Act Your Wage

Dave Ramsey has a great saying: “Act your wage”. In layman terms, this means live within your means. Our post-modern society has concocted a variety of ways to allow us to do just the opposite.

Just because you can Doesn’t Mean you Should

When I applied for a mortgage, I was pre approved for 1.5x what I wanted to spend to buy a home. Good monetary habits require you to do research. Asking how much house you can afford before you take the highest number you are offered can save you many headaches down the road. When you think that creditors have your financial security in mind, you can be tricked into thinking you have more means than you do. In slang, you act above your wage. You could quickly find yourself strapped for cash when the bank told you you could “afford it”.

Interestingly enough, when I looked toward buying a car, it was even worse. They approved me for a loan three times as large as what I needed to buy the car I wanted. Enough money to put a down payment on another home! Obviously, I spent no more than I intended to, but the thought of having a car the price of a down payment on a house is absurd.

Don’t Keep up with the Joneses

The “average” American is saddled with debt of all kinds. Most notably a mortgage. Most financially savvy people would agree that this is a good and almost necessary form of debt. The average non-mortgage debt in 2018 was a whopping $38,000! So as you can see, many of your neighbors who you think “make a lot of money” or “are doing really well” are in fact not doing well at all.

Acting your wage means knowing that you can enjoy the finer things in life, but only after you have attended to the necessities. There are lots of great rules of thumb for how much money to save and spend depending upon your stage of life. I have even written about it. Find reputable (hopefully financial independence oriented) advice, and stick to that to start. Unfortunately, our current financial system does not have your best interests in mind. Thanks for reading!

Why the 2020 Election will likely be Violent

I take no joy in doom prophecies. In fact, I consider myself a relentless optimist. However, the facts are mounting that the 2020 presidential election is going to result in some of the deepest civil unrest probably anyone has seen in their lifetime. I wouldn’t rule out another (likely more intense) bout of rioting coupled with an even more divided and non-cooperative federal government. After that is where I have no prediction for where things will go. The next couple years will likely contain even more upheaval, but also the opportunity for the transformation of our government and economy.

America Remains Divided

This is neither surprising nor unexpected. What is a little unexpected is that even in the midst of battling a foreign invader (coronavirus), we still haven’t found our common ground. Usually a “total event” (a war, pandemic, national tragedy, etc.) brings a country together. Coronavirus has pulled at our already loose seams even more. Wearing or not wearing a mask is becoming a political statement. States are deeply divided on when and what to reopen in their economy. Civic cooperation (as seen in a number of other countries) would have made for three months of lockdown, but many more months of a much better controlled spread. That has proven impossible here in the US.

Perhaps more importantly, America has yet to embrace a unifying figure. In order for substantive change and healing to happen, there has to be someone (or perhaps something) that brings Americans together. I was hopeful and excited with the campaign of Andrew Yang. One of his major campaign slogans was “Not left. Not right. Forward”. In my estimation, he was the only candidate with a specific agenda to heal our division. But Americans didn’t seem ready for him (despite a remarkable run for the highest office as a “nobody” in politics).

A divided country (probably at a level not seen since the Civil War) is a breeding ground for growing resentment and bitterness after an election. Donald Trump is openly adversarial to his “opponents”, but even Joe Biden doesn’t seem to represent national healing and unity. Furthermore, many Americans view him as an extension of the Obama administration, which was (not intentionally) part of the polarizing force that got us to where we are. If Donald wins, expect rioting, marching, protests, and civil disobedience. If Joe Biden wins, expect the same.

Inequality, Automation, and Coronavirus

As if we didn’t already have the perfect storm brewing, we add in social and economic inequality at multi-decade highs, Coronavirus, and the looming threat of automation as a response to a contracting economy. For all intents and purposes, the killing of George Floyd was a public lynching. This awakens the latent resentment that many Americans have toward a flawed criminal justice system. Americans are already feeling the economic heat in a very potent way. For some, coronavirus has been a chance to telework, but for many Americans, they left jobs that may not ever be coming back. And just our (bad) luck, many of the Government protections are set to expire this summer, and if a second wave of the virus hits in the fall, it could spell financial ruin for millions of Americans.

A long term effect of the coronavirus will be a turn toward increasing automation, creating major disruption in some of America’s largest industries. Food service for example is already shooting toward being contactless, making less need for waiters, waitresses, and hostesses. Grocery and convenience stores are already looking at ways to expand self-checkout. Walmart is going to expand cashier-less stores. What happens to the hundreds of thousands (likely millions) of Americans that will be displaced as a result? Your guess is as good as mine. On the campaign trail Andrew Yang spoke of the major disruption that driverless cars and trucks can have on our economy. Imagine this repeated over multiple industries, accelerated by the coronavirus.

