Little things can add up over time to make clutter. But little actions can add up over time to simplify. It’s time for some mental tips, tricks, and life hacks to guide you on the path to life-changing magic!
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David Gardner: My favorite holiday gift idea for you that isn’t a game, but actually, it is kind of a game. How to make better use of the Kindle app; reframing virtue and vice; how do you get a room quiet fast … and the list goes on. These are not really investment lessons this week. These run deeper. They’re life lessons, but often they’re simple, humble. They’re hacks. Mental Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks, Volume 7, this week only on Rule Breaker Investing.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing, a delight to have you joining with me this week. We’re going to have some fun together. We’re going to make each other smarter. It’s the latest — No. 7 in our historical running series of Mental Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks. The series started with Vol. 1 on June 15, 2016. Now, back then, it was just Mental Tips and Tricks. But then I thought when I did episode 2, “Hey, it’s not just about mental tips and tricks. I mean, those are great, but what about life hacks?” We all need those two ways to do life better, more elegantly ways to make things that used to be kludgy effective. That’s how I think about life hacks anyway, and I also love Mental Tips and Tricks, while we’ve done it six times before.
The most recent was October 2021, and if you want to hear earlier episodes of this series, you can certainly always just Google “Rule Breaker Investing mental tips, tricks, and life hacks” and you’ll find all our previous episodes in this series, which might be worthwhile since there are no repeats. Every one of these episodes is chock-full of new original — well, at least to this show — mental tips, tricks, and life hacks. Now, are these earth-shattering, life-improving, unforgettable tips? Absolutely not. I mean, maybe, but no, these are hacks, a lot of life hacks. This series is designed to make life more elegant, fun, navigable. I’m coaching you here — like any good life coach might do — aiming most of all for your success. These are the things that I, and listeners who write in, have found that work — work for us. They can be quite small, though.
For instance, last year, I helped you solve the question of how to get little kids in the back seat of a car to stop asking, “Are we there yet?” Not just to stop doing it 90% of the time, though that, but also to work together, team up with each other, learn patience together. I invented a game for it. It’s the “Are We There Yet Game,” and that was mental tip trick or life hack No. 2 in Volume 6 last October. That’s how this series rolls. Well this week we have seven new ones, and I say without further ado, let’s get started.
Mental tip, trick, or life hack, No. 1. This one is a life hack. Often I’ve heard it said of people who are expert presenters or teach others to present expertly, they say stuff like “Lead with your strongest line, or lead your ace,” and that might be what I’m doing this particular week because maybe my favorite life hack of the past year, I wanted to make No. 1 and lead off with it.
Now, I am not an influencer. I mean, who doesn’t want to be an influencer? Would you not love to walk around and have people give you free stuff, and you just need to take a picture of yourself on social media with that thing and get paid $1,000, a million dollars? Wouldn’t you love to live that life? I think we all would. That’s not the life hack, though. I’m not sure what mental tip, trick, or life hack I can get you there to be a capital I influencer. I am not an influencer. So as I present a consumer product that I absolutely love, that I’m going to highly recommend you consider for holiday gifts this time, please know that no one is paying me to say this. HidrateSpark PRO wouldn’t know that they’re appearing this week on the Rule Breaker Investing podcast. Now some of you are already going to recognize what a HidrateSpark PRO is, and that would probably be listeners who already have one.
Most of the rest of us probably have never heard that phrase before, and it’s slightly unfortunate that they couldn’t. It looks like trademark hydrate with a Y — so this is one of those brand names that is intentionally misspelled, I guess to get our attention — hydrate with an I. The HidrateSpark PRO is a smart water bottle.
Now, a lot of us are told that we should drink more water, and I’ve often wondered how much water? And a friend will say, 6 to 8 cups a day, or bottles, or I’m not really sure. I do know that something like 75% of Americans are considered under-hydrated, and I’m pretty sure before 51 days ago, I was one of those Americans. I had no habit in particular of drinking regular water, tap water, spring water, water. We’re not counting tea and coffee, although you can if you like, water. I didn’t have any particular habit, and if you’d seen the previous 50 days of my water drinking, you’d see a lot of seltzer water, which is still pretty good for you. I know some people say it weakens your bones, but I’ve always loved the sparkle in seltzers and the different flavors. You would have seen some of that for me, but not a lot else.
Then I went to the Apple Store. My wife had to get her Apple Watch fixed, thought she might want to upgrade to the latest phone, and so I was there wandering around the store for about an hour and a half, and usually, there’s a shelf or two — if you have an Apple store near you, there’s going to be a display of some products that are not iPhones, iPads, or MacBooks. Nope, they’re going to be consumer products, and they’re often third-party products, and that’s where I first spotted the HidrateSpark PRO smart water bottle.
