Category Archives: 2 – My sustainable living environment

A more detailed look at the living environment that I have built myself over the past couple of years. Intended only as an example.

Investment example: Portfolio

At the moment, my investment portfolio is fairly defensive with about a third sitting in physical precious metals (primarily silver). The purpose of this investment is to preserve my purchasing power through this time of great economic uncertainty and even bring some sizable gains in the event of another gold/silver rush. I definitely plan to keep on steadily accumulating gold and silver over the coming years.

Secondly, I own a reasonably wide portfolio of stocks which accounts for roughly another third of my portfolio. A substantial amount of this investment is in my home country, South Africa, where I hope that race-crazed politicians will one day decide to just get out of the way and let the country develop. This is also a long term position although I am not accumulating any further until I see some political changes.

In addition, I also own some stocks in Scandinavia (where I currently live) which appears to be one of the few regions of the developed world where further growth potential is not squashed by mountains of debt. Despite prospects being better than most of the developed world, Scandinavian markets are still greatly influenced by Europe and I have therefore significantly reduced my holdings in Scandinavian stocks right after the temporary gains brought by the ECB’s promise to “save the Euro”.

The only type of stock I am currently accumulating is that in the green industry – more specifically in the very recently established fund advertised in the video below. The video is in Norwegian, but it basically just says that the fund will invest in the 100 most sustainable companies in the world which I think is an ideal worth supporting. It will be very interesting to see how this fund performs over the years.

The final third of my portfolio resides in savings – a current account for my daily debit card purchases, a high-interest savings account which is meant to serve as a buffer for any unexpected expenses and a very-high-interest account which also brings a sizable tax break, but can only be used as a down-payment on a home. All of these accounts are denominated in Norwegian Kroner which, as far as fiat currencies go, probably ranks among the safest there is. In addition, I’m also in the process of investing some money with a Norwegian micro-finance institution.

Finally, the equity in my flat (after my home loan is subtracted) comes to roughly the same amount as the total value of my investment portfolio. This flat was not bought for real estate investment purposes though, but rather for the purpose of providing the ideal platform for maintaining a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life over many years. Later sections in the One in a Billion project will go into more detail on this very important issue.

So , that’s it. For the foreseeable future, I’ll keep on distributing roughly half of my disposable income between physical gold/silver, green stocks and the special high-interest savings account for young home buyers.

Patient accumulation is the name of the game…

Wealth example: Financial resilience

In this first example post of the series on personal finances, I’ll share some details of how my personal financial resilience (number of years that my accumulated financial wealth can sustain my lifestyle) has varied through my short career to date. This example should give a good indication of the factors that make or break financial resilience, putting the previous posts on the topic of wealth into some real world perspective.

Firstly, I have to acknowledge my financially responsible parents who put me through university debt-free and invested some money in my name many years ago in order to give me a smooth start in real life. I really am deeply grateful for that. The result was that I could move my life from South Africa to Norway and start fresh in a permanent research position with zero debt obligations.

This move was right after my student days which taught me (among many other things) the priceless value of thrift. That, combined with the ridiculous Norwegian prices, caused me to save 60-70% of my income during my first two years years in Norway. I lived in a single room with a shared kitchen and bathroom rented out by a friendly old Norwegian lady for a very modest price and, because of that, my financial resilience rocketed from 1 year to a full 5 years.

By the end of these two years, I was financially free and decided that it was time to acquire my own apartment. And yes, I soon found out that this was probably the most efficient killer of financial resilience on earth. The initial down-payment and the furnishing of the apartment consumed more than half of my financial wealth at the time and tripled my monthly accommodation expenses. The result was that my financial resilience instantly slumped from 5 years back to 1 year.

As  a result of the increased living expenses, I now only save/invest about 30-40% of my income in financial assets with an additional 10% or so being the non-interest part of the home-loan payments (essentially savings in a fixed asset).  Now, almost two years later, my financial resilience has recovered to over 2 years, implying that I am once again financially secure, but not yet financially free.

The next big impact on my financial resilience will probably be the starting of a family, but that is still many years in the future. For the time being, I will just patiently build my financial resilience beyond the point of total financial freedom so that money really has no influence on my life whatsoever and I can simply focus on living. 

So, that’s it. Yes, it is pretty boring I know, but that is the way that personal finances are supposed to be. The rest of life should be filled with lots of thrills and excitement, but when it comes to personal finances, you really don’t want any drama. Boring personal finances really form the basis for a very exciting life. 

