What comes to your mind when you are asked about the most powerful investments you should make? Is it stocks? Is it bonds? Or a new house? Real estate is the safest investment, you might have heard.
If you ask me, I would say, neither!
Over the course of my life, with its few successes and numerous failures, I have come to see another type of investment that will give you the maximum returns – investing in yourself.
All of us want to lead a life of high quality and success, isn’t it? We all want to be satisfied and productive.
Most of the time when we talk or think about investing, we limit our thoughts to financial investing and to maximize our monetary returns. We believe doing so will maximize the quality of our lives in the long term.
All that is good thinking, but I have discovered that there are some simple investments we can make in ourselves which we tend to miss or neglect. And for most of these are not even financial. You don’t need to have money to do this kind of investing.
“Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. If you’ve got talents, no one can take them from you.” — Warren Buffett
Investing in yourself is a continuous process. The effort and time you put in to invest in yourself consistently will determine the quality of life you would be leading in the future.
Below are the 7 most powerful investments you can make:-
1. Reading Books
I have discovered books to be like ‘power banks‘ that revitalize the human mind. They pack knowledge, wisdom, and valuable lessons from people who have lived life before us.
My favorite books are often memoirs of successful people from different fields like business, sports, politics, activism, art, etc. Reading them gives you a whole new perspective of how they looked at life, and their struggles and achievements.
Books can lead you to locations you have never been to. For example – reading Theodore Roosevelt’s biography by Edmund Morris took me to New York in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They can give you many interesting ideas you never would have thought of otherwise, as you relate and compare your own life to the protagonist of the book.
Take some time out each day to read books. Audiobooks are also available these days and you can tune into your favorite book even when you are on the move. Reading for just 10 minutes daily would help you finish around 15-20 books every year. Does that sound too difficult?
2. Foundational Knowledge of How The World Works
The most successful people are used to thinking and reasoning from First Principles. Some notable example thinkers are inventor Johannes Gutenberg, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and entrepreneur Elon Musk – the founder of SpaceX and Tesla.
First Principles Thinking starts with learning about the essentials which are always true – in the world we live in, and how the people in it operate. Subjects like physics, math, economics, and psychology are the foundation of how our world works.
The laws of physics define how the material world behaves, psychology tells you how human beings behave and how irrational we can be, economics defines how the financial world behaves – the world of money and markets which affect us all, and math is often the foundation of every kind of reasoning and logic.
Investing time in knowing and understanding these basic foundational subjects, irrespective of your job or industry, will help you make better decisions for you and the people around you.
You wouldn’t go to a new city without looking at its map. So why would you want to interact with people, handle your money, and live in this physical world without the basic knowledge of psychology, economics, math, and physics?
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin
3. Nurturing ‘Positive’ Habits
By ‘positive’ habits, I mean the habits that serve you and help you achieve what you want to achieve. As most people do, I have been setting goals for myself – both at work and personal – for most of my life. And as most people discover at some point, I now realize that goals (like new year resolutions) never work – at least not as well as we expect them to.
Neuroscience and psychology research proves that habits are better than goals when we look for iterative and long term results. Goals require willpower and discipline, and still, the desired result might not be in our control. On the other hand, habits are totally in our control and take little motivation as they become part of our routine.
The best thing about habits is that once formed, they run in the background without taking our mental cycles, just like many software programs run in the background on your computer. This leaves us free to focus on other important things.
Habits powerfully influence our behavior. And because of the fact that they work as part of our subconscious, bad habits can be just as damaging as good habits can be beneficial.
“Habits are powerful but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.” – Charles Duhigg
Some of the ‘positive’ habits that have been very beneficial to me are:-
- The habit of reading books in every 5 or 10-minute gap I found in my day, instead of making a goal to read 20 books in a year. Now, I automatically default to reading whenever I have a little time and finish over 40-50 books every year.
- The habit of writing for 30 minutes as soon as I get up in the morning, vs making a goal of writing 2 articles every week. Writing is still the most painful task I do (from a willpower point of view), and having this simple daily habit means now I don’t worry about the number of articles and just focus on writing right after getting up. Usually, the 30 minutes stretch to 60 minutes, and I have been pretty happy with the outcome.
- The habit of exercising for at least half an hour every day, instead of making goals like running a marathon or so. Be it walking, cycling, or simple exercises in my living room, I am happy now as long as I do 30 minutes of it. In addition to the attached health benefits, this has broken the monotony of everyday life.
4. Communication and Interpersonal Skills
No matter what we do for a living, we all work with other human beings. Learning to communicate better is one investment we can all make, and it will produce compounded results over time.
Understanding how human beings behave, and what it takes to convince, persuade, and influence people is as fundamental a skill as any.
Make a habit of listening to people and giving them the value they deserve. Understand where they are coming from. Make them feel important. Learn how to put the message across, how to talk to different types of people, and how to express yourself with clarity and purpose.
Let go of the habit of blaming others or yourself when you mess up. Own up and apologize if you need it. Build the foundations that strengthen every relationship. Focus on relationships instead of negotiating when you talk.
5. Writing Skills
Writing could be private (a journal) or public (a blog, book, etc). It is not only a skill to communicate and express yourself, but also to think. As you put your thoughts to paper, it helps you to clarify your thinking and form a comprehensive picture of the topic at hand.
Research shows that writing makes you healthier and happier. It helps you deal with various difficulties life throws in a way you can be proud of. Writing about what makes you grateful helps your mental health and makes you look at life more cheerfully.
6. Trusting People by Default
Trust people when you first meet them. Rather than fear the worst-case scenario, have faith that the best case will turn out to be true.
Give your energy, time, gratitude, and appreciation to people around you. See it as an investment – in people. Investment in people always tends to come back in life, and in proportions we can’t imagine.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” ― Leo Tolstoy
7. Knowing What You Stand For
Just like ships need a compass and a lighthouse to navigate in vast oceans, we all need to understand what we stand for, to guide us in difficult times. Our deepest held values, standards, and boundaries can be that guide and keep us in check.
When we accept the standards and values others’ have set for us, we surrender our own will and judgment. By figuring out what we stand for, we allow our unique light to shine upon the world.
As you must have realized, the above-mentioned ‘investments’ do not cost you much (money). You do not need to spend money to make any of these investments. But, you need to be consistent and invest “brick-by-brick” with your time.