Burning off energy in the basement

My son loves to play the superpower game => we each get to choose one power.

As you can guess from the picture above, he’s a fan of super-strength.

I usually go for super-vision. I’m at the point where I need reading glasses and I miss the freedom of great vision.

When I think about improvement, it’s usually in the same mode as my son => Positive Action.

Gain a superpower.

My actual superpower isn’t vision, it’s persistence. Small actions, over long periods of time. For things I care about, it makes me very tough to beat.

However, there’s another way to approach it.

Pay attention to habits of self-sabotage and remove them. This one is a lot tougher because there is usually an unconscious payoff feeding our habits of self-sabotage.

Yesterday’s post about strong emotions was inspired by a moment from the middle of the toughest 24-hour block of last week.

I got so worked up that my best course of action was to stop talking and trust in a better tomorrow. I also reminded myself:

I promise to never knowingly hurt you.

Those seven words were my Friday night mantra and I fell asleep with the phrase silently going through my head.

Winning, even if it felt awful.

Sure enough, 48 hours along, I was feeling much better and there was no “clean up” required from blowing my stack.

Each time I don’t react, my habit of non-action strengthens.

So, if I could give my younger-self a superpower, it would be the ability to not-act, particularly when worked up.

It’s something I both learned from, and seek to pass to, my kids.

I learned non-action when my kids were preschoolers. Dealing with a three-year old requires the ability to constantly look past the moment, towards my ultimate goal (nap time). 🙂

A three-year old is similar to my negative emotions => both struggle to see past the moment.

As the kids grow up, I try to teach them non-action so they can get along better and I’m less stressed living in my own house. From yesterday, when one kids was (correctly) pointing out that the other was WRONG!

Sometimes it’s better to not-disagree so you can get through the moment, back to having fun with each other.

Let it go, let it go.

Tactical silence in situations where the relationship is more important than the issue of the moment.

If someone close to me is truly wrong then the world will do a good job at pointing that out to them => especially if they are heading towards their teen years, or have a lot of “detail-oriented” friends.

Sometimes the best course of action is non-action.

Start small, set a lot bar, practice daily.

Processing Strong Emotions

All the Christmas stuff has been dug out of storage.

Thanksgiving Week was most definitely an up and down experience for me. During the downs, I learned something very useful that I’d like to pass along.

Friday night I was driving my daughter to swimming and she was falling apart – lots of tears, on the verge of hysteria, babbling about some issue (that most definitely wasn’t THE issue).

I didn’t know what to do so I listened until she paused on her own accord.

At that point, I asked… “Tell me a favorite memory of you and me.”

At first that really rattled her – her mind went straight to remembering me when I’m gone. I reassured her with “I’m right here, Sweetie. I just want one example of a nice memory of you and me.”

She said skiing and thought about it a bit more… then she said “driving me to swimming,” which was exactly what we were doing right then.

Now, that was very interesting.

You see, my view of the world is through my own experience. If I was crying on the verge of hysteria, I would be in a very different place than my daughter.

In her own way, she was sharing that it’s possible for her to be both falling apart, and happy, at the same time.

She didn’t perk up on the drive but she did settle enough to get herself into the pool. After swimming, she was as happy as I ever see her. Radiant – I made a mental note.

Kids have a wonderful ability to leave stuff behind.

I’m sharing the story so we remember there are different ways to process strong emotions.

Sometimes there is something “there” with a big emotional response – other times, like with my daughter, she was moving through a situation, in her own way, and didn’t need anything other than someone to bear witness.

Particularly with my kids, I have a desire to cure their pain.

A useful option is to ride it out together.

Bearing witness with quiet presence.

Fill In Your Blank

I’ve been handling my daughter’s swim transport since Andy died.

Being a Swim Dad turned out to be much less of an issue than I expected. I get to chat with my kids and read books.

While my daughter is swimming, I sit in a quiet car, put my phone in airplane mode and embrace the silence.

These are valuable moments.

Last week, between drop off and pick up, I was chilling in a Safeway parking lot.

I was reading the last book in Cixin Liu’s SciFi trilogy, The Three Body Problem was my favorite. Anyhow, I looked up and saw a guy heading back to his car with some beer.

The scene reminded me of something I want to share with you.

There was a period of time where I thought drinking most every night was helping me cope with reality. There was even a bit of fear that I might not be able to handle my reality.

We all have ways of avoiding reality. Thing is, the truth doesn’t care about my feelings.

The holidays can be a challenging time. Shortened days, cold/wet weather, increased interpersonal stress, reminders of childhood emotional injuries…

…throw in a strong dose of COVID-stress and you might find your bad habits knocking on the door of your consciousness.

