A few rules for life: trust no one

Topic: Never act (blindly) on recommendations. always do the math yourself, always make sure you understand the level of certainty of the premises and facts, the solidity of the logic, and the probability of the conclusion.

Discussion: A recommendation, be it regarding an investment or a life altering decision, should only be a starting point and inspiration for your own investigation; and preferably one of several such inputs

Rule of thumb: trust no one


As an investor and portfolio manager I received as many recommendations a day I had time to listen to. They proved “right” within a reasonable time horizon about half of the time, i.e., as recommendations per se they were useless. No matter, I still got tremendous value from my analyst meetings.

I never cared about the recommendations as such; I only listened to the facts that had been painstakingly collected and documented. If anything, I made it a point to pay extra attention to the points brought forward by analysts with a different conclusion than mine. I then constructed a bigger picture of all the various data sources I had access to, some conflicting, some supporting. Not least, I gauged what the weighted average of important analysts views were.

Owing to my particular vantage point as a billion dollar hedge fund manager with access to all the largest Wall Street firms, I thus had an informed view of both all the facts, and what all other players thought were the facts and what their recommendations were. Consequently, I could slightly more reliably than most other investors take outperforming positions. Despite my privileged and advantageous position, I still had to build my own models, draw my own conclusions from a wide array of data, and not least make assessments of the relevance and reliability of the information I received.


“Try pouring a ton of steel without rigid principles”


You wouldn’t put your hand through molten metal without understanding the principles, would you? Or pouring a ton of steel without all the facts. So, why would you invest your own or clients’ money without understanding the risks, the facts and the logic involved?

Investing is hard. Anybody who claims it’s not is either stupid or selling something. If it seems to good to be true, it is, so make sure you know what the relevant facts are, and how they interact causally for the required conclusion.


Please note that this principle is valid in all aspects of life and decision making — trust no one to make your decisions for you.

Everything happens for a reason in finance

Topic: There is no God

Summary: You are responsible for everything; you are your own god

Inspiration: Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Actually nothing does. Things just are. You, e.g., just are.

Conclusion:  in investing, you are the one throwing all the pitches at yourself. Any impossible financial curve ball coming your way was originated by you, no matter if it’s a Japanese Tsunami or a subprime meltdown. The core of the problem always lies with your own risk management.


Things affect other things, governed by mindless laws

Yes, things are connected, but not governed, not controlled or pre-ordained. I mean, if they were, by whom would that be, and more importantly why? What would be that force’s motivation and ultimate goal?

RANT BEGINS ON GOD’S LACK OF ACTIVITY

Who that is mighty enough to be worthy of the “God” title (presumably creator and governor of all matter and energy in all time and space, and everything outside the time and space we humans think we understand) would go through the trouble of spending time in the infinitesimally limited light cone that includes the fate of humans on little insignificant Earth on the outskirts of just one unremarkable galaxy out of hundreds of billions, if not trillions of galaxies in just the universe we humans can observe?

OK, if said being could circumvent the lightspeed limit, bend time and so on, maybe governing Earth might make sense. But then think about everything else to govern. Can a single “mind” do that, given the laws of the universe as we understand them? Sure, if nothing we have mapped out with the scientific method holds any water whatsoever… If we assume anything goes, then anything goes. But then again, what’s the matter of pure unscientific speculation about something we can’t measure, have never seen a single shred of evidence of, that apparently couldn’t care less about our existence, that for billions of years and billions of lightyears has been content with letting a few simple constants control everything without a single identifiable instance of interference?

RANT ENDS

OK, so nothing happens for a reason. However, you can take any situation and make the best of it, make it “yours” — as if it were meant for you.

For example, you didn’t miss the bus in order to meet that old friend. But you did miss the buss, and as a consequence you did meet that friend you otherwise wouldn’t have. It had a lot of other less tangible consequences too (all without governance or externally imposed purpose), but you get to choose which unexpected and “new” events to focus on — good or bad:

If you always focus on good outcomes and opportunities from chance; to you it’s as if everything has a purpose. In reality as we know it, however, and the one that God has never interfered with in any outside-the-system-way (laws of nature), you are the one deciding to experience purpose (and thus it’s you who create the purpose).

If you’re well prepared, skill-wise and psychologically, you can make use of unexpected and random events. But if you just think things are laid out for you with a plan in mind, you risk not making the most of them.


God – what’s the utility?

What is God? Here is one way to think about it that has been suggested to me:

Everything; as if humans were the neurons of a galactic-sized brain — we are God and God is us; just like our brain is us and we are our brains. Everything is everything, and that is God. In other words we are God, we are the decentralized hubs of the all-encompassing being that is God: We created all this from nothing, and our objective is to understand ourselves and become whole again.

