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Every individual has a unique set of long-term financial goals. And no matter what happens in the markets, these goals are unlikely to change – for example, you'll likely still want to send your kids to university, buy a home, enjoy a worry-free retirement or preserve wealth to pass down to the next generation. When you began investing, these objectives helped determine the mix of investments in your portfolio and set in motion financial plan for the future.

Despite the best-laid financial plans, short-term fluctuations in the markets can occur – and they can be stressful. This stress and anxiety can lead to poor decision-making, prompted by the desire to avoid further losses. Such decisions may ultimately have harmful impacts on your long-term financial objectives. That's why, when markets are bumpy, it's critical to maintain a future-focused perspective and avoid behavioral bias when investing.

If you're committed to long-term objectives, it's important to properly contextualize the signs of possible market danger so you can avoid veering from your plan. The goal is to stay the course long enough to reap its benefits. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Learn to look past short-term noise

Periods of uncertainty in the markets are never fun. They're often marked by heavy selling and alarming headlines that can make even the most steady-handed investors feel uncomfortable.

At times like these, it may help to remember that short-term fluctuations are normal and markets tend to gravitate higher overall. The specifics behind a shift in the markets are always different. But these movements rarely have any lasting impact on the overall trajectory of the market.

Growth of $1,000 over 20 years

Image charting SP index growth of $1,000 between 2002 and 2022

Despite several downturns due to war, recessions, a pandemic and the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, $1,000 turned into $3,297 over the two-decade period.

Source: FactSet. S&P 500 Index. Data as of January 1, 2002 to June 30, 2022. An investment cannot be made directly into an index. This graph does not reflect transaction costs, investment management fees or taxes. If such costs and fees were reflected, returns would be lower. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Avoid emotional decision-making

A future-focused plan requires a disciplined approach, because when the value of your investments is in flux – and it almost always will be – it's hard not to let your emotional side take over.

When markets are falling and your investments decrease in value, you may become anxious or worry about what impact it will have on your overall financial well-being. As difficult as it may be to watch the value of your portfolio decline, try to think of the long-term implications. Asking yourself bigger-picture questions may help shift the focus away from the short-term discomfort.

Time in the market vs. timing in the market

Sticking to a solid financial plan and staying invested no matter what the markets do may better support your ability to achieve long-term success than if you attempt to time the market. Maintaining your investments helps to smooth the ups and downs that are inevitable. A disciplined approach of regular contributions may often be the best way to meet your long-term financial goals.

Adjust your plan accordingly to meet your changing needs

It is important to keep in mind that your plan is dynamic, not static. There are three questions that may help you better determine your needs.

1. How much have you budgeted to build your wealth plan?

For instance, if you are concerned about not having enough income to meet your retirement lifestyle needs, one option to consider is adjusting how much you contribute to your retirement fund on a regular basis. A relatively small increase in regular contributions may be manageable in the short-term and have a significant impact over the long-term.

2. What is your time frame?

Another option is to extend your time horizon. This could mean postponing retirement or re-entering the workforce and engaging in a second career. On the other hand, if you feel you have enough wealth to meet your retirement needs, you may be in a position to shorten your investing timeline and retire sooner than originally planned.

3. How much risk should you take?

Your risk profile is a core building block of your wealth plan, so this third question should be addressed very carefully, especially in the context of market movements. The best way to do this is to review your plan regularly with your advisor.

Keep calm and stick to your strategy

Even though you've committed to seeing your strategy through, you may still need to check in periodically and make adjustments. Many advisors have been through multiple market cycles and have seen difficult periods before. Having an objective advisor who can share their expertise and support you with advice during difficult times can be extremely helpful in terms of keeping your plan on track.

Staying invested for the long-term is a time-tested approach. It's an easy strategy to follow when markets are rising, yet crucial when markets dip. By thinking long-term, you can keep your eye on the prize as you work toward your financial goals.