For example:

1/. When KP died, anger made a strong return in my life. Fortunately, I have enough weightlifting to disperse the feelings that can manifest as anger. So long as I lift, and don’t hold my breath under stress, I’m good.

2/. Following Andy’s death, I’ve been having a desire to drink a beer. Actually, the feeling is a bit stronger than that. Allow me to describe… I would like to take all the alcohol in the world and pour it into a tiny black hole that’s located just above my heart.

It’s a strange sensation to say the least!

How do I deal with something like that? First up, I pay attention to what I’m feeling.

Am I sure? Is that really what I am feeling?

While I’m trying to figure out what’s really going on, I breathe. Breathing into an emotional hole helps, a lot. Laughter helps. Hugs help. Moderate exercise helps.

I know what works and I make time to do it, daily.

Then I start to look deeper, a friend once summed up his escape habit as follows…

When I used to feel like this, I would just XXXXX until I didn’t care anymore.

I’m not going to share my buddy’s “blank.”

Do you know your own blank?

Looking at the guy walking out of Safeway I laughed with a visual image of asking him if it would be OK if I borrowed his case of beer for a while.

I was also laughing because I’ve learned that I have the ability to choose how I fill in my blank.

  • wait, meditate, breathe, pray
  • exercise, persist, assist, clean
  • drink, use, rage, eat, smoke, yell, cry

My feelings come and go. I try not to get wrapped up in whether they are right or wrong. It’s better that way, I generate a lot of bad ideas.

Where I focus is reminding myself that I am free to decide how I’m going to fill my blank.

I also remember there were very good reasons to leave my poor choices behind.

They didn’t work!

Looking Forward

When I wrote Regime Change four years ago, I completed missed how The Trump Administration would tempt me to give into my worst impulses.

I nailed the “rich will feel richer” part but whiffed on the vibe.

Trump’s policies remain popular. I think he blew his re-election. Of course, I thought he blew it in 2016. Life is full of surprises.

Anyhow, time to move on to something more useful.

Everywhere I have lived has a slice of the population that is Permanently P’d Off (PPO).

The slice of the PPO in the US seems to be greater than other places I have lived (Canada, NZ, HK, UK).

If you are a political party, or media outlet, then enraging the PPO is a useful strategy. Useful to meet your goals of raising money, maintaining attention and inspiring action.

I think we can all agree that Trump is, and will remain, world class in this regard => money, attention, action. The man has skills.

Explaining US Federal Politics to my kids

When I come across a member of the PPO, I don’t engage them.

I remember, this is a person who has invested deeply in their belief system (attention, friends, money, tribe, habit, neurochemistry).

I have to be most cautious with the angry. Anger is contagious.

Justified anger is my worst trait – it clouds my judgement, muddies my thinking and hurts my health.

Anger repels the nicest people in my life and poisons my relationship with my kids.

Rather than sing along with the PPO, I go quiet and feel thankful that I can avoid distracting myself from what I need to do => keep on keeping on with my family.

If someone won’t relent then a good phrase is,

If I have to pick one issue then, I guess, I’m most in favor of tax simplification.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to engage me on tax simplification.


I’m grateful that my job does not require me to encourage conflict.

As a parent, where some conflict is inevitable, I tell my kids… “I love you too much to argue.”

With a view towards high school, college majors and, ultimately, careers… I think to myself, which fields avoid the need to constantly feed conflict?

Education, especially working with kids. Constant deescalation is required, or you’ll burnout very quickly.

Healthcare, I like the vibe from my friends who work in the healing arts.

Mission Focused, fields where getting stuff done is more important than triggering an emotional response.

If you invert then you can rule out a lot of stuff (advertising, media, politics, academics). There’s probably a lot more. I’m a few years away from needing to give it much thought.

For now, I’ve advised my kids…

Try to find out if you’re really good at something difficult.

Let’s refocus on something useful.

PS – paper ballots, mailed to every registered voter, run by the counties, with lots of places to drop. Works great in Colorado. The more you centralize (anything) the easier it is to cheat and the more fragile the system becomes. Just like in finance, when someone seeks complexity, it’s usually to fool you.


There’s been a lot of death and dying around me lately. I thought I’d share some ideas that you might find useful if you find yourself in a similar position.

First up, for me, grief is better than depression or chronic pain.

Depression is like carrying around a void. The void is always there then, one day, it’s gone. There’s a lot I can do to prevent a downward spiral (into the void) and I’ve gotten better and better at self-management.

