MONEY investing strategy

5 Mental Habits That Make Investors Rich

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PeopleImages.com—Getty Images

Don't take yourself so seriously.

If I could build a dream investor from scratch, his name would be Paul.

Paul is an optimistic a-political sociopathic history buff with lots of hobbies who takes others’ opinions more seriously than his own.

Let me tell you why he is going to kick your butt at investing.

The sociopath

Psychologist Essi Vidling once interviewed a serial killer. Vidling showed the killer pictures of different facial expressions, and asked him to describe what the people were feeling. The murderer got most right, except pictures of people making fearful faces. “I don’t know what that expression is called, but it’s what people look like right before I stab them,” he said.

Paul couldn’t harm a fly. But a key trait of sociopaths is the ability to remain calm when others are terrified, so much that they don’t even understand why other people get scared. It’s also a necessity to becoming a good investor. In her book Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E Thomas writes:

The thing with sociopaths is that we are largely unaffected by fear … I am also blessed with a complete lack of sentiment … My lack of empathy means I don’t get caught up in other people’s panic.

Paul is like this, too. He doesn’t understand why people investing for 10 years get fearful when stocks have a bad 10 days. Recessions don’t bother him. Pullbacks entertain him. He thought the flash crash was kind of funny. He doesn’t care when his companies miss earnings by a penny. He’s immune to that stuff, which is a big advantage over most investors.

The a-political investor

Paul has political beliefs — who doesn’t?

But he knows that millions of equally smart people have opposite beliefs they are just as sure in. Since markets reflect the combined beliefs of millions of people, Paul knows that there is no reason to expect markets to converge on his personal beliefs, even if he is dead sure it is the truth. So he never lets his politics guide his investment decisions.

Paul knows that political moralizing is one of the most dangerous poisons your brain can come across, causing countless smart people to make dumb decisions. Even when he is bothered by political events, Paul repeats to himself in the mirror: “The market doesn’t care what I think. The market doesn’t care what I think.”

The history buff

Paul loves history. He loves it for a specific reason: It teaches him that anything is possible at any time, no matter how farfetched it sounds. “One damned thing after another,” a historian once described his field.

Paul knows that some people read history for clues on what might happen next, but history’s biggest lesson is that nobody has any idea, ever.

When people say oil prices can only go up, or have to fall, Paul knows history isn’t on their side — either could occur. He knows that when people say China owns the next century, or that America’s best days are behind it, history says either could be wrong.

History makes Paul humble, and prevents him from taking forecasts too seriously.

The hobbyist

Paul likes golf. He enjoys cooking. He reads on the beach. He has a day job that takes up most of his time.

Paul loves investing, but he doesn’t have time to worry about whether Apple is going to miss earnings, or if fourth-quarter GDP will come in lower than expected. He’s too busy for that stuff.

And he likes it that way. He knows investing is mostly a waiting game, and he has plenty of hobbies to keep him busy while he waits. His ignorance of trivial stuff has saved him thousands of dollars and countless time.

The open-minded thinker

Paul knows he’s just one of seven billion people in the world, and that his own life experiences are a tiny fraction of what’s to be learned out there.

He knows that everyone wants to think they are right, and that people will jump through hoops to defend their beliefs. He also knows this is dangerous, because it prevents people from learning. Paul knows that everyone has at least one firm, diehard belief that is totally wrong, and this scares him.

Paul is insanely curious about what other people think. He’s more interested in what other people think than he is in sharing his own views. He doesn’t take everyone seriously — he knows the world is full of idiots — but he knows the only way he can improve is if he questions what he knows and opens his mind to what others think.

The realistic optimist

Paul knows there’s a lot of bad stuff in this world. Crime. War. Hunger. Poverty. Injustice. Disease. Politicians.

All of these things bother Paul. But only to a point. Because he knows that despite the wrongs of the world, more people wake up every morning wanting to do good than try to do harm. And he knows that despite a constant barrage of problems, the good group will eventually win out in the long run. That’s why things tend to get better for almost everyone.

Paul doesn’t get caught up in doom loops, refusing to invest today because he’s worried about future budget deficits, or future inflation, or how his grandkids will pay for Social Security. Optimists get heckled as oblivious goofs from time to time, but Paul knows the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor of the long haul.

I’m trying to be more like Paul.

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TIME U.K.

