Three-Blog Meetup: J.D. Roth, Mr. Money Mustache, and Tyler Tervooren this Thursday

Just a quick note to say that if you live in Portland, you ought to make your way to Sellwood Park this Thursday evening. You’ll be glad you did!

Pete (better-known as Mr. Money Mustache) will be in town, and while he’s here, Tyler (from Riskology) and I have banded with him to host a three-blog meetup.

Here are complete details about the gathering.

And here’s a summary:

  • Join us from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Thursday, 29 May 2014.
  • We’ll meet at picnic sites B, C, and D in Sellwood Park.
  • We’ve rented the picnic spots and paid for the alcohol permit, but you’ll have to bring your own food and drinks.

If you need to pick up food, the park is just a few blocks from the local New Seasons, The Portland Bottle Shop, Jade Teahouse, and other Sellwood restaurants. There’s a small cart pod nearby too, although many have short hours.

This is a great way to spend a casual evening with a group of like-minded folks. There may be a dozen of us or there may be 200. Who can say? No matter how many show up, we’ll have fun. Won’t you join us?

Becoming Proactive

Julian B. Rotter developed the locus of control concept in 1954 as part of his social-learning theory of personality. Stephen R. Covey popularized the idea in 1989 with his best-selling The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Like Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Covey believes that we filter our experiences before they reach our consciousness. “Between stimulus and response,” he writes, “man has the freedom to choose.” Our self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will give us the power to select how we’ll respond to each situation in life.

Covey says there are two types of people: proactive and reactive.

  • Proactive people recognize that they’re responsible for how they respond to outside stimuli. In Rotter’s terms, they have an internal locus of control. They don’t blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their state. They believe their existence is largely a product of personal choice derived from personal values.
  • Reactive people believe their condition is a product of their physical and social environments. They have an external locus of control. Their moods are based on the moods of others, or upon the things that happen to them. They allow the outside world to control their internal existence.

To illustrate the difference between proactive and reactive people, Covey discusses how we focus our time and energy.

We each have a wide range of concerns: our health, our family, our jobs, our friends; world affairs, the plight of the poor, the threat of terrorism, the state of the environment. All of these fall into what Covey calls our Circle of Concern.

Within our Circle of Concern, there’s a subset of things over which we have actual, direct control: how much we exercise, what time we go to bed, whether we get to work on time; what we eat, where we live, with whom we socialize. These things fall into what Covey calls our Circle of Influence, which sits inside our Circle of Concern.

According to Covey, proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They spend their time and energy on things they can change. This has two effects. First, proactive people actually do affect change in their lives; and as they do so, their Circle of Influence expands.

On the other hand, reactive people tend to focus on their Circle of Concern. They spend their time and energy on things they’re unable to influence (or can influence only with great difficulty). They try to change other people, to correct social injustices, to shift thought patterns of states or nations. Their efforts are largely frustrating and futile. What’s more, as they focus on their Circle of Concern, their Circle of Influence begins to shrink from neglect.

Any time you shift your attention from your Circle of Influence to your Circle of Concern, you allow outside forces to control you. You place your happiness and well-being in the hands of others. If you don’t act for yourself, you’re doomed to be acted upon.

But what about about luck? Aren’t there times when we really are at the mercy of the world around us? Of course. But our responses are always our own. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can hurt you without your consent.” Covey agrees:

It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character.

Shit happens. Shit happens to everyone. Ultimately, who we are and what we become is determined not by the shit that happens to us, but how we respond to that shit. Remember Reinhold Niebuhr‘s famous serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Most people are reactive. It’s likely that you’re reactive too — at least to some degree. Don’t fret. I’m reactive also. But with time and effort, I’ve managed to shift from an external locus of control to one that’s primarily internal. You can too.

Focus on the things you can control. Use that control to remove constraints and complications from your life. Strengthen and stretch your Circle of Influence. This is the only path to changing your Circle of Concern. You have no control over the hand you’re dealt, but you can choose how to play the cards.

Here’s a simple exercise from Seven Habits: For thirty days, commit to working only on your Circle of Influence. How? Keep your commitments, to yourself and others. Don’t judge or criticize other people, but turn your attention inward. Don’t argue. Don’t make excuses. When you make a mistake, accept responsibility and fix it. Don’t blame or accuse. When you catch yourself thinking “I have to…” or “If only…”, stop yourself and choose to reframe the thought in a more positive light. As far as possible, accept responsibility for your circumstances, actions, and feelings.

Permission and Control

As children, we’re conditioned to ask permission whenever we want to do something. You need permission from your parents to leave the dinner table or to go outside and play. You need permission from your teacher to use the bathroom.

