Archives for category: Health

 

 

grayscale photography of person at the end of tunnel

Photo by Anthony DeRosa on Pexels.com

 

In my previous post, I mentioned that the biggest obstacle for a young adult in getting to a $100,000 is probably the sheer thought of it. As the saying goes, “The first million is the hardest.”* You could get technical about it but from a psychological standpoint, it’s hard to fathom something that seems so far away and out of reach. Which is why, before you get your first million, you probably want to concentrate on your first $100,000. If you’re looking at your first $100,000, you probably want to focus on your first $10,000.

I also mentioned that you could get over the mental block by having a paradigm shift. So, what is a paradigm shift?

 

paradigmShift

Sometimes the answer is already there. You just need to change your perspective to see it.

A paradigm shift works so well because sometimes we are trying to solve a problem by tackling the wrong areas or viewing the problem from the wrong angle. Here are two examples from my own experience.

 

Investing

“Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki has its detractors and after I’ve learnt more about finance and investing, I can safely say that the book isn’t very useful in teaching anything practical. The book won’t make you become a good investor or a successful business person. What “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” did for me was to help me question the whole idea of getting a job, spend some, save some, and then retiring.

It should have come to me more easily than others as my dad’s side of the family ran their own business but unfortunately it didn’t. For many years, I thought that the basic formula that most people subscribed to was the right one. I might have had my suspicions but I didn’t really question it or I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was.

What the book did for me was to show me that there was a more efficient model than the “study, work, retire” model that most people have come to know. It presented me with two paths — be a business person, or be an investor. Once I picked the path of an investor, it was just a matter of setting up a system** that works for me and over the last 10+ years, it’s worked pretty well for me. All I needed to do was make tweaks to refine the system.

I’m not saying that the system I have now is perfect or will no longer need tweaks. What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure I’ve got the main setup right in terms of approaching the problem.

The point is that this wouldn’t have been possible if I had never learnt of possibilities beyond the “study, work, retire” model. Getting rich this way is only possible for very few people who happen to earn outsized amounts relative to the average person. Even then, they must not fall into the trap of spending more than they earn or having their “lifestyle creep”***.

More recently, I’ve made a fantastic discovery on another topic altogether.

Weight Loss

For most people, weight issues don’t start until their 30s. That’s when the metabolism slows down and your lifestyle becomes less active due to work or having kids. And for most people, the logical solution to weight gain is either to (a) exercise more, and/or (b) eat less. So, when my weight ballooned to an all-time high relative to my height, I tried both methods.

Guess what? Unless you’re extremely disciplined, those don’t work.

Exercising more is the weaker strategy as studies have shown that diet is a bigger contributor to weight loss than exercise. Furthermore, dragging yourself to the gym regularly takes effort. This either involves waking up earlier or going after you’ve already exhausted most of your willpower at work. Grinding through a tough workout further depletes the willpower and that might actually lead you to eat more. “Alright, I worked out today. I deserve that extra slice of pizza.” That’s a pretty common thing we all say to ourselves after we work out. There’s also the type of exercise that you do but at this point, that’s more a matter of efficiency that effectiveness.

Trying to eat less also takes willpower. However, one other reason why it doesn’t work so well is that our metabolism slows down if we take in fewer calories than we normally do. If we normally consume 2,500 calories a day, our bodies see fewer calories as a sign that food is scarce and therefore we need to conserve calories by slowing or shutting down certain body functions. That’s why women stop having their periods if they eat fewer calories than needed for normal body functions.

So what’s the paradigm shift here? Fasting.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Besides, doesn’t eating fewer calories lead to a slowdown in metabolic function? So why would eating no calories work?

It turns out that once the glycogen stores in the liver are depleted, our body goes into a state called ketosis where it starts to burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. It’s only by not eating that our bodies enter this state as the glycogen stores take about 12 hours to burn through. If we just eat fewer calories like some diets recommend, our bodies never enter this state as the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is evenly spaced over a 24-hour window.

There are variations on how to fast but the one I’ve done follows a 16-8 intermittent fasting cycle. Basically, you eat only within an 8-hour window. There are no restrictions on what you can eat but of course, this isn’t a license to eat as much as you want. You’ll also want to ensure that what you’re eating isn’t junk in order to get optimal nutrition. What I mean, of course, is that you can’t go on with this plan thinking that you can eat nothing but cheesecakes. A healthy, well-balanced diet is necessary for a good life.

