I am 14 months into working on my new book, The Intellectual Investor, which is far from being finished. I have written fifty thousand words but have yet to find answers I am looking for, and thus the journey continues. Working on this book has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Because of it I am:
11 months into not eating dessert (read my “I Don’t Eat Desserts” article here)
6 months into working out twice a week with a trainer
5 months into not eating carbs – no more bread, potatoes, or rice
5 days into doing meditation.
Working on the book accidentally stirred up this whirlwind of self-improvement. Giving up desserts ended up dramatically improving my cholesterol. A few months later I got a trainer. Before then I had never worked out continuously for more than a month. Six months into working out, I feel differently. It is difficult to describe that sensation, but growing muscles provides physical fulfillment I did not know I was missing.
Giving up desserts and working out didn’t result in weight loss, giving up carbs did. Over the last five months I have slowly but steadily lost 22 pounds (about 10% of my weight). A friend asked me if giving up desserts made me less happy or even unhappy. I found that it had zero impact on my happiness. None. Instead of desserts I eat frozen blueberries and cottage cheese.
Writing (almost) every morning gives a creative high that is similar to the sensation I have for a few hours after a workout, the feeling that my muscles are growing and stretching my skin, except that this is happening in my skull.
This brings me to my latest endeavor – meditation. I can sit and write for hours (I once wrote nonstop for eight hours on a flight to Europe and would have continued writing if my laptop battery hadn’t died), but my patience for sitting and doing nothing is that of a five-year-old. Every time I tried group meditation in the past I failed.
As I have gotten older I have started to explore existential questions and have become a fan of Sam Harris. In one of his talks he said, “Changing how you respond to the world is often as good as changing the world.” This phrase has stuck with me.
We really have little control over the outside world. We have some control over things and people in our personal corner of the world. I have tried to change my interactions without the outside world by carefully selecting who and what I allow inside. This extends not just to the people I surround myself with (friends, coworkers, clients) but also to aspects of the outside environment, which today mainly means politics. I try to spend as little time on politics as possible. I barely watch any news TV. I read selectively. I try to read more books and less Twitter and other social media. But filtering and blocking will only get you so far.
Something will always go wrong, somebody you love will say something that upsets you – that’s life. As much as you might like to, you cannot control the world; but you can control how you react to it. As Sam Harris puts it, “The quality of your mind determines the quality of your life… happiness and suffering are mental events.”
Meditation allows you to mindfully (intentionally) examine what you are doing with your own mind. “Every thought and feeling you ever had, good or bad, has a arisen and then passed away. The anger you felt yesterday or a year ago is not here anymore. And if it arises in the next moment based on your thinking about the past, it will once again pass away when you no longer thinking about it” (Sam Harris).
I am five days into this meditation journey, but with the help of Sam Harris’ meditation iPhone app, Waking Up (which I highly recommend), I was able to meditate for nine minutes yesterday (my previous record was four minutes).
Vitaliy Katsenelson, CFA
Student of Life, CEO
I wrote two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (Even in Polish!)
In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.” (They must have been impressed by the eloquence of the Polish translation.)
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