Even as adults, we feel compelled to request permission. You need permission from your boss to leave work early. You need permission from your spouse to grab drinks with your friends instead of weeding the garden. You need permission from the city to build a shed in the backyard.

As a result, most of us have developed an external locus of control. That is, we subconsciously believe we need permission to do anything.

In personality psychology, the term locus of control describes how people view the world around them, and where they place responsibility for the things that happen in their lives. Though this might sound complicated, the concept is actually rather simple.

  • If you have an internal locus of controL, you believe that the quality of your life is largely determined by your own choices and actions. You believe that you are responsible for who you are and what you are.
  • If you have an external locus of control, you believe that the quality of your life is largely determined by forces beyond your control, by your environment or luck or fate. You believe that others are responsible for who you are and what you are.

Most people respond to the system of rewards and punishments that has evolved in the culture that surrounds them. If your culture prizes material gain, wealth becomes important to you. If it emphasizes familial relationships, family becomes important to you.

But when you live like this — when you make decisions based on your social environment — the only happiness you can obtain is fleeting. As a result, many people suffer some degree of angst, of anxiety or dread. “Is that all there is?” we wonder, when we pause to reflect upon our lives. “Isn’t there something more?”

There is something more.

Lasting happiness can be achieved, but not by being a puppet whose strings are pulled by situation and society. To achieve long-term happiness (and meaning), you have to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of your external circumstances. You have to create a system of internal rewards that are under your own power.

Like most folks, I grew up with an external locus of control. I thought my fate was largely at the mercy of the people and events around me. This wasn’t a conscious belief, but the notion was always there, underlying everything I thought or did. I waited for things to happen. I needed permission to take risks or try new things. As a result, I felt stuck. I was trapped in a world I did not enjoy. I wanted something more, but something more never arrived.

In time, I realized that if I wanted something more, it was up to me to obtain it. Gradually, my locus of control shifted from an external focus to an internal focus. I decided that I am responsible for my own destiny and my own happiness. It’s up to me to live a life I love.

I am responsible for my own well-being, and you are responsible for yours.

If you’re unhappy, nobody else can make things better for you. You must make things better for yourself. Focus on the things you can control, and use that control to fix the other things that are broken. In this way, you’ll gradually gain confidence and greater control of your future well-being.

You live in a world of your own design. You have the power to choose. You create your own certainty. Life as you want to live, and do so without regret. Give yourself permission to do so.

Caveat: It’s okay to seek happiness by changing jobs or moving to San Diego. It’s not okay to steal your neighbor’s television or to drive on the wrong side of the road. Remember the Golden Rule. Enjoy your life without diminishing the ability of others to enjoy theirs.

What’s Your Very Best Life Advice?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve begun to use Reddit as my morning wakeup site. Over a cup of coffee, I scroll through pages of funny photos and interesting links until I’m fully functional and ready to work. One popular feature at Reddit is the AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview series, where famous folks (and not-so-famous folks) answer questions from the Reddit community.

A Reddit user named uberlad always asks the same question in these interviews: “What’s your very best life advice?” Many of the answers sound as if they’d fit perfectly with our current year-long exploration into fear, happiness, and freedom.

Here are some notable responses to “What’s your very best life advice?” (Apparently, uberlad likes to ask this question of comedians.)

  • Norm Macdonald: “Let what you have make you happy. But never let what you don’t have make you happy.” In other words, be happy with what you have, and don’t covet what others have.
  • Alex Filippenko: “Find a profession that you really love, that you’re passionate about…To the degree possible, do something that brings you happiness and fulfillment.”
  • Skrillex: “You are the company you keep. If you surround yourself with creative, hungry, and productive people, it will make you step up your game. If you’re around lazy people who complain, then you’ll never grow as a person. Keep good people close!”
  • Ken Burns: “This [too] will pass. Get help from others. Be kind to yourself.”
  • Geoff Rowley: “Always get back up.”
  • Piper Kerman: “Know that you can learn more from your failures than your successes.”
  • Jon Lovitz: “Happiness is a choice…Are you willing to do what you have to do to get what you want?”
  • Drew Carey: Learn how to set goals. That’s the key to everything. That includes designing your own success. You define what the goal is, it’s not somebody else’s goal, it’s yours…All goal setting is figuring out what you want to do with your life.”

I shared my own “very best life advice” with you last month:

How to be happy

Now it’s your turn. What is your very best life advice? If a young person were to come to you and ask bout the keys to success and happiness, what would you tell her?

