Me, myself and Ikigai

From the stoics to the sentimentalists, most have one question in common: What is the meaning of it all?

Searching for purpose and meaning helps us come up with a reason for living. As Aristotle always said, our ability to reason is what makes us different to other animals. This sits at the core of Ikigai, the Japanese concept that speaks to our lives’ direction, purpose, and meaning. 

Quite literally, iki means “to live”, and gai means “reason”.

Ikigai = reason to live

It’s a beautifully simple idea that becomes increasingly complex as we investigate precisely what motivates us, guides our passions and helps us make a difference within our communities. In the Western systems of life, we often follow the expected path that is conditioned into us through our education. We don’t get to ask ourselves why, and more importantly, we don’t always have the structure to know how to deeply interrogate our lives to know what will lead to fulfilment.

Ikigai offers us this structure.

Ikigai is a systematic and cyclic way to explore the abstract concepts of satisfaction, delight, fullness, comfort, excitement and wealth.

The four entry questions we can ask ourselves are:

  1. What do I love doing?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What does my community need?
  4. What can I get paid for?

For many of us, we only really ask the fourth question even though our colleges, universities and trade schools try to answer the others. But sometimes, it’s not the answers we need, but the permission to ask the questions.

Yuval Harari said that questions we can’t answer are far better for us than answers we can’t question. All the wealth in the world cannot help provide delight, excitement and fulfilment if we aren’t able to ask ourselves what we love doing, what we’re good at and discover what our community needs.

This is where we can begin to define and differentiate our passion from our mission, our profession from our vocation and see how we can integrate them all for a purpose and reason to live. 

This integration enables us to dive deeper into our life and financial planning, giving us key pointers and motivations for our decision-making and helping us communicate with our loved ones. We can decide what is truly important to us and why!

They say that if we want to know what we truly value, we must look at where we spend our money. If this aligns with our Ikigai, then we know we’re creating a healthy structure for a meaningful life.

Discovery and discomfort

It’s nearly impossible to make it through an entire week without glancing at a blog, social media post or newsletter that reminds us about the pervasive and perpetual change in our lives. Hopefully, this blog won’t be one of those to add to the list. Instead, it will help us to identify the benefits of the challenges that we face.

Change can be sparked in so many ways, some of them are by our personal choice, and others are simply the way that life goes. When initiating change through personal choice, we can quickly feel like things should be getting better. We have chosen change that we believe will release us from unhealthy decisions and make our life easier.

But we immediately start to feel the discomfort.

Our journey of discovery, whilst exciting and new, is always accompanied by a level of discomfort. It can feel counter-intuitive. We’re making changes because of discomfort, and as we’re implementing and discovering the change, we’re exposed to further discomfort.

This feeling of discomfort is not bad.

When we’re tired and lacking energy, the discomfort can add to the overwhelming elements of life, but it’s not always a sign that we’re doing the wrong thing. As kids, learning new things is always hard. We accept that there will be a level of discomfort, from riding bikes and learning to write, to adjusting to social expectations and managing changing friendships. And through this, we learn and grow.

As adults, we should never stop embracing the discomfort of learning and growing.

Planning and preparing for change needs to include the anticipated discomfort that we will encounter to bolster our resolve to sustain the change that we want to see in our lives. When we sign up to study, we know that there will be the discomfort of writing tests and exams and presenting our ideas and research to panels of critics.

When we choose to be committed to a long-term relationship, there will be the discomfort of releasing our independence and learning to share our schedules, our hobbies, our interests, our money and our friends with someone else. The same is true of becoming a parent: we prepare for the sleepless nights, the sharing of our home and the increased financial responsibilities.

Any change that is worth the long-term benefit will have this wonderful journey of discovery and discomfort. Changing our spending behaviour, keeping to investment decisions during market volatility, and having better conversations with our family and our money all require personal journeys of discovery and discomfort. We mustn’t let the discomfort deter or distract us from continuing to learn and grow.

Five financial tripwires

If you’ve ever seen the mayhem from the middle of the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), you can be forgiven for thinking it’s a warzone! Whilst most stock exchanges around the world now trade electronically, having cleared out their trading floors, NYSE still hosts the traditional tussle of the floor traders’ open outcries.

But this is not the only place where money mayhem can cause a right kerfuffle. Every day, in all our lives, we face financial tripwires that are linked to our choices. Behavioural finance helps us identify and understand these hidden traps. Financial decisions around things like investments, payments, risk, and personal debt, are greatly influenced by our emotions, biases, and cognitive limitations.

There are five ways that our behaviours can hold back the growth of our wealth; call them blindspots or tripwires, they’re often hard to see, and we need to work on them.

