Golden Girl Finance | The Financial Voice for Women
Launched in 2008, Golden Girl Finance is Canada’s media leader in financial content for women. We create original and unbiased financial content to educate and inspire Canadian women about investing, personal finance, retirement, philanthropy, and the psychology of money. Follow this site and get content on how to manage finances and money.
In today’s busy world with the competing pressures of work, family and social commitments, many of us complain about being stressed.
With all these stresses coming from so many different places, how much is too much? And, is some degree of stress good for us? We consulted with the experts – Dr. Mandy Wintink, director of the Centre for Applied Neuroscience in Toronto and Toronto therapist Sari Shaicovitch.
Let’s start with the science. What happens to our brain when we experience stress?
When we experience a jolt to the system or stressor, anything from a difficult conversation to almost being hit by a bus, our nervous system releases stress hormones. These stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, circulate through the blood system and eventually reach the brain. They get the body ready for action and make us more focussed. Difficulties arise when we have too much cortisol. Too much cortisol, or chronic exposure to the stress response system, can put you at risk for anxiety, depression, memory impairment, heart disease, weight gain and other health problems.
Does the adult brain continue to grow?
Neuroscientists are learning more and more about how much capacity our brain has to change. Well into our old age, our brain is adaptive. We can continue to learn new habits and strategies. Dr. Wintink explains, “It seems that there is no end to our ability to learn new things. Both the neuroscience and psychology are showing that. My opinion, based on what I know about neuroscience, is that we can continue to build resilience throughout our life.”
Is some degree of stress good for us?
On a basic level, our bodies need stress. The mind continues to grow and develop through our lives. It craves challenge and stimulation. “Adversity helps satisfy that craving and makes us less fragile and more resilient,” suggests Shaicovitch. She goes on to explain that we should think of our mind like our immune system. Early in life, children are exposed to germs and as a result, develop a stronger immune system. Similarly, when you have been exposed to stress and have had success dealing with challenges, you become better equipped to cope with future stresses and to view stress as more manageable.
According to Dr. Wintink, “The mind needs some level of stimulation and stress, but not too much.” She describes two types of stress, acute stress and and chronic stress. She explains that acute stress, which is good for us, is designed to mobilize us and get us out the way of danger. We become more vigilant, more aware and can make quick, often lifesaving, decisions. We also have an ability to shut it off pretty quickly. The problem arises when we end up in a chronic stress situation that is constantly taxing us, the system starts to shut down and gets damaged or worn out. Dr. Wintink compares chronic stress to never changing the brakes in your car. Eventually, you will not be able to stop quickly. The areas of the brain that are wearing down are those that are important for memory and mental health.
While we need challenges and stimulation to feel alive, Dr. Wintink thinks stress is generally bad for our system. She likens our brain to a cup. When we are too stressed, it is as if our cup is completely full and we cannot take on any new experiences or learn any new things. If we can keep our cup half full, then our brain is able to deal with new environments and challenges. To put our best foot forward, as we get older, Dr. Wintink suggests we try to keep our stress down so that our brain can be resilient and continue to learn.
If you haven’t watched the Netflix series “Dead to Me”, I recommend giving it a spin. It’s about the unlikely friendship between two women, one of whom killed the other’s husband (by mistake, but still). In a recent feature in The New York Times, Christina Applegate, the series’ co-star revealed the secret to her career longevity: “Mediocre success.”
Applegate’s comment came to mind as I read the latest blog post from Nick Maggiulli who writes about achieving the Goldilocks Zone of Personal Finance. He suggests that, if you want to enjoy better health, less stress and guilt—and, by definition—more fun, aim to be neither too poor, nor too wealthy. In other words, aim for the Goldilocks Zone.
Aiming for middling runs counter to how most of us function in our winner-take-all society. Who wants to be average? We want above-average results—in our investing outcomes, careers, relationships, children, even in airplanes and hotel rooms! We’re always jockeying to improve our position relative to others. And, despite a few pockets of low self-esteem, we generally think of ourselves as above-average in most areas of life. For example, a well-known study showed that most people consider themselves to be above-average drivers, even though that is statistically impossible!
But maybe we should think about reaching for more modest outcomes, especially when it comes to our finances?