Psychology example: Healthy mind

As outlined in the seven posts on a healthy psychology, I consider life-long learning (1, 2), creative expression (3, 4) and unconditional contribution (56) to be the primary causes of the very interesting health and longevity statistics listed here (7). This post will give a brief example of how these three factors complement each other in my life.

When it comes to learning, my primary occupation (research scientist) makes this very easy because I simply have to go to work in order to get myself into an environment where constant learning simply has to happen. However, this researcher mentality has spilled over into many other areas of my life as well. The One in a Billion project in particular has been a tremendous learning experience.

I consider myself very fortunate to have accidentally fallen into this natural learning environment because I have now come to realize that constant learning is a prerequisite for creative expression. It is only when you have developed your understanding or your skill set to a certain level that you can really get access to the power of creative expression. For example; I first had to read a lot of literature before I could start writing my own scientific papers, I first had to develop my basic skills to a certain level before I could participate in spontaneous team plays or write new songs and I first had to work through hundreds of books, programs and articles before the One in a Billion project could begin to take shape.

Just as learning is a prerequisite for creative expression, creative expression is a prerequisite for true unconditional contribution. We will talk a lot about this later on, but if you really reach the level where new ideas just form all by themselves, the process of adding value to the world becomes the reward in itself and compensation beyond that which you really need becomes totally irrelevant. From this frame of mind, unconditional contribution is the natural state. At the moment, I consult for the company I will return to after my PhD is complete, I coach the local rugby team and I write this project all completely free of charge and without expecting any favors in the future. Most people would think this is crazy, but my mind has now reached a stage where this feels completely natural.

Now the crux of the matter is that these three components; learning, creative expression and unconditional contribution, automatically create a self-sustaining healthy psychological environment. The more you get exposed to the joy of creation and the joy of really contributing to the world, the more you are motivated to learn, create and contribute further – the very definition of a self-sustaining healthy environment. Our world really needs a lot more of these self-sustaining benevolent cycles.

Fitness example: Skills training

This final category is the place where exercise can really become interesting. Whenever you do some form of exercise where you have to use a wide range of skills, it automatically becomes a lot more engaging and a lot more fun to do. And yes, having fun while exercising is central to the healthy fitness environment we are building here.

Since almost any sport contains some element of coordination, reflex or balance training, most common sports fall in this category. Not only are social sports a lot of fun; they also offer a wide range of benefits. Depending on the sport, it will probably contain a significant amount of aerobic and anaerobic exercise which in itself has a wide range of health benefits as discussed in the respective linked posts. In addition, training your coordination, reflexes and balance simply makes your body more useful, both for sports and in daily life.

It is therefore highly recommended that you engage in a range of activities that offer a good combination of coordination, reflex and balance training. Ball sports are the most complete package for this purpose, but sports which feature some form of equipment that must be used in a skilled way (mountain biking, surfing, skiing etc.) offer similar benefits.

Personally, I wish I had the time to do more sports, but my current combination of regular cycling, cross-country skiing and rugby covers all the bases and keeps my skills sharp for the occasional fun game of ping-pong, football, cricket, pool or downhill skiing.

So, that’s it. If you can incorporate regular exercise from all four categories: aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility and skills, you will end up with a body that really functions as it was meant to function. Such a body just makes life a lot easier and a lot more fun. It certainly is highly recommended that you get yourself one of these.

Fitness example: Flexibility training

The primary benefit of flexibility training (stretching) is an increased range of motion which significantly reduces the risk of injury and leads to greater athletic performance. In addition, there are also a number of very handy secondary advantages such as improved circulation, improved balance and coordination, higher energy levels and even better heart health. Regular flexibly training is therefore an important part of any healthy fitness environment.

Similarly to the anaerobic exercise discussed in the previous post, the primary problem with stretching is that it is simply not much fun. For this reason, it can be very helpful to not only stretch for the sake of stretching, but rather engage in some broader activity that simply has stretching as a by-product – an activity such as Yoga. To be honest, I only began doing Yoga very recently when I learned about the importance of flexibility and became very concerned about my own current lack of flexibility. Even though I’ve always been fit and strong, my flexibility really is quite terrible. The first time I took the quick health profile test linked on the top right of this blog, I received a flexibility score of 30% which was enough to shock me into buying a Yoga DVD.

Initially I found the Yoga routines to be very challenging (simply because I was so inflexible), but as my flexibility improved the routines became gradually more enjoyable and I’m now at the stage where I actually look forward to them. The result has been that my flexibility score has improved from 30% to 80% (which is still below average, but at least not much of a health risk anymore). I still cannot touch my toes, but hopefully that wonderful day will arrive soon 😉

Some other ways in which you can make stretching an automatic part of your healthy fitness environment is to make a habit of always warming down properly after exercise and to consciously stretch your muscles every time you have to bend down to pick something up during daily life. These are two very handy habits which I have found to become automatic quite quickly.

