With this post we’ve reached a milestone on Health, Wealth, Power. By my count, this is post number 50. So far, readership has been going up steadily and that has been very exciting. To those of you who have been coming here for a while, I’m glad to have you along on this journey. To anyone who has started reading more recently, welcome. Today I want to highlight both some of my most viewed posts and some of my favorites that haven’t been seen as much – in many cases because I posted them before many people were reading the blog at all. Thank you to everyone for reading and here’s to the next 50 posts (and many more) to come!
A window into my raw thought process on a recent night when
I got some seemingly devastating news about my career. I wrote this almost
immediately when I got home so I would have a good record of my immediate
reaction to look back at later. I’m still in the midst of dealing with this
situation but I have a very exciting recent development that I’ll be sharing
This is one of my personal favorite posts so far. It is a
nostalgic look at the way the most difficult event of my life so far has
spawned so many wonderful changes. While I and my life will never be quite the
same as before it happened again, that is mostly a good thing.
Health and fitness is a topic that’s near and dear to my
heart. Medical science is keeping people alive longer and longer today. But
what is it worth? My argument is that we’ve long since passed the point where
quality is much more important (and elusive in many cases) than quantity. This
post is my attempt to lay out the basics for anyone who feels similarly and
wants to do something about it.
I’ve written a number of posts on this theme now – the value
of finding the positives in situations that don’t seem very positive at face
value. But this was one of the first. As someone who has put a ton of work into
thinking more positively and seen firsthand how dramatically that mentality
shift can change life in often unexpected ways, it is very important to me to
share my experiences in this area.
I wrote this post for people who struggle with depression or
have in the past. It’s not comprehensive and I’m no mental health professional,
but it’s a discussion of some tactics and information that have helped me in
the past when the weight of the world seemed to be crushing me with no sign of
relief. If it helps one person, it was worth far more than the time it took to
I’m trying to be less of a bastard in life. But I do tend to
temporarily suspend that effort when it comes to fighting back against what I
view as unethical tactics. In this post, I illustrate how I’ve been mostly
successful at keeping the shenanigans of those damn ISPs from succeeding in
robbing me blind.
Simply put, the methods I described in this post have saved
me five figures by this point in my life. One of the many benefits of living in
the richest country in the history of the world, particularly at a time when
technological advancement has been unprecedented as well, is that extremely
marginal compromises can result in enormous savings. There is an almost constant
chorus in the media about the retirement crisis in the United States. That
means that for most of us, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of
opportunities like this to get so much in return for so little.
I was working on a very different post for today but that
one is going to have to wait since something else has grabbed hold of my
attention. This is going to get into the “way too personal” category but since
this blog has turned into a sort of journal for me, since I’ve intentionally
maintained a high degree of anonymity so I can post things of this nature if I
want to, and since I hope that this post might be valuable to someone out there,
I’m going to write it. I am writing this in real time; I found out the news I’m
about to share with you less than four hours ago. So I’m writing it without the
benefit of “sleeping on it” and I decided to do it because I want to preserve
the moment as authentically as possible.
It would appear my employer is heading into troubled waters.
I certainly am, in any case. My boss visits everyone in the field periodically
and this week was my turn. But while it is usually a fun and enjoyable
experience, this time he had to do something that I’m sure was very difficult
for him. Tonight he told me I’m effectively on notice and that barring a
dramatic performance improvement over the next few months that is unlikely if
not impossible, I’m going to have to find something else to do with my time. Furthermore,
this same message is being delivered to most of us, save the top handful of
performers. So either he was trying to cushion the blow with that last part (I’ll
find out soon enough) or this is a lot bigger than just me. I believe he is a
man of integrity and I have no reason to doubt him but it really doesn’t make a
lot of difference either way.
My performance has actually been very good for quite a while
in some ways and I’m very proud of the way I have grown, both as a salesman and
as a person, and how I have succeeded many times against very difficult odds. I
have shortcomings and limitations like anyone else, however, and the bar is
being moved above what I believe is possible when all circumstances are
factored in. I have no ill will towards anyone. My boss didn’t make this
decision and delivering the news couldn’t have been easy, especially if he
knows he has to do it several more times over the coming weeks. He has always
been a decent man in my experience and that is far more important than anything
else in my book. His boss probably didn’t make this decision either and even if
he did, I have nothing but respect for him and appreciation for everything he
has done for me over the years. His boss probably did make the decision. But
while I have only met him very briefly, I’m sure something like that wouldn’t
be easy for him either and even if it was, he did it because he has a boss to
answer to as well – in his case, the investors who collectively own the
company. At the end of the day, almost everything in business boils down to
economics and it appears either revenue needs to increase or expenses need to
decrease. We salesmen live and die by that reality. And regardless of growth,
positive aspects of my performance, or any other factors, I have not done
enough to remain viable under current conditions. Many, many people who work in
sales will face this day and today is my turn.
I have struggled with negative thinking all my life but I
want to promise myself and the world, here and now, that I’m going to ace this
test that has been put in front of me. And I don’t make promises I have any
reason to doubt I can and will keep. My first thoughts after I got the news
gave me that confidence. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude – for the incredibly
lucrative run I’ve had with this company, for the personal and career growth
the opportunity has resulted in, for the many good people and the handful of truly
amazing people I’ve met that I hope to keep as beloved friends, for the fact
that I run my finances ultra-conservatively and thus am in an excellent
position to withstand any loss of income, for having a solid resume with a
great school and solid experience on it, for being given notice and a fairly
specific timeline, and on and on. My response to my boss was along these same
lines. Of course I’m going to do my best to raise my performance to the new
standard. But he and I both know the odds of me (or several other people)
getting there are remote. The reality is that his job may not last much longer
than mine and in fact, that could even be true of everyone in the organization
on a relatively short timeline. At least I’ve been given some sort of chance to
both try to change the situation and prepare for it in the event that my
efforts to do so come up short.