In studies of animal behavior, being at the bottom— or at the top— of the pecking order is a recipe for distress. Monkeys, our close simian relatives, experience more stress (based on hormone levels) when they’re either at the bottom or the top of the hierarchy. At the bottom, they’re hassled by others but at the top they’re constantly posturing and fighting to protect their coveted position. By contrast, the monkeys in the middle, fare better than those at either extreme of the social ladder.
Doesn’t that remind you of human behavior?
As Maggiulli points out in his blog post, people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder suffer from constant stress. Every day is a fight for survival. The lack of reliable and sufficient income is as hazardous for their health as smoking, a lack of exercise or other lifestyle factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
But, guess what? The very wealthy suffer too. They worry about how to manage their money in the best way, including how not to lose it. They worry about relationships and whether people are trying to take financial advantage of them. Some of them feel tremendous guilt for having so much wealth when others have so little. And, they wonder how to be the best stewards of their fortunes, not only for their families but also for society.
By contrast, the Goldilocks Zone is the place where you have enough to live well without the burden of perpetual insecurity or “existential anxiety”. Now the big question is, how do you find your Goldilocks Zone?
This is a highly personal question and maybe it’s one that you can’t answer alone. (This is where hiring a financial planner can really pay off.) Because maybe you’re already in the Goldilocks Zone, or have even exceeded it, and you don’t yet know it. How would having that information change your life? Would you still aim for more, or would you finally exhale and fill your time with pursuits other than chasing money?
Charlie Munger, the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, someone who is not only smart but, more importantly, wise, has this to say on the subject:
“Much better to aim low…I did not intend to get rich. I wanted to be independent. I just overshot.”
“A disproportionate amount of money to share,” is how Mackenzie Bezos describes her financial situation of some $37 billion in a letter to The Giving Pledge. “My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care.”
Ms. Bezos joins some 200 other wealthy individuals in signing The Giving Pledge, a commitment to give away at least half of their money to charity. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan, Sara Blakely, and Richard and Joan Branson are just a few of the high-profile signatories to the Pledge founded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010.
While we should all have such 37 billion challenges in life, figuring out a thoughtful strategy for one’s charitable giving can be helpful at any level of income. Small donations can add up to big amounts and you might wish to be more targeted about where your donations go. Some people determine an annual giving amount, then divvy it up among causes that are personally meaningful. Some families choose one charity each year that becomes the recipient of their combined efforts in donating, fundraising and volunteering.
According to Stats Can, around 82% of Canadians make financial donations to charitable or non-profit organizations. Yet only around 20.5% of tax filers claim donations on their tax returns. Of those, the median donation was $300. With the country’s median income at $59K, that works out to about 0.5%.
Not everyone takes the tax break and many people prefer to keep their donations private or anonymous. Others direct their charity to the personal care of extended family members. While the tax data does not reflect the full extent of Canadians’ charity, it may also be true that a lot of donors miss out on tax benefits.
This tax credit calculator illustrates how eligible donations can reduce your taxable income. For example, on a $5K donation, someone earning $100K in Ontario would receive nearly $2K in tax credits. This “How Rich Am I?” calculator puts your wealth in global perspective and gives you an idea of how different levels of charitable giving could help others in the world.
A 10% rule of giving is a commonly used rule of thumb, arising from the Judeo-Christian tradition of tithing – making a financial sacrifice as a tribute to one’s faith. Tithing creates a consistent expectation of sharing one’s resources, regardless of circumstances, much like financial planners encourage consistent contribution to one’s future financial health through monthly savings plans.
If you are fortunate to be at a stage of life where you feel, as Gloria Steinem once said, “It is more rewarding to watch money change the world, than to watch it accumulate,” then you may be comfortable supplying a larger ratio of your income or assets to the not-for-profit sector.
Somewhere between the $20 to your nephew’s hockey team and the recent $200 million gift to McGill University from John and Marcy McCall McBain (also Giving Pledgers), lies an amount that feels generous, like a sacrifice, yet does not sacrifice your own financial well-being. This, perhaps, is your sweet spot of giving.
“Embarking on a financial plan is like sailing around the world. The voyage won’t always go to plan, and there’ll be rough seas. But the odds of reaching your destination increase greatly if you are prepared, flexible, patient, and well-advised.”
– Jim Parker, Australian Portfolio Manager
Financial markets are volatile: geopolitical trade wars, interest rate changes, and global financial events. When seas get rough, should investors jump ship?
