I sat there, doing my best to recognize that even if just for a moment, everything was right. There was nowhere else to be, nothing to be done, and no thought or planning that had to occupy my brain.
Just the breath.
At least, according to Sam Harris, the creator of the aptly named meditation app “Waking Up.”
Over the last year and a half, Sam’s voice has echoed through my ears and attempted to tame the monkey mind that supposedly lives in all of us. For ten minutes most days of the week, I sit and focus on my thoughts for what they are: flighty, unceremonious blurbs that can theoretically pass through without requiring me to immerse myself in them. Despite my best efforts, I consistently become literally “lost in thought” and must begin again.
It is a constant balancing act of mental yoga. In the beginning, I did not know enough to realize how bad I was. The better you get, the more you appreciate how challenging (and rewarding) the exercise is. It is an excellent, humbling lesson in self-patience.
Strangely enough, this mindfulness meditation bears remarkable resemblance to the process our clients often experience.
When clients first partner with us, they have questions, ideas, and concerns. The majority have questions they are not quite sure how to even articulate. Their brains are grasping slippery, unfamiliar concepts.
As we work through the planning process and create recommendations, we usually discuss several ideas that clients have never thought of before. Leveraging multi-year tax efficiency strategies, rebalancing away from strong investments, juggling AMT versus typical income tax, dollar-cost averaging, generational planning, and how to decide whether to refinance debt are all examples of this.
We often introduce a new framework of thinking for clients that requires their own kind of mental yoga at first.
As we implement some of these recommendations, we find that clients might slip back into more familiar mindsets like I do with my meditation. Fortunately, much like Sam Harris dutifully reminds me not to get lost in my own thoughts, we remind and revisit these slippery financial concepts and frameworks with clients.
This is also why our ongoing clients hear from us more than once or twice a year: it takes more than an annual meeting to create new habits and implement planning strategies.
It may seem like overkill, but if we have prepared and something rocks the metaphorical ark (like a COVID-themed stock market downturn), clients remember that we planned for this. For clients still saving for long term goals, they automatically ask themselves if it is a time to buy instead of panicking and wanting to sell. They don’t look at us with crazy eyes if we advise paying a little more in taxes this year.
Sometimes I forget to meditate. Sometimes my distracting thoughts win the entire time I was supposed to be meditating. It is easy to become frustrated with yourself and even quit. Similarly, sometimes clients chastise themselves when we call to check in. Maybe they have not saved like they planned, did not get around to updating their beneficiaries on an account, or forgot to find that 401(k) statement we wanted to review together.
The key is to be patient with yourself, and simply begin again. It is an ongoing process—we are not defined by any single failure. And when clients talk with us, we sink our judgement to the bottom of the ocean (except lately, we just leave it in the Zoom waiting room).
Simply begin again.