Mental accounting

Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler introduced this idea in 1999. This concept refers to the different values we ascribe to money, based on subjective criteria, that often has detrimental results.

Herd behaviour

This tripwire is easier to understand, but it’s often hard to avoid due to peer pressure. Herd behaviour occurs when we choose to follow the crowd rather than make decisions based on our own analysis. When our friends, family or colleagues are making specific spending and investment choices, it’s not always easy to make a different decision.

Emotional gap

The emotional gap occurs when we allow extreme emotions or emotional strains (such as anxiety, anger, fear, or excitement) to guide our decision-making process. Often our emotions are a prominent reason why we do not make rational choices.

Anchoring

When we create a benchmark in our financial planning that is based on an arbitrary figure or traditional expectations (because it’s what our parents did) and make decisions around that benchmark, we’re anchoring. This is not necessarily negative, but if the benchmark is not realistic for our personal situation or holds us back from reaching our potential – it can be a tripwire for our financial future.

Self-attribution

Self-attribution refers to a tendency to make choices based on overconfidence in our knowledge or skill. Self-attribution usually stems from an intrinsic skill in a particular area. If we are naturally talented or highly skilled in certain areas of life, we can run the risk of thinking our ability to achieve in those areas will flow into other areas. This is seldom the case, which is why we thrive in a community and not in isolation.

Having a financial adviser is a sure way to identify these tripwires in your financial plan and help you navigate them safely to secure a healthier, happier financial future.

Bias and your bank balance

When it’s a question of money – everyone is of the same religion, or so said Voltaire. Like religion, there are many different perspectives on how it helps (or hinders) us. It’s probably one reason why people always say you should never talk about money, religion or politics at the dinner table. There are so many differing views!

It is not to say we should never discuss money; instead, it’s helpful to be selective about our timing and our company. Whilst we may all abide by the same transactional value and guidelines of currency, we will have very different cultural and emotional connections with money.

For this very reason, it’s a powerful conversation focus for relationship counselling, in the same way, that religion is. Our views on money impact every choice we make, including raising a family, spending and retirement.

But it’s not always the views we can see that influence our choices; it’s also the views that we can’t see. These are our biases. And they can profoundly affect our bank balance.

A modern, integrated religious thinker, Brian Mclaren, outlines a number of biases on his blog to understand just how complex our decision-making processes are and help us begin to ‘see what we can’t see’.

Most of us have experienced several, if not all of them, at some point in our lives. Here are a few of Mclaren’s biases.

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t notice.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful of my opinions, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know. In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are. As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence and consider themselves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Cash Bias: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, pardon us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.

It’s a hefty list, but if we can begin to identify and observe biases that keep us stuck in unproductive behaviours and patterns, we can ask ourselves: How can I start to let go of that?

This is a journey of progress, not perfection, made richer and more rewarding by the relationships we enjoy and share. By working on our own biases, we will not only improve our bank balances, but we will enhance our relationships and have considerably less cause for indigestion at dinner time!

The premium time to review your premiums

When it comes to financial planning, risk planning, estate planning and investing, many of us like to “set and forget”. Our lives are full of things to remember, for work, family and the communities in which we’re involved – often, the last thing we want to review is our financial portfolio.

As a result, it’s easy to forget why we have some of these financial products in the first place. The complexity of financial planning and investing (and the very reason why having a financial adviser helps) means that keeping tabs on changes and updates is nearly impossible for those who don’t work in the industry.

When it comes to short-term insurance, the different product providers are highly competitive and frequently update their rewards or affiliate partners and benefits. This means that comparing one premium with another is not as simple as comparing apples with apples. It also means that if you haven’t checked in on your short-term insurance recently, you could be overpaying, underpaying (and receiving less cover than you need) or simply be paying for a product that is no longer suitable for you.

Whichever situation you find yourself in of these three, it means that your financial portfolio is no longer optimised in your interest. It’s like going to a tailor in your thirties and having your clothes cut and fitted to your measurements, and then thinking those clothes will fit you perfectly for the next thirty years.

We all know that “a penny saved is a penny earned”, and this applies perfectly to the situation of paying insurance premiums that are either too high or not suited to your needs any more. Either – you will be able to save on premiums and invest more now or allocate those saved pennies elsewhere, or – you will be miss-insured and have to pay out more pennies in the event of a claim.

A sure way to reduce the strain on your financial plan is to check in on your short-term insurance at least once a year or whenever there has been a significant global event (like a pandemic or stock-market crash). At these times, changes are made to policies that could affect both the cost and the outcome of your cover. Reviewing them will either free up unnecessary expenses or lock in the benefits that you genuinely need.

