The Power of Yes

For a long time, I was afraid to try new things, to meet new people, to do anything that might lead to failure. These fears confined me to a narrow comfort zone. I spent most of my time at home, reading books or playing videogames. When opportunities came to try new things, I usually ignored them. I made excuses. I wasn’t happy, but I was complacent. I was safe.

Then I read a book called Impro by Keith Johnstone. It changed my life.

Impro is a book about stage-acting, about improvisational theater, the kind of stuff you used to see on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? I’m not an actor, nor do I want to become one, but several of the techniques described in the book were applicable to my everyday life.

In one section, for example, Johnstone explains that in order for a scene to flow, an actor has to take whatever situation arises and work with it. She needs to accept and build upon the actions of her fellow actors.

Once you learn to accept offers, then accidents can no longer interrupt the action. […] This attitude makes for something really amazing in the theater. The actor who will accept anything that happens seems supernatural; it’s the most marvelous thing about improvisation: you are suddenly in contact with people who are unbounded, whose imagination seems to function without limit.

I thought about this passage for days. “What if I did this in real life?” I wondered. “What if I accepted offers and stopped blocking them?” I began to note the things I blocked and accepted. To my surprise, I blocked things constantly – I made excuses to not do things because I was afraid of what might happen if I accepted.

  • When online acquaintances asked to meet for lunch. I’d refuse. I was scared they might think I was fat or stupid. (Or that they might be an axe murderer!)
  • When a local television station asked me to appear on their morning show as a financial expert, I was afraid of looking like a fool, so I refused.
  • When a friend wanted me to join him to watch live music at a local pub, I declined. I’d never been in a bar (yes, I’d led a sheltered life) and was nervous about what might happen.
  • When another friend asked me to bike with him from Portland to the Oregon Coast, I said no. It was a long way. It seemed difficult and dangerous.

These are only a handful of examples. In reality, I blocked things every day. I refused to try new foods. I didn’t like to go new places. And I didn’t want to try new things. Or, more precisely, I wanted to do all of this, but was afraid to try. Because I focused more on the possible negative outcomes than the potential rewards, I avoided taking even tiny risks.

After reading Impro, I made a resolution. Instead of saying “no” to the things that scared me, I’d say “yes” instead.

Whenever somebody asked me to do something, I agreed (as long as it wasn’t illegal and didn’t violate my personal code of conduct). I put this new philosophy into practice in lots of ways, both big and small.

  • When people asked me to lunch, I said yes.
  • When people contacted me to make media appearances or do public speaking gigs, I said yes.
  • When friends asked me to go see their favorite bands or to spend the evening chatting at a bar, I said yes.

As a result of my campaign to “just say yes”, I’ve met hundreds of interesting people and done lots of amazing things. I’ve eaten guinea pig in Perú and grubs in Zimbabwe. I’ve climbed mountains in Bolivia and snorkeled in Ecuador. I’ve learned to love both coffee and beer, two beverages I thought that I hated. I’ve learned to ride a motorcycle. I’ve shot a gun. I’ve gone skydiving and bungie-jumping. I wrote and published a book. I sold my website. I took a monthly column in a major monthly magazine.

These things might seem minor to natural extroverts, but I’m not a natural extrovert. I’m an introvert. These were big steps for me. These experiences were new and scary, and I wouldn’t have had them if I hadn’t forced myself to say yes.

Note: Long-time readers are well aware that I first wrote about the power of yes nearly seven years ago. As we continue this year-long exploration of fear, happiness, and freedom, we’ll inevitably retrace some familiar territory. That’s okay. It’s good to see how these old insights fit into a larger whole.

The Power of Resilience

Seth Godin wrote recently about three ways to deal with the future: accuracy, resilience, and denial.

In Godin’s paradigm, accuracy is predicting correctly what will happen tomorrow, and is the most rewarding way to deal with the future. The problem, of course, is that’s tough to make accurate predictions. You have to invest a lot of time and/or money, have access to inside information, or be lucky to get things right.

Denial, on the other hand “is the strategy of assuming that the future will be just like today”. Like it or not, you live in a world of change. The people and places around you are constantly evolving, and as much as you like the status quo, you can’t assume things will remain the same forever.

If you accept that (a) things change and (b) you cannot predict what will happen, then the most effective strategy for dealing with the future is to foster resilience. Instead of betting on a single outcome, you prepare for a range of possible results.

