Archives for posts with tag: learning

We’re into September! We don’t have seasons here in Singapore but September is always a special month for personal reasons.

Hope your week’s been good!

books on bookshelves

Read! Read! And read some more!

 

Why 35 to 50 Year Old Singaporeans Should Value Financial Peace More (Plus 6 Tips to Achieve More Financial Peace) (Investment Moats)

Fresh from the oven, Kyith over at Investment Moats has a piece that I think will resonate with many Singaporeans. It talks about how Singaporeans in their late 30s to 40s tend to find themselves in a precarious position if they get laid off in the private sector.

To be honest, it’s difficult for me to imagine the kind of uncertainty about job security that people in the private sector face. Job security in the public sector is such that I have colleagues who have stay with the organisation for 30-odd years. Those that choose to leave normally do so because greener pastures lie elsewhere.

With that sort of job security in the public sector, it’s very easy to plan for investments and the growth in net worth tends to be fairly predictable over time. Any of my colleagues that fail to retire wealthier than the average Singaporean must have either had some sort of huge burden due to medical costs or due to profligate spending*. Once again, this is the beauty of accounting for human capital in your investment plan.

 

Nose breathing in yoga may calm the mind by slowing brainwaves (NewScientist)

Full article hidden behind a paywall but first two paras provides the gist of it:

Take a deep breath. In some forms of yoga and meditation, people are supposed to breathe in slowly through their nose. Now we may know why it’s helpful: nerves inside the nose start firing in a similar slow rhythm, prompting parts of the brain to do the same.

And in a test, people who did yoga with slow nasal breathing seemed to enter a deeper meditative state than when they did so breathing at the same rate through their mouths.

No secret here but breathing through your nose supposedly has many other benefits. A book that’s been cited quite often on the supposed benefits of this is “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown. I haven’t read the book but I’ve been trying to consciously breathe in through my nose whenever I can.

What’s Your Type? The Myers-Briggs Test and the Rise of the Personality Quiz (The Ringer)

A review of the book that looks at the history of the Myers-Briggs test and how the test is mostly useless in terms of determining one’s personality.

I found this interesting not because of the test itself but that the education system is paying lots of money to hire consultants that base their training on some version of this personality test.

If it’s all so bogus, then what the hell are we paying them good money for?

 

Show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome (The Reformed Broker)

Josh Brown has a post that builds on how perverse incentives leads to perverse outcomes. There’s an example buried in the post about how a financial advisor in the U.S. ‘churned’ a client’s account to generate commissions (presumably also under the pressure to meet the sales quota) but the post is mostly about how Mao led a country towards the largest man-made famine in modern history. I have “Mao’s Great Famine” on my reading list after I’m done with “Utopia for Realists”.

I have more to say about financial advisors here in Singapore but that’s something for another time.

 

Notes:

*Profligate spending doesn’t just mean buying bigger houses or cars than they can afford. It could also mean the unnecessary spending on things kids’ tuitions, enrichment classes and so on. IMHO, those things are really unnecessary.

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It’s the weekend! There was a public holiday, mid-week, in Singapore so this feels like déjà vu. Anyhow, here are my picks for the week.

 

coffee magazine

Some great reads to start your Sunday

After the Bitcoin Boom: Hard Lessons for Cryptocurrency Investors (New York Times)

I hate to say I told you so but…I told you so. (here, here and here for example. For a complete list, see here.)

It’s not surprise that some people have been burnt quite badly by the Crypto boom last year. Also not surprisingly, the ones hurt bad (i.e. relative to their income or net worth) are the ones who can least afford it. These are usually the least informed people in investing and when these people come onto the bandwagon, please get off.

That aside, I’ve noticed how many people are writing about their portfolios these days. It’s a trend that Financial Horse (whom I’ve never actually heard of until a few months ago but is pretty famous) has written this. I’ve been investing and writing about these things for almost 11 years now so I don’t think I qualify as new blood.

Of course, most of them write more about Financial Independence rather than investing per se so I don’t think that qualifies as a sign that we’re at the top. Valuation-wise, the STI is nowhere near exuberant levels.

