“We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge.”— John Naisbitt
That’s one of MPower Co’s Director of Education’s reminders to herself and other educators. Information is too available, while quality, unbiased, well-communicated information that you can trust is scarce. So, that is what Dr. Thia continually tries to provide when authoring her courses. She offers two courses through MPower Co: Richer Retirement and Tenacity for Tough Times.
Dr. Thia has waded through both financial and positive psychology information to ensure these courses have the correct information that all people need to weather storms, such as the pandemic. A couple of months ago, we did our first post asking Dr. Thia a few questions to get to know her better.
MPower Co is back with a new set of questions for Dr. Thia.
Big events can change our perspective, and the pandemic is certainly a big event. How has the pandemic affected your perspective?
While the pandemic has caused many hardships and changed the lives of people from cradle to grave, I am trying very hard to remain open to the positive lessons that can be learned.
I don’t need as much “stuff” and activities in my life as I thought I did. Going to the grocery store, carefully, once every two weeks is fine. I don’t casually go to the store for anything… even quilting supplies (my favorite past-time besides spending time with family). I first assess whether the items I have in mind to purchase are even worth the risks. Often the answer is no.
Positive relationships matter. They take time and attention. Even in a pandemic, we can express kindness, caring, and love through distance communications even if we can’t be face to face with people important to us.
I have taken safety and health for granted. A small good from the pandemic is that I am far more aware of what environments I choose to be in and my responsibilities to others when I am out and about.
When I am in a good place, I feel gratitude for a silver lining of the pandemic that has given me what I have wished for many times: a simpler life with more time to focus on those I love and to enjoy being at home. I’ll admit It makes it more challenging to feel gratitude, though, because the changes are involuntary more than voluntary. Nevertheless, there are small goods and lessons within our current circumstances, if I can be open to recognize them.
I have to add that too many people have been caught, flat-footed, financially this year. Sometimes it takes tough circumstances to convince us how important an emergency fund is, starting early to save for retirement, having an estate plan and more. How to get these assets in place are important topics within Richer Retirement.
We recently rolled out Tenacity for Tough Times, your course focused on positive psychology. How has this material positively impacted your life?
I’m proud to have spent my University career helping adults become better financial managers and to become an expert in retirement planning. However, I have learned over the years that money, alone, does not buy happiness. Money is a tool and a means for purchasing goods and services. But which goods and which experiences can help us lead meaningful, pleasurable lives? Positive psychology offers answers.
I have met people with little to their name that are reasonably content, and those with a lot of money that are not happy at all. I realized many years ago that some people are fundamentally happy, others can’t seem to stand good times and still others that choose to be miserable would prefer you be miserable, too. I was curious to learn about the differences in these types of individuals and positive psychology research helped to explain just that.
I first started by exploring the idea of “learned optimism” and then when the field of positive psychology was formalized starting in 2008, I became part of that learning community.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living
W. K. Kellogg said, “It is much easier to make money than it is to spend money wisely.” That last word is important and positive psychology is insightful in wisely using knowledge, skills, and experience, along with money to live your best life—packed with positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.
I am one of the first to combine positive psychology and financial planning and each field contributes substantially to a person’s success. One without the other gives an incomplete picture. I like being a pioneer in this work.
We are in an election year and there are a lot of financial matters to consider in the voting box. What do you think is the most critical thing at the national level that needs action with respect to personal finance?
Even though you may have heard this in conversations, Social Security is not bankrupt. However, let me be quick to add that attention needs to be given to tweaking the program to make it sustainable long term.
If we wait, the fixes will be far more dramatic and expensive than they have to be. I hope there is substantial, quality discussion by presidential candidates and others running for federal offices in this election year about making Social Security sustainable.
Well, somehow another year has gone by, and your birthday is coming up in July. What are your goals for the year?
I think having written goals is really important and I tend to write them at the first of the year. Having a mid-year birthday is a good reminder to revisit my goals.
Be positive, no matter what life brings.
