The Thing To Focus On In The New Year

Amar Pandit , CFA , CFP

This sketch is simply worth a thousand words.

There is actually nothing left to say if you understand that it applies to every aspect of our lives. But I still wanted to say a few things about this sketch in the context of investing (not to mention some aspects of my life). So, beyond a few words, I ended up creating 2 additional sketches that I think you will enjoy.

We only have so much time, energy, and attention. So how do we decide where to place our focus?

To figure out the answer to that question, I like to ask myself two additional questions:

• Does it matter? and

• Can I control it?

Unless the answer is yes on both counts, I know I can stop thinking about it. Because if it doesn’t matter, then who cares, and if you can’t control it, then why worry about it?

As (8th century) Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at Nalanda, Shantideva had said “If the problem can be solved, why worry? And if the problem can’t be solved, then worrying will do you no good.”

For me, that means I can stop focusing on:

1. Whether my children get into the college of their choice or not (because I can’t control it).

2. Whether the economy is heading into a recession or not ((because I can’t control it).

3. Whether the stock market will go up or down tomorrow (because I can’t control it and it truly does not matter).

4. That guy who cut me off in traffic (because it doesn’t matter).

5. The forecasting game that everyone keeps playing (because it doesn’t matter).

Not thinking about any of those things allows me to put more energy and attention into things that I can control and that do matter. For example:

1. How I treat my children, regardless of whether they get into a college of their choice

2. How I have planned my finances and investments should the economy go into a recession.

3. How I behave when stock markets fluctuate.

4. Learning to count to 10, taking a deep breath, and letting go when other drivers act like jerks.

Now let’s take a look at the two sketches I mentioned earlier. The contents of these not only apply to you and other investors but they apply equally and more to financial professionals.

Ryan Holiday in his book “The Daily Stoic” wrote, “There is something called the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The same is true for investors (and financial professionals). If we can focus on making clear what parts of our financial life are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, but we will have a clear advantage over those who chose to ignore the reality and end up fighting an unwinnable battle.

I encourage you to reflect on the sketch once again. Take a print or have it readily available should the need to reflect or meditate on it arise at any point of time.

As always, the choice is ours.

In this New Year, I wish for you to focus on things you can control and the things that matter while having the courage to change things you can in your and your family’s financial lives.