 

A VISIT TO THE LAND OF A MILLION SHOKUNINS (The Food Canon)

While the subject of the article is about food, the idea of craftsmanship applies to all professions. I’m probably the worse person to tell you about craftsmanship because I’m impatient and lazy.

However, craftsmanship is probably going to be more and more important in the future. Why? Because machines are getting much better at doing the tasks that are routine and mundane. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Mechanization started with the industrial revolution and now, with A.I, I suspect it’s going to move into the realm of white collar jobs.

All the routine and mundane administrative jobs can (and should) go. I love the people in the admin department in my school but seriously, most of their job revolve around filing paper and “copying and pasting” stuff in emails.

The good education Minister actually has a point about emphasizing skills over paper qualifications. The problem is that most parents still have this mindset that qualifications matter. I suspect that that will change quite soon because we now have more and more people who are graduates (thanks SUTD, SIT, SUSS, and all the other private education providers!) but will not be able to find jobs that (1) pay well and/or (2) are interesting to do over a long period of time. It’s not really the fault of anyone but that’s what the world’s going to be like.

If I were a graduate today, I would make sure that I’m also a craftsperson of some sort. I might make good food, good beer, woodworking, an artist, photographer etc. Just make sure you’re really, really good at something that few people are good at. Just like this guy — The Secret Instagram Account Selling Black Metal–Inspired Biryani.

That said, damn…I need to make a trip to Hokkaido.

 

Steve Einhorn’s Bear Market Checklist (The Big Picture)

Recently, I wrote about having an investment plan. Part of the plan is having criteria to know when you should buy or sell. Howard Marks has also written about this before and I can’t wait for his new book to drop in October. Steve Einhorn, an investor and hedge fund manager, has this version which looks nice and simple to follow.

Long story short, it doesn’t look like we’re anywhere near a recession in the U.S. And I guess by now, we all know what that means for Singapore.

I’m only a dad to my cat but my own father showed me the extent a dad would go to for his children. The best (and probably, worse) habits I developed came from observing what my dad would do and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To all dads, Happy Father’s Day!

Now, here’s two light, but important, reads to keep you busy:

 

WHY THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE ALL BACKWARDS (Mark Manson)

As I tell my students sometimes, “Common sense isn’t so common.”

There are things in life that are counter-intuitive and if you often fall prey to things that require counter-intuition, then perhaps the best solution is to read widely and make a list of situations that defy common sense.

Mark Manson’s post is particularly instructive on how certain situations require us to do less, NOT more, in order to achieve our desired outcome. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that even the best and brightest often fail to understand.

Do yourself a favour and understand it.

Sometimes, less is more.

 

Your Risk Tolerance Is An Illusion: Wait Until You Start Losing Big Money (Financial Samurai)

It’s easy to say that you’ll remain invested even when things go south or to understand that most people can’t time the market, or that you’ll start investing in a big way when markets are down 30%.

But until you actually experience a downturn in the markets, you won’t know what you’ll actually do. I know, because I’ve also felt this way in ’08-09, 2012, and more recently, in 2015-2016.

I don’t know when or how deep the next downturn will be. All I know is I have a better process for the next time.

The post on Financial Samurai should give you some inspiration to start thinking about how you might behave during the next downturn. With that, you can start thinking about your investment process.

brown eggs on brown wooden bowl on beige knit textile

Should you have more baskets to store your eggs? Is more always better?

You’ve probably heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. The wisdom goes that at least if you drop the basket, you won’t have to worry about losing all your eggs.

In the investing world, the same logic can apply. Having a portfolio of many stocks means that if one company fails, bringing the value of its stock down with it, an investor’s portfolio should not be affected to a large degree. In the finance literature, this is known as eliminating non-systemic risk.

In general, portfolios with 10 or more stocks reduce the amount of volatility dramatically relative to the market and once the portfolio reaches 30 or more stocks, volatility is reduced to barely above a percentage point. (see here)

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with just having a larger number of stocks in your portfolio.

 

Industry-specific Risk

It doesn’t matter if you have many stocks if they all belong to the same industry and that industry is currently in the midst of a cyclical decline or the various players in the industry were all engaged in unsavoury practices.