My subsequent thoughts were also all really good ones. I
remembered the proverb about the Chinese farmer, which is one of my favorite
concepts of all time. If I were a tattoo man (I’m not), and there were some single
artistic concept that could remind me of the parable, that is probably the
tattoo I would get. I don’t know the source but I believe its origins date back
plenty far enough to put it in the public domain so I will put it at the bottom
of this post for anyone who hasn’t read it. It has gotten me through some
difficult days and inspired me on some good ones. I thought about all the
things I can go out and do to try to shoot the moon or at least keep my job as
long as possible. I thought about some of the many well-connected people I can
reach out to in an effort to find a new job. I thought about how lucky I am in
so many ways: no dependents, enough cash on hand to live with no income for
well over a year, enough overall wealth to do so for close to a decade, having
been born in the richest country on earth at the most prosperous time in its history
to date, and on and on. I thought about how I took a very hard hit (a fairly
sudden divorce from a woman I loved with all my heart) in 2016 and how three
years later, my life is better in many ways than it was before that happened. I
thought about how thankful I am to have my closest confidant; then I called her
and told her the news and thanked her in as many ways as I could think of for
the wonderful impact she has had, and continues to have in my life. I thought
of what an unlikely closest confidant she is and how I met her near the depths
of despair. You just never know when something awful might turn into something
This is just another opportunity dressed in ugly clothes. It’s an opportunity to prove I’m the man I aspire to be against the backdrop of difficult circumstances. It’s an opportunity to use those same circumstances to grow stronger than I am now. Nothing does it like adversity. I truly believe that. Hell, this is an opportunity to upgrade. In a few months or a year, I could look back on this as a day that forced me to turn away from something good and towards something even better.
Undoubtedly, there are tough days ahead. There will be
rejections – just like every other day, except that I myself will also be
getting rejected as I pursue other opportunities. There will be moments of
weakness and I will have to fight through my nemesis, depression, for hours,
days, or longer. Anxiety will probably be in the mix as well. I could even
experience one of my greatest fears – being fired and having no employment
income for some period of time (even that is something to be thankful for; how
many people on earth face realities infinitely worse than that every day?). But
I can’t afford to let any of it beat me. This is a crucial time and I need to
be at my absolute best. I’m going into a storm, like it or not. I can either
cower in fear and drown, or I can embrace the challenge and fight. Fear is ok
and in fact, it is only natural. Failure is neither. Who we are is determined
by what we do every single day. But some days are a little more important than
others. I’m going to go get that sleep now. After all, tomorrow is a big day.
The Parable of the Chinese Farmer
A wise man once told me that back in the day, there was a Chinese
farmer who lived with his son. He was very poor and only had one horse that he
used to plough the fields. The Farmer was elderly and relied on his son and the
horse to do all the work on his farm.
One day his son left the gate to the horse’s pen open and the
horse escaped. The Farmer kept sending his son out to find the horse but it was
nowhere to be found.
When the Farmer’s friends and neighbors found out they came round
to commiserate with him and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied
After many days of searching, the Farmer’s son found the horse. It
was grazing with a group of other horses. When the Farmer’s son returned with
the horse, its new friends followed. And when he closed the gate, there were
seven horses in the pen.
The Farmer’s friends were delighted and all visited to celebrate,
telling the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The son set about breaking in the horses so they could be sold at
market as tame rather than wild. When he was working with the last animal, he
fell off and broke his leg. Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors visited to
commiserate and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The very next day, the Chinese army passed nearby. They were on
the way to a huge battle with the Mongols and arrived at the Farmer’s house
saying they had heard there was a young man there and he must come with them to
fight. The Farmer showed them in so they could see that the son had a broken
leg. They left without him.
Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors arrived delighted and told the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe…”
It’s been about a month since I wrote about my time restricted eating experiment and maybe two months since I started so here is an update. The title really sums it up; this experiment has produced far and away the most measurable results of any of the many I’ve conducted on myself over the years. It has me rethinking a lot of what I thought I knew about my body, nutrition, and so forth. Let’s get into the details.
I’ve been pretty successful about sticking with an eight
hour eating window. I went with eight because that’s who I am; if I’m going to
do something, I’m not going to half ass it. On a typical day, I start eating
around 10:30am and stop by 6:30pm. When I know I’ll be out late – no later than
eleven for me these days and usually more like ten – I don’t start eating until a late lunch in
order to maintain the experiment (remember, any calories count and that
includes drinking anything but water). I’ve had only a few days where I slipped
and wound up around a nine hour window and one where I screwed up completely
and ended up at about twelve.
Overall, the most surprising element of this experiment has
been how easy it is. As an avid food lover, I expected to suffer miserably. But
that hasn’t transpired at all. After some modest discomfort the first week or
two, I’ve barely even had to think about what I’m doing. The habit seems to
suit me very well and it even seems to have made me noticeably more productive.
Yes, I’m consistently referred to as “very disciplined,” although my worst
critic (me) considers my discipline level to be atrocious. But nothing I’ve
experienced makes me think anyone would struggle to implement this in any
significant way. It just requires a little bit of mindfulness and a few
And the results have been more than worth the effort. The
most noticeable change has been weight loss and with this part, keep in mind
that my body is very ectomorphic by nature so unlike many people, keeping
weight on is my biggest challenge. Prior to embarking on my restricted eating
journey, I had already been down about twenty pounds from my normal weight due
to a dramatic reduction in both eating (intentional to account for a dramatic
reduction in calories being burned) and gym time/efficacy as a result of a
frustrating string of injuries I went through. I had a lean, muscular build
prior to that weight loss so there was a lot of good weight in that twenty
pounds and after losing it, I had very little fat left available to lose. Since
there is definitely a limit to how low a healthy person’s body fat percentage
can go, additional fat loss was not a goal for me.
However, I have lost about an additional five pounds since starting
time restricted eating and my body fat has, in fact, almost completely
disappeared. I believe there are two reasons for this. One, you only want to
eat so much in an eight hour window. Once I noticed my weight dropping even
further than it already had, I started forcing myself to eat more. I even
loosened up on eating lower quality foods a little bit to make things easier.
And still I’ve only managed to stop the bleeding. I’m stuck at the five pounds
down mark and am gradually eating more and more in an attempt to start putting
weight back on. Keep in mind that since I’m finally 100% physically healthy
again, I’m back working hard in the gym along with this. The second reason I
suspect is that I do almost zero snacking of any kind now. Since I seemingly
can’t eat enough, I rarely feel hungry at all. So snacking not only doesn’t
come naturally anymore, it would literally amount to an effort I would have to
make. Long story short, if you’re after weight loss, fat loss, or both, time
restricted eating seems very likely to help you.