Godin argues that our society fosters a “winner-take-all” mentality that emphasizes accuracy over resilience. This benefits the few who have made accurate predictions, but penalizes everyone else. And it forces many people to take the path of denial, where they don’t prepare for the future at all because they realize there’s no way they can reliably guess what the future will be.

Like Godin, I believe that successful people foster resilience. Recently at Get Rich Slowly, I wrote about financial resilience, the ability to bounce back from unexpected financial blows.

In psychology, adaptability refers to how well a person can adjust herself to changed circumstances. Because we live in a constantly changing universe, your ability and willingness to adapt is a barometer that measures both your ability to thrive and your capacity for happiness.

So, don’t simply assume that tomorrow will be like today. And don’t try to guess precisely what the future will hold. Instead, prepare for a range of likely outcomes. Be open to alternatives and new ideas. Allow yourself to grow in unexpected directions. Doing so will ultimately bring you a happier, more fulfilling life.

Long Way Round

My desire to travel was originally inspired by books. The television show The Amazing Race, however, goosed me into action. I loved seeing the different countries and cultures teams visited as they raced around the world (“…for one million dollars!”)

After I began my own series of travel adventures, however, I realized the “reality” shown on the Race wasn’t very real. Early seasons spent some time lingering over people and locales, and contestants experienced some cultural clashes, but as time wore on, the producers de-emphasized this stuff and the countries became convenient backdrops to stunts and challenges. (Last season seemed to be better, I should note.)

I’d kind of given up hope of finding a television show that actually imparted a sense of what it’s like to travel to other countries. Everything is too produced: glossy, slick, selective, exaggerated, unreal.

Last weekend, however, Kim and I discovered Long Way Round, a show from 2004 that follows actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they ride motorcycles around the world from London to New York. The series, which is available on Netflix streaming, is not glossy and slick and over-produced. Instead, it provides a fantastic sense of what it’s like to spend time in foreign places with foreign people.

Here’s the official trailer:

That doesn’t really sell it, I know. It shows prep stuff and not actual travel. The actual travel is fun. For most of the show, they’re not riding on asphalt. They’re riding their motorbikes through dirt and sand and marsh and rivers. They fall down constantly. It’s brutal.

Along the way, they see some amazing places, the likes of which we’re never exposed to in the U.S. What’s it like in southern Russia? In Mongolia? In Kazakhstan? McGregor and Boorman (and their team) film it. And they film their interactions with the people they meet, who are mostly warm and welcoming.

Here’s a scene where some Mongolian farmers welcome the crew to their home to try a local delicacy, animal testicles:

And here’s one where they meet abandoned children who live in the sewers of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia:

We’ve seen five of the nine episodes so far, and are eager to watch the rest. When we’ve finished Long Way Round, we’ll watch the sequel, Long Way Down, which follows McGregor and Boorman as they ride from northern Scotland to the southern tip of Africa.

If you’re interested in travel or motorcycles, I recommend this series. If you’re interested in both, I recommend it highly.

Bonus! I just found another clip on Vimeo. Apparently this is behind-the-scenes footage of a bit we haven’t watched yet.

What Alcohol Does to My Body

During the month of January, Kim and I are conducting two simultaneous experiments. First, we’re not eating carbohydrates. Second, we’re not drinking alcohol.

The “no alcohol” experiment is for me. Last January, at the request of my therapist, I went dry. I also cut out caffeine and any drinks that contained calories. Basically, the only thing I allowed myself to drink was water. At the end of the month, I felt — and looked — great. Slowly, however, I reintroduced caffeine and alcohol (and milk and juice) into my diet. By the end of 2013, I felt like I was drinking too much again, so I decided to do another dry month. Kim agreed to join me so that there’d be less temptation.

Meanwhile, Kim’s naturopath has been begging her to cut carbohydrates from her diet. She’s found that tough to do because I eat a lot of carbs.

Note: Although I tend toward a high-protein “paleo” diet, I find the modern trend toward demonization of carbohydrates, well, silly. I can understand how simple sugar might be bad (especially processed stuff, such as HFCS), but you’ll never convince me that it’s better for me to eat a steak than it is to eat a banana. Likewise, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a piece of whole-grain bread or eating a potato for dinner.