Before doing anything, recognize that market volatility is a normal part of the journey along the path towards building your retirement savings. How can investors maintain discipline through market ups-and-downs, political and economic uncertainty, or whatever crise du jour appears to threaten our retirement goals?
Here’s one way we can do it, based on my experience of learning how to sail in the Vancouver’s coastal waters. It was a perfectly sunny day when my instructor took three students, including me, across the Georgia Strait. Everything was fine until we got way out on the water and a few clouds started to roll in. Suddenly, the water became very choppy and our sailboat tossed violently from side-to-side. Needless to say, the students were very uneasy.
As a novice sailor, I was scared and disoriented as we bobbed on the growing waves. Fortunately, our instructor remained calm – he had a plan for these kinds of situations. I’m writing this today because he took over navigation and led us to calmer waters.
Investing is a lot like sailing We all know that the voyage may not always go as planned, and there may be rough waters. If you’re prepared, the odds of reaching your destination safely go way up. In my book, Smart Risk, one of the “5 Ps” stands for Plan. Before embarking on an investment, you need to choose your goal and be confident that it’s achievable. The actual portfolio is the vessel to get you there. Always ask yourself, or your advisor, “How much “bad weather” can my plan withstand along the way?”
A successful sailing voyage needs a good navigator This is where a trusted advisor comes in. A skilled advisor—someone who is ever vigilant and makes the necessary adjustments—is key. When your personal circumstances or the investment horizon changes, you may need to replot your course.
Uncertainty The markets are as unpredictable as my little sailing adventure in Georgia Straight. A sudden squall can whip up waves of volatility, tides can shift, and strong currents can threaten to blow you off course. An experienced advisor can work with these and adjust and adapt.
Diversification Once the storm passes, you can pick up speed again. Think of a well-diversified portfolio as a sturdy vessel that acts as a ballast against tempestuous markets.
Avoid Distractions Distractions take both sailors and investors off course. It takes discipline to side-step hot investment trends that could veer you away from your plan. The business media with their scary news headlines are experts at creating distracting noise, tempting you to act on fear or news that’s probably already be priced into markets.
The Bottom Line A degree of uncertainty is inherent in the investment journey—as in everything else. Nevertheless, you can prepare for a range of possibilities while always keeping your final destination in mind. Trust yourself and your navigator to chart the course to your Work-Optional Life.
I was in Sweden two years ago researching what women wanted from their bank. I heard a lot about things like ‘more proactive service’ and ‘easier-to-read investment statements’ but I recall being struck by the input I received from one fifty-something management consultant and multi-board member:
“I would be interested in attending an event where I could meet female startups who are looking for money so that I could become an investor in their company. We know that female CEOs have a higher success rate and I would like to meet them! I would like to invest and be side-by-side taking on the business risk with them. The set-up of such an event could be quite easy. Invite female startups and invite wealthy female clients and let them meet.”
That idea seemed radical to me then, but today I’m happy to see that meet-ups like this are popping up all around the world. A great example is a special event I recently attended at the Penn Club in Manhattan sponsored by the AVG Women’s Fund. The broad topic was women investing in women…from the perspective of both the female founders and the female funders.
Just call me Angel
An angel investor is usually a high-net-worth individual who provides financial backing for small startups or entrepreneurs. From a 2017 US study, the average cheque is around US$25,000 per investment, the average angel has around 11 different investments, and about 30% of recent angels are women – three times higher than the 10% of VC decision-makers who are female!
What type of woman becomes an angel investor?
Alicia Syrett is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pantegrion Capital. Syrett hosted the panel discussion at the Penn Club and she told me about her journey from entrepreneur to angel investor:
“When I learned about angel investing, suddenly it all clicked! I would apply what I had learned as an entrepreneur myself to helping other entrepreneurs through funding and advice. I had faith that if I applied the same level of excellence with which I had always operated that I would be able to recreate myself and create a career that made sense for me. When I first got started, I threw myself into learning everything I could about angel investing by joining groups, attending events, reading, and investing. I took on a “give to get” mentality in that I tried to be helpful to entrepreneurs with whom I met, and in doing so, I learned from them too. The more I learned, the more I shared by speaking, writing for Inc., appearing on CNBC and MSNBC, teaching at Columbia University, and accepting Advisory Board and Board positions.
