
We drive ourselves crazy (and make lots of bad decisions) by trying to control the uncontrollable (results), while ignoring the very things that have the greatest chance of bringing about the results we crave.
We try to manage results, when all we can really do is measure them. And we ignore (or allow to be totally random) our own activities, when these are the very things we should manage, as they are within our control.
The salesman cannot make his prospect say yes. But he can practice and perfect his presentation so that his customer sees his product in the best light.
The entrepreneur cannot make the banker agree to the loan, but he can anticipate all the concerns that banker might have and address them ahead of time.
The investor cannot make the market drive up the price of the investment he just selected. But he can improve his investment selection process so that more of the investments he makes end up being winners.
And if you think I’m going to tell you how a young man can make his date want to give him a kiss goodnight or a father make his child want to eat his vegetables you’ve got another thing coming.
Trying to manage results leads to frustration and confusion. Measuring results, on the other hand, leads to clarity and (hopefully) honesty.
Spend most of your time on your process – the activities in which you engage hour by hour and day by day.
These are what you can manage because they are under you control. And they are the tools that allow you to have the greatest influence on the results you want.
Measure results. But manage activity.
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