I bought new pants last week.
And the award for the most exciting opening line to a blog post is…
Jeans are a big deal to me. I’ve never associated jeans with comfort. When I was younger, I was a sweatpants kid (and I looked as awesome as I felt). Being fidgety on a near-constant basis to this day, tight jeans scared the crap out of me.
I want room to breathe and sit comfortably. So I’ve always erred on the side of baggy jeans. This isn’t for styles’ sake – it’s for comfort.
But an experience changed my mind and finally brought me into the era of well-fitting jeans. As I thought about it, there were a lot of parallels between going through the jeans-buying experience and life.
Yup, I’m going for it…
1. Notice the warning signs.
I bought jeans last year, and after one trip to Europe that included a crap-ton of walking, the bottoms of all three pairs of jeans were shredded and full of holes. Because they were longer, and I was wearing low shoes, the bottoms would slip over my heel and I would walk on them.
So not only did this damage and completely ruin the pants, but it also made walking incredibly uncomfortable. I spent most of the trip tugging at my pant legs to pull the jeans off my heels, which I’m sure made me look like a normal American tourist.
Hey, that’s a warning sign, isn’t it? Pants aren’t supposed to fit like that. So I already knew that something was wrong.
Is there something going on in your life that has more warning signs than you care to admit? Maybe it’s a relationship, or your job, or something you’re working on. Whatever it is, pay attention. These aren’t just random things that are happening – they’re the direct result of something. So whether you need to listen to your significant other a little more, or you just need to listen to your body, open your ears.
2. Stop settling for the garbage quick-fix.
Prior to last week, my jeans-buying experience would go like this: I’m getting things at Target. I need jeans. I buy jeans at Target based on the price tag and whether or not they feel comfortable. Two trips to the dressing room – max. I have places to be.
It was no coincidence that my jeans fit improperly. I was buying them based on convenience. My problem was having pants that weren’t lasting or fitting right. My solution was to find the quickest, cheapest route out of there.
A lot of times, when we have problems, we settle for a crappy solution just because it’s there. But that’s not the way to do it, at all. You’re going to leave yourself less-than-happy, and you will most likely spend more money in the process. Hey, if I had bought good jeans, they could last me a couple years at least. Instead, I was buying cheap jeans every year at $18.99 a pair, which was much more expensive.
3. Sometimes, it takes a fresh perspective.
I was never really all that oblivious to my jeans problem, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. I just figured it was something I just had to deal with.
Then, there was the photo shoot.
Our good friend Andy (who was our wedding photographer and has done nearly every photo shoot I’ve been in because he’s awesome) gave my wife and I a very fun photo shoot before we left for Europe. We went to a park on a blustery fall day in October. We ran around, played tag, looked lovingly in each others’ eyes, and had a great time.
When we got the photos, one stood out in particular. It was a full-body shot of the two of us standing at the top of a hill, with the wind blowing us around. My jeans were flapping in the wind like the American flag atop a flagpole. You can literally see the outlines of my legs on one side and the wrinkled flaps of the pants on the other side.
I was embarrassed, and I’m not really a vain guy. I knew my jeans didn’t fit right, but I had no idea just how bad they were!
Even if you don’t think you have a problem, it would do you well to find a different perspective. Look at it through someone else’s eyes, and you might be surprised at the severity of your problem, even if you don’t think you have one.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Finding new jeans was going to be a challenge for me, so I reached out to the Art of Manliness community for guidance – where they bought their jeans, etc. I got some great feedback on the Levi 501 brand, which I had heard were a solid pair of jeans.
There are people around you who can help you, if you let them. Whether it’s family, friends, or even an online community, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little guidance. It can save you a lot of time.
5. Prioritize your time to find new solutions.
One problem in my jeans-buying process was my approach – the “I’m at Target, so I should buy jeans while I’m here” thinking process. Instead, I needed to go to different stores, try on different jeans, and make the trip about that singular goal.
After searching around, I found that Kohl’s was carrying the Levi 501 jeans. So, when I finished work a little early one day, I took about half an hour or so to go up to Kohl’s and try on jeans. I tried on 6-8 different pairs until I found the right fit and look.
