Written by Tom Stanley, Investment Adviser, January 2024
Summary (for those short on time):
- We can learn a lot from our parents and grandparents – spend time, ask questions.
- If you’re short on time (or good questions) Storyworth is a great present/investment.
- One question Storyworth prompted my father-in-law with was ‘how do you want to be remembered?’ – a question we should all ask ourselves before it is too late.
- James Clear (an expert on habit formation) shines a light on how to make new year’s resolutions stick, and how aligning your resolutions/habits with your identity (or vice versa) can help you create and maintain the positive change you want.
- 3x Best Self Journals up for grabs if you read to the end.
This month is a little less financial, and little more personal, I hope you enjoy – Replies welcome.
Over Christmas we buried my grandparents ashes.
It was two days before Christmas on a rainy, humid, Saturday morning. My wife and I were running late as we fought to bundle our daughters (Adelaide (1) and Ivy (2)) out of the house. We arrived at St James Church Cemetery to 30 or so aunties, uncles, and cousins, nieces and nephews all ready to say goodbye and pay their respects.
Val & Geoff Stanley were amazing grandparents, they made it to age 88 and 92 with Geoff passing away 2 years before Val. They loved each other till the end, and were always there for their children and grandchildren. They both loved sharing stories, so much so Geoff published a book on the Stanley family back in the 1990’s and helped compile Footprints on the Land – a Story of the Life and Times of John and Mary Stanley, Canterbury Pioneers via the Ship Randolph.
Val also documented her story, writing a 10-chapter autobiography which touches on her experiences growing up through the great depression, World War 2, and raising 5 children in Southland while learning to use a coal range – all perspective checking experiences for the modern millennial.
I didn’t realise how lucky I was to know of these stories and experiences until I shared them with my wife, Candice. Candice mentioned that she knew little of her grandparents’ lives, as she was too young to ask meaningful questions before they passed.
After we buried Val & Geoff’s ashes together at the family cemetery, we agreed that it would be great to help our parents document their stories and experiences for our children – after some googling we found Storyworth.
This isn’t intended to be a promotion for Storyworth, but it is a cool concept – You sign a person up, and the system sends them a question per week, for a year – The each email response to each question forms a chapter, and at the end of the year Storyworth send you a printed, hard cover book.
As a Christmas present, we bought Candice’s dad Julien a subscription to Storyworth and he mentioned one of the questions was a difficult one to answer – the question:
“What do you want to be remembered for?”
I won’t find out his answer for another year (when ‘The book of Julien’ is printed and sent), but the question my father-in-law was posed, made me think about a book I had read when living in Hong Kong during the middle of the pandemic – Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Atomic Habits is one book that has had a lasting impact on me. At its core, it talks to making ‘tiny changes’, that can create ‘remarkable results’, and is well worth a read.
The question, ‘what do you want to be remembered for?’ reminded me of Chapter 2, ‘How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)’. The Chapter talks to the concept of focusing on the identity you’d like to build, rather than goal setting.
Atomic Habits (James Clear, 2018)
In a recent pod cast James related this concept to setting New Year’s Resolutions (timely):
“Rather than focusing on the outcomes that you want this next year, focus on the identity that you’d like to build.
The goal is not to read 40 books this year, which might be a New Year’s resolution you set. The goal is to become a reader, to develop that identity. The goal is not to run a marathon this year, which might be the New Year’s resolution. The goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to lose 40 pounds. The goal is to become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.
The more that you organize your habits around an identity rather than an outcome, the more that you see the value in just sticking with it, even if it’s a small thing.”—James Clear, author, Atomic Habits
At the core of what James is saying is that your ‘identity’ (what you will be remembered for) emerges out of your habits – Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to be or become – tiny changes matter:
- Each time you write a page, you are a ‘writer’.
- Each time you practice the violin, you are a ‘musician’.
- Each time you start a workout, you are an ‘athlete’.
- Each time you save $10, you are ‘good with money’.
When I read Atomic Habits in 2020, I was working 10-to-12 hour days on the trading floor in Hong Kong. I had little social life as COVID restrictions were strictly imposed. Adding to the strain, my wife and I were stuck in different countries (NZ & HK) not seeing each other for months at a time as borders were closed.
The long work hours and limited human connection left me struggling to stay positive – I knew fitting in exercise daily would help with my mental state, but I could only get to the gym if I got up at 4:30am as I had to be suited, and on the trading floor for 6:30am.
The prompt to consider what I wanted my ‘identity’ to be, and in turn ‘what I wanted to be remembered for’, helped me get back on top – Where did I land?
After much deliberation, I landed on something that may be considered boring, and open ended, but it was me:
I am a thoughtful, caring, and disciplined husband, friend, brother and son.
(I have since added ‘father’)
I knew that I may not always live up to that identity, but it is what I have strove to be ever since, and it has helped me stick with various habits in the face of adversity.
The first test of this identity in COVID locked down Hong Kong, was getting up for the gym at 4:30am… I am not a morning person… I love a sleep in.
The first morning my 4:30am alarm went off, I snoozed it intending to go back to sleep, but a question burned in my mind:
“What would a disciplined person do?”
I almost answered the question out loud as I rose from bed – “a disciplined person would get out of bed, put his shoes on, and go to the gym”.
This was the first time I had encountered an immediate course correction not because I knew I had booked into a gym class, but because I had deliberately identified who I wanted to be. Opting for the sleep in may have been what I wanted, but it would be the action an ill-disciplined person, not a disciplined person.
I felt like if I didn’t get out of bed, I would be cheating myself.
This concept of aligning identity with action has helped in many situations since. As you would expect, I do drift away from this identity at times, sometimes a lot. Something I have found useful in correcting my course in real time is reflection.
Each week I reflect on what has gone well alongside what could have been better, and I find keeping a written log helps me identify moments where my actions have conflicted with the identity and habits I want to live and be known for.
Since this moment in Hong Kong I have kept my log in various formats, at the moment I am using a Best Self Journal as I find their structured format easy to follow.
Source: Best Self
Thank you as always for your time, I hope this note was thoughtful and of use.
The Amicus team and I are all very grateful to have you as a client and wish you all the best for a great 2024.
Remember we are here to help, we will be in touch, but please feel free to reach out any time.