The Treadmill of Increasing Expectations


Psychologists have observed that humans often exhibit what is described as the "aspiration treadmill.” This is the tendency in people to not feel incrementally happier as they achieve greater levels of success, compared to those who have less. This lack of satisfaction is rooted in the fact that many humans adjust their expectations upward as they attain each level of wealth or success—thus, the treadmill.

This treadmill mentality has very serious implications for the financial advisory industry when one considers the fact that people continuously increase their portfolio expectations—often chasing performance as part of that mindset. The treadmill way of looking at things also impacts every aspect of a practice from the personal relationship experience and investment management experience, to the communication and collateral experience. Can we say that we continuously match or slightly exceed an ever increasing benchmark relating to any performance metric associated with these areas?

So, the rhetorical question is, do we change people to fit our needs, or do we change our practices to accommodate the intrinsic nature of people? I respectfully submit that it is the latter.

What, then, do we do about it and how do we know whether we are incrementally matching the aspiration treadmill?

The first thing we can do is reshape the normal “goals/objective” standards of our practices to align our business tactics with what clients really aspire to achieve in their lives. This is not about hitting a magic number or meeting a certain retirement date. That isolates the human condition to a less meaningful existence. Rather, it may be about defining the passion (or helping clients to define it) that drives us in our universal search for meaning and gratification.  

Let me encourage you to watch this brief video about that very topic.

At some point in life, every human being wonders how to define the purpose and meaning of our lives. In fact, most great religions are predicated on defining the premise of life’s meaning and purpose and, ultimately, how those connections directly translate into true happiness.

The future of our business is about more than just asset allocation (although that is vitally important). It is rather about our ability to connect people to their money as an expression of their unique life’s meaning and purpose.

As people evolve and grow in their search for meaning—in other words, following their treadmills of aspiration—our practices’ alignment with those aspirations must stay intact. When one is linked to the other, a virtuous and self-reinforcing cycle is created.

As we dismiss the idea of one service standard applying to all, each of our practices will come to reflect an individual client-level experience. In a technological age, this is the thing humans can do that machines cannot: create a personal and profound relationship that revolves around the unique meaning of life in the hearts of our clients. Defining portfolio goals in terms of dreams and aspirations—rather than dollars and dates—helps to direct client goals into more cogent targets; ones that radiate long-term satisfaction.

Frank Muller

As CEO of Provasi Capital Partners, Frank Muller brings nearly 30 years of experience in building and managing multi-channel distribution services. Frank has been a featured contributor in numerous industry publications, bringing his unique insights and perspectives to relevant issues impacting financial advisors and their clients.

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Frank Muller