I made finding the right solution a priority. It took a little bit of a time investment, but by making 3 trips to the dressing room, I knew that me just guessing was going to turn out poorly.
How often do we fly blind when working on our problems? We just assume we know what the answer is, and we do ourselves a disservice in the process. Devote a little time to trying out different solutions. Don’t give up until you find one that works. And when you do…
6. Evaluate your options.
So that’s it, right? I found jeans at Kohl’s that I like, and the end?
I looked at the price tag: $58.99. Now, I understand I have to pay for quality, but I was really shooting for the $40ish range. Sixty bucks for jeans was a little richer than I was comfortable with.
But wouldn’t you know it, Amazon has Levi 501 jeans, and they’re Prime eligible. That means I could order them online (in almost any color I want), in my size, and have them at my doorstep in two days! And the price on Amazon? $42.99. Now that’s a little more like it! Just by looking around at my options, I saved $16. And, now when I want more jeans, I can just buy them at my desk.
Once you’ve found a solution that works, make sure that it’s the most efficient way of doing it. You never know when you can find a better way to get the same result.
7. Spend a few bucks already.
At the core of my problem with jeans was money. As a broke guy, I was always looking for the cheap or free solutions. A few years ago, I’d never spend $40 on a pair of jeans. But now, I don’t think I’ll ever spend less, unless this brand goes on sale.
Buy the app. Get a copy of that book. Grab the gadget that will help. Whatever your goal is, don’t be afraid to invest a little into it. The added bonus is that investing in something strengthens your commitment to it. You’ll prioritize a quality solution when you have put a few dollars into it.
“Life goes on no matter what the hell you do.” - Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense
We are creatures that like to talk. We like to be right. We like to have control and tell other people what to do.
And yet, we’re surprisingly inept at listening. Communication is a two-way street: you can’t speak effectively if you’re not listening intently.
But, out of habit, we only like to listen to messages that affirm what we already think, or messages that entertain us. In other words, this is why the majority of us are fat, unhealthy, broke, and divorced.
The idea of listening is something that I’ve been thinking about all morning – the importance of listening and paying attention to our actions in different aspects of our lives. But the one I kept coming back to is the importance of listening to our bodies.
Our bodies are packed with information. We are vehicles with elite reporting systems that we all-too-often ignore. Nerves are jammed into almost every part of our body. Our organs can send messages to the brain almost instantly. We’re always getting feedback. And yet, we ignore it out of convenience and/or laziness.
I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I’ve had it for over 5 years now. And while many people close to me poke fun at me for it, saying I have the “poopies”, it’s actually a legitimate condition that has a serious, painful impact on the quality of my life.
See, the human body’s digestion system is a very tightly-calibrated machine. It’s a sophisticated work of art, and when it’s firing on all cylinders, it can handle just about anything. However, when one thing goes wrong, the whole system collapses.
Think of the cliche of your plumbing system. A good water pipe needs to be angled properly, glued together, and vented the right way so that air can get behind the water. If these things aren’t done, you have blockages, leaks, and thousands of dollars in damage.
With IBS, it’s not that I have the “poopies”. It’s not that I spend a lot of time in the bathroom all the time. It’s more that the timing of contraction in the muscles of my intestines can get thrown off at the drop of a hat. As a result, some stuff gets moved through my system too quickly, and some stuff gets caught up in traffic.
I tried pills to control it, but the GI doctor has specifically banned those substances from ever being ingested, because he said it will completely throw off my system (which it has).
So why am I talking so much about my digestive system? The moment I started figuring out how to deal with IBS was a watershed moment for me – I had to start listening closely to my body. I needed to learn what foods and activities and lifestyle choices were aggravating the condition, and what things I can do in my daily life to keep my body running properly.
As a result, I have fairly good control over my IBS without needing to take medication. I do have fiber pills that I can take, but I do not even rely on them anymore. I learned regular exercise, controlled portions of food, healthy dietary choices, and stress reduction were all crucial in keeping me from stabbing pains in my abdomen that kept me from sleeping and functioning productively.
