Supplement 060823 – reflections on self-care

Aug 6, 2023

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt, American President.

Welcome to the Supplement everyone. As we enter into the silly season proper, now that the Bank of England have surprised no-one with another 0.25% rise – the mix of voting was, as typical, the “interesting” bit (sorry) – other macroeconomic news was limited again. The Nationwide price index came in bang on consensus claiming a 3.8% year on year decline and a 4.6% decline since the peak in August 2022, as they saw it. The most interesting of the rest was the money supply decreasing by 0.1%, which will help the inflation situation, although only a very small amount.


I was more impressed with some (older) Zoopla forecasts which looked absolutely bang on the money – where Rightmove seem to use their forecasting as a marketing tool, Zoopla research really does seem to make an effort to get it right – and as a result, it makes their data look better. I’m sure that’s a deliberate strategy to woo institutional business while Rightmove enjoys their monopoly position in the UK retail market for houses.


No bullets this week – I’m on reduced service (so, only one coffee and perhaps an espresso will do) – as we get into holiday season proper, I appreciate the time for a bit of levity for myself and the loyal readers and listeners, but – instead of doing nothing or something silly of my own – I prefer a reflective piece to generate some conversation and make everyone (including myself) think.


To kick off summer I wanted to talk about taking care of yourself. My wife always finds it hilarious when I use the analogy “put your own oxygen mask on before helping others” (usually my excuse for serving myself first when we get a takeaway) – but, in seriousness, I think it is something we can easily forget, especially in today’s society.


Let’s start with social media, and you’ll see why I’ve used the quote I’ve used today. Comparison really IS the thief of joy, and it is so easy to find comparisons to make you feel inadequate. I believe the vernacular is currently “doom-scrolling”, and it doesn’t take long to find someone:



More attractive

More successful

Richer (not the same, note)


More fulfilled

Overall – more “adequate”


At least…..on the surface. One way to address the game, of course, is not to play the game at all. However, I was buoyed this week by a post I saw from a lifer-developer that I really respect, who pointed out that society seems to fracture more and more into two camps; the “harsh reality” camp (think Peterson, shouting at you to clean your room) and the “victim” camp, where there’s always an explanation for everything that’s wrong with your life and the good news is that it is never your fault, but always someone else’s or the famous “society” (cue the Monty Python sketch, for those who are aficionados of the genre). 


Neither is 100% accurate of course. One is tough to take, and I think can be toxic for your mental health if it is 24/7. However, it is the only one of the two that will help you to improve, and that’s the “start with yourself and what you can change” camp. The other one, the fluffy pillows, feels great but has a tendency to lead to bitterness, or to a wasted life in terms of opportunity, often realised too late in the day.


My take on the post in question was that I find it somewhat remarkable that we are getting more and more obsessed with our physical health – research has moved on an incredible amount in terms of nutrition (although there’s worse tactics than the good old “eat less, move more”), and exercise – unless we are under a rock we all understand the premise that putting our body under some kind of stress, strain or resistance is needed, can be great fun and release endorphins, and is what is needed to grow, improve and maintain. There’s a million ways to do it and that’s where the fun starts (and ends), but that’s outside of the scope of where I want to go today.


My point was the relative paucity with which we accept that same approach when it comes to our mental health. We need RESILIENCE to get through – definitely as landlords, I hear you cry! But we all need resilience, and the way to build mental resilience is the same way that we approach our physical health if we are doing it properly. Compartmentalised times of stress training, or resistance training, to build our defences further. It does not come overnight.

It is no accident that some of the most successful people that I am fortunate enough to know personally in business have been through extreme times of hardship. That’s not to recommend that as a strategy – because many who have had a similar sort of time in their upbringings are broken; these are simply examples of “survivorship bias”. However, to not see the correlation would be to live in denial, in my view.


So – that’s great. We need to get in the mental gym. How do we do that? Well, we start by focusing on the fact that it isn’t all of the time that we need to be under this stress. Stress is so often used as a completely negative word, and that’s completely wrong. We need SOME degree of stress to have purpose – to want to get up in the morning. That amount varies amongst humans, and I think is a by-product of nature and nurture – and the appetite for it can be changed. It needs an open mind.


So – work out what we will do in order to manage the stress we are under. This can be really quite simple – ensure that top of the list we get our vitamins in the morning, if that’s your flavour (and depending on your diet, you should absolutely look into this). I started on C and D when Covid came, with a “what’s the downside” attitude – and have looked into this much further since and seem to consume a near-alphabet’s worth these days. Well, not quite that much but still, I’ve seen improvement in sleep (magnesium), overall immune system (C and others), and recovery time. 