What is it like to be an Angel who invests in women?
From the Penn Club panel:
You are constantly raising and constantly investing – it is an ongoing process
You need to keep talking to women entrepreneurs
You usually take a Board seat on any company that you invest in
You host monthly events for early-stage founders
You are effectively a collector of great women
The Power of Collaboration
One of the company founders on the Penn Club panel was 30-something Polly Rodriguez. Rodriguez is the CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound—a “rebellious sexual wellness company” for women. Rodriguez went through a cancer diagnosis at 21 that resulted in early onset menopause and found herself shopping for sexual wellness products at a seedy shop next to the highway in St. Louis, Missouri. Ten years later, Rodriguez and her business partner started Unbound with the goal of taking these products mainstream through elevated design, body-safe materials, and accessible pricing. Today, the company has been hailed by The New York Times as the “ideological center of the tech-savvy, female-led women’s sexuality movement” with over 50 products created by a team of 10 women in New York City.
In 2015 Rodriguez started a community called “Women of Sex Tech” because “I was lonely” – she felt she was all alone against the patriarchy. She and another woman decided to create a community with other female founders who were facing similar challenges. What started as a small group quickly grew into a movement. Today that community has 225 female founders! In Rodriguez’s words “High tides raise all ships.”
In 2019, women founders and women funders are coming together in the investing ecosystem to support each other, build new businesses, share what they learn…and make money!
Is it aiming high and always keeping our eyes on the prize?
Is it giving 110 per cent, as athletes like to say?
Or, is it as simple as avoiding stupidity?
Charlie Munger, vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, would vote for the number three: avoiding stupidity. So would Larry Sarbit, one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Ben Graham Centre’s Value Investing Conference.
Larry Sarbit, is CEO, CIO of Winnipeg-based Sarbit Advisory Services and a Canadian investing legend. At the conference, he spoke about the many ways to ruin investment returns. Investing while stoned and buying unprofitable “high-flyers” are self-explanatory. Below are five other mistakes investors make:
Be impatient: Profits Now!
Other than inheriting wealth or winning the lottery, the biggest “secret” to amassing wealth is very simple but hard for many people to follow: give it time. Impatience is the enemy of investment returns because it leads us to make hasty decisions based on greed without weighing the risks. Just as debts compound to our detriment, profits compound to our benefit. But to experience the awesome power of compounding takes time, years, even decades. The sooner we start saving and investing, even small amounts, the sooner our money has a chance to grow.
Buy the returns— Don’t get the returns
Most of us love a bargain. (That handbag didn’t look so great at full price but now at 50 per cent off, isn’t it just darling?) Curiously, the one area in life where we go out of our way to overpay is in investing. When a stock or index is out of favour, it’s like the wallflower at the school dance, no one approaches. But, as soon as its price is on the uptrend and its name on everyone’s lips, we’ve got to have it for fear of missing out. It’s kind of obvious that the more you pay for something, the lower your chances are of making a good profit.
Throw the Dice and Pick the Winner!
What’s the difference between investing and gambling? Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to tell. Investment jargon is rife with colourful jargon that wouldn’t be out of place at the racetrack, casino or even a bordello—yes, unfortunately, it’s ‘good ole boy talk’. But just file all that under “noise” and avoid the distractions offered up by the investment media. Rarely has anyone lost money by investing in profitable companies with good cash flow, sustainable businesses, and good governance—whether they’re “hot” or not.
Cash is Trash
Whenever you hear ‘cash is trash’ recall this other adage: Follow the money. Holding cash is often disparaged in the investment world. Why wouldn’t it be? Professional investors only make money when they’re trading—buying and selling. Historically, cash underperforms both stocks and bonds but sometimes it outperforms them both with 2018 being one of those times. Far from being “dead money”, cash gives investors optionality. It can be deployed when bargains arise or the markets swoon. It’s your rainy day friend.
Join the crowd, stampede!
Humans are herd creatures. We like to think we’re “above average” in most attributes but we hew pretty tight to conventional thinking and behavior patterns. So, it’s no wonder that, when it comes to investing, we crave to be ahead of the pack (and potentially reap the rewards that come with it) but, in reality, we cling to the crowd because it’s reassuring. It takes a peculiar temperament to think and act different. Piling in with the masses leads to crowded trades, when certain popular assets are bid up over their intrinsic value due to high demand. There’s nothing wrong with joining the party, just don’t expect to make a profit doing so.