Because Kim agreed to do no alcohol with me, I agreed to do no carbs with her, but with a caveat: My current fitness program calls for three “super shakes” a day, and those include fruit. I haven’t given those up.

For nearly three weeks, we held strong with no alcohol. We’ve done fairly well with the no carbs thing too. On occasion, one of us will have a piece of whole-grain toast with almond butter, but the only major deviation came last Saturday, when I ate a cookie with my lunch. (One interesting and unsurprising finding: On the days I have my super shakes, I don’t crave carbs. On the days I don’t have them, I do. And if I go two days without a super shake? I crave carbs intensely.)

Note: In retrospect, it was dumb to give up both alcohol and carbs in the same month. We should have spent a month without one, and then spent the next month without the other. Lesson learned.

Well, yesterday we biked into Portland to visit the science museum. After we finished, we stopped to have a late lunch at Olympic Provisions. By mutual agreement, we ordered mimosas to go with our meal. Later, at home, Kim opened a bottle of red wine to use in a beef stew. Because we’d already had mimosas (slippery slope!), we decided to drink the rest of the wine.

Obviously, we didn’t drink a lot of alcohol yesterday. We had three drinks each over a period of several hours. We went to bed at 9:30 so that Kim could get up for work at five in the morning.

Here’s where things get interesting.

  • Though we fell asleep quickly, neither one of us slept well. This is par for the course with alcohol. As a depressant, it does make sleep easier to come by. However, the quality of that sleep tends to be poor.
  • Both of us slept hot. I tend to sleep hot by nature, and that can be a challenge. We recently had to return a new mattress because I felt like I was burning up every night. Our new mattress has been fine. I can tell my body’s putting off heat, but the bed pulls it away from me. Well, last night I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I was definitely warm. I actually thought we’d left the thermostat set too high, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, as often happens, my body was trying to burn off the “poison” of the alcohol as I slept.
  • My mind is slow this morning. I’m not dumb, but I’m sluggish. It’s hard for me to concentrate, even after taking my ADHD meds.
  • At my morning weigh-in, I was a pound heavier than I ought to have been, and my gut was about a centimeter wider than expected. Plus, my face looked puffy. (This is another common side effect when I drink.)

After nineteen days of not drinking, three glasses of wine were enough to create noticeable after-effects the morning after.

Kim and I didn’t have time to talk much before she left for work, but I suspect I know what we’re going to decide. We both like wine (and I like whisky), so there’s little chance that we’ll ever give up alcohol entirely. But I can see both of us drastically cutting back our consumption. We might, for instance, drink only on Fridays and Saturdays or when we’re on vacation.

For me, there are two larger issues at stake.

First, and most importantly, I want to live a long and healthy life. Despite the occasional research that shows modest benefits to drinking a small amount of red wine every day, alcohol consumption in general has a strong negative correlation with longevity and quality of life. On a personal level, I’ve experienced three great weeks of physical fitness. My body feels and looks great, and I think a lot of that is because I haven’t been drinking.

Second, I know that my work suffers when I drink. I’m slow to get going in the morning, my mind works more slowly, and I have trouble focusing. This is true even if I’ve only had a couple of glasses of wine the night before, but it’s especially true if I’ve been hanging out with friends, and not monitoring my alcohol consumption.

This blog post isn’t meant to convince you to give up beer or wine or cocktails. Far from it. My goal is to put down in print the effects I’ve noticed in myself so that I can refer back to them in the future. I want this to be a motivational tool. I want to be the best person I can be — mentally and physically — and apparently reducing my alcohol intake is a great way to do that.

If It Bleeds, It Leads

If our lives are filled with fear, that may be due in part to the prevalence of internet, television, and radio. Our fears are fueled by the modern mass media, which makes money by highlighting extreme and unusual events.

Here, for instance, is the front page from Saturday’s on-line edition of USA Today:

USA Today headlines
Headlines from the 18 January 2014 edition of USA Today

Human trafficking! Attacks on Americans! Identity thieves! Remains of dead boy! Elsewhere on the front page, there are stories about extreme weather, a new truck that burst into flames, the background of a high-school gunman, a gay teacher forced to resign, and so on. And this is a normal, uneventful day.

Note: I’ve written before that when it comes to investing, it pays to ignore financial news. Studies show that investors who receive no news perform better than those who receive a constant stream of information. Likewise, the people I know who pay less attention to current events tend to be happier than those who consume a regular diet of news. This is merely anecdotal, I know, but maybe ignorance really is bliss.

