If I were forced to choose between bread and roses, there’s a good chance that roses would win. A few years ago, I discovered the joys of planting a flower garden. It took about a week and at the end of each day of heavy labour, I was covered in mud and every muscle and bone was baying. The physical exhaustion was accompanied by mental calm. A complete flip to my usual day.
As a freelance writer and editor, I spend hours sitting at my desk, reading, researching and typing on my laptop. “Leisure time” usually entails more reading of professional reports and news, searching for content ideas for future articles, webinars and books. This pattern is pretty typical in the gig economy and it applies to investors too. Many of us are constantly tracking our investments, reading the financial press, and researching new investing opportunities. We strive to stay on top of the news. We worry that if we take a break, we’ll miss something critical in the markets.
Unlike physical work, mental work is invisible. There are no bumps or bruises, no aching bones or hobbled gaits. Our model for a normal work day—40-60 hours per week—is based on an industrial society of physical constraints, not a knowledge-based one where some of our best and most high-value work or insights are done outside of the workplace during walks, visits to art galleries or even naps!
“Bottom line: It was high-time for a reboot.”
How can I tell when I’m mentally overworked? Increased irritability (check), trouble concentrating (check), feeling overwhelmed by obligations (check), irritability (did I already say that?), fatigue (duh), diminished creativity (check). If only diminished appetite were one of the symptoms, but, alas, no.
Sure, I could have closed my laptop and tossed my iPhone into the lake. Instead, I booked a 3-week retreat in the picturesque, wine-growing region of Traben-Trabach in Germany. The retreat was based on an Ayurvedic cure called Pancha Karma, which is the original detox. (You can read all about my wellness cure experience here.) It rejuvenated not only my body, but more importantly, my mind. As a bonus, it also modified how I approach investing.
Here are my top 5 take-aways:
Beauty of Balance
The word “detox” often evokes extreme practices like fasting, juicing or exercising. At Park Schloesschen, where I stayed, moderation is key. There were gourmet vegetarian meals, pleasant massages and other body treatments, and lots of pretty spots for relaxing and resting.
As investors, we’ve been led to believe that to achieve high returns we need to do something dramatic like “swing for the fences”. This, despite evidence that over the long term, excessive volatility reduces returns. It’s perfectly okay to build a conservative portfolio focused on a combination of modest capital growth and rising dividend income. Not everyone needs to be in high growth (e.g. very popular and expensive) and volatile investments to reach their investment goals.
There was no cell tower near the hotel and, although daily newspapers were available in the lounge, cell phones were verboten in the common areas. That alone was worth the price of admission. No annoying pings and gurgles; no eyes glazed at the glass rectangle. At first, I panicked, “What if I miss some breaking news?” But then I remembered that there’s nothing I can do about the direction of interest rates or global tariffs anyway, so I may as well just chill.
Have you noticed the dramatic language of investment news? A down market day is a “rout” or a “bloodbath”? The headlines excite us and we feel compelled to react to them with a trading decision. Often the best course of action is no action.
According to Ayurveda, it’s best to start the meal with the heaviest course which is often dessert. Yes, dessert first! The idea being that having something sweet and heavy satiates us faster, so we eat less. At first, I felt guilty. This was too good to be true.
In investing, sometimes we focus on the “big win” from capital gains that may come much later, if at all. Another approach is to enjoy the “sweetness” of dividends or smaller gains upfront. These steady, modest wins can help us to stay-the-course and benefit from capital growth over the long term. Famine, then feast is not the Ayurvedic way, and it’s not ideal for investors either.
Pancha karma, is 5-step detox protocol and it’s the main stage event at an Ayurvedic retreat. It involves a range of different treatments to dislodge both water-and fat-soluble toxins from the body. The payoff is a healthier metabolism, reduced inflammation and pain, and improved digestion.
Just as creating toxins is a lot easier than removing them, (Fire-roasted, bourbon-glazed chicken wings, anyone?), it’s much easier to buy assets than it is to sell them. Our portfolios could use an occasional “detox” too. We may be holding investments that no longer serve our goals or that carry too much unacknowledged risk. At least on an annual basis, it’s worthwhile to review your holdings and ask yourself if you’d buy them today and at the current price? If the answer is “no”, maybe it’s time to reconsider your position?
Habits can be very comforting. For example, I enjoy a big pot of hot black tea with milk while I read the newspaper. Caffeine is “no-no” during the detox and the hotel only had one highly coveted copy of The New York Times. What an unfortunate way to start the day! Except, I didn’t miss my English Breakfast tea as much as I thought I would and read the newspaper later in the day. Those habits were not as hard-wired as I had led myself to believe.
Same applies to us as investors. We’ve often created “scripts” that define our values and behaviors, such as “I’d never buy gold; I’m a bottom-up investor; or, I’m risk-averse.” These are merely stories we’ve made up about ourselves. At different times in the economic cycle, different styles of investing take leadership. By keeping an open mind, we’ll enjoy better returns in all kinds of markets.