Oh, baloney!

Sure, there was a big bang, everything came into being from nothing. All matter and energy stem from a single dimensionless point, where notions like space, time and matter aren’t even applicable. 14 billion years later humans appeared on Earth, and according to Einstein most of the Universe can’t reach or affect us and we can’t affect it. Even if everything has the same origin, almost nothing is causally connected anymore.

[Insert ad hoc reasoning about quantum entanglement, wormholes in space-time, the simulation hypothesis, and AI-sophons (3-body problem) here; to try to save the idea of a single, all powerful, God, that can and does take action with a purpose directed at humans who occupy one single planet of hundreds of billions in a galaxy that is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies — and that’s just in our visible universe. And then stop to see if you’re really adhering to the God you started out believing in (God is a data nerd? God is the Universe? God listens to our prayers through wormholes and entangled quantum particles?)]


Back to the one God – no equals, no parts

Let’s get back to some sort of external, system-outside God with a mind of its own, and the power to change the laws of nature.

What could such an idea be used for? Where is there room for such a super entity? In what form, energy or dimension can it exist; since our current day instruments can’t detect God?

Well, there is a huge amount of dark matter in the universe. Could that be considered “God”? It still sure doesn’t seem to do anything — not for billions of years, let alone the mere tens or hundreds of years humans would care about.

What criteria should we require for something to be considered the “God”?

  • That God started it all? That he started just this universe? Or does the God title require starting all the other universes too?
  • That God can and does work outside the laws of nature as we have mapped them?
  • Would it be enough if there were lightcone local, super powerful AIs or aliens, that don’t care to show themselves, since we are so far beneath them — either because we are boring, or they don’t want to scare us, confuse us, or disturb our evolutionary trajectory. My guess is they just wouldn’t care at all. Such beings would be busy trying to understand and control the fate of the universe.

It seems to me, the lightspeed speed limit, lightcones and all that, would make it very hard for any kind of within-laws entity to be interestingly and meaningfully powerful. Oh, and then there’s that thing again; that it at least hasn’t exercised such powers in any identifiable way for all of time.

If God is local, it’s not powerful enough to be the God, he’s just a community sheriff. If on the other hand God is all encompassing, he has no way of knowing or governing (not to mention reason to) — it would take tens of billions of years just to hear some prayers and at least as much additional time to do something about them.


What’s the meaning of all this?

I just want you to use the same type of reasoning, as I did above, in all aspects of life: relationships, work, investing, love. Is your view logically consistent? If you assume A, what does that say about B; are A and B compatible?

Try to see the whole picture; try to understand what can be known and what can’t; what matters and what doesn’t; and perhaps most important of all; what you can influence and what you can’t. If you ignore everything you can’t change and focus on the things you can, your daily life will become much more enjoyable.

When you see platitudes and clichés like “Everything happens for a reason” or “You only get challenges you can handle“, as if there were somebody orchestrating your life; call bullshit! Things just happen. And you just happened to be there.

The challenges you “get”, i.e., that happen to you, they can kill you too. They can damage you for life — irreparably. They aren’t tailor made in order to make you grow as a person.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t owe it to yourself to rise up as best you can to all events; or to grab opportunities that come your way by chance. Just know that no supernatural being threw them at you with a purpose in mind, or fine tuned them perfectly to something they knew for sure you could handle.

In life that is. In investing it can be a bit different.


Conclusions: Investing implictions of the No God Hypothesis

Come to think of it, in particularly in investing, you are the one throwing all the pitches at yourself. Any impossible financial curve ball coming your way was originated by you, no matter if it’s a Japanese Tsunami or a subprime meltdown. The core of the problem always lies with your own risk management.

You shouldn’t give yourself tougher challenges (when it comes to investments) than you can handle. In that respect, you actually never do get challenges you can’t handle (unless you are stupid enough to wade neck-deep into cow dung by your own volition).

No, wait for the right opportunity. Size correctly. Never go all in. Do the math and take all the responsibility yourself for your actions. Adapt and improve your strategy over time, using your hits and misses wisely. Try to understand and strike preemptively at your human biases. Create systems of habits and checklists to check your emotions, and prevent easy mistakes. And most of all, stop both blaming and praising supernatural beings for what is ultimately your own doing.


God is dead! Long live God!

Please note I don’t have anything against being spiritual, mindful, and searching for context or meaning.

Believing in some kind of personal or consequential God is ill-informed and illogical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be comforting to some.

God doesn’t hear your prayers, but you do.