Now, I didn’t buy it at the Apple Store that day, but I did go back, research it some, read some about it, and bought one on Amazon a day or two after that. What’s going on with the HidrateSpark PRO water bottle? Well, it beautifully fuses the hardware of a modern-day attractive-looking water bottle — you can get it in different colors. You can get a steel version or a Triton plastic version. I favor the plastic version myself. But the key to all of these bottles is the bottom of the bottle is a bunch of microchips, I think, because what the bottom of the bottle is doing is constantly weighing how much water is left in your bottle. Which is another way of saying that in a 24-ounce bottle, you can sip 2.7 ounces of it, and within a few seconds, your bottle will relay that information to your iPhone and it will register as 2.7 ounces. The software/hardware combination of this product is outstanding. You’re going to type in your gender, height, and weight, your age, something like that. The bottle and the app are going to know roughly how much water you should drink. But then, throughout the day, based on your personal activity levels — was this a day that you ran, or was this a day that you did not run? — the software will adjust for how much water you should have. Is it a particularly humid day where you are? What’s the weather like? That, too, will help calculate how much water you should be drinking that day.
What I’ve learned is as a 56-year-old who is about 5’10”, 170 [pounds], I’ve learned that I should be drinking, typically, around 92 ounces of water a day. Some days it’s 103. Other days it’s 77. Now, anybody who’s listened to this podcast for a long time knows that I love to score things. The more scoring systems, the better, and this has added a gamification element to my health life. Yes, if you’re like me, we’re already counting our steps. We’re already seeing how fast we ran that first mile. I run with my phone in my hand and my Apple Watch on my wrist. I love scoring systems around my stock-picking. Of course, if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got your income statement, statement of cash flows. Pretty good scoring system for your business. I love it when things are scored. It never occurred to me that we could gamify water intake, and yet that’s exactly what the HidrateSpark PRO water bottle has done. I gave one to a few friends and family members. I invited them into my water community, and now we each see in the race to finish our 100% each day, where we are throughout the day.
There’s no real reward to drinking all the water you should before somebody else. But nevertheless, it’s awfully fun in a graphical description to see how friends and family are doing with their water each day. Yes, like a bunch of other Internet memes and tropes, there are streaks to this. Just like Wordle, you’re going to get rewarded for coming in and participating on a daily basis. You’re also going to be unlocking badges. You’re going to have a lot of fun drinking water and at the end of it, what really happens is you get healthier because you’re drinking water. Not all the other things that I was drinking before. I’m drinking a lot of water, and in closing up life hack No. 1 here, this app is also very conscious of the amount of single-use plastic bottles that are increasingly filling our oceans contributing to the microplastics problem, etc. You’re constantly being patted on the back — and I think for good reason — for not purchasing, repurchasing, and throwing away single-use plastic bottles. You’ve just got your bottle. You can name your bottle. I named my bottle.
I decided after doing this 50 days in a row, on my 50-day streak again, I bought this 51 days ago. You can see I’m a fanatic. I decided to name my bottle Samwise, because why wouldn’t I? Samwise was a wonderful companion. He brought joy and positivity, and he added value to the lives of those around him. That’s what I named my bottle. You should get one too, but you know what? You know what? At a $60 price point, and I would highly suggest the Bluetooth version of this bottle as opposed to the NFC near-field communications cheaper one, I highly suggest that Bluetooth connectivity with your iPhone for about $60. This is a pretty great thing for about four different reasons to put under the holiday tree of friends and family members, I think, this particular holiday season.
So there it is, life hack No. 1. You can hear my enthusiasm. I am loving the HidrateSpark PRO water bottle. I hope it sparks joy for you as well. A little bit of a theme this particular week. Let’s go on to mental tip, trick, and life hack No. 2.
Now, No. 2 is a trick. Of course, just coming off Halloween, it’s appropriate that we would have a few different tricks in this particular episode. I did note that for whatever reason, I tend to do about one of this series each year, and I tend to pick right around Halloween each year to do my Mental Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks. That was true last year.
No. 2 is a trick and this is about how to get a room quiet. I recently attended a large banquet. People are coming back out of their lockdowns. They’re going back to parties. Some still have masks on, that’s fine by me. I just want to see you. It’s great to bounce into fellow human beings again, that’s one of the stories, the comeback story of 2022. The stock market might be weak, but human connectivity is growing stronger and stronger. I realized there might be quiet quitting out there, and I realized a lot of us, me included, love working from our den a fair amount of the time, but I predict continued engagement around the workplace and social engagements as we enter the year 2023, and I applaud it, which leads me to how to get a room quiet.