We also need to prioritise our own breaks. Even when on the Retreat – which is without a doubt the most intensive week of work that I get involved in each year – we ensure that on the hour we have a break, for five minutes, to get up, walk around, get air and sunlight (OK – it is in October in the north of England, but there is some light at least!) – this is for concentration purposes and also to ensure we can perform. We will get more done in 3 hours 40 minutes with 20 minutes of breaks than if we try to sit there for 4 hours straight.


That’s a really important part of this concept. You do LESS in terms of time, when it comes to work, but you achieve more. Sounds ridiculous – but you try measuring it. It isn’t even close. High up the list needs to be movement and ideally outside exercise. This doesn’t mean running, necessarily, or whatever the latest body confidence coach is telling you on insta or whatever. It should be the following:


  1. Age appropriate – embrace it!
  2. External
  3. Sometimes hard, sometimes easy
  4. Enjoyable
  5. Variable
  6. Physical 
  7. Sustainable


If you don’t do at least 5 out of the 7, you will be missing something, in my view. 7 is probably the most important of them all. If you are much better off with a training partner or similar – get one. Know yourself, and be honest with yourself. It isn’t optional. Every week you don’t do 90 minutes or more is a bad result. That could be 3 30-minute walks with some brisk parts and some leisurely parts! 


This is where there is more help than ever before. My advantage in these situations is that I really don’t care what people think – I think nothing of walking “fartlek” dressed relatively randomly around the neighbourhood, whilst listening to a hefty macroeconomics podcast or a comedy set (or everything in between, depending on my mood) – or going “sans headphones” and just appreciating my external environment. 


Some of this comes from “hacking” the miracle morning, for those who are familiar with the Hal Elrod book/belief system. That brings in exercise and movement, of course, but also gratitude – the Americans tend to call it doubletiming, achieving two or more goals at the same time (we often prefer multitasking, but doubletiming is a powerful example of just how much time it can save you). Gratitude is very important. A life without it is a pretty miserable existence.


Elrod prefers affirmations – some think that this can be a bit borderline “woo-woo”. Chanting at yourself in front of the mirror – but it doesn’t need to be that way. It can simply be positive thoughts to chase away the demons of the “imposter syndrome” which is much talked about these days. You should be trying to say at least twice as many positive things to yourself as negative ones. You’ll never extinguish the doubts and fears – or if you do, you’ve done far better than I. Just remember there is no queue of people waiting to tell you that you are good enough, worthy, kind, generous or any of the other many good qualities that I have no doubt you have. You need to start with yourself.


The miracle morning also uses the concept of journaling. There is an important stat often quoted (pretty pseudoscientific, as it goes, but there is a degree of reality behind it). You remember 10% of what you listen to, 30% of what you read, 50% of what you re-read, and 70% of what you write down and re-read. This is the point of writing things down – it doesn’t need to be pen and paper, and doesn’t need to be written these days – that’s where if you prefer voice notes, you can keep your own. If you don’t like the sound of your own voice much, you can voice-to-text and then get it read back to you by a whole variety of apps. There’s a way.


That leaves us with one more bridge to cross. Mindfulness. This can also be part of a good walk with no earphones in, although to suggest you can reach a near-meditative state when you might need to cross a road isn’t where I’m going with this. Appreciating the environment can also lead to intense concentration on certain noises, sounds, or wildlife. This can help banish the problems of the day, and give you some clarity, positive feelings and recharge you. Ray Dalio (those who follow my socials at all will know my love for the man’s mindset, intellect and sheer want-to-share that no-one I know alive can compete with) is a fan of transcendental meditation (often accompanied by making a particular sound) – I’m not so inclined myself but those moments of mindfulness can be very powerful.


That’s it – the mental gym. And no – I don’t go every day. But for years I’ve been a bit like the typical newbie at all of this – all the gear, and no idea. The pandemic changed and gave me time for reflection, and part of my reflection was that I spent a lot of time trying to help and look after others, and particularly my young family which brings a whole new pressure when those mouths are there to be fed, and those brains are there to be impressed upon. I started a group of apps on my phone that I called “self-care” and when I do pick up the phone in the morning, that’s where I start. If I don’t get it in then, I will forget it – and that’s the point. Use a simple prompt. 


As I always say about the bond market – I’m not a bond trader – nor am I a doctor, personal trainer, sports scientist, nutritionist, psychologist or psychotherapist. I’m firmly at pub level in all of those disciplines. But I am a generalist, and a relentless learner – and that’s the boiled-down version of what I’ve learned over the past months and years since I started taking it more seriously, after completely ignoring it for c. 25 years of my adult life. I feel better, stronger, and like I can achieve more – and it is has had positive effects on my businesses despite the environment around me becoming less “friendly” (has it ever been friendly?). That’s where I will leave it for this week with just that final piece of advice (mandatory reading and listening!) – Keep Calm and Carry On!