The Client-centred Blog

The right way to set financial planning goals

The great Western disease, “I’ll be happy when… “

In this article, you are going to discover how to help your clients set financial planning goals, the right way.

You are also going to learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy goals and how this makes a massive difference to your client’s level of motivation, inspiration, and enjoyment of life now.

Helping your client to set healthy financial planning goals is right at the heart of effective financial planning. So, what is the structure of a healthy goal?

I am sure you are familiar with the often-taught idea of SMART goals. This idea is that effective goals are:





*Time bound

Yet have you ever set a goal that met these criteria, and you lost your motivation and eventually gave up? 

It happened to me many times and I used to think it was a fault with me. I thought I lacked qualities like focus, discipline, and motivation. 

But I was wrong, and I discovered a far better way to approach goal setting for both me and my clients.

When goals are not helpful

Marshall Goldsmith, author of, ‘What got you here won’t get you there‘ wrote about what he calls, ‘The great Western disease’.

This is the idea that ‘I’ll be happy when…’ (when I have achieved a certain amount of money, got the house, the car, the job, the relationship, reached retirement, etc.). 

A goal set on this basis is a misunderstanding of how life works and is setting you up for unhappiness, stress, and failure.  


Because the human experience does not work this way. 

External objects, situations, and circumstance cannot give you feelings. If they could then why are there so many rich, highly accomplished people who are dissatisfied, depressed, and dysfunctional?

The hidden implication within the idea of “I’ll be happy when… ” is that you are less happy until you have achieved your goal. Amy Johnson. PhD in her book, ‘Being Human‘ wrote, 

“The thing is, when you’re chasing down a goal because you think it’s going to make you happy, you’re on the hook. You’ve set it up so that you can’t be happy until you get the thing. Or you’ve set it up so that you will be happier when you get the thing… but not before. And since happiness does not actually come from stuff out there, that’s not an accurate conclusion.”

The truth is that the human mind does not operate ‘outside to in’. Our life experience is created by thought-in-the-moment (from inside to out). So, we feel our thinking, not our circumstances.

I would be among the first to admit that the belief that our life circumstances directly cause our experience seems extremely compelling. Yet apart from being a misunderstanding it leads to unhappiness because it causes us to chase whatever we think will make us happy.

The right way to set goals

The best outcome of financial planning is for the journey to be just as important as the destination. So, instead of living in life’s waiting room life is lived fully now, in the present. 

In an ‘inside to out’ world, goal setting is not approached from the perspective of achieving things to make you happy in future. 

Instead, goals are set on the basis of what feels good. 

One way to think of this is to reflect on a favourite hobby, activity, or pastime you love to do. Why do you do it? I know with what I love to do I might have an outcome in mind, but the time I spend doing it is enjoyed for its own sake, not simply because it is a means to an end. 

Goals set on this basis are no lose because your happiness is not at stake.

How can you help your clients with this?

By realising the true nature of how life really works for yourself you will effortlessly and naturally experience more peace, presence, and happiness. You will find yourself setting your own goals in a healthy way. You will also stop chasing things your previously believed would make you happy because if you are already there it simply would not make sense.

This is the ultimate platform to help your clients set healthy goals because we all want the same thing. To be happy now rather than at some point out in the future. Also see ‘How to do a brilliant financial planning fact find‘ for more help on gathering soft facts.

P.S. If you do not have your deck of ‘Financial Planning Power Questions’ yet, there are some great questions to help your clients explore and set healthy goals. Click here.


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