Of course, there are exceptions, but as Burton Malkiel notes, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that the performance of professionally managed portfolios, as a group, is any better than a randomly selected group of stocks.27 What about those few individuals who have attained considerable fame for predicting major movements in the stock market? One stock market guru amazingly predicted the 1987 stock market crash. William Sherden analyzed thirteen market predictions that she made between 1987 and 1996 (i.e., predicting that the market would either go up or down), and found that she was right only five out of the thirteen times, worse than what you would get from just flipping a coin. According to Sherden, she never made another long-shot forecast that turned out to be correct, and the fund she managed outperformed the stock market in only one of the six years it was in existence. While it's value increased by 38 percent, the S&P 500 index increased by 62 percent over the same period.28 A number of gurus publish financial newsletters that purport to predict the market. While one of these gurus had some early success in the 1970s, he later advised his clients to sell everything when the Dow was in the 800s. The market proceeded to rise to about 1200. According to Sherden, the guru's performance over eight years, ending January 1994, was 38 percent below the market average. Yet another guru predicted the 1980s bull market. However, shocked by the 1987 crash, he stated that the bull market was over and that the Dow would fall to 400 by the early 1990s. Instead, the Dow climbed to 4,000 by 1994. His performance over the ten-year period ending December 1996 was 64 percent below the market average.29 The bottom line is, people pay up to $500 per year for financial newsletters that help them pick stocks, yet an index fund beats the newsletter picks 80 percent of the time.30 Given our belief that we can beat the market, many of us actively manage our own portfolios. We buy and sell stock frequently, attempting to capitalize on some hot issue. However, the data indicate that this is a bad strategy. Consider the following two statements. Breath is a phenomenon common to all living things. A true experiential understanding of the process moves you closer to other living beings. It shows you your inherent connectedness with all of life. Finally, breathing is a present-moment process. By that we mean it is always occurring in the here and now.

We don't normally live in the present, of course. We spend most of our time caught up in memories of the past or looking ahead to the future, full of worries and plans. The breath has none of that "other-timeness." When we truly observe the breath, we are automatically placed in the present. We are pulled out of the morass of mental images and into a bare experience of the here and now. In this sense, breath is a living slice of reality. A mindful observation of such a miniature model of life itself leads to insights that are broadly applicable to the rest of our experience. The first step in using the breath as an object of meditation is to find it. What you are looking for is the physical, tactile sensation of the air that passes in and out of the nostrils. This is usually just inside the tip of the nose. But the exact spot varies from one person to another, depending on the shape of the nose. To find your own point, take a quick deep breath and notice the point just inside the nose or on the upper lip where you have the most distinct sensation of passing air. Now exhale and notice the sensation at the same point. It is from this point that you will follow the whole passage of breath. Once you have located your own breath point with clarity, don't deviate from that spot. Use this single point in order to keep your attention fixed. Without having selected such a point, you will find yourself moving in and out of the nose, going up and down the wind-pipe, eternally chasing after the breath, which you can never catch because it keeps changing, moving, and flowing. If you ever sawed wood you already know the trick. As a carpenter, you don't stand there watching the saw blade going up and down. You would get dizzy. You fix your attention on the spot where the teeth of the blade dig into the wood.

It is the only way you can saw a straight line. As a meditator, you focus your attention on that single spot of sensation inside the nose. From this vantage point, you watch the entire movement of breath with clear and collected attention. Make no attempt to control the breath. This is not a breathing exercise of the sort done in yoga. Focus on the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath. Don't try to regulate it or emphasize it in any way. Most beginners have some trouble in this area. In order to help themselves focus on the sensation, they unconsciously accentuate their breathing. The result is a forced and unnatural effort that actually inhibits concentration rather than helping it. Don't increase the depth of your breath or its sound. This latter point is especially important in group meditation. Loud breathing can be a real annoyance to those around you. Just let the breath move naturally, as if you were asleep. Let go and allow the process to go along at its own rhythm. This sounds easy, but it is trickier than you think. Do not be discouraged if you find your own will getting in the way. Just use that as an opportunity to observe the nature of conscious intention. Watch the delicate interrelation between the breath, the impulse to control the breath, and the impulse to cease controlling the breath. You may find it frustrating for a while, but it is highly profitable as a learning experience, and it is a passing phase.

Eventually, the breathing process will move along under its own steam, and you will feel no impulse to manipulate it. At this point you will have learned a major lesson about your own compulsive need to control the universe. Breathing, which seems so mundane and uninteresting at first glance, is actually an enormously complex and fascinating procedure. It is full of delicate variations, if you look. There is inhalation and exhalation, long breath and short breath, deep breath, shallow breath, smooth breath, and ragged breath. These categories combine with one another in subtle and intricate ways. Observe the breath closely. Really study it. You find enormous variations and a constant cycle of repeated patterns. It is like a symphony. Don't observe just the bare outline of the breath. There is more to see here than just an in-breath and an out-breath. Every breath has a beginning, middle, and end. Every inhalation goes through a process of birth, growth, and death, and every exhalation does the same. The depth and speed of your breathing changes according to your emotional state, the thought that flows through your mind, and the sounds you hear. Study these phenomena. You will find them fascinating. One of the best things you can do to handle the stresses of life is to fortify your health and body. Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly relieve feelings of stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and energize your body, brain, and emotions. A major study, for example, tracked more than a million individuals to examine the association between exercise and mental health difficulties.

Individuals who exercised consistently reported significantly fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics. All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden.[10] It's impossible to eliminate all stress from your life. Managing stress well, thankfully, is another story. How much stress you experience--and how you respond when you experience that stress--is something over which you have more control than you may realize. By keeping in mind these seven stress-busting strategies, you are taking an important step in improving the quality of your life as well as reducing a significant contributor to major depressive disorder. Reducing the stress in your life is not a one-time action but a series of lifestyle choices and intentional decisions. It's not something you figure out once but an attitude and a mind-set to be embraced now and for years to come. What's the best way to get started? Begin by identifying some of the major stressors in your life. The following steps will help you begin the process. Create an action plan to incorporate some of the strategies discussed in this chapter. Trying to make immediate changes in all seven areas examined in this chapter will only add to your stress. Instead, identify two or three areas where you would like to incorporate changes and address those. Next month, incorporate a few additional changes, and so on. Identify a partner for accountability, encouragement, and company. You're not the only one who is stressed. Chances are that you have friends who also would like to handle stress better. Ask someone you know to join you on this journey. Brainstorm, engage in fun stress-busting activities, hold each other accountable, and celebrate each other's successes together. When you mess up, don't stress about it.