Because at this particular gala banquet, about the first 20 minutes of the entire thing, picture hundreds and hundreds of people in a grand hotel ballroom. You know this, you’ve been to some of these galas and these corporate events. Picture too many people in a room, and the person at the microphone under the spotlight on this stage upfront, about every 30 seconds is saying, “Could we all please quiet down now? Could we please take our seats?” Boy, was that annoying as we hit minute 12 and minute 15. I thought, doesn’t this person know how to get a room quiet? Most school teachers do. This is where I learned this trick. I know I have a lot of teachers listening to me. You probably already know this one, but I’ve got two ways to do it. The more common way and then my favorite way. Let’s go with the more common way. That’s the “Can you hear me? Clap once.” Raise your hand if you already know this, I do see some hands up around the country and the world, but many of us may not know that if you just start saying if you can hear me, clap once. If you just start saying that, the people who are right around you will be surprised that you said that, and they’ll clap.
Or maybe they won’t be surprised because they know you’re trying to get the room quiet, so respectfully, because they hear you. “If you can hear me, clap once” — they’ll clap once. Then once about, let’s say, one-tenth or one-third of the room has heard you and clapped, most other people are going to be like, “Wait, what just happened? Why did everybody clap?” Then you say the next line, “If you can hear me, clap twice.” At that point, most, if not all of the room, will typically clap twice, and in approximately 10 to 20 seconds, you’ve just gotten a room of almost any size quiet and attentive. That is the clap once, clap twice trick that I’ve seen work many times. But even better than that because I personally find clapping annoying, especially when it’s a large area and tons of people and it’s already loud and now everyone’s clapping. I first watched this practice at the Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandra, Virginia. Back in the day, my kids went there and the teachers, for larger assemblies, had coached and taught everybody this, so it became the tradition everyone knew what was going to happen.
This doesn’t work if people don’t know it, so you need to get a group familiar with what’s going on. But it’s as simple as this. When you want to get an entire room quiet and they’re into the game and they know what’s coming, you simply hold up your hand to show you’re quiet. That’s what you do. If you’re quiet, you hold up your hand, and you will be shocked how quickly a large room goes quiet. When everybody realizes, oh, things are quieting, I, too, I’m going to quiet myself and raise my hand to show that I’m quiet.
There you go. No. 2, it’s a trick: Clap once, clap twice, or just hold up your hand to show you’re quiet. How to get a room of any size quiet, fast. I won’t name the host of the event I was referring to, but I sure wish they’d known this so we didn’t have to hear every 30 seconds for 12 minutes, “Could everybody please sit down now? Could everybody please be quiet and sit down so we can get started?”
On to No. 3. Mental tip, trick, or life hack. No. 3 — this is a mental tip. This is really a mindset. This is a framework, something that I didn’t grow up with, but have benefited from quite a bit in the years since I think I first encountered this at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In my case, but some of you probably read Aristotle in your high school year. Some people still study Greek, and may have read the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2 in the original Greek. I sure didn’t. But as an undergraduate, I started to realize there’s this other way of thinking about virtue that I hadn’t conceived of before, and this way of thinking has infiltrated and affected — in a good way — so many other systems and situations in my life.
I hope you enjoy this. Many of you will already know this, but many perhaps will not. Aristotle titled this section of his Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, “That virtues of character can be described as means.” That’s the English translation.
So I was raised in a virtue versus vice framework. Do you know this? It’s like you’re either generous, which is a virtue, or what’s the opposite of generous, greedy, which is a vice. You’re either courageous, which is a virtue, or its opposite, in which case you must be cowardly, and that would be a vice, and the list goes on. Seven deadly sins, they all have their opposites. Binary thinking, virtue versus vice. It took about 20 years of living that before I encountered Aristotle talking about his golden mean. Here it is for those unfamiliar. It’s that every virtue is actually a middle way that stands between too much of that virtue and too little of that virtue. Let’s just go back to courage for a sec.
Earlier I said, well, obviously, being courageous is the virtue and being cowardly is the vice. But can we not all think of situations where somebody was reckless? Where somebody was audacious, foolhardy, where they showed too much courage? I sure can. I bet you can too. Aristotle said, “For every virtue, it’s a golden mean.” Somewhere in the middle between too much of that virtue, which, going back to courage, would be foolhardy (small f) audacity, or, of course, too little of that virtue, which is indeed cowardice.
