Written by Lisa Dreher, MS, RDN, LDN
Becoming a Better Investor

Becoming a Better Investor

When you see the word “investor,” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of money, a shareholder, or stockbroker. Yet it’s unlikely you thought of yourself, even though your health is the most important investment of all. Technically, an investor is someone who puts money toward a variety of assets that make up a balanced portfolio with the hopes these assets will gain in value over time. As I learned more about my own finances, I started to see a lot of overlap between financial investing and investing in my health. Here are a few things that finances can teach us about setting ourselves up for success long after the excitement of the New Year has passed!  

Keep your eye on long-term growth.

In the stock market, “secular growth” refers to growth over a long period of time that is not impacted by short-term ups and downs. But these ups and downs can make people lose sight of the secular growth. Similarly, we may have long-term health goals in mind, but life throws us plenty of unforeseen challenges that can get us off course. While our day-to-day life may not always change as dramatically as the stock market, sometimes the two aren’t far off. Many people respond to these changes with strong emotions, often fear. When the market drops, many people get scared and wind up selling their stocks so they don’t lose too much money. Yet when stocks drop in value, it’s often best to wait and sometimes invest more money. History tells us that the market will eventually turn around, and if you stick it out, your investment is likely to offer greater reward in the future. It’s a matter of being patient, prepared, and remembering the long-term goal. The same can be said for our health.

Let’s say you decide to follow a healthy diet with the long-term goals of weight loss and getting off blood pressure medication. Unfortunately, something happens that is equivalent to an unexpected market downturn, such as a relative getting sick, a coworker bringing in your favorite donuts, or getting into an argument with your partner. In these moments, you may feel like putting the diet aside or quitting all together. But remember, when things aren’t looking great, this is the time to take a deep breath, be patient, and, in some cases, invest more energy toward supporting the long-term goal.

Diversify for increased resiliency.

If there is one thing the volatility of the market teaches us, it’s that you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. If you only invest in stocks and the market crashes, even if you have many different stocks, you will probably lose a lot of money. To truly diversify your portfolio, consider looking into investments such as bonds, ETFs, real estate, and having cash in a high yield savings account to be more resilient in the face of an economic downturn. Similarly, if you put all of your energy into one area of your health, you will suffer. For example, you can eat the healthiest diet possible, but if you only get 3 hours of sleep at night, your body and mind won’t be able to repair optimally. You can go to the gym 6 or 7 days per week but feel isolated from your community, increasing your risk for depression and many diseases. So, take stock of your health in the following areas: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual. Each is important and none can be ignored for long before catching up with you!

Be realistic and self-aware.

Making behavior change is not easy or quick, but it’s worth it! And at the same time, it doesn’t have to be super complicated, as long as you take things one step at a time and become aware of your patterns. In the stock market, there is something known as “cycles” which are the long-term price patterns of the market. In a similar way, we all have our own cycles that reveal themselves over time as we try to make behavior changes. Maybe your cycle involves going into a new diet 100%, only to burn out after a couple of weeks. Or, perhaps you can stick with a plan for a while, but at the first sign of difficulty, you throw in the towel. Whatever your cycles may be, the most important thing is to become aware of them. Then you can brainstorm ways to work around them and improve your chances of success in the future.

Based on the above ideas, here are my suggestions for becoming a better health investor:

  1. Create your “secular growth” vision. Get clear about what you want your health to look like in the long-term and why! Why is this vision so meaningful to you? Picture yourself having achieved this already and feel it as if it were already your reality. This vision will be your guiding light amidst the inevitable challenges. Then, write it down and keep it where you can see it!
  2. Put a well-diversified plan together. Once you have a vision, you need a plan of action. What type of diet, exercise, and wellness plan will you follow? This should integrate all areas of your health such as nutrition, movement, stress management, sleep, and social connections. And don’t be afraid to ask for professional help to put this one together!
  3. Start SMART! It’s tempting to try and make huge changes in the beginning, but many people bite off more than they can chew. For this reason, I suggest you break up your plan into micro-SMART goals, meaning they should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. This strategy is typically used to identify big goals, but I believe this is very effective to use in the short-term. For example, if you want to lose 50 pounds and your plan is to follow a Paleo diet, exercise 6 days a week, sleep 7 to 8 hours a night, and join a meditation group, start small with something such as “I will stop eating all grains by 1 week from today.” If you don’t achieve it, start smaller. Once that goal has been attained, come up with the next SMART goal to keep you moving forward.
  4. Prepare for your behavior “cycles.” Identify your cycles or behavior patterns that are most likely to sabotage your success, then brainstorm ways to overcome them before they happen. This step is easier and more fun if you involve supportive people. They may provide wisdom as to what has helped them in similar situations. Stay open-minded to different ways of approaching the situation. They can also hold you accountable when put to the test. If we have the right people on our side, anything is possible.
  5. Reflect and reward. It’s important to periodically step back and reflect on the progress you’ve made, make sure your actions continue to align with your long-term vision, and reward your successes along the way. Did you cut out all sugar-sweetened beverages for a full week? Reward yourself with a warm Epsom salt bath while getting lost in a good book. There are no achievements too small to celebrate, because each one is a step closer to the life of your dreams! And lastly, remain flexible. As we know, things change and some things are out of our control. Give yourself permission to change with circumstances when it calls for it, and have fun along the way.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better investor in your health!

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