Different Ways You Should Be Listening
Your body is talking. You need to be quiet and listen.
- Sleep. Few activities give you more feedback than sleeping. Your body should be waking up refreshed. You should be able to make it through the day without relying on 18 cups of coffee. Your body should get tired at around the same time every night. If it’s not doing these things, it’s not running properly.
- Eating. Digestion is not an uncomfortable process. If going to the bathroom is unpleasant for you, something’s not right. If you are lacking in energy, it could also be the result of the food you’re eating. Food is fuel.
- Exercising. If running down the mailbox or climbing a set of stairs leaves you winded, your body is talking again. You should be able to do moderate exercise without problems. The same goes for muscle pains and cramps. That means you’re either not doing it properly or you’re not moving in a way that your body is designed to. Back it off.
- Doing stupid stuff. Drink too much and you’ll feel like crap the next day. That’s your body saying, “Knock it off! I don’t like that!”
Think long-term, not short-term
Those beers are flowing steadily, and you feel great! But that’s not going to help you tomorrow morning. Think beyond the moment.
These other areas of concern, like sleeping and your diet, are all dangerous in the long-term as well. They have lots of negative effects on your health and your body is going to wear down a lot more quickly.
Ways to Help You Listen
In order to listen to our bodies, we need to get quiet and pay closer attention. This can take some effort, but some things can make it easier for you:
- Meditation. I’m not talking about “ommmmmmm…” type of stuff. I’m talking about just sitting down in a quiet place for 5-10 minutes and listening, both to your body and your mind (remember, your brain is a muscle and part of your body too!). You can learn how to do this for free for 10 days at Headspace, which I’m currently doing. Ten minutes a day for 10 days. I’m already more in tune with my body than I used to be.
- Logs. Take a cheap notebook or a piece of paper and keep track of whatever it is you’re keeping track of. But pay attention to lots of things: like your energy levels, your mood, and your environment. I did this when changing my sleep schedule, and the data was easy to track and invaluable when I had to make tough decisions.
- Keeping it simple (stupid). The ol’ KISS method. Do things one at a time and don’t overcomplicate it. You’d be surprised how much insight you can get just by paying simple attention to a few things.
At the end of the day, your body is a great barometer for how you’re living. If you’re relying on medications and other substances to get through your day-to-day life, that means something’s out of whack. Look at natural solutions – not all of them are going to work, obviously, but there’s some merit to what they’re trying to promote.
Pay attention. Listen. Fix.
“Without entering into the discussion, he took occasion to talk to me about the manner of my writing; observed that, though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing (which I ow’d to the printing-house), I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method and in perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of his remark, and thence grew more attentive to the manner in writing, and determined to endeavor at improvement.” - Ben Franklin
One goal on my list this year is to write a book, and the year ain’t getting any younger. So I’ve pulled the trigger on working towards this goal this month. I thought it would be useful to share that process with you for a few reasons.
One, it will hold me accountable a bit. Making goals public is a great way to keep you consistent, because psychologically, you want to be consistent with the image that you portray in public. So, if I’m somebody who wants to be consistent with the image of a writer, I need to share my writing publicly at times. This, in my opinion, is one of those times.
Two, writing about something helps me learn a little more about it. So, then, writing about the book writing process will help me “talk my way through it”, learning a little more about myself and my book along the way.
I have also decided that certain aspects of the book will be kept private. I won’t necessarily discuss details about the plot or the characters, because that’s a personal thing that I’d rather not reveal. Plus, I am expecting the writing of this book to be a fluid process, and things could change along the way.
So, let’s get started!
I installed Scrivener.
Looking around, Scrivener seemed to be the tool for the job. Now, it’s easy to say that all you need is a pen and paper, which I agree with, but I wanted to have a comprehensive tool to use, and I have the ability to go out and get it. Nothing wrong with that.
Lots of writers use Scrivener, and as an Ubuntu man, I was very happy to see that Scrivener is actively being developed for Linux. I was even happier to see that, while it is still in beta (or “testing mode”), Scrivener for Linux is free. So not only do I get to use a really powerful tool to write my book, but I also don’t have to pay for it right now. Sweetness!
