Measuring Progress — The Long View versus The Reflective View

By Matthew Sivertsen, CFP®    

Being stewards of the growth of our “net worth” combines many elements. One of the main challenges can be our tendency to look at the balances on our investments and not fully appreciate where they come from — and why.

Oftentimes, we can be disappointed they are not higher, or catch ourselves anxiously awaiting the next milestone of another zero on the end of the number representing our net worth.

While it is healthy to set goals for ourselves, we do need to be careful not to fall into what Dan Sullivan, the author, entrepreneurship expert, and founder of Strategic Coach®, calls “The Gap.” This is his metaphorical measurement for the distance between your highest ambitions and the reality you are living today. When we look forward, our goals and ideals are always growing and changing. It is very much like walking toward the horizon, but never being able to reach it.

Here at The Planning Center, we have been helping people track their net worth for years and, for some, even decades. It is always amazing for a client to see their past financial history when we pull up their account and show them how far they have come. There is generally surprise when they see the progress from only a few years ago. This allows people to truly appreciate and be happy with what they have and where they have come from.

Some of the elements that go into computing our net worth are ones that we can easily forget about, and they can be the ones that actually grow our bottom lines the fastest.  For accumulators, it can often be much more important to look at “how much they are saving” rather than “how much they are making in the markets.” An investment can produce a 100% return, but if we are not saving anything the return is zero!

For some aggressive savers, I have seen their portfolios rise even when markets are dropping. While the markets can really boost our accounts and our net worth over time, it takes the discipline to save and reach the critical mass required for the “time value of money” growth to really kick in.

Another thing we often overlook is how paying off our debts, like mortgage, car, and student loans every month, adds to our net worth bottom line. For retirees who are no longer saving and now living off their investments, by managing the distribution rates of their assets carefully we can still be strategic in preserving and even growing their net worth even during this phase of life.

So how do we stay out of “The Gap?” We should simply remain grateful for what we have, and celebrate the positive progress we have made.  Dan Sullivan calls this “Positive Focus®.” This simply means making it a mental habit to continue focusing on what is working in our lives, and gratefully celebrating the progress we are actually making rather than fixating on that which we want but do not have.

In so doing, we accomplish two very important mental objectives:

  1. We give ourselves a rare opportunity to celebrate our wins, and to reflect with gratitude on the actual progress we have made. We can allow ourselves the happiness and fulfillment that comes from recognizing that, although we have not yet reached our ideal, we have indeed made forward progress.
  2. We develop a great sense of confidence as we realize our own capabilities to make progress. It is very difficult to feel confident when we continue to measure our self-worth and ourselves against our future ideals, because we can never make real progress against our ideal. Instead, we may feel powerless and useless, because the ideal is too big for us. It is when we recognize our actual accomplishments—and measure our progress against where we started—that we can conclude that we are indeed capable of steadily making headway and we can continue to use our capabilities to achieve more in our future.



Matthew Sivertsen, CFP®, CeFT™, is a Partner/Sr. Financial Planner in the Quad Cities office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm. Email him at