On Unlearning Habits as a Financial Advisor

Mary Martin, PhD, COO of the Sudden Money Institute
June 26, 2017

When I was getting my doctorate at New York University in what can loosely be called Teaching and Learning, we studied unschooling, which is what it sounds like. It's the idea that learners should guide the process--not teachers. Education should be about learning how to learn. And what comes out of that, because it is motivated by the desire of the learner, ends up being more meaningful (and with that probably comes better retention and recall). Teachers don't drive the process, and their job is not to transmit information into the receptacle-minds of students.  

When I saw "Why 'Unlearning' Old Habits is an Essential Step for Innovation," by Leah Shaffer, I was reminded of the parallels between unlearning/unschooling and our curriculum for the Certified Financial Transitionist® designation. Financial advisory seems to be experiencing a crisis of identity, purpose, and strategy similar to the one educators have been grappling with for decades (at least). What should the role of the advisor be? What does it look like to serve the "whole client" and achieve the "highest outcomes"?

When a person or group or even a large organization begins to question their role as they have always defined it, wonderful, transformational things can happen.

Shaffer spoke with Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, who "said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past."

Ways to implement change include much of what we delve into in our program:

  • Changing mindsets, which is related to identity. Biller says, "The way we see ourselves and the way that others see us is threatened when we are asked to do something different." We at SMI/FTI encourage mindset intervention work both within the individual advisor and with the client. Identity is a rich area of inquiry for everyone and the work is as illuminating as it is challenging.
  • Changing habits. Assessing our own habits and thoughts for how well they serve us and our clients--and then developing practices to alter them--is humbling but powerful work. 
  • Developing trust, which we achieve by creating a safe space, normalizing what the client is experiencing, letting the client's voice and needs drive the process, and then giving the work back to them. (See the work of Harvard's Linsky and Heifetz for more, particularly Leadership on the Line.)

We view each Financial Transitionist® as a catalyst for change in the industry. They themselves model a different way of being in the industry, thereby inching it forward. But they also help their clients shift their relationship to the idea of change and how to skillfully move through it.

Unlearning old habits and replacing them with new ones truly is an essential step for innovation.


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