After I started using Scrivener, working through the tutorial and starting to pop in little details about my book, I’m seeing why people use it. It’s insanely flexible. I can see how I can use Scrivener within my own personal workflow, and adapt the program to meet my needs. It gives me lots of brainstorming tools and organizational features, like documents, sub-documents, folders, and even a pinboard of notecards to sort. Add footnotes, sticky notes, and just about everything else you can do with a paper workflow, and you can see why Scrivener is such a popular tool. Highly recommended.
Why not just use a Word document? Well, you certainly can. I chose to use Scrivener because I’m a visual guy at times, and this turns the book development process into a visual process.
How did I choose a topic for my book?
This was the biggest initial roadblock for me, because I don’t read a whole lot of fiction (yet). I wanted to write something fictional, but what am I interested in reading?
I knew that I like history, particularly war history. So I figured early on that I would want to write a war story of some kind.
Taking a page out of the Accidental Genius handbook (affiliate link), I decided to get some freewriting out of my head so that I could see what kinds of ideas were lurking around in there (one of my favorite brainstorming methods).
There were two side effects to this – one, I found some pretty cool ideas, and two, I have a really weird brain when it is left to its own devices.
Here are some of the more, ahem, interesting book ideas that my brain came up with after freewriting 50 book ideas without stopping:
- Bears overtake Manhattan
- Fantasy world where midgets rule the earth
- Bankrupt prize fighter bumfights for money
- Society crumbles over bad TV show
- Pack of wild dogs take over Manhattan
- Mozart fights zombies
- The Beer Wars
- A man’s desperate attempt to take off a straightjacket
- Woman breaks up with man over his hairstyle
- A talking banjo saves Manhattan
- A blind man has a knack for shooting darts
So, yeah, they’re not all winners (though I like the challenge of trying to write an entire book about the straightjacket one).
I then went through the list, bolded the useful/possible ones, and cross-checked them with what I was interested in. The result? A pretty good idea that took concepts from a few different ideas that dovetailed together.
I haven’t started writing yet.
The last couple weeks have been about getting the idea on paper and workable, so the next thing I did was grab a marker, stand next to my whiteboard, and diagram out the most basic and vague of all story timelines. All I needed to get down was the “bones” of a plotline.
Before doing that, I consulted my book on plot development (affiliate link) to determine what kind of plot I wanted this story to be. Then, I jotted down the basic structural components of that type of plot and detailed what parts of my plot idea would coincide with those parts.
Then, I slapped it all up on a timeline. To give you an idea of how vague this timeline is, the character names used are “#1″ and “#2″.
But what this means is I now have a basic start. I’m not starting from scratch when I eventually sit down to write the story (which I’m not doing yet).
The Next Steps
Okay, so I have a basic plot in place. Now, I’m going to work through some character development. Like, you know, giving them names and stuff.
But it will go beyond that. If I want this (possible) book series to be memorable and lasting, it can’t be entirely plot-driven. I need a cast of characters that people will be interested in reading about.
So I will spend next week really hammering out who these characters are, what they’re doing in the story, and the different traits that will define who they are.
There’s an app for everything – you know that.
But the more disturbing and – to be honest – useless trend I’m seeing in apps is the type that “force” self control on you.
You can automate anything you want in the world, and that’s great news for people who struggle with self-control. You can automatically have savings deducted from your bank account, so that you force yourself to save money. Simple, a new type of online bank, can “hide” money from you, which is exciting a lot of consumers, based on what I’m reading. They think that’s the “killer” feature that’s going to make Simple successful.
I like the concept and design of Simple. I’m a huge believer in online-only banks. But this feature, to me, addresses a symptom, not a problem.
Apps Put Band-Aids on Bigger Issues
Lifehacker recently ran an interesting post on different apps that force you to do things. For example:
- You can get an app that will force you to check-in at the gym with your GPS. If you don’t do so, it will take money from you.