I apologize that the tone of this post is mostly depressing. But if we fail to look at our coming difficulties with a truthful eye, we end up making ourselves less able to change anything, or at least take shelter for the coming storm.

In the long run, I am hopeful that the current and coming upheaval in America will see us better, stronger, and wiser on the other side. But there is no guarantee. Napoleon Hill wrote that “every difficulty has within it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. That seed needs to be germinated and tended in order for us to reap the subsequent benefits. So in whatever ways we can, let’s do the work of unifying our country and ensuring a better life for generations to come. Thanks for reading!

Balancing Doing and Non-Doing

This article is going to be largely philosophical. I have always enjoyed sharing and dissecting ideas. In life, healthy people always have a balance between doing and non-doing. For example, a successful writer knows that they must write, but they know that they must also take time off to get new ideas and inspiration. Any athlete knows that recovery time is just as important as training time. When we skew towards one side, we experience uncomfortable (non-beneficial) stress. As many people are learning from the coronavirus pandemic, non-doing can impart a kind of stress as well. Similarly, too much doing is a type of stress that should be apparent. As with most things, we have to experiment and adjust along the way to find our correct balance of doing and non-doing.

A man resting and relaxing

Doing and Non-Doing are the Same

Duality is a key teaching in Buddhism. The idea that “this is because that is”. The defining principle in making strength and/or physique gains is progressive overload. Basically that your body needs to do more in order to change. But there is deep nuance in that idea. When you train for a while, you learn that the other side of the coin is fatigue management, basically recovery. It becomes clear that you cannot have one without the other. If you fall out of balance (too much work or too much recovery), you won’t make progress.

This applies to nearly all areas of our lives. If we work at our job too much, we get fatigued. If we are slack in our work (we should) feel guilty and miss opportunities for advancement.

Rest is when Growth takes Place

When we think of making improvements, our mind pushes us toward thinking of them solely as products of exertion. For example, a bodybuilder is usually thought of as becoming so by lifting weights. This is certainly true. But, every bodybuilder knows that the true improvements come during rest. Once we exert ourselves, adaptations do not begin until we rest. As alluded to earlier, there is a balance. Too much rest, no improvement. Too much work, no improvement.

Time is peculiar in that it is necessary for all achievements, but is not able to be manipulated. If it takes four years to get a college degree, thats just how long it takes. Perhaps some genius could squeeze it out in three, but for the most part, it is what it is. The hardest part of working toward any goal for most goal-oriented people is waiting and resting. We usually find that taking action is invigorating and sometimes immediately rewarding. We also have to remember that rest and time are also two key components.

Getting what we want usually requires a balanced blend of action (doing) and rest (non-doing). How do you balance these seeming opposites in your life?

How to Get More Deep Sleep

Deep sleep is the time when our body regenerates. It is when our muscles heal, and our body makes adaptations to exercise. Usually articles about deep sleep contain recommendations for supplements. I believe that at least 80% of deep sleep success will come from our habits.

Deep Sleep and Exercise

Exercise is one of the big ways to improve our sleep. The Goldilocks principle applies here. Not too little, not too much. If we exercise too little we don’t get any stimulation to our body, lymphatic system, and muscles. If we exercise too much, we run the risk of over-stimulating ourselves and not allowing our bodies significant time to repair. I used to get around an hour and a half of deep sleep each night. Since paying more attention to how much I am exercising and controlling intensity, I now routinely get two to two-and-a-half hours of deep sleep each night. I find that controlled increases (1-2 sets per week per body part for lifting, and ~10% increase in cardio each week are sustainable increases that won’t over-stress our bodies.

Eat Well

Once again focusing on the big basics all always create the best results. When choosing a healthy diet, we should always look to eat as many whole foods as we can. Once we get in the habit of eating a good amount of whole food calories (around 15 calories per pound for most people), we can look toward macronutrients. We should ensure that we are eating adequate protein (about 0.8 g/lb) and carbohydrates (about 1.5 g/lb) to make sure we appropriately fuel and recover from workouts.

Get Enough Sleep at the Right Time

cat sleeping

We all know that we should get around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. There is very little debate about this. In addition to getting the optimal amount of sleep, we should sleep at the right time. It seems that the best time to sleep is from 8 pm to 10 pm. This fits fairly naturally within our natural circadian rhythms.

Getting enough deep sleep is a huge component of a healthy lifestyle. What habits have you found essential to getting enough deep sleep? Thanks for reading!