Changing Yourself vs. Changing the World

You can achieve greater happiness and general life satisfaction by improving the quality of your daily life. There are two ways to do this. You can change your environment or you can change yourself. Each has its merits.

Sometimes the best way to boost your happiness is by changing the world around you.

Imagine, for instance, that you’re sitting at home reading a book. You’re comfortable except for one thing: You’re warm. Very warm. An external condition is causing you discomfort.

You could change the way you’re experiencing this condition (by removing all of you clothes, say), but in this case it probably makes more sense to change the condition itself by lowering the thermostat.

Or maybe you’re sitting in a restaurant writing a letter. Things are fine except that the place is too noisy, which is distracting. Your best bet is to change locations, to change your environment.

The trouble, of course, is that you have little control over the world around you.

My girlfriend was born and raised in northern California. To her, that’s the ideal climate. She’s been in Portland for three years now, and she loves much about the city and the region. But she hates the climate. This is an external factor that’s beyond her control. As hard as she tries, she can’t make it rain less in Portland! (Francis Bacon once said, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”)

When you reduce the size of your immediate environment — stepping from outdoors to indoors, for instance — you make it easier to control external conditions. You can’t reduce the outside air temperature, but you can cool a room or a building. Even then, exerting influence over your environment requires a great deal of effort and energy.

Usually, the most effective way to boost your happiness isn’t by changing external conditions, but by changing how you experience external conditions.

Instead of reading a book at home, imagine you’re reading in the park. It’s cold. The sun is out, but the January air is chilly. You could head indoors, but you’re enjoying the lovely day. The solution is to change how you’re experiencing the world around you. Put on your jacket and some gloves. You haven’t altered your environment, but you’ve changed how you’re experiencing it.

Or maybe you’re backpacking through Europe, staying in hostels and cheap hotels. Sometimes it’s tough to sleep because the walls are thing and there’s nothing covering the windows. Light and noise threaten to keep you awake all night. Again, the best solution is to change the way you experience the external conditions. If you don an eye mask and wear earplugs, you can rest comfortably despite the chaos around you.

Most people recognize that they have limited power over their physical world, but many cling to the belief that they can change the behavior of the people around them. In reality, changing others can be nearly as difficult. Writing in How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World — a book we’ll discuss at length in the months ahead — Harry Browne calls the idea that you can (or should) control what others do the Identity Trap.

He writes:

[You can’t] assume that someone will do what you’ve decided is right. You’ve decided it from your unique knowledge and interpretations; he acts from his knowledge and his interpretations.

You’re in the Identity Trap when you assume an individual will react to something as you would react or as you’ve seen someone else react.

If you’re unhappy with somebody, there are two options. You can attempt to change the other person, or you can change how you interact with that person. You’re almost always better off changing yourself — altering your expectations, accepting new premises — than you are attempting to change the other person.

Here’s Harry Browne again:

You could make everyone else be, act, and think in ways of your choosing if you were God. But you aren’t. So it’s far more useful to recognize and accept each person as he is — and then deal with him accordingly.

You can’t control the natures of other people, but you can control how you’ll deal with them. And you can also control the extent and manner in which you’ll be involved with them.

The paradox is that you have tremendous control over your life, but you give up that control when you try to control others. For the only way you can control others is to recognize their natures and do what is necessary to evoke the desired reactions from those natures. Thus your actions are controlled by the requirements involved when you attempt to control someone else.


Each individual seeks happiness for himself in the way that his knowledge and perception indicate to him. He isn’t you; don’t expect him to be.

People suffer a great deal of unhappiness because they assume that everyone wants the same things — or that they should want the same things. But each person is different, with her own knowledge, experience, preferences, and attitudes.

You can improve your quality of life by either changing your environment or by changing how you interact with your environment. Both strategies have their place, but one is generally much easier and more effective than the other. In most cases, it’s difficult or impossible to change the world around you. Attempting to do so simply leads to frustration and unhappiness. However, it’s almost always possible to change how you perceive the world around you. In fact, it’s this ability that contributes most to day-to-day contentment.

Talking About Wealth, Happiness, and Freedom: Join Me This August for a Week in Ecuador!

Last September, I spent a week in Ecuador with two dozen other like-minded folks. We gathered to talk about personal and financial independence. We had a grand time talking “rich people talk”, sharing our stories, and giving advice to other attendees who were just starting down the road to wealth.

The retreat succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Attendees raved about it. And to my surprise, most of us have continued to keep in touch by Facebook, blogs, and email. (In fact, I’ll have coffee, lunch, or dinner with at least four folks from Ecuador over the next month!)

