Directed Focus

I had a business setback the other day that was my own fault. I put a property on the market, without double checking the existing lease terms. Two weeks after I listed the property for sale, the tenant moved out, without notice. Turns out they were on a month-to-month lease.

By the time, I fix the error, it will have cost me $2,400, a material sum. However, the pain that I’ve been feeling is completely out of whack with the dollar amount. It really hurts and I’ve been rehashing the issue over, and over, when I’m out riding my bike.

A mismatch between trigger points for pleasure, and pain, is something most of us share. You’ve probably experienced a similar thing. Something as small as a parking ticket, or unexpected utility bill, can set me off and I’m locked on an item appearing over, and over, in my mind.

To settle myself down, I ran through the changes in my portfolio that have happend over the last year. I’m very conservative with valuations and was able to find an unrealized gain worth 40-50x the loss I’d taken on my mistake. Focusing on that gain was an effective psychoogical antitdote. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that I’ll have a huge positive multiple for every negative thing that happens to me.

Turns out that I don’t need it – I’ve lost far, far greater sums and the pain side of the equation doesn’t scale linearly. Providing I maintain my core capital (URL), then there isn’t much of an increase at all. All financial loss (that I notice) feels about the same, regardless of magnitude.

So I try to…

Take all the pain at once

Protect myself from seeing pain that doesn’t matter

Lump my pain into a single dose and tell myself that it’s going to really, really suck

Under promise to everyone in my inner circle

This avoids an irrational cycle of regret, anger and sadness. 

Another useful technique has been to sit and look deeply into what went right over the last year. The arrival of my kids has been useful because I’ve been thinking about my family as a business and measuring our human capital.

So what went right?

Nobody died, or had a new major illess

We had a new arrival (Bella)

My son is absolutely fantastic – he’s so good that I’ve told my wife to remind me that I have given him a waiver from 2-4 years old

My daughter learned how to ride two wheels, started swim team and developed to the point where I respect her intelligence

My wife is fantastic

I had the opportunity to benchmark my life against multiple peers that have “everything” (and I mean everything)

No serious bike crashes

I rode the White Rim, Guanella Pass, Ironman Texas course and raced the Leadville Trail 100

I received an unexpected financial windfall

I have the ability to support my basic needs with multiple backup plans

I maintained freedom of location and occupation (with three kids in the house)

All of the above came to me in about two minutes, while sitting quietly one morning. Looking deeply, I realized that I would give everything I own, without thinking, to keep any one of the top five.

As all this poured into my awareness, I was struck by the fact that I completely missed much of the goodness of my life when I was an externally successful guy working in finance. The background noise of an executive lifestyle caused my automatic programming to override my ability to notice the goodness in my life.

This is very similar to my observation of the tranquility of my “good days” not being remembered (URL).

A very good return on investment from sitting down for ten minutes most mornings. 

The YTD investment has been about 40 hours of sitting quietly with a huge return on investment.