Another thing is that I only eat this way on weekdays. Most days, I have only lunch and dinner while I have something for tea on some days where I feel a little more hungry. But it’s definitely not the lack of breakfast that is the major factor as I’ve never been one to have a heavy breakfast anyway so skipping breakfast shouldn’t make such a big difference in terms of the number of calories.

I’ve experienced amazing results with this. I’ve never been fat or obese, and the worse thing I had was probably early signs of a developing paunch. After going on this for about 6 months, I’ve lost about 10-12% of my body weight or approximately 20 pounds. I didn’t think it was that drastic but lots of people have noticed the weight loss. My weight is back to an optimal level and keeping it there has never been easier.

Apparently, fasting has lots of other health benefits as well but I can’t tell you if I’ve experienced any of those. The best way would have been to get a health checkup prior to starting the intermittent fasting program and then another checkup afterwards. However, the scientific evidence so far is quite convincing.

Word of caution. Weight loss is only for people who are overweight. It’s safe to say that being overweight is associated with many modern diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. However, I’ve had a number of colleagues who have no weight to lose asking me how I lost weight. These people are asking the wrong question. For them, it should be how to maintain an optimal weight or even bulk up. In fact, the next thing I need to work on is not losing any more weight but to get a regular exercise routine going for optimal health.

The paradigm shift here is away from the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle to one that starts a little nearer to lunch. The funny thing is how we’ve all been told we need to eat 3 square meals a day since young but certain religions have been including regular fasts in their religious practices for thousands of years. There is a train of thought that the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is actually a relatively modern invention (thank you, Kellogg’s) and we’ve forgotten that our biology hasn’t evolved that much over the last few millennia.

The point I wanted to make is that sometimes, we need to question our assumptions and keep discovering if people have tried what seems like “impossible” solutions to the problems we have. Being experimenters and pioneers is something I’d rather leave to the scientists but if there’s convincing evidence that something works, we shouldn’t be afraid to try it out and see how it works for ourselves.

If you have experienced paradigm shifts in any other areas, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

 

Notes:

*If you’re a billionaire like T.Boone Pickens, then replace ‘million’ with ‘billion’. That’s the title of his book by the way.

**The system comprises of a few parts and is beyond the scope of this post but let’s just say that you don’t have to be a CFA charterholder to come up something similar.

***Lifestyle creep is the concept where your lifestyle creeps up to match any increases in your income. Most people aren’t consciously aware of this but it happens. Think of the type of holidays you took when you were a poor student compared to when you are working adult. Or the places you used to dine at versus the places you dine at now. Using a Singaporean example, chances are you went to Bangkok for holidays when you were a student and now the destination’s changed to Japan or Korea.

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I’m not an expert but over the course of my relatively few years so far, I’ve come to realise a few things.

Happiness comes from within.

Finding Happiness

First, let me briefly describe the conditions that have led me to that conclusion. When I was much younger, I used to think that happiness was something that external circumstances or objects brought you. For example, if I was happy, it was because my favourite show was on the television or my parents bought me a new toy. If I was unhappy, then it must have been because the helper cooked something I didn’t like (e.g. bitter gourd) or I was forced to do homework.

If you think about it, that’s an entirely valid way to see the world. After all, we humans are just like any other creature in this universe, drawn to pleasure and feeling repulsion to pain or suffering. That’s how evolution works.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. After all, things like exercise are good for us but it doesn’t feel good for many of us. Even for those who get that rush of dopamine from exercise, too much exercise causes inflammation of the joints and some other negative side effects. It’s even worse for sugar where we get hit with a sugar high that causes us to crave more but sugar when taken in excess causes all sorts of health issues like diabetes and obesity. i.e. Too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing.

It took me many years to realise that and in those formative years, I basically sought happiness from video games, things, good food, alcohol but the kind of joy these things bring is fleeting and doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction.

First Hints

My first hint of what happiness might be, came when I heard about Buddhism. Unfortunately, it didn’t appeal to me with all the esoteric jargon and Dos/Don’ts. At that time, it felt like any other religion where you have to follow these set of rules and dogmas without questioning what they mean or are supposed to be. That’s blind faith and not something my rational mind could live with.