Russell Brand Joins Thousands in ‘Anonymous’ Protests in London

British comedian Russell Brand joins anti-capitalist protesters during the "Million Masks March" in London on Nov. 5, 2014.
British comedian Russell Brand joins anti-capitalist protesters during the "Million Masks March" in London on Nov. 5, 2014. Jack Taylor—AFP/Getty Images

Protestors donned the anarchist collective's "Guy Fawkes" masks in Nov. 5 demonstrations

Comedian Russell Brand joined anti-establishment protests in London on Wednesday night, where police detained at least 10 people after violence broke out, reports The Independent.

In cities across the world, protestors have participated in the ‘Million Mask March’, promoted by the anarchist hacker collective Anonymous and attracting support from anti-capitalist, anti-war, and pro-Palestine movements.

Thousands gathered in London on Nov. 5, with many—though not Brand himself—sporting the Guy Fawkes masks made famous by the film V for Vendetta and now associated with Anonymous. Fawkes attempted to blow up the House of Parliament on Nov.5 1605, an event long commemorated across the U.K. with fireworks and bonfires.

When Russell Brand appeared by the Houses of Parliament, he was quickly surrounded by protestors and reporters. He told fellow activists that they “should have a loving, peaceful protest”. He added: “Stay cool, stay cool. I think you should be careful. Don’t get beaten up and arrested tonight.”

But police had obtained an order to allow them powers to remove people’s masks and violent clashes broke out, leading to several arrests.

[The Independent]

Read next: Russell Brand Explains How You Start a Revolution

TIME politics

In The Latest Issue

mitch mcconnell
TIME Illustration. Photo reference: Drew Angerer—Getty Images

How Mitch McConnell Won the Day
The GOP takes a victory lap

Is This Hillary Clinton’s Moment?
To win in 2016, she will need to appear fresh, aggressive and optimistic

The GOP’s Other Glittering Prize
Can Republicans agree on a leader to take back the White House?

Xi Jinping’s Power of One
China’s strongest leader in years, aims to propel his nation to the top of the world order

Life After War
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are battling lasting wounds—both visible and invisible

Bob Hope and the Road to Utopia
How the comedian set the stage for Hollywood activism

Startups for Seniors
Innovators are targeting a demographic of consumers living longer than they ever have before

Cider’s Big Moment
Small-batch producers want to take on the beer establishment

Hitching a Ride With Comets
The European Space Agency’s new mission may reveal secrets of the solar system

Revenge of the Dollar
Reports of the demise of the world’s most popular reserve currency were greatly exaggerated

The Culture

Pop Chart

The Theory of Everything: A Grief History of Love
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones soldier on in the Stephen Hawking biopic

Review: 9 Years Later, The Comeback Makes a Comeback
Lisa Kudrow is sharper than ever

Review: All Good Things Must End
Röyksoopp’s new album will be the Norwegian duo’s last

10 Questions With John Cleese
The British jester on growing up funny and the sad things about being a comedian

Kid Swap
Ever wish you had different parents? Well, they might wonder about you too

Conversation

Veterans at Home

Milestones

Brittany Maynard’s ‘Death With Dignity’
The young brain cancer patient has changed the conversation about life-ending medication

Peter Sagal Remembers ‘Car Talk’ Host Tom Magliozzi
Magliozzi, one half of public radio’s famous ‘Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers,’ died Monday aged 77. His NPR colleague remembers a career filled with laughter

World

Briefing

TIME politics

The GOP’s Other Glittering Prize

Can Republicans agree on a leader to take back the White House?

It’s going to be hard for Republicans to restrain their enthusiasm after their breathtaking victories on Nov. 4 in the Senate, the House and state capitols across the country. But they should. If we’ve learned anything about American politics over the past several years, it is that the electorate is far friendlier to Democrats in presidential years than it is in midterms, which is why the GOP triumph in 2010 was quickly followed by deep disappointment in 2012. At the risk of taking away the punch bowl too soon, GOP victories in states like Colorado and North Carolina were narrower than they should have been, considering that the electorates in those states will be younger and less white in two years, which will make them less hospitable terrain. Ed Gillespie’s near victory in Virginia was a welcome surprise. Yet Virginia is a state that Republicans ought to have in the bag in presidential years, and they don’t.

To win the White House, republicans will need a presidential candidate who understands how the country has changed since the Bush era and who offers a welcome contrast to the aging Clinton dynasty. But who will it be?

If Scott Walker had failed in his bid for re-election as governor of Wisconsin, he’d have instantly become a historical footnote. Instead, conservatives cheered as he won his third statewide election in four years. The case for Walker is that he’s demonstrated that he can fight and win against entrenched liberal interest groups and that his unpretentious, everyman style will play well in the all-important upper Midwest. The case against him is that in a dangerous world, the former county executive doesn’t have the experience or the know-how to be Commander in Chief.

