Muscles and Money—Your Recipe For Success Is The Same

At first blush, the topics of fitness and wealth management couldn’t seem further apart. When we think of fitness, the stereotypical “musclehead” often appears in our brain, complete with over-tanned body, perspiration and the tendency to gaze into the mirror on a far-too-frequent basis. On the other hand, discussions around wealth management conjure images of hushed conversations with staid “white shoe” bankers, pinstripe suits and expensive office art collections. But, if we get beyond our initial impressions of these two worlds, we find they share a surprising number of attributes; the keys to success in achieving our fitness goals might be the very same ones that help us sustain our wealth.

Personal Engagement—It sounds obvious, but you can’t achieve your goals in fitness or finance without putting responsibility on yourself. Engaging someone to help you construct a plan is certainly valuable, but that third party cannot do it all for you in either realm. Your individual actions will ultimately determine whether your plan is successful: Are you following your nutrition plan, or allowing empty-calorie snacks to get in the way of your fitness goals? Are you sticking to the spending level that is most likely to allow you to meet your financial goals, or “sneaking” in other purchases above and beyond? Are you giving in when your brain says “you’re tired, take today off from the gym” or “you don’t really need to run that last 400 yards?” Are you easily persuaded to throw money at speculative business ventures? While there are many outside influences that can affect our fitness and many others that affect our wealth, in the end you control much of the outcome in both worlds.

Misalignment Between “The Industry” and You—Unfortunately, in both fitness and wealth there are massive industries operating with motivations that are not aligned with your success. In the fitness world, we are bombarded by advertisers and media who try to convince us that we cannot achieve our goals without the latest fitness armband, library of fad diet cookbooks or new “nutritional” beverage. Similarly, in the money management world, there are countless ads touting new mutual funds in last year’s hot market sector, but for which future returns may likely disappoint. Even worse, there are brokers who portray themselves as “advisors,” yet get paid based on how frequently they buy and sell things in your account. There are also “advisors” who are incented to recommend their employer’s in-house investment products, even when another product might be better-suited for you. In both industries, there are multitudes of people operating under a façade of advice whose primary concern is their own pockets.

Dangers Of The Seemingly Quick Fix—The proven paths to better fitness and sustainable wealth are each slow, methodical and require discipline. Conversely, newsstands and websites are filled with stories of “The 2-Week Swimsuit Diet” and “Six-Pack Abs in Six Days” side-by-side with “What Mutual Fund to Buy This Year” and “Experts’ Interest Rate Predictions.” We are drawn to these purported “solutions” because they offer us an enticing, but ultimately false, promise of getting what we want quickly. The success rates of these claims are bad enough by themselves, but are made even worse by their tendency to demoralize us and distract us further from our goals when they eventually disappoint us.

The Need To Ignore Others—The media is not our only potential distraction on the road to sustainable fitness and wealth. Sometimes our peers can be a challenge as well. Even if our friends are well-meaning, we don’t often share the same circumstances and goals. Different approaches might be required for each individual’s situation. Just because your gym buddy lost five pounds by going on a weeklong “cleanse” diet and running 10 miles a day does not necessarily make that the approach you should take to achieve your goals. Similarly, the fact that your friend has 40% of her assets invested in emerging markets stocks should be of no influence to your investment portfolio. Another consequence of focusing too much attention on the fitness or finances of others is that we can’t see the whole story of their lives. We have a tendency to believe it “came easy” to them and get demoralized about our current state. But we don’t see the behind-the-scenes struggles that they might have gone through to achieve what they have. How many times did that ultra-fit guy at the gym have to opt-out of “beer and pizza night” to accomplish his goal? How many one-parent dinners did those kids have to endure so that their family could now afford that beautiful beach home? Every priority has a consequence, and jealousy is not an emotion that helps us achieve our goals.

Someone to Lean On—Successful athletes and fitness models who have been at the top of their profession for years often continue to engage trainers to help them. Similarly, many of the world’s best wealth managers engage advisors to help them with their personal finances. Why? Because in both industries even experienced and knowledgeable people still need another person to hold them accountable and to offer an objective view. Even the most disciplined fitness professional is sometimes challenged to get out of bed and get to the gym, just like a great wealth manager still feels the emotional discomfort of selling a portion of an investment that has done well recently to add to another that hasn’t, in order to “rebalance” the portfolio. They both realize that a trusted, objective advisor can help them stay “on track” in pursuit of their goals.

The concepts of fitness and successful wealth management are each scientific, yet simple at their core: The equation for better fitness involves understanding how many calories you are ingesting and expending, limiting your exposure to heavily-processed foods and combining both strength and cardiovascular items in your exercise plan. The concepts important to sustaining your wealth are equally straightforward: Maintaining a spending plan that matches the level of your assets, diversifying your investments and focusing on the aspects of investing that you can control. These controllable factors include costs, taxes and how you react (or choose not to react) to the ever-changing world around you. In both fitness and finance, knowing what to do is not nearly as hard as consistently doing it.