Then, I read about the happiest man on earth. And he just so happens to be a monk. This time, the appeal was that the title of ‘happiest man’ wasn’t just something some people gave to him but was a result of neuroimaging scans done on his brain while he meditated.

That kind of made sense. After all, there are plenty of people around the world that live on incomes that are poor by developed world standards but still report higher levels of happiness. There have also been studies that show that happiness levels don’t rise once you go beyond a certain level of GDP per capita. Pop psychology also shows that if you want to feel happier, you can try using your teeth to hold a pencil lengthwise. This activates the muscles involved with smiling.

Ok, so I knew I needed to meditate but how do I go about doing so? I didn’t really want to read books by monks as the description by these masters of meditation always seems very fluffy and esoteric. I guess it’s like trying to follow the steps to create a michelin-starred dish when you don’t even know how to scramble eggs. So I put it off for many years.

What helped

Then, Tan Chade Meng came out with his book, Search Inside Yourself. A former Google employee and an engineer by training. There’s probably no one more rational and systematic than an engineer right? So I bought his book. He described the steps and rationale behind each step in simple enough terms but his folksy, “isn’t-it-simple?” style of writing turned me off after a while. Too much spun sugar. So I put off meditation again for what must have months or even up to a year.

Then, last December, I came across Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and this was the turning point for me. A news anchor and journalist by training, he detailed his journey of finding inner peace. Basically, if you are a skeptic and hate the esoteric fluff that sometimes comes with a lot of self-help books, Dan Harris’s book is a great starting point to convince yourself that meditation (1) works and (2) it doesn’t have to be religious.

All it takes is to be aware of your breath. Breath in. Notice the changes in your body- the chest rises, your lungs fill up with air and your diaphragm expands. Breathe out. Your stomach gets sucked back towards your spine. And repeat. If your mind wanders, just notice the sensations you felt that was associated with those thoughts. Maybe you remembered how your boss did some asshole move by piling work on you. Just notice that your ears felt hot and maybe your cheeks felt flushed. Bring the awareness back to your breath. And repeat.

My own experience

I’ve been, more-or-less, meditating for about 15 minutes every day and I can tell you that I’ve never felt better. I still get pissed at people who hog the lane in traffic. I still get pissed at colleagues who make me do more unnecessary work. But I quickly let it go.

On the other hand, when I notice something great. I hang on to it a little more. It could be the kid that waved to me and held the door open for me in the lift. It could be the sky looked a little clearer and the burst of blue that’s dotted with clouds. Whatever it is, I’m aware of it and I cherish it.

Why does it work? I think this short clip explains it very well. The guy in the middle (Jeff Warren) explains quite well from 1:09 to about the 2 min mark. Meditation gives you that mental clarity to figure out what to focus your energy on. I remember reading somewhere (could be the Dan Harris book once again) about someone asking the Dalai Lama what he would do if confronted with a robber in a bank and the robber potentially was going to shoot other people. The Dalai Lama said that he would snatch the gun from the robber and shoot him in the leg, then go and comfort him.

So, it’s not like meditation means you have to be nice and kind and icky-gooey all the time. It simply means having the ability to choose what to focus on. And if you choose to focus on what makes you happy while using your mental jiu-jitsu to deal with what makes you unhappy, life turns out to be a net positive. It’s all about gaining control over your emotions and using them to make your life better rather than letting your emotions affect you in whatever way the world chooses to.

Like Dan Harris, I’m nowhere close to being the “happiest person” alive but I think I’m ever so slightly closer.

Notes:

*Sorry mom. Chinese folk tradition isn’t the same.

Last year, while stock markets around the world were hitting all-time highs, I hit an all-time high too. Unfortunately, the all-time for me was my weight. All my life, I had never seen the first digit on the scales hit a ‘7’. So, when it finally did, I kind of panicked for a while. Then, I had a beer.

Some background first. I’m not obese or extremely overweight, to begin with. Even at 70kg, I think most people who know me will peg me as having “put on a few kilos” but they won’t label me as “fat”.

My usual approach to keeping the weight in check was to hit the gym once a week or once in two weeks and each session basically consists of just 2.4km on the treadmill, jerk-and-press, and deadlifts. That probably helped keep the weight in check but it was creeping up.