- You can get an app that will force you to achieve the goals that you set, or it will publicly post an embarrassing picture of you.
- You can get alarm clock apps that make you do certain things, like scan barcodes in your kitchen.
And so on. But have we reached a point in our society where we need to rely on technology to force us to reach our goals?
It continues – there are browser extensions that you can use to block time wasting websites during times where you want to be productive. You can literally force yourself off of Facebook and Twitter, etc.
The same goes for porn. If you are trying to stop looking at porn all day and night, you can install setups that block it for you.
But are these things getting to the core of the problem? What happens when you are in an environment where these things aren’t going to be used?
The Real Problem: Lack of Self-Control
I’ll be honest: these types of scenarios are for wimps. Gutless cowards who can’t see the bigger picture in their lives.
And I’ve been one of them, don’t get me wrong! I’ve tried many of these. But I found ways to work around them anyway. They don’t slow me down for too long. So not only do they not work all that effectively, they’re not fixing anything.
It’s like having a broken arm and your doctor gives you a painkiller. Sure, you can function now because your arm doesn’t hurt anymore, but it’s not fixing the problem.
You can’t control yourself.
You refuse to accept that you are your own worst enemy. That you’re being lazy and irresponsible. That you’re screwing up.
You refuse to accept that you’re fat because you’re not taking care of yourself. You refuse to accept that you don’t have enough time in the day because you waste hours and hours of it. You refuse to accept that you don’t have any money because you don’t pay attention to where it’s going.
Running the Race Backwards
Having an app to force you towards your goals is a completely backwards way of trying to achieve anything.
When you stand at the starting line of a race and you hear the pistol, you start running, right? Which way are you facing? Forwards. Why? Because that’s where the finish line is. That’s your goal.
You don’t reach the finish line by accident because you’re running away from the starting line. That makes no sense. So you don’t get anywhere in life by setting up ways to make missing your goal more painful. There’s plenty of pain already there!
Being fat means looking unpleasant, possibly a quiet dating life, difficulty performing certain activities, a breakdown of your body over time, probably an early death, and jeopardizing the health of your children by passing on bad habits.
Being broke means carrying more debt, living in crappy homes, denying yourself fun stuff, eating garbage, being unhealthy, and not being able to provide for your children.
If you ask me, these consequences are crazy-worse than losing $10 to an app, or an embarrassing photo going public. This isn’t a game – this is life, baby.
And another thing – go read an interview with or the works of any great achiever in history:
- Richard Branson
- Thomas Edison
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Steve Jobs
- Chris Guillebeau
- Arthur Boorman
Et cetera. There’s one thing you’ll see in common with all of them: they didn’t succeed because they had some system of punishment in place when they didn’t reach their goals. They knew that life would punish them.
They were able to zoom back and think, Hey, what I do in this life is important, so I better take my time, talents, and money seriously!
In other words, nobody got rich by hiding money from themselves. Nobody got in shape by being forced to check-in at the gym with their phones. They achieved goals because they knew, at their core, what their motivations were – and they recognized how important those goals were.
So, Now What?
Ditch your apps. Ditch your goal punishments. Keep it simple.
Like I wrote a couple days ago, finding a deeper motivation than external things is what is going to spur you on towards your goals.
“And what if I fail?” Well, go after it again. Dust yourself off and try again. Maybe you can go just a little bit further next time. Everybody who’s achieved anything has failed a bunch of times. That’s how you learn what you’re made of. That’s how you develop your talents. You screw up. You fall short. You fail. But then, you get up and try again.
In my yoga workouts, crazy ex-wrestler and current yoga guru Diamond Dallas Page repeats over and over again,
“Hey, if you fall down – guess what? Get back up again! Over time, you’ll build strength.”
When you take the easy method of some of the yoga positions, he encourages you to do it, but as you get comfortable in those positions, start to challenge yourself just a little bit at a time. Because again – that’s how you build strength.
You won’t get anywhere without self-control, and no app will help you build that. Only you can. And the only way to do it is by using it.
You build strength in your legs by using them. You build strength in your lungs by exerting them. You build strength in your heart by pushing it to pump just a little harder.