Enjoy the Process

When we want to achieve a specific goal, we can often lose sight of why we chase goals in the first place. Anyone who has ever achieved a goal knows that actually winning is surprisingly anti-climactic. And even if it is a big adrenaline filled last minute buzzer beater, the actual feeling of accomplishment is rather short lived. Once you achieve a goal you quickly begin to realize that the fulfilling part wasn’t necessarily achieving the goal but improving and becoming a better and more efficient person as a result. Understanding the processes in place helps you enjoy the process.

enjoy the process

Value all Growth

When we think of how to enjoy the process, it becomes clear that one of the main keys is seeing and recognizing growth. When I began weightlifting, I had a specific goal of being able to bench press 225 pounds. As I made progress toward that goal, I felt a sense of accomplishment with each step I got closer. When I actually did finally bench 225 pounds, I was rather underwhelmed. I was happy, but it was short lived.

Our brains and bodies are wired in such a way that progress is satisfying. When we complete a task or achieve a goal, our mind automatically reorients toward another goal because the fulfillment came from the process and not necessarily the result. So the next time you feel stuck or discouraged, be sure to measure and celebrate how far you’ve come and not how far you have left to go.

Who have you Become?

A common saying in the personal development real is “It’s not what you get, it’s who you become”. When we set out to achieve a goal, it seems as if we are primarily acting upon the outside world, when in reality, the bulk of our work is internal. When someone decides to become financially independent, they save money and build wealth. But they also build discipline, future-oriented thinking and other valuable skills in the process. When a self-made person begins building wealth, they become a wealthy person. Even if they were to lose all of their money and possessions in a fire, the skills they developed would help them get that money back and perhaps more.

Enjoy the process by understanding why we set goals, and remembering not to get lost in the pursuit. The small growth and development usually turn out to be the most rewarding parts of the journey. Thanks for reading!

How to Get Good Advice

One of the benefits (and subsequent drawbacks) of modern society is that everyone has a voice. Everyone. So Joe Shmoe from down the street can post on twitter how to become a millionaire with no credentials, and potentially have a successful (albeit fraudulent) business. Getting good advice in the 21st century means vetting all of your sources of information. Hopefully anyone who intends to advise us has achieved the results we want or at least is on the path.

Do Grape Vines make Apples?

The Bible has a parable in which Jesus says we shall know people by their fruits. What that means is that we will know who people are and what they stand for by their results in life. If someone claims to be compassionate, but abuses their spouse, there is a big disconnect. This is different from the innate imperfections and intermittent mistakes of well-meaning people, but I think you get what I mean. In order to get good advice, we must first find the people who have success where we wish to have it. Preferably self-made people. If you want relationship advice, who would be better? A newly wed couple or a couple that has been married for thirty years?

Unfortunately we also have to be on the lookout for fakes and cheaters. Let’s say you are an aspiring fitness enthusiast, and you are looking for good information. There are many people qualified to give you information, but there’s a twist. Someone who takes performance enhancing drugs may look like they know fitness, but they have a little secret. So even if they are well-intentioned, when you take drugs, the rules largely no longer apply. Some of my favorite fitness icons have recently admitted to taking hormones (or bio-identical hormone replacement). I’m not judging that decision, but good advice given to someone taking drugs vs. a natural is astronomical. It’s like a trust fund baby giving advice on how to become a millionaire. Laughable.

Good advice

How to Spot Bad Advice

Luckily for us, there are a few “tells” with people who are con-artists (or even well intentioned people with bad information). The first big “tell” is a short-term philosophy. All self-made success (with very few exceptions) is a long term game. There are no get rich quick schemes that work. A 30-day body transformation is questionable at best. Always look for good advice to be focused on consistency over the long term.

The second “tell” is aggressive marketing. Good advice need not be free, but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by marketing. All reasonable people are willing to pay for value, but it can be pretty clear when someone wants to make money more than provide value.

Lastly, bad advice often comes from conflict ridden people. If the person is constantly involved in “beef” with others and can’t seem to escape the news cycle, there may be personal issues that are complicating their ability to be a good teacher.

Hopefully you got some good strategies for vetting information in our modern information overload world. Thanks for reading!

Advice for Times of Stagnation

Life presents us with many challenges. Some of them are of our own making, and some of them we have nothing to do with. We all feel at times we should give up. We think we should stop following our better eating patterns, slack off in our work, or stop saving money. Most advice about why you should keep going even in the face of setbacks is sentimental rather than logical. Meaning, once the feeling of motivation runs out, we have a good excuse to quit. There are, however, logical reasons that we can remind ourselves of that can keep us working toward our goals. Effective advice for times of stagnation can help us remember underlying principles and stay the course.

