Even though we cannot control our outcomes, I have to believe, I do believe, that with the right inputs we will get the outcomes we want far more often than not.
Over the last few days I have been involved in situations where people have had to deal with some serious physical issues (this is fire department related so no details) and to be clear, I am not talking about me. One instance was someone pretty young who had something happen that you’d typically associate occurring at a significantly older age and the other involved the type of help that no one would ever want to need and that no one would prefer to give (of course we did without hesitation, we’re the fire department).
I know nothing of these people’s lifestyle choices so I don’t know if they had suboptimal habits or if they did everything right and just had bad luck so I am not judging anything about anyone, just using these examples to reinforce the importance of focusing on what we can control which is our inputs toward an outcome, not the outcome itself. I have always lifted weights but for a long time was oblivious to the idea of healthy eating. I’ve disclosed before that at 51 I was told I was pre-diabetic, I did some research found out it could be reversed by reducing sugar consumption which is what I did. I don’t know if T2 diabetes and pre-diabetes are universally reversible by cutting sugar but it was an input I could control, I just changed what I ate, and luckily, the output was favorable, my A1C had gone back to a healthy level by the time I had it rechecked a couple of months later.
Back to weightlifting, I’ve been lifting almost non-stop since middle school. At some point along the way I learned that we naturally start to lose muscle mass at around 28 years old. Later I learned that losing muscle mass is what makes people frail making it harder to do what you enjoy and potentially having life altering consequences. Fire departments treat ground level falls as very serious incidents, more serious than you might intuitively think. When an older person who is frail falls, it can be the end of their independent living. No one wants to lose their independence therefor avoiding frailty would seem to be an important priority to have.
Focusing on inputs; staying active, lifting weights, doing things to promote balance are ways to avoid frailty. Someone could end up being frail anyway I suppose but I would not want to be 70 (that does not have to be old, Mr. Backhoe fought a wildfire at 76), have a broken hip and be filled with regret that I hadn’t made a reasonable effort to avoid that outcome.
Even though we cannot control our outcomes, I have to believe, I do believe, that with the right inputs we will get the outcomes we want far more often than not. And where health is concerned, we all know it is important to exercise and watch what we eat even if we don’t necessarily know the best ways to exercise and eat. Knowing those are important things creates the opportunity for us to learn how to do those things effectively and efficiently.
This concept is directly applicable to all aspects of personal finance and investing. Paraphrasing Nassim Taleb, we all learn at an early age that we need to save money, not spend too much and not take on too much debt. As simple as those are to understand they may not be easy to implement but once you take control of those inputs then life becomes easier and you’re more likely to get the financial outputs you want.
We obviously have no control over the output of stock market returns. We can control the inputs of savings rate, building a diversified portfolio, spending time to learn how to avoid succumbing to emotion. We can also control the input of how much we spend for the most part.
We also have no control over expensive surprises coming along but we can mitigate the consequence for expensive surprises by living below our means and having a high savings rate. An expensive surprise could include losing your job at an age where replacing your income is a low probability. Controlling the inputs of saving and spending helps mitigate the consequence of job loss.
Just as no one wants to lose their independence because of an injury, no one wants to have their life turned completely inside out by an unexpected job loss at 50 or 60 years old. There are inputs, there are outputs, it is important to know the difference and focus on what you can control.