The Key To Good Habits: The Perfect Smoothie?

In Charles Duhigg’s eye-opening book, The Power of Habit, we learn that we are, whether we like it or not, creatures of habit. For better and for worse.

In order to help us understand how habits work, how to identify them, and how to create good ones, Duhigg introduces us to the “Habit Loop,” a cycle that begins with an (often unknown) behavioral Cue that triggers a Routine resulting in a desired Reward.

Physical exercise is something that’s important to many people, myself included, so using Duhigg’s concepts, I’ve created a reward for this desired behavior that I submit to you as nothing short of the World’s Best Protein Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie.

The Only Market Volatility Prediction You Can Count On

“As you can see, we’re experiencing rough air at the moment. But as a reminder, we can’t predict rough air,” said the Delta airline pilot ferrying me from St. Louis to Charleston (via Atlanta—always Atlanta), “so please keep your seatbelts on whenever you are seated.”

Thank you, sir, for giving me precisely the hint of inspiration I needed to frame this week’s note of encouragement while in the midst of one of the crazier market stretches we’ve seen in several years!


Of course, statistically speaking, this momentary bout of stock market extremism is more the norm than the exception.  No, it’s not particularly normal to have thousand-point-up or -down days for the Dow Jones Industrial Index.  But volatility—market ups and downs—is, indeed, more normal than, for example, what happened last year.

Did you know that 2017 was one of the least volatile market years in decades?  The U.S. stock market was not only up for the year—but for every month of the year—for the first time ever.  Who would’ve made that prediction late in 2016, in the middle of the craziest election cycle of my two-score-and-two-year lifespan?

When considering this aberration, I can say with confidence one of the very few market predictions I (or anybody, for that matter) can responsibly make:

The market is more likely to be volatile than not.

How To Avoid Being Victimized By Financial Deception

“I’m calling it — this is an Apple commercial,” said my 14-year-old son, about halfway into the visually stunning emotional appeal for educational experimentation that appeared on our TV while we were otherwise dedicating ourselves to one of the best college football games of the season.

Yes, it’s about that time again, when companies are rolling out new commercial campaigns in conjunction with some of the year’s most viewed sporting events–beginning with the college football playoff and culminating, of course, with the only spectator sporting event where no one wants to cede their seat during the commercials, the Super Bowl.


“I think you’re right,” I said to my son (especially gripped because the commercial featured a young man sharing a defining moment with his beloved parents via his smartphone), just as the musical crescendo sent a chill down my spine.

But then came the verdict.

It wasn’t Apple, after all, even though the tech company is known for its artistic commercial flair in imploring viewers to engage technology in the most relational ways. It was a mainstay financial company inviting us to bring the benefit of our long-term financial planning for the future into the present.


“Wait a minute, though,” I said to my boys, “These guys are notorious for hard-selling over-priced insurance policies for big commissions!”

“Whatever they are, it’s a great commercial,” my 12-year-old son concluded before the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs again filled the screen.

He was absolutely right. But as I reflected on the power of this particular message and medium, I’ve had this lingering sense that there’s a real danger present.

New TODAY Show Appearance: Talking Debt, Budgeting, Market Highs And Maintaining Motivation

What better way to start off the New Year than in New York with the TODAY Show?  Despite the 18 below windchill whipping through the city streets, I had a blast with Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin discussing the most damaging forms of debt, the top two budgeting apps, the best kinds of checking accounts, how you should respond to market highs–and lows–and how best to stay motivated to turn those financial resolutions into long-term habits!

Click HERE or on the box above to watch the segment.

Entrepreneur Shares ‘Life-Saving’ Career Change

This was given to me, because that was going to kill me,” entrepreneur Lee Janik told me.

“That” was the job of owning and running a construction company he started in Ohio in the mid-2000s.

“This” was the sacred experience of fly fishing, and ultimately building a multinational craft rod-making company.


“It’s like going to church.” That’s how Janik describes fly fishing, his passion, which nursed him through the Great Recession as his commercial real estate development and construction company hung on for dear life.  

The company survived, and ultimately thrived, but his therapeutic hobby grew into something more. At the moment, “this” has evolved into Clutch Fly Rods, the company Janik founded selling high-end fly rods that is fast becoming a disruptor in its space.

The Elephant In The Room: How The Financial Industry’s Shunning Of Emotions Fails Its Clients

I don’t think professor Richard Thaler is going to return my calls anymore. Sure, he was gracious enough to give me an interview after his most recent book, Misbehaving, a surprisingly readable history of the field of behavioral economics, was published. But now that he’s won a Nobel Prize, something tells me I’m not on the list for the celebration party.  

