How To Make Everyone Jealous of How Awesome You Are

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/viccastelo/2582562265/sizes/m/in/photostream/So here’s the thing – I hate running in January. Nope, it’s got nothing to do with the weather – Singapore has only one climate all-year round: Hot and sweaty. Like the title of a porn movie. And it’s not because I don’t like exercising in general.

I hate running in January because there are way Too. Many. People.

Every time January 1st  rolls around, the track I usually frequent actually looks like a porn movie: filled with panting, sweaty people doing laps.

Most of these folks got up on January 1st and decided that they would change their lives just because the earth completed another orbit around the sun.

But like clockwork, the track gets pretty damn empty by the third week of January, leaving behind the same bunch of regulars. It’s like all the people who so spiritedly decided 2 weeks ago that they were “Gonna get a six pack!!!” suddenly got together and decided to go on strike. (Oh wait, it’s illegal to go on strike in Singapore…)

Resolutions are stupid.

Lots of people got up on the first day of 2013, got hit by a bolt of inspiration, and wrote down a bunch of resolutions: Get fitter, get richer, get promoted, be a better husband… etc etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people want to improve themselves. I blog all year round about living a rich life, and part of that rich life involves us being happier, healthier, and more productive.

But the sad truth is, very few people who make resolutions actually manage to keep them. That’s how gyms make money: they sell year-long gym memberships to people who make resolutions to “get fitter”, and then never actually show up after January.

Why are we so bad at keeping our resolutions?

Because resolutions are simply codewords for “wishes”. We envision this ideal, perfect person that we’d like to be, and believe that if we could only visualize it hard enough, we’d become that person. But wishes never got anyone anywhere.

Goals, not resolutions

Screw resolutions. Very few people actually benefit from them anyway.

Instead, let’s talk about something way more effective; something which I hinted at in part 1 of this series on annual reviews. Let’s talk about goals.

Okay, I know, “goals, not resolutions” sounds like some management B.S they teach you at MBA programs. But hear me out for a second here. Here’s the difference between a resolution and a goal:

Resolution: Get fitter

Goal: Run at least 2.4km every Wednesday, do at least 100 crunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and swim at least 40 laps on Saturday morning from 9-11 am. Track progress on weekly basis.

See the difference? A resolution is a wish. “I wish I was fitter.”

A goal is targeted, specific, and measurable. You either ran 2.4km or you didn’t. You either did 100 crunches or you didn’t. (nope, 99.5 doesn’t count either).

Goals hold you PERSONALLY responsible if you don’t complete them.

Resolution: Find a new programming job.

Goal: Get certified in C++ programming, schedule networking meetings with employees in software companies, source for 2 recommendations, apply to 2 jobs a month

It’s true that completing your goal may still mean that you don’t find another job. But who do you think is more likely to get hired: the guy who systematically works through his job hunt and networking checklist, or the guy who sits around thinking that he “should” start sending out resumes?

Most people don’t set goals for themselves. They prefer resolutions. Resolutions are easy, and resolutions won’t hold you accountable. But sadly, resolutions won’t help you move towards a rich life either.

But goals will.

How to set some kick-ass goals for 2013

Okay, let’s figure out how to set some awesome goals for 2013. I got this idea off Chris Gulliebeau’s blogpost on annual reviews, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s serious about doing anything awesome this year. You can read about his framework here, and download his goal-setting template here.

Essentially, good goals have 3 essential characteristics

  1. They focus on a specific behavior or action, not an outcome – So “focus more at work” isn’t a goal, but “sleep at least 7 hours a day” is.
  2. They have a deadline – I usually set a specific date (usually the end of a quarter) for mine
  3. They’re measurable – great goals have metrics that you can define and review regularly to determine if you’re succeeding.

So if you’ve already made the mistake of setting up some resolutions for yourself, do yourself a favor and turn them into goals instead. You’ll be more likely to complete them.

You can follow Chris’ framework on how to set your own goals, but in a nutshell, the steps are:

1. Define a few categories to split your goals into.

My categories this year are: Cheerfulegg, Health, Personal Finance, Career, Relationships, Spirituality and Learning. Some people, like Paula from Afford Anything find that having a long list of categories may cause them to lose focus. If that’s you, then feel free to limit it to just 2-3 categories. But I’ve personally found that it’s best to set goals for all aspects of life – striving towards one area while sacrificing the others has made me miserable in the past, so I’ve learnt that balance is usually the best formula.

2. While thinking of each category, think about 3-5 measurable goals for each.

For example, some of my goals under Cheerfulegg are:

  1. Create a free mini-product for loyal readers
  2. Convert cheerfulegg.com into a self-hosted domain
  3. Write book proposal and source for publishers

 3. Come up with a set of sub-actions 

This doesn’t have to be extremely detailed. For example, under the goal of “write a book proposal” I might include “ideate, organize, write first draft, share for feedback, edit, write second draft, etc”

4. Set a deadline for the completion of the project.

This should be a specific date. If you’re not sure, pick the end of a particular month.