Shopping around for better quotes, keeping your credit score in the positive and updating a list of your household items and assets are all good ways to keeping yourself in a stronger financial position. You can easily do this all yourself, but as mentioned above, the complexity of financial planning and related products means that having a financial adviser who can give you independent advice could save you in the long run.

Our oft-told money stories

Money isn’t real. It’s just an agreed-upon system of exchange.

Have you ever heard that? 

This is the realisation that many reach when feeling frustrated with tax systems, witnessing social injustice or experiencing the unfairness of life. While money and currency systems may not be real, they represent value and help us form and communicate meaning.

Money is interwoven with our stories of life and meaning.

“We tell ourselves a story about how we got that money, what it says about us, what we’re going to do with it and how other people judge us.” – Seth Godin

These stories are valuable and help us attach meaning, but they can also keep us stuck in an unhealthy relationship with our money. They reveal deeper beliefs that we have about money but don’t always say out loud. They are foundational to our choices and the way we perceive ourselves and others.

Some of these beliefs include thoughts like “I will be happier if I have more money”, “It’s not polite to talk about money with others”, and “Money corrupts people”.

A team of researchers from Kansas State University interviewed hundreds of people to find out what kinds of stories are common to most of us and compiled a list of four stories (they called them scripts) that help us identify our money mindset. According to a blog on careerattraction.com, they go a little like this:

  1. Avoidance

Individuals with an avoidance mindset assume a “head in the sand” approach to managing money — all things being equal, they’d rather not deal with it.

For the avoider, money stirs up feelings of fear, anxiety and disgust. They often don’t know what’s in their accounts and may not open their credit card statements when they come in the mail.

People with an avoidance mindset may think and say things like:

  • “I don’t deserve a lot of money when others have less than me.”
  • “If I’m rich, I’ll never know what people really want from me.”
  • “There is virtue in living with less money.”
  • “As long as I keep working hard, I won’t ever have to worry about money”

 

  1. Worship

The worship mindset is most commonly associated with the belief that “things would be better if one had more money.”

Has that thought ever crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone. According to the research, this is the single most common belief. People with a worship mindset tend to attribute current unhappiness or dissatisfaction with a lack of money and, accordingly, believe that a higher salary or financial windfall would solve their current problems.

People with a worship mindset may think and say things like:

  • “You can never have enough money.”
  • “Money is power.”
  • “Things would get better if I had more money.”

 

  1. Status

Those with a status mindset tend to believe self-worth is linked with net worth. In the context of our core needs, people with this mindset equate money with significance — they use it as a proxy for importance in society. Often, the status mindset manifests as a competitive stance to acquire goods and material possessions, often referred to as a “keeping up with the Joneses.”

People with a status mindset say and think things like:

  • “Look at that expensive car… he must be successful.”
  • “If someone asked, I would probably tell them that I earn more than I actually do.”
  • “Poor people are lazy.”

 

  1. Vigilance

Those with a vigilant mindset pay very close attention to how much money is coming in and how much money is going out each month. They likely wear labels such as “cheap,” “tight”, and “frugal” with pride.

Those with a vigilant mindset commonly live well below their means – struggling, at times, to get comfortable with spending money on themselves even when they can afford to. Lastly, the money-vigilant are often secretive about their personal finances and may distrust financial institutions.

People with a vigilant mindset say and think things like:

  • “It’s not polite to talk about money.”
  • “Money should be saved, not spent.”
  • “It is extravagant to spend money on myself.”

When we can identify the stories that we tell ourselves, we can choose to tell ourselves different stories that are more accommodating, generous, inclusive and kind – first to ourselves and then to those we care for and are in our extended communities.

Let’s start telling and sharing stories that are unifying, accepting and encouraging.

Win back your weekend

“Where did our weekend go?” Have you ever found yourself asking this question on a Sunday night or a few minutes after hitting snooze for the third time on a Monday morning?

If you do – you’re not alone! Studies show that many people struggle with Weekend Anxiety Syndrome (WAS) or the Sunday Scaries… there are a couple of reasons that can contribute to our stress and anxiety over weekends, and these are generally linked to two key areas: too much sleep and lack of activity.

Yes… that’s right – TOO MUCH sleep and TOO LITTLE activity. It sounds counterintuitive, but as you page through the google search results for WAS, you will find a bounty of research articles that encourage consistency of sleep patterns and positive, restorative activities.