Good news for Walker is, alas, bad news for Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor once considered the most formidable 2016 GOP contender. The Christie brand has lost much of its luster since the trumped-up Bridgegate imbroglio, though the governor is still a great talent. Christie’s pitch is not all that different from Walker’s: Both men have tangled with powerful public-worker unions. Both are unapologetic conservatives who’ve won in blue states. The difference is that Christie is seen–unfairly–as closer to President Obama than any Republican should be, and that perception will be difficult to overcome.

Something similar is true of Jeb Bush, the would-be white knight of the GOP establishment. Had the midterms been a disaster for the GOP, the case for Jeb would have been much stronger: once again, Republicans would need to turn to the Bush family to unite a party in disarray. The GOP’s strong showing instead suggests that a new generation is ready to take the helm.

One candidate who definitely got a boost from the midterms is Rand Paul, the junior Senator from Kentucky, who played a crucial role in sparing Republican leader Mitch McConnell from an ignominious defeat. Though McConnell opposed Paul in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, they’ve developed a strong working relationship as Paul has lent his Establishment colleague some of the young libertarian firebrands who fueled his come-from-behind victory. McConnell ran one of the most social-media-savvy campaigns in the country, a preview of what’s to come from a Paul presidential campaign. Rand Paul often takes positions–on mass surveillance, on drone strikes, on the war on drugs, on the size of government–at odds with those of mainstream Republicans. Yet he’s also developed an ability to soften some of his more hard-edged stances for public consumption. Moreover, GOP successes in gubernatorial races in deep-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland lend credence to his argument that the GOP needs to welcome socially liberal voters.

And finally we have Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, junior Senators from Texas and Florida, respectively. Though Cruz and Rubio both came to office as Tea Party stalwarts, they’ve developed very different profiles. Cruz presents himself as the uncompromising defender of small-government conservatism who is willing to risk a federal shutdown or default in defense of his ironclad principles. Rubio, in contrast, is emerging as the candidate of middle-class aspiration, with a focus on reforming failing government institutions to tackle wage stagnation and the barriers to upward mobility.

Watch these two young Senators to see which path the GOP will take.n

Salam is the executive editor of National Review

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Is This Hillary Clinton’s Moment?

Joe Klein is TIME's political columnist and author of six books, most recently Politics Lost. His weekly TIME column, "In the Arena," covers national and international affairs.

To win in 2016, she will need to appear fresh, aggressive and optimistic

On the Sunday before the 2014 election, a vision–perhaps a fantasy–of the future of the Democratic Party was on display at a get-out-the-vote rally in Nashua, N.H. The first speaker was Ray Buckley, chairman of the state party. Every other speaker, and there were lots, was a woman. There were two female candidates for state senate from the Nashua area. There was one of New Hampshire’s two (out of two) female members of Congress. There was Maggie Hassan, the incumbent governor. There was Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor locked in a tight race for another term in the U.S. Senate. Hillary Clinton was there too–at the last rally of 45 campaign stops she made for Democratic candidates during the 2014 campaign.

New Hampshire has always been a magic place for the Clintons. In 1992, Bill Clinton’s second-place finish gave him new life amid the Gennifer Flowers and draft-evasion scandals. In 2008, crushed by Barack Obama in Iowa, Hillary Clinton almost shed a frustrated tear on the day before the primary, then won, narrowly, keeping her candidacy alive. “You lifted me up, gave me my voice back,” she told the Nashua crowd. “You taught me so much about grit and determination.” A big “Ready for Hillary” truck was in the parking lot. It seemed the 2016 campaign had begun.

A few days later, 4 out of 5 of the female candidates onstage in Nashua won re-election, but it was an empty victory, since Democrats were crushed across the country. No doubt, the Republican sweep can be attributed to the unloved Obama, and to the fact that Presidents usually fare badly in their sixth-year election, and to the states in play, which favored the Republicans. But the Democratic candidates were weak and inept; they seemed defensive, reflexive, played out. They pretty much limited themselves to women’s issues, and those were clearly not enough to convince a frightened and frustrated country.