There have been other very measurable changes as well – and much
more positive ones in my case. My resting heart rate, which used to hover
around an average of 60 bpm, now sits in the low to mid 50s. I suppose this
makes sense since my metabolic functions are only happening about half to two
thirds of the time they previously had been. That is a huge energy savings and
my guess is this is much more appropriate for my body from an evolutionary
perspective. But the most exciting change for me has been to my sleeping. I’ve
struggled in this area all my life and even employing every method I’ve ever
read about to an almost religious degree, I’ve never managed to average over
6.5 hours per night in a week outside of the occasional anomaly. However, since
not long after I started time restricted eating, I’m averaging over 7 hours a
night consistently. I don’t doubt for a second that this has made a huge
difference in my day to day life. I have no precise way to measure this, but I
feel more energetic and mentally sharper/more alert. I had been in the habit of
drinking coffee twice a day – morning and early afternoon. Now I usually only
do so once and sometimes not at all. Note that coffee isn’t harmful in any
known way. But not feeling compelled to drink it is still a very positive sign
in my book.
Overall, this has been a huge net positive for me and I’m
going to continue with it. Yes, my strength in the gym has declined somewhat.
But that can probably be almost exclusively attributed to the weight I had
already lost prior to starting this experiment and the way I lost it (both eating
and working out dramatically less). And given that my strength numbers are
still excellent for a man my size (which has itself changed), I’m not concerned
about this other than being motivated to gain back my good size in spite of the
additional challenge. And for most people, the weight loss would be viewed as a
positive. Other than that, everything has been a huge positive for me. My body
and mind both seem to work much better this way. This experiment has been a
Howdy folks! I just got back from a couple days on the road and I’m exhausted. But I wanted to write a quick post about something I wish I had handled better today. I ran into a setback. I didn’t do anything wrong to cause it and no one else did either. It was simply bad luck and it will wind up costing me around $300 when the dust settles. The nature of the setback isn’t important and that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to discuss my reaction to the setback and why outlook is so important.
I didn’t have an easy childhood. While we didn’t live in poverty or anywhere close, we were squarely in the lower middle class category, with emphasis on the lower part. Money was a dirty word as far as I was concerned – a word that usually meant I couldn’t have something I wanted. At the time, it felt like a terrible burden. Today, I look back and see how lucky I was. I learned that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I learned that if you have something, you had better not waste it. I’m sure those harsh, but invaluable lessons have played a huge role in allowing me to get to where I am today. A lot of kids who seemed luckier than me at the time missed out on these lessons until later in life and if the statistics have anything to say about it, it cost many of them dearly.
But my successful mindset isn’t without its costs. And today’s situation was a great example. When I realized I was going to lose $300 and there was no way around it, I was furious. As I mentioned, there really wasn’t anyone at fault for what happened, so I automatically directed my rage at the same person who usually gets it – myself. For about an hour, I was in a terrible state. And unsurprisingly, Houston’s trademark rush hour traffic didn’t help. Luckily, business hours were over, or my rotten mood could have destroyed a deal and cost me significantly more money. But a bad attitude can cost so much more than that. If you allow that kind of darkness a regular place in your life, it can cost you relationships or even your health. It certainly contributed to the failure of my marriage and there is plenty of time left for it to do the latter in my case as well. And yet, even after having paid so much, I still don’t have this under control.
But there is still hope for me. After brooding for a while
and cursing the traffic a little more than usual, I was able to use perspective
to get beyond it. $300 would be a real problem for many people. It might mean
having to choose between paying one bill or another in many cases. This could
start a downward spiral that could be difficult to pull out of. But for me,
this is an afterthought. Hell, I’m so fortunate in life that $3000 would be a
minor setback and nothing more. I save/invest more than that every single
But in my head, I’m on a treadmill 24/7/365. In front of me is the financial independence I want. Behind me is the scarcity of my childhood. In reality, it would take a serious sequence of mishaps for me to go off the back of the treadmill. It’s certainly not an impossibility but at this point, it’s unlikely at best. Claiming financial independence, on the other hand, will happen in the next three to five years, or ten at the absolute most, barring any catastrophic setbacks. And I’m much closer to thirty than to forty and only started making significant financial progress in my late twenties. So I should really just throw the treadmill in the garbage and focus on enjoying the moments of my life while making sure I stay on track with the big picture stuff behind the scenes.
For tonight, at least, the demon has been slain. I am calm
and back to being thankful for how well my life is going. But even for someone
as fortunate as I am, this can be very difficult. And it will undoubtedly be
difficult again. However, it is important to look at this in a balanced way.
There was a time when I could have gone into a tailspin of depression, anxiety,
and anger over something like what happened today. But this time it only cost
me an hour of misery. I will never fully escape my past or my tendency to
occasionally let emotion cast a dark cloud over my actually sunny reality. But I
can work at it and improve. In time, maybe I’ll get to the point of avoiding
the negativity altogether.
Up until now, most of my health/fitness effort in life has been on the exercise side with nutrition being an afterthought. Of course I know now how foolish this was but hindsight is 20/20. For years, I ate without a thought beyond that I needed a lot of protein and a lot of everything overall and my time in the gym would take care of the rest. This was obviously a terrible approach and I can only guess what it has cost me. Unfortunately, because I usually do spend a prodigious amount of time in the gym, I have always been in above average physical shape so I have never been forced to confront the nutrition side in a serious way. In my mid twenties, I started to pay a little bit of attention to nutrition, but not much. At least I started eating more fruits and vegetables but aside from that, my diet was still pretty bad. When I was married, my diet got a little bit better, but again, not much. We both spent a fair amount of time in the gym and were both in above average shape so again, we did the bare minimum with nutrition and neither of us was interested enough in breaking the cycle.
But when I got divorced, things finally changed. With no one
else around to worry about pleasing and a newfound mission to prove someone
very, very wrong, I started experimenting more in the kitchen. Instead of
choosing a recipe I wanted to eat and then making it, possibly substituting a
healthier ingredient or two but otherwise keeping it the same, I started to
choose the healthiest ingredients and then find recipes that featured them. And
sometimes I would simply build my own recipes from the ground up that would
start out as very healthy culinary disasters but evolve over time into very
healthy, edible meals – and sometimes even beyond that point. But over the last
year, I’ve taken it to the next level. I’ve started paying attention to the big
picture – making sure I get plenty of vegetables, a moderate amount of mostly
high quality carbohydrates, a reasonable amount of protein, and less garbage.