So, take some concrete steps towards improving your flexibility. Before I decided to educate myself on this matter, I also saw stretching just as a simple warmup activity that had to be done just because the coach said so, but now it has become an essential and enjoyable part of my automatic healthy fitness environment. It is definitely highly recommended.

Fitness example: Anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise can generally be seen as those activities that push your muscles close to their maximum capacity for short periods of time – either for the purpose of strength or speed. Benefits of this kind of exercise include protection against various forms of degenerative disease, improved strength, speed and agility, reduced risk of injury to muscles, tendons and bones, increased metabolic rate (making it harder to put on fat), as well as some psychological benefits such as stress reduction, improved self-esteem and better sleep.

Weight training is the most widely used form of anaerobic exercise and also the best way to build muscle. The only problem with incorporating weight training into your self-sustaining active fitness environment is that it is not all that much fun (for me at least). Going to the gym to lift weights is therefore not something that I can realistically see myself doing consistently for the rest of my life (which automatically disqualifies it from my personal healthy environment).

But even though weight training is not my favorite activity, it does happen from time to time that I feel the need to lift some weights. For this reason, I bought myself two very innovative adjustable dumbbells (video below) and a weightlifting chair so that I can easily do a few reps whenever I feel like it. The costs amount to only about one year of gym membership so it definitely is a financially savvy choice as well.

Another tactic I found to be very helpful is to simply have one light weight in hand while walking around the room, dictating to my computer (as discussed in an earlier post). In fact, this is what I’m doing right now and, without even thinking, I have already racked up a large number of light bicep curls and shoulder lifts. I do this light lifting for 20-30 minutes every morning while writing the first draft of my daily post and would highly recommend this tactic to anyone who writes a lot (a blogger for example). (Note that heavy weight training requires at least 48 hours of rest between sessions.)

But weight training is not the only form of anaerobic exercise. Any form of training where you push your body to the max for a short period of time falls in this category. Sprinting is a common form of anaerobic exercise. So is hillclimbing. This implies that aerobic exercise (as discussed in the previous post) can also contain a significant anaerobic component. The particular aerobic activities that I engage in regularly (cycling, cross-country skiing and rugby) all offer many opportunities for short bursts of anaerobic exercise which I always make good use of.

So, do some thinking about ways in which you can incorporate some enjoyable and automatic anaerobic exercise into your daily exercise routine. It complements aerobic exercise very nicely and is an important part of optimal health.

Fitness example: Aerobic exercise (cardio)

Regular aerobic exercise is the most important part of the active fitness environment outlined in the One in a Billion project. This kind of exercise is essential for good heart health, weight control and the prevention of various types of degenerative disease. Cardiovascular fitness also has many psychological benefits such as improving mood, self-confidence and sleep, and alleviating stress, anxiety and depression. It really is an essential form of exercise that the body simply has to have.

The VO2 max score described in a previous post is the most accurate measure of cardiovascular fitness and should be checked at least once a year. My employer has this excellent policy of giving this test to all employees once a year and I’m sure that this single test saves a truckload of money through reduced sick-days and increased productivity.

From my experience, you need about four hours of aerobic exercise per week in order to attain near-optimum fitness. Four hours per week might sound like a lot, but in reality it is only 3.6% of the time that you are awake and almost 10 times less than the time the average American spends in front of the TV. Once again, the only thing that stands in your way is our self-destructive cultural conditioning. 

Even though getting 4 hours of aerobic exercise per week is not hard, you can make it even easier for yourself by switching to human power for much of your transportation needs. For example, cycling to work gives me about two hours of cardio every week. In addition to that, I do 1-2 hours per week of active running at rugby practice, about one hour of cross-country skiing and the occasional cycling trip up the mountain.

The key here is that these are all activities which I really enjoy. With the exception of the cycle trips to work, my cardio activities also have a very nice social aspect which makes them even more fun. All in all, I can confidently say that my cardiovascular fitness happens completely automatically and requires absolutely no willpower to maintain.

This consistent 4-5 hours of aerobic exercise per week has given me a VO2 max score of 62 ml/min/kg which is about the average for a professional athlete and quite exceptional for a computer nerd such as myself. I have therefore successfully proven to my scientist-self that an intelligent active fitness environment can maintain professional fitness levels without requiring any willpower whatsoever.

This, I think, is quite a revelation and I really wish that more people would invest the little bit of upfront effort required to construct a solid active fitness environment and reap these great benefits.