In 2008-2009, the financial industry was hit by the downturn in the U.S. housing market. This led to credit being frozen in the banking sector and once the dominoes fell, even the better-capitalised banks felt some pain.

More recently, many Singapore-listed firms in the oil & gas sector were also hit when oil prices fell from over a hundred US dollars to a low of 30 US dollars. The bigger players such as Keppel Corp and SembCorp saw their share prices fall to multi-year lows and haven’t recovered much despite oil prices climbing up to about 70 US dollars.

Smaller companies that provided services to the offshore gas industry suddenly found demand for their services dry up and those that were up to their eyeballs in debt have been in serious trouble for some years now.

In short, having a large number of stocks doesn’t matter if a large number of them all depend on the same economic factors for profit.

 

Geographic or Location Risk

The same goes for companies that all depend on a certain location for profit. It’s also well-known that investors tend to have a home-bias. This means that investors tend to put a huge chunk of their portfolio in their home country.

If the country has a huge domestic economy and many of the companies are dependent on that country for business, then when the economy goes south, the fortunes of those companies will all be affected.

Similarly for the stock market, having all your stocks in a single market could mean terrible returns. from 1999-2009, investors in the S&P 500 would have made less than 0% returns p.a. This is the “lost decade” that many investment books talk about.

What those books neglect to mention is that the “lost decade” happened for the S&P 500. Other asset classes within the U.S., as well as markets outside the U.S., fared much better. For example, the MSCI EM Emerging Markets (Net) Index returned 9.78% in annual total returns for the same period.

 

Where Conventional Diversification Fails

So, if you diversified across a number of stocks, industries, and markets, you should be fine right?

Not so fast.

Research has shown that when a crisis hits, many asset classes that seem uncorrelated start seeing their correlations move to one:

But it has been well documented that correlations tend to increase in down markets, especially during crashes (i.e., “left-tail events”). Studies have shown this effect to be pervasive for a large variety of financial assets, including individual stocks, country equity markets, global equity industries, hedge funds, currencies, and international bond markets.

To make matters worse, research also finds that:

Not only did correlations increase on the downside, but they also significantly decreased on the upside. This asymmetry is the opposite of what investors want. Indeed, who wants diversification on the upside? Upside unification (or antidiversification) would be preferable. During good times, we should seek to reduce the return drag from diversifiers.

In other words, different asset classes may move out of step in bull markets while they all seem to move in the same direction when the bear bites. This results in diversification that causes a drag on returns in bull markets while offering little protection from the bear.

However, the article also finds that the two asset classes that are useful for diversification are a mix of Stocks and Bonds. Specifically, the study used Treasuries in the bond mix which suggests that Treasuries go up when Stocks go down due to a flight to safety.

 

Main Takeaways

The main lessons from this are to be aware that while diversification is necessary within the asset class, we don’t want to add too many asset classes to the mix thinking that that will be the solution to preventing the entire portfolio from tanking at the same time. The bigger lesson would be to have a sense of whether valuations are rich or cheap as well as to rebalance the portfolio towards the optimal mix.

Alternatively, you can take Andrew Carnegie’s advice to “put all eggs in one basket and watch that basket” but I wouldn’t recommend it; It’s too much work. Furthermore, it’s hubris to think that you are better than many of the people who analyse companies for a living. This may work for investors like Warren Buffett* but unless you think that you’re that good, you should spread your investments.

Just don’t spread them too thin.

 

Notes:

*Actually, even Warren Buffett had his share of mistakes like Dexter’s Shoes so imagine if all he owned was that shoe company.

The Trump-Kim summit is in town! Before you get caught up with all the bread and circuses, read these:

 

No, Your iPhone Does Not Make You Wealthy (The Big Picture)

Barry Ritholtz makes a very good case for how having things today that people centuries ago didn’t have is not going to make a very convincing argument for people who don’t feel wealthy. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription so I can’t read the article that Ritholtz mentions in his post but I buy this line in Ritholtz’s post:

We have deflation in the things we want, but inflation in the things we need.

So next time if someone tells you that life is better now because you now have iPads and stuff, please tell them otherwise.

