Michael He

December 12, 2021

Build Momentum

If someone asks me for advice, I will only say one thing confidently.

Build momentum and don't lose it.  

Momentum means upward improvement. Don't lose it implies being continuous, sustainable, and long-term. Only continuous improvement brings solid wins in the long run. This applies to many things.

In terms of book reading, consistency is the best (if not the only) way to build knowledge and the love for reading. Reading twenty pages a day equals six-hundred pages each month, or about two books from cover to cover. That translates to two dozen books read every year, which is much more than many people's actual reading progress. It's not too difficult, but you have to read twenty pages every day.

Long-term success in investing is not crazy hard as it seems. The maximum contribution limit of Roth IRA accounts is $6000 each year (for people under age 55.5) and the long-term return of the S&P 500 index with dividend investments is 10.2% over the last five decades. The math is as follows: someone investing $6000 every year for 40 years will yield 1.29 million with a 7% annual return and 3.1 million for the 10.2%. All it takes is consistent investing and consistent progress over a long time. 

It is the same in running. According to my friend Oliver (who is an excellent long-distance runner), running ten miles everyday is sustainable for serious runners. That translates to three hundred miles every month or eleven full marathons (26.2 miles). And we know running two to three marathons every week is unsustainable for most people. Three miles a day builds endurance and the running habit much better than a marathon each week.

That is the power of consistent improvement over the long run. But it has its downside - consistency does not feel exciting. 

People are more pumped by reading a book a day than a mere twenty pages, even though the former is a lot less sustainable and feasible than the latter. After all, not many people have the time (which is a luxury) and mental space to read for hours. 

Similarly, people talk about buying the next Amazon because that is the sexy idea. Who doesn't want to build a stock that returns 1000 times your initial investment! Yet we also know that is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Just look at how many people got rich from buying Amazon in 1997 and held it until it's $3000 a share, other than Jeff Bezos and his parents (who are big shareholders).

Building momentum and not losing it has all kinds of implications. It has to do with exponential growth, one of my favorite topics in math. In fact, I'm writing my senior thesis partly on this incredibly useful idea! 

There are four elements to exponential growth: the initial amount, the growth rate per time period, time periods, and additional investments over time (for example, annual retirement contributions). With a long enough time period and a decent growth rate, even a very small initial amount can turn into some massive result. How these elements interact deserves an entire essay.

This is why I am rather optimistic about long-term outcomes. The math is on our side!

Another implication of keeping momentum is the idea of peaking. If we want long-term wins, we have to avoid peaking too early. Peaking means decline after by definition. If I peaked at age 25, I will probably feel disappointed over and over when I turn 40 (assume I don't join the club of 27 or leave a legacy like James Dean). 

To put this into practice, I will write something everyday for the next four weeks. Some of them will be here, some will be edits, and some will be personal. I will follow up in early January. Go and build some momentum!

About Michael He

Trying to get better every single day.