8 Simple Philosophies That Changed My Life

We’re all faced with complex challenges – even exciting new opportunities often come wrapped in a frustratingly delicate package. When you know what is important to you on a basic level, you can quickly distill complicated problems down to a digestible and navigable decision. Simple solutions are often the most elegant and there are a few philosophies that have guided me through some particularly difficult situations – and ultimately led me to follow my dreams to Argentina.

Here are the eight guidelines that keep my life exciting, meaningful, and most importantly, unusual.

Zack’s 8 Simple Philosophies for a Happy, Healthy Life


Smile = proof of a happy life

1. You are the company you keep.

Someone once told me that you’re the sum of the five people with whom you spend the most amount of time and I couldn’t agree more. Studies have proven this time and time again – a Harvard study found that if your friend is happy, your chances of being happy increase 15%. It doesn’t just stop there – if your friend’s friend is happy, your chances of being happy increase by 10%, and if your friend’s friend’s friend is happy, your chances still increase 6% (if 6% doesn’t impress you, you’ll be interested to know that a $10,000 increase in annual income only increases your odds by 2%).

This rule also works in the negative sense – if your friend becomes obese, your chances of becoming obese increase 57%. The same goes for smoking (61%) and other negative habits.

Do you have a good friend who gossips a lot, or one who always seems to be pessimistic? Don’t kid yourself into thinking that it doesn’t affect you. You are – or are on your way to becoming – more and more like the people that surround you. If you want to become more successful, interesting, funny, caring, or intelligent, fill your top five spots with people that exhibit these qualities.

Note: if you find these facts interesting, I’d highly recommend reading Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. It’s a short, evidence-based book that explains what makes us tick.

2. Embrace your limitations.

My strength is in creating – coming up with the big idea and implementing it. I’m great at the startup phase of a project, and can work relentlessly on developing new products or new systems. But once things are up and running, I lose interest and fall behind on day-to-day tasks. I spent years of my life trying to reprogram myself to be more diligent with little to show for it. Any sort of task that required consistent, daily effort was doomed to be a failure (you can’t officially call yourself a procrastinator until you’ve experienced the power company shutting off your lights).

I can’t tell you how many times I tried to start a gym routine – it would work for a week or two, but when the initial excitement wore off, my dedication tapered. With my company, I would constantly fall behind on shipping out orders – despite the fact that I didn’t get paid until the order shipped out, and sometimes the orders were worth tens of thousands of dollars profit.

Trying to change fundamental aspects of your personality is like swimming upriver – you exert tremendous effort with little forward progress. Instead of trying to change this aspect of myself, I’ve implemented systems that mitigate my tendency to lose interest:

  • Pay for three months of classes at a local gym. I strike up conversation with someone at the first class and, at the end, I say “see you tomorrow.” The power of social pressure is unbelievable.
  • Outsource or automate tasks that I know I won’t do. Whenever I get involved in something, I fast forward and ask myself, “based on your historical performance, are you actually going to follow through with this?” The answer is usually no, so I outsource or automate it. An easy example is automatic bill payments for credit cards. For my company, I outsourced fulfillment to a logistics warehouse and now my orders ship same-day without me being involved.
  • Order everything possible on Amazon.com instead of making shopping lists that I always lose. If Mitt Romney gets elected and corporations become people, I’m going to marry Amazon.com. You can have everything from toilet paper to Velveeta cheese delivered – shipping is free, the prices are usually better, and you can even have it sent on a recurring schedule. I freakin’ love Amazon.

3. The right person at the wrong time is the wrong person.

This is a personal favorite. If you aren’t ready for a mature, long term relationship, it doesn’t matter who walks into your life – and if your potential partner isn’t ready, it doesn’t matter how great you are for them, either.

The first and most important relationship is the relationship with yourself. You have to be happy on your own before you can make someone else happy, and you should want a relationship – not need one.