 

Income Growth: 1980 to 2016 (The Big Picture)

Another one from Barry Ritholtz. This one cites a study that shows how inequality has progressed through wage growth for different income groups. No surprises here. These points have been well-known and established for some time now.

 

Commentary: Can education fix inequality in Singapore? If not, what can? (Channel NewsAsia)

On the home front, politicians have been putting inequality at the fore in their recent speeches. I suspect this is a result of BN losing the elections in Malaysia and therefore our government leaders are all kind of worried that the populist fever will infect our shores. This gem from Channel NewsAsia highlights the main issues with inequality in Singapore and what to do about it. You may disagree with what they say but do take a look.

 

The Art Of The Good Life #7: The Ovarian Lottery (My 15HWW)

Last but not least, Mr. 15HWW makes a good point that those of us fortunate enough to have won the ovarian lottery need to recognise our good fortune. In the vein of a survey done on social mobility in the USA, he raises the following thought experiment:

How much of your income would you give up to be born to parents who stay in a freehold landed house?

The answer for most people is that they probably would trade quite a fair bit of their income in order to trade for the wealth that comes with parents who can afford a landed property in Singapore.

I would caution that if you wish to do the trade, you should be aware of the following:

  • Not all landed property is equal. Location matters. A lot.
  • It depends on how many siblings you have. More siblings equal more competition.
  • It also depends when you inherit the place. The longer you have to wait, the worse the trade.

Obviously, I’m joking (ok, half-joking) about the points I’ve made but the crucial thing is that being born to parents who own and stay* in a freehold landed house has a higher probability of conferring significant advantages to their children. I’ll do a post on this in time to come.

Notes:

*Own and stay is important. We have a joke within our family about how my dad was ‘conned’ because he assumed that my maternal grandfather owned the house that my mother’s family stayed in when they were dating. It was only later that he realised that it was my mother’s aunt who owned the house and that my mother’s family were merely fortuitous recipients of her aunt’s charity.

Another week’s come and gone. Lots of finance/investing related reads this week. Also, a good look at Tesla and the world’s plastics problem.

How I save >$150k before 28 – updated tips (Simple Budget, Simple Life)

I like how young people living in a country with one of the highest costs of living still manage to achieve such high net worths relative to their age. She offers some tips in this post and throughout the rest of the blog. It’s a good read for those who can’t get over the mental block of saving enough money so that you have six figures in your bank account.

Having said that, this is like clearing level 1 of the video game called ‘Financial Independence’. if you stick to the same tips that the blogger provides, you’ll find yourself trapped in the hell called “work-save-spend”. Plus, tracking budgets and comparing tiny differences in savings account deposit rates are not really the smarter way of doing things.

 

Ignore the Millionaire Mindset; Try the Billionaire Behavior Set Instead (The Big Picture)

An awesome post. I’m going to print this out and stick it on the wall of my cubicle. There’s a saying that goes something like this, “If you reach for the stars, even if you fail, at least you’ll land on the moon.” So, if you’re trying to get wealthy, aim higher and at least if you don’t get there, you might not be too far off.

That aside, those seven points are things ANYONE should follow. I don’t know if these were the things that made billionaires their billions but I think these seven points are critical ingredients for living a good life.

 

Price Is What You Pay; Value Is What You Get – Nifty Fifty Edition (Fortune Financial)

This won’t come as a surprise for anyone who’s trained in the ways of fundamental investing. Having said that, it’s always nice to come across case studies of how valuation matters. The Nifty Fifty is something many new investors are probably unaware of but it goes to show that unbridled optimism pushing valuations high is an ever-lasting feature of financial markets.

My only quibble would be whether using P/E alone is a good measure of value. Also, the table seems to show that having a long holding period (see the 30- and 40-year returns in the post) mitigates the dangers of buying at high valuations. I guess the main thing would be whether most investors have that long a time horizon.

 

Why is Elon Musk raging at “big media”? Because he’s finally being called on his tall tales. (Vox)

Speaking of high valuations, Tesla and Elon Musk have been in the spotlight recently. Compared to a few years ago, things aren’t so positive this time. When Tesla IPO-ed, I remember reading about some investors who were planning to keep buying Tesla stock for the foreseeable future as there was so much hype surrounding Elon Must and all his various ventures.