Pain: I’ve been fortunate that my longest block of chronic pain was 14 days. It was like carrying a small fire. Over a decade later, I feel gratitude remembering the moment I noticed the pain was gone.

With grief, there is space between the (trembling) waves that arrive, at unpredictable times. I pay attention to the space, it feels great.

At hospice training, they encouraged us to mourn the small losses to prepare ourselves for the inevitable larger ones.

The practice of leaning into small losses will serve you well.

Did you notice the mental setup?

  • Things could be worse
  • I can handle my problems
  • These issues are actually good ones to have – this is a opportunity to practice my coping skills

What I Control

I can’t make myself sleep. I can set an alarm and wake up at the same time, every_single_day.

I don’t control my moment-to-moment neurochemistry. I can exercise in nature and avoid excessive fatigue.

I can’t control my thoughts. I can control:

  • who I spend time with
  • where I spend my time
  • what I say, write and read
  • where I surf on the internet

Control the controllable – accept the rest.


Grief often manifests as anger.

Anger isn’t all bad – my anger might have nudged me to toss Facebook into the trash and that’s been a plus for 2020. Anger also motivated me to cut my intake of politics, another useful shift.

While I might not control my anger’s arrival, I can influence its departure and notice each time I choose not to act on my anger.

Not acting on anger – there have been some useful wins in that department over the last few months.

The Role of Steady

I went for a long hike on Sunday.

Afterwards, I was looking at the pictures and noticed it was the first time I was smiling, rather than wincing, in a long while. I’m laughing as I type because, all summer long, I couldn’t figure out why my face looked so screwed up in pictures.

Other than walking around in nature, the only other time I’ve noticed feeling really good was after an hour riding easy.

I haven’t done much anaerobic exercise. In the past, I’ve noticed sustained high-intensity exercise isn’t useful for mood management. There’s a brief high followed by a lengthy hangover, when I’m emotionally vulnerable and my will is tapped out.

If you are prone to “euphoria-then-crater” then watch out. I have good systems for keeping myself in check. I never train with faster people when I’m on edge, even a virtual leaderboard can get me into trouble!

How might I know I’m on edge? I could assume it based on the deaths around me.

If external reality doesn’t register then try looking inwards and watch for triggers being triggered…

…anger, sadness, hunger, sugar cravings, sleep pattern changes and/or small cuts that are slow to heal.

The list above is my early-warning system (of impending doom!).

Universal Goods

Keep the good stuff in your life.

  • Shared Experiences
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Nature
  • Music
  • Bright Light
  • Forests
  • Sunrises
  • Connection
  • Stillness

Schedule the good stuff with yourself, your friends and your family.

Focus on doing the good stuff and have faith you will overcome.

Mood Management 2019

2019-11-02 14.02.09

One of Taleb’s best insights:

It’s better to make the system robust to reality, rather than seeking to change the way people are.

He applies the advice to financial greed but you can extend the idea across domains. For example, I consume less sport because…

It’s better to make your mood robust to reality, rather than rail against cheating. 

Outrage is a distraction from the work I need to do. So is fear, and I found myself feeling fearful in a meeting last week.

I spent most of my working life in a job where there is a financial incentive to mislead me. Recently, I was sitting in a meeting and the CEO lit up my spidey sense:

  1. He showed over-reaction to small stimuli
  2. He told me he was honest
  3. He showed a lack of impulse control

I pay attention to the trifecta because it usually means there is a secret around me.

It could be innocuous => I can be insufferable when hyped and nervous. Anyhow, the lesson here is not about the CEO. I looked inside:

  • Repulsion => the feeling that I might get ripped off is unpleasant.
  • Hubris => I caught myself thinking, “if only this guy was more like me. He could be so much more…”
  • Catastrophizing => my mind jumped to the worst case scenario => he’s a crook and I’m going to lose my investment!

Fortunately, I didn’t act on any of these feelings. Merely watched them come & go.

I reminded myself that I can only be deceived when I want something.

  1. What do I want to have happen?
  2. Why am I in this meeting?

I was in the meeting to avoid making a mistake in my life.

Someone else’s life is beside the point.

2019-11-02 14.23.47

But what was I seeking? What was causing the uneasiness?

This summer, I felt a push to start writing again. I had been reading books and listening to author interviews. There was something, essential, missing from their dialogue.

The humility to see that the optimal plan is rarely optimal.

I studied world-class experts, sharing world-class advice. Advice they could not implement in their own lives.

I wanted to shout, “If you are right but you can’t get it done then you are not right!”

