Didn’t you talk each other into falling in love? Didn’t you talk each other into the story of your romance? If you can talk to each other at all, you can talk each other into financial security. FIRE could mean “financially independent, retiring early” or it could also mean “fund it: romance everlasting.” It’s a loving, caring way to say, “I want to be with you for the long haul.” Choosing each other means you choose your lifestyle, you choose your livelihoods, and you choose your ultimate destiny as long-term partners. It’s entirely likely that you’re “the saver” and “the planner” and if that’s true, then it’s up to you to take the lead. Come to me, my love, and we’ll be strong together against the whirlwinds of fate. Decide you want to be with this person and decide that you can do this together.
First, let’s avoid the pitfalls:
Don’t have ANY financial conversations at night. EVER!!! Willpower is low, everyone is tired, and if you get into a really deep trench you’ll both be up until midnight fighting. Number one priority is that you trust each other. Number two priority is that you can bring a high energy level to your job, and that includes plenty of sleep. Nighttime is cuddle time.
Don’t say “we have to talk.” Too scary. One way to approach your first FIRE conversation is to ask for advice. Another is to share a story about someone you know, perhaps an inspiring story of security and independence, or perhaps a gossipy tale of financial folly and destruction. Make this just one of many interesting topics that you discuss, something that’s not totally loaded with emotion.
Don’t blame. Guilt and shame are not going to get this conversation anywhere. If you find fault, start with yourself, and stop with yourself. You can say, “I’ve been spending too much on lunches at work” or “I really want to pay off my credit cards” or anything else in which you claim full responsibility. Make it easy to be accountable. Show how it’s done.
Don’t criticize. The key here is to give positive feelings for positive actions. Criticism leads to defensiveness. It’s much, much harder to stay motivated when you’re trying to avoid criticism than it is to move forward in the direction of infinite rewards. Celebrate even the most minor victories! Congratulate your partner for every baby step in the right direction. High five and yell, “YAY!” Rehearse for your victory party, right?
Now for what TO do.
Always be honest. If you keep financial secrets, let it be a surprise investment account. Guess what? My side hustle is paying for our vacation this year. Or maybe, Guess what? I just wiped out the balance on our last credit card. The only surprises and secrets between you should involve parties, celebrations, and gifts. Remember that you can do all of those things on a shoestring budget.
Always be accountable. Any time you spend too much or go off plan, you’re dumping responsibilities on your partner. That’s mean. It’s mean! Be nice to each other. Set the example and show your partner how you want to be treated. Hopefully that’s with kindness, affection, respect, and dignity.
Compliment your partner on a job well done. You both probably have a long list of traits that will help you in the journey. You’re good at fixing things. You’re a good cook. You’re organized. You have a long attention span. You bring the party everywhere you go. You have a cool and inexpensive hobby. You have a knack for turning side projects into money. You’re ambitious. You’re easy to talk to. It’s fun to be with you doing basically nothing. Pay tons of attention to everything your partner does that could lead toward financial independence.
Create a comfortable love nest. Be nice to come home to. Plan around fun and free stuff as often as possible. Go to the park, watch astronomical events, take naps. Hang around your home and yard relaxing, talking, joking around, being casual. It’s possible to forget that you’re “saving” and “paying down debt” and “being frugal” if your default mode is relaxing together at home.
When you initiate the conversation, rehearse it ahead of time. Choose your moment. Go slowly. You don’t need to try to dump the whole package on someone or teach the intricate details of the philosophy to someone in fifteen minutes. If you love this person, you know how to do it. Is this person more likely to read an article, watch a documentary, go to a workshop, have a long conversation, play a game, compete, look over spreadsheets or charts or graphs, or what? Are you dealing with someone who is sometimes stubborn, flighty, weepy, distractible, or...? Avoid the obvious triggers. Make it easy to agree with you.
When I first met my husband, we were casual work buddies. We talked about money quite a bit, because I had just graduated from college with tons of debt and he was only a year out of an expensive divorce. I told him about Your Money or Your Life, and I brought it up from time to time over the years. It wasn’t until we went to World Domination Summit together and went to a workshop with Mr. Money Mustache and Money Boss J.D. Roth that everything clicked for him. Little did I know, he needed to see more math, more spreadsheets, and more graphs. I’m not strong in that area and my pitch didn’t do the job.
Start with the vision. What would financial independence look and feel like? What would you be doing with your time? Approach your partner with what’s in it for them. Express sympathy for their stress level and their persistent problems. Bring up their outrageous dream and some ways you think it might be more attainable. List off some specific ways you are making changes that will help. Like this:
“I was thinking about how you said you want to go on sabbatical and ride a motorcycle to Alaska.” Or “Remember when we were talking about moving to Costa Rica?” Or, “What if you actually went back and finished your degree this fall?” Or, “Do you think [your project] could maybe turn into a side hustle?”
Starting with your partner’s big dream is a guaranteed way to get their attention. It shows that you were paying attention. It shows that you trust them to find that happiness within the bounds of your relationship. It shows that you’re willing to prioritize their goals just as much as your own. It shows that you’re interested and that this dream makes them more attractive to you. It makes you into the ally and cheerleader they’ve always wanted. It makes them want to please you and impress you. It also creates massive motivation.