And since this year started, I’ve eaten almost no garbage and have paid for
zero. As a result, my fitness level, which was probably at an 8 before, is
knocking on the door of 9 – even in spite of a rash of injuries that has held
Why the nutritional history? I want people to know what a flippant attitude I’ve had towards nutrition for most of my life because it’s a great example of how it’s never too late to start doing the right things. This concept applies to many areas, although today I want to talk about nutrition. Over the last year, I’ve heard more and more about intermittent fasting and recently, it reached the tipping point quite by accident. When I sprained my ankle, I wound up missing a couple weeks of doing almost any leg exercises in the gym. In an attempt to mitigate the situation as well as improve my overall efficiency, I devised a plan to eat less. I had been spending 30-40 minutes making elaborate breakfast burritos totally from scratch in the mornings.
I decided to temporarily scrap this meal to account for the
dramatic reduction in calories I would be burning and get myself moving more
quickly in the mornings at the same time. This is easily the healthiest meal I
eat so imagine my surprise when I started feeling better without it (I have
since added it back in, often as dinner since I have more time in the evenings).
And it wasn’t just the way I felt. Even though I was putting in about half the
work in the gym and even less than that on the cardio side, it wasn’t the all
out disaster I was expecting. I did lose about twenty pounds (not a one of
which I wanted to lose, mind you) and while a lot of it was muscle, I couldn’t
help but notice that a lot of it was also fat, to the point where my overall
composition was noticeably improving.
I started researching in an effort to figure out what was
going on and all roads seemed to lead to the same place. While the focus of
nutrition is usually on what you are eating, there is more and more evidence
that the timing of that eating is very important as well. I had inadvertently
stumbled onto time restricted eating – the very same thing I had overheard so
many people talking about and dismissed as “just the latest trend.” I’m still
in the process of researching but I’ve learned enough to form a hypothesis and
launch an experiment. In simple, general terms, the theory is that one’s
metabolism can only work effectively for so many hours per day. Unfortunately,
we in the western world tend to eat basically the entire time we’re awake. If
you think about it, this wouldn’t have been possible for our distant ancestors
and even for people a century ago, who largely wouldn’t have been able to
afford such excess. Anyway, for some of those hours we’re eating, our
metabolisms are struggling severely. In order for them to work optimally, it
appears that eating should be restricted to twelve hours per day on the high
end. And there is evidence that fewer hours will yield even better results.
As for me, I’m aiming for eight to nine hours per day. One
unwelcome revelation in my research was that coffee counts, even if you only
drink it black as I do, because it forces metabolic processes to start. So I’ve
had to make some adjustments and here is what I’m doing now. I wake up at 6am
and instead of having coffee, I head straight to the gym after chugging the 24
ounces of water I drink immediately when I wake up (your body gets dehydrated
during the night). I get home between 7:30 and 8. Then I do 20-30 minutes of
core work and then I do some language practice (I’m always working on improving
my German and Spanish). Sometimes I also work in a chore or two around the
apartment. Finally, around 9, I make coffee, drink a protein shake, and drink a
smoothie of mostly leafy green vegetables with a little fruit. When the coffee
is ready, I do my morning reading. From there, I get my workday going.
I eat a big lunch and a reasonable sized dinner. But the dinner (and my evening smoothie) has to happen by about 5 if I’m going to stay within my eight hour target. I will note that I’m not going to be 100% rigid. If I’m out for drinks once or twice a week, I’m not going to sit there sipping water in order to keep my fast going. However, I may consider starting the day with a late lunch; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Lucky for me, I work out of my home, don’t travel as much as I did in the past, and am usually back home doing emails, follow ups, etc by around 4 so as to avoid as much of the stupidly insane Houston traffic as possible. Back in my office droning days, this would have taken more planning and effort. But even if I were in that position today, I would probably try something like this. For me, success in life is quality times quantity. If there is a way to improve my health and fitness level, then I’d be willing to tolerate a very high cost in both financial expense and inconvenience. There was a time when I didn’t think that way. But I’m thankful to be here today. There is absolutely nothing worth more than health.
After a while, I’ll do another post on this with both my
observed results and any conclusions I come to with my research. If anyone out
there wants to try this with me, I would love to compare notes!
Let it never be said that I’m using this blog the way most people use social media – presenting a highlight reel as if it accurately represented the entirety of my life and there wasn’t even a hint of a struggle anywhere. On the contrary, my struggles are the only reason I have been able to attain the highlight reel moments and the only reason I have been able to enjoy them. Yes, I’m successful in many areas of life and I want to help others attain success of their own. But I believe I would be doing a disservice if I led anyone to believe that success would come without a price or that it would mean an easy life from that day forward. There is no utopia or lasting easiness in life and if you spend your time wishing for it, you will ruin your opportunities to enjoy the happiness that is actually possible.
In a recent post, I mentioned that I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life and that while the situation has improved dramatically, I’ve accepted that the disease will always be a part of me. And as it so happens, I’m contending with it today. It started early yesterday evening during a real estate investing webinar (that is my side business; as it progresses I may write about it here). It had been a very solid day. I wound up crossing literally every item off of my to do list, something that rarely happens because I aim very high. Just about every aspect of the day had gone well. Sure, there are some storms lurking on the horizon for me and yes, a couple of them are almost certain to get very ugly. But this is nothing out of the ordinary in my profession; with great privilege comes great responsibility.
I ended last night the way I always try to. I got to bed
reasonably close to on schedule, I hit every point on my checklist, and my last
thoughts before I fell asleep were about events of the day I was thankful for.
It isn’t uncommon for me to get depressed at night but usually my regular
routine, which is designed largely for this purpose, is enough to ensure that I
wake up feeling back to normal. But this morning, the depression was still very
noticeably present, pressing down on every inch of me like a giant, invisible
lead vest. This is far from my first rodeo so I know what usually works. I
ignored the feelings and worked through my routine, confident that by the time
I finished my morning workout, momentum would have built and pulled me through.
But again I was wrong. I had a good, solid workout. No personal records were
set but it was a little over an hour very well spent. And yet, I still didn’t
feel any better.
