I’ve been feeling low the past few weeks and I didn’t know why at first. Everything was going fine: new job was chugging alone just fine, my savings rate increased up to 15% with the salary increase, I was eating significantly healthier, and family and social life remained strong. Yet, for whatever reason, I couldn’t shake a little feeling in my body that what my life was up to wasn’t good enough.
I spent one evening with my girlfriend where I created several confused looks from her at my behavior, which involved at several points taking out pent up energy on a free stress ball I received from a conference, eating an unhealthy amount of chocolate-covered pretzels, and smacking my forehead at the dinner table and staring at the ground for about 5 minutes. Now I don’t believe these are hallmark signatures of clinical depression by any means, but they are outlets with which I channeled my anxiety, and activities which would be deemed outside of “normal Albert”.
She would ask me what was wrong, and I honestly didn’t know the answer at the time. I still don’t fully, but this morning I woke up understanding this feeling of being underwhelmed: it’s my routines, and not just regular routines like walking from A to B, but my routines related to my FIRE goals. For some reason, I haven’t been able to relax and let the world around me do what it does. Let me explain:
Unhealthy Routine #1: Checking My Investment Accounts Before Bed
I have a level-head on my investments. Through automated contributions to index funds, I’m happy when markets drop because that means I’ll buy more, and I’m happy when they go up, because I’m making money. Win-win, right?
The problem was my innate desire to see how my money was doing EVERY night. This was creating an unhealthy feedback loop right before bed, when ideally, you’d want to be in a calm and happy place. Instead, checking my money every night and seeing the daily non-substantive shifts in the account balances made me start to feel helpless – as if all my significant life-altering effort (I forego many comforts to save money) was resulting in minimal growth towards FIRE.
Unhealthy Routine #2: Reading the News Every Morning
“NAFTA talks stall.” “North Korea launches another missile.” “Parkland.”
I’m not saying one should be oblivious to world news, but it weighs on you and only compounded my feelings of helplessness. For investors in the markets, we are at the whims of what other people decide our money is worth. It’s a strange game, but one that historically does quite well for us index investors.
How do other people decide what our money is worth? Based on the news of course! Reflecting on my earlier routine, I would go to bed feeling low and helpless and only have those feelings reinforced by the day’s news and predictions of the market fluctuations to come. I was digging myself into a hole and instead of trying to climb out, I just dug deeper and deeper. Every single night and day.
Unhealthy Routine #3: Trying to “Out-Hack” other frugal people.
My readers and fellow bloggers: I love you all. But the internet manifests a culture of who can do it faster, better, or in a more visually appealing way. This is not any of our individual faults. It just happens when you can customize your Twitter feed to show only the content you want.
Other bloggers who embrace frugality have been great for me. It’s because of people like them I discovered Instant Pot. Or decided to walk more and drive less. Or opted to drink only water and coffee (which, by the way, has been the greatest money saving activity of life). Or heck, the financial strategy of dollar-cost averaging index funds.
Bloggers on personal finance have been great and I am now one of them because of their amazing insights. However, as I got better and better at optimizing my life, I started to feel as if any net new activities weren’t good enough. That despite all the great work I was putting in, I would never be quite “that” person who has all their ducks in a row.
I understand now that this is simply an unhealthy thought, because I actually do have my shit together. But we are programmed to learn from others and to strive for self-improvement. I unhealthily believed my efforts were all failures because I wasn’t being as efficient as “that” other person on the internet.
Read less. Just do you more. That’s my motto.
So sure, I might not be reading your blog as much, but it’s for my own good.
I need to remember that FIRE is just one goal of many, and one so far off I need to just live in the now.
So here I am. Living in the now. Until next time.