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Mindful Surrender: Ignore Popular Distractions

Open your browser or turn on the TV and you will find the echo chamber is at it again. The recession continues. A stock market crash is imminent. Bonds have no or negative yields. There is nowhere to hide. If you’re not investing in XYZ, you’re missing out.

We can try to tune it out but the effects are inevitable. Anxiety rises. Fear creeps in. We question our ability to make good financial decisions. We wonder if it is ever possible to stop worrying about money. We tune ever-closer into the very sources that cause our anxiety hoping for a clue or a reliable indicator.

But what if all you had to do was surrender to the fact that you can’t control everything? What if this one small mindset shift allowed you to stop worrying so much about money?

This may seem out there… but stick with me. Mindful surrender is an important key to both your financial success and happiness.

What Is Mindful Surrender?

If you have read my book or spent any time reading my blogs, you know I am a huge proponent of keeping a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a state of non-judgmental awareness of how things actually are. Surrender is the act of giving oneself up to a power or wisdom that is outside of you.

Mindful surrender is a radical acceptance of reality. When you mindfully surrender, you are both non-judgmentally aware of reality (you see it as it is) and you are actively allowing it to be as it is. Your surrender is an admission that you cannot predict it and don’t control it.

This is not a sign of weakness. It is an admission of a truth… you cannot predict or control everything. Admitting it allows you to focus on what you CAN control. Controlling what is controllable is the only path to improved outcomes. By allowing the rest to be as it is, you lessen your anxiety and smooth out your path.

The big question becomes, what can you control?

4 Areas You Can Control In Personal Finance

1. Savings Rate

How much money are you saving every month? You can’t control how the markets will behave, but you can control how much you save. If your savings rate is low at the moment, ask yourself why. Do you need to work to increase your income? Are you still paying off high-interest debt? Or, do you need to master the art of delayed gratification?

I recommend saving a percentage of every paycheck—at least 10% (more if you are starting later in life). It is important that your savings rate remains proportional to your income. As you progress in your career and make more money, you’ll need save more as well.

Savings, though, isn’t enough. You have to invest, and we recommend the following as key elements of your investment process.

2. Appropriate Asset Allocation

What’s your asset allocation? How much, as a percentage of your total portfolio, are you committing to stocks vs. bonds. vs. cash? Most people need all three – stocks for long-term return; bonds to dampen volatility, cash for immediate needs. And, if portfolio volatility is keeping you up at night (even though you know stocks are necessary for long-term growth), it may be time to adjust your model.

Maybe you chose a growth asset allocation of 80% equity and 20% fixed income when you were younger, for example, and you aren’t comfortable with the same level of volatility as you approach retirement. In this case, you may change it to a less aggressive model of 60% equity and 40% fixed income or even 40% equity and 60% fixed income. Be careful to maintain the returns necessary to meet your needs.

A good investor acts on their goals and plan. They won’t change their asset allocation just because the stock market is up or down today – again, the recent direction of the market isn’t a good predictor of where it is going. Instead, they’ll stick with their original model and rebalance as needed. The allocation doesn’t change unless the plan changes.

3. Commitment to Diversification & Rebalancing

The third area you can control in investing is your commitment to diversification and rebalancing.

How do you choose specific investments? The more you focus on individual companies, the more you have to know and be concerned about specific company risks. When you diversify, you use tools (mutual funds & ETFs are good examples) that spread your money across hundreds, perhaps thousands, of investments. If one does poorly, others can make up for it. The more broadly you are diversified, the less you worry about individual stock performance.

If you are diversified, then you will always have some things that are working and other things that are NOT working. As your portfolio shifts always from its original balance, you can RE-balance it.

Rebalancing at specific intervals—say annually—realigns your asset allocation and diversification. This periodic rebalancing allows you to automatically sell high and buy low. It creates a system where you no longer worry about short-term fads and investing fears—and it ensures your portfolio is always aligned with your financial goals.

4. Resilience

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”

I think of it as having the faith, patience, and discipline to know that circumstances will improve even when it doesn’t seem like it. We actually don’t need to know HOW they will improve if we believe THAT they will improve.

Stop reviewing headlines. Look at history, there is a very long list of issues that resolve with time. If the market is down, have faith, patience, and discipline to know it will improve. No one has ever secured their wealth by panicking and pulling out of the market at the wrong time.

When you log onto your investment account and see that your portfolio has dipped, know this—those are arbitrary numbers on a computer screen. That drop in your portfolio doesn’t matter unless you sell today. You only permanently lose money if you act.

If you choose resilience in the face of financial stressors, you’ll come out ahead when things improve (which I believe – and history teaches – they always do).

Stop thinking in terms of “This time is different.” Remember the phrase, “This too shall pass.”

The Bottom Line

Aside from these four areas, everything else can (and should) be mindfully surrendered. Which asset class will outperform, the direction of interest rates, the coming election, the timing of the next recession… these are all unknowable and aren’t necessary for financial success. They are sexy distractions from reality.

Beyond a few simple choices that have real power to improve outcomes, most other things (the things we find most often discussed in headlines) only soak up your time and energy and stoke your fear and anxiety.

Worrying doesn’t do any good. Focus on what you can do something about and forget the rest. When it comes to investing, that means focusing on the four simple areas above.

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