Most dreams are not mutually exclusive. They can’t always happen at the same moment in time, but that’s fair. It’s easier to pay full attention and really celebrate when there’s only one victory at a time, and then take turns. Otherwise it can start to feel like a three-ring circus. As an example, my parents took turns working while the other one went back to school. Since they had three little kids, it would have been really hard for them both to take classes full time. The shared adversity of being working parents and full-time students helped them to know that they can handle anything together as a couple. They’ve been married now for 43 years.
Presenting financial independence as a far-distant goal that involves endless scrimping and sacrifice? That’s a loser of a conversation. If you want it, it’s up to you to make it compelling and find a way to make it attractive to your favorite person. If you’re going to do it together, make sure you’re with someone who is actually open to the idea. If you really trust and desire this person, you can find a way to build your case and make it as captivating to them as it is to you. Remember, this person is your chosen sweetheart, your partner in the zombie apocalypse, your ally as you work toward a better future.
I’ve always known myself to be a tightly wound, restless, easily bored person. I’ve had chronic sleep problems since I was seven. These are all subjective states. Now it turns out that there’s actually an objective metric that corresponds with these feelings. True to my alpha nature, my first instinct is to go after this metric with the full force of my competitive drive. Blast it! Chase after it! Force it to submit!
Considering that the metric in question is “resting heart rate,” I’m willing to consider the possibility that this project will require a different approach.
What happened? My husband went in for a routine physical. I asked to see his lab results, and he cordially agreed, because he has reason to be smug. He just turned fifty, but his blood work would be on track for an 18-year-old. His doctor asked what medications he was taking. Answer: None. Among all the other numbers, one stood out to me. My husband’s resting heart rate is 55 beats per minute. That is considered athletic at any age. Nice work, babe!
I looked at a chart showing target heart rates for various age brackets. Because I wear a smart watch, I had easy access to my own health metrics, dating back a couple of years. I was distressed to see that my own resting heart rate averages about 77 beats per minute. While my husband’s data put him in the Athletic category, mine is... Below Average for someone over age 65.
Part of what is funny about this is that we do have a chronological age difference, and it works in my favor. I’m seven years younger, and it looks like more. People are still routinely surprised to find that I’m in my early forties, rather than my early thirties, while my hubby is more, um, distinguished. From some of the looks we get, I suspect people think I’m more like twenty years younger than he is. If these casual bystanders were looking at our medical records instead, they’d probably think I was his mom.
Or his grandma!
The difference between us is that my hubby started in athletics as a preschooler. His mom put him on the swim team when he was just four. The picture of him in his tiny little trunks crushes my heart. He kept swimming until he was old enough to make the football team, which he continued through junior college. As an adult, he switched to roller hockey, followed by ice hockey, followed by armored combat. In between, there was basketball and wrestling and who knows what else. While he was doing all of that, I was, well, I was reading. Sitting on my butt and reading, unless I was lying on my side and reading. He was already winning before I even knew there was a game.
Granted, I’m competitive. I always want that A grade. Not only that, I want extra credit, I want to test into the advanced class, I want to be on the Dean’s List, and I want some sort of award at the end of the year. That’s just as true of my health metrics as it is of anything else in my life, from the amount of my retirement savings to how low I can get my electric bill. The first thing I do when I’m confronted with poor test results is to research. These days I think they call it a “rubric.” What does it take to get that A grade in this class? What are the inputs that make a difference? Can I debunk it or, rather, replace it with a more valuable metric?
For my thyroid disease, I found that the key was strenuous exercise. For my parasomnia disorder, I found that the key variable was blood sugar, particularly how late I ate before bedtime. For migraines, I found that the two main factors were my body weight and micronutrient consumption. I’ve beat health issues that were far more pernicious than a high resting heart rate, and I’m fully confident that I can make measurable progress here, too.
What am I going after?
According to mainstream information, which is where I always start, because I believe in a measurable empirical reality, I’ll be best off if I focus on:
When I still suffered from an Unfit Mindset, I would have locked onto that ‘stress’ item and completely ignored everything else on the list. Well, at least I don’t smoke, but that’s because I’m a cheapskate and I’d rather spend that money on vacations. To be honest, I don’t believe in “stress” as a concept. I don’t think stress causes things, I think stress is a byproduct of underlying physical conditions. I think this for two reasons; one, I’ve felt it as I’ve improved my own baseline state of health, and two, I’ve observed that the three most laid-back people I’ve ever met were a Zen Buddhist monk, a competitive all-natural body builder, and a CrossFit dude. I met two of the three when they were just regular people, before they committed to their chosen sports, and the difference was quite noticeable. They... blink less than other people. They seem to exist in this permanent state of slow-mo, where they could plausibly catch a housefly with chopsticks, or dodge bullets, or pause time and prevent automobile collisions.
I want that for myself.
