Sunél’s Blog | Habits of Small Things

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort (Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit).  They are the legs of resolutions and without them, resolutions typically fail. Research increasingly shows that they are worth pursuing (the good kind at least) and that it is even possible to change behaviour by making tiny changes to habits.

Most of us live unsustainable lives, with constant demands on our time and money leaving us feeling out of control. We sleep too little, reach for caffeine, alcohol or sugar to get us through our days, don’t exercise enough and have lost connection with our support structures. We don’t have time to see our families, to take care of our money, never mind just being! We are, most of us, showcases for behavioural stress and in dire need of huge behavioural changes.

Behavioural stresses are often seen in our struggle with money. When we don’t take care of our money it shows up in different destructive behaviours which can have dire consequences for many: sporadic bursts of attention typically result in haphazard strategies; obsessive or meddling behaviour often interferes with the success of long-term investment strategies; lack of any attention, self-fulfilling.   All these behaviours need changing.

Occasionally, you might get a wake-up call, like a friend who has had to cut short his/her dream holiday after being struck down by a virus.  Their situation, possibly the result of a badly compromised immune system, may signal to you the need to change your behaviour.  Most often, when faced with this awareness we react by setting hairy goals, only to fail again all too soon.

How then do we realise a much-needed change in behaviour? By making micro changes in our habits. This idea isn’t new, but we’ve been so brainwashed into thinking a big change is best, that we feel silly to try it and often turn away from the small steps that lead to success. Habits, according to Duke University, comprise 40 percent of our behaviour every day. So, it is essential for any behavioural change that you build habits that actually stick and work. James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, condenses this dense area of research into a simple, strategic guide on building new habits that get you closer to the life you want (I highly recommend this concise, practical and effective read).

Last year, I resolved to ‘win my mornings’ – I’ve been more of a late-starter and performed better in the afternoon.  However, half-way through the year, I realised that I had bitten off too much.  My goal was too big and too vague. There was no way I could get to exercising, drinking health tea, journaling and prayer and meditation before the kids woke up every morning. So, towards the end of the year, I decided to focus only on my gratitude journal, which was the one thing I could manage through the colossal changes in our lives (due to our move). My gratitude journal, where I note three very specific things I’m grateful for every day, has become ingrained in my routine. I now reach for my journal as I open my eyes every morning. And as James Clear says, I have made essential progress in my health, happiness and life in general.   

Changing behaviours by changing habits means starting small.  So small that, yes, it can feel stupid. Just remembering to drink one vitamin tablet a day or reading one paragraph every night in a real book, is the kind of small I mean. Experts say that this is what will get you to your goal of an improved immune system or reading 10 books a year or like me, growing gratitude. Perhaps you can gain control of your money by keeping your wallet tidy or by dropping your habit of checking in on your investments every day. If it doesn’t feel stupid, it’s probably too big.

It is the same principle as compound interest – over time, small additional gains by interest-on-interest make an exponential, massive difference to the outcome for investors. Tiny changes in habits result in massive changes in behaviour in the long run.

Whatever it is that you need to change, think of the tiniest habit you can practice, then focus all your attention on that one thing!

Ps. I’d love to know which small habit will be your change-maker.

Kind regards,

Sunél

//31 January 2020


Topline Quarterly Review: Q4 of 2019

We believe that our clients’ needs regarding financial markets have changed.  There is now so much credible information available about financial markets, that our time and energy needs to focus on where we can best add value within that context.  However, we are also aware that our clients would like to know what our informed review and analysis is of the financial market, as their investment company.  Therefore, we will now deliver only a brief introduction of the financial market and include a detailed quarterly review and analysis by our specialist investment manager, PortfolioMetrix for those who are interested. 

As South Africans, we are accustomed to the bad news and growing challenges facing our country. Whilst they are not to be ignored, they have recently been overshadowed by global events such as the trade war between China and the US and rising tensions in the Middle East. Relief came in December in the form of a trade truce in the US-China debacle with a potential Phase One deal being signed early in 2020. Markets cheered the outcome and consequently riskier assets such as emerging markets, which includes South Africa, rallied.

In the United Kingdom citizens rushed to the polls voting for Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party thereby paving the way for a clearer Brexit. The deadline was extended from October to 31 January 2020.

Locally, we sat through a disappointing Medium Term Budget Speech by finance minister, Tito Mboweni. Moody’s retained our investment grade rating but the consensus now is that we are likely to see a downgrade in 2020. Economic growth in 2019 disappointed bringing our annual growth rate over the last 5 years to under 2%. Eskom continues to be the biggest challenge to bolstering growth and although new management is in place, they have a massive task ahead of them.

Despite all the negatives, markets had a great turnaround year. Equities, both locally and globally, showed great returns. Local bonds also continued to perform well and the Rand strengthened to R14/$ at year-end.

Many top analysts think that company valuations on the JSE have rarely looked this cheap, with dividend yields being exceptionally attractive. This bodes well for future returns from the local market given that good valuations have been a great indicator for future returns in the past.

With that, I leave you with the following quote that appeared in the Financial Times: “The stock market is the only market where customers run away from a sale.” Instinctively we tend to buy when everyone is hopeful and sell when everyone else is panicking. Last year proved that this strategy can lead to ruin and we believe that good long-term outcomes can be achieved by having the courage to do the opposite of what feels safe.

For a detailed review on events that shaped the final quarter of 2019, click through to PortfolioMetrix’s Quarterly Review.

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Sunél’s Blog | A year of intention

2020 is here. It has a good ring to it – a new year and a new decade. A blank page on which we can continue to write the story of our lives. If the 2010s didn’t work out well for you, here’s a new chance. A new chance for a new beginning. What will you do with it?

I’m not talking about resolutions. I’m talking about setting intentions. An intention has a purpose.  It works towards something manifesting itself in your life. It strives to answer the question, ‘What will make this year or decade great?’ For me, I want this year to be a year of joy. Why joy? Because joy means you are present.  Present enough to find delight in your life, regardless of your circumstances. You can find delight in small things whatever the big drama of your life.  Like my early swim this morning in a tidal pool or my teenage son’s mischievous smile or having a great client meeting. They are small moments which cause a bubble to rise somewhere deep inside you and nudge you to break into an involuntary smile. They are moments, which, if you search for them, give you joy.

My intention is to search for joy every day. And to record the joy every day. I want to actively cultivate it, to look for opportunities to experience it, even if it’s just because I’m breathing in life-giving oxygen or because I’m still here on earth – the most basic joy – the joy of being. My friends with life-threatening illnesses have given me this perspective– to be breathing is joy!  If you’ve ever watched toddlers being oblivious to their environment and just bubbling with the joy of being, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Without intention, the world is likely to determine the direction of your life and call the shots in it – from the culture of your day to the risk of hamster-like striving to be even more successful or wealthy.  You may end up in a place you never intended. With intentions, you take the lead much like an experienced rider lightly steering a horse in the direction of his intention or water gently moving along a narrow furrow towards land. They are small continuous nudges practised throughout a long journey. They help you arrive satisfied, having enjoyed the journey.

What will your intention be this year? It’s not too late to carve some time out and set an intention for yourself for the year ahead. Don’t just hit the road running hard.  Think about what intention will grow the quality of your life in 2020.

Kind regards,

Sunél

//24 January 2020