At that point, I decided I needed to take the situation more
seriously. One of my favorite depression fighting techniques is called a
thought record. Basically, it involves systematically pinpointing the thoughts
that are causing the depression and weighing the evidence for and against them.
Usually, I am able to conclude that the thoughts are not an accurate reflection
of reality and disregard them, and usually the negative feelings dissipate
pretty quickly. In this case, I put a lot of effort in, but it ultimately
became clear that I was already thinking in a balanced way. There are plenty of
legitimate concerns in my world right now and I am neither exaggerating, nor
minimizing/overlooking them. For anyone who thinks life is easy once you’re
doing very well financially, I can tell you that it isn’t. Yes, things get
easier financially, although there is a strong diminishing return effect due to
the progressive nature of our tax code. But the reality is that you’re being
compensated for taking on additional stress. There is a great saying about
this; if it was easy, everyone would do it. Only you can determine what makes
the most sense for you, but many people choose to have less money and less
stress and I’m pretty sure I will turn back in that direction in my own life
But as I said, I work in a high stress job and this is not
new. On any given day, I’m likely to be at odds with customers, dealers, various
service providing entities, and maybe most of all, people in my office.
Conflict and high pressure comprise the medium in which most of our business
gets done. Many people can’t handle it and in fact, my job was only open in
this territory because the last man to hold it had a very public nervous
breakdown. And that is not uncommon in this line of work; tons of people wash out.
But the point is, I’ve learned to handle ongoing conflicts of varying intensity
and I can’t remember too many times over the last few years when I’ve had none
to speak of. It could be a situation where a long enough duration of fighting
has worn me down to the point where I can’t handle any more, but I don’t think
so. I don’t feel like I’m in that place or anywhere near it. I’ve been feeling
consistently great lately, in fact. So while I can’t rule it out as a cause, I
doubt my current bout of depression is coming from this particular source, even
if it does appear to be the simplest and most logical explanation.
And that’s where I’m at now. I’m about to head downstairs
for my evening cardio and certainly there is a possibility I will feel better
after that. But it’s also very possible that I won’t and that it could take me
a few more days, or even weeks, to get through this fog. I know a number of
things that help me – exercise, fresh air, sunlight, doing the right things and
building momentum to truck right through it, analyzing my thought patterns and
challenging their logic as objectively as possible, and talking to people I
love. I tried most of these methods during the course of today and I will
continue to pursue them because the continuation of this particular episode of
depression is not a foregone conclusion, like a minimum number of years to be
served on a prison sentence. I can break out of this at any moment and at some
point in the near future, I will. But sometimes the answers don’t come immediately
and rather than present this as a problem that is easy to solve with a
systematic approach, I wanted to use my present circumstances as an example of
how it can be more complex than that. Just like anything else worth doing,
breaking out of depression doesn’t always come easily, even if you have a lot
of experience doing it. Be well, my friends.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be aware that I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches a while back. I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to start walking without the crutches and for the last few days, I’ve been walking with no limp at all and have resumed my regular workout schedule – albeit carefully! I am very happy and excited to get back to full throttle in the gym and all other areas of my life very soon.
Over the years, I’ve been through a lot of these situations
but I haven’t always handled them very well. This time, my attitude was much
better than ever before and it really helped. For one thing, it made the whole
experience feel like much less of an inconvenience. But also, while I certainly
can’t prove this, may even have helped to speed up my healing process. This was
a serious ankle sprain; we’re talking about a joint being in the wrong position
when it hit the floor, going much further in that direction, and causing immediate
and fairly severe pain. I was on crutches over a month as a result of a
previous sprain of similar severity. The mind can be incredibly powerful and
this has been documented plenty of times in medical contexts. In this case, I
believe that by having mine in a good, healthy state, I put it to work on
healing my ankle faster.
Whether or not that is true, the whole episode has been a
great reminder for me. Each and every one of us has so much to be thankful for
in life. It can be very easy to focus on negative things that appear more significant
in the moment and ignore the positives. Believe me, I have spent far too much
of my life looking at things that way. But when you lose something fundamental –
like the ability to walk – you suddenly realize the fallacy in this. Or at
least I do. There are plenty of people who would give almost anything just to
be able to walk ever again. Temporarily experiencing a taste of their reality for
myself gave me a valuable dose of perspective. Every morning, when I got out of
bed and realized I would need the crutches to progress any further, I got a
fresh reminder. Thankfully, this condition didn’t last long enough for it to
stop surprising me when I woke up!
Of course this experience will fade to some deep, dark corner of my memory bank before too long. But this time around, my goal is to slow down that process. Remember my challenge from a few posts ago? It would make it much easier to get started and to excel at it if the threshold were as low as being thankful to be able to walk, run, jump, work out, etc. And why not set it that low? Gratitude can enrich anyone’s life to an almost infinite degree and if you can get the ball rolling, even just a little bit, you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how you do it.
This is where I have to call myself out. As disappointing as
it is, I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with some frustrations in my work
over the last week or so. I’m doing all I can to improve the realities of these
few situations and while I wait for my efforts to hopefully produce results,
writing this post is helping me to refocus on what’s most important. Writing
this blog often does, which is a big part of why I enjoy doing it. And to keep
that going, I’m going to lay out a new challenge for myself and for anyone who
would like to join me.
The next time I get frustrated with a situation, I’m going
to look at it as an opportunity to improve myself – because that is exactly
what any problem is. My goal is to avoid reacting rashly and instead, to think
about the situation logically – starting with taking responsibility, which is
so crucial. What actions of mine led me here? What could I have done
differently? What can I do now that is likely to make things better? Once I
have a game plan for both current and future improvement, I can focus on
executing it. This process will be much more effective than letting emotions
take over and complaining about it. Of course, like so many worthwhile things
in life, this is a simple concept that will be difficult to implement. I’m
going to try my best to be up to the challenge – whenever I do get my next opportunity.
Hopefully you will as well if you choose to do this with me!
More and more folks have likely heard of the FIRE movement. Lately it seems to be a popular target for potshots from mainstream media personal finance hacks who want the average person to keep reading their recycled bullshit advice and fueling their viewer/reader numbers without ever being able to graduate to something better. And FIRE advocates have “fired” right back. Sorry, it had to be done. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. You might be surprised to learn that I am not 100% on board. I had been at one time. But my perspective has evolved a little over the last few years.