Then I came across this Goggins post on Instagram

When you don’t know yourself nor do you care to know yourself, you end up spending the majority of your time trying to please other people. People who like you when it’s convenient for them, when you are doing something for them, when you are making them feel better about themselves, etc.

The entire post is gold. Wildly excessive fatigue strips everything away and leaves you with the truth, your truth. DG is lucky he’s writing it down. We are lucky he’s sharing.

You see, what I was feeling was a conflict between knowing the author’s advice works and seeing him not being able to implement. It was what drove the question in last week’s blog… Who gets the benefit of your best advice? Frankly, who cares. And more importantly, who am I to care?

Repulsion, hubris, catastrophizing => replaced with gratitude, for access to world-best advice, and an opportunity to improve myself.

Sport, finance, relationships… absent desire, we can never be deceived.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Building Wealth


When people ask me about asset allocation, I guide them towards family wealth.

Over your life, you will see things blow up.

  • Jobs will be lost
  • Divorces will happen
  • Guarantees will be called
  • Companies will fail
  • Investments will go to zero

Certain habits make us more prone to blowing up:

Debt – fixed obligations can ruin you in bad times.

Lack of emotional control – this runs deeper than, say, anger management.

People who make a habit of rationalizing a lack of control in one domain (elite sport, closing a sale, acting in a client’s best interest) rarely have the capacity to control themselves across domains. If you might get caught, then you’re fragile.

Substance Abuse – it’s more than the cost of sorting yourself out – it is the lost opportunity of a life well lived and the impact on the rest of your family, especially your kids.

Spending vs Cash Flow – personal spending, burn rate and fixed costs => the more spending you have relative to cash flow, the more fragile your finances.

The above is a long way of asking, “What aspects of your life might blow up?

Which is a polite way of saying, “I’m not sure asset allocation is the most pressing issue in your life.

If you work in an ethically-challenged field, have a lot of borrowings, have a high burn rate or are surrounded by peers with issues…

…then tweaking portfolio construction is a lower priority item than immediately removing what might ruin your life.

I’ve done it. You can do it. It’s better on the other side.

How large is your current portfolio when compared to your lifetime portfolio? – AKA you might have more wealth available in your career than your portfolio.

Investing is different at 25, 40 and 55 years old.

The nature of “different” depends on your personal circumstances.

#1 => Consider your Core Capital. The single best thing I did out of college was save four years of personal living expenses, $100,000 in the mid-1990s. It sat in a bank account, while I worked my ass off at my career.

Having that money enabled me to choose better and choosing better became a habit.

Very, very, very (!) few people can be professional investors – AKA can I get rich by beating the market?

Take an honest look at the people that you know in finance. How many of them “got rich” from their own money? Remember these are the experts.

In finance, most people get rich due to the rules of their game and collecting pools of other people’s money (your money, by the way).

With your portfolio, keep it safe, simple and low-cost. A target-date fund makes a nice core holding.

Having my Core Capital enabled me to take more risks in my career path, and life experience => not with my Core Capital.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities happen once a decade – AKA great deals happen when credit markets are shut

Here are the assets I own and why I own them:

  1. Index funds => long-term, diversified, not linked to my home real estate market
  2. US Treasuries/Core Capital => 5 to 10 years family expenses
  3. Boulder real estate => A relative value play against California, a cost-effective way to raise a family and a fantastic outdoor life. Think very carefully before locking yourself into any location. As a young man, my lack of ties enabled me to jump at great opportunities.
  4. Cash => my early retirement was funded by three deals I did coming out of the last credit crisis. Once you have your Core Capital (say, five years living expenses) then building up a pool for “great opportunities” is a consideration.

Starting out? Read this PDF.

Be wary of home bias => you can see it in my portfolio => even more risky is having your balance sheet, retirement and job reliant on the success of your employer.

Switching Costs – AKA think carefully before you sell good assets

I have assets in my portfolio that I would not buy at today’s prices. Financial theory tells me I should sell these assets.

  • I have zero confidence in my ability to predict the future.
  • If I sell assets then I pay taxes and commissions.
  • After selling, I have to figure out where to put the capital.
  • I doubt any “new” plan will be better than my current plan, which is simple and low-cost.

Release yourself from constant optimization => good enough is good enough.

Put your efforts into being a better version of yourself.


Impossible Conversations


Around the house, I’m fond of saying, “Good people can make bad decisions.” I say this because I’m aware of my past misdeeds and my continued capacity for misjudgment.

However, out in the real world, telling someone that you believe they made a bad decision can have unpredictable outcomes => especially with people who have not come to terms with their own role in a situation.

