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Stumble Your Way To Success
This week I weighed in under 200 lbs for the first time since Bill Clinton was President and my hair was jet black. I’ve lost more than 10% of my body weight -- but this isn’t a pat-myself-on-the-back column it’s just a story that may amuse you.
About 5 months ago I found myself at a very swanky wedding on Nantucket and as you can imagine it was replete with every conceivable delicacy you can imagine. The weekend was truly a movable feast of food, but on the last night of festivities, I found myself in front of a mound of crudites and big bowl of hummus. And just like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial I dipped the veggie into hummus and realized, “Hey! This is really good.”
Returning home, I decided to make veggies and hummus my main meal of the day. I live in New York, so of course, there was a hummus place two blocks up the street that made the freshest stuff, and I just started eating it every day. Now there is no doubt that I have a compulsive personality. I have ten exact same dark blue suits hanging in the closet. I have 15 black henley shirts in my drawer. I only buy GEOX slippers. You get the idea. Basically, I try to keep things simple. If I like something I’ll just do it over and over and over again. Eating veggies, hummus and a hard-boiled egg every single day is not for everyone but it’s easy for me.
Anyway, I am doing this for several months when I stumble across a TED talk about the brains of primates. Did you know that our brain is only 2% of our body mass yet consumes 25% of all our daily energy needs? Did you know that our closest relatives -- the chimpanzee and the bonobo monkey eat up to 8 hours a day in order to satiate themselves? So how come we don’t have to do that? Because we discovered fire and food that’s cooked packs a much greater caloric punch after it is transformed by heat. Raw food has to be masticated and digested and therefore our closest primate relatives spend almost all their time foraging and eating. Fire, on the other hand, turns out to be pretty much the foundation of civilization and what makes us different from all other animals on earth. So as I am chewing on a carrot watching this video I realize that basically, I am living like a bonobo monkey. I am essentially eating raw food all day so my caloric intake is not that dense, but because all those veggies have fiber I am not really hungry.
Every day I also go for a walk. I absolutely hate to run, but I read somewhere that walking is almost as good so I put on a podcast and stroll up and down the West End Avenue -- which once you get into the 100’s can be quite hilly. One day I wonder what it would be like to make that uphill walk with a backpack. I stuff a few books from the library (the textbook on corporate taxation makes a particularly good deadweight) and I trek along listening to whatever is new on Stitcher that day. I come back considerably more sweaty and exerted but feeling good. So I research this backpack thing and it turns out that this is the primary form of endurance training for all of US Armed forces (which are considered to be some of the best trained units in the world). The army calls it rucking and they do it with considerably more weight (up to 200 lbs) on your back as you hike 20 miles of trails -- but the idea is the same. It gets you in shape. Turns out that rucking will burn up three times more calories than plain walking, because as we all know -- gravity is a bitch.
So why do I tell you this story in a trading column? Because dieting and trading share very similar results -- 90% of people who try either activity fail. Indeed, the behavioral literature for both can be copied almost verbatim. So how did I become part of the 10% that succeed? I didn’t follow a “strategy”. I didn’t practice “discipline”. I didn’t “sacrifice” anything. I basically stumbled into success like almost all successful people do. The point is that there is no formula for succeeding that works for everyone. There are a million unique formulas that work for someone. You just need to know who you are and you need to be open to where the possibilities may lead.
I spend most of my time developing systems for traders, but almost no one in my group follows my rules. Indeed the most successful traders make my strategies their own -- and I in turn often borrow ideas from them. That is the true lesson of my weight loss journey. Success is simply a process of discovery which is a fancy way of saying, feel free to stumble all you want.