Going back to the inputs that I can control, I already know that losing weight and exercising are effective. My resting heart rate used to be even worse, if you can believe that, in the low eighties. I remember a big wake-up call for me at age 29, when I walked up a single flight of stairs and started seeing black spots. I knew there were people in their sixties and seventies who were more fit than I was, because I’d met them. I even worked with a few every day. I’m much more fit now than I was as a teenager, which is partly very sad and partly really exciting and hopeful. I don’t have much weight to lose, as far as that goes, so I’ll focus on trying to add muscle. For a restless alpha type, I need to have something tangible, a target, so I don’t simply pace a path into my carpet.
Being a stress case is not fun. It’s not fun under the hood, but it’s also not fun for other people. I’m not good at things like relaxing, having fun, taking naps, sitting through a two-hour movie, or, honestly, even sitting at all. I feel constantly driven to be up and doing something. Accomplishing something. Finishing something. Getting completion on something. Now that I’m looking at these tables of resting heart rates, I’m starting to realize that maybe that endlessly restless feeling comes from my high heart rate. I’ve never had much success in talking myself into a different mindset. Maybe I can go at it from the other angle, and see what happens as a result of physical change.
High Performance Habits is destined to be one of the ten best self-improvement books of all time. I’m not saying this lightly. This book is really amazing. It’s based on years of research and input from thousands of people. Even if you’re already a high achiever, you’ll learn something from this book. For the rest of us who still struggle with stress, low energy, lack of focus, or anything else holding us back, there’s even more to be gained.
Brendon Burchard has personal credibility. He survived a near-fatal car collision. As if that weren’t enough, he also got a concussion in another accident, and he mentions in passing that, oh, he had a spinal birth defect. If the habits that he teaches have been any help to him, then there must be something to them.
The core message of High Performance Habits is that we can direct our behavior by priming our own emotional state and acting in accord with our values. High performers are happy instead of stressed. They’re able to sustain their results over the long term without burnout because they manage their emotions and their energy level. Burchard studies how people are able to do this, and his claim is that anyone can adopt these habits and this high-achieving mindset.
Reading this book made me realize that while a lot of things I’m doing are on track, there is so much more I could be contributing and accomplishing. I like that the message is strong on personal ethics. I highly recommend High Performance Habits and I believe it’s Brendon Burchard’s best book so far.
“I’m scared to go to the next level... because I’m barely surviving this one.”
What’s achievable is not always what’s important.
...only you are in charge of your enduring emotional experience.
“What’s the positive thing I can focus on and the next right action of integrity I should take now?”
...no one credits fatigue and a bad mood for their world-class performance.
Whenever I hear the phrase “that’s not realistic,” I roll my eyes. Mainstream opinion gets mainstream results, and another way to say that is, no results. Change in its nature is radical, not moderate. Moderation is the way to keep from rocking the boat. Moderation is maintenance. Unless you want to maintain what you have right now, what good is moderation going to do you?
Having a baby. Where is the moderation in “zero to new human in nine months”? Labor, delivery, sleepless nights?
Remodeling a house. Do you really want to go the moderate, incremental route?
House-training a pet. Stop thinking outside the box!
When we’re sure about exactly what we want, it’s obvious that we’d rather get it done and get our results quickly. Waiting at the DMV - get it done and get out of there. The dentist. Again, please let’s just get this done so I no longer have five instruments and a fist crammed into my mouth. Travel. Four hours in an airport or stuck on the freeway is clearly not the same as a four-hour visit to a monument or landmark.
When we genuinely want change, we’ll do it as quickly as we can. As long as we understand what to do, nothing will stop us.
See this in action every time a new movie, game, or consumer product comes out and the mega-fans camp out overnight in the parking lot. Watch how long people will hold still for tattoo artwork. Desire is powerful. We’ve all felt this overwhelming desire for something, at least once in our lives. When we want it badly enough, whatever it is, we will go after it. We will persevere until we’ve got it.
Why can’t we seem to harness this power of desire for all our goals?
It’s always going to be either one of two things. Either we don’t know exactly how to do it, or we don’t really want it.
When there’s a situational obstacle, that falls under knowledge. We don’t know how to continue to go after the goal when something gets in the way. How do I do it when my schedule has changed? How do I do it when my location has changed? How do I do it when I suddenly have more demands on my time? How do I do it when the rules have changed? Nothing about the desirability of the goal itself has changed - it’s simply an unforeseen detour that temporarily blocks our path and obscures the view.
Persistence will eventually find a way around every obstacle. Asking for help is one form of persistence. Simply find someone who has the results you want, and ask, “How did you do it? What’s your secret?”
This is where the paradox comes in.
Most of us actually do know everything we need to know in order to get what we want. We just aren’t willing to do anything unless it’s “moderate.” We don’t want to have to concentrate, or focus, or stop doing other things we like doing, even temporarily. We don’t want to suffer. I CAN’T DEPRIVE MYSELF.
How can you deprive yourself of your goal?
Why would you do that to yourself?
The truth is, we like our comforts more than we like our goals.
We’ll give all our focus and attention, all our time, all our desire and all our money to certain treasured goals. A phone upgrade! A signature beverage at least once a day! Pets ‘n’ vets, that is, emergency veterinary expenses. A trip, a cable package. Some things our kids begged for, but not others. There are at least a few special things that we will never cut from our budgets or our schedules under any circumstances.
Where are the areas we’ll always quit on? Where are the areas where we insist on moderation and nothing more? Where are the areas where we allow for the most exceptions?
