This article was originally written for & published on Forbes.
Thinking you can time the market. Picking the right stock and buying in just before its value skyrockets. Trying to get into the next big thing before anyone else figures out it’s the next big thing.
What do all these things have in common? They’re all ways of gambling. You could throw “playing the lottery” or “putting it all on black” on this list if you wanted.
It’s those first things that people tend to focus on when they want to invest. But if this is where your focus is, you might as well stop trying to build wealth and just go take a trip to Vegas. You’ll have more fun — and likely lose your money just as a fast.
If you’re serious about increasing your net worth, then you need to start putting your energy and attention into things that matter and things that you can control.
What *Should* You Focus On?
What you should focus on comes down to what’s important to you. It’s about your values and what matters most — which, for most people, is not actually “to have more money.”
We’re conditioned to think that, but it’s more important to look at why we want more money.
Is it because we want to spend more time with family? Learn new things and enjoy fresh experiences? Turn our big idea into a big business? Turn a hobby into a craft and a profession?
Money can equate to more freedom and flexibility and choice. But “more money” itself is not the goal.
You need to focus on what really matters, which might be your family or community. Or maybe it’s control over your time. Or it could be the ability to contribute to a cause you care about. Focus on these things first.
Focus on What Matters — and What You Can Control
This is just the first step in developing the right focus. The next part of the process? Looking at what you can actually control.
This concept is so important to me that I actually have a copy of Carl Richards’ sketch from one of his Behavior Gap columns on my fridge that shows a Venn diagram of this exact advice.
This speaks to the trap that many people find themselves in: even if you know what matters to you, it’s not easy to then know the specific actions to take to influence an outcome so you get more of what you want or what’s important to you.
And the truth is, it might take some trial and error to figure out what’s in your power to do or change. It might not be obvious at first, which is why it’s important to keep asking questions and keep seeking out potential strategies to try.
This is a process, not a one-and-done sort of thing.
Train Yourself to Refocus Your Attention and Energy
So, you get it: focus on what mattes and what you can control. But what arethose things, exactly?
Again, it’s not always easy or clear to find the answers — especially if up until this point you’ve been obsessing over things that don’t matter, things you can’t control (or both).
Here’s the process I recommend:
Identify an area of your money or your life that you’re questioning or feeling challenged by right now. Then, consider what about that situation is within your control or change or do something about, and identify what is not in your control to influence.
“What can I take responsibility for?” is a key question to ask yourself. Look at your actions and what you can do differently if you’re not currently getting the outcomes you want.
The whole concept of “taking responsibility” can feel weird at first, because it’s very easy to let that morph into thoughts like “well, great. Now everything is my fault and I did something wrong.”
But this isn’t about blame or right or wrong. It’s simply about what works and what doesn’t, and what you have the power to change in your own life.
From here, you need to figure out what actually matters to you and what’s just noise or distraction.
The stock market is a good example to use here, because investing is something you need to focus on if you want to grow wealth. But you cannot control the stock market itself.
You can, however, control things like:
- How much you save and contribute to your investment accounts
- How you diversify across different parts of the market to help manage risk and volatility
- How you set up your asset allocation and whether or not you periodically rebalance
- How long you stay invested — and how well you avoid bad behaviors like trying to time the market
It’s this list here that will make or break your attempts to build wealth. Trying to focus on a specific return is a futile task. Looking at the factors that matter and you have full control over is what will push you toward success.
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