I love the FI in FIRE. In the richest society in the history
of the world, we can all aspire to be financially independent if it is a high
enough priority. Sadly, it will never happen for most people because shiny
objects, slick sales pitches, lifestyles they feel obligated to live or
provide, neighbors that have to be kept up with, etc, always seem to be more
important. But for anyone who ever wishes he could say no at work with zero
fear of potential consequences, financial independence would make it possible.
For anyone who wants to go on vacation without planning it months in advance or
having money be a limiting factor, same thing. I could keep going but I think
you get the idea. There is nothing you can buy on this planet that is quite as
satisfying as knowing you will never again have to make a decision based on
such a crass factor as money. Or put another way, if you can think about money
for long enough, you can reach the point where you never need to again. The
FIRE movement is mostly about reaching that day as soon as possible so you can
enjoy the rest of them more.
I think most people can agree that financial independence is
a worthwhile goal. But many seem to object to the RE part. There is even a lot
of disagreement about the exact definition of the term. Some FIRE detractors
say it’s cheating if you work in any way, shape, or form after retiring early.
Others say it’s not worth “living like you’re poor” your whole life just so you
can retire at a young age. My take is that the term can be useful to anyone
regardless of exactly how you choose to define it. If it makes sense, you can
think of it as “retiring” from money being the most important factor in what
you do – or a factor at all, for that matter. I would also say that your living
standard is your choice and no one else’s. If you are happy and you aren’t
hurting anyone, tell them to go pound sand. The FIRE community welcomes people
all along the spectrum, from one extremely disciplined, analytical blogger who
lives on about $7k a year all the way to another rather neurotic one (I mean
that with love, Sam – and yes, it takes one to know one!) who seems to fear that
even the $200k+ his investments earn annually, combined with his incredible
intellect, might somehow not be quite enough.
Bottom line, FIRE can be whatever you want it to be. Unlike
with religion, where it could be considered a little hypocritical to be on the
ala carte plan, this is a very open and welcoming school of thought. Take what
you like and use it to make your life better; ignore what you don’t. I enjoy
hanging out with a local FIRE group and some of them take frugal to a level I
would never want to approach. Others seem to live higher on the hog than a man
of my humble origins is likely to ever want to – although I reserve the right
to change my mind on that point. It doesn’t matter. Everyone brings something
to the table and everyone benefits from both building relationships with
similar minded people and from being exposed to a wide range of ideas and
What is my personal FIRE struggle? At some point in your
life, a guidance counselor probably asked you what you would do if money didn’t
matter at all. That’s it for me, right there. Unless I veer pretty far from my
current path, I’ll reach financial independence in the next five to ten years but
I have absolutely no fucking clue what to do with my life when I get there. My
job has its tough moments but it is also incredibly rewarding on many levels.
Should I keep doing it and simply start finding ways to spend more money? I
suppose a mansion or two, a garage full of high end vehicles, or any number of
possible luxuries might grow on me. Or if I didn’t want to spend the unstoppable
excess on myself, I could give it to causes I care about. Altruistic or not,
that could be a great way to maximize the financial value of my life and put
that value into whatever I want to impact most. After all, the argument could
be made that if you can make a lot of money and benefit humanity in some way in
the process, you should. Or maybe I should tell the boss I’m retiring when I’m
roughly twenty years his junior and still younger than the vast majority of
people who do my job in any territory, or at any company for that matter. I don’t
hate the man by a long shot but something inside me wants to correct him and
say “no, I’m not resigning; I’m retiring” and demand a gold watch, or at least
a cake. And of course, there are a few choice people within the company who I
would absolutely love to see turn some shade of green at my party.
But what would I do then? Sure, this is a good problem to
have and I am immensely grateful for it. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Sometimes it feels like a personal failing that I have a difficult time
deciding on a way to spend roughly half of my life without money being a
factor. Sure, I could go lay on a beach and drink beer somewhere or I could
travel the world and see all kinds of amazing things. But I have a feeling I
would get bored pretty quickly. And I’m not alone. Studies regularly show that
this can be a problem for lots of people – even at more traditional retirement
ages. One’s sense of purpose tends to get a little wrapped up in something if
you spend half your waking hours doing it year after year. And I think that’s
to be expected. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are probably a lot more
mes out there than there are Elon Musks. And a sense of purpose is an enormous
part of what makes life worth living, no matter who you are.
So I wrestle with that problem all the time and until I get
it figured out, I’d be lying if I said I don’t use it as an excuse to justify
the occasional large expense. After all, there’s no sense rushing to get to a
destination if you don’t know if you will like what you find when you get
there. This was a lot easier when I was in love with someone and genuinely
wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, no matter what we were doing.
Even if I meet someone who means just as much to me somewhere down the line, I
don’t think I can ever put that much stock in another human being again – and that’s
a good thing. But it’s only one more thing I’ve realized does not answer what
will probably ultimately be the most important question of my existence.
But all that said, my general financial philosophy is
currently that as long as I stay on the path to be financially independent by
40 at the latest, I doubt it will lead anywhere bad. I consider staying open
minded, especially about trying new things, to be a crucial investment in my
future. My advice to anyone else is really about the same. I’ll end this post
with an excellent quote from Martin Luther King, Jr: “You don’t have to see the
whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Time for a fun post. This one is going to be long, opinionated, and speculative. But bear with me because I think I’m onto something here. The media won’t let us forget it; millennials are not buying houses at the rate members of other generations have. They have a hundred theories about why – most of which involve student loans, rising real estate prices, stagnant incomes, structural economic shifts, or simple lack of “good old fashioned American gumption.” Of course I don’t know everyone or everything, but as a millennial with an at least above average understanding of business, finance, and economics, I believe I’m as qualified as your average pundit to do some positing of my own on the subject. From my perspective, while each of the issues I mentioned plays a role, they aren’t contributing to a crisis at all. To the contrary, the nonstop hand wringing isn’t necessary and in fact, things are actually moving in a very positive direction.