You build your self-control by using it. Keep using it, and it will start to become habit. That’s the only way to be successful in this world.
Do you disagree? Agree? Share in the comments!
This morning, I was reading a book called Early to Rise by Andy Traub (now available on Amazon!*). As you may or may not know, I’ve dedicated myself this year to becoming an early riser – getting up at 5am every morning. In the past week, I have successfully made the transition to regularly getting up that early. And while some mornings have been harder than others, the increased time has led to insane levels of productivity that I’ve only dreamed about.
But that’s not exactly what this is going to be about. In today’s daily reading of the book (out of 30 days of motivational texts), Traub focuses on the roles in life that we each have responsibility for:
“You are choosing who you are going to be today. You are not a victim. You are not the economy. You are not an employee or even a citizen. Choose the role you want to fulfill, then fill it. If you believe you are a writer then write. If you believe you are a composer then create music. If you believe you are handy with a saw then let sawdust fly.”
The exercise for the day then included jotting down all the different roles you have in your life, then circling a couple that you intend to excel at today. So I busted out my pocket notebook and began writing:
- Husband. Fairly obvious. I’m a married guy, which means I’m part of a very special team with my wife. Our team name is The Bobcats (just kidding, it’s The Meitners – but how cool would that be?).
- Christian. I’m a firm believer that your faith (or lack thereof) is a responsibility in and of itself. You have the responsibility to live out your moral life. In my case, I have a responsibility as a Christian to make decisions that honor my God.
- Church member. Not the same thing as “Christian”. As a member of my church, I also have the responsibility to honor God, but I also have the added responsibility of helping to serve and benefit my fellow members of the church community. Those are different.
- Future father. I’m putting it on the list because, while I do not have children yet, the decisions I make now are going to directly impact their lives. That includes how I treat my health, my appearance, and our finances. Or how we build our home life and environment. Those are things that I’m paying attention to now so that I have a firm base to build upon with my sons and/or daughters someday, Lord-willing.
- Son. While I am an adult and do not take orders from my parents anymore, I do have the duty to both honor them in how I live my life as a representation of how they raised me, and I also have the responsibility to bring them joy by spending time with them and paying attention to how I treat my relationship with them.
- Business owner. I’m a freelance copywriter. That means I have a duty to bring my clients excellent service. I also have a duty to my business to do the best job I can to bring in more business in the future, as well as marketing myself and building relationships with prospective clients for long-term success.
- Friend. I have a great core group of loving friends who bring my joy in my life. As someone who grew up with a rather limited social life (small school, nerdy kid), I certainly do not take for granted to friendships that have been built in recent years.
- Cat owner. One of my cats walked past me as I was making this list at the kitchen table, and I realized that this too is a role that I should take seriously. Our cats rely on me for their feeding and sanitary needs (fancy way of saying “I clean their poop boxes”), and I also make sure they get to the vet every year to check on their health. I also have to spend some time with them every day to keep them happy. It’s a role that I took on when I decided to get a pet.
- Citizen. I have a responsibility to pay taxes (though I disagree with how much and where it’s spent, it’s the law). I have a responsibility to vote for a leader. I have a responsibility to follow that leader, even if I disagree with certain policies. Laws are laws. In exchange, I get to live in what is still the greatest nation around.
- Brother. I have three older brothers, and three sisters-in-law. While my relationships with them can be strained at times, I have the responsibility to protect and develop those relationships, because I love my family and I want to be a good little brother to all of them.
- Writer. Last but certainly not least, I have the duty as a writer to write. This is non-negotiable.
- Renter. I have the duty, per the contract with my landlord, to keep my house in good working order. I have the responsibility to pay rent, as well as clear the driveway of snow buildup and cut the grass in the summer.
See how quickly that list can build? It’s amazing.
What’s the point?
While it’s easy to let that list become daunting to look at (like, “Holy crap, I have so much to do!”), it fills me with a certain sense of responsibility. It’s a warm feeling, and it’s an honor to serve in those different capacities – many in my everyday life.