But the retreat wasn’t just transformational for the attendees. It was also transformational for the four of us who presented: organizer Cheryl Reed, sagacious Jim Collins, the dashing Mr. Money Mustache, and me. In fact, there’s no chance that the Get Rich Slowly course would exist in its current form had I not listened to the lessons from the other presenters. (What’s more, the entire year-long series here at More Than Money is a direct extension of my own presentation in Ecuador.)

Pete shares his Mustachian vision for happiness and lifestyle design [photo by J.D.]

No surprise then that we’ve decided to do it again. Twice. Here’s the formal announcement. And here are some details:

  • The first 2014 chautauqua will take place between August 9 and August 16. At Hacienda Cusin, attendees will gather to discuss financial freedom, happiness, and entrepreneurship with Cheryl Reed, Jim Collins, Mr. Money Mustache, and Jesse Mecham (of You Need a Budget). Register here.
  • The second 2014 chautauqua will take place between August 23 and August 30. At El Encanto Resort, which rests squarely on the equator, attendees will talk about happiness and freedom with Cheryl Reed, David Cain (from, and J.D. Roth (that’s me!). Register here.

While I’m sad that I won’t get to spend time with my personal-finance buddies, I know I’ll see them many times in the future. (Heck, Pete will be sleeping on my couch in just a few weeks!) Meanwhile, I’m excited to meet David Cain, whose work I admire. (If you haven’t started reading Raptitude yet, you should.)

Tickets for this year’s retreats are now on sale: week oneweek two. Each week-long chautauqua costs $1900, and includes meals, lodging, in-country transportation, and scheduled retreat activities. Each chautauqua is limited to 15 participants.

Jim and Val prioritize their passions during Cheryl’s presentation [photo by Rich]

Obviously, this event isn’t for everyone. At $1900 (plus airfare), these gatherings are for folks who have moved beyond the first stage of financial development. But for those who can afford it, a chautauqua like this is a great way to share ideas with like-minded folks and to gain inspiration. Last year, I got a ton out of talking to so many people who were on the path to financial independence.

Are you interested? You should join me in Ecuador this August!

Note: None of us kept the “profits” from the 2013 event. We used the revenue to pay for expenses — including speaker travel to and from South America — but everything extra was used to fund charitable work for poor people in rural Ecuador. I plan to do the same thing again this year. I don’t need (or want) to be paid for this project, and so I’m happy to forgo my speaker fee.

Shyam and Jesse watch as Carol is serenaded for her birthday [photo by J.D.]

Garbage In, Garbage Out: The Importance of Focus and Attention

The objects and events around us exist in an objective world. They are what they are. Yet each of us experiences these objects and events in a different way. What happens outside must pass through the filter of your subjective mind before it enters your consciousness. You control what enters your consciousness (and, thus, what enters your awareness and memory).

You and I go to the movies. We watch the same film in the same theater at the same time. You enjoy it. You’re wrapped up in the story and moved by the performances. I leave the theater unhappy. “The kid in front of us coughed the whole time,” I complain as we walk to the car. “The seats were uncomfortable and the volume too loud. Plus, I don’t like Nicholas Cage.”

We shared the same experience — and yet we didn’t.

“Consciousness corresponds to a subjectively experienced reality,” writes Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. “A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what actually happens ‘outside’, just by changing the contents of his consciousness.” We choose what we experience, and we choose how we interpret those experiences.

This idea can be challenging to people who possess an external locus of control, those who believe that their decisions and life are controlled by chance or fate or greater environmental factors. (We’ll discuss this in greater detail in the weeks ahead.)

Csíkszentmihályi says that in order to achieve flow and happiness, we must actively create the conditions that lead to it. That means we must learn to direct our focus:

[Happiness] is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control their inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any one of us can come to being happy.

The shape and content of your life depends on how you use your attention. People who master what happens in their heads tend to be happier than those who don’t — or won’t.

“While we are thinking about a problem we cannot truly experience either happiness or sadness,” writes Csíkszentmihályi. “Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and quality of life.”

The bottom line? Garbage in, garbage out. If you allow yourself to think negative thoughts, your experience will be negative. If you want a positive experience, you have to accentuate the positive in all that you see and do.

We can make flow moments more common and become happier people by structuring our focus and attention to bring long-term improvements to the quality of our daily life. There are two primary ways to do this:

  • Change external conditions.
  • Change how you experience external conditions.

Each strategy is sound. But one is generally easier than the other. Which path you choose depends upon the situation. Next week, we’ll look at changing the world; in two weeks, we’ll talk about changing yourself.