Cleaning the garage, perhaps?
Turning in overdue library books?
Tolerating chronic issues like neck pain or sleep deprivation?
Everyone knows at least one person who is one semester or one term away from a college degree. Only a little over half of college students graduate within six years. Completion rates seem to be a bit higher for master’s programs, but fall back to a little over half for doctorates. One message we can take from this is that we should forgive ourselves for not going farther than we did. There’s another message we could take away, though. Those completion rates could jump much higher. What if everyone with only one term to go somehow found a way to finish?
The two most commonly procrastinated tasks are planning for retirement and dealing with health issues, the latter of which is mostly a euphemism for burning off excess body fat. Fully 70% of Americans over age 20 are overweight now. We’ve collectively shrugged and decided that 25 pounds overweight is now dangerously thin. Let’s not even talk about our savings habits. About half of American households have no retirement savings at all. Nearly two-thirds say they couldn’t handle an emergency expenditure of $1000. This is what all our talk of moderation gets us.
MODERATION IS FRUSTRATION
What are we moderating? What are we maintaining? At least we’re all in it together, but what is it that we’ve collectively agreed to tolerate? Constant financial dread, chronic low energy, and poor body image. That’s what moderation gets us.
Radical change is possible, and it’s not even unimaginable, much less unrealistic. People clean out their garages over a weekend, and it happens all the time! That delayed college degree could be completed in three months. It’s possible to lose a hundred pounds in a year, or pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It’s even possible to retire in eleven years (or fewer), and there are many examples of that as well. Radical change is simply the “rip off the bandage” method. Decide that you want it, make a plan, and then launch. Do it as quickly as possible and get it over with. Moderation is maintenance, and you should only maintain the results you want to keep. Radical change is what gets things done.
As a nerdy, awkward, book-oriented person, I have to use a certain amount of strategy to convince myself to do physical things. For my personal challenge this year, I’ve taken on martial arts, because it was the scariest and most demanding thing I could imagine. It didn’t occur to me that there’s a built-in gamification aspect. Every time you level up, you get a different color of belt, which is amazing because I love rainbows. In between color upgrades, there are also stripes. I’ve earned one stripe each on two belts, one in Muay Thai kickboxing and the other in Krav Maga. It’s like a badge that actually means something. These stripes represent not just extremely hard work, but also real-world skills. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything were that clear and simple?
The reason we wear belts is just like why chefs wear weird hats. Anyone in the room can tell at a glance how much you know and what you’re there to do. It’s not like it wouldn’t be immediately obvious how uncoordinated and clueless I am as a newbie. It protects me somewhat, though, in case I somehow accidentally look more experienced for a few seconds. Going the other direction, it helps me when I look at other students. If someone wearing an orange belt corrects my position, I can swallow my irritation at being told what to do and recognize that this person has advanced knowledge compared to me. I have to show the same respect that I would wish to have.
People talk a lot about how “kids these days” get trophies and ribbons just for participating. That was after my time. I’ve still never won a trophy to this day. I don’t have any plaques either. I do have two race medals, and I’m stupidly proud of them, because I didn’t make an attempt at athletics until I was 35. I know precisely how much work went into the acquisition of these symbols, as measured in sweat, blisters, bruises, and tears. I’m only competing against myself.
When I first walked into my martial arts academy, I was a bit petrified. I was committing to something specifically because I wanted to work more on humility and self-discipline. I wanted to choose something I was bad at, maybe even so bad that people would question what on earth I was even doing there. Well, I chose well. I’m almost always last in class. We do a lot of push-ups, sit-ups, and jump squats, and everyone is supposed to do the same amount. We don’t move on to the next drill until everyone is done. Imagine jumping up and down alone in the middle of the room and that’s me. At least everyone has plenty of time to get a drink of water while they wait!
The thing about fitness that unfit people like myself often don’t understand is that most or all of the fitter people in the room... STARTED OUT WHERE WE ARE. They WERE us. We look at them and see lean muscle definition. It’s not like they’re going to get custom t-shirts printed with their ‘before’ photos, right? Almost all the athletes that I have met are genuinely happy and proud when beginners commit and start to make progress. (The others are just more focused on other stuff). It’s exciting in the same way it’s exciting to teach a little kid to ride a bike. You did it! Good for you!
As a rank beginner, I’m terrible at a lot of things. With one stripe, I know what several of them are, but I’m still so new that I know I’m not even aware of some of my failings. On my first day in class, I couldn’t really do one sit-up. I had to sort of grab my thigh and pull myself up. By the time I had done ten jump squats, I thought I might fall over. I thought I was reasonably fit, because I walk an average of six miles a day, I can carry a fifty-pound backpack, I’m pretty competent at yoga, and I consider myself fairly active. I didn’t realize just how much I was missing by not doing HIIT workouts or resistance training. It was just something I planned to get around to one day. (That day: 1/5/2018). Not testing my physical limits meant I could maintain this unrealistically positive image and protect my ego. Once I understood how unfit I really am in this area, I knew I could only recover my pride by working hard to improve.
I’m not very good at watching what someone is doing and then physically copying it. I’m a pretty good mimic, and I can do voice impressions and sound effects, but none of that seems to transfer when it’s time to imitate someone’s motions.
