Right Brain Finance? | How to set Meaningful Financial Goals

by RJ

in Psychology

The analytical side of the brain, is the left side. This is the side of the brain that works well with numbers.

Think about a typical financial planner, including myself, and it’s no wonder why the financial planning process is a left brain dominated activity–most financial planners are left brain dominated.

Having a left side dominate brain is great for calculating how much you should save to reach your goals. What the left brain isn’t good at is choosing what goals you should actually save for.

Leaving the right side of the brain out of the financial planning process is why most save for unfulfilling goals. By incorporating the right side of the brain into a financial plan, you can ensure that you’re saving for what’s most important to you.

The purpose of this post is to describe two different exercises that incorporate the ride side of the brain into financial planning.

I know that you’re more likely to go log into Facebook after reading, then to do one of the exercises. However, exercise # 1 takes less than 20 minutes and has the potential to make massive shifts in your thinking. This is why you’re reading blogs in the first place, right? So give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Exercise # 1 | Three Important Questions

George Kinder author and  CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®, asks his clients to formulate the following three scenarios in order:

  1. You have all the money you need, now and in the future. What will you do with it? How would you live your life?
  2. Imagine you’ve just come back from a visit to the doctor who has discovered that you only have five to ten years to live. There are no side effects to your disease, so you won’t feel sick. Unfortunately, this means that you have no warning about your death.
  3. Again you go to the doctor. This time, you find that you only have 24 hours to live. Don’t concentrate on what you’re going to do inside of these 24 hours. Instead, ask yourself, “What feeling am I experiencing? What regrets, what longings, and what deep and now unfulfilled dreams do I have?

Right now, take five to ten minutes per question.

I have found exercise to be a very powerful one for accessing the right brain. What happened to me, and as George explains in his book to many others, is that the first two questions are a warm up for the third. And It’s the third that really counts.

We always try to look forward as to set our goals. Too often, we forget to look back. Now that I’ve gone through this exercise, it’s the thinking back that makes the most sense. Why should you be setting goals based on what you think you want in the future? Why not set goals for what you know you’ve wanted in the past.

Exercise # 2 | From 100 to 50 to 25 to 10 to 5

This next exercise is a slight modification of an exercise Leonardo Da Vinci used to access the right side of the brain.

In his journal, Da Vinci would write a list of 100 questions that were most important to him. Once he had his list of 100 he narrowed it down again and again till just a few to just a few important questions remained.

As explained in the book, How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci, what happens is that around question 80, you’ll begin to come up what’s really most important to you.

I used this same technique for setting goals and experienced similar results. The first 25 goals I had were usually other people’s goals and not my own. The next 25 to 50 goals, was a lot of bad mixed with an occasional good. The last 20 goals I wrote down, I found what I should really go after.

I encourage you to try this out for your finances. Make a list of 100 goals you have in your lifetime. It should take you no longer than 1 hour. Next, narrow that list down to 50, then to 25, then to 10, then to 5. At the end, you will find what’s most important to you. This is what you should be saving for.

If Only…

It makes no sense to spend hours working, for what’s not important to you.

I know for a fact that if I knew about these two exercises five years ago, I would be in a lot different place today. One thing that would change is that I wouldn’t have a house. This was a goal that was conditioned in me. I just assumed that it was the next step after getting married. I learned the hard way but at least I learned.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

AffordAnything.orgNo Gravatar March 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

What I particularly like about the first exercise is that the first two questions are, as you said, a “warm-up” for the third. I think it’s important to have those warm-up questions, because it gets your mind into the right framework.

What’s great about the third question — 24 hours to live — is that many of the goals/regrets that you might find there could be accomplished over the span of 5 – 10 years, hence giving you an actionable plan that deals with Question 2.


RJNo Gravatar March 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Yep…You got it. Puts you into a totally different mindset than just asking, “What are your big expenses coming up?”


Kathryn CNo Gravatar March 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I love this. It can be applied to anything, we’re all often a bunch of hamsters running around a wheel but not really sure where we’re trying to go. I just thought about what I would be doing if I had 24 hours to live and it’s funny, then you realize money doesn’t really matter (other than to fulfill your basic needs).

On that topic, I just ordered this book yesterday, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.

I’m excited to read it.

thanks for the great read.


Pat S.No Gravatar March 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

So true Kathryn. Money is a tool, a means to an end. Not an end to itself.
Awesome stuff!


RJ WeissNo Gravatar March 17, 2011 at 10:23 am

@Kathryn C – Book looks interesting. I’m a little leery of books with “Happiness” in the title but it looks to be worth a read.


Jude Boudreaux, CFP®No Gravatar March 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Hey RJ, great post overall. If I can offer a piece of advice from somebody who uses the questions regularly, it would be that while you can shorten the questions and still get some benefit, you don’t get the whole picture without the full wording. They were written pretty deliberately to get people through a certain thought process and they lose a bit of the sizzle when shortened.

@Kathryn – I think you’ll love the book. Anything by Martin Seligman is worth reading. I’d also add his student Tal-Ben Shahar’s book Happier as something that has lots of tangible actions associated with it.


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