You can be your best investment

If you are looking for a new focus for the new year, make sure you focus on yourself first, writes Nima Abu Wardeh.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
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New year, new me. Is this the thought doing the rounds in your head?
If it is, great, although I would suggest "new focus on me" as your mantra. Why? Because I believe that you are your greatest asset, and anything that will keep you functioning, healthy and happy is worth every dirham spent - as long as you clearly define what it is you're investing in and how you are measuring returns.
Here's what I mean. Chances are if you ask anyone what they're investing in, they'll rattle off all manner of things - property, stocks, bonds, start-ups - but I bet they won't say the single most important thing: themselves. Saying it is one thing and living by it is another - and it's so very important.
If I don't work, I don't earn. Plus, I'm becoming less valuable with time - my earning years are declining, and I'm at greater risk of various health problems. So anything that will keep me functioning well is a good thing.
This is one reason I invested in time with a personal trainer a few months ago. Unfortunately my fitness regime didn't last - a change in my family's routine means that I'd need to spend an additional hour and a half on the road each day if I want to hit the gym I joined.
This is self-defeating - I can't justify the additional stress of driving that much and the hours lost to my life to see my paid-up trainer, who hasn't seen me for months now. Instead, I'm justifying joining a different gym that fits into my current daily circuit - and writing off the money at the previous one. Ouch. But if that's what I need to do to keep myself in tip-top shape for decades to come, then I need to bite that bullet.
To be clear, there is a giant difference between real investment in your own human capital and justifying expenses. Going on a trip for some downtime or to explore a new part of the world can count as an investment in your well-being and continuous learning, but opting for 5-star luxury all the way is an expense. Or in my case, paying for time with a private trainer is an investment, but kitting myself out in the latest fitness apparel is an expense.
You don't need to spend big or make giant changes to take better care of yourself. Self-care is mostly about adopting great habits.
Here are other ways you can invest in yourself:
. Build your human capital by developing your knowledge base. Taking courses is one way of doing this. Another is simply setting time aside to read, learn and explore ideas and concepts. To get yourself excited, watch the video on the home page of the Oxford University Summer School for Adults. I want to do all their courses on offer.
. Adopt healthy habits. Include flossing. Here's one reason why: scientists believe that gum disease releases potentially harmful bacteria into the bloodstream, which significantly increases the risk of heart disease.
We each have our own life, aspirations and talents. Spend time looking at your habits - your way of living, eating, and being - and figure out how you can work towards a better you by improving your self-care. Do you sleep well? Does your diet include green vegetables and fruit? Something as simple as steamed broccoli is thought to prolong life, or at least help have a better quality of life, because it's packed with nutrients that stave off cancer, tackle chronic inflammation and have many other benefits too. Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and luckily for me, brussels sprouts are too - I love them and eat them any time of year. What about avocado? Again, it's packed full of health and self-help.
Going back to your human capital, it's not only about learning. It's also about being able to earn more, or earn for longer. For many this is a must, as retiring at 60 or 65 is no longer an option. The good news is that studies find people who work into their twilight years are happier and have more disposable cash at hand.
The bottom line is that investing in yourself is your most profitable venture. You reap future returns and get a payoff right now.
Plus, your well-being will ensure the well-being of those who depend on you.
One of my brothers recently recorded a version of "What a wonderful life". You can hear it on my blog,, and it's just perfect for this time of year. And just like the human body's journey through life, his version wasn't smooth and perfect. It gets off to a wobbly start before hitting its stride and then falters towards the end.
Invest in yourself now, today and every day, and keep the wobbliness at bay.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website You can reach her at and find her on Twitter at @nimaabuwardeh.
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