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The Simple Grade School Project That Can Profoundly Impact Your Clients

One of the things that I love about my son’s teacher is that somehow, against all odds, she gets kids to think about their future and set goals.

And if you have (or have had, or know) young children, you’ll also know that the concept of ‘long-term’ often doesn’t extend much beyond their next meal. Kudos to her.

I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that focusing on goals is critically important for kids. It changes their perspective and it highlights the actions that will be required to bring those goals to life.

“Yes, dear, you do actually have to practice if you want to become a world-class athlete.”

In this respect the work that my son’s teacher is doing isn’t that different from the work you do with your clients . (In fact, you might argue that it’s easier to get compliance from a seven-year old than some of your clients!)

So today I wanted to share an exercise that she’s using in the classroom and suggest it’s a way to engage your clients by helping them: define their goals, put them in context and make them real. If you can do that, you’ll help connect your clients with their ‘why’ – that critical element of goal setting that sparks meaningful action. And those goals, of course, go beyond ‘the number’ they’re trying to achieve.

It seems clear that, as an advisor , you don’t just need to understand a client’s financial goals but to understand the life he or she wants to live. The problem is that imagining a future that is bigger, better or different doesn’t come easily to all of us. And that makes it very difficult to explain to you.

But what if there was a way to inspire clients to think about the life they want a little more creatively. For that, I’ll turn back to the classroom for inspiration.

The Time Capsule

The classroom project in question is a time capsule, but one with the life-span of the school year. The children have been asked to think about changes they hope to see or goals they hope to reach before the last day of school. Added to that was a parental element that came in the form of this note to parents from the teacher.

“I would like you to write a letter to your child to be opened the last day of school. They do not know you are doing this. It is a surprise. You may want to include plans for the school year, trips that will be taken, wishes and goals you have for them, etc. Once completed. please seal it in the envelope provided and write your child’s name on the front. Please let your child know to hand it in to me instead of opening the letter.”

The parental note is a nice touch, but the letters the children write themselves is the real gold. It’s a tangible way to get them to think forward and to dream a little. For some, reading that letter may be tough medicine if they didn’t reach their goals. Whatever happens, the exercise will draw a direct line between their hopes, their actions and outcomes. Which got me thinking. What if you did the same for your clients?

A Client Time Capsule

Consider asking clients to write a letter to themselves, one that describes the life they want to be living in the future. Practically speaking, you might want to keep this to a one to three-year time frame. Put it in a sealed envelope and set it aside to mail to them at that time.

This isn’t a note for you to read. That said, it might make for a very interesting conversation once it’s sent, providing insight into their perceived progress, changes in goals and the obstacles they face along the way.

Another exercise that I really like is called the ‘Best Possible Future Selves Exercise’ and it has a similar impact. This was introduced to me by Caroline Adams Miller , who adapted the exercise in a worksheet , with permission from Sonja Lyubomirsky. The worksheet includes some of the science behind the exercise and then boils it down to a single question that your clients should consider.

Related: 4 Steps to Becoming Distinctive and Referable

“Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.”

The idea is that your client writes for 20 minutes per day for three days in a row to complete the exercise – without self-editing! It goes without saying that having couples do this separately would be fascinating.

I’ve done this exercise myself and used it with advisors to help them imagine the future they want to create. It’s a powerful way to connect the life a client wants to live with the actions they need to take to get there – and it makes the future very tangible. This exercise is another option to help your clients think forward and connect with their why.

These are just two small ideas to help you connect, to demonstrate leadership and to engage more deeply with your clients. Maybe we should look to children for inspiration more often.