(Although, if that party hasn’t happened yet, professor, I humbly accept your invitation!)

But I’m still celebrating anyway, because Thaler is a hero of mine and I believe that the realm of behavioral economics–and behavioral science more broadly–can and should reframe the way we look at our interaction with money, personally and institutionally, as well as the business of financial advice.

Behavioral Economics In Action

The Elephant and the Rider

Of course, even if you’re meeting Thaler for the first time, his work likely has already played a role in your life in one or more of the following ways:

  • Historically, your 401(k) (or equivalent) retirement savings plan has been “opt-in,” meaning you proactively had to make the choice–among many others–to do what we all know is a good idea (save for the future). But our collective penchant for undervaluing that which we can’t enjoy for many years to come led most of us to default to inaction. Thanks largely to Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s observations in the book Nudge, more and more companies are moving to an “opt-out” election, automatically enrolling new employees in the plan with a modest annual contribution.  
  • Better yet, many auto-election clauses gradually increase an employee’s savings election annually. Because most receive some form of cost-of-living pay increase in concert with the auto-election bump, more people are saving more money without even feeling it!
  • Additional enhancements, like a Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA), help ensure that these “invisible” contributions are automatically invested in an intelligently balanced portfolio or fund instead of the historical default, cash, which ensures a negative real rate return.  
  • Some credit card awards now automatically deposit your “points” in an investment account while some apps, like, “round up” your electronic purchases and throw the loose virtual change in a surprisingly sophisticated piggy bank.

No, you’re not likely to unknowingly pave your way to financial independence, but thanks to the work of professor Thaler and others, many are getting a great head start without making a single decision.

What is most shocking to me, however, is the lack of application–or the downright misapplication–of behavioral economics in the financial services industry.  

‘Someday Came’: How Our Vision Of The Future Shapes Our Saving In The Present

While on vacation recently in the Abaco Islands, on the outer rim of the Bahamas, I found myself on an important mission: taking the golf cart to the local market to restock our dwindling supply of the necessary ingredients for piña coladas.

I was stopped in my tracks en route by a welcome sign announcing a new resident’s beachside home. It read: “Someday Came.”

The obvious implication is that these folks decided to act on their “Yeah, I’m gonna do that someday” daydreams.

But it raises many questions, right?

Who are these people? What’s their story, financial and otherwise? Did they hammer this sign into the sand after scrimping and saving, finally realizing their retirement dream following a lifetime of toil? Or are they the professionally mobile couple with young kids you see on HGTV’s “Caribbean Life,” who decided they’d just had enough of the rat race?

I’m glad I don’t have the answers, because the big question for the rest of us is worthy of consideration:

How do we define our “someday”? How do you define yours?

The Equifax Hack Shows Only You Can Protect Your Identity

What happens when one of the three primary entities designed to safeguard our financial identity to the outside world gets hacked?  

We don’t know yet, but it’s quite possible that the answers will be illuminated in retrospect because Equifax waited more than a month to announce the breach.

What can you do at this time to ensure that you are shielded from the worst possible outcomes of this–or the inevitable next–mass identity theft?

Click on the graphic above to watch Tim Maurer on PBS’ Nightly Business Report discussing Equifax hack

First, specifically regarding the Equifax situation, you may consider taking two steps they have recommended (all while keeping in mind that this is coming from the entity that let the identity of as many as 143 million Americans slip through their fingers):

1) You can go directly to the dedicated Equifax website to determine if you were likely hacked, like I did. Hit the “Potential Impact” tab and then the “Check Potential Impact” button:

You’ll be asked to put in your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.  Then, you’ll get the verdict on whether or not they think your information may have been hacked. When I completed this process for the four members of my household, three of them were (apparently) spared while I got the undesirable response that my “personal information may have been impacted by this incident.” Awesome.  

Many, however, have found this online device lacks reliability. In at least once instance, the name of a colleague’s dog and a fabricated Social Security number returned positive results. [Insert contemplative, curious emoji.]

2) Regardless of whether your information was hacked, Equifax then gives you the opportunity to sign up for their TrustedID Premier credit monitoring system–free for a year to all Americans. There initially was some controversy over whether agreeing to receive the freebie would result in waiving your right to be part of a prospective class action lawsuit against Equifax in the future. They’ve since clarified that it will not.

But signing up for their credit monitoring service also seems convoluted, or perhaps my enrollment message appears clearer to you:

If your journey to secure your identity continues beyond what the leaky Equifax has to offer–and it probably should–please consider these additional steps:

3) Monitor your credit. You can pay someone to do this, but I’ve yet to be convinced that it’s worth it, especially because you can get most of the promised benefits for free.  

