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Lining Up Values

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

At the risk of sounding self-help guru-y (not an easy word to pronounce, even in your head), let me ask you a question:

if you could watch a livestream of your own funeral, what would you want it to look like?

This is an interesting question because it quickly reveals what is most important to us.

Do we want to be recognized for our achievements? Or praised by loved ones? Or lifted up by our community?

Then, once we have an idea about what’s important to us, we can work backwards to see if our current lives match that vision, thereby closing the great disconnect.



In college, a professor assigned a simple project.

Write down the 10 most important things in your life, then get out your schedule and see if your time is being spent on what is most important to you. Simple, right?

But the results were revealing.

I wrote down health and fitness as a top 10 priority; however, I found I was spending more time playing video games than exercising. But video games weren’t in my top 10, so why was there a disconnect between what I thought was important and my actions?

Intuitively, you know the answer. Immediate gratification, inertia, blah blah blah. It’s pretty obvious we would rather watch Netflix than go for a run. Or take a nap rather than make cold calls. It’s easier and by nature, we will travel the road that takes less energy every time.

But this little exercise reveals an uncomfortable truth.

Doing what’s easier is more important than what’s “important” to us.

The reason for the air-quotes around the second important is because, if what’s “important” to us is really important, we’d be doing it.

If all you had to do was call a phone number at exactly 1 pm tomorrow to claim a $1 million, you wouldn’t forget. You’d set 1 million reminders. Because it’s important.

On the other hand, if you had to walk 1,000 miles to claim the $1 million, you might think longer about the deal.

The value has to be worth the cost.

And it’s the same way in everyday life.

The problem is: the cost is often easy to ignore until…well, it’s not.

For instance, choosing to play video games rather than going to the gym for one day won’t visibly change your physique. But one day, after a whole year of choosing videos games over gym-time, the results will show.

As Warren Buffett once wisely remarked, “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until too heavy to be broken.”

If we immediately gained 5 pounds after over-eating, we’d probably wouldn’t over-eat.

It’s so darn easy to say, “ah, just one cheat day won’t hurt!” Because it won’t.

But if we say this enough times, it will end up hurting.

After all, what’s the long-term, but a bunch of short-terms strewn together?



Ok, ok, ok. We aren’t machines. We mess up. We’re human.

If we never ate a piece of cake, skipped the gym, or watched Netflix, we probably wouldn’t be enjoying ourselves.

The takeaway is this: if we find ourselves regularly choosing the comfortable, easy way over the hard way, maybe we need to face up to the fact that comfort and ease are more important to us that we would like to admit.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a much-needed realization; because awareness is the first step to change.

Rather than deluding ourselves into thinking we are just lazy (an identity), after skipping work-out after work-out, we need to see it for what it is: different priorities than we thought we had.

Because at the root of this is a simple truth: you’ll spend time doing what’s important to you.

What Does This Have To Do With Investing

To keep this short, the same principle applies to investing.

If you are constantly watching stock prices, could the entertainment value be more important to you than making money?

If you hate reading SEC filings, could the lure of easy profits be more important than doing solid research?

If you aren’t interested in business at all, could you really just want a chance at a better retirement rather than diving into individual stocks?

We need to hone in on what is most important to us and then calibrate that against what we are currently doing. This process takes self-awareness and some forward-thinking, but I think it’ll be well worth it.

To End

Once we are aware of the discrepancy between what’s most important to us and how we spend our time, we can begin to challenge our current “priorities” and line up our schedules with our ideal priorities.

While simple, it’s not easy. It takes discipline and thinking of that live-streamed funeral.

Action Item

Try writing down the 10 things that are most important to you and then check how that matches up with your schedule.

[If work or school takes up a ton of your time, try this exercise on solely your free time.]



Author's Note:

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