“The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.” – Chris Pine, actor
This week and this year
It’s been some time before I’ve written a reflective piece. It’s a slow news week, with the majority of headlines concentrating on the incoming price drop, before realising that we are already here. I marvel at just how limited most of the reports are – we could easily end the year around 4% up on house prices for 2022, which no-one would categorise as meteoric, in the end. A slide in the first half would be no surprise, perhaps blow-off that 4% – but there’s currently little or no reasoning behind prices going down much beyond that. Who knows – the market may even look quite tight again in H2 2023 – the interest rate will be very relevant (mortgage rates), the base rate perhaps a little less so due to the lack of exposure to the base rate. This argument doesn’t seem that nuanced to me, but perhaps it is – it seems to be lost on the mainstream media, anyway.
Having dealt with that for this week, the sensible thing to do is to press on with something a little broader – I think it is around 5 months or so since my last one. Today, I wanted to address a reasonably difficult but important trait – and that is the ability to put things into perspective – which relates somewhat to control.
Gurus, you say?
A trait I’ve observed with many who have been successful in the property investment and development arena (and no, I’m not talking about your fake gurus with the leased lambos and the get rich quick schemes, I’m talking about actual real people who have buildings and assets of reasonable size, pay people back when they borrow money, do what they say they are going to do) is the level of control they exert on what they do in their day-to-day operations, and strategic planning.
Quite a few have a tendency towards control. This can be seen as a negative – but so can any personality trait I’m aware of. Confidence can be negatively portrayed as arrogance. Kindness, even, can be portrayed as weakness. Control is no different – when harnessed correctly, it is a powerful asset to any investor or developer – or, indeed, any person.
We have to start with the control of the self. This is an ongoing challenge for nearly everyone. The first principle I would encourage anyone to exercise here would be to be true to themselves. Your proclivities and preferences, wants, likes and needs will change over the years. It’s very common – particularly for males – to be relatively hedonistic in their teenage years and indeed until their prefrontal cortices are fully formed. This can take us up to the late 20s – this resonates with me, as I was without particular direction really until I was around 25 or so (a late bloomer, or so I’d hope). Life changes, time goes on, perhaps children are involved; things get harder. Things get real! People look up to you – sometimes by default or positioning, if you are clever or disingenuous about it; sometimes because you have earnt it. The pace of that change can be dramatic, and is something only understood (by me) in reflection, rather than being understood at the time.
It is very, very easy to ascribe negative labels to ourselves. Some of the hardest-working people I know will say “I’m lazy” or “I’m naturally lazy” about themselves – and they really aren’t. They just tell themselves they are in order to maintain their disciplined mindsets around their work ethics and volume of output. This is a bit of a brute force method of self-control in my view. I prefer accepting that not every day is wonderful, not every day will you get out of bed ready, willing and able to conquer the world – but that is where routine can really kick in. Self-care – even if quite limited, quite small, quite minimal – needs to be your first priority. If you can’t look after yourself – what can you look after? It simply stands to reason. Jordan Peterson would say “make your bed” (which he uses as an analogy for fixing your own environment before interfering in everyone else’s) but I’m talking about before that – maybe “make sure you are in a fit state to be able to make your bed, every day, for as many days as possible” or as simple as “look after yourself”.
Flagellating yourself or ascribing negative connotations with yourself can be effective, but can also be damaging to your mental health in the long term. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Routine here – perhaps beyond self-care a little – can be very useful. I am not a natural routine follower – the complete opposite. My natural personality type is to ignore convention and rules, and find a better way. A quicker way. “Bill Gates lazy” is the common phrase – continuous improvement is a better way to frame it, I think. I get genuine pleasure from making little improvements that save time, save money, improve impact, get better returns on time, improve experiences for myself, customers, clients, tenants, anyone – whether that’s natural or whether that’s trained into my brain these days – I think a bit of both. However, over recent years I’ve come to realise more and more about how useful routine can be, on a personal level, even if I don’t like the overall concept of the straightjacket, the box, the shackles that society wants to put around me. Many creative people don’t like being put in a box, and I am definitely on the creative side of the spectrum (which includes being easily distracted!).
Control around us
We can then move on to discuss control of things around us, in our natural environment. As this week’s quote suggests, this is difficult – we cannot control many of the things around us, when we go beyond a micro level. However, to start with, we can control a lot of our surroundings by treating them as second order consequences. “The harder I work, the luckier I get” – for example. “Hard” is not as useful as it might be in this phrase – I could argue that the smarter I work, the luckier I get, and that might be more accurate. “The more consistent I am, the luckier I get” might be even more ideal – and consistency is absolutely key in standing out from the crowd, as ridiculous as that might sound.
There is a level in the middle that occurs to all of us, at some points, unfortunately. Tragedy around us. It’s difficult to be positive about this; the one sole piece of advice there can be here, in my view, is that things need to be put into perspective. In the past 2 years, I have experienced loss of family members. Others close to me have experienced more significant losses in terms of the proximity of the relationships. We can only try and control our reactions, and approach the next day like the proverbial elephant – one bite at a time. One thing we do know is that those who have passed would not want us to be less, on the back of their passing – they would want us to be more, want us to be well, and want us to look after those around us. Easy to write – difficult to do.
The big stuff – macro control?