As we slide into Friday, it’s easy to think about all the things we’d like to accomplish on the weekend or deliberately plan to do as little as possible. But as Sunday evening arrives, if we haven’t achieved Friday’s aspirations, we are left with a knot in our tummies and a pervasive sense of failure.

Dr Luke Martin, clinical psychologist and project manager at Beyondblue, says that WAS may be a side effect of modern life. “We’re so time poor, there’s a lot of pressure to get our weekends right,” he says. “On social media, everyone lives the perfect, busy life, so it’s easy to think there’s something wrong if your life doesn’t measure up. On Monday, when everyone’s comparing notes from the weekend, and you feel like yours doesn’t measure up, then your body doesn’t like that, which can cause anxiety.” (dailytelegraph.com.au)

It’s not like our weekends aren’t busy. We complete one task after another (cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking) and then poof, Monday is here! Chores expand to fill the available space, especially if we’re trying to catch a lie-in, an afternoon snooze or binge that series that everyone keeps telling us to watch.

Having read through a few blogs and articles, a few practical ideas can help us reduce our Sunday Scaries and win back our weekend.

  1. Create a weekend bucket list. Chat with those in your home and family and ask them what types of activities they’d like to do over the weekend. These could be hikes, neighbourhood walks, visits to the beach or a local nature reserve. Perhaps it’s to start learning a skill like painting or music, or maybe it’s focussed on things like gardening and crafting. Once you have this list of ideas, plan to achieve one or two every second weekend.
  2. Regulate your sleep patterns. This practice applies to both the weekend and weekdays too. Some research refers to our change in sleeping over the weekends as Social Jet Lag, likening the exhaustion that we feel on a Monday morning to a long-distance flight through several time zones. If we go to bed later and wake up later over the weekend, we will feel tired on a Monday.
  3. Stay off social media. Much of this has to do with the psychological impact of seeing what other people are busy doing. This feed of photos and emotionally engaging content makes us feel like we’re not doing as much as everyone else. It also saps precious time and energy that we could be engaging in those awesome ideas in our weekend bucket list.
  4. Plan ‘weekend’ activities for the week too. In every strategy to get more out of life, we find that balance is a crucial element. If we think that ‘fun stuff’ can only happen over the weekend, we will constantly struggle with WAS. Planning a midweek movie night, dinner with friends, an early evening walk can all fit into our weekly schedules and help us realise that we don’t have to live from Monday to Thursday, wishing it was Friday already.

We can have all the money in the world, but if our life is not fulfilling, our money will mean nothing. When it comes to financial planning, we have to include life planning so that we can make the most of what we have instead of falling into the trap of simply trying to ‘make more’.

Protecting your income for a better outcome

A few short decades ago, we lived in a world that seemed to have far more security and certainty. The rate of change was slower, and many assumed that if you stuck to the system, the system would look after you.

Social security, income security and good health were taken for granted in developed countries. The chance of losing one or all of the above didn’t feature too highly in financial plans. As you’re reading this, you are most likely already acutely aware that this is no longer the world in which we live.

From attacks on political structures that we assumed were unassailable to economic systems bending to the will and manipulation of the mega-wealthy or well-organised-online-communities – it’s harder and harder to protect our financial and life plans.

Planning for protection if you lose your income has simply become imperative.

There are financial products that can help with this, and there are financial planning strategies that can help with this.

When it comes to products, income protection is a popular option. These financial products are primarily designed to pay you a benefit if you cannot work for a while because of illness or injury. As needs evolve, the products evolve too, and some can be set up to provide an income due to retrenchment (not voluntary resignation).

When it comes to financial planning strategies, one can leverage or sell assets to cover a period of non-income or set up emergency funds that give you access to up to six months of income should you need it.

Unfortunately, many people take a head-in-sand approach when it comes to income protection, believing that they’ll never be inflicted with a disability, or assuming they can find a quick resolution if they are.

However, this doesn’t necessarily equate to positive thinking but rather naiveté. A more responsible approach would be to hope that disaster won’t strike while still having a back-up plan for when life has other ideas; because life will have other ideas.

If you’re going through an income crisis presently, then it’s hard to plan for the eventuality of another. You will now need professional financial advice more than ever to swim through the rough waters to solid ground. Only once you have regained an income, and are in an income-secure space, can you begin to protect your income for a better outcome.

If you are currently income-secure, make sure you have a strategy in place to build up resilience and protection for one of your greatest assets – your income!

Plan to fail

It doesn’t make sense, but we need to have a plan for when things go wrong. 

People love to say that Benjamin Franklin once said that if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. It’s not a bad quote, but as the world experiences some of the most significant disruptions in recent history, we know it’s only part of the picture.