This goes on and on. Let’s think of something like enthusiasm. I think enthusiasm is a beautiful thing, but some people can be too enthusiastic sometimes. Love is blind. They lose perspective, they have too much enthusiasm, or they’re just too hyped up. It’s a little uncomfortable to be around somebody that enthusiastic — salespeople. On the other hand, how about no enthusiasm at all? How about “Whether you think you can,” Henry Ford said, “or whether you think you cannot, you’re right.” How about I think I cannot? I have no enthusiasm. So enthusiasm. Or take personal deportment. Some of us pay probably too much attention to how we look and take too long in the shower, too long getting ready for the day, and we look in the mirror too many times. I think of that as vanity, and I’ve probably been guilty of that at different points in my life. Some of us don’t pay nearly enough attention, and that looks sloppy or careless. Personal deportment is also a middle way, a golden mean between two opposite poles.
Or timeliness. I have some German friends I think are too timely. They deeply respect the clock, but you’re in deep trouble if you’re not on time. Or they’ll say “There’s no such thing as on time, you’re either early or late.” I would say that’s too much attention to timeliness. But of course, we can also think of other people who are never on time, constantly late. This was also me at different points in my life. Part of what I like about the Mental Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks is I get to re-coach myself and confess many of my own human failings. But yeah, timeliness is also a value that many of us try to uphold and do a good job with it. But almost anything else here, you can have too much of it or too little of it.
This affects our investing as well. Some people think that it’s important to have risk in your portfolio. They approach the market as if you’re supposed to be rolling the dice and loading up on this or that stock because something big is going to happen in the near term and you’re going to get rich. That sounds like too much risk.
But then on the other end, there are so many factors in this world that are constraining us from taking, I think, some healthy risks with our money. So much of money management and wealth management is often an avuncular person putting his or her arm around you, trying to comfort you, and saying “We’re well-diversified,” when really, what they’re saying is, “You’re so over-diversified you’re never actually going to make any money.” So that concept of the appropriate amount of risk, it’s different for all of us. All of us are in different life situations. We have different mindsets, mentalities, goals, different amounts of money, and what we’re trying to do with it. But trying to seek your own golden mean between two opposite poles works in so many situations for me in life. Yeah, mental tip, this one’s No. 3 this week, the Aristotelian mean.
Well, No. 4, we’re going to keep it in the trick area, Mental Tips, Tricks, and Life Hacks. No. 4 is a trick. I talked at the top of this week’s show about the Amazon Kindle app. Now the Kindle is also hardware, and in the same way that a HidrateSpark PRO water bottle is both hardware but integrated with software. Of course, that’s been true of the Kindle for a few decades now. I’m talking here about the app — the app on my phone. I tend to read most books these days on my phone in the Kindle app. Now I realize a lot of people still far prefer hardback or paperback — tangible books that you hold in your hands. And while I have a few of those, I’m one of those people, even though I’m older than the kids these days, I’ve really transferred much of my reading onto my Kindle app. One of the things I love about that — which is not this week’s trick — one of the things I love about that is that it’s easy for me to search through and find stuff in books when they’re electronic. It’s a lot harder unless I’m turning down pages. I tend to over-highlight my books, which is what we’re about to talk about.
It’s a lot harder even then still to find a particular line or passage. Some books have indices in the back, which are good. Other books might not, but any electronic book, you can right away search for a phrase or a word. You could search across your library. There’s a lot of powerful reasons I think, to read our books electronically, which again, not trying to convert anyone here. That’s just simply what I’ve done for a few decades. I noticed a long time ago that there are four different colors that you can highlight text in when you use the Kindle app. There is yellow, red, blue, and orange. That’s what leads me to No. 4 this week, the trick I’m about to share with you. This is a home-brew approach and I’m quite conscious anytime I put out something like a stock pick of mine or an idea of mine, that somebody can top this. Somebody can probably make this better or has a better approach. I’m just sharing — not as a best practice, but I’m sharing what I do and what’s been working well for me. I decided, even though I grew up highlighting books with maybe the classic yellow highlighter — I thought, “If this app lets me quickly and easily highlight in four different colors, why wouldn’t I make each of those colors a specific category or theme give it meaning?” I began over the course of time to diversify and get deeper and more complex with my highlighting, I’m pretty sure the first books I was buying on the Kindle 20 years ago, I was just highlighting in yellow, but for years now I’ve been highlighting in all four colors, and each has a meaning.
Here’s how they work for me. I use red for the critical points or passages in a book. Red means this is the author’s big point. I read mostly nonfiction. Of course, this can work for fiction too. If you could only take 10 or 20 lines or paragraphs or passages away from a book, which would they be? Those are going to be in red, whether it’s a sentence or a whole page. Red is noticeable, it always grabs attention. It’s my big color for the big passages in a book. Next, let’s go to blue. Blue I decided should be the first time a character enters into a story or a new term is defined — the first time you encounter something of significance, I highlight that in blue.