I have trouble telling my left from my right.
I’m having a really hard time untraining all the body memory from ballroom dancing and marching band, two things that have basically nothing in common with martial arts. The center of gravity is different, neutral stance is different, balance is different. For the first several weeks I would consistently want to move backward when I was supposed to move forward, or keep my feet together when they’re supposed to be apart.
I struggle with remembering what I’m supposed to do with all of my limbs at the same time. Say I’m being reminded to keep my hands up to protect my face while I practice a new kick. I will then totally forget that I’m supposed to step forward with my foot at an angle instead of straight. When I correct my foot position, I drop my hands. Suddenly I feel like I have eight arms and legs.
Now that I have my first stripes, all of this is gradually starting to come together. I’m still comparatively weak and slow and clumsy, sure. That’s why I’m there. If I’d wanted to feel like the top of my class, I would have signed up for water aerobics. Being last and worst means that I’m genuinely challenged. It also means that when I eventually start to catch up with the more experienced people in class, I’ll appreciate how much it means.
When I get my next stripe, when I finally level up and get a new belt in a new color, I’ll wear it with justifiable pride. I’ll keep going, knowing I have it within me to work hard, to learn, and to accept the struggle.
Then I’ll probably have to pick something else that I’m bad at.
As usual, our first quarter has been full of drama, crisis, and radical change. Not as bad as last year at this time, the year of “homeless with face cancer” plus relocation, job change, and veterinary crisis. First I’ll list off all the stupid obstacles that came up for us in the first three months of the year, and then I’ll follow with the progress we’ve made on our goals and resolutions in spite of it all.
The bad stuff: Dropped a fire extinguisher on my bare foot, got the flu, had to pack and move before I was really better yet, then our dog got deathly ill before we were even unpacked. He lost over 10% of his body weight in three days, which is like a 200-pound man losing 20+ pounds over a holiday weekend. $600, five veterinary drugs, and a half gallon of carpet cleaner later, he’s fine. The hardest part of First Quarter 2018 for me was that I lost a full month, when I was only sleeping about half of what I needed and I felt like I might clinically go insane. February was not fun. Crisis every single day. Oh, and I broke my phone.
The good thing is that we actually made major progress on our goals, starting almost immediately.
I was invited to emcee a speech contest, which I did, and to be test speaker at another contest, which I also did. It’s a big deal for me to be invited to speak anywhere, because two years ago I could barely stand up at a table and say my name without shaking all over.
My personal goal was to explore a martial art. I visited three martial arts schools in my area and enrolled in one that teaches Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. I have my first stripe on both belts and I’m finally able to do pushups without putting my knees down. It took about three weeks, but I have reached the point when classes feel fun, although 10x harder than any previous workout I’ve done, other than a mud run with an obstacle course. I chose something that scared me, that felt like a major personal challenge, only to find that it’s much more of a physical than an emotional test. Much more in my wheelhouse.
My career goal was to launch a podcast. This is still on the slate as I shape the nature of the show.
My physical goals were to do Shamrock Run 2018 and build a daily stretching routine. I ran every step of the 8k race with my brother and it was really fun! I even set my first PR, cutting over four minutes off my previous time. This was great because I only did one training run and I wasn’t even sure I could handle five miles. As far as stretching, I’m finding that the HIIT workouts from my martial arts classes are loosening up things in a way that yoga never has. After just a few classes, I could suddenly do postures that were never within my reach before. I can finally do full lotus! It’s very surprising and fascinating the way that cross-training in a radically different discipline can inform something long familiar to you.
Our home goal was to lower our rent. We had all the paperwork handled for this move by the first week of January, and of course we moved in February. Good timing so that we could fund our IRAs. Consider this goal complete!
Our couples goal is to go on an international vacation together. We haven’t booked the tickets yet, but we’re “in talks” about where we want to go and what we want the trip to feel like. It’s my job to do initial research in travel guides.
My stop goal is to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. I’m supposed to be wrapping up old projects one way or another, either canceling them, scheduling them, or simply getting them done. Not much progress here yet, I’m afraid, other than reading a few books out of my stack. I’m doing pretty well with pushing forward and staying current on new things, like the move and the martial arts training and Toastmasters and this blog. Maybe I should try threatening myself that I won’t be allowed to work on any of these things until I get something old out of the way.
My lifestyle upgrade goal is to upgrade my laptop. This has not happened yet, partly due to the IRA funding deadline and partly because I always get hooked waiting for the new product release schedule. Maybe for my birthday.
My Do the Obvious goal is to speak more slowly, with more pauses. This is an ongoing struggle. Some feedback I routinely get is that I don’t pause long enough for laughter, and that’s because I don’t always realize that what I said was funny. The audience bar for “a joke” includes a lot of stuff that I consider to be filler material or transitions between stories. I’ve only just started to be able to click with specific individual audience members while performing. This “pause for laughs” issue is probably the single area where I can make the most improvement.
My quest is to travel on a fifth continent, and that’s related to planning our international trip. Looks like that will happen in the winter.