What changed was that while the wife was on a family holiday in December last year, I tried a few things. I can’t say for sure what the main contributor to the weight loss is but I’m going to run through the three things I did. I know 5kg (11lbs) doesn’t sound like a lot but the exciting thing for me is the trend of the weight loss and how easy it is to keep it off. And no, exercising more is not one of the things I did.

(1) Meditation

I started doing some simple mindfulness meditation every morning. Just 10 minutes of nothing but focus on my breath- the awareness of taking a breath, feeling my lungs fill up with air and then letting the breath out and feeling the carbon dioxide leave my lungs.

Obviously, meditation can’t be the main trigger for burning energy but I think where the meditation helped was in lifting my mood and awareness, which prevented me from snacking or going for the extra kopi* when I was really just bored and not hungry.

(2) Intermittent Fasting

I didn’t really set out to do this intentionally but while the wife was away, I got a little lazy and ended up just having a coffee in the morning. The first few days were tough but then I soon discovered that I didn’t really need to eat breakfast at all.

My first meal of the day ended up being at 11 or so in the morning and because of that, I ended up eating 2 meals a day on most days. Nowadays, as long as I’ve had my coffee, I don’t really feel the need to eat until maybe 12 or so. On some days, I don’t even eat a full lunch, just something light like a sandwich is usually good enough to last me till dinner. At dinner, I eat like I normally would.

Interestingly enough, I found out this is a form of intermittent fasting which some studies have shown to have numerous benefits such as a weight loss and cellular regeneration. (I recommend these two videos- 1, 2 for a good overview of what science has found about intermittent fasting.)

Personally, I’ve been doing a 16:8 fast which is eating only within an 8-hour window (the 8-hour window could be from 12-8pm) and during the 16-hour fast, all I have is a coffee with milk and no sugar in the morning. Apparently, this allows the body to enter ketosis where its glycogen stores in the liver are depleted and starts to burn fat for energy. This allows the body to keep the basal metabolic rate high as opposed to a diet based on caloric restriction where fewer calories tend to cause the body to also burn less energy over time. I haven’t done this every single day, only on weekdays as my schedule is more fixed on weekdays.

My finding is that while I get hungry, it’s not to the point where I feel weak or faint. In fact, I usually feel very alert when I’m on the fast and the hunger is more than manageable. The meditation also helps me focus on my breath and the sensations of hunger without letting the hunger control my actions or emotions.

As always, don’t take my advice as holy grail. I’m not medically trained so if you try this, you try it at your own risk. Seek proper medical advice if you’re unsure. Obviously, people who have no need for weight loss shouldn’t be trying this at all. Another point to note is that you shouldn’t be eating more than necessary regardless of an 8-hour window or not. If you eat 5,000 calories a day without exercise, it doesn’t make a difference whether you have an 8-hour window for eating or not.

(3) The Wim Hof method (abridged version)

What is the Wim Hof method? Or who is he? Wim Hof is a Dutch daredevil known as “The Iceman” for his feats of being able to withstand the cold. Such feats include running a marathon in the arctic circle in his shorts and holding the Guinness World Record for staying submerged in an ice bath for the longest period.

The method is a little controversial and consists of two parts – (1) breathing exercises based on Tibetan Tummo Meditation and (2) Cold exposure.

The breathing exercises puts one in a flight-or-fight response mode and raises adrenaline and noradrenaline levels while the cold exposure, supposedly, causes the body to experience environmental stress and therefore triggers the body to get stronger. This purportedly helps strengthen the immune system among other benefits.

Now, once again, I am not medically trained so I don’t know if the method makes sense from a physiological perspective but Wim Hof has shown that his methods work in a laboratory setting and beyond.

In an experiment with Radboud University, Wim was injected with a bacterial toxin and he managed to suppress most of the symptoms that 99% of people would experience when injected with the same toxin. Remarkably, he was able to teach others the same techniques which they managed to use to similar effect in a follow-up experiment. The main takeaway is that he could control his immune system which was previously thought to be autonomic. Wim Hof also led a group of people up Mt. Kilimanjaro in a much shorter time than what most people need in order to acclimatise and avoid altitude sickness.**

I haven’t done the full 10-week course that’s available on his site but there’s plenty of description on what the breathing exercises are supposed to be like (go google) and the only cold exposure I’ve tried doing is cold showers in the morning (once again, only on weekdays) but my own experience is that the breathing exercises do get you to a state of hyper-awareness. If you plan to try the method, read up as much as you can about it and other people’s experience with it because some people have died trying to use the method and the reason is that they blacked out during the breathing exercise and drowned.

