You are either spiralling up or you are spiralling down

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You are probably familiar with the J curve of exponential growth by now.

You hopefully already know the story of Kate who turns £15,000 into just over £1 million…without saving another penny after the age of 25. True, inflation means that a million pounds isn’t worth as much as it used to be.  But still…not too shabby. You can check out the maths for yourself here.

The shape of the J curve reveals the importance of getting your compounding machine set up ASAP.  The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second best time in now. If you haven’t yet done this, it’s an emergency.

Let’s assume you’ve already started. You’ve had the lightbulb moment and realised that it’s time to get your financial act together.

You’ve realised that more stuff does not equal more happiness and “plugged the leaks” in your spending bucket. You’ve started to pay yourself first and send cash each month to your pension / ISA / general investment account where it buys you units of a Vanguard global index tracker fund or something like that.

Now what do you do?

The answer is that you get on you with the rest of your life. There’s a limit to the amount of time it’s healthy to spend on personal finance. There’s a limit to how many articles you should read about the safe withdrawal rate. There comes a point where it’s better to work on your career, your self-development and your health.

Compounding does not just operate in finance, it operates in other areas of your life as well and this allows your overall capabilities to grow exponentially.

In nature, everything is either growing or dying. Plants grow until they become food for animals. Forests grow until a forest fire clears the ground for new shoots. And it’s kind of the same thing in life. We are either growing (financially, emotionally, health-wise or spiritually) or we are going backwards and slowly dying.

This is why I think it’s important to have some sort of project / challenge / experiment on the go at any point in time. On this note, I’m currently three weeks into a one month break from alcohol. I see this as a cost free experiment that might teach me something about my health. There is no better investment than in your health.

What gets measured gets managed. So, to get some data, I took a home blood test before the start of the test (covering testosterone, DHEA, FSH/LSH, prolactin, estradiol, etc etc) and I plan to get another at the end so I can see if there is any hormonal impact from alcohol (I suspect there is).

We’ll see how it goes. I’ve done a month’s break from alcohol before and I think it’s good for someone with an addictive personality to have a reset once in a while. No doubt, the thrill will wear off but right now I’m loving getting great sleep, feeling full of energy and generally feeling like I am making progress in life.

To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone should quit alcohol. I’ve always liked Winston Churchill’s take: he reckoned he’d taken more from alcohol than it had taken from him. Whilst this felt true for me, I continued to drink alcohol.

I think that one reason I devote so much time to self development is that I had no choice. I’ve had more than one period in my life when I was spiralling down rather than up. For me, this whole financial independence thing started with survival and with me clinging on to sanity.

Becoming a workaholic was just one survival tactic that I adopted. Thanks to an addictive personality, I was well suited to binge working in corporate finance where you went from sprint to sprint in a series of transactions that provided variety, risk and challenge.

Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never been one of those people that could just plod along in the same job and same routine for years on end. Many people seem happy doing this. It takes all sorts.

When I’ve been in a rut for too long, it starts to feel like I’m going backwards. For me, I am either spiralling up or spiralling down. And I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

These days I take things much easier and this allows me to be super-relaxed. But, for me, the beauty of financial independence is not that you never work again.

The beauty of financial freedom is that you have the time and resources to work on spiralling up. You get time to fix your own problems (and help others). I am still fixing a few health issues that go back years…things like strength, flexibility and core stability that I ignored whilst I was a desk jockey.

I went to a Body Pump class at the gym yesterday morning (9.30am) and the class was taught by an older guy: a man who is pushing 60 years of age. From the neck up, he looked like a typical provincial solicitor, accountant or dentist of the age where many men look grey, worn out or even broken.

But, in his gym kit, you could see his shoulders and yuge bicepz…and it was quite the gun show. He was in astonishing shape for a man of his age. Not only that but I could tell from his skin and general aura that he was living a low stress lifestyle…that much was clear from his energy levels and relaxed banter. This is what spiralling upwards looks like later in life.

I talked to him after the class. We didn’t talk money…there was no need. I would bet however that he’s financially free.  I have a good radar for stuff like this. He’d had time to put his health first and had achieved astonishing results by putting in the work over the years.

The art of ageing well can be summarised as use it or lose it. We thrive on hormesis: the right amount of challenge. All of the magic happens outside your comfort zone. Unfortunately, mainstream culture encourages weakness and this is a trap.

You get the physique you deserve from your daily habits. Good luck (genetics) no doubt helps but you have to focus on what you can control. Fitness is like finance or any other domain: success comes mostly from just showing up and doing the work day after day. Cycling and walking are under-rated forms of exercise because they can easily be integrated into your daily routine.

Over time, the benefits of exercise and wellness compound. For me, this graph (from the must-read book Atomic Habits) helps explain some of these mysteries of the universe:

This helps explains some of the huge inequality in outcomes that we see between different people. Inequality in incomes. Inequality in net worth. Inequality in health. Inequality in happiness.

In the West, health and body composition are now the most honest status symbols: you can’t fake them, borrow them or buy them. And the differences between people compound over the years. The difference between the average person > 50 years old and those that do the work is insanely wide.

You are either spiralling up or you are spiralling down.

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  1. ladyaurora · · Reply

    So right health is everything
    Now I’m FI and not working all the hours God sends anymore. I ve more time to look after my health and I enjoy doing taking care of it. . I’m currently 56.
    Thankfully alcohol hasn’t featured much in my life but I have friends who in thier 50s are now suffering rhe effects from over consumption. One in particular has artibule fibrillation
    Whats the point in having all the money you ever want but not the health to enjoy it.
    I’ve time for more walking and to cook nutritious meals. I socialise more as I’m not shattered from work. And take as many holidays as I can.

  2. Great post. I’m still in the accumulation stage of FI but I’m deliberately slowing down a bit so I can make sure I’m taking care of myself along the way. My first FI goal will probably be to work part time, so I can shift the focus onto myself as soon as possible.

  3. Thanks Barney

    “When I’ve been in a rut for too long, it starts to feel like I’m going backwards. For me, I am either spiralling up or spiralling down. And I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.”

    …it is definitely not just you.

  4. GGT is one of the most important indicators for liver health and many other things. The normal range on the test results goes far too high. Aim for the lower half of the range.

  5. Great post, loved it a lot. Many things that you said hit true, esp the power of compounding not just with money but with other habits.

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