As we zoom out, then, we get to the macro problems that we really have no control over at all. The war in Ukraine. The price of oil and gas – and therefore of heating, and eating. The interest rate. Inflation. Government corruption and incompetence. The NHS. We can control our exposure to all of these things in some direct and indirect ways, of course. As an extreme example – to have no exposure to inflation, and energy prices, we could go to a full, direct extreme – live off grid, grow our own food, in a house with zero net energy requirement. Indirectly we would need to have the resources to be able to achieve this, as it may not be cheap, or easy. At the other end of the spectrum, we could turn off the news, and keep our anxiety levels down about what’s going on in the world – although not being informed about anything is not the solution, the solution is to educate ourselves continuously and make our own decisions and find our own interpretations. Some of this is reflected, occasionally, in the rhetoric of our current government – the very quickly departed PM Liz Truss made reference a number of times to people working harder, which came across very badly – being as charitable as possible, I can imagine that someone who has had the chance to become the PM, even if it was for 5 minutes, has likely worked 80-100 hour weeks for the past 15-20 years or more, which makes the average working week look fairly pedestrian.
Language and tone
We have to, however, again, come back to perspective. Firstly – erase that sensationalism. When I look at the property headlines this week, I see the words “crash”, “crisis”, “volatility”, “slump”, and “armageddon”. Not helpful, I am sure you will agree – particularly when you refer back to my first paragraph today. Hogwash, I’d go as far as to say, in fact. Wages up, price of credit up, supply of stock down and struggling – and no immediate black swans on the horizon. Mixed news, in reality, with forces pulling in different directions, when it comes to pricing. A market that went white-hot, cooling off, before there is a crash on the back of years of unsustainable growth. That sounds positive, to me – perspective.
So for those of us who do have a tendency towards control – or, who understand that control is important when you are trying to take active responsibility for your own destiny – how can we cope with that that we just can’t control. Education, as above – sure. Forecasting – getting some kind of idea about what might happen. That, aside from staying in the game, is absolutely what we should be doing as investors. Taking control of personal development in this area is a very helpful way to do this. On the face of it – read the supplement weekly as a start, of course!
Reactions and decision making
We must remember to control our reactions too. This needs to be proportionate in all of the above situations. If you haven’t read it, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a great book which explains, amongst other human traits, biases, and features, our decision making processes. Kahneman prefers a distinction between System 1 – immediate, fight, flight, or freeze style reactions – not limited to that, including supposition, stereotype, and to an extent, prejudice – and System 2, when we can make decisions based on proper information, experience, and in a calm and collected manner. No prizes for guessing which one is preferable most of the time (trust System 1 when it comes to saving your life, for example – inaction might well be the worst decision of all in those circumstances!)
So other than perspective and controlled reactions, what else can we do? Well, we can influence, and we can learn how others might influence us, so that we seek out better influences. Much is made of the influence that popular culture has on children, for example, but this magically disappears when we become adults, it seems, from the general media coverage of this subject. We know that’s wrong. There’s documented evidence of increased incidences of a variety of (mostly negative) behavioural patterns when broadcast on soap operas, for example – which is why the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the ownership and responsibility that the popular soaps display when dealing with difficult and challenging subjects.
Influence, and some more reading and listening
We can understand influence, like anything, at the level that we choose to. LinkedIn, for example, encourages us to inform others about those who influence us in business – as a badge of honour. On Facebook we might refer to it by liking their pages, or their commentary, or following them (we might even dare a friend request!). Some of the pseudogurus start to offer expensive courses about neuro-linguistic programming, tempting the flies into their web with veiled promises about, essentially, how to manipulate people (whilst, ironically, trying to manipulate you into buying their course at a price ending in a 7, plus VAT of course). Being manipulated into buying a course on how to manipulate people – no wonder they say no-one does irony like the Brits.
There are, of course, more robust ways to go about this as well. Moving past our favourite fake gurus, it is often the case that some of the more distilled versions or easier to access texts on these subjects are also dismissed as pseudoscience. There’s an element here of jealousy, I always think, because the vast majority of academics will never get 100,000 people to read their work – let alone a million, or ten million or more. We don’t need to understand everything to master’s degree level and beyond – nor do we have time, even if we have the appetite to – so we need accessible, simpler texts to read or listen to more quickly and easily. The danger is of course that the texts are incorrect and the authors are just good at building fake authority (indeed, there are courses on how to help you do exactly that – minor pause, just while I’m sick in my mouth) – but on this subject, “The Chimp Paradox” by Steve Peters is well worth a read, as is “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, and so is “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed, and “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. Once again, the supplement saves you 9997 + VAT – thank me later. Those will give you some great insight into the cornerstones of NLP – psychology, psychotherapy, and decision making – why we do what we do. Rather than dismiss NLP as a pseudoscience altogether, I think you are better to think of it as a gimmick, a flashy acronym which hacks into many years and schools of academic research, with the ability to distil that information down to a more bite-sized level.
Dedicated to those with their challenges
That brings me to the end of this week’s efforts. This post has been inspired by many sources this week – from those who ask me how I sleep, and how much I sleep (at night, in a bed – not on a plank of wood like the latest of the fake gurus, the Liver King – and for about 6 hours if I am lucky, although I’m working on it), to those who are helping me with the level of control and oversight needed in my businesses at this point as they grow – to those who have been dealing with their own challenges this week which are much more significant than anything I have written about!
In changing environments, fast and mostly correct decision making is required – and that’s where we are right now, and will be for 2023 in my view. Note – my expectation is not to make zero mistakes – I make them every day – but to keep trying, and when I do fail, fail better. You win or you learn, for those who don’t even like the idea of the word “fail” – I worry less, because I think no negative messaging is unrealistic (especially in property where people will often tell you “no”) – but I spend my efforts on positive messaging, both internally and to those I interact with on a personal and business front. Keep calm, go easy on yourself, and carry on!