In that respect you are your own God; by putting words to your thoughts, by making room for silent contemplation, for appreciation, for making plans, for preparing for future action; if done thoughtfully you are setting yourself up for reaching your goals. Football players praying to God to make them score and win against another team full of players doing the same are of course not really asking God to indulge their crass wishes. They are praying to themselves, reinforcing the idea that their training will be enough, visualizing the shot and goal. After the score they raise the index finger as if emphasizing “I am the one God, my prayer to myself was heard“.


You do the math

Just to be clear, the one single message of this post is that I am God you have to take full responsibility for your own actions, for your success, for your happiness, for your investment risk management.

In short: You. Do. The. Math (do the math, devise/revise your strategy, wait, implement it unemotionally, repeat)

Take a real break — not just a pause

The biggest risk is being invested at all times

When I was a hedge fund manager, we took two full breaks of a month each. We sold all our positions and just sat on the cash. During the hiatus we honed our pitches for our old and potantially new positions, as well as our arguments for why some of the other managers’ positions shouldn’t be let back in. Then we re-invested from scratch with fresh minds.

This process cost a few tens of a per cent per break in terms of spreads and commission, and possibly theoretically half a per cent in lost returns. Let’s say we left a full per cent of returns on the table per year due to the roundabout. However, I dare say we gained much more in perspective and fresh analysis.

Okay, I’ll come clean. We actually only discussed implenting hard breaks like outlined above, but never had the guts to do it. I still think we should have, but I think two things stopped us:

  1. convention – what would clients say, in particular if prices moved favorably for the portfolio we just sold
  2. fear – we were afraid we would either become lazy and just use the breaks for leisure, or that we would be afraid to put on our positions again, in particular the best ones if they had become more expensive

No matter, breaks are a part of the human condition. We aren’t designed for going full throttle all the time. There’s a reason we sleep.

However, “take a break” does not mean being passive, it means shaking things up, doing other things rather than nothing. At the gym, supersetting could be a break from old habits. Personally, travel is a way of taking a break from my ususal surroundings — just note that it probably shouldn’t mean lying on the beach or by the pool all week. See something new, talk to a stranger, try new food, read a book instead of computer screens.

Take stock

What’s your current situation? Perhaps you trade the stock market all day, go to the gym three times a week and hit the bar 1-2 times a week. Perhaps a good non-fiction book would be the perfect break for you, i.e.,  a slow, long focus activity as opposed to all the adrenaline you usually get.

I’ll tell you a trick that keeps surprising me: Take a walk.

No matter how you’re feeling or what you’re doing, if you just get outside and start walking round the block, you’ll suddenly feel much much better. I know this, and I practice it a lot (thankfully I have a dog, so I get out at least 3 times a day). Nevertheless, I’m often struck by how clear and relieved I feel after just 20 seconds outside.

Sometimes, I might be procrastinating over buying groceries, posting the mail, running an errand, or just going downtown to buy new underwear. Somehow I think it’s a hassle, until I just do it, and realize (again!) how everyting becomes brighter and easier as soon as my feet hit the sidewalk. It definitely beats watching TV in the sofa (even if that feels more tempting right before). Even vacuuming the apartment is refreshing once I muster the strength to just start the damn thing :D

Alright, walks are good, you get it. But the real message here is to take breaks, to go against your habits, to stop the homeostasis. The message is to take active breaks where you do something different, rather than taking a break to do nothing.

  • Do you read a lot? Then write!
  • Do you write a lot? The talk!
  • Do you run a lot? Then lift heavy things!
  • Do you have a lot of indoor sitting meetings? Then take walking meetings outside!

I’m a bit of a loner, so my breaks often entail meeting people. I can’t say it charges me, quite the opposite in the short term. But I appreciate my normal activities all the more, and I gain perspective from it.

When it comes to investing, these days I definitely take complete breaks from considering public companies’ financials. That way, I can start over completely fresh from psychological anchoring points. What I do during my breaks from stocks? I read books I didn’t think I would, and I try new podcasts or podcast episodes that I’m not sure I’ll like (my habit is to only listen to topics and people I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy and learn useful things from).

In particular regarding investing on the stock market, the most important rule there is is “never rush“. Investing is a game of several decades. In that perspective a month here or there is completely inconsequential, whereas the gained insight can prove invulauable.

When did you last take a constructive break? And from what to what?

Here is a tip: plan a strategic getaway, where you alone, or you and your life partner, or you and your business partner travel to a quiet location. Leave all electronics behind and spend, e.g., 2-6 full days planning your life from a several months to several years perspective. Try to take everything into account: personal development, financial goals, realtionships, health etc.

If that isn’t a REAL, ACTIVE BREAK, I don’t know what is. As a bonus, you’ll get to practice mindfulness, deep work, and loosen social media’s addictive grip on you.


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