Changes can Happen at the Micro-level

When we embark on a new journey, we actually begin to change for the better the instant we decide to do something. Whether we know it or not, connections are being made in our brains to aid us in achieving our goal. That being said, visible and measurable changes take time to come about. A person who begins working out doesn’t see results after the first week, or even the first month. But sure enough, if they keep at it they can see results after three months and even a new physique after a year (working consistently).

This is because change happens continuously, but some changes are so small they cannot be seen or detected yet. They are certainly taking place, we just can’t see the results. It may seem like the progress has stalled, but micro-improvements are still being made. Plateaus are not indefinite, but rather temporary (seeming) stagnation before the next level. When you want to give up, remind yourself that change is happening, you probably just can’t see the results yet. Telling yourself this can help you keep going, even when things look like they have stalled.

Advice for Times of Stagnation: Growth is non-linear

When we think of growth or achieving a goal, we usually think linearly. remember Algebra class? Linear means a consistent rate of change. Many natural processes are more cyclical or seasonal. For example, a child can expect to have a number of “growth spurts” as they reach full development. No parent says “Darn he stopped growing for a week, guess they’ll be this small forever…”. We know (and accept…this is important), that growth doesn’t happen on a particular schedule, but rather cyclically, and often sporadically. When we feel discouraged we can remind ourselves that perhaps every season is not a season of growth. And that’s okay. This can help us keep going because we know that consistent action will reap rewards, even when we don’t see them yet.

The path to any meaningful achievement is seldom linear. There are times of stagnation, slowed growth, and perhaps even regression. If we can remember that this is all part of the process, it makes the pill a little easier to swallow. Thanks for reading!

How to Plan Healthy Meals

Fad science comes and goes. When it comes to eating we all (even if only intuitively) know that healthy foods are whole foods. I think even the most polarizing diet critics could agree to some extent on that. Furthermore, if we want to be highly active and perform well, the best source of fuel comes from carbohydrates. Then we need protein for muscle recovery and good fats for hormone health. When we look to plan healthy meals, we need whole food sources of protein, carbs, and fats.

Plan a Healthy Meal: Include Protein, Fats and Carbs at Every Meal

When you plan healthy meals, make sure to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
When you plan healthy meals, make sure to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

As referenced above, a balanced meal will have adequate protein, carbs and fats. Of course, how much you eat will be determined by body size and activity levels, but healthy eating will always have whole food protein, carbs, and fats.

For example, here is what I had to eat for breakfast today:

  • Whole grain Ezekiel Muffin (carbs)
  • Orange juice or fruit (carbs) if you are juice-phobic, don’t have any
  • Egg White Omelette (protein) have whole eggs if you wish
  • Reduced Fat Mozzarella cheese (protein/fat) have higher fat cheese if you wish, also sub for vegan cheese, avocado, etc.

This meal came out to 574 calories (reasonable for a person of any healthy weight), 71 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fat, and 48 grams of protein. Now, depending on your goals the calories and macros would change, but I would still recommend choosing whole foods and just eating more or less of each group.

Find what you like and Eat it Often!

One of the biggest setbacks for people who want to know how to plan healthy meals is the myth of variety. People can tighten up if I suggest that they eat the same thing often. That is not to say you have the same meal every day. However, there are certain foods (and not that many of them) that are the basis of any healthy diet. Bodybuilders, for example, usually eat lots and lots of rice. It is healthy, can be seasoned or paired well with a variety of foods, and is an excellent carb source.

So once you find what you like, feel free to eat it as often as you want. I usually have a whole grain source, egg white omelette, cheese, and fruit OR whole grain source (Kodiak cake, etc.), fat source (peanut butter), fruit or juice, and milk almost every single day. I have been doing this for years and I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. In fact, there is a sense of comfort that I know exactly what I’m going to eat and how it will make me feel afterward.

Hopefully, you found some insight into making and planning your own healthy meals. Thanks for reading!

Discipline is a Habit

When people think of discipline they think of a particular instance of not acting on an impulse. Discipline is treated as a special force we use to do what we know is right. And it is! But like most things in life, discipline has to be cultivated and practiced to thrive. Theoretically discipline has no limit, but in practice it does. For example, let’s say all of your friends and family are obese. Would it be possible for you to be fit and healthy? Of course! Is it likely? Definitely not!

Discipline and Environment

Our environment can be conducive to our goals or counterproductive. In the example above, being fit has so many micro-goals associated with it, that the amount of discipline needed to turn the tide would be Herculean. Not only would you have to eat separate meals, you would have to go to the gym (probably alone), and endure questioning and heckling from your loved ones. Some would say that’s no excuse for failure, but if we put away our virtue signaling for a moment, we can admit that it is very likely a losing proposition.