This concept applies to more than just dating – the relationship can be a job, an investment, or any other opportunity. I’ve made the tough decision of ending a relationship with the “right” person or job a few times in my life. I simply wasn’t ready for it yet. They were enormously painful and difficult decisions, but I promise you that a better opportunity will present itself when the timing is right.

4. A healthy body is a healthy mind.

Being in great shape doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be happy, well adjusted, and brilliant – just watch an episode of the Jersey Shore – but I can guarantee that you aren’t taking full advantage of your mind if you are neglecting your body.

Don’t believe me? The prefrontal and temporal lobes of your brain typically shrink 1-2% per year as you get older, or even faster if you watch Fox News. When you add exercise into the equation, studies show that the trend reverses and your brain actually grows at a rate of 1-2% per year. This explains how Arnold was able to transition from Terminator to Governator.

If you’re overweight, you’re expending unnecessary effort to carry around your extra weight. This saps valuable energy that your brain could be using to do something productive, like telling other people about my blog. Being underweight can be even worse – your body lacks the baseline energy to support a healthy, fully-functioning mind.

Confidence is an incredibly powerful tool and I believe it’s one of the biggest factors that contributes to success. When you feel good about the way you look, people will innately gravitate towards you in business and social situations.

5. The race is only with yourself.

“Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end it’s only with yourself.”

– Mary Schmich

I wish someone told me this point five years ago (incidentally, I first heard it in a video that ultimately convinced me to pursue my dreams of travel).

I spent most of my life comparing myself to other successful people. By any reasonable standard, I was well ahead of the game – I graduated high school in three years and started a business when I was 16. But when I would read an article about the latest twentysomething startup sensation, I felt hopelessly behind. I quickly put each victory behind me as I hungrily turned my eyes to the next milestone, and years of my life flew by on fast forward as I waited for the figurative lottery to hit.

When you measure your success against that of another, you create an ever-distancing destination at which you’ll never arrive. Develop your own goals and celebrate every achievement.

6. Choose, and choose again.

Marriage, cell phone contracts, and some bad choices in Vegas aside, there are few decisions in this life that are irreversible. The perceived impact of decisions expands in relation to the time you spend making that decision. I, for one, have spent countless months agonizing over decisions that seemed monumental at the time. The longer that I considered the alternatives, the further away from a final decision I felt.

The beautiful thing about life is that you can choose, and choose again. Thinking about taking a new job, moving to a new city, or shaving your head? The decision is not as big as you think – if you don’t like the outcome, you can always choose again. If your friends judge you for it, then it’s time to find some better friends – people who appreciate the value of risk taking and support you in the choices that you make.

7. Don’t burn the fuse too fast.

I should get this one tattooed on my forehead. If I’m thirsty, I’ll drink from a fire hose instead of having a glass of water. When I find a favorite song, I listen to it on repeat until the sound of the first note makes me want to puke. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, friends, dating, and work.

Life is not that short. Space out the things you love and you’ll find that you’ll develop deeper, more meaningful, and longer-lasting relationships with people and hobbies alike.

8. Act the part.

This is derived from the theory of cognitive dissonance – for our purpose, cognitive dissonance states that people will change themselves to become more like the person they project themselves to be. Anyone that knows me can tell you that I always talk about my plans and dreams as if they are already happening. Speaking about my dreams with a sense of certainty makes them feel more attainable and realistic, and most of my friends learn to realize that I’m speaking in the future tense (the rest just think I’m flakey).

I have always talked about my auto parts company as if it were a sizable business, and this has motivated me to work hard to reduce the conflict between reality and people’s perception. Today, my company is probably the size that people assumed it was two years ago.

I (subconsciously) apply the same philosophy to other aspects of my life. Most recently, I started writing this blog as if I actually had an audience – and through the miracle of people sharing this blog on Facebook (come on, just click it already), I had over 30,000 hits within a couple of days.

As a final thought, please use this “fake it ’til you make it” attitude with some degree of restraint. It’s intended to be used to get comfortable with a major change/goal that you actually want to happen – not to pretend that you’re a racecar driver to pick up girls.