It also is incredibly motivating to take my time seriously. That’s what becoming an early riser is all about for me – creating a schedule where I can work effectively and be the best user of my time, talents, and treasures (which, in my line of faith, we call “stewardship”).
Try it – take out a pen and paper, or open a notepad on your computer, and think of the different roles you have. Get creative with your thinking.
Then, instead of being intimidated by that list, use it as motivation to take your life seriously. That doesn’t mean don’t have fun – it just means that you ought to eliminate wastefulness where you can. Life is not meant to be a lazy affair – it’s work. But when you recognize and respect the different roles that you have, you can work on it without misery or frustration. You have the freedom to put a smile on your face while you serve in your roles.
What roles do you serve? Any creative or fun ones that you want to share? Do so in the comments!
Back in the Stone Age, when MTV used to play actual music videos, as time wore on you saw musicians and artists developing a trend in the themes of their videos – particularly in the rap and hip-hop genre: the star was the center of attention, worshiped by those surrounding him. Draped all over the place would be the following:
- Chicks. Lots of them. None of them wearing a full outfit. All of them grinding up on the star’s business.
- Money. Holding it. Tossing it in the air. Making it “rain”. Sitting on piles of it, whatever.
- Stuff. What the kids used to call “bling”. Expensive clothing. Fancy cars. Big honking houses.
- Abs (optional, see “Usher”).
Of course, this had a tremendous effect on youth culture, who decided that this was the stuff to go after. This was what success looked like. So what’s the result? Nobody’s happy.
Look around and pay attention: we all have stuff we complain about. America continues to be, like, the fattest nation ever. We have a complete disconnect between what we perceive as “success” and the realities of our own lives, and that’s making us relatively miserable.
Superficial motivations won’t get you anywhere.
Here’s why you’re not reaching your goals or resolutions or whatever you want to call them: you’re shooting for the wrong stuff.
Sure, you want to lose weight, save money, make more money, and be a better person. That’s great – fantastic, even! Worthy goals for anybody! But what’s motivating them?
- Do you want to “look good naked”?
- Looking to go out on more dates?
- Want to be rich?
- Trying to get more nice “stuff”?
- Want to be cooler around your peers?
Yeah, this won’t get you there. At all.
Why? Because your brain is a crafty little bastard. Your brain, in the beginning, says, “YEAH MAN! That stuff is totally awesome! Life is going to ROCK when we get there! Let’s do this!”
But after a week or two, when the enthusiasm wears down and you start feeling resistance towards the work that you have to put in, your brain is the first thing that gives up on you. He starts saying, “Hey, you know what? This sucks. Let’s just go back to the old ways of doing things. We can handle it. We’ve gotten this far doing the same stuff, right? Who cares?”
Find a deeper meaning.
You need to find ways of motivating yourself that your brain can’t say “no” to. Stuff like:
- Trying to kick or avoid a preventable medical condition, like diabetes
- The ability to play a sport with your friends and keep up
- Financial protection for your family, and your children (current or future)
You get the idea? These are things that strike at the core of who you are and what you want to be. They’re not exterior motivations, they are playing on your personal fears, desires, and needs.
There is nothing wrong with being rich. Or having stuff. Or chicks (God bless ‘em).
But they are not going to motivate you toward your goals. Only you can do that. Find that internal motivation. Find the thing that your brain can’t justify losing. Only then will you start seeing some progress.
“There’s nothing you can do about bad things that already happened. People can think too much of the past. The past is all over. Kiss it goodbye and stay in the present. Why think of bad things when you can think of good things?” - Jake LaMotta, former boxing champion
My sophomore year of high school, I traveled to Mexico City for a week on a mission trip. We were there to help out with a church, and while there, we met up with a youth group about the same age as us.
This was my first real exposure to international culture, and it was almost shocking how humble some of it was. While our churches have vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows that we can see from our padded pews, one of the churches we helped at had a homemade cross, a folding table at the front with an old tablecloth on it for an altar, and a clearly homemade cross at the front. The “pews” were rows of old used folding chairs, including the pastor’s seat at the front. The whole thing was located in an old office building with broken tiles and dirty walls.