 5. Finally, pick a set of metrics that you can use to track your progress.

For example, I might pick something like “number of pages written” or “number of peer reviews”

Dominate Your Goals In 2013

That’s it! If you think that this sounds like a helluva lot of work, well, it is. It took me a couple of days of reflection before I could come up with a list I was happy with, but it was definitely worth the effort.

Writing everything down will give you a clarity and focus that will be crucial to completing your goals, especially in the face of temptation. And hopefully, with a bit of luck, perseverance, and hard work, you’d be dominating your goals and kicking some ass in 2013. Good luck!

Image credit: kidgrifter

The 2012 Cheerfulegg Review

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joka2000/80198350/sizes/m/in/photostream/All the blogs in the world are reviewing 2012 at the moment. In summary, the world didn’t end, Obama got re-elected, the Euro crisis didn’t blow up, and most importantly, Singapore saw a record number of sex scandals. And they said Singaporeans don’t have enough sex.

So I thought it’d be a good time to do a little personal review of my own. I got this idea off Chris Guillebeau’s framework on annual reviews, which he cites as probably the best decision he’s made in terms of working towards multiple goals simultaneously (He’s probably one of the most successful bloggers around, so there’s definitely something going on there).

So this post is the first of a 2-part series on annual reviews. In this post, I’ll review 2012 and what it meant for cheerfulegg.com and for parts of my own life. I’m basing it off Chris’ methodology, and if you haven’t done a 2012 review of your own yet, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

It involves answering 2 questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?

Yeah, I know it sounds like one of those corny-ass “After-Action Reviews” that your company is so fond of doing – I thought it was pretty lame when I first read it too. But after spending an entire day reflecting on it, I got pretty surprised by the results.

So – enough preamble.  Let’s get started.

What went well this year?

(Please don’t take this section as a bragfest. I try to be as objective and transparent as possible in any reflection and including both the good and bad stuff)

*I grew and developed cheerfulegg.com to a level that I’m pretty happy with for its one-year existence. It’s probably one of my proudest accomplishments of 2012. An idea of what this blog has managed to achieve in the past year:

  1. 71 new posts, to grand total of 77 posts since it started in Dec 2011.
  2. A post that got featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed section, generating a record 16,000+ views for that month, and 220+ WordPress followers.
  3. A brand new “cheerfulegg.com” domain name
  4. A cheerfulegg VIP list, which grew to 85 subscribers within a couple of months
  5. Being accepted on blog aggregators theFinance.sg and PaperBlog.com

* I developed, followed, and refined a personal finance system. Writing a book about it really helped because it forced me to solidify the ideas. It isn’t perfect yet, but it’s at a point where I’m about 80-90% satisfied. Will be sharing more of it in some publications that I’m working on.

  1. I apologize if some of you were confused by my previous posts about multiple saving and spending accounts, sometimes with different names and purposes, etc.  It was all part of a process of trying it out and making improvements to make the final version simpler and more effective for everyone. Sometimes I just had to write about it here in order to crystalize the idea.

* I successfully achieved my saving and investing goals, entirely thanks to a system of automation I set up to take care of everything.

* I introduced fixed income and Singapore asset classes into my portfolio, adding a further level of diversification. Contemplating if I should add gold in the coming year (Its historical real returns aren’t the best, but it might be a good diversifier. Check out this blog for more details. I’m still thinking about it though).

*The markets have also been pretty kind to my portfolio this year, which was really encouraging for my first full calendar year in sticking with a passive, indexed-based investment style, which has worked out pretty well thus far.

 What didn’t go so well this year?

* I severely underestimated the effort required to write a book. After spending the best part of August – November writing for three nights a week, I had a 82-page first draft, which was about 60% of my planned book. And I hated it.

It’s not terrible, but it certainly fell short of the vision I had for it as something fresh, engaging and different from the other “how to get your personal finances in order” books.  I’m still going to finish writing it, but I’m now humbled by the effort and the dedication a project like this requires. In the meantime, I’m headed back to the drawing board and I’m only going to ship it to you once I’m satisfied with it.

* I attempted to start some freelancing projects, which pretty much fell through because I couldn’t find an idea that suited me, or that I had enough time for.

* I got fatter this year. Fareals. A combination a dropping metabolic rate, a new job rotation that required me to sit at my desk for longer hours, and my focus on cheerfulegg.com and the book resulted in some serious weight gain. An exercise plan for 2013 is definitely in order. I also definitely didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked.

* I made a conscious decision to give up dance, at least for now, even though it was my entire life just 2 years back. I’ve been pursuing it as a passion for 12 years now, but I really  want to pursue new adventures with this blog and the book. With a full-time day job, it’s pretty much impossible to commit to writing AND dance at the same time after office hours. Still though, I get that twinge of longing whenever I watch YouTube videos.

 Possible goals for next year

I’ll talk more about these after I’ve finalized my plans for 2013, but 2 things that are definitely in the works are:

* Going back to the drawing board to redefine the book, interviewing people to really understand them and coming up with fresh, new ideas. Check out my room wall at the moment:

Ideation

* I now know that this is going be an ongoing process, and it might take several months or more than a year before I see some results. However, this isn’t going to stop me from shipping some stuff out for everyone who’s been waiting patiently for it.

