January is a common - and powerful - time of year to assess where we are, think about changes we want to make in the various aspects of our lives (health, wealth, relationships, etc.) and set forth a plan for taking action. Most goals focus on things that we want to do:
working on this, being more active on that, accomplishing something or other.
But what about goals relating to not doing?
A few years ago, I was assessing my health and decided I needed to get back to my old 'fighting' weight and energy. I thought about all the things I could do to achieve this goal. But I soon realized I was actually doing most of them (working out, stretching, etc.). The most powerful changes we can make are the ones that require the least effort, are the simplest, yet give us the greatest results. Then it hit me: with one small (but extremely important) decision about not
doing something, I could achieve virtually all the health and fitness goals that had been eluding me for the prior several years.
I decided to not drink.
A simple decision. It was not like I decided to move myself and my family across the country, or switch careers. In fact, I had to make a negative effort (in other words, I got to stop doing things rather than exerting myself doing something). I now no longer had to take any time or make any effort in going and buying alcohol, or traveling to a bar, or deciding what to order, or spending time earning the money to cover the cost, or dedicating time to dealing with the short term (e.g. morning headaches) or long term issues associated with regular drinking.
One small choice, and the benefits are compounding day after day after day: weight loss, improved moods, lower anxiety/stress, clearer skin, healthier internal organs, more free time, greater focus, thinner waist, fatter wallet, and more energy.
Talk about leverage!
People always say to me, "... you must do so much to stay in such great shape." But the real secret to being healthy for life is what you don't do. It is the absence of activity as much as the effort itself. I don't look at my phone while working out (most people spend half or more of their time at the gym staring at yet another text, another CNN article, another Facebook post, etc.). This lack of effort frees up considerable time to actually work out, allowing me to get more done in 1 hour than most do in a week's worth of training. As noted above, I don't drink (time saver, money saver…life saver). I don't engage in pointless negative communication with toxic people. The amount of time freed up by not doing these things is priceless, not to mention the dramatically improved peace of mind and mental and physical energy.
So how does this have to do with goals, let alone investing/finance?
We tend to underestimate how much time we spend on certain things like messing around on Facebook or reading empty calorie articles online. Be very realistic with yourself in assessing how much time you spend each week on investing related news. How much Fast Money or Mad Money or other investing (entertainment) related shows do you watch? How many times to do you check stock prices or the overall market (many do this daily whether they know it, or let alone will admit it). How often do you look at your portfolio full of (hopefully) high quality companies that have been in business for decades and survived every event the world has thrown at it? If you do a realistic survey, you will find you spend (I would argue waste) a considerable amount of time on these types of activities, not because they add value, but out of pure habit. If you have a well thought out strategic financial/investment plan in place with assets appropriately allocated consistent with investment time horizons, then what does the latest trade war headline matter when it will just be some new headline, or tweet, or whatever else tomorrow and the next day?
At first it takes discipline not to do something, but over time it becomes a lifestyle and you no longer think about it, let alone miss it or crave it. I have not thought about having a drink in years. The only thing I think about is how great I feel each day and the thanks I have for discovering a healthy way of life. The compounded benefits of that one small, single decision, have been life altering for the better.
Consider not taking so much action, not spending so much low value time in 2020 relative to your finances. Instead, make the time you do spend high quality. Check out recent dividend hikes for companies you own. That will tell you far more important information about your future financial prospects than any Trump tweet and its temporary aftermath ever will. Take a quick glance at your cash balances and make sure you have enough set aside for short term needs. That will reduce your stress levels the next time the market drops precipitously. Put in a call to your Advisor and review your 1 – 20 (or more) year plan.
And with that free time from all the things you are not doing, go read a book, get in the gym (sans phone), head out for a walk, or call a loved one…That is one of the greatest trades you will ever make.
Here's to a healthy, peaceful, and prosperous 2020!