I watched Clinton speak three times during the campaign, and she limited herself to women’s issues too, but she did it cleverly. The emphasis was on economics rather than reproductive rights. She was especially good on the economic impact of pay equity: working women would have more money to spend, and they would spend it on consumer goods, which would create jobs–the opposite of trickle-down economics. She told specific personal stories about her difficulties as a working mom. She spoke slowly, softly, far more confidently than she had in past campaigns. There was a two-tiered rationale for her message: she was spot-on the Democrats’ national pitch, a good soldier selling the blue brand, but the emphasis on women’s rights also redressed a failing from her 2008 campaign. She had run on “experience” then and downplayed the fact that she was a piece of history: the first plausible woman to run for President. She doesn’t have to worry about experience now; everyone knows she has it. The question is, how does she play to her strengths as a woman if she chooses to run? (And I assume she will.) And how does she convince voters that she’s not the same old, same old?

The 2014 exit polls indicated that both political parties are roundly disdained. The Republicans earned their enmity because of their angry, intransigent extremism, but they may be emerging from the swamp. Their candidates this year were more moderate (though they still pandered shamelessly to the party’s paranoid base). Even Mitch McConnell was making postelection noises about getting stuff done in Washington. This raises a potential problem for Democrats. It could put a crimp in one of their strongest arguments: We’re not Republicans.

There are two even larger, perhaps existential problems for the Dems. They are the party of government, and people don’t like government. They don’t think it works. The botched rollout of Obamacare is far more persuasive to many people than its ensuing successes. Additionally, Democrats have allowed themselves to be lulled by demographics. They are strong among growing blocs: women, young people, minorities. Consequently, they have come to seem a party of identities rather than issues. They don’t speak to a larger, unifying sense of America; they speak to women and try to get out the vote among blacks, Latinos and students. They have come to seem opportunistic rather than optimistic.

The Obama Presidency is crippled, not dead. There will be opportunities for compromise and even triumph. But the Democrats are now Hillary Clinton’s party. She will be challenged for the nomination, and she will have to adjust to new political realities. She will also have to figure out a way to seem fresh, aggressive and optimistic–the precise opposite of the candidates the Democrats put forward in 2014.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

This Election Proves That Our Country Is Stuck

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Supporters listen as US President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally for Tom Wolf, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor, at the Liacouras Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 2, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

With each election, Americans become less confident that their leaders will make America more just, equal and free

Our country is stuck. We’ve lost sight of what government should be. And even when we do agree on problems that need to be addressed, special interests too often confound even the broadest compromises and the most basic functions of government.

On Tuesday, Americans delivered control of the Senate to the Republican Party, yet few believe—on the right or left—that this election will create the change so many long to see. With each election, Americans become less confident that their elected leaders will be able to do the things that will make America a more just, equal and free society for everyone.

Through the corrosive influence of money in politics, the corrupt process of gerrymandering electoral district lines, and racist voter ID laws, our government is becoming less reflective of the people it represents and more reflective of the special interests of those with special access to our elected leaders. Our democracy is broken and nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change will fix it.

The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young African American and Latino men in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it are myriad, malevolent forces that are destroying communities of color and poor communities across the country. And it’s getting worse everyday.

Moreover, the privileges and fears attached to whiteness and cultivated in white communities fuel it and stop many from standing against it. This reality directly contradicts every deep tenet of our Christian faith, and if we do not challenge it, we are complicit in it. We are called to celebrate, not destroy, human life. We are required to liberate not imprison the oppressed and to love and nurture, not to annihilate, our young people.

As a Christian, I read Romans 13 and believe that government has the responsibility to “not [be] a terror.” Yet again and again, unarmed African Americans fall victim to excessive use of police force.

Millions of other Americans are suffering and dying in poverty, due to the egregious sin of income inequality. In the country that has produced the most wealth in human history, too many families are having to choose between putting food on the table for their children and paying the electric bill during cold winter months.

We, as people of conscience, and we, the people, through our government, have a duty to take on root causes of racism, poverty and economic injustice. In the 72nd Psalm, King Solomon prays that he may use his authority to “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” It is our duty as people of faith to take leadership in our communities to solve the problems that are keeping so many people from flourishing.

As frustrated as I am by the shortcomings of our democracy, I am hopeful that out of our disappointment will spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than all of us. Though hope for just legislative solutions seems dead, I remain firm in my belief in a God of resurrection. Using the fierce and grounded (and biblical) model of love and non-violence, I am hopeful that Americans of all faiths can band together to work for real change on the issues plaguing us.

Nothing less than future of our democracy is at stake.

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where she also holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Who Remembers the Greatest Woman to Rule the Ancient World?

Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut Michelle McMahon—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Hatshepsut, a woman who was Egypt’s king, serves as a model and cautionary tale for today’s female politicians

This November, nearly 200 women ran for Congress. Most didn’t win. Of the 535 representatives and senators currently serving, only 99 — 18.5 percent — are women. Why are there so few women in positions of power in this modern age?

One way to answer that question is through the story of the greatest woman ever to rule in the ancient world — an Egyptian pharaoh.

In Egypt in the 15th century B.C., women were considered sexual companions and the carriers of men’s seed—not rulers. But Hatshepsut found her way to the throne of the richest and most powerful state in the ancient world. Then, a mere 25 years after her death, ruling elites had her statues smashed into bits.

I wrote my book about Hatshepsut, The Woman Who Would Be King, after the birth of my son. Motherhood made me realize, as I never had before, how trapped women are by our bodies. Hatshepsut must have felt the same kind of entrapment after she gave birth to the child of her half-brother, the king, while still in her early teens. That child was a girl, not the son for whom her people had hoped. But Hatshepsut’s lack of a son laid the foundation for the rest of her strange, charmed life.

Hatshepsut’s husband passed away after only three years of rule, when Hatshepsut was very young, perhaps 16. At the time, the next in line to be king of Egypt was a mere infant—not her own baby, but a baby belonging to one of her husband’s second-class wives.

Hatshepsut had the power to fill this vacuum. Her bloodline was impeccable, back to kings of the earlier 18th Dynasty. She had an education, likely begun in early childhood. Not only was she the highest-ranking royal wife, but also she was Egypt’s most powerful priestess.

Hatshepsut made sure the young king — that infant son of a lesser wife — was educated, brought up in the temple mysteries, and trained in the military arts. But since he was so small, Hatshepsut took charge.

So it was Hatshepsut who gave the vizier — the king’s second-in-command — orders about trading ventures to the land of Punt, who discussed treasury matters with her royal steward, and who put down insurrections in Kerma (in modern-day Sudan). She personally oversaw the collection of the spoils of war, according to a tomb inscription written by her overseer of the treasury.

Then, for reasons that were not recorded, Hatshepsut was given — or decided she needed — more. When the young King Thutmose III was just 8 or 9, Hatshepsut was crowned king alongside him, with the full support of her courtiers, Egypt’s elite families, and its powerful temple priesthoods. Hatshepsut became a king — because ancient Egypt had no word for a female ruler.

She won this prize because she was the most able person for the job. Hatshepsut also built a strong cohort of supporters — men whose continued prosperity depended on her power.

When Thutmose III was approaching his 16th year, she tried another strategy to retain power. In statuary, in reliefs, maybe even in rituals before her elites and populace — she took on the appearance of a man. She bound her breasts; she wore a masculine kilt; she tied on the long beard of kings. She was ostensibly past childbearing years, which meant that she would never bear her own heir to the throne, and her co-king was quickly becoming a man. She had to stay ahead of him.

Historians have given many explanations for Hatshepsut’s power plays — an unreasonable greed and lust for influence being chief among them. But she actually helped Thutmose III’s position by keeping him by her side. Thutmose III accompanied her on campaigns to Kush, presumably participating in the battles, the dispatch of enemies and the taking of spoils. The investment paid off: Thutmose III became the greatest warrior king Egypt had ever seen.

The history of her reign became troublesome as Thutmose III was grooming his chosen son to be next in line. The possibility of another woman taking the throne was a complication he decided to erase. So down went the statues and the first layer of the temple reliefs.

We’ve come a long way since the 15th century B.C., but what’s interesting is how much remains the same.

Kara Cooney is associate professor of Egyptian art and architecture at the University of California at Los Angeles. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

The Swedish Way To Boost Voter Turnout

voters
Getty Images

Whether you’re in high-turnout Sweden or low-turnout L.A., the task of getting people to participate must be a constant, year-round focus of attention, not just an issue of concern at election time

I did not receive the warmest welcome from my colleagues four years ago, at my very first meeting of the Falun Election Commission. In fact, most members of the authority in Falun, the Swedish city of 57,000 where I live, were surprised I had called a meeting at all.

“What is this all about?” a colleague asked me. “The next elections are in four years and we had just an election with a great turnout. The only thing we are elected to do is administer the next elections.”

My colleague had a point. The Swedish law makes clear the election commission’s job is to administer election, full stop. And participation in the 2010 local, regional and national elections here in Sweden—which are held together at the same time—was terrific. Turnout of those eligible to vote was 82 percent.

That may sound like another world entirely to people in the U.S. where I’m visiting this week in part to observe preparations for Tuesday’s elections. I know that many places in the country, including California, where I’m writing this, are experiencing record low turnout.