* In the interim, I’m working on pushing out 2 mini-products in 2013 – which are a lot less complex, but still pretty damn awesome. Stay tuned for those 🙂

Happy 2013 everyone!

Smarter Than The Market?

So I attended Invest Fair 2012 this weekend, which was pretty much a marketplace of financial service providers, brokers, insurance companies, and the occasional weird individual trying to tout his own “proprietary” trading system. It was exactly like a marketplace, the kind you’d find at your local heartland HDB estate, with energetic sweaty speakers gesturing at candlestick charts and yelling to crowds of wide-eyed middle aged folks, craning their necks and shoving to get a glimpse of the Secret Millionaire Trading Strategy to Make You Rich. You would’ve thought that the speaker was selling fish, or vacuum cleaners, or a Ginzu Knife, instead of a “highly sophisticated automated trading system”.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t see anyone talk about passive indexing in the 4 hours I was there. There was a brief mention of it in one talk, but the speaker put it way down below in the investing hierarchy. Speaker: “If you don’t have enough time at all, and you ONLY want the market return, you can opt to do passive indexing. That will get you between 7%-11% a year. If you have a bit more time, you can do value investing and momentum investing, which can give you up to 20% a year. But the most profitable of all, the style that I use, is to invest in small caps. That will give you up to 30% a year, but you have to stomach a lot more volatility.”

Now, 30% a year sounds like a helluva attractive option, doesn’t it? Hell, you could double your money in less than 3 years! But let’s think about this for a second.

Why you’re not likely to be smarter than the market

If you make a 30% return in the market, there must be someone else (or a bunch of other people) on the other side of that trade who lost 30%. Every time you buy a stock, there is someone on the other side selling it to you. And every time you sell, there is someone on the other end buying it from you. Every time you win, someone else loses, and every time you lose, someone else wins. Lots of people forget that the stock market is a zero sum game, and you are playing against other people. Now, say you bought a fancy trading strategy at the investment fair and started making 30% a year consistently. This means that you would be consistently beating the majority of the other players in the market, ie: you would consistently be in the “winning” half of the market.

Now think about who the other players are. First, there are the institutional fund managers and mutual fund managers with billions of dollars under their control and have the power to move the market every time they trade. Then, there are the brokers and the flow traders who have a first-hand view of the order books and could front-run you without you even realizing. There are also the hedge fund managers, who hire Nobel Prize winners to develop algorithmic trading strategies for them. There are people like Warren Buffet, whose sheer influence and ownership of certain companies gives them access to information that no one else could possibly access. And then there are the high frequency traders, whose machines execute millions of trades a second. And then there’s you, with your $500 trading system you bought from Invest Fair 2012, and your $99 book on technical analysis. Now, who’s more likely to consistently be on the winning side of the market?

I’m not saying that you’re stupid. In fact, it’s very likely that some of you reading this would have made some money trading some fanciful strategy so far. All I’m saying is that by definition, the majority of you will be painfully average in your ability to beat the market. And once you add the professionals to the mix, it’s more than likely that you, the average retail trader/investor, are likely to be in the losing end of the market if you’re going to play against them. Most of us would like to think that we’re smarter than average – a behavioral bias of overconfidence that makes us think that somehow, we’re that one special person blessed with gifted intelligence and luck that will let us triumph over everyone else. But by definition, that cannot be true for most people, including people like you and me.

So let’s not kid ourselves that we can be consistently smarter than the market. The market consists hundreds of thousands of other participants, some of who are much, much, much smarter than you are. If one or two screw up, there are plenty more to take their place.

Embracing Average

Okay this all sounds very depressing, and it sounds like we should just all get out from the investment game altogether and stuff our money in pillow cases. But wait, there’s hope! Let’s think about things a little differently – let’s entertain the thought that maybe being average is a good thing.

Here’s why – we all know that on average, the market increases by about 8% a year. This 8% is the result of aggregating the entire market’s gains and losses: the mutual funds raking in 20%, the hedge funds blowing up, a retail investor losing everything, and your uncle who got lucky and jumped into tech stocks which rose by 40% in 3 months. Add them all up together, and it averages out to about 8% a year. (it works out to 8% a year, not 0%, because there is a strong upward bias in the market, helped by the fact that businesses in the market grow their earnings as time passes) So when you buy the market and hold it forever, you’ll experience some good years with double-digit returns, and some bad years with scary negative returns, but on average, you’ll be hitting approximately 8% a year.

Honestly, how many of you have been able to consistently rake in 8% a year? I’m willing to bet that the majority of retail investors won’t even come close to this figure. So why bother spending money on trading systems, or financial adviser fees, or commissions, just to earn less than the market return? Do yourself a favor and practice passive indexing – you’re pretty much guaranteed to beat the majority of the masses out there, the same ones who cluelessly invest in small caps (or other things) because they want to earn 30% a year, and think that they’re smarter than everyone else.