I’ve experienced the ringing in my ears that supposedly come with the fight-or-flight response. I’ve also been able to hold my breath longer with each repetition of the exercise. I can’t say that my immune system has improved because I’ve never had many problems with my health. In fact, I hardly fall sick.

What I feel is that the Wim Hof method is a quick hack to put you in a state of awareness. I do feel great after the breathing exercises and the cold exposure has made me less scared of the cold (I usually don’t deal well with cold weather) but I definitely nowhere near taking ice baths or climbing up some mountain in nothing but a pair of shorts.

Conclusion

I’m quite happy to report that the weight comes off quite easily now that I’ve gotten into the swing of things and I didn’t do it by taking drastic measures. The steps I took are more of a (minor) lifestyle change but the results have been pretty quick to come and I’ve actually felt better because I have more energy and am less lethargic.

Oh, and of course, it was all free.

Notes:

*Kopi is local Singaporean coffee which is usually heavily sweetened with condensed milk.

**There are plenty of resources on Wim Hof on the internet but I would highly recommend reading Scott Carney’s book What doesn’t kill us on how an investigative journalist was convinced of Wim’s method.

So, just the other day I heard some shocking news.

An acquaintance of ours passed away and it turned out that she had been suffering from depression and took her own life. We didn’t know her very well but it was a shock because, from the brief time we knew her, she was very bubbly and cheerful. I don’t know if she was already suffering from depression when we knew her but it was also unthinkable that someone that appeared so positive could be suffering in silence.

The other shock was that she was EXACTLY my age. Right down to the day she was born. Someone my age passing away is a rare event, especially in a country like Singapore where life expectancy is high. But it happens. And in this case, it happened to someone that felt like life was troublesome than death.

And it’s a real shame because she had a gift. She helped my wife and I capture the memories of our wedding, which is one of the happiest moments of our lives. No doubt, she helped many others in the same way too and could have continued to help many more people do the same.

Dancing with darkness is seductive. It’s like a dance with a good-looking stranger dressed in black at a ball. The problem with life is that you can’t and shouldn’t keep revisiting that moment in the past. Doing so keeps your mind, and subsequently, your entire being captured in the memory of that moment while the entire world passes you by.

If you know anyone who’s suffering from depression, please get them some help.

This is for anyone residing in Singapore:
Samaritans of Singapore contact details
24 hours hotline: 1800-221 4444
Email (replies within 48hrs): pat@sos.org.sg

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

I don’t know who to attribute the above quote to because the first time I read it, it was something that Warren Buffett said but online sources say that it’s probably something that Samuel Johnson said.

Anyway, what’s more important is how true that saying is. We are all creatures of habit and particularly when our willpower is low in times of stress, we revert to the very things that we do without much thought. The danger is when some people fail to realise that their habits have taken them down a dangerous path that increases their chances of permanent ruin.

This morning, I watched an episode of a programme called “My 600-lbs Life”. The show follows the lives of extremely obese people in their bid to lose weight and regain their lives. This particular episode featured a man named James K. from Kentucky who is probably the heaviest person ever to appear on the show.

What struck me over the course of the two episodes that aired was that this guy and his girlfriend made all these bad choices that they basically couldn’t unwind. He’s so fat that he was basically bedridden and therefore it was his girlfriend who kept bringing him both the wrong kinds and wrong quantities of food. Her justification was that if she didn’t do so, he would get grouchy, argumentative and basically a pain-in-the-ass.

I know the guy has a food addiction problem and his girlfriend was obvious taking the easy way out by giving him what he wanted when his willpower was depleted. It didn’t help that they seem to be in poverty because at one point, her car broke down and she couldn’t get it fixed and that prevented her from going to get fresh produce which James needed in order to stick to his diet. Seeing all that, it’s obvious they weren’t going to be very successful in their goal.

