How Are Your Clients’ Brains Wired?

Helping them break negative thought cycles can increase their receptiveness to your advice, says this life planner.

By Andrea Millar
Andrea Millar
Andrea Millar

Have you ever been perplexed by a client? Perhaps they delay giving you information you need to do your job, or they don’t act on your recommendations. After all, they hired you because they wanted to gain peace of mind with their financial life. This is very common and could be happening for a multitude of reasons.

They may be busy or unmotivated to act on their finances. Or they may be stuck in place because of worries or concerns that aren’t obvious.

Understanding how the brain is wired may give some insight into what is going on with your client. Let’s go through an example to demonstrate how this might work.

Stuck in Place

Robin, in her early 60s, is a physician with a successful primary-care practice. She came to you because she’s tired of work running her life. She’s seeking peace of mind that she is on track with her finances. If she had that peace of mind, she thinks she’d feel comfortable enough to explore other possibilities for her life.

When you first met with Robin, she was eager to make a move and get started. Fast forward six months and she hasn’t given you some of the information you need to help give her a clear picture on where she stands. The result is that even though she is burned out and yearns for something more in her life, she’s stuck in place.

Robin’s behavior continues to be exactly as it has always been, allowing everyone one else to run her day, grinding forward with all of her to-dos, and feeling exhausted at the end of each day. She has no energy or motivation left for gathering financial information although she longs deeply for something more.

Afraid to Get off the Hamster Wheel

What isn’t evident on the surface is that Robin’s mind is focused on thinking that if she slows down, everything will fall apart. She worries she won’t keep her business going if she doesn’t accept every new patient who wants to meet with her. And that she’ll reduce her lifestyle options if her business isn’t bringing in enough money. She also fears she might lose her purpose in her life if she takes her foot off the gas at work.

Robin feels secure with the life she has created, but her mind is agitated. It might look something like this:


Although Robin thinks she is safe, it’s only because she is trapped in this cycle that has her business fears running her life. She remains vague about her finances because gaining clarity could require her to make changes that would take her outside her comfort zone. Often, we can see this show up in behavior and results, but it’s more challenging to see a client’s deeply held thoughts and beliefs that are creating this loop. What the mind is focused on often drives financial behavior and results.

A Better Framework

 If we can help Robin get in touch with the thoughts that are contributing to her current way of living, she may see that there is something much more interesting to focus on that would bring her closer to the life she would love to create. Let’s go through a sample of a framework you could use to help Robin see clearly.

  • Reflect what you’ve noticed in a compassionate way. For example, “Robin, I know how important it is for you to gain peace of mind with your finances so you can feel comfortable to work less and enjoy other areas of your life.” This may be all you need to say to open her up to discuss what has been going on.
  • Listen and allow her to express her thoughts and feelings. Give Robin plenty of space so she can share her experience. If she pauses, allow silence. If she seems done with what she wants to say, reflect what you hear to give her the breathing room to continue talking. She will likely begin seeing some things that weren’t clear previously.
  • Support her to see a different perspective. Once Robin has shared her thoughts and feelings, she will likely be calmer and more open to other possibilities. For instance, if it makes sense in the conversation, you might say, “If you were able to put aside your worries about your business, what might you be free to focus on instead?” This will allow her to think about what she wants to create in her life. Again, listen, reflect and give her the space to get a clear picture.
  • Empower her to take her next small step forward. Once Robin sees some of the possibilities, ask her what her next small step is to move toward this. Remember the financials you asked her to retrieve? She may need to break this down into small steps and make this task a priority first thing in the morning before her other demands takes over. Ask her what support she needs so that she has the best chance for success.
  • Celebrate and help her decide the next best step. Momentum forward often happens by celebrating the progress made and deciding on the next small step to keep it manageable. To keep Robin focused, continue to remind her about her vision and what is important to her. Understanding her purpose will fuel her to make herself a priority and continue action forward. She will likely act on what’s next if she’s the one who figures out, with your support, what is best for her.

Additional Reading: Help Aging Clients Escape Invisibility Syndrome

 A More Positive Loop

Taking time to have conversations like this with clients can be life changing for them. When you help them see what is most important in their life and encourage them to act on this, you can help them break the cycle of overwork and decision fatigue. They’re more likely to get their financial house in order, to serve the means towards the end they seek, and this will also give them deep satisfaction. You may end up with a loop that looks something like this:


Andrea Millar, RLP, CFLA, CPA/PFS is the founder of Andrea Millar Life Planning. She spent decades in the profession of financial planning before having tragic events happen that woke her up and sent her on the path of seeking more meaning and fulfillment in her life. She now helps her clients find this clarity. Most of her clients are financial planners and their clients. You can learn more at

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