Who am I? I’m a millennial who went to a consistently highly
ranked public university and graduated right into the heart of the worst
economic crisis the country has seen since the Great Depression – and into a
local economy that was struggling more than most for that matter. Between my
college girlfriend and I, we had a pair of decorated academic records, close to
$100k in debt, and zero jobs to speak of when we walked across the stage in our
gowns and funny hats. Our graduation speaker’s summarizing message was “we’ve
destroyed this once great country, you’re screwed, good luck.” It was about the
most depressing speech I could have imagined and also rather redundant since
our reality more or less already matched it. A little optimism would have been appreciated
and appropriate as well.
Over the next few months, both of us scratched, clawed, and
begged our way into the workforce. We each started out as underemployed temps
(so no guarantee of tomorrow much less benefits or work that was in any way
challenging or meaningful) serving in office drone functions making roughly
$30k a year each and well aware that we were lucky to be that well off. It
wasn’t an easy time but we were determined to get through it. Mortified by our
pile of debt, we made a plan to pay it off in a maximum of five years and stuck
to it, no matter how lean our life together had to be. We lived in a small one
bedroom apartment and drove one car together to work since our jobs happened to
be in the same direction. Luxuries like eating at restaurants were kept to a
minimum. Over the next few years, things gradually got better. We each
differentiated ourselves at work and got hired full time with small raises. My
girlfriend became my fiancé and my fiancé became my wife. And yes, it was a
relatively modest wedding – although a wonderful one as well. We both upgraded
jobs a couple of times and suddenly things looked much different. We bought a
pair of new cars – no luxury hood ornaments, but all the nicer features like
leather, fancy rims, touch screens, etc. We upgraded our living arrangements from
small one bedroom apartment to two bedroom condo style apartment to three
bedroom duplex. We did all of this while remaining on schedule with our five
year student loan repayment plan. A house might have been the next big step but
we were not about to consider that until our student loans were 100% eradicated.
But that never quite transpired. We had married too young
and while we had accomplished some impressive things together and grown
immensely as people, that growth had taken us in separate directions. We
divorced fairly abruptly, parted ways, and have never spoken again. Almost
simultaneously, I got my current job and my income doubled overnight and
continued from there. I worked hard and learned a lot and after a couple of
years, a significantly more desirable territory opened up. I lobbied for it
with all my might and got it and today I’m in Houston – over a thousand miles
away from the part of the world that never managed to feel like home in over
two decades of my living there. It has taken some time to develop this new
territory and that is still a work in progress but my income has increased
significantly since coming here. Plus my investments have continued to grow and
I’ve started a profitable side business as well.
While my post college life (and pre as well) started out
relatively bleak when compared to previous generations, I consider that an
advantage as I look back on it. I learned to separate wants from needs early on
– and significantly, I learned that before I had developed a taste for a more
expensive lifestyle than the bare bones existence of a student from a low
socioeconomic background. Gradually, in spite of the dismal economic
conditions, I was able to grind my way into a successful career path. And today,
well under a decade after setting out on that journey, my income has cleared
the 90th percentile. I’ve developed a taste for the finer things in
life but it has happened gradually and with the lessons of the past ever
present in the back of my mind, I am unwilling to spend more than half of what
I earn regardless of the circumstances.
Why the mini financial biography? I think the background of
my basic experience helps to illustrate the point I’m going to make. By my age,
most people in previous generations had a house and kids. I have neither.
However, my net worth is substantially higher than that of almost anyone of
previous generations at this point in their lives – adjusted for inflation, of
course. Barring a total disaster, it will be in the seven figures less than ten
years from now. At that point, I may or may not own a residence. But once again
barring a total disaster, there will be no kids. I think extremely logically
and have almost completely divorced myself from emotion when it comes to making
financial decisions. Kids made sense when each one repaid the parental
investment in full and then some, often in the form of free labor on a farm or
in the family business. Today, a kid will cost roughly a quarter million
dollars if you are a capable enough parent to prepare him or her to leave the
nest by eighteen – otherwise more. This is one of the most important financial
decisions anyone can make. Any argument in favor of having kids is 100% emotion
based and thus, irrelevant to me. No, I am not a robot. But I am willing and
able to override my feelings in order to put not just surviving, but thriving,
squarely in the number one spot.
Obviously I am not a typical millennial. But I believe that
more than members of any other generation, millennials reflect my way of
thinking on at least some level. For example, the rate of reproduction has
plummeted – in almost a perfectly inverse correlation with education level
attained. Millennials aren’t ruining everything; in many cases we’re ruining
bad things and making room for better ones. Motorcycles are about the most
dangerous form of transportation imaginable and guess what – very few of us are
buying them. Harley Davidson motorcycles are easily the worst possible variety
of motorcycles. They are big, ugly, egregiously loud, and they have zero of the
motorcycle’s three actual advantages – ridiculous speed, low cost, and great
gas mileage. Here again, millennials seem to have it right; Harley is on track
to be bankrupt in less than a decade because we simply do not buy their products.
How about beer? Entire generations drank nothing but piss water and apparently
it never occurred to them to ask for anything better. Millennials didn’t ask.
We demanded. And today, quality beer is widely available while the mass
producers of swill fight for dwindling market share with sort of clever
commercials as they quietly buy up every craft beer brand they can.
On to home ownership – the foundation of the mighty American
economic legacy. It’s true. We aren’t buying them in very high numbers. And
yes, all of the problems I mentioned are playing a role. But I fought through
all of them and could now buy a house without financing if I wanted to. Most
millennials aren’t quite there, but plenty are succeeding in fighting their way
through. The American economic engine has been finding creative ways to make
things affordable for people who can’t actually afford them for a very long
time – since before the Great Depression, in fact. I really don’t buy the
general argument that millennials have just gotten such a raw economic deal
that it can’t be done yet again. I think the biggest issue at play here is
choice. Just like crappy, obnoxious, overpriced death machines (yes, I hate
Harley and can’t wait to see everything related to the company relegated to
Pawn Stars and similar shows) or piss water at any price, we are not buying
houses because we do not want what is available.