Which is why I’ve realised that more than anyone else, I’m a creature of habit. I go to the same canteen every day to order the same cup of coffee, I have pretty much the same thing at the canteen in my school. When I’m home, my wife and I are watching the same few channels. Most importantly, I channel a part of my income into my portfolio automatically each month when I get paid.

That’s the trick with habits- habits can be both good or bad. What you want to do is develop good ones that help you meet your goals. And if you have bad habits, you want to make sure that they are inconsequential ones. If they are big, bad habits, then the first thing is to recognise them and set out a plan on how to correct them. It’s the old zen tale of a master who poured tea for his disciple until the cup overflowed. When asked why he was still pouring the tea, the master replied that new ideas cannot take root until old ones are uprooted.

I’m not perfect. I have many bad habits that I should work on. But at least I’m aware.

PS: There are so many people I know of that have developed terrible habits that they aren’t even aware of. Even if they’re made aware, they become defensive and think of all sorts of reasons to justify their behaviour. If you’re aware of your shortcomings, then kudos to you, you’re on the first step to putting things right.

I’ve always had an interest in meditation. This probably started in university when I had a lot going on in my life and I didn’t quite know how to handle all the situations that I was facing at that time. I’ve never been religious because I feel that too many religions are too dogmatic and I’ve also met my fair share of people who are dogmatic about religion and in private, are quick to denounce the beliefs of other religions as untrue. In short, I couldn’t and still can’t bring myself to conform to any singular religion because of the fundamentalist factions within many of the major world religions.

What first attracted me to meditation was the fact that while meditation originated from Buddhism (which is a religion), it can be treated as a non-religious practice. In fact, Buddhism originated as a philosophy and it was only after making its way through China that Buddhism (at least the version that is popular among the Chinese) incorporated more rituals.

Anyway, back to meditation. Many practitioners of the art have shown that there are numerous lab-tested benefits to meditation and Tan Chade-Meng’s latest book, “Joy on Demand” is a nice introduction to the practice and field of meditation. Tan was first, an engineer at Google and then more popularly known as Google’s jolly good fellow (that nobody can deny) where he also created the course “Search Inside Yourself”, teaching his colleagues how to practice meditation. This led to his first book with the same title as his course and now he has moved on to teaching and practicing meditation more widely.

I like the fact that in his latest book, Tan shares anecdotes of his struggles as a novice meditator and that Joy on Demand is much shorter than his first one while dispensing pretty much the same practical advice and evidence for the benefits of meditation. However, his style of humour takes getting used to. To me, it still feels kind of forced.

The book also dispenses useful insights on the emotions that a practitioner might feel at different stages of his/her practice and I’ve begun to notice this in life. For example, being mindful has led me to understand why some people might get upset when certain events happen. What gets me frustrated, sometimes, is when I wonder why people don’t see that their same actions lead to the same emotions that they feel. I’ve begun to feel frustrated when  I see people get upset about the same things that result from their same actions without realising that they could change how they feel simply by being aware. However, reflecting on my own emotions made me realise that I ought to change the way I view things.

Overall, I like Joy on Demand much better than his first book and while I still haven’t formed a formal meditation practice, I have tried baby steps suggested in the book like practicing my breathing whenever I have to wait at the traffic light or when I’m in a queue.

If you want to buy the book from Amazon, doing so through this link leaves me a little tip that goes towards my coffee fund.

The struggle is real. Doubly so for me as it’s still a public holiday here in Singapore and this comes at the end of a roughly two-week period of being on leave and holiday feasting. But I had to do it.

Last night, I set my alarm for 7 am. This morning when it went off, I had to fight the demons luring me back to the land of dreams and put on my running shorts and shoes and got out of the house.

The run along my usual route was exceptionally tough today. Groggy because I haven’t woken up so early in the last week (which demonstrates how easy it is to lose a good habit) and also due to the lack of exercise.

 

sunrise

Maybe it would have been easier to wake up if I had a view like this

 

I’m glad to say that I did get my run. Exercise has plenty of benefits and hacking an effective exercise routine into my life is going to be one of the things I’m going to work on this year.

So, lesson for today- struggling isn’t bad. In fact, in many facets of life, we struggle. We have to struggle before we reach our goal. Struggling is life’s way of teaching us so that we remember the lesson more deeply. The danger is in misinterpreting struggle or discomfort as a signal for avoidance. If we were supposed to avoid it, intense pain would be the more appropriate signal just like the feeling we would get when we touch a hot pan.