My wish was to find an amazing pet sitter. Guess what? Three doors over in our new building is a professional dog walker! She loves our dog, whose behavior magically improved after only one day walking with her pack. He gets to hang out with five neighborhood dog friends now, all of whom walk past our front door several times a day, and it’s really helping him to feel more secure. Super chill. This dog walker hasn’t met Noelle yet, but apparently she likes parrots too so we’ll see.
My mantra is to PAUSE AND BREATHE. I lost track of this during the “lost month.” Now I’m feeling competitive because my husband’s resting heart rate is significantly lower than mine, even though I’m seven years younger. Maybe that’s the metric I need to encourage me to do breathing exercises.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE
The only thing better than a book by one of your favorite bloggers is when the book turns out to be even better than the blog. Eric Barker is in my top ten list, along with probably everyone else’s, and Barking Up the Wrong Tree has just locked that down. This is an incredibly fascinating read that may turn everything you think about pop psychology upside down. It is indeed, as the subtitle says, “the surprising science behind why everything you know about success is (mostly) wrong.”
Why is this book so great? It’s because Barker has been researching and writing in depth about these topics for years. More than that, he has a knack for illustrating concepts with historical examples and storytelling. Where else are you going to find anecdotes about submarines, drug cartels, mixed martial arts, Genghis Khan, Spider-Man, and Batman all in the same book?
The research behind Barking Up the Wrong Tree is bound to stir some inner resistance in most people. There are so many findings that contradict common wisdom, and that will probably also conflict with some closely held values. One is that making your boss happy is more important to your career success than your actual performance. Essentially, if you please your boss, even mediocre performance won’t matter, and if you annoy your boss, excellent performance won’t matter either. I can practically feel the temperature rising as steam comes out of ten thousand pairs of ears.
There’s so much to surprise, delight, challenge, confuse, frustrate, and ultimately impress readers. Optimism and pessimism, introversion and extroversion, grit, creativity, altruism, willpower, networking, success, and even hostage negotiations have their place here. If you’re ready to have your mind changed about a wide array of cultural assumptions, make sure you’re not Barking Up the Wrong Tree and read this book.
“Cognitive biases prevent us from understanding cognitive biases.”
“TO-DO LISTS ARE EVIL.”
This is the companion book to Jon Acuff’s earlier volume, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do What Matters. Readers and fans kept telling him that they had no problem starting projects, they just need help figuring out how to finish them. I can identify with this. There are at least two projects that I was working on when I read Start that I still have not completed four years later. If those projects were only four years old, that would be one thing, but, well, they’re older than that. I’m ready to Finish and give myself the gift of done!
This book is great both for chronic procrastinators and for multi-potentialites. Some of us may think we are procrastinators, when really our main problem is wanting to do everything at once. Acuff shows that he fits in this group when he describes his garage full of equipment that he’s only used a few times, including a telescope, a fishing rod, and a moped. Just because we’re curious, adventurous spirits does not mean we’re quitters or procrastinators, it just means we need to learn how to say we’re done with something.
One of the main reasons that we as humans struggle to finish projects is the planning fallacy. We’re just not very good at estimating how long it takes to do things. Another issue is perfectionism, the crazy idea that it’s better not to do something at all if we can’t meet our perfectionist standards. An example that Acuff gives is all the people who say they want to run a marathon but refuse to start with a 5k. Familiar as these are, there are loads more, and Finish gives us plenty of laughs as we recognize ourselves over and over.
Of course, knowing the issue is not the same as solving the issue. The real strength of the book, aside from its humor, is that Acuff knows what it takes to get people to finish projects. He tested these ideas with hundreds of real people, and the results were analyzed by a researcher working on a PhD. This is more than a motivational self-help book; it’s a description of what other people have successfully done. That’s important, because as we all know, motivation is like a shower. It works great and makes you feel good, but it only lasts for about a day.
We start by being less strict with ourselves, making our goals more manageable, and choosing what else to put on hold while we finish.
A tool from the book that I have used is strategic incompetence. I didn’t have that name for it, but I did it, all right. When I went back to school at age 24 to finish my degree, I decided that I would put fitness on hold until I was done. This wound up being kind of a bad plan, because it was a false dilemma and I unnecessarily gained 35 pounds. I did, though, get my degree. I had a clear vision in my mind that I would study during almost all my waking hours, and it worked. I used the same strategy when I decided to get fit, picturing myself doing almost nothing but going to work and being at the gym. That worked, too. I chose to just be bad at everything other than my goal for the window of time that it took to finish. Aim low, drop your standards, and win!
This book is a delight to read. Acuff emphasizes having fun and celebrating your successes. I’m dedicating 2018 to finishing, eliminating, or formally scheduling every incomplete project I have, and I certainly plan to celebrate when I’m done. That’s a party I know I won’t put off until later.
[Paraphrasing]: The opposite of perfectionism is not failure, it’s FINISHED.
“Might as well” is never applied to good things. It’s never, “Might as well help all these orphans,” or “Might as well plant something healthy in this community garden.”
What happens when you just jump into doing something new? When you decide that you want to test out this thing called ‘bias toward action’ for yourself, or perhaps debunk it? What happens when you breathe through your tendency toward analysis paralysis and start, ya know, doing stuff? When you make motions in the direction of a goal rather than waiting around for the willpower or the motivation to show up?