In case you haven’t realised, Elon Musk is no Jeff Bezos who’s trying to upend something as simple as retail. Musk’s ventures are as capital intensive as it gets and if you’ve read Jeremy Siegel’s “The Future for Investors“, you’ll know that most companies with high CAPEX don’t tend to produce very good returns.

During times where credit is loose and things are rosy, companies like Tesla won’t have problems raising cash and blowing it on big dreams as they’ve done. In fact, for the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of money raised by startups.

These companies then race against time to prove themselves. It’s either they succeed in producing the outsized returns with a viable product that becomes widely adopted or investors lose patience and credit starts to tighten.

Good read all around especially if you’re a fan of Tesla and Musk.

 

The global plastic problem is even bigger than you think (AXIOS)

I’m no expert on the environment but I think if you’re human, then you ought to care. Recently, there’s been this fad about buying metal straws so that we can replace plastic straws and while I’m skeptical about fads, I believe the excessive use of plastics is going to a problem. After all, if plastics end up in the stomachs of the seafood that we eat, then that plastic is surely going to end up in our stomachs as well.

Singapore is a land-scarce and oil-scarce country so it makes even more sense to reduce our use of plastics so that we don’t have to find land to bury our plastic waste or contribute to the global demand for oil.

the forest road

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Just last week, I met up with three former students of mine. They’re all serving their National Service (NS) now and doing great. They’ve probably forgotten most of the economics that I taught them but you know what, that’s not important. Most of them aren’t even going to be economists anyway. One of them’s going to read law while the other is going into physiotherapy. The last one hasn’t decided what to do after NS and that’s ok. He’ll get there.

I posted a photo on Instagram saying that just like every other student of mine that came before and, will come after them, these guys will do great. Coincidentally, another former of mine appeared in a colleague’s photo where she was back in school to share her experience in the social services sector.

Ok, surely they all can’t turn out great. Some of them may end up unemployed, some of them may end up with problems with their marriage or a gambling addiction. So how is that great?

I believe that if any of my former students end up this way, it’s merely because they’ve lost sight of themselves. They’ve been caught up admiring other people’s lives on Instagram or comparing themselves to the results that their peers have obtained. What they failed to see is the journey that one must take in order to get to their destination.

For example, at the school where I teach, there’s a pretty famous alumni who’s has had some success with his start-up. It’s a local tech company that’s pretty well-known. So, whenever we mention that this person is an alumni of the school, the new students get pretty impressed.

What they fail to see (and we, of course, fail to conveniently mention) is the countless nights of forgone sleep and mental anguish of worrying about how to meet payroll and rent that he and his co-founders must have gone through before achieving this level of success. Even then, his journey isn’t over. From what I can tell through public records, the company is still bleeding cash and has had to raise capital through many rounds of funding. This company’s ability to survive on its own two feet is still far from over. His journey hasn’t ended yet.

It’s the same for all my students or anyone in this world. If you focus on the destination, you forget that path there may not be full of potholes and obstacles. These things will trip you up and prevent you from setting out what you were meant to do.

Everyone can be great. You just have to focus on the journey and when you get some measure of recognition, that’s when you know you’ve reached your destination. If you have fun on the journey and you continue walking the path, the destination doesn’t really matter at all.

 

Time to get a little smarter if you’ve been doing dumb things all week. Here are my reads for the week.

 

We Should Fail Better (The Big Picture)

Barry Ritholtz makes a compelling argument about how some institutions and systems learn better than others. He contrasts the aviation industry’s experience versus the U.S. public health care system. Off the top of my head, I suspect many institutions in Singapore could benefit from this sort of thinking as well.

 

What The 200 Day Moving Average Does & Does Not Tell You (A Wealth of Common Sense)

This is for the investment people. I don’t really believe in reading charts but there’s some value in using some of the indicators as a quick check on things. Personally, I would use the 200-day exponential moving average (EMA) as a guide to investor sentiment. The other thing is also to use it as a rough guide rather than a precise signal of when to enter or exit the market.