If you pay attention to the news, you might think terrorist attacks are common, bicycles unsafe, and that it’s dangerous to let children play unattended in the yard. Yet statistically, terrorist attacks are exceedingly rare, riding a bike increases your life expectancy, and your children are safer outdoors than you were when you roamed the streets twenty or thirty years ago.

The events in the news are newsworthy only because they’re the exception, not the rule. They’re statistical outliers. Yet because we’re fed these stories daily, we think these things happen all of the time. As a result, we’re afraid to live normal lives.

I have a friend who’s reluctant to leave her home. Because she’s been assaulted in the past — an unfortunate event, but a statistically unlikely one — she lives in fear of being assaulted in the future. It’s true that by appearing in public, my friend runs the risk of being assaulted again. It’s far more likely, however, that doing things outside the house would bring her pleasure and fulfillment.

To some degree, each of us is like my friend — but not as extreme. We are all filled with fears, and these fears hold us back.

To live a richer, more fulfilling life — a life without regret — you must first overcome your fears. You can start by exposing yourself to new experiences, by interacting with your environment and allowing it to change you.

It all begins with the power of “yes”.

Tenacity vs. Talent

It’s interesting to watch people react when I tell them I’m learning to play the guitar at age 44. Some folks are excited, but most people say something like: “Oh, I couldn’t do that. I have no talent for music.”

I usually just nod my head and move the conversation along, but what I’m really thinking is, “Talent has nothing to do with it.”

You see, I suck at music. Kim and Kris will tell you that I cannot carry a tune. My rhythmic sense is almost non-existent, which makes it tough for me to keep time. (That’s also why I’m a bad dancer.) I haven’t done anything musical in 25 years — but that hasn’t stopped me from diving into guitar.

There are two reasons I’m willing to tackle this project despite my lack of talent:

  • First, I’m no longer afraid of failure. It used to be that fear prevented me from pursuing all sorts of things I wanted to try, even simple things like learning to play an instrument or speak a foreign language. I didn’t want to look like a fool. Today, I don’t care. Do I have a thick American accent when I talk with the shopkeeper in Quito? So what? At least I’m making an effort. Does my rendition of “Amazing Grace” sound like the song was written only in quarter notes? So what? I know that I have to sound bad today to sound good tomorrow.
  • Second, I know that successful people are successful because of their effort, not because of their innate ability. For this insight, I have to thank Malcolm Gladwell. In his book Outliers, Gladwell offers numerous examples of people — Bill Gates and The Beatles, for instance — who succeeded not because they were born gifted but because they spent tons of time honing their abilities. Gladwell popularized research that shows it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. That’s a long time.

So, I’m happy to pluck away at the guitar despite a lack of innate talent. The failure doesn’t bother me, and I know that the more time I spend at it, the better I’ll become.

In fact, further reading has revealed that while it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at a skill, it usually takes just 500 hours to become competent. (And then continued practice to maintain the skill.)

I’ve spent about 500 hours learning Spanish. No surprise then that I can carry on a conversation with a native speaker, even if I’m not great at it. I’m only about five hours into my guitar journey, but I hope to reach 500 hours by the end of this year.

The bottom line is this: If you want to learn a new skill, tenacity matters far more than talent. And if you disqualify yourself before you begin because you think talent’s the most important piece of the puzzle, well then you’ll never get good at anything, will you?

The Source of Fear

Our lives are filled with fear.

Some of our fears are physical. We’re afraid of spiders, snakes, and dogs. We’re afraid of heights, crowds, and enclosed spaces. We’re scared to jump out of airplanes (or even to fly in them), to go swimming, or to touch a drop of blood. We’re afraid we might be mugged.

Some of our fears are psychological. We’re afraid of failure, darkness, and being alone. We’re afraid of the future. We’re afraid of death. We’re frightened of being judged by others, and scared to ask someone for a date.

Some fears are rational. I, for instance, am scared of bears. This is a healthy, rational fear. Bears will eat you. When you ignore your fear of bears, you can up like Timothy Treadwell, the man profiled in the film Grizzly Man. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone.)

If you’re walking alone at night and a thug demands your money while holding a gun to your head, you’ll feel afraid, and rightly so. This is a natural, rational fear.