What happens is that you come up with more reasons to do it.
My philosophy is: Do Things That Are a Good Idea; Don’t Do Things That Are a Bad Idea. I know, I know, that sounds too meta and deep for the general user. How did I ever come up with that? From reading lots and lots of super-heavy philosophical tomes. Just trust me. I’ll explain it a little more, though, just to make sure it makes sense.
Do things that are a good idea: If something is a good idea, then I only need one reason to do it. My dentist told me to floss my teeth, so I do. I’m not going to spend any more time researching and reading articles about flossing, because it only takes me two minutes a day.
Don’t do things that are a bad idea: If something is a bad idea, then I only need one reason NOT to do it. Don’t put a fork in the electrical socket. Don’t slam your finger in a metal door. Don’t read the comments. Don’t wear tights that are an exact match for your skin tone.
Most people tend to do a better job avoiding things that are a bad idea, especially if they’ve done any of them. Not me, though. Today is perhaps the third or fourth time I’ve spilled green tea soy latte inside my work bag.
Apparently I need more reasons to sit and savor my tea slowly. ...?
Think of your favorite thing. It could be an object, a place, an activity, a song you play over and over on repeat, just something you totally love.
Okay, now think of reasons why it’s so awesome.
Fun, huh? If you did that exercise, I highly recommend doing it every day. It’s good brainstorming and it reminds you to do stuff you like.
I’ll share one of mine. I love reading. What do I like about it so much?
Can’t stop myself
Learn new things
Keeps me entertained while I do boring stuff
Or folding laundry
Or driving on a long road trip
Or standing in line
Always have a way to squash bugs
Handy way to repel unwanted attention of strangers
Keeps me from perseverating or pointlessly worrying
Way to connect with old friends
And make new friends
Always have something interesting to talk about
Share with friends and family who want a book recommendation
Way to keep papers flat in my bag
Reminds me of other books that I also loved, like in the same genre or series
Financially support my favorite authors
Cheaper cost per hour than going to the movies
What the heck else would I do with my time?
I could go into exhaustive detail if I wanted. If I started sharing what I loved about particular books or authors, this could go on forever. The point is that I love something so much that I’ll never stop doing it, and I’m convinced it will always be a part of my life. I can’t think of a single reason why I should ever stop.
What else can I do that with?
If I were asked to come up with reasons to do something I know nothing about, I’d be a bit stuck. Why should I... buy a luxury vehicle? Um... I guess because maybe it would impress people who don’t currently talk to the likes of me? Maybe it would make me enjoy driving? I dunno. You tell me. I have a bunch of reasons NOT to buy a luxury vehicle, especially because it would be out of my price range.
This is the position in which we find ourselves when we’re contemplating a change in our behavior.
Why should I start running? I shouldn’t! Running sucks!
Why should I go to bed earlier? I shouldn’t! Late night is my only time to decompress from being so burned out and exhausted all the time!
Why should I pay off my credit cards? I shouldn’t! Please allow me to unroll my lengthy scroll of unavoidable expenses and I’ll document them for you.
Status quo bias. We all have it, and it’s a supremely useful tool for making rational choices. Obviously the status quo is fine, because what I’m doing right now works for me. Why should I change anything at all?
Allow me to offer some More Reasons:
Because making even one tiny change in one area could make your life easier, better, more fun, or more interesting;
Because no status quo is permanent, meaning that change is coming for you whether you approve of it or not;
Because it’s generally better to plan changes for yourself rather than having to react to the changes that fate throws at you.
It’s also worth mentioning that we usually don’t realize how uncomfortable the status quo was until we find ourselves in a better situation later on. Certainly this feels like the story of my life. I never really realized I was obese until years after I started gradually losing the weight. I didn’t really realize how unhappy I was in my first marriage until quite some time after the divorce. Arguing for the status quo is, in some ways, slamming the door shut against serendipity, felicity, or simply a shift in perspective.
One way that I started to look for more reasons to do things that are a good idea was to read through lists of other people’s reasons for doing that thing. I do this with extra focus when it’s something toward which I feel a strong resistance. The more I reject something that other people like doing, the more I want to inquire of myself: what’s so bad about it? For instance, I’m very afraid of snorkeling, but I keep hearing that many people find it absolutely magical, even peaceful. If my list of reasons to try it keeps getting longer and my only reason not to try it is that I’m scared, then at some point I’m going to sign up for lessons. Why would I deprive myself?
The reason I seek out more reasons to do things I don’t already do is that I’ve ruled out the standard default mode. I am insufferably bored by sitting around watching TV and I lack all interest in gaming. If I don’t watch TV or play games, what else is there to do? Watch paint dry? Listen to the grass grow? I already know why I do the things I enjoy. For a more interesting life, all I need is more reasons to do the things that other people enjoy, too.
If a goal doesn’t take at least four years to accomplish, is it worth doing?
This is the question I ask myself now when I choose my goals for the New Year. I’m on the challenge path. I keep my resolutions because the entire point of what I do is to feel like a failure, at least at the beginning. I know I’ve picked the right challenge for the year if I absolutely hate it for at least the first three weeks. There are all sorts of things I would hate doing, though, mostly because they’re bad ideas. Example: walk into the woods and eat the first mushroom you see! No, absolutely don’t do that.