If you feel cornered, and have been asked for your opinion, then here is a useful fallback…

I will never know the facts. What I do know is I believe in forgiveness and want the best for you and your family.

You’ll preserve the relationship and can move on.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to associate, do business or live with someone.

Forgiveness means you free yourself from the burden of carrying around the past.

By the way, I’m reading a book called Impossible Conversations.

My #1 “unhelpful” conversation habit is parallel talk – both out loud and in my mind. I have a bunch of other habits that hold me back but I can’t tackle too much at once!

The book is worth your time.


A Better Set of Problems

2019-09-14 07.05.49My favorite place in the United States is Blue Sky Basin.

From Blue Sky, you can look west and see The Mount of the Holy Cross – it’s a humbling view, which reminds me of beauty and personal insignificance.

Mountains are good that way!

2019-09-13 14.44.34When I tell folks about my mini-adventures, they might say “I wish…”

  • I wish my spouse…
  • I wish my kid…
  • I wish my boss…

Pay attention to your spoken wishes, and do.

2019-09-12 17.40.11

Am I willing to do whatever it takes to turn my wish in to reality?

Using my son’s hiking, I have insisted, “I will never…”

  • drive long distances
  • walk slowly
  • carry everything
  • give up “my day”

Going deeper, unlocking the benefits of marriage required me to modify what I thought were my best qualities.

Well, do you want it enough to change?

2019-09-14 07.45.21.jpgSecond, pay attention to the reality that you’re going to feel the same!

Memory is different than experience…

…and my experience often feels like a problem.

My experiences are largely forgotten, replaced with new problems I dream up. Fortunately, I am free not to take myself too seriously.

This insight, requires paying attention and not taking my thoughts too seriously in the moment.

I started by noticing my #1 habit that was clearly making things worse => acting on anger in low-stakes situations.

What is your #1 habit that’s holding you back?

2019-09-14 07.52.57.jpgWith a bit of luck, I have a few hundred Blue Sky laps remaining.

Each time I look over to Holy Cross, I’ll be reminded of a job well done.

Fill the world with reminders of your best self.

Building Resiliency

2019-08-11 07.56.00

I like to balance the Navy Seals in my feed with the Flag Officer in my life. Here’s what Admiral Jonser has to say:

Gordo, always remember that our words have far more power, and reach, than we can possibly imagine.

When my son was little he developed a habit of total breakdown. He could not handle the slightest disruption and we were at a loss about how to help the guy.

If anyone needed to “harden up” it was him. However, I couldn’t bring the hammer down (on the nicest guy I’d ever met).

We talked about this challenge with each other, with his pediatrician and with his teachers.

What we ended up doing was cultivating a different kind of normal for him.

My normal:

  • Read, exercise and learn every day
  • Be kind, especially to those without recourse

I focused on the above, invited him along, and gave up trying to fix him.

2019-08-13 08.08.03-1How do you help a sensitive kid learn to deal with strong emotions?

Lower The Stakes – paradoxically, expectations may be making life more difficult, particularly when you focus on external performance relative to peers and siblings.

Personal Mastery – Where can you give your kid (or yourself) a big win? Our kids try a lot of different things – climbing, swimming, hiking, skiing, martial arts, water polo, reading, math, art.

From the time he could stand up, my son had a passion for walking uphill. So I went with that, even when it meant I had to carry him back to the car! Turns out he also has a knack for skiing. So he’s 8 and he’s figured out that he can hike and ski like a man. That’s a big win in a boy’s world. Personal mastery helps, a lot.

Respect Sensitivities – at the start of the summer, I put his sister on BLAST. He was standing beside her. She shrugged me off, I merely “got her attention.” Unfortunately, my son was caught in the blast and ended up on the ground shaking from overload. I didn’t need Admiral J’s advice to see my approach had been completely ineffective.

Positive (Self) Regard – my desired outcome for my kids is simple. Basically, I’d like them to be polite, healthy and repeat mistakes less often. This leaves my mind free to acknowledge they are already better versions of myself. I share my shortcomings with them – current and when I was their age.

We stuck with the above, as best we could, and he figured out how to cope. My main role remains loving him and not making things worse!

Change happens slowly. This was a multi-year project and I didn’t notice he was a different guy until last weekend. He took a huge digger descending the highest mountain in Colorado, brushed it off and kept on rolling.

I said to myself, “this is something new,” and started to rewind the recent past. I realized my filter was out of date. Homie had been crushing life all summer and I didn’t notice.

Perhaps there was nothing to fix.