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Staying positive in a pandemic

| April 29, 2020

Staying positive in a pandemic                                                                                   4/28/2020

It’s hard to feel great about where we are in the world today. It’s been about two months since the virus started to affect all our lives and a month since Ohio and many other states issued stay at home orders that have changed our daily routines.

Our kids are home from school and college, we’re working from home or changing our work routines dramatically to stay safe; we’re thinking twice about doing simple things like buying groceries and staying away from friends and family. We’re watching the news too much and if you’re like me watching the markets too much, which has not been fun.

I have much to be thankful for – my family is healthy, I haven’t lost a job or had to close my business. I’m not at risk at work like our doctors, nurses, police, fire and public service workers. But in spite of all this, it is hard to stay optimistic when it feels like this way of life will go on for a long time and there isn’t an end in sight. 

What can we do to keep a positive mental attitude?

Have goals: One of my favorite quotes is “A man has to have goals, for a day, for a lifetime; mine was to have people say ‘There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.” He finished his baseball career with a .344 batting average, the best in the modern era.

My goals in this pandemic are more modest than they were 2 months ago but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have goals. Maybe they are small, reaching out to a friend or family, doing something around the house or yard I’ve put off, finishing a chapter in a book. Achieving small goals gives us back control that this situation seems to have taken away from us and reminds us that our long term goals are still achievable.

Turn off the news: Get your news once or twice a day and move on to other things. We can get sucked into watching cable news or scouring the Johns Hopkins Covid 19 website non stop; but reinforcing the negativity isn’t healthy for our psyche. By all means don’t put your head in the sand, but remember what you watch impacts how you feel.

Laugh: Watching stand up comedy has been shown to trigger a neurological response in our brains that makes us want to copy the visual and verbal cues that we see. When we see and hear laughter our brains will literally cue us to laugh and smile.

It doesn’t have to be stand up comedy; research says watching sports elicits the same response.

Or you could entertain your family by cutting your own hair like I did; that elicited plenty of laughs from my wife and daughter. (No I won’t be posting the video…)

Get outside: Yes it’s Ohio in April, not exactly sunbathing weather. Doing something physical, especially if you can do it in the sun, will get you Vitamin D and release stress. Whether it’s walking, hiking, yardwork, gardening, cycling (my favorite), shooting baskets in the driveway, it is good to get out. It’s also a great reminder watching flowers and trees bloom, animals and birds get active that seasons do change; cycles do move on. This current situation will pass.

Control what you can control: And recognize what you can’t. I complain about the weather, especially when it interferes with cycling outside. My wife reminds me I can’t control the weather and to make the best of every day. Sometimes that requires an attitude change and a different workout plan. So many aspects of life now feel out of our control; our choice is how we respond.

Try something new or different: We all have more time to do things we might not normally do.

My family has been cooking new things; it’s been fun to watch my daughter learn to bake. I’ve been able to listen in to her online college classes and get refreshers on accounting and economics. We’ve also watched plenty of Netflix together; I’ve watched a lot of teenage Netflix shows in the last month and we’ve rewatched some of the classics.

Look for opportunities to help: There are still plenty of ways to help others through charities, your church or your neighbors, even in a pandemic. It can be sewing masks, making cards for nurses and doctors or helping a neighbor with yardwork. Helping others makes us feel better about ourselves and reminds us we can still be part of a community.

So what does all this have to do with investing or personal finance?

I believe that staying positive makes it easier to stick to your financial plan, especially when times are tough. If you can keep a good frame of mind and focus on the long term it will help you reach your goals. It is easy to give in to the negative news and think that markets and the economy will never recover; our minds tend to think in a linear fashion.

The more likely outcome is that markets and the economy will recover. Our economy is resilient and has survived difficult challenges in the past; even medical challenges like polio and smallpox, that required vaccine development and implementation.

Will it be smooth road or a short trip to recovery? I’m not going to bet on that. But I also am not going to bet against a recovery. “Any man who is a bear on the future of this country will go broke.” J. P. Morgan

Stay healthy, safe and positive!