These healthy fears have a biological basis, and are the product of millions of years of evolution. A fear of snakes (or bears) has helped the human race to survive. A fear of heights keeps you from spending too much time in places where you might fall to your death.

But sometimes rational fears can become irrational or excessive. It’s one thing to be nervous while walking on the edge of a crumbling cliff high above a river; it’s another to suffer a panic attack on the seventeenth floor of a well-constructed, glass-enclosed office building. (Or to worry about a bear attack in Paris!)

Still other fears are mostly (or completely) irrational, and yet they’re very common. An estimated 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety when speaking in public. I’m one of them. I’m aware of no biological basis to be afraid of giving a speech in front of 500 strangers, yet doing so would make most of us sweat and stammer.

Healthy, rational fears keep you alert and alive. Irrational fears and anxieties prevent you from enjoying everything life has to offer.

In the coming weeks, we’ll talk about how to overcome fear, how to channel those negative feelings into something positive.

What Were You Wrong About? Wisdom That Comes with Age

On Wednesday, I listed the eleven common irrational beliefs enumerated by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper in their book, A Guide to Rational Living. This book served as the launching point for a recent discussion at Ask Metafilter. RapcityinBlue asked, “What have you been wrong about, realized it, and it changed your life?” This question generated sixty quality responses.

While many of the respondents had (knowingly or not) managed to overcome one Ellis and Harper’s irrational beliefs, each answer is unique. Plus, many other folks unique pearls of wisdom gleaned from years of hard knocks.

I’ve taken the time to collate some of my favorite responses, little pieces of insight that ring true to me based on my own experience. (I’m quoting excerpts below, and linking back to the extended answers at Ask Metafilter.)