This means: we need to plan to fail. Or rather, we need to consider the eventuality of things not going according to plan.

Grounded aeroplanes and harboured cruise liners, stopped conventions and elective medical procedures have left industry behemoths searching for bailouts and financial support. Once financially and emotionally secure, families are struggling to pay increasing bills, some facing retrenchment and unemployment. On top of all of this, we have stressed and strained relationships that no one could have planned for. 

Because we always hope our plans will work out. It’s not nice to think about our plans not working out. The more we learn about our behavioural psychology, the more we learn about planning and managing situations that send our emotions spiralling. 

Sunél Veldtman, founder and CEO of Foundation Family Wealth, recently wrote this:

“Although the four-decade career has been endangered for a while, it is now becoming extinct. The idea of choosing a career in your teens, studying towards that career, and then making progress towards the top of that career ladder, must be shelved.

We should anticipate that these events become the norm, not the exception. We should accept that retrenchments and continuous learning will become part of most careers. We should change the way we plan. There is too little ‘what if’ planning. Too many plans still span four decades of uninterrupted change. If we don’t change the way we plan and think about career trajectories, we are already planning to fail. We should encourage bigger savings pools for the ‘what ifs’ right from the start, discourage straight-line thinking in the midlife and reassure fresh starts after mid-life. We should learn how to contract our spending quickly, and carefully consider commitments with long-term implications like private school education or expensive debt. Change management, continuous learning and resilience are skills that will become as key to our financial wellbeing as it is for our physical and mental health.”

Underlying all of these thoughts, we need to help each other develop a deeper sense of self-worth. Before we lose our business, we need to ask: “Who would I be if I didn’t run this company?”. Before we lose our income, we need to ask: “Who would I be if I didn’t enjoy the bank balance that I currently have?”. 

If our identity is too closely linked to one aspect of our life, we will lose everything if we lose that one thing.

We need to explore what a balanced life truly looks like in our personal context so that we can say:

“I’m not my job, and I’m not my income. I’m not my partner, my kids or my business. I’m not my house, my car or my overseas holidays. I’m all of these things and so much more.”

We’re here to help you manage your financial health, but we know that it’s not separate from your physical, emotional, relational, spiritual and mental health. If you need to have a deeper conversation and plan for when things go pear-shaped, then let’s get in touch soon.

Offshore shouldn’t be off-putting

“… your money deserves to go places,” Ninety One (dual-listed on both the South African and London Stock Exchanges).

Many people who choose to stay in a country feel a sense of pride and patriotism for their local residence. Whether it’s a native birth-right or an adopted sense of nationalism, buying, supporting and investing local is an important priority. 

So much so that the thought of moving money offshore can be off-putting. 

But when it comes to sound investment strategy, an offshore investment will give you access to opportunities across different countries, industries, companies and currencies, exposing your portfolio to more possibilities while diversifying your risk. As Ninety One says on their website: you enjoy life in the country you love, whilst your money discovers a world of investment opportunity.

Those opportunities are dynamic and ever-changing. As markets rise and fall, currency depreciation becomes either a strategic liability to any investment portfolios that are heavily weighted in cash, or creates opportunities for portfolios exposed to the export market.

Currency depreciation is a fall in the value of a currency in a floating exchange rate system. Economic fundamentals, interest rate differentials, political instability, or risk aversion can cause currency depreciation. Orderly currency depreciation can increase a country’s export activity as its products and services become cheaper to buy. (Investopedia.com)

This phenomenon is not unique to any one country and can hit any economy at any time. This is why investing offshore may enhance your returns and reduce risk by diversifying your exposure to a single currency or country.

Whilst it can help to form a prudent part of your portfolio alongside local investments, remember that the level of exposure must be linked to your personal financial plan.

It’s not about saying that one economy is better than another; it’s about recognising that by investing in local property, a local business or the local stock market alone, you are highly vulnerable to local conditions.

Offshore investing can reduce the risk of capital loss by spreading your investments across markets and currencies. It will also minimise the impact of currency depreciation or political and market events on your portfolio. Local fiscal and monetary policies may deteriorate along with the likes of state-owned enterprises and other government-led initiatives.

That being said – there are three things to consider when evaluating the benefits of offshore investing: inflation, interest rates and costs.

For all three, we should have a conversation about your personal setup to see how they could affect your decision to explore offshore.

Typically, you can invest directly, or you can look at an asset swap. According to Investopedia, an asset swap is used to transform cash flow characteristics to hedge risks from one financial instrument with undesirable cash flow characteristics into another with favourable cash flow.

Before you make any decisions, make sure we have checked in on your decision and that it aligns with your personal financial plan.