Entrepreneurs are celebrated for their passion, drive and ability to pivot when necessary—the sky’s the limit.
But while these self-starting qualities are essential in the gig economy, is it possible for anyone to harness these same traits to achieve success?
As Ottawa-area success coach Heather Petherick says, entrepreneurs often challenge leadership and authority, find their own answers and create unique processes for success, which can be very different from how many people are expected to act in the workplace.
But the good news, say executive coaches, is that entrepreneurial or self-starter mindsets and behaviours can be adopted by everyone—as they are about taking responsibility for your own success.
Here’s how channeling your inner entrepreneur can help drive your career and financial growth:
Branch out: According to Toronto-based executive coach Merrill Pierce, even within an organization, it’s a good idea to be self-driven. This starts with a clear understanding of your strengths in order to ensure you’re using them in your role and building on the skills that you aren’t as good at.
Then, she says, take the opportunity to go out on a limb, take initiative within your role, increase your visibility and boost collaboration.
“Rather than staying stuck in just the role that you were hired to do, branch out, give yourself permission to try on different hats,” Pierce says.
“The growth that I’ve seen within companies where people have had the opportunity to do that and have embraced that kind of behaviour, [they] have actually become so much more successful and then ultimately that leads to more financial success,” she adds.
Be nimble: Another hallmark of the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to be flexible and shift when necessary.
Those in new roles, says Pierce, should set realistic, measurable and attainable goals—ideally in 90-day increments rather than looking five years ahead, as circumstances can change.
“Being able to look at short-term accomplishments and long-term change is a strength,” says Pierce.
A quick win or short-term accomplishment, she says, “changes their outlook and then it affords them the opportunity to propel to try something again.”
Similarly, Pierce says, it’s vital for those in corporate roles to constantly look for opportunities to learn and to never be satisfied with the status quo.
“Never stop and don’t become complacent. That’s what ultimately leads to people being ‘packaged out’ these days.”
Take responsibility: As Petherick says, those who are more entrepreneurial in nature often have a sense of responsibility for both good and bad results.
“Their thinking typically follows the path of ‘How can I…’ ‘How can I figure this out? How can I get more opportunities? How can I get that promotion? How can I get more experience? And even if they don’t have the answer today, the thinking is that they’re always on alert, it’s like they tune their brain like a radio, tune their radar to possibility, opportunity, connections and resources.”
Switching to this way of seeing things away from ‘what if’ thinking can help a person become a more independent agent in the workplace, she says.
Brand yourself: We all have favourite corporate brands – everything from technology to food or clothing. But Pierce and Petherick both say that creating and embodying a personal brand is also a crucial step for the self-employed and for employees. Essentially, this involves clearly communicating who you are, your unique selling proposition and characteristics, and your integrity and vision.
“When you treat yourself as a personal brand, you get very clear on what your core values are and what your ‘brand ambassador’ traits are. What makes you unique and stand out from colleagues who may have similar experience or training,” says Petherick.
“The more we see ourselves as a personal brand and embody that and give ourselves permission to bring our personality, bring our full selves into what we are doing, we’re going to get a lot more visibility and we’re going to get a lot more support for what we do,” she adds.
Ultimately, she says, it’s by continuing to develop skills, gain new experience and embody a personal brand that anyone can create their own income security—whether as a part of the gig economy or within the corporate world.
Once upon a time, a trade war destroyed the market. Or it was the biggest buying opportunity since 2008?
Apple can’t innovate. Or is it poised to become a healthcare giant?
Semiconductors are dead. Or merely sleeping?
Cannabis is the future. Or overhyped?
Bitcoin is the new gold. Or a scam?
This is a dip in the bull market. This is a bounce in the bear market.
We are in an age when everyone from your kid, to CEOs of public companies, to the President of the United States uses Twitter to promote their agendas. Fake news, social media accounts and single tweets have the ability to make a stock, or the whole S&P 500, sway like your granny after too many fingers of Drambuie.
Then there are the narratives we tell ourselves (“I had to cut my losses”) and narratives we really want to believe (“this time it’s different”). As hard as we might try to be objective, investment decisions are deeply rooted in what happens in our own heads.