You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies at Order all three at once for the most comprehensive review or spread them out throughout the course of the year. But to be fair, reading a credit report can be like drinking from a firehose.

Therefore, you may consider a growing number of free online resources, like or, that aggregate credit information in a more understandable and practical form.  Personally, I’ve used CreditKarma for years and found it to be very helpful as part of the following simple process:

  • Regularly glance at the homepage, which displays my current credit score from two of the three credit bureaus. Only if there’s been any significant movement in this score will I then…
  • Review any of the warnings that might explain the volatility in my score. If so, I might…
  • Review reports in full and take any necessary action.

This process has more than once served to alert me to activity that required follow-up.  

4) You may consider taking the additional step of “freezing” your credit. It’s a process that looks different in each state, and I’d only recommended it if you don’t intend to use your credit in the near future. Otherwise, you’ll have to “thaw” your freeze to give prospective creditors the necessary access to your info.  

One step, however, that I can’t see any downside to taking is freezing any existing credit reporting for your minor children. (Um, why do they even have credit reports, major credit bureaus?) If you decide to go this route, Clark Howard’s credit freezing guide is helpful.

5) Only use credit cards–not debit cards–for purchases. Despite Dave Ramsey’s objections, this way, it won’t be YOUR money that is stolen if you’re hacked. It’ll be the credit card company’s job to reclaim their funds.  

This is advice that I’ve received first-hand from Frank Abagnale, the fraudster turned FBI consultant made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie Catch Me If You Can.  

We can trust him now. I’m pretty sure.

6) Lastly, change your passwords to online financial accounts. If you were one of the 143 million people affected by the Equifax hack, you may wonder if hackers could gain immediate access to your bank and securities accounts. But you still hold some very important cards that they can’t see–namely, your password and any PIN numbers attached to online financial accounts.  

Do you really want to go “off the grid”?

It’s probably a good time to update and strengthen those.

But here’s the scariest news that has been highlighted by this new mass hack:  

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where it’s not a question of if, but when, we will deal with having all or part of our identity stolen.

Sure, you could try to go “off the grid,” like Psycho Sam, the bush-man. But for most of us, the benefits to be derived by the online economy simply outweigh the risks. That means personal credit monitoring is a habit we must build into our lives.

Solving for the Qualitative Deficit in Financial Planning

“The whole financial planning process is wrong,” says George Kinder, widely recognized as one of the chief educators and influencers in the financial planning profession.

But what exactly does he mean, and how does he justify this bold statement?

First, let’s separate the work of financial planning into two different elements–let’s call the first quantitative analysis and the second qualitative analysis.

Quantitative analysis is the more tangible, numerical and objective. It’s where planners tell clients what they need to do and, perhaps, how to do it. For example:

  • “Your asset allocation should be 65% in stocks and 35% in bonds.”
  • “You need $1.5 million of 20-year term life insurance.”
  • “Have your will updated and consider utilizing a pooled family trust.”

The qualitative work of financial planning is the intangible, non-numerical pursuit of uncovering a client’s more subjective values and goals, and, hopefully, attaching recommendations like those above to the client’s motivational core–their why.

If quantitative work is of the mind, qualitative is of the heart.

Qualitative planning often has been dubbed “financial life planning”–or simply “life planning.” It is defined in Michael Kay’s book, The Business of Life, as the process of:

Take More Risk In Life And Less In Investing

“I just really wish I’d taken more risk in my investment portfolio,” said no one–ever–on their deathbed.

That may seem like an odd observation, unless you consider the fact that I had the privilege of spending a couple days recently with life planning luminary George Kinder. Among other benefits, I was able to reacquaint myself with his famous three questions, elegantly designed to progressively point us toward the stuff of life that is the most important–to us.

The final question invites us to explore what benchmark life experiences we would leave unaccomplished if we only had one day left on this Earth. And as you may suspect, even in a room filled with financial planners, achieving a more aggressive portfolio posture was, perhaps, the farthest from anyone’s mind.

Meanwhile, most of the items that people did list represented experiences (not things) that, individually, were outside of their to-date unarticulated–but now evident–comfort zones.

Participants almost universally wished they’d have taken more risks in life–personally, educationally, relationally, experientially, professionally and vocationally.  

Similarly, those most meaningful experiences they had enjoyed thus far in life were the ones that pushed the boundaries of their comfort zones, expanding their personal risk tolerance.

But what about financial risk tolerance?