After a wonderful homemade meal welcoming us, the group wanted to go play volleyball. At this point, the best Spanish I could really work with in this group was, “Lo siento, tengo solo un ano de clase de espanol.” (“I’m sorry, I have only one class of Spanish.”) So I never really knew what was going on for a full week.
We started walking with the group carrying a volleyball, and I expected to come across some school gym or something, where we’d play on a volleyball court with a net.
Instead, we found our way to a grassy area with a few trees. I saw these high school kids walk from tree to tree, pointing and talking to each other. They seemed to be happy with two trees that they found, and then they proceeded to begin taking off their coats. Some of the guys took off their shirts as well. They lined up and began tying all the sleeves together.
Then they hoisted one end of the shirt/jacket train to one tree and tied it as high as they could reach. They did the same on the other end, and before long, we had a “net” for volleyball hung between two trees made out of their clothes.
We played volleyball and we had a lot of fun. We didn’t need an expensive net. We had each other and we had a volleyball. That was enough for a great afternoon of volleyball.
You’re using excuses.
I’d be a total hypocrite if I spent an entire blog post railing about how awful marketing is to the average American. However, it is true to an extent – even though I’m a copywriter, I have a hard time seeing what happens when the general public falls victim to a stupid marketing campaign that makes them think they “need” a certain gadget, app, or product to become something or achieve something.
It may be true if you want to take it to the next level, but in most cases, we’re not ready for the next level. We’re not ready to make serious money. We’re not ready to lose serious weight. We’re not ready to be a professional.
We just need to get started. We need to build the habits first. We need to prove to ourselves that we want it. Only then will doors start opening up for us.
We’re also incredibly equipped already. Often, we look for the best equipment, but we already have everything we need.
- Want to be a writer? You don’t need the latest writing app or a better computer. Your computer has a word processor on it. At the very least, it has a notepad program. Even better, you have pens and paper. Maybe an old spiral bound notebook. Start writing.
- Want to exercise more? You don’t need fitness clothing or equipment or some stupid gadget. Go outside and start running. Do it barefoot if you don’t have running shoes – it’s better for you anyway. Start doing bodyweight exercises like pushups and situps and squats. Do yoga. Get some friends together and play a sport (like volleyball). Chip in a few bucks together and share a ball if you really need to, but I bet you all have something.
- Want to be more educated? You don’t need a class or expensive courses. Start Googling your topic. You’ll find a wealth of information.
- Want to save more money? You don’t need a financial advisor. Start writing down all your expenses. Look for real, practical ways to reduce your expenses. Your bank has online banking where you can look over all your expenses. Here’s a cool post on alternatives to spending money on stuff.
- Want to nab a guy or girl? You don’t need to spend money on looking better. Just dress decent, go out where people are gathering, and have a good time. Too broke to hit the bar? Just have water. Who cares? Be yourself, and be confident. Treat the other person well and engage in conversation. You’ll find someone.
- Want to start a business? You don’t need an expensive business plan or equipment or whatever. Figure out the service you’d like to offer. Start providing it for people. You don’t need an expensive marketing campaign – just start calling people who might need what you’re offering.
- Want to read more? You don’t need a Kindle. You don’t need to go to the bookstore and buy expensive books. Just go to the library. I don’t care how “unhip” they are. It’s free.
- Want to have a better home life? You don’t need a better home. A better home life starts from the relationships in the home. Spend more quality time with your family. Get a deck of cards and play something. Google some card games. Just spend time together.
- Want to be happier? You don’t need anything. You just need to do something. Do anything. Be productive. Be creative. Happiness doesn’t come to you – you make it. And you won’t make it sitting on the couch.
No matter what you want, you can get it. Heck, 95% of your power comes from the thing you’re staring at right now. A computer can equip you to do more than you think. But you need to take the time to be creative and put a little effort into it.
Start tying your shirts together and make a volleyball net. It’s not hard. And do it with a smile on your face because you can. You have the ability, and that’s more of a blessing than you realize.
You have power. Go use it.