In the face of the market-moving, emotion-inducing, daily drama, how do we (forgive me for saying this) stay calm and carry on?
The stock market, like the sun, always rises. As Peter Burke, CEO of Global Century Investments, advised in “Straight Talk on the Stock Market” (Saturday Night Live, 2009): “ The market goes up, the market goes down. But, over the long haul, the market goes up.” He might have been a fictional character in a satirical TV skit, but he is not wrong… The average annual return for the S&P 500 since it began in 1926 through 2018 is approximately 10% (Investopedia). This chart provides a visual of its upwardly rising trajectory over the past 58 years.
Except when it doesn’t. For most of us, an investment is money you will need to use one day. It’s essential to ensure your risk is appropriate to your time horizon. “Stocks lost around 85% of their value during the Great Depression,” reminds Ben Carlson, director of Institutional Asset Management at Ritholtz Wealth management in New York. “During the 1973-74 bear market, investors in stocks lost well over half their money after accounting for inflation. The 1987 Black Monday crash saw stocks fall more than 20% in a single day and more than 30% in less than a week.” When crashes happen, they hurt. Over a long horizon, these events are but blips in the chart noted above.
Like true love, the course of profits never runs smooth. In 2017, the S&P 500’s total return was 21.83%. In 2018, it was minus 4.38%. The point at which you enter the market can make a big difference, but over time, staying invested and adding to positions at regular intervals can smooth big waves into relative ripples.
Cash won’t grow on its own. “There are few sure things in investing … that betas rise over time relative to cash is one of them,” says Ray Dalio, real world billionaire and founder of the biggest hedge fund in the world. (Betas refer to the market returns of major asset classes such as stocks, bonds and real estate.)
And yet, cash is a valid position. During volatile times, trade wars and tweet storms, it can be wise to take profits in positions where you’ve met your goals and keeping some cash on the sidelines. There is nothing wrong and possibly everything right about waiting for an opportunity when the market settles into a more consistent direction. After all, sleeping well is also correlated to better decision making. Or so we’ve been told.
According to Comscore, in 2017 the average Canadian spent 3,927 minutes per year on mobile, with social activities accounting for a quarter of it. Increasingly, we’re using our phones for our social lives, our food consumption, and how to get around town. In a 2018 survey by PayPal Canada, nearly 66 per cent of Canadians use apps like UberEats and Foodora for food and meal delivery. Sixty-nine per cent rely on apps for taxi or rideshare services, like Uber or Lyft. And, nearly half of Canadians (49 per cent) use parking apps like Green P or EasyPark.
This handy technology is certainly a boon but now we’re becoming more aware that it’s also a bust. In a recent interview on CBC’s The Current, Dr. Ruth Westheimer had this to say:
“What I do see is that we can’t fight the Internet and we can’t fight the phones and the iPhones, but we have to tell people put that iPhone aside, make sure that you talk to each other because it has an impact on your relationship.”
Even tech-friendly A-listers like Steven Spielberg are cautioning people on how technology interferes rather than enhances our natural creativity:
“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
Maybe it’s time we take our habitual use of smartphones in hand and set some healthy boundaries. After the initial withdrawal period, we might even notice that we calmer and have more space in our day to enjoy being alive.
Four Ways to Tame the Smartphone Monster
Make the Bedroom a Smartphone-Free Zone
Keeping your smartphone charging right next to you at night interferes with your ability to have a restful sleep. The blue light makes your brain think it’s daytime. You’re also tempted to check it—before you turn off the light; when you get up to use the bathroom, and first thing before you get up. Most of us can relate to how easy it is to get sucked into checking the phone for messages and then get lost in social media and newsfeeds. Once the mind is stimulated, it’s even harder to relax and have a restful sleep.
In her new book, #DoNotDisturb: How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life, television host and columnist Jedediah Bila, suggests setting a phone curfew and charging your phone in the living room or any room other than the bedroom. She adds, “Also, if you’re in bed with a partner, giving that time to each other instead of to some device does wonders for everyone.”
As the parent of three teenagers, it’s important to me to have my phone nearby when they’re not home. But I charge my phone on my dresser, far enough away that I cannot reach for it, but close enough that I can hear a text or phone call. I also take advantage of the “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone which only allows messages and calls from contacts designated as favourites.