But I also know this: Whether you’re in high-turnout Sweden or low-turnout L.A., the task of getting people to participate must be a constant, year-round focus of attention, not just an issue of concern at election time. Conventional wisdom is that turnout is beyond the control of election organizers. I’d suggest—after spending the past four years trying to raise turnout for the 2014 elections—that election administrators can make the difference.

I’m highly sensitive to the issues of participation because democracy is such a big part of my life. I’m a professional journalist for Swiss radio who covers a lot of elections around Europe and the world. I’ve been an official observer of elections (my co-observer President Jimmy Carter failed to show up when we were paired recently as observers of Taiwanese elections). And I vote in two different countries because I’m a citizen of Sweden and Switzerland, as well as the European Union.

In all these contexts, I’ve seen that the places with the greatest participation do not necessarily have the most media coverage and campaign materials demanding that people show up at the polls. The places that improve participation tend to be places where regular people connect with politics and make collective decisions all the time, not just in election season.

How to create these connections? You need to strengthen existing institutions—and build new ones—that encourage active citizenship year-round.

In Falun, I wanted to take advantage of new initiative and referendum rights in Sweden and Europe to try to boost participation. After that first uncomfortable meeting, my colleagues decided that the role of our local government was to make sure that people understood these new rights and how to use them.

But it wasn’t enough to just notify people. My colleagues on the commission insisted on a test of our work in what came to be called a “supersized participation challenge.” All of our work between elections would be measured by whether or not voting participation increased.

One of our first ideas was to develop and distribute a “Democracy Passport” to every citizen; We made an extra effort to get it into the hands of first-time voters. The passport is the size and shape of a national passport, and it described all the political powers that Falun citizens have and all the forums where they have the right to weigh in—at the city, state, country and European Union level. The passport explains which levels of government do what, as well as what you can do to influence the government.

We also opened a “Democracy Center” at our public library, offering a free public space for democratic information, education, and dialogue. We hired a full-time “Democracy Navigator,” whose job was to assist individual citizens and groups to make their voices heard. Finally we started to renew the city’s online services, incorporating modern forms of transparency and citizen interaction.

We did all of this with the agreement of each of the nine political parties in the city parliament, which consists of 61 members. Our message was a paradigm shift: We need to move away from the idea that citizens are just consumers of political programs and parties and start seeing them as direct participants in the community. In this, we had a distinct advantage: Sweden’s long history of democracy has generated significant trust in public institutions.

After three years of work (in which I also chaired another public body, the Falun Democracy Council, which did related work), we reached the “months of truth” this year. Elections for the European Union parliament were held in May, and then the joint elections for local, regional and national Swedish parliaments were held in September.

Determined to boost participation, we made use of our very generous voting regulations—we permit early voting, voting by mail, and even second voting. What’s second voting? People who voted early can go to a polling station on Election Day and change their vote in person; When people do this, the vote in the polling station is accepted and the advance vote declared invalid.

We also have automatic voter registration—you don’t have to sign up yourself. And we have been aggressive in making sure that voters who were not born in Sweden but have lived here for three years (non-citizens with residency can vote in local and regional elections) are on the rolls. We organized meetings with Somali-Swedish women, translated the Democracy Passport into Arabic, and invited new voters to participate in walks we organized and staffed with interpreters to the offices of elected officials, political parties and interest groups.

In the end, we met the supersizing challenge. At the European elections in May—elections where turnout has been lowest in Sweden—we boosted turnout from 45 percent to 54 percent, among the highest in Sweden.

And in the mid-September elections, we went from 82 percent to 87 percent. That’s healthy, of course. But it’s not good enough. We’re already planning for the next elections, and thinking about how to invest more in our democratic infrastructure.

Bruno Kaufmann, a journalist and election commissioner in Falun, Sweden, is founder of People2Power, a publication on democracy. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Know Right Now

Marijuana Wins, And So Do Money-Backed Candidates

If you were a gubernatorial candidate with a lot of money for TV ad campaigns, you probably won last night

The big winners of Tuesday’s midterm elections were Republicans — specifically Mitch McConnell, who’s expected to assume the role of Senate Majority Leader.

And change also came for states that voted on recreational marijuana use. Those in Oregon and Alaska voted to legalize pot use, while others took smaller steps towards legalization.

Finally, need a sure-fire way to predict which governors won last night? The amount of money they spent on TV ads.

Watch above for the things you need to know right now about Tuesday’s midterm elections.

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