  • Ruthless Bunny wrote: “I thought being dour and sarcastic and always finding the problems with things was the way to go through life…Actually, solving problems, being upbeat and helpful to others is a MUCH better way to go through life.”
  • ottereroticist wrote: “I thought I was lazy and inherently broken when it comes to getting things done…I learned that unconditional self-friendliness is a much more effective productivity tool than a harsh and accusatory inner monologue.”
  • phunniemee wrote: “Most people aren’t out to get you. Most people aren’t sitting in silent, seething judgment of you. Most people are too busy worrying about themselves, just trying to get through this.”
  • rpfields wrote: “I thought I had to please everyone around me or something terrible would happen/be done to me. Conversely, I also thought that being “nice” to everyone meant they were “obligated” to do the same to me. At the same time I craved some kind of permission to pursue my goals, and harboured tremendous resentment for those who “got to” do things…I am a much happier person now that I allow myself to do as I please (within the bounds of kindness and legality, of course) and recognize that others have the right to do the same.”
  • sevenofspades wrote: “I thought that if something was hard work, it meant that I wasn’t good at it. Not true. If it’s hard, it just means I’ve never really worked at it before.” and “I thought that you had to impress people, win them over, or flat-out buy them somehow in order to get them to be your friend. Woah was that wrong. True friends just love your company.”
  • rabbitrabbit wrote: “I have learned that minding my own business has made me happier and made people like me more.”
  • kimberussell wrote: “If I mess up, I admit it. I’m human and make mistakes. That’s okay. If I don’t know how to approach a project, I’ll ask for help. If you think I’m stupid, that’s not my problem. I’m not going to get hung up on what people think.”
  • telegraph wrote: “There is nothing protective about pessimism. I was convinced for a long time that if you expect a poor outcome, it hurts less. It’s actually easier to cope with failure if you spend most of your time celebrating and expecting the positive, building up your reserves of happiness and strength, instead of creating huge unceasing loads of psychic stress based on assuming things will go wrong.”
  • changeling wrote: “I have learned that I don’t always need to prove I’m right, especially in casual conversation, especially about dumb crap that doesn’t matter.” also “I will change in ways I can’t even anticipate.”
  • St. Peepsburg wrote: “I was too prideful to listen to others, especially their feedback of me. I assumed they really didn’t understand, and if only I could explain it clearly they would see it as I do. Now, I love feedback.” also “I also believed other people caused my feelings of fear or anger, and that they needed to change in order for me to feel recognized and safe. Now, I don’t need people’s validation as much. I don’t need their constant reassurance. I know who I am. And when I feel angry, it is my anger. When I feel insecure, it is my insecurity.”
  • mono blanco wrote: “I learned it’s ok to be a dilettante. Nobody’s grading you. Since then I’ve learned how to play tennis, speak a smattering of languages, put up shower rods, draw sketches, and play some blues. All half-assed, but with huge enjoyment.”
  • still_wears_a_hat wrote: “I learned that I don’t have to prevent every possible thing I can from going wrong. That I can deal with stuff when it goes wrong instead of trying to prevent every possible problem. It’s made a huge difference.”
  • Sullenbode wrote: “Feelings don’t obey logic. Having no good reason to be upset doesn’t magically make me not upset anymore. Rather than argue with myself about my emotions, I’ve learned to recognize when they’re just passing clouds, and let them pass.”
  • JohnnyGunn wrote: “I have become much more transparent in my old age. I tell it like it is when it comes to how I am feeling and what I am thinking. That does not mean I get to be mean, but rather life is too short to play games. Here is what I am thinking. Love me for who I am because that is exactly what I will do for you. Accept you for who you are. Also, I try things now. Be it food, a book, an idea, a trip, whatever, try it once.”
  • FauxScot shared several gems, including: “I discovered that if I took my time, my quality really would go up.” “I also discovered that something was finished when I decided it was.” “Help people out. Even if it costs a buck or some time. Don’t always insist on a financial payoff or even acknowledgement or appreciation.”
  • sonika wrote: “The minute you realize that yours is not the only plot that is going on around you, it truly changes your outlook. I’m oddly much more ok with doing things that others might perceive negatively (such as distancing myself from unhealthy relationships) because I’d rather be “that bitch” in someone else’s plot than make my own more difficult.”
  • Turkey Glue wrote: “I’ve learned to ask questions about things I don’t understand.”
  • talldean quoted the Buddha: “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” talldean also shared this nugget: ” Lucky people aren’t as locked into a goal, so if something great happens to them, they accept it; it’s luck. Unlucky people pass by the great things to get to a more specific set of goals, but don’t always get where they wanted to go.”
  • Athanassiel wrote about the sunk-cost fallacy: “The falseness of continuing to do something which it becomes clear you should stop doing, simply because you have already invested a lot in it…Sometimes you really just have to cut your losses and walk away.”
  • Jandoe wrote: “I learned that staying in relationships out of a sense of obligation or pity was not a good reason.”
  • sio42 wrote: “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and what you need, especially if it’s help.”
  • GorgeousPorridge wrote: “Status and money might make some people happy, but not everybody. If you’re not one of those people, it can be hard to live in a society where you are judged by your wealth or job title. But in the end, if you decide those things don’t matter all that much to you (and sometimes it’s hard to really conclude that they don’t), you’re wasting the only life you’ve got in order to fit in, and ultimately it’s a pointless sacrifice.”
  • Autumn wrote: “If someone is having a horrible go at life, you can’t swoop in and “save” them.”

That’s nearly 2000 words of great advice. In these responses are a lot of the themes we’ll cover at More Than Money in 2014.

What about you? What things were you wrong about? What have you learned during your sojourn here on earth that’s caused you to change how you think and act? What lessons can you add to this list?

Eleven Common Irrational Beliefs

In college, I was a psychology major. I didn’t do anything directly with this education, although it provided a strong foundation for my financial philosophy while I was writing about personal finance. Over the past two years, however, I’ve begun to read (and re-read) certain popular psychological manuals from the past fifty years. Though pop psychology gets a bum rap, there’s plenty of wisdom to be had from these books.

For instance, I recently stumbled upon some ideas from A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper. According to the authors, therapists hear certain irrational beliefs and attitudes repeatedly from their clients. Among the most common are these:

  1. I must be loved by everyone or I am not lovable. I myself have fallen into this trap. I used to want to please everyone. If anyone disliked me, I felt unworthy. But nobody can please everybody, and it’s a fool’s game to try.
  2. I must do everything well or I am not competent. I know many people who fall into this trap. From childhood, we’re taught to equate success with self-worth. As adults, many people become afraid to try new things because they don’t want to fail. Or they find ways to only do the things at which they know they’ll succeed. You can’t be good at everything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
  3. I must condemn others if they don’t treat me well. (And the inverse: If I don’t treat people well, I’m a bad person.) People make mistakes. This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s how we respond to our mistakes that define who we are.
  4. I must damn life if things don’t go my way. In his book Flow, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi writes: “The primary reason it is so difficult to achieve happiness centers on the fact that, contrary to the myths mankind has developed to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs.” Just because you experience misfortune doesn’t mean you should give up or get angry.
  5. I have no control over my feelings and behaviors; my emotions are controlled by the people and events around me. You are the boss of you. You choose more or less the kinds of things that happen to you. What’s more, you’re totally in control of how you respond to life.
  6. Because something is fearful or risky, I must be constantly concerned about it. I have a friend who is reluctant to attend crowded events because something bad might happen. It’s true, she might get stabbed or her purse might be stolen. Or worse. But the odds of these things occurring are very slim. Should she really sacrifice her life because something bad might happen?
  7. I must avoid responsibility and difficulty in order to be comfortable and content; I can achieve happiness through passive inaction. In reality, inertia makes you fat and unhappy. You’re more likely to achieve wealth and happiness by pursuing purpose, by taking on meaningful challenges.
  8. I must depend on others because I cannot run my life alone. Again, you are the boss of you. Nobody cares more about you than yourself. You can — and should — take charge of your own health and happiness.
  9. I am controlled by my past; anything that once affected me must continue to affect me. My mother is a slave to this irrational belief. Even at age 65, she allows her self-worth to be defined by things her mother said fifty years ago. The past is the past. It only has power if you allow it to.
  10. I must be affected by other people’s problems. You know those folks who seem to experience constant drama in their lives? From my experience, most of this drama comes because they allow other people’s problems to become their own.
  11. There’s a right way to do things; if things aren’t done correctly, I must suffer. I know a couple of people who hold this irrational belief on a personal level, believing others are stupid for not doing things the way they would. But many more people suffer from this at a political level, becoming upset because others are not as conservative (or liberal) as they are.

As Ellis and Harper say, these are irrational beliefs. When you fall into these traps, your life becomes less than it could be. In order to be the best person you can be, you should actively work to shake off these modes of thought. And be honest about it. Look at the things that bother you about life. What is causing you the most trouble right now? Could it be the result of one of these irrational thought processes?

We’ll discuss many of these irrational beliefs (and how to overcome them) in the months ahead as we explore how to be happy and how to forge a life filled with freedom.

The 2014 Roadmap for More Than Money

As we begin our year-long exploration of personal and financial independence, I want to explain how I’ll approach the project.

Every Monday, I’ll post a chapter from my unfinished ebook. I’ll publish these chapters in order so that, if read consecutively, they form a coherent whole, an overall narrative. Yesterday’s article about the regrets of the dying, for example, was originally the book’s prologue. Next Monday’s article about fighting fear was the first chapter of the first section. Each of these chapters is short — between 250 and 1000 words — and meant to be easily digested.

On other days of the week, I’ll share related information I uncover as I go about my business. I might share a news story, for instance, or an interesting video. I might review a book or discuss a scene from a movie. Most often, I’ll link to articles at other websites. These non-Monday pieces will each be on topics related to our discussion, but they’ll come out of order.

In other words, while we spend the first few months of Mondays talking about how to face and overcome fear, on other days I’ll be publishing pieces about happiness, freedom, and financial independence. My article tomorrow is about common irrational beliefs, for example. Later this week, I may share some of Ramit‘s thoughts about mastery.

So, our year will have a clear, defined progression. But we’ll also spend time jumping from topic to topic. I think this will keep everyone from getting bored.

How can you help? I’m glad you asked!

  • If you have a story or insight, post it to the comments. Your contributions will add color and complexity to the conversation.
  • If you’d like to contribute a guest post, please do so. As long as it’s well-written and relevant, I’ll publish it.
  • When you read something you like, share it. The more people we can get involved in the discussion, the richer we’ll all be.
  • If, as you go about your daily routine, you read or hear of something that’s appropriate to these themes, drop me a line. I don’t publish my email addresses anywhere, but they’re relatively easy to figure out. (Hint: I also have a gmail account.) If all else fails, leave a comment to tell me what you’ve found.

Lastly, this plan means that More Than Money will feature at least one post per week during 2014. If things go well, it’ll usually contain more. (I’m aiming for three per week, but we’ll see.)

That’s it for now! I’ll see you tomorrow to examine eleven common irrational beliefs.