It isn’t always feasible to dramatically change your environment. Sometimes you can’t just quit a job, or leave a bad situation. But what you can do is be aware of the consequences of an unsupportive environment and take reasonable action to change it. Perhaps you can find an online fitness community. Maybe you can invite your mom to walk with you every other day. The key is to make discipline easy. We don’t win an award for making things harder than they need to be. If the path of least resistance aligns with your values, why make things harder on yourself?

People who seem to have a lot of discipline usually have a lot of systems in place to make doing the right thing easy. I was a vegan for five years. I quickly learned that if I wanted to stick with it, I would need to plan for being around non-vegan food (essentially always haha). This meant making and bringing vegan dishes to Thanksgiving, and lugging vegan treats to parties. I didn’t just go to these events and resist eating animal products because of an iron will, I made it easy on myself. Interestingly enough, I became almost completely impervious to non-vegan food, and very little discipline was required to stick with it. Later on, I decided to give up veganism, and I went back to eating animal products with no sweat lol.

Discipline is a Muscle

Once you do what you can to mold your environment, you begin to find more ways to be disciplined for your benefit. With each small act of discipline you become stronger. Partially due to increased will power, but also due to (as we discussed above) making your environment conducive to discipline. For example, once you begin living within your means, the next step of aggressive saving becomes much easier. You begin to think about the ways to automate it and make it easier on yourself. You become better at identifying potential difficulties and planning for them.

Of course we want to make sure that we live lives of balance, so make sure not to be too disciplined. Remember to stop and smell the flowers along the way and splurge every now and again. What are some of the ways you make discipline easy? Thanks for reading.

The Importance of Delaying Gratification

Many of you have probably heard of or read about the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the experiment, a child was given the choice between a small reward and two small rewards if they waited. Many conclusions (some controversial) have been made about the results of the study, but the basic takeaway is that the children who were able to wait for the second reward did better in life. This should come as no surprise. Life offers many choices and roads, and often the road that is a little more difficult is the reward that leads to better long-term results.

We will make Sacrifices Regardless

Everything in life requires a sacrifice. From the most mundane to the most consequential, life is a series of trade-offs. For example, if you choose the pleasure of smoking, you also choose the likely consequences of smoking. If you choose to take advantage of others, you will reap consequences (eventually) accordingly. If you choose climbing the corporate ladder over playing catch with your son, you sacrifice investing in one of the most meaningful relationships in your life.

So the question isn’t whether we will make sacrifices, the questions is what are we willing to sacrifice for? This is where delaying gratification comes in full force. When we make a decision we should think, what are the long and short term consequences of this decision? For example, if you buy a brand new car outside of your means, the short and perhaps medium-term consequences are pleasure and status. The long term consequence may be added years until retirement. If we can keep long term consequences in the forefront of our minds, we will make better decisions. If instead we buy a modest car and invest what we would have spent, that money would bring us dividends for decades to come. Sometimes you just want the nice car. I get that. Just remember what you are sacrificing in the process.

Success is a Long Game

When you throw out the outliers of the extremely lucky and gifted, the trust fund babies, and the con men and women, success is always a long game. I read an article by Brian Tracy years ago and its lessons have stuck with me and held me in good stead. I don’t think I can say it any better than him, so I will quote directly from his website.

In 1970, sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University wrote a book entitled The Unheavenly City. He described one of the most profound studies on success and priority setting ever conducted.

Banfield’s goal was to find out how and why some people became financially independent during the course of their working lifetimes. He started off convinced that the answer to this question would be found in factors such as family background, education, intelligence, influential contacts, or some other concrete factor. What he finally discovered was that the major reason for success in life was a particular attitude of mind.

Banfield called this attitude “long time perspective.” He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.

Brian Tracy

Imagine the rewards bestowed upon those with the longest time perspective. Think of those beautiful ornate medieval castles, or the beautiful streets of European towns. They didn’t look for the cheapest material and the fastest building time like we do now. The people who made them (whether well intentioned or not), knew that future generations would marvel at their grandiosity. I have a hard time imagining future generations fondly remembering McMansions. Our forefathers gave their lives in war to afford us the luxuries of our present. A dad with a modest job can set up his family for two or more generations of financial abundance with hard work and intelligent financial planning.

Delaying gratification is a major key in creating the things we want in life. Paradoxically, to enjoy long term comforts, we must overlook present luxuries. How far into the future do you look when you make decisions? Thanks for reading.

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