The other day I passed a big milestone, I lost a hundred pounds from my peak weight. I thought I would take a minute and write about it, because like so many other things in life, I believe there are investing lessons in this experience. In my opinion they are 1) develop a focused will to succeed, 2) seek out experts who you think can really help, 3) have a process that seeks to work for the long run, and 4) stay focused on your process regardless of short term fluctuations and delays in meeting your goals.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
The story of my weight loss begins, of course, with the initial weight gain. I suppose the reasons I gained weight, more than 100 pounds over a decade, are not unique to me. The bottom line is that I let my professional life dominate, as I made a lot of short-term bad choices that compromised my health in little ways that, over a long time, resulted in slow but persistent weight gain. Do that long enough and you may wake up as I did and not like what you see.
I was 48 and weighed over 300 pounds.
Me: Before and After Losing 100 Pounds
1. Develop a Focused Will to Succeed
I felt bad and looked bad. I slept poorly. I was always tired. My feet ached so badly that I was unable to walk the sugar-white sand beaches of Naples barefoot as I so loved to do. It was an unpleasant shock to realize just how deep a hole I had dug for myself. But I had hope for the future.
My old man had let himself go and turned his health around dramatically in his late 40s before he turned 50. If he could do it, I could too. I had two years to lose 100 pounds. That was my goal: to get healthy before I turned 50.
I suppose like anything else you make a new and powerful priority, I had to develop the focused will to change and achieve my goal. My future needed to look different from my past. I was ready to create a new life. That was the first and most important thing. But after that determination, where and how to begin?
2. Seek Out Experts Who You Think Can Help
The next step was to research my problem, how to correct it, and identify who were the experts that could help me. So, I threw myself into the study of diet, metabolism, and nutrition, anything that seemed to offer a path to a healthier life. I quickly discovered that nutrition was something I didn’t really understand but knew could help me. Accordingly, I researched until I identified a skilled doctor with a degree in bariatric medicine. She had practiced for years with a specialty in healthy weight loss and was familiar with the best way to proceed and the challenges I would face. I gladly paid a premium price for her premium service, because, after all, what is more important than your health?
The first battery of specialized blood tests we ran showed that this was probably my last chance to turn my health around. I was flirting with pre-diabetes and was probably already insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is bad because your metabolism literally fights your weight loss. Yikes! So, I accordingly upped my game and redoubled my own research, working closely with the professional experts who were guiding my efforts. The stakes were high.
3. Have a Process that Seeks to Work for the Long-Run
Their advice was a better diet – less starchy and sugary carbohydrates and more lean proteins and healthy fats. What a huge gap there was between the carb-heavy “food pyramid” and a truly healthy diet! As seems to be the same with investing, so much of conventional wisdom about food was wrong. But you had to get deep in the weeds to understand that. I would learn that much of conventional wisdom about weight loss was just plain wrong.
Through my own work I was able to add to the sound advice of my professional advisors and added a regimen of intermittent fasting (IF) to my new diet. IF is a process by which you constrict the hours during which you eat to a narrow time window, for instance eating only between noon and 6pm per day. Try that for a while! You will quickly see how it’s almost impossible to overeat when you consume all your daily calories in only a 6-hour window per day, going 18 hours without eating!
In my opinion, these two simple but powerful changes would drive 95% of my weight loss, under a doctor-overseen program of intelligent supplements and frequent blood tests. That’s the power of a simple strategy that works. I followed the above program diligently – including a daily morning weightlifting session with my oldest son. I ground away at this process, never wavering regardless of my short-term progress, or lack thereof. After all, what was the rush? This was a lifestyle change for the rest of my life, not a temporary interruption where I would go back to old habits.
4. Stay Focused on Your Process Regardless of Short-Term Fluctuations
At the beginning of 2018 this discipline began to pay off. On average I lost 5-8 pounds per month. But not every month. For seemingly no reason, my progress would stall for a month or six weeks when executing the same process but not yielding the same result. To combat that, I would change up my diet, paradoxically eating MORE to reinvigorate my metabolism and shock my body and be back on track to losing weight in days. This taught me that, while intelligent weight loss is mostly scientific, there is also an art to it best known to those experienced professionals who specialize in this field.
I concluded that the key is to have a disciplined and repeatable process and to not let short-term disappointment interrupt a long-term process that works. As I approached my first goal of losing 100 pounds, my doctor complimented me on my progress and discipline. I told her, “Of course I am disciplined, I am a value investor!”
“Through self-discipline comes freedom.” - Aristotle
Disciplined Investing can be a lot Like Disciplined Weight Loss
I think that both disciplined investing and weight loss begin with a determination that achieving the goal is imperative. I learned how critical it was for me to have experienced professionals who really knew their craft that I trusted to guide my enthusiasm. And, while I paid a premium price for a premium service, I believe it’s unquestionably some of the best money I have ever spent.
Furthermore, my faith in the experts who advised me was not based on blind trust but rather was earned. I was doing my own work and analyzing and questioning their thinking, supplementing it with my own suggestions. I asked a lot of questions. And I got a lot of answers. I liked the answers I got. That’s where my trust came from.
And these new practices and habits had to be repeated each day, to create a new and better way of living.
After a while, it was clear that my advisors really knew what they were doing. And when, we suffered temporary delays along the path to success, I had learned to trust the process and just patiently keep at it. I had said many times that I was not looking for a temporary “diet” but for a true lifestyle change for the rest of my life.
In my opinion disciplined value investing is a lot like disciplined weight loss. If you are truly committed to achieving your goals, in the market or in your weight loss, I believe the key is the multi-year application of an intelligent process. An intelligent process, in my view, is one with a simple and explainable framework that you can do every day, all day, for years. It’s not a sprint but a marathon.
Charlatans promising overnight miracles in weight loss with “7-minute abs,” a miracle diet pill, or a wonder-machine want you to believe it’s easy. It’s not. Nor should you, in my opinion, listen to such flaky groundless promises when it comes to investing. All investing involves risk. Thoughtfully navigating challenging markets should never be easy. I don’t think instant, risk-free profits exist. If investing were easy, everyone would do it well, wouldn’t they?
Based on my own experience, my advice to you - in your health and in your investing - is to ignore any slick promises for easy success. Maybe, the truth is both simpler and more old-fashioned. Perhaps the truth is that the disciplined application of scientific thought, never losing sight of the goal, performed daily – for the rest of your life, is the best way forward? My own experience has taught me that short-term setbacks do not invalidate long-term discipline. I know that now about dieting. I think the same is true for successful long-term investing.