A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the idea of focusing your life on the things that can make you happy without making progress. The idea there is not that progress is bad or that we should all learn to simply accept things the way they are. Rather it’s that if we can enjoy something without worrying about the result, even if the result is important, I think we’ll find ourselves happier and more satisfied with our lives on a regular basis.
This is a topic that came up in another way in the Stacking Benjamins podcast episode I was fortunate to participate in this past Monday. The focus of the segment was on the importance of taking a zen-like approach to investing, where you put your faith in the process and let the constant ups and downs of the market wash over you without effect.
This idea ties in really well the idea of being happy without progress, and it really made me think back to how I personally want to grow in this respect. With investing, this is something I actually have mastered pretty well. But in other areas of my life, such as blogging, I’ve found myself focused far too much on the result, to the point where I feel like it’s a detriment to both the quality of my work and my enjoyment of it.
So today I want to compare and contrast my approaches in these two domains so we can further explore this idea of living a life without concern about the result.
Investing – the lure of the almighty return
In the podcast I was asked whether I personally approach my own investments with the zen philosophy we were discussing. Being the inexperienced podcaster that I am I unintentionally dodged the question, but reflecting back on it I believe I do.
First of all, I have an investment plan that is tailored to both my long-term goals and my emotional make-up. This plan defines the process that I follow, and it’s a plan that through experience and education I’ve learned to be happy with regardless of its current level of performance.
But beyond that, I’ve been able to incorporate a process of tracking my returns in a way that is both productive and emotionless. Every Monday I log into my accounts and update a spreadsheet that tracks both the balance and return of each investment I have (four mutual funds in total), as well as the performance of my investment portfolio as a whole. For me, this process serves two purposes:
- It lets me keep tabs on the potential need to rebalance my investments to keep them in line with my desired asset allocation. This helps me stay on track with my plan.
- From a pure interest standpoint, I think it will be fascinating to have this history so that years down the road I can look back and really see the ups and downs of my strategy.
So with investing, I’m able to track my results to achieve a specific purpose that helps me stay on track towards my end goals. Beyond that, I’ve managed to successfully watch the results in an emotionally detached manner, so that the regular ups and downs have really no affect on my feelings toward the process and certainly have no role in changing my approach.
Blogging – chasing those stats
Blogging is an area where I have a long way to go before achieving the kind of zen I have with investing. As I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the world of blogging (for those who don’t know, this thing goes DEEP), I’ve found myself becoming more and more obsessed with the number of people coming to my site. Multiple times per day I check up on my stats, and the snapshot picture at that random point in time can have a significant effect on my mood and my opinion of whether my recent efforts were worthwhile.
If I compared this to investing, this would be like logging into my investment accounts every few hours to see if I had made or lost money since the last time I logged in, and then feeling good or bad about my long-term plan as a result. THAT WOULD BE CRAZY!!!
I do think there is value in understanding large trends with my blog traffic. If my goal is truly to help as many parents as possible take control of their financial situation, then I need to get better at reaching large numbers of people and analyzing my traffic stats can help with that. But the way I’m doing it now is not productive. I’m letting short-term movements dictate my emotions and subsequent behavior. Where I want to get to is a place where, like with my investment strategy, I have a long-term plan that dictates my process, and my stats are simply one tool I use to help keep me on track with that plan.
But before I can get there I need to get rid of the emotional pull that they currently have. How do I do that? I learn to live without the result. For the entire month of October I’m going to completely ignore my stats and instead focus on my process. I want to write high-quality articles. I want to engage with my readers and other bloggers. I want to push myself to reach new audiences by writing for other sites. In other words, I want to focus on the things that really matters, which are improving my message and expanding the ways I’m putting it out there.
What’s the lesson here?
In the end, with both investing and blogging, the results actually DO matter. I’m investing my money now so that I have enough money later in my life to be free from the need to work. I’m creating this site with the goal of helping as many people as possible build themselves a strong financial future. In both cases, the end result is important to me and without it the endeavor will feel somewhat empty.
But I cannot control the end result. All I can control is the process I use to get there. So in the meantime I’m learning to let go of the result. If I can learn to live without it, I can focus on building a life where the result takes care of itself simply because I’m enjoying the work along the way.
What’s something in your life that you find yourself focusing on more than you’d like? What would it be like to completely let go of it for a period of time?
Photo courtesy of Dean Croshere