I normally don’t write on this kind of stuff but I read this article and given the things in my life right now, I thought it’s worth sharing.

Basically, the article advocates stoicism as a life-guiding principle. What is stoicism? In the words of the Trent Hamm (author of linked article):

I tend to think of stoicism as the separation between the way the world happens to be and my emotional response to it. In other words, I strive to separate the things I can control–my internal emotions and thoughts–from the things I cannot control–the rest of the world.

Now, the idea isn’t something new. I’ve come across the same idea in the philosophy (not the religion) of Buddhism as well as Viktor Frankl’s work. I don’t manage to follow this line of thinking all the time. Sometimes, my emotions get the better of me but upon reflecting, I tend to agree with the rationality of stoicism.

What would live be without One Piece?

What would live be without One Piece? Please give us more in 2014 Oda Sensei!

Where should I begin?

Wealth

2013 was another great year. The STI basically went nowhere (from 3274 at the start of the year to 3149 at this point in writing) but my portfolio performed nicely. How nice? Well, the portfolio’s investment returns were a little over 17% (assuming nothing drastic happens in the next 2 days).

In reality, the portfolio has grown even more (roughly 27%) due to contributions . I know this isn’t the best way to look at investment returns but I’m managing the portfolio for myself so what’s really important to me is the eventual size of the portfolio. Of course, the ideal is to have most of that 27% come from investment returns rather than contributions but at this early stage, I’ll take it. In fact, it’s important if you’re trying to get to financial freedom and I’ll try to blog on that in my next post.

Of course, 30% growth in the portfolio isn’t going to happen every year. In fact, since I’ve begun investing keeping proper records (in Nov 2008), this number has only seen a downward spiral (2009: 90%, 2010:60%, 2011: 60%, 2012: 35%) due to the low base effect. i.e. It’s much easier to double your money through investing + savings if you’re starting with $10,000 rather than $100,000.

From here on, it’s going to get tougher to increase the portfolio through contributions and that the portfolio growth rate will eventually converge towards the investing rate. So, in the long run, I still need to keep becoming a better investor and I’ll probably be extremely satisfied with a CAGR of 15%.

Having said that, it should be no problem for the average Singaporean graduate to amass a (small) fortune of $100,000 before 30. A Straits Times reporter made it his personal goal and I think it elicited quite a bit of response across the island. Depending on where you looked, that response would have been either skeptical or affirmative. In my corner of cyberspace, I think I saw more affirmation because so many of us in the Value Buddies community have already been there and done that. For me, I hit the milestone this year and $100,000 is a marker I passed some time ago.* Here’s how you can too.

Health

My health is another matter altogether. After getting a terrible ankle injury early in the year, I stopped basketball altogether, got lazy and hit the gym only once a week, doing pull-ups and deadlifts for the most part. By some miracle, I still managed to pass my IPPT and towards the end of the year, I started getting nasty dietary habits (like increasing my kopi intake). All this must change in 2013. I’ve started by doing more bodyweight workouts in order to build more strength. Coming into the new year, I’ll be working out a new diet.

Personal Matters

2013 was also the year of coming and going. There were quite a few deaths in the extended family. Thankfully, the passings were mostly all due to old age and they went peacefully. Not as many births compared to last year and I attended fewer weddings but still I’m happy for my family and friends that have moved on to another phase in life.

I attended two reservist stints in this year (same year but different work year so that’s allowed. Go figure.) which only confirmed my suspicions that ICT is a horrible waste of time given the amount of work that piles up while one is away. However, some guys see it as a good opportunity to catch up with acquaintances that they haven’t met in a while or a break from the monotony they call work. Well, all I can say is I can’t wait for the day they abolish the stupidity called ICT (which they won’t, otherwise we’ll see too many people without any hope of doing anything else become unemployed). I suspect before that day comes, I would have served my NS liability.

On a good note, I visited Japan for the third time in my life and fell in love with the country and culture all over again. In my heart, I wasn’t thinking of going anywhere with the house coming along but now that we’ve gone, I have no regrets. In fact, I can’t wait to go again. The trip this time round was much much better than my previous two trips for a couple of reasons- my wife, Ichiran Ramen, One Piece, Disneyland & Disneysea and trip preparations have become much easier thanks to the internet. We never got lost even while trying to find a coin laundry nestled the back alley of some residential estate but language is still a huge barrier. That’s probably the main reason why the wife is taking Japanese lessons and I’ll join her as soon as I’m done with the CFA exam.

