6 Strategies For Controlling My ^#&%#!@ Emotions

Goal: Be Rational

Emotional control is hard, important, and lucrative. It might be easier for people with less energy or who are more naturally moderate, but for me it is a struggle to avoid the cycle pictured above. I don’t think that I have any definitive answers, but here is what I do, for whatever value it is worth.

1. Name The Emotions

What is the goal? To be rational. What is the problem? Emotions are real and mine are irrepressible. So, instead of repressing and denying them, my first step is to name them and journal them. Without using my brain to override my feelings, I let them run a bit wild, I write them down, and I measure them. Consistently losing money is hard and the ability to do so would be extremely valuable. My emotions have a durable negative expected value and -EV is a thing of beauty (as long as there is no real money at stake). On the other hand, once you study yours, they may prove to be random or maybe even +EV of all things. I don’t know.

Some cultures are more emotionally indulgent and others are less. I tend to admire the less emotionally indulgent. You have problems? You feel sad? FIX YOUR PROBLEMS, THEN THERE IS NOTHING TO FEEL SAD ABOUT. You feel sad that you are bad at math? THEN WORK HARD AND GET GOOD AT MATH. I fear that modern America is slipping, sadly, in the direction of more emotional indulgence: you feel sad that you are bad at math? Here is a hug. Now you are a wimp… who still stinks at math. My feelings on this are aligned with Amy Chua and Angela Duckworth. In any event, once your emotions are named, recorded, and measured, they are less powerful, less intimidating, and less controlling.

2. Optimize Your Environment

Invest in yourself and have a decision-making system that gives a hypothetical 100-year old, 75-year old, and 50-year old future you a vote as to your current resource allocation. So, strengthen your grittiness with plenty of sleep, hard exercise, healthy diet, and a peaceful environment.

View from Rangeley Capital’s Maine office

Also be your own bodyguard in terms of who gets any access to you. A substantial number of people should be given zero access. Only interact with people who are worth it. Make a conscious decision and say “no” a lot. Zero is a great allocation for many potential investments and many potential relationships. Then you can concentrate the remainder on relationships that are intrinsically valuable to you (fun, uplifting, an end in themselves) and those that are lucrative/productive.

Ruthlessly end all other relationships. How many people can you honestly commit to emotionally? The number differs from person to person, but it is probably a low number — much lower than the number of Facebook friends most people have. If you feel like being generous, then be generous with your output. Be selfish with your time. My rationale is that you should be a +EV, an efficient machine for turning your resources into an output with greater value. Give away the output if you like but don’t ever give away the resources you need for your best, highest, most productive use. You should be at your best every Monday morning after investing the prior two days in yourself.

3. Study Potential Manipulators

The goal is to live intentionally. Be rational. Be either independent or depend only on the people of your choosing in areas where they are expert. To do so, you will need to overcome all manipulations. A key step is to name them — even when they are internal emotional manipulation. In a hypothetical committee meeting between yourself and your future selves of varying ages, who else would you let in the room? Many people would be locked out. Try to get the process of naming manipulation down to under five seconds, because many threats can be that fast.

Have an extremely simple and extremely savage plan that can be automatically executed within five seconds. What if you come across a mugger? In the time that it takes your brain to say, “what is happening?” you should be protecting your face and imposing costs. In fact, the phrase, “what is happening?” is, conveniently, five syllables. I like extremely simple and practical martial arts and have a five second fight plan that I execute to the syllables of what-is-hap-pen-ing. Hopefully/probably the fight will be over by the time I can finish asking that question.

Is a salesman trying to manipulate you into giving him more money than the value you will receive? Of course he is. Name it. Study the tricks (when you have kids, teach them the tricks) so you can have a bulletproof defense. It becomes so strong that you will begin to pity manipulators: oh look at the little salesman trying to trick me, isn’t he the cutest thing? because it will be so &^%$@#$ing obvious what he is trying and failing to do. Are your emotions trying to interfere with your reason? Name them, get to know them, and keep them out of your mental board meeting.

4. Fire Yourself Sometimes

However, when all that fails, fire yourself temporarily from your most dangerous activities. Name your weaknesses (to yourself, might as well hide them from strangers) and decide when you are failing to live up to the standards you demand. Don’t drive when you have been drinking, don’t use firearms when you are feeling flakey, don’t surf big waves when your legs cramp, and don’t trade when you are emotionally on tilt.

I like tasks that are less vulnerable to emotions. I like chores that I am happy with when I am done. Is there an hour when you fail to live up to your standards as a portfolio manager? Fire yourself as PM for that hour and hire yourself as your personal gardener, chef, or butler. Have a crappy hour but make sure that something has been accomplished that is your highest and best use given the virtues/vices that you have in that hour.

Also, cultivating some friendships with people who know nothing of your work or stresses can be useful for detaching yourself from your work and the emotions related to that aspect of your life. I have friends who are yoga teachers and horse wranglers who would not care about my work if they understood it and would not understand my work if they cared. They are great for camaraderie freed from my suspicion (that arises about two days a week) that I might be the greatest investor in the history of the world and the suspicion (in a typical week, the other three days) that I am — by far — the stupidest person who is currently alive or lived previously.

5. Make Reversible Mistakes

Make certain that your failures are reversible. Say “yes” to all of the decisions that are easy yeses and “no” to all of the decisions when they are an easy no. Take all of the close calls and make the most reversible decision. Want a face tattoo? Well, if you pass you can easily change your mind later, so that should probably be a pass (particularly if my children are reading this). Lose a lot of money? Better not. Get horribly maimed or dead? Again, helps to avoid. All close calls should err towards caution and inactivity — not because that is the right decision, but because if it is wrong, you can change your mind. If you are thinking about getting married and the decision fails to make it into the “easy yes” pile, then I would strongly advocate passing. He or she will make you miserable and take half of your stuff. If you pass, then you can always get married to someone else later. This is a lifelong process of collecting optionality. Every hour of everyday you are leaving your future self with more choices.

6. Collect Comparative Advantages

So you have emotions. There is only so much you can do about it. But if you were able to remove them would you? They interfere with reason so in an absolute sense can be a liability. However, I am a representative specimen of the fallible, fallen, sinful, dangerous species that I come from and so can observe and learn from my feelings in a way that can create a comparative advantage over my competitors. Am I losing money in a way that causes me to freak out? If so, what does that teach me about the market and the feelings of my counterparties? Troll your feelings for weaknesses that are likely weaknesses of your competitors and adversaries. As I do this, I tend to get attracted to games that are as difficult as I can tolerate, that use all of my skills, that are painful and difficult and every time that I feel pain and almost break, I sense the number of competitors that I shake from my tail.