That way, I can quickly go back and see when was the first time this complex topic was broached or defined within this book, or what was the initial description of that character as she entered the novel in Chapter 17? Blue is for first-time arrivals. Two colors left: orange and yellow. Let’s go to orange next. Orange is fun fact or funny line. When you reflect back on a book and you’re talking about that book with a friend at the water cooler and you’re saying, “I learned something hilarious from this book. Did you know this?” It’s not going to be the main point, it’s going to be a fun fact or something that you’d want to take away. Maybe a quick story you could tell somebody about the topic of the book that you’ve just read. That’s orange. That leads me back to yellow for many of us, the default color that we’ve highlighted with, if we do indeed highlight books. I highly recommend it — I was influenced by teachers and some of my readings early that we should mark up our books, we should make our books our own.
So the physical books that I have, have lots of underlining and highlighting. That’s part of the reason I read slowly as well, but I retain better by doing this. Well, I’m doing the same thing electronically with these four different colors of highlighting. What does yellow mean? Well, yellow is just everything else. Yellow is the default color. Yellow is the catchall. If it’s not A, a critical point made in the book, which would be red; B, the first time we learned about an important term or character, which is blue; or C something that jumps off the page at you as worth remembering or talking about, fun fact — if it’s not one of those three things, but you still want to mark it, awesome. Use yellow. I probably use yellow more than the others. Yellow is just the standard highlighting.
This all comes together when I need to go back to a book, for example, Authors in August every August. I’ve already read the book if I’m going to have the author on, but I might’ve read the book a year ago or 17 years ago. It’s awfully helpful for me and my failing memory, to be able to go back to a book and immediately filter that book using the Kindle app for all of my red highlights for that book.
I can fairly quickly read down, scroll down a page and see all of the critical most important points in sections. Or if I’m looking to make my listeners smile or surprise the author, one of those orange highlights might well be really effective, so I can just filter. Again, you can always filter by color when you’re highlighting books in the Kindle app. I’ll filter for the orange ones. Anyway, there you go. No. 4. The trick is that the Kindle allows you to highlight in four different colors. Why not make it mean something?
On to mental tip, trick, or life hack No. 5. This one is a listener submission. Thank you, Mike McMann, ProShopGuy over in Fooldom. Really appreciate your submission, we’re definitely going to file this one under life hacks. No. 5.
David Mike writes, “In prior Rule Breaker Investing episodes, you’ve encouraged listeners to create a 150-word summary and a stock graph of their lives.” Yes, indeed I’ve done that, that’s one of my tropes. That’s one of the frameworks that I like to use. Whether it’s a two-Fools conversation or having Fool analysts on to tell their stories, I do enjoy the challenge of writing a 150-word summary of one’s own life.
Mike goes on though, “It is with that in mind that I offer my life hack: journaling diary entries. Peter Drucker reportedly said, ‘What gets measured, gets improved.’ By identifying a diverse set of personal growth areas,” Mike writes, “like career or craft, community, constitution, contemplation, and celebration.” All C words, Mike, are those your six Cs? “For example, you can measure your improvement through journaling. Bill Gates is credited with the saying, ‘People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.’ By keeping a journal of diary entries, you will have the ability to measure your personal growth over a span of years and decades.” Mike concludes, “While there will be ups and downs on [a] daily, monthly, yearly basis, it’s the long-term trend of up into the right, which is important to recognize with over 40 years journaling, personally, with my own diary entries, I’m grateful for this opportunity to visit my former self and reflect on my personal growth and portfolio,” signed Mike McMann.
Well, we’ve already talked earlier on this week’s podcast about scoring systems. That was the first thing, Mike, I thought about as I read your submission. I was thinking about, well, I just talked about HidrateSpark PRO water bottle or my Apple Health app. If you’re like me, and I think a lot of you probably are, you know exactly how many steps you’ve taken every day for years now, if you really care. But without me ever looking at those numbers, Mike, or without you and me writing down in our own language some of the things we’re trying and learning as we go, It’s very hard to know why what happened, happened. So I think it’s pretty cool that they’re streams of data around us these days that we can pay attention to if we want to. It would have been so painstaking in the past for me to count every ounce or every step. I don’t have to do that anymore.
But you’re pointing out that if we don’t document in some ways the story of why we’re doing what we’re doing and what we’re learning, then we’re really not going to learn very much. I especially appreciate you pointing to the long game of what you’re doing. I’ll use your six Cs again, I’m sure somebody would appreciate hearing that list again, Mike, but you were talking about: one’s career and craft, one’s community, one’s constitution, one’s contemplation, and celebration as well. All areas of our lives that we’d like to improve.
