Archives for category: Health

“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.

I read an excellent post from Joshua Kennon today and this goes into my unofficially titled “Must-share Monday”. His post was another from his excellent series on Mental Models which is a series of frameworks in understanding how the world works. This was more famously introduced to me by Charlie Munger, the famed partner of Warren Buffett.

Anyway, Joshua Kennon’s post answered a question that I’ve been thinking about in my life- Should a person cut another off from his/her life if that person is not contributing to where you want to get to or how you want to be in life?

I think this question is relevant to anyone but I felt a sense of familiarity because of the extended family lifestyle that I’ve grown up with. Many Asian families probably experience this as well where you grow up being in constant contact with not just your immediate family nucleus but your extended family as well (i.e. Cousins, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts and even distant relatives)

Joshua’s answer is yes and after reading his post and doing all of 10 minutes of thinking in the shower (Ok, I bluffed. I thought about it the whole day), I concur. Every individual is a living being that is free to make choices. Undoubtedly, his choices will impact others around him and this is why knowing who to cut; and when to cut someone off is important.

If the main goal of your life is in seeking happiness, who else can know what makes you happy other than your own self? As a fable (zen?) goes, two men are on a bridge looking at fish in a pond and they go:

Man A: “The fish are happy.”
Man B: “How can you know? You are not a fish.”
Man A: “They seem happy.”
Man B: “Yes. They seem. But are they truly?”

In Economics, there is the ideal equilibirum, which economists call a ‘Pareto-efficienct outcome‘. Simply put, a Pareto-efficient outcome is one in which both A and B are better off. Therefore, if your life is one filled with people that extract happiness only by taking yours, you should, for both your sake and theirs (otherwise, they only know of inefficient outcomes), cut them off.

Of course, do it nicely. You never know…one day, that person and you might find a Pareto Efficient outcome.

Thinking of adding a financial and health rules/checklist to my life.
Will add details as they come.

Health

  • Run my usual route (at present approx. 3km) twice a week
  • Gym (usual circuit) twice a week
  • No more than 1 pint of beer in one day, no more than two such days a week.

Wealth

  • Quick-review portfolio every quarter
  • Full portfolio review every year (including business trends, allocation, macro environment outlook, goal target)

I confess. I’m an escapist.

Ever since young, I’ve subscribed to the flee rather than fight option when it comes to dealing with stressors. Especially in situations such my current one (studying for the CFA level 2 exam), I’m tempted to take that option. Of course, we all know that the ‘flee’ option, while useful in the plains of Africa when confronted with a hungry lion, is not always the best option especially in the real world like the one we’re in.

My strategy with that right now, is to keep the windows of stress as short as possible and during periods of respite, try to seek inspiration. And as wise, old ones say, “Seek and ye shall find.”

This is what I found:
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf
Now, I’ve heard of Dr Jill Bolte Taylor’s story before (actually, I read the sypnopsis of her book in the local borders) but never picked it up. Having witnessed her TED talk, this is going on my reading list when I’m done with the CFA exam this year.

Angiogenesis- Restricting cancer by cutting off the blood supply to the cancer cells. Apparently this is already used in cancer treatment drugs like Avastin but late-stage treatment is often the worst time to be fighting the disease. Certain foods have shown to have these properties. Possibly could be used in fat loss/obesity treatments too.

Shall look into this more. (HT big picture agriculture)

See the video for Dr. William Li’s presentation at TED here.