 

The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy (The Atlantic)

It’s a very long read but I can’t recommend it enough. The article really describes what the upper middle class in America are going through and its impact on inequality — Children’s education, median starting salaries across the top decile universities versus other universities, the tax code benefitting the rich. It’s an insight and a reflection of the privileged class and its impact on society.

As a Singaporean, I found a lot to agree with and I wonder why academics in Singapore don’t focus on these sort of things. Inequality is an issue in many developed countries and it’s no different in Singapore.

 

How To Tell If You’re Rich Even If You Think You Aren’t (Financial Samurai)

An easier read compared to the one above but no less illuminating on whether a person should consider him/herself rich. Once again, U.S. context but general principles probably apply elsewhere.

 

Young Retirement Savers Scorned (A Wealth of Common Sense)

Another practical read. Ben Carlson comments on a piece that touched some raw nerves because the piece suggested how much net worth a person should have obtained by a different age. He adds on some calculations how the savings rate and rates of return you’ll need to hit those sums. This article is perfect for younger people or people who need some vision on how to save. If you don’t have a problem accumulating savings, then don’t worry, you can skip this.

 

 

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.

So I’ve been attending Republic Polytechnic’s Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Symposium 2017 over the last three days and there are a few things that struck me. From what many of the speakers shared, it’s evident that learning in the 21st century is moving towards students learning at their own pace, agenda and their own terms. This shift is the result of one major technological shift- the increase in ability to transmit larger amounts of data across the web at ever greater speeds.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, when I was growing up, the internet was already born. However, at that time, computer processing speeds, internet speeds, and bandwidth only allowed for text and images to be transmitted quickly via the web. These days, even video files can be streamed no, or at most, minor lags. Advances in technology have also led to a proliferation of smartphones which essentially has put a computer in everyone’s pocket.

What all this means is that students have access to all the information they need and then some more. In other words, they don’t really need teachers just for the information. Pushing content to students is something totally redundant. What role then, are we teachers supposed to play?

The answer to that question is not easy. We also have to deal with ‘The System’- a complicated mix of legacy- teaching philosophies and practices passed down through generations of teachers. On the last day of the symposium, I learned about ‘Productive Failure’, which is about getting students to work on problems that are designed to get students to think about solutions to a problem that they have no prior knowledge of the solution for. The teacher then acts a facilitator to keep teasing feasible solutions out of the student and finally, the teacher should bring all of the students’ solutions together to show how they were working towards the body of formal knowledge already known. Throughout Dr Manu Kapur’s sharing on productive failure, the one thing that was constantly emphasized was that students need to be allowed to fail in class.By failure, he didn’t mean that students should be left to get things wrong and that be the end. By failure, he meant that students need to be given the space to think of their own solutions to problems, the room to reflect and deliberate on what parts are feasible and what parts are not, and then

By failure, he didn’t mean that students should be left to get things wrong and that be the end. By failure, he meant that students need to be given the space to think of their own solutions to problems, the room to reflect and deliberate on what parts are feasible and what parts are not, and also to share and collaborate on what works and what does not before teachers lead them to the right answer. Many teachers I know go straight to the right way of doing things and leave out any exploration in between. And rightly so because the emphasis from the top seems to be on pass rates and exam scores. If exam scores are down, us teachers get asked how we can get improvement from the students. If exam scores are up, we get asked how we caused an improvement. Why do top management do this? Simply because these are visible and easily measured. These are also the things that count because students depend on their GPA for admission into universities. In short, the focus in schools is very much on the short-term outcomes.

I’m not saying that the short-term outcomes aren’t important. I’m saying that we shouldn’t solely focus on short-term outcomes in a world that is advancing and changing rapidly because teaching skills is easy and meet immediate needs. However, in a rapidly changing world, skills get obsolete very quick. It’s much better to inculcate curiosity and the ability to come up with new insights and solutions which prepare people better for the future.

In short, I thought it was going to be a pain having to dedicate three days of working time to this event but I’m glad I did because it gave me new insights. I don’t have the solutions yet but a path to action only becomes possible where one is aware that the current path needs adjustment.