Want a Better Financial Life? Stop Trying to Improve Your Weaknesses

Where do you spend more mental energy: focusing on your money faults or your money strengths?

That is the question I posed on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. And guess what? Not one person said, “I focus on my money strengths.” Not. one.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with our cultural tendency to focus on our weaknesses. So, I’ve been paying a little more attention to the choices you and I make and the “whys” behind those choices.

Specifically, I’m curious to know: Is the motivation to fix a weakness or strengthen a strength?

Yes, we each are good at some things and not so much at others. Yet as another one of my unscientific research exercises proves, you and I tend to err on the side of being preoccupied with our faults. Heck, people invest a lot of time perfecting the answer to – “What are your weaknesses?” – the penultimate litmus test for HR and hiring managers. And a lot of money is spent in hopes of fixing what is wrong with us.

This despite a growing body of research from scientists at the Gallup organization and research from strengths-advocate, Marcus Buckingham, which suggests it’s far easier to reach your goals when you focus on improving your strengths.

According to the book, Strengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, “the most effective leaders are always investing in strengths.”

Naturally, I began to wonder if the same applied when it came to your money.

Would your financial results improve if you focused more on what you do well when it comes to your money and less on what you do wrong with it?

Are the most financially successful that way because while they are aware of their financial weaknesses, they don’t invest a great deal of energy trying to turn those faults into a financial strength?

If an unhealthy preoccupation with your weaknesses doesn’t propel you to success when it comes to your career, it seems logical then that the same relational dynamic would apply to your money, right?

Stay tuned because this is something I’m going to continue to explore.

But in the meantime, I thought it’d be fun (yes, fun!) to apply the good ole SWOT analysis technique to your money. It is a tool you can utilize to jump start the habit of strengthening your strengths. If you are unfamiliar, SWOT analysis is a framework typically used by businesses to assess the viability of a project or new business venture. Spelled out, the acronym means…

“S” = Strengths

“W” = Weaknesses

“O” = Opportunities

“T” = Threats

This one-pager is a useful financial planning tool, too. It can quickly give you an overview of your financial situation.

As a lover of graphics, I prefer to do my SWOT like this: a) draw a rectangle, b) divide the inside into four sections by drawing a vertical line and horizontal line, c) label the upper left quadrant “Strengths;” the upper right “Weaknesses;” the lower right “Threats;” and the lower left “Opportunities.”

You can brainstorm questions for each section other than what is noted below, but these will help you get started…

Strengths

  • what are your good money habits
  • what money and money-based choices make you feel most proud
  • are you operating at a profit (meaning your income exceeds your expenses)
  • are you saving consistently each month and if you have investments, do you know what you own
  • do you have a low debt:equity ratio (excluding your mortgage)

Weaknesses

  • what are your “poor” money habits (just because you shouldn’t focus on what you do wrong with money doesn’t mean your head should be in the sand…)
  • what’s causing you to stress out about money
  • if you don’t have at least six- to nine-months of living expenses saved
  • if you aren’t investing in a retirement account (and if it’s employer-sponsored, if you aren’t contributing at least up to the matching percentage)
  • if you don’t have a Will, Health Proxy, insurance and other estate planning documents

Opportunities

  • what career plans are on the horizon in the next 12-24 months
  • what would it take to increase your salary (or business revenue) between 10-15% in the next twelve months
  • how would refinancing your mortgage, if you have one, affect your cashflow and what would you do with those funds
  • when did you last request a decrease in your APR if you’re carrying credit card debt

Threats

  • do you have investments, but don’t have an investment strategy
  • do you have mounting debt but not viable exit strategy
  • what would happen if you lost your job or most lucrative client within the next twelve months
  • how prepared are you for the next bear market and the ripple effect it may have on your career and financial stability + security

By doing a SWOT analysis on your financial life, you are able to increase your self-awareness and get in touch with your money faults AND your money strengths. But, instead of spinning your wheels improving your weaknesses (which drains you of vital energy), you can redirect your efforts to improving your strengths. And I bet you’ll have a better financial life!

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