Watch your influences

We are all products of those around us. What goes into our brain affects who we are, how we view the world, how we perceive the people around us. I was thinking about this recently when a good friend of mine mentioned that he had been cutting back on some of the darker themed TV shows that can be really excellent but also have an impact on our attitudes. I felt something similar and have noticed in the past that a dark or angry book or TV show has a surprisingly significant impact on my mood.

It’s not just entertainment of course. Media consumption, social media, friends, politicians, anyone who we trust and listen to shape our perspective. Remember in middle school when mom didn’t want you hanging around certain kids? She was right. The other important piece is that we tend to only listen to people who reinforce our previous beliefs. We follow people on Twitter who we never disagree with and we watch whatever news network closely hews to our political leanings. We disregard other viewpoints as ignorant and build our apologetic walls up around us.

This is most dangerous when the influences around us are cynical, negative, bearish and constantly warning of coming doom. My friend Morgan Housel wrote an excellent piece recently titled “Why Does Pessimism Sound So Smart?” If you haven’t read it, you absolutely should. He reminds us that a pessimistic view can easily sound intelligent, insightful and helpful while an optimistic view can sound pollyanna-ish, naive and blind to the “realities of the world.” People with a negative tone often sound like they are trying to save you from disaster, and the more optimistic sound like fools.

It is easy to give in to negativity. Stocks are down a bit, the economy seems permanently sluggish. Everyone wants someone to blame and wants to believe that not only should they have it better, but that there are villains keeping us from exactly that. You can choose to believe that the lunatic the other guys are voting for in the primary is going to wreak havoc on the world, or that (just as it has historically) it might not matter all that much who is president. You can choose to believe that “they” are out to get you, or that most people really want the same thing but have different ways of going about it.

So take a minute and consider your influences. What are you reading, watching, listening to? What do you see on social media every day in your blindly homogeneous community of your own creation? As I’ve said elsewhere, pessimism is an awfully dangerous thing for a long-term investor and will make it extraordinarily difficult to find success. Ask yourself if divisive, negative and pessimistic influence are making you a better investor (let alone a happier, more fulfilled person). If you have surrounded yourself with these influencers, what are you going to do about it?

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