Turn Off, Tune-In
Smartphones are a major distraction, with calls and notifications interrupting you either when you’re working or trying to enjoy some personal time. We’ve trained ourselves to stop everything to check the notification or beep. This Pavlovian behaviour is not entirely our fault. Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager who developed the website Time Well Spent, suggests that social media apps are developed to be addictive, encouraging users to check in consistently. Harris compares design techniques used for apps to be similar to gambling, where individuals continue to obtain rewards by checking their smartphones and seeing notifications, similar to gamblers who continually pull the lever of a slot machine hoping for a payout.
One solution is to turn off the audible notification feature; check them on your schedule. Designate key family or friends as ‘favourites’ to enable those messages to get through. Everyone else can wait.
A meme in my Facebook feed is a picture of a child staring at a cereal box: “Back when we read the cereal box in the morning and not some tablet or smartphone.”
Set up “phone-free zones” or “phone-free times of day”. In our family, we have a “no-phone policy” at dinner, giving us time to connect and have meaningful conversations. This applies to dinners at home or in restaurants. And it works great!
Curb the Appeal
While it may seem counterintuitive to download an app to manage your smartphone usage, there’s no shame in getting a little help when you need it.
The following three apps are free and available for ios and android:
Flipd (http://www.flipdapp.co/) – Flipd teaches you to refocus your mind. You can track your productivity, lock away distracting apps and challenge friends to unplug. You can also access the Wellness Hub library for soothing audio tracks to stay focused, calm, and mindful.
Forest (https://www.forestapp.cc/) Forest turns staying focused into a challenge or a game. With Forest, you set a period of time and plant a seed that will gradually grow into a tree. If you stay focused, your sapling will grow into a big tree. If you use your phone, your tree will wither. You earn coins with each successful planting session. Forest also donates money to plant real trees for users who earn enough coins in the app.
Moment (https://inthemoment.io/) – With Moment you can measure how much time you are spending on your phone, participate in guided coaching exercises to change your relationship with your phone or disconnect by establishing screen-free times.
According to a recently released United Nations report, one million plant and animal species are facing extinction due to human activity. The world’s unprecedented decline in biodiversity poses a dire threat – not only to Nature, but also to the well-being of people: their health, quality of life, food security, economy, and jobs.
If you’re passionate about creating a better world – whether it’s optimal health and well-being, quality education or protecting the environment – you can do good by how you invest your money.
Impact investing creates a supportive investment environment for entrepreneurs who want to do something positive in society, says Mel Wilson, who heads up a Calgary-based sustainability management consulting firm that works with clients across Canada. What’s different about impact investing, Wilson explains, is that the focus is on investing for the purpose of bringing about social change, in addition to receiving a financial return.
“You’re actually taking an ownership stake in companies that have shared values with yourself – and that’s a much more powerful and effective way of bringing about change” [compared to being a consumer].
A panelist on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) at a recent environmental gathering hosted by the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, Wilson describes the traditional approach to investing, which maximizes profit and the return to investors, as “not inherently bad. It’s just that there are unintended side effects which if not addressed, can become major problems down the road.”
Adopted by the UN in 2015, the UN SDGs are “a very good framework for understanding what the bigger sustainability issues are. They can help you decide where to invest, based on your values and what’s important to you,” Wilson says.
The UN SDGs, which help companies manage, measure and report on their sustainability performance while encouraging them to thrive, are all about helping certain companies or industries operate, to either expand their market, or change how they do business to become more environmentally or socially friendly.
For investors who want to help bring about change, Wilson says the SDGs provide a strong vision for gender equality: whether it’s creating new investment opportunities for female investors or equally important, for women who are on the receiving end of capital. “If you are a female entrepreneur who is looking to raise capital to fund the growth of your company, the SDGs are ready-made.”
The SDGs encourage blue chip companies to up their environmental and social game, and they can have a big impact on small to medium-sized companies, because when people choose to invest in them, “you have an opportunity to help those companies get established and grow.”
It’s critically important to recognize there is always a risk associated with this type of investing, Wilson adds. “Part of your homework is to get a level of comfort that the company’s idea is sound and the growth opportunities are realistic.” To help you move forward, he recommends looking for input from independent investment analysts on the worthiness of an investment and in the initial stages at least, enlisting the help of an experienced investment advisor.
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