Speaking of the CFA exam, I cleared level 2 and signed up for level 3. It’s crazy tough studying for it but I need to persevere. For the next 6 months, I need to be disciplined and do nothing but workout and prepare for the CFA exam. It’s been too long and it’s time to finish this. I need a Masters equivalent and then I can put the entire paper chase behind me (for a while?) and concentrate on finding more/other streams of income.

2014 looks like it’ll be a challenging year. Hopefully, work won’t throw me too many curveballs so that I can clear the CFA exam and in the later half of the year, I’ll focus more on creating new streams of income and growing the portfolio further.

With the new home finally coming (it seemed like so long ago that we signed up for it), the wife and I will probably lead an even more homely life that the one we already do and I plan to start cooking on a regular basis as well. Hopefully that will lead to better and healthier meals as well as save us buckets of money.

Here’s wishing you a 2014 that will be as good as mine!

*If there are any of you out there trying to achieve this, my advice would be to try hitting this without counting your CPF monies or your primary residence. Most people don’t have much in their CPF anyway because it goes mostly to buying a home.

Life is finite. No one can escape the fact that while we live right now, we will all die some day. There is another inevitable fact of life- there are intelligent people and there are stupid people. I don’t mean people who have low IQ but rather there are people in life who will be stupid in that they choose the wrong values to ascribe to. In fact, it happens to a lot of high IQ people because sometimes they think that by virtue of the possession of their intelligence they must know it all. However, this often leads to the Dunning-Kruger effect or in cruder terms, being too stupid to know that you don’t know.

In case you’re still wondering what kind of people I’m referring to, let me give you an example. I have a relative whose idea of keeping score on how well one does in life is how big one’s house is and also mind you, not just the number, but what type of car you drive (Korean, Japanese or Continental). This particular person also never fails to put down the achievements of others. Case in point- when asked her opinion of my recent employment, she attributed it to the desperation of my employers rather than any positive attributes of mine.

Honestly, I sense some desperation on this person’s part to salvage what’s left of her self-esteem since her own kids struggled through school relative to my brothers and I (well at least, compared to my older and younger brother) when she must have considered herself to be of superior intelligence. That desperation to salvage some self-esteem has also developed into what I call ‘the quest for meaningless expensive things- expensive cars (made even more so by Government taxes) and an apartment. I suspect the next to-do thing on that list will be to ensure that her son gets a home that’s more expensive than mine.

Now, for the benefit of those trying to build wealth, let me illustrate how the above is the perfect negative demonstration:

Cars: Even if you pay for them in full, Cars are a depreciating asset which means you (almost always) lose money the moment you buy one. This is especially so if you paid a high price for the COE which is nothing more than a piece of paper giving you the license to own a car.

Apartment: Property is not inherently a bad asset class to own. The problem is when you pay for it in full (which means zero leverage) and get only a  miserable 2.6% gross (not net!) yield when a 10 year Singapore Government Bond is yielding 1.57%, it just shows that it’s a lousy investment.

Now, if she ‘encourages’ her son to buy an apartment that he can ill-afford to sustain by himself, it will be the feather in the cap because if she pays some part of it for him, he’ll not know how to generate that level of  income or wealth to afford things of that level. If she does not and he takes on the property on his own volition, he will be encumbered with loans that, even if he may be able to sustain, will impede his ability to accumulate wealth in what will possibly be the best years of his life to do so.

The trick I’ve learnt is to shut these people off emotionally because, after all, they are entitled to their opinion and they have a right to live their life the way they want to. Another way of looking at it (which I think is valid) is that I must be doing something right because I possess something for someone to be jealous about.

Anyhow, I won’t let it affect my life and my results so far speak for themself- I graduated in the top 50 of my cohort, currently built a personal wealth that most people twice my age would only dream of and my adult life is barely beginning! There are so many things left that I want to do and yet there’s only so much time and energy that I have, much less wasting it on people who don’t matter.

PS: For those that still think that money is meant to be spent anyway so why not on material wealth, please remember there are much better uses of money. For example, this.