It does start, as Drucker said often, with measuring things. But as you’re pointing out, we need to reflect right alongside our measuring. Thank you for that reminder. Jim Mueller here at The Motley Fool — longtime analyst and advisor here at the Fool — has been on this podcast before, and on Motley Fool Live, has explained many times on Motley Fool podcasts and on our discussion boards, how important for Jim the process of journaling has been for his investment growth and success. It’s a great way to hold ourselves accountable.
What were we thinking three years ago when we bought that stock, for better or for worse? What were we thinking? Often, we head fake ourselves into thinking that we were thinking something different than what we were actually thinking. So there’s no substitute for documenting as you go and then yes, parking some time to go back and reflect and learn both from the numbers and from one’s own reflections and conclusions. Thank you, Mike McMann, that’s No. 5, mental, tip trick, and life hack — in this case, journaling, a great life hack.
All right, on to No. 6, mental tip, trick or life hack. This is a life hack, and on the one hand, I feel as if a lot of people will know this author and the book I’m about to talk about. And indeed, I’ve already mentioned this in a few contexts earlier this year, throughout the year. But as well-known as Marie Kondo might be by some and her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I suspect still the vast majority of the world is not familiar with her work or her mentality.
Let’s go deep here for just a couple of minutes on Marie Kondo and the concept of sparking joy. Now, a lot of us, even if we’ve never read Marie’s book, we might have heard it mentioned that, hey, here’s a great way to clean out your closet or simplify your life. Pick up the things that are cluttering up your life. Hold them, look at them for a second or so and say, “Does this thing spark joy for me?” And Marie famously has said, if it doesn’t, that’s probably a good indicator that you should get rid of it. Does this spark joy? While this definitely can help you tidy up a closet, I think it also can help you tidy up your life, and that’s where I’m headed here with mental, tip trick, or life hack No. 6 — a life hack. It’s really about the life-changing magic we’re going to talk about.
Now, 30 times in the history of this podcast, I’ve picked groups of five stocks at a time. I’ve called them five-stock samplers. I put them out there saying these are going to beat the market.
I sure hope so. Many probably won’t, but you know what — I said from the very start, I predict we beat the market in a world where people say you won’t beat the market, picking 30 different times groups of five stocks, 150 stock picks, and the experiment isn’t over, the numbers aren’t fully in, but I report back on them on a regular basis on this podcast. And longtime listeners will remember, Jan. 22, the year was 2020. This was just a couple of months before COVID would set in, send the stock market reeling, then skyrocketing, and then for so many Rule Breaker stocks, even to this day still reeling. But five stocks, I called that sampler 5 Stocks That Spark Joy. We won’t be updating the numbers for that sampler until, of course, Jan. 22-ish, 2023, when the three-year game will be over. But despite reporting on many five-stock samplers that have been disappointing throughout this year, I can tell you ahead of time with virtual certainty, that group of five stocks [is] a serious market beater. So even in a bear market, I’m excited to report back in January in a few months the performance, the final performance of 5 Stocks That Spark Joy.
But yeah, this works not just for your closets or for your life, but for your investing too. It’s the same mentality that has me saying over and over again: “Make your portfolio reflect your best vision for our future.” Your best vision, presumably something that sparks joy for you.
What are the things that you think are going to make the world better? There are many examples of this. I talked earlier about a consumer product I love that’s helping clean up the oceans and making me healthier at the time while binding me together with family and friends in a completely silly game to see who’s drinking water on a given day, and yes, that does spark joy. Yes, that is part of my best vision for our future. Unfortunately, HidrateSpark PRO, by the way, which was launched at a hackathon and then turned into a successful Kickstarter product, that company is private today. But sparking joy and thinning things down and simplifying our lives and picking up things that are around us and saying, “Does this really spark joy?” Does this idea I’ve had in my head for a year or 30 years — is that sparking joy? Or, as Shirzad Chamine has sometimes pointed out to us, are we telling ourselves the wrong thing, the wrong narrative in our heads? Not a positive but a negative version. Are we sabotaging ourselves with what’s in our heads? The opposite of sparking joy.
One of my favorite sections, I’m just going to read one paragraph of Marie’s book. It’s page 60 for those who might have it and yes, by the way, I have this one in hard copy, not the Kindle version. I think it was given to me a few years ago. But here’s what she says on page 60. It’s in a short section entitled, “What to do when you can’t throw something away.”
“When you can’t throw something away,” she writes, “when you come across something that’s hard to discard, consider carefully why you have that specific item in the first place. When did you get it, and what meaning did it have for you, then? Reassess the role it plays in your life. If for example you have some clothes that you bought but never wear, examine them one at a time,” she writes. “Where did you buy that particular outfit, and why? If you bought it because you thought it looked cool in the shop, it has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it. Then why did you never wear it? Was it because you realized that it didn’t suit you when you tried it on at home? If so, and if you no longer buy clothes of the same style or color, it has fulfilled another important function. It has taught you what doesn’t suit you. In fact,” she concludes, “that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, ‘Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,’ and let it go.”
