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Our daily habits are the difference between being rich and being poor, says Thomas Corley.

The certified financial planner and author of Rich Habits maintains that the biggest difference between the wealthy and the poor is what they habitually do to further their careers and personal development.

"What do you do after your workday is done?" Mr. Corley routinely asks participants in his research. Wealthy participants (those with between $4-million and $50-million (U.S.) in net liquid assets) were busy sitting on boards, going back to school, teaching, writing for trade publications, or reading up on their industry. They all spent their free time growing their knowledge and expanding their network.

Meanwhile, those struggling financially (making $35,000 annually with no more than $5,000 in liquid net assets) weren't doing much to improve their careers or uncover further opportunities for work and wealth, says Mr. Corley.

The wealthy individuals were also committed to setting goals, establishing five-year goals and working back to create daily action items.

I asked Mr. Corley about the wisdom of making five-year plans, given that life scenarios are constantly changing. His reply was that the wealthy are constantly re-working their goals in order to keep them relevant.

Positive thinking and affirmations - statements you repeat that are said to affect the subconscious mind - are another thing the wealthy view differently from the non-wealthy, Mr. Corley says. "Many [wealthy people] agreed to the principles of positive thinking and affirmations but only if they are tied to a direct action."

In other words, don't just tell yourself that you will live in a beautiful home and make a six-figures annual salary, but rather focus on the specific actions you'll take that will get you into that dream home with your ideal salary - like meeting with three prospective clients each week.

Other key habits of the wealthy include daily exercise, saving and living within their means, and putting a team in place to help them manage their affairs.

Although wealthy individuals have experts to help them invest their money, save on taxes, and get properly insured, the families of rich people are heavily involved in financial discussions, Mr. Corley says. Money is a family matter and he discovered that many wealthy individuals took the time to pass financial knowledge down to their children.

Mr. Corley, who uses his research to help clients develop better habits, says the number one habit he tries to instill relates back to career and personal growth: Successful people engage in the process of self-improvement every day.

"It's the biggest time commitment so it's harder to stick with but it's the one that will create opportunities to build real wealth," he says. "Good habits are like a magnet for opportunity and wealth."

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the Globe's personal finance site.