The Space Between

May 12, 2022

Earlier this week, I was doing my nightly Gmail inbox clean-out (yes, I strive for inbox zero and no, I can’t quite get there 😉 ). In between the ads, junk mail, and useful reminders was a hidden gem – an email newsletter from Dr. Brene Brown. If you know Brene’s work, you’ll understand that when she sends a message, it is always worth reading. This month’s message was no exception

The newsletter was entitled “Creating Space” and started with this quote:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

Brene went on to say that she illustrates this quote in her mind as S( )R ~ and has a relentless focus on preserving and honoring the parentheses (ie: the space between stimulus and response)

She was using this quote to articulate the reasons behind her and her team stepping back this summer, which was a powerful lesson in and of itself. But for me, hours after I read the email, I couldn’t get that quote and its illustration out of my mind and kept thinking about how it so readily applies to markets and investing in today’s environment.

There has been no lack of stimulus in regards to the markets over the past few months – check that, over the past 2.5 years. We’ve gone thru a sudden event driven recession from COVID that quickly became the shortest in history. We saw new investors enter the markets, followed by wild speculation and meme stock dominance. We watched new financial instruments such as NFTs storm into existence. We’ve experienced goods shortages (remember limits on toilet paper?), ongoing supply chain disruptions, record high prices, a frenzied real estate market, and surging gas prices. We’ve witnessed increasing global instability and many horrors both at home and abroad. And just as we rounded the corner in 2022 and believed brighter days were surely ahead, markets have been struggling to find stability and the available narrative in the financial media is stunningly negative and alarmist.

It may seem like this time is different and that things have never been this bad – but in truth, there are always things to worry about and address in markets and investing (and if life for that matter). The stimulus has always been – and will always be – there.

So our challenge becomes, what do we do with the space between that stimulus and our response? How do we pry those parentheses open and enhance the distance until we respond – and perhaps improve our response once we get there?

Here are a few of the strategies that I find helpful to maximize the space between. I’m not perfect and there are days where I jump right from stimulus to response. However, I am continuing to work at it and maybe you can to

  • Minimize the daily news cycle – Given my vocation, I have to stay tuned into the daily churn of markets and economic news. However, I have still taken measures to moderate the content I am consuming and remain ever aware that the news media benefits from the “shock & awe” headlines. Focus on the facts and the data – not the flashing red warnings on the screen or jarring newspaper headlines

  • Examine trends over absolute numbers – When it comes to markets, the trend (ie: better or worse) matters more that absolute levels (ie: good or bad). We are in a transitional period but the good news is that certain headwinds do appear to be dying down. For instance, while inflation remains at a stubbornly high level, there are some signs (ever so slight) that it is starting to decline

  • Reach out – We were never meant to do life alone and with most challenges/stimulus we face, reaching out to a trusted advisor, friend, or family member helps slow (and improve) our response. Put your worries into words before you are tempted to act. My guess is you will soon find there’s nothing you need (or should) do

  • Add perspective – Yes, year to date returns are hard to stomach. However, if you extend out returns to a one, two, ten year periods (or beyond), you can clearly see the benefits of investing even in the middle of the storm

  • Remember the ark – In the middle of a storm, it can be easy to forget about the years spent building the ark. You have prepared for this. Cash reserves are in place. Income supports expenses. Ongoing investing allows dollar cost averaging at lower levels. Allocation and investments have been set with intention. Ark is in place. You are safe. You will weather the storm

  • Remember the why – Investing is an opportunity we all have to grow our wealth over time – and this volatility is the price we pay for that gift. For many of us, we need a “dual track” of wealth creation – both savings from our careers AND investing – to help us reach our longer term goals. This is an opportunity and with careful planning and a lack of hasty response, it should continue to benefit us in the long term

  • Practice gratitude – Yes, markets are down. Yes, the numbers on the page are lower. And yet, the good remains. Look around you and take stock of what you have. I use the Five Minute Journal to ensure I am aware of all I have and all that remains on a daily basis

The stimulus will never end. It is outside of our collective control. However, as Victor Frankl reminds us, we do have control over the space between – and that – that is where our power lies. May we all use it wisely.

Until next week, invest on,

Pam

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