Those words, and another section connected to it, were so helpful for me. How many times have I been given, how many times have we been given a gift, and it was a really nice thought? It didn’t suit us that well, we already had one, or it didn’t fit, or it’s just a tchotchke you’re going to put up on a shelf somewhere — but I’ve held onto it because I felt like I needed to honor the effort of the person who gave it to me. I wouldn’t want them coming to my bookshelf and not seeing the book, in my mind, that they’ve given — me that wouldn’t be a good look. And Marie’s words, I think, really free all of us right there to say, you’re not helping anybody by preserving or holding onto things that you’re not going to use. Your friend didn’t want to give you an albatross around your neck. Didn’t want to weigh you down on your shoulders with the gift. The profound insight Marie has is it is in the receiving for us that many of our gifts have fully fulfilled their function. You look the person in the eye, you say, “Thank you for this gift,” and then feel free a week later or three years later, simply to give it away or toss it. It was in the receiving that the gift had most of its value. I think that’s such a helpful thing for those of us trying to clean out our closets or clean out our minds.
I have way too many board games in the room in which I do this podcast each week. I used to do this podcast in Motley Fool HQ studios. I might do it back there again — the sound is certainly better. But ever since COVID hit, working from home, it’s been much more convenient, more often than not, to do it from my study where I have 870 board games. Yeah, 870, and I’ve even given away a couple of hundred board games. I have too many in my house, and so, emboldened by Marie’s book and very aware of the stark reality that my games don’t fit on my shelves anymore. They’re starting to proliferate in corners and not corners anymore. I’m having to step over them in some cases. There’s just too much here. A lot are in shrink wrap. I’ll never play them. Some of them were given as gifts to me. I just started randomizing letters. Last Saturday, I randomized the letter H, and so I looked at my spreadsheet — because if you’re going to have 870 board games, you should probably have them listed in a spreadsheet so you can keep up with them — and I found that there were 26 H’s.
Now, most of those H’s were in the H section of my shelves. I pulled every single one of them off the shelf. I held each one, looked at it, and said, “Do you spark joy? Am I likely to play you again? You might be a good game, but do I even have somebody that would play this game with me plausibly anytime soon?” And of 26 games that start with the letter H, I put 14 of them back on the shelf, and 12 of them will be given away, and that was just one letter. As I put those 14 H games back on my shelf, I now look at that little shelf in this larger room and it sparks joy for me, and that’s ultimately the most important reality that Marie conveys to us for our investing, for our businesses, and for our lives. She points out, it’s not just about simplifying — picking up things and saying, do they spark joy. I mean, yes, you should do that, and I just described how helpful it’s been for me. But it’s actually the “after” state of what your world looks like, what your context looks like after you’ve done that, because what you’re left with, what I trust one day I will be left with in this room in my house is, as I look around the room, or in your clothes closet, or in your head, whatever we’re talking about — if you’ve only held onto the things that spark joy and your shelves, uniformly do that for you, and your room, or your closet, or your house, or your yard. If you’ve only cultivated the things that give you joy, then you’re surrounded by a small piece of heaven. You look at something and you love that thing. So the future me looks forward to walking into this room and knowing that all that’s around me is pure awesome, and that I think is ultimately the life-changing magic of tidying up. And if you haven’t read the book — and I hadn’t — I highly recommend it.
I said I had seven for you this week and those were the first six. Let’s close it out with what I’ll call a trick, and I entitle this one, “Press Zero.” I was on the phone the other day with Verizon and yeah, it was exactly the experience that you’ve had and you’d expect I was having. I am not talking to a human. I’m talking to what I call a phone tree. I’m pressing 1 for this, 2 for this, and even when I hit that and it seems like I’m going to get to talk to somebody — nope. I’m just saying a word or phrase, and the AI I guess is going to listen to that and realize where I should be within the greater phone tree system, that I guess is necessary if you’re going to be a massive corporation with lots of inbound calls. I guess that’s how it has to be. Although I always wonder, couldn’t it have been better?
So I bet I’m not surprising anybody when I say you can really short-circuit that experience far more often than not by just hitting zero. And there’ll be press 1 for this, press 2 for this, they might even make it all the way to press 7 for this, and then the automated voice waits. But if you just hit zero, which wasn’t even a choice offered to you, it’s often the most effective of all the choices, because you get to talk to a human being who, even if they don’t speak your language that particularly well or don’t feel particularly versed in your highly technical question, whatever it is, is still far more preferable to a series of automated prompts, which admittedly in some cases, can be efficient and helpful.