Back to the example of my life since it’s what I know best. Yes, I am “throwing my money away” on rent from the conventional perspective. But am I really? I spend just shy of $1200 a month on a very luxurious arrangement. Sure, it’s only a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment. But that is plenty of space for me, the few possessions I chose to keep when I came here, and the even fewer I have acquired since. It was built in 2013 and has granite countertops, hardwood floors, ten foot ceilings, beautiful track lighting, and a balcony overlooking a resort style pool complete with gas grills all around (the view from my balcony tonight is the featured picture for this post). In addition to the pool areas (yes, there are more than one), the complex has gated entrances, security guards on patrol, a serviceable gym (and I’m pretty picky about them), a clubhouse with a very nice pool table, coffee, and light refreshments, a computer room, several lounges that can be used whenever or even reserved for private events, a yoga studio, trash pickup at your door, about a hundred huge tvs everywhere you go that anyone can turn to any channel they like, and I’m probably leaving a bunch of stuff out. And by the way, I left out the best feature of all – portability. This area hasn’t turned out to be for me so in a little over a month, I’m moving to an even newer complex with even better amenities and in an area I think will be a better fit. And it will cost me roughly the same. If I were offered a better job in a different city, I could make a similar choice without having to worry about selling a house. Anyway, my current complex also happens to be located in an area where you’d be hard pressed to find a piece of real estate priced below half a million dollars. My new one will be in a somewhat more affordable market – if you consider $300k+ affordable when the median household income is around $60k a year. For the record, I do not.
And even if you were willing to spend that kind of money,
you literally couldn’t buy what I’m renting because it doesn’t exist. The
average American house has been growing consistently and today, it is around
2600 square feet. That would have been excessive when the average family was
twice the size it is today. Every one of those square feet has a cost –
mortgage interest, property taxes, time spent cleaning and maintaining,
utilities to heat/cool, more money spent on accumulating and maintaining
clutter, and more. The palaces people think they own are actually financial
prisons and worse, they take up tons of their time as well. This is
unsustainable. It was unsustainable in 2006 and society had a great opportunity
to learn that. But somehow that didn’t happen, just like it hasn’t in so many
other past opportunities, and the average house has only continued to grow.
I want exactly what I have – an appropriate sized residence
with premium, modern features and amenities and as little maintenance as
possible required – or preferably none. Sure, I could find a house or condo
with less than 1000 square feet. But it would probably be old and either
falling apart or shoddily renovated to attract buyers with as minimal an
investment as possible. And that’s because for a long time, we’ve been building
mostly modern mini mansions the average household can’t actually afford and
almost no appropriate sized homes. As a millennial, it certainly seems like far
more of my peers live in households of one or two than in households larger
than that. Even among those who have kids, very, very few have more than one or
two. And like it or not, millennials are now the largest generation in this
country, which is why all of this is so significant. So why do we continue to
build houses that could shelter small armies when almost no one needs more than
2000 square feet and most could get by with considerably less?
In theory, you should be paying more for rent than it would
cost you to own something comparable. That’s the premium you pay for bearing almost
no responsibility. But there are numerous, widespread scenarios where that isn’t
the case and that’s if appropriate properties are even available to buy in a
given area. My situation certainly falls into that category. Find me a property
in my area reasonably close to the size of my apartment that offers even
remotely similar amenities for $1200 or less and I will buy it and pay you
every dollar of equity I build in the first year as a finder’s fee. That’s how
confident I am that it’s not possible here. And I’m serious about that offer by
the way. I could go into an in depth analysis of the numbers and maybe I will
write a post on that one day but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a finance guy,
I look around and run the numbers regularly, and this isn’t even debatable in
I think we’re going to see housing change over time and I
believe the process has already started. We’re already seeing it on the margins
in the form of some extreme concepts like tiny houses, which started off as
media curiosities and today are growing common enough that most people have
heard of them. There is actually a market for those things and my guess is that
if builders were to start building new, modern houses of a slightly more
practical size, they would find that there is a huge market for those. Let me
rephrase that. When they start doing that, they will find that. I think we will
see a dramatic increase in premium featured houses being built in the 1000-1500
square foot range. In fact, if I see a builder doing this, I will seriously
consider investing. In time, I think the average size will drop to 2000, and
maybe even below, while the average age will decrease dramatically as tons of
houses are built to accommodate smaller household sizes and the weight of those
numbers pulls in that direction.
And we will all be better off. We as a country do not
benefit when such a high percentage of people are “house poor” to the point
where they are a few unexpected expenses or a moderate injury or illness away
from foreclosure. I don’t believe it benefits the economy when all factors are
considered and it certainly doesn’t benefit us as a society to have a bunch of
people living in such a terribly stressful situation. It certainly doesn’t
benefit us to have so much of our economy resting on the house of cards that is
the mortgage backed security system. And no, that has not been fixed since the
Great Recession. Just like the several previous times it has collapsed on
itself, some politicians slapped some wrists and introduced some new, “this
time we’re actually serious” sounding legislation that really just towed the
wreck of the Titanic in to port, threw a tarp (no pun intended here) over the
gaping hole in the hull, rearranged a few deck chairs, and sent it right back
out to sea. The problem won’t actually be fixed until we address the real, underlying
cause. But naïve optimist as it may make me sound like, I believe we will do it
– at least to an extent that will make a substantial improvement. I believe we
will “right size” houses and when the dust settles, it is going to be a very
good thing for everyone. The media and society at large loves to rip on my
generation and certainly plenty of it is warranted. However, I believe we have
been brought up in just the set of circumstances necessary to have made us
exactly the people to do what several previous generations have failed to.
Disagree? I would love to hear your reasoning.
It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.
However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months
ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression
under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a
part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I
understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather,
the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations.
So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality.
This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy
people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.
Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend
with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own
mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals,
thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results.
But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the
motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and
hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct
mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the
investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the
middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was
necessary and everything changed.
What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with
the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really
helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey,
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz,
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power
of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for
Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS
Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How
You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine
Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on
changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises
and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend
working through them all to find the ones that help you.
But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you
to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t
the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident.
Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking
for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you
will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different
ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just
like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice
that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting
thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good
things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing
the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.
This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not
talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically
manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work?
When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for
them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to
find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start
seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start
acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl
and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for
someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of
the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if
you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to
success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of
snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process
and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.
So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to
focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this
to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook
around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re
awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee
you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or
as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find
something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that
a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to
lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when
you have to.
At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your
favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no
better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’
lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the
blessings in your life until the mood passes.
This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much
like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to
acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude
challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come
up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already
going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this
doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out
something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones.
If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the
results. So leave a comment or email me at email@example.com and
let me know how it worked for you.