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What I'm reading #30: Focus & performance

By Sam Instone - July 28, 2021

The Olympics have finally kicked off with many glued to their screens.

Admiring superhuman achievements.


And performance.

What lessons, if any, can we learn about better health, wealth and happiness?

A few days ago, I read this piece on busy and productive people.

It's almost fashionable to be 'busy', as an implicit sign of success.

However, there's a big difference between being busy and being productive.

Busy people try to maximise their productivity by figuring out how to cram more into their day, while productive people try to cut their to-do list and instead focus on fewer tasks with the highest impact.

We see this focus in all high-performing individuals – whether it's athletes, senior professionals or business owners.

Not only are they able to figure out what to focus on, but also how to pause, delegate, or simply ignore those day-to-day requests that are seemingly urgent but not actually important.

At the beginning of the year, I spoke about setting personal and financial goals.

Now that we’re passed the half-way mark, how are you doing?

Are you on track?

Have the goals or goal posts changed?

It’s okay if they have – perhaps it’s an opportunity for revision.

Humans are programmed to think we’re right at all costs.

According to The Atlantic, fighting that instinct will set you free.

Nearly 50 years ago, psychologist Henry Murray conducted a somewhat infamous study.

He asked students to write down their "personal philosophy of life" and then proceeded to challenge them on the merits of their philosophy.

Not surprisingly, most didn’t like being told they're wrong, because as human beings, we are adept at resisting change to our own opinions.

However, the little-known side result from the Murray study was that a small subset of the participating students actually said they liked being challenged on their beliefs.

In fact, a 2016 study from the Journal of Positive Psychology found those who had more humility (more willingness to admit they were wrong and change their beliefs based on new facts) were less likely to experience depression and anxiety, and more likely to experience happiness and life satisfaction.

This echoes Saint Augustine's three pieces of life advice: "The first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility: and this I would continue to repeat as often as you might ask direction".

And the teachings of the Buddha that "attachment to one's views and opinions is a particular source of human suffering".

Humans don’t fit into an algorithm.

In Carl Richards’ latest article, he talks about the messy cocktail that is humans + money.

As much as we would all love a simple formula to tell us what to do with our money - the more we try to fit the big money questions into a neat little box, the more we find ourselves saying “it depends.”

So what works better instead?

Rather than looking for a simple calculation, just acknowledge the reality that life, markets and money are messy, and make yourself as adaptable as you can.

Wealth is easy to measure but hard to value.

In the Gilded Age, the Vanderbilt family, armed with the world’s greatest fortune, seemed committed to proving money doesn’t buy happiness.

When managed poorly money could in fact buy resentment, insecurity, and social anxiety. It could buy it in bulk.

The highest forms of wealth are measured differently, however.

  1. Controlling your time and the ability to wake up and say, “I can do whatever I want today.”
  2. Reaching a point where money becomes like oxygen: so abundant relative to your needs that you don’t have to think about it despite it being a critical part of your life.
  3. Having a career that allows for intellectual honesty.

Often, as investors and international professionals, greater wealth is one of our biggest ambitions.

It drives much of what we do and how we spend our time.

But true wealth is not the number in your bank account.

It’s about having the ability to live life on your terms – whatever that means to you.

To end off, I’ll leave you with this article from Ben Carlson on what it means to be rich.

There are many ways to be rich beyond the amount of money you have.

Plenty of people have a lot of money in the bank but terrible personal lives.

Some people find fulfillment in their work or other meaningful relationships or hobbies or nature or travel or something else entirely.

And don’t get me wrong - money still matters. It may not make you happier but it sure can make your life more comfortable and convenient.

But money itself isn’t all that fulfilling.

A truly rich life goes beyond that.


A question for you:

If money were no object, what would you change about your life?

This week’s meditations:

"I did not intend to get rich. I just wanted to get independent"
- Charlie Munger

"Life is not so much what you accomplish as what you overcome"
- Robin Roberts


If you liked this post, please share it using the social buttons at the top, or just forward them this blog.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the ‘light’ reading! 


'The Differences Between Busy and Productive People' by Larry Kim

Arthur C. Brooks' 'Changing Your Mind Can Make You Less Anxious'

Carl Richards on 'The difference between real life and an algorithm'

'The Highest Forms of Wealth' from Morgan Housel

Ben Carlson's 'What it Means to be Rich'

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