But press zero. Let’s go to a different context. Hotels. I’m going to tell you the history of hotel phones. This is a made-up history. I won’t have any dates. This is just how I imagine history played out. In the beginning, there was a hotel. Fast-forward hundreds or thousands of years — eventually, hotels had phones. There would be a telephone in every hotel room. It felt like magic, I’m sure back in that day, and you’d pick up the phone and you would — back then they were rotary dial phones, not push button phones — you’d probably dial, I don’t know, 1, 2, 3, and you’d get to talk to the hotel switchboard operator. And then push-button phones showed up, and boy, wasn’t that convenient? And hotels often added additional buttons to the regular numerical set of 1 to zero. There wouldn’t just be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, zero, with random letters on the buttons (omitting some of the letters for whatever reason), nope. It wouldn’t just be that. There would all of a sudden be a button that said “concierge,” or a button that said “valet,” or a button that said “room service.”
And then once hotels figured that out — and I’m going to say was somewhere around the 1970s, let’s go with that — those buttons themselves began to proliferate. Yes, you could still dial a normal number outbound if you’re trying to call home. But you had 28 different buttons — to summon a butler, or maybe you want to see if the pools open or set yourself a spot appointment. There was a pool button, a spa button, a butler button.
And then the W Hotel chain rocked the world of hotel telephones. I was staying at a W Hotel somewhere in the 1990s, used to an increasingly complex set of phone buttons that itself took a long time to figure out if I was hitting the right button or not to talk to the person at the hotel that I wanted to get something from. And I looked down at my W Hotel phone and it had those buttons, but there was an additional button, and it started with W’s because it’s the W Hotel and they clearly know their branding, and it said, “Whatever, Whenever.” As I began to frequent W Hotels, my brother Tom and I might be giving you a speech or my family might stay somewhere. They were fun, sometimes posh, boutique-like hotels, the W Hotels — maybe you’ve stated in one. I found myself anytime I would ever stay at the hotel not looking at any of the other buttons on the phone, just hitting the “Whatever, Whenever” button. And that was essentially the promise of that button. That you could just simplify your life by ignoring the increasingly arcane telephone architecture of what to push and whom to reach, and you could instead just press this button every time, and what would happen? A human voice would pick up and say, “Hello, Mr. Gardner, how can I help you?” I would just say, “Hey, could you get my car up because I’m leaving now?” or “What time’s checkout?” or whatever it is.
And I all of a sudden realized — and maybe thunder clapped outside as I did — I all of a sudden realized that the W Hotel had done nothing more, really, than simply rebrand the zero button that all of us grew up pressing in a simpler world, where you could just hit that button and be directed if you needed to, to the restaurant for reservation or the valet or whatever your need was, you only ever needed to press zero. So in the same way that Dorothy was told after an epic engagement with fantastical creatures and a wicked witch, Dorothy was told all she ever had to do was just click her heels together three times to get back to Kansas. That was the feeling I had when I realized all we ever have to do, whether it’s on a Verizon phone tree or at your rando hotel or whoever you’re talking to on whatever phone tree system, all you ever really have to do is just press zero. And when you think about it, it’s kind of an approach to life.
So let’s close with this thought. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be providing the “press zero” to your customers that will so quickly separate you from your competitors, and make you the hero brand in your category or shop in your neighborhood, because you have a, “hey, customers, just press zero” mentality for how to run your business. We’re all time-starved. The world is increasingly complex. Entrepreneurs who create simplicity on a daily or transactional basis for their customers are going to win. We need to help our customers press zero in life. I will say the stock market hasn’t been very friendly to The Motley Fool business over the last couple of years. My portfolio, probably your portfolio too.
But I’m delighted that The Motley Fool is now in the process of simplifying its products and levels. A lot of you who are Fool members, if you haven’t already seen that, you’ll start to discover that. I think that’s the right move — simplifying working with us, buying from us. That’s what every business needs to be doing.
Now, for fellow travelers, that’s you and me, we’re getting away from entrepreneurs here. I think pressing zero as an approach to life reminds us to get things down to simple. It reminds me of our previous point, and the life-changing magic of tidying up, that’s a press zero approach to life. And in closing more broadly, sometimes, inevitably, we’re going to find ourselves in tough situations in life. And one of the things I’ve tried to learn from people wiser than me for years is how to extricate ourselves, sometimes, from the toxin or the muck, the situation we find ourselves in that we’re having a hard time getting out. And pressing zero, whatever that means in your context, is a powerful and important reminder to get away from the complexities and the muck and find simplicity — in some cases exits, or in some cases a new entrance. So there it is, and I’m calling it a trick. It sure does work with Verizon, it works for hotels, it works for entrepreneurs. I think it can work for you and me in life. Press zero.
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