It is important to be happy and content now and not wait. All you can really live is the present moment. Wow! I didn’t see the big issues coming in 2020 when I wrote that one. That goal is more important than ever.
Create meaningful life experiences.
This one is not as tough as I would have guessed while we are sheltering in place. I get to spend more time with my grand-daughters than I did before, My husband and I are getting to some home repair and organization jobs that we are re-discovering we enjoy. I have virtual quilting days with my friends, and I even watched a movie from beginning to end—something I’ve not done in a long time.
Feel inspired and creative.
These are strengths that are particularly important to me these days. This goal is still high on my list.
I would encourage you to revisit your goals for 2020 and reaffirm them or revise them, as needed.
How would you describe your teaching style?
My teaching style has changed a lot over the years. My goal is to teach individuals how to think and to always encourage them to consider their goals and values. The quality information my work provides helps people be more confident and make better-informed decisions.
My approach is that of a gardener. A gardener has to have basic hopefulness that at least some of the seeds planted will germinate. When I teach, I throw out a lot of ideas that are grounded in research and best practices. I don’t expect anyone to work with all the ideas at once, but to figure out what action solutions (seeds of knowledge) they need to start germinating today.
I want an adult’s work with me to be positively life-changing and to help people have even better lives.
I’m different from many teachers in that I want to be the adult learner’s peer. I honor the strengths and life-experiences people bring. I understand that life happens and everyone makes unfortunate decisions, in retrospect. I also remind people they were doing the best they could at the time, even though there may be better options available today to use.
I want the person I’m working with to feel powerful and in touch with the strengths, they have to make their future even better.
In all my work with MPower Co, my goal as a coach is to be accepting, encouraging and attentive.
From your experience teaching Richer Retirement and Tenacity for Tough Times, what qualities make individuals most successful in your courses?
My adult learners define their own success. I give students the opportunity to tell me what their goals for the course are at the beginning. Then at the end of each course, I ask each individual if they have reached the goal they had for enrolling. 100% say yes, and most go on to comment that they exceeded their goals.
What are the strengths that are especially helpful?
First of all, an open mindset. People taking my courses need to be open to the possibility that there is always more to learn. The courses are packed with information so that there are strategies for everyone. Also, I see that the most successful adult learners are open to unlearning something they previously practiced so that they can incorporate something more supportive of their goals and values. We can never know the future holds and we all need to learn and adapt as life happens.
Second, I find that those that are open to the idea there is more than one right answer get more out of my courses. There may be even better strategies and actionable solutions that the ones that are working “okay” today, and being open to trying new things is important.
Research suggests that doing something, even if it is less than perfect, generates a lot fewer regrets than not taking action and doing nothing to address a situation. That leads to the third thing that I think helps course takers.
Don’t aspire to be perfect or wait to have a perfect plan before taking action. A “pretty good” plan that you act to implement is so much better than doing nothing while waiting to perfect your plan.
The greatest lesson I have learned by working with thousands of adult learners is that people are way too slow to make changes that have a high probability of making their lives better. Too many people are waiting for success to be guaranteed before they take action.
This is life – it is messy, so be ready to overcome the messy and do something that has a high probability of making life better.
Finally, on the other hand, I’ve seen the damage that impulsive decisions can do. It’s not Ready! Fire! Aim!
Take the time to learn what the research and best practices say to make significant positive differences. That is my goal with my courses – give the right information, communicated in an effective and understandable manner so have it when the time is right to make positive decisions.
Want to learn more about Dr. Thia’s courses?
Richer Retirement: This is Dr. Thia’s financial and positive psychology course that focuses on helping individuals prepare for retirement from both a psychological and financial perspective. This course is for any person who wants to retire at some point in their future, not just those nearing retirement.
Tenacity for Tough Times: This is Dr. Thia’s positive psychology course that teaches a number of techniques for making life more positive. The course covers topics such as resiliency, gratitude, learned optimism, and much more. This course is for anyone that may face a tough time at some point in their life, which we would argue is everyone.