“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.”
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.”
–Corrie ten Boom
I would be lying to say the last couple of weeks haven’t caused me concern or anxiety. My wife and I have a small child at home and one on the way in June. We have all seen the stories on the news or social media. It is easy to spiral out of control and be paralyzed by the fear. The true test of a human is not in times of ease and plenty, but in times of stress and hardship. It can feel overwhelming to juggle the responsibilities of spouse, parent, business owner, or just plain humanity. Today, I am sharing with you some tips and tactics I use to maintain sanity and allow me to focus on what is truly important to me. This is more the personal side of personal finance.
We all feel scared at times. We also, generally, don’t like to admit that. It’s ok. Just sit there and acknowledge it. The first step is to be ok and admit those feelings and then feel them fully. It’s fine and it’s human. The second step is to get clear on what you can control. Then, do something! Figure out what micro action you can take towards accomplishing a goal and do that goal. Lastly, just repeat this step over and over.
Over the last week I have ordered a set of kettlebells (used them), have gone on a bunch of walks with my son and wife (socially distanced from other walkers of course), have cooked some great family meals, and have done a bunch of push-ups and air squats. I have executed all of these activities because I know that eating well and being physically active improves my mindset greatly. I am clearer, more focused, and motivated when I participate in these diversions. I can point to the roughest patches in my life and they all coincide with times I did not do these things. It would be easy to make excuses for not being active and eating healthy right now. Stress eating doughnuts sounds sort of good right now, let me tell you. Instead, I have focused on the space where the thing that matters is a clear and crisp mental state, and the things I can control, physical activity and diet, intersect. Think about what actions you can take to accomplish your goals during these times.
It’s also important to recognize that we all create narratives for ourselves built around our preconceived ideas. First, we know there are facts, and boy are there lots of those coming at us these days. Second, there are our feelings about those facts. What do these facts make us feel? Finally, there are the stories we tell ourselves about our feeling and about those facts. Those are 3 very different things.
If we are feeling anxious, it is easy to let that shape the narrative, we begin to spiral towards darker and darker thoughts. This can lead to panic and any decision made in a panic has a higher chance of failure. We, as humans, are not that far removed from our ancestors who were rewarded for hasty decisions to avoid being prey to wild animals. What kept us alive 10,000 years ago all but guarantees poor, hasty decisions in a crisis of today’s world. If you want to read a great tweet thread, about the need for calm decision making, click the following link: Calm decisions.
Now that you have recognized, accepted, and identified your stress, you realize you are more than your emotions. You can experience a feeling without necessarily having to act on it. In fact, it’s exactly what I ask of myself and investors when we ask them to stay the course and keep a long-term perspective, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” You can be angry without being violent. You can be sad without being incapacitated. You can be scared about what is rightly frightening news without allowing it to destroy your ability to lead at home and work.
We can all emerge from this uncertainty with a greater perspective and a redoubled commitment to do what is right, but getting there will take a daily commitment to self-care. Investors should continue to seek guidance from their financial advisors to act as both a behavioral coach and a trusted resource to help them meet their financial goals. If you do not have someone to talk to about this please reach out and I will help in any way that I can.
I continue to encourage all of you to take this time to be the support others need as well. Hug your child, spouse, pet, or just yourself. We will all get through this together!