Every day, do something that scares you, unless of course it’s scary for a good reason.
The premise here is to push yourself to do something that is challenging because it’s new to you, because the act of the challenge helps to make you smarter and more resilient and better at learning difficult new things. That’s valuable all by itself. In the sense of the challenge path as emotional training, as mindset development tool, it doesn’t matter what you pick. Challenge makes you better.
The next level of question is, if I did this thing for four years, where would I be?
Would learning about this alien new skill or activity for four years give me expanded options in life?
What kind of person would I be if I spent four years trying to get good at this?
What are the people like, the ones who have been doing this thing for at least four years?
Why four years and not forty years? Well, that’s relevant, too. Thinking about the challenge path in terms of novice to mastery, though, was too intimidating and off-putting. I could never think of anything specific that I wanted to dedicate my entire life to. My one and only life! Four years is a time span that helps me to feel curious. It makes everything accessible. Maybe I do it for four years and only then do I realize that I’m hooked for life. No beginner can genuinely know that, or at least that’s my opinion.
This is why I don’t really start a new goal in the month of January. I can’t “break” my resolution if January is the month when I do my initial research. I haven’t even started to build momentum until second quarter at the earliest. The first year barely counts at all. Learning to think in a longer-term perspective is how I take good care of Future Me.
Past Me worked really hard to get me a drivers license and a good credit score and visible ab definition. Past Self made me a marriage. I can’t throw all that away. I have to live up to Past Me’s standards and uphold our agreement to build a better life for Future Self. I make plans over a four-year event horizon because I believe in a future.
What kinds of things happen over a four-year timeframe?
Well, let’s see. I met and married my husband in that length of time! In four years, you can build a house, build a business, or get a university degree. You can build a boat. You can train a service animal or learn to dance. All sorts of stuff can happen in four years! It’s really a pretty long time, especially from the perspective of someone who routinely gives up on New Year’s Resolutions in four weeks.
The year I chose running, I only planned to run 2.25 miles by the end of the year. I visualized my progress literally in increments of a single sidewalk square. Imagine my surprise when I reached my goal three weeks later! “Now what?” I wasn’t into the whole four-year thing yet. That’s why it never occurred to me that I’d wind up running a marathon. Even more, it never crossed my mind that I’d become interested in the world of adventure races and ultra-marathons. I started as a hater and wound up as a true believer.
I chose cooking after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. This introduced the concept of the “10,000 hour rule.” The pursuit of mastery is more complicated than that, of course, but it did feel like an epiphany. What would I want to be good at if all it took was 10,000 hours? I couldn’t think of anything. How about 1,000 hours? Wait. How about one hundred hours, or ten hours?? As soon as the thought “ten hours” crossed my mind, it snapped into perfect clarity. Cooking! In reality, I was making much better dinners in under ten hours. It got better as soon as I started doing mise en place and working on how to sauté an onion properly.
In other words, I shifted from a fixed to a growth mindset. Almost instantaneously. I stopped thinking of, say, my cooking abilities as a fundamental part of my personality. Instead I started thinking of them as something I could (and should) improve with focus and attention. It was obvious that every hour I put toward learning such a basic skill would improve my life permanently. My skills would also improve the lives of other people around me.
That’s true of everything.
Learning new skills makes you useful to have around. Not only do you quit relying on other people to do these things for you, you can also contribute at a higher level. This is especially true when you work on mastering things like time management, getting organized, improving your communication skills, mood management, parallel parking, first aid, using a fire extinguisher... You get the drift.
Over the years, I’ve used my New Year’s planning process as a benchmark. What am I going to learn next? How do I assess how far I’ve come? What are my strongest and weakest areas? I’ve set out to learn so many things, from how to raise one eyebrow to how to read more complicated knitting patterns or make decent pancakes. I’ve learned how to balance the weight in my expedition backpack, how to plan a trip overseas, how to feed twenty people on a budget, and all sorts of useful skills. Everything builds on everything else. What started as something foreign and confusing and difficult turns into a basic skill I barely realize I’m using.
Why wouldn’t I want to learn this? That’s one question. Who wouldn’t want to be a good cook? Why wouldn’t I want to be good at distance running or three-day backpacking trips? Why wouldn’t I want to be good at public speaking?
I have a rough sense of some future challenges I may or may not take on one day. Right now it’s martial arts. In the future, it might be orienteering, or chess, or voice lessons, or welding. The basic rules are whether it will improve life for Future Me and whether studying it will force me to feel true humility, at least for the first year.
I can’t control the vagaries of fate. Things will happen in the world in general, and other things will happen specifically to me. That’s reality. What I can do is to continually push myself to face challenges, to learn new skills, and to be unafraid of being a beginner. Forever, forever and always a beginner. With every year that goes by, I’m better prepared to handle or even avoid the random accidents and crises of fate. This is how to create a destiny. Who do I want to be four years from now? Four years after that?
'CURATE YOUR STUFF' WORKBOOK NOW AVAILABLE!
Download on the Products tab today!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.