Until the next time…stay thirsty, my friends.

Un abrazo fuerte,


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46 thoughts on “8 Simple Philosophies That Changed My Life

  1. Pingback: My Manifesto | The Task Eternal

  2. I re-read it and discovered ( okay re-) that I can relate to some of the things you said. This is why I follow your blog.

  3. Pingback: Are you happy? My year in review. | BA Expat

  4. First time reading your blog and this is a great post to start with. I just made a major choice in my life (quit job, bought Round the World Ticket) so many of these points speak to me…especially # 5 and 6. OK – off to post this on my FB wall. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Week in Review: Feb 25, 2012 « A Conscious Action

  6. I know this is out of topic but.. you are SO handsome!!! and I admire you for picking up your stuff and stepping out of your comfort zone and moving to another country.. wow, i wish i could do that!!!are you planning on returning to the US any time soon? or is your move permanent?

    • Haha…thanks 🙂

      I’m here semi-permanently. I’m definitely planning on staying out of the US for the rest of 2012 – when winter comes here, I may jump over to Brazil or Thailand for a few months. Who knows.

  7. Number 5, 7, 3 😀 amazing…i loved those ideas.
    beautidul article as always !
    but i want to ask you something, what to do in case you fall down, i mean when everything falls apart, and none can help it !? and people are trying hard to make a change but can never do so…
    anything that can make a change ???

  8. My little conundrum:
    I want to leave the PhD program after 5 years. I can find no use for the degree in my life, other than the doors that the document stating that I have a PhD will open. The other reason I am having trouble leaving is my inability to “quit” things. I want to travel, to enjoy life, to live outside of this egotistical bubble. I don’t care what others think. This is something inside of ME that won’t let me quit. Maybe it’s the endurance athlete in me; maybe it’s the fear of regret; maybe the lab wherein I do my research really is a soul-sucking monster. Ultimately, I know this isn’t even a large problem to have. All this to say, I appreciate your blog and hope by applying some of these philosophies (most of which I already apply), I can figure out what it is I need to do. Until then…back to dissertation writing.

  9. Mmmm such wise words from afar… again. I offer a challenge, Mr BAExpat

    One of my favourite things throughout my travels – is a foreign supermarket.

    I’ve learnt you do amazon.com for your toilet paper and Velveeta (what the.. I’m Australian), but I’d like to bet Amazon don’t ship to your unit in BA for free. Sooo… take yourself to your local – or not so local – supermarket. You will learn lots…

    I once spent 2 hours in a supermarket when I was at a friend’s place about 50 minutes out of Shanghai. It was the most fun I’ve had in almost ever. Can’t understand the packaging – you have to go by pictures… you have no idea what you’re buying. So much fun !

    So my challenge for you, is to put your 8 philosophies into a supermarket experience for me.

    Best of Aussie luck xx

  10. Great post Zack.

    I really admire that you’re following your dream, I would love to travel South America some day.

    I love the cautious use of ‘fake it til you make it’. I contribute to a few news websites as well as blogging, and I’ll continue to call myself a writer/journalist until it’s true!

  11. This post is great, it’s motivating and gives me hope, but one thing that always frustrates me is that I don’t know HOW to make my relationship with myself better (in reference to number 3). I don’t really like myself, my personality isn’t that great, I don’t have many friends and I constantly feel like it’s because of my shitty personality. I get that I “need to love myself before I can love someone else” and so on. But how do I do that? How do I turn it around? How do I get better confidence? HOW do I believe in myself? I don’t even know where or how to start.

    • Hi Tina,

      I have a few things that I can think of that may help you:

      1. Try journaling all of your negative self-talk. We all have a negative voice in our head, and writing it down seems to help the negative thoughts go away.
      2. If you want to meet friends, do things you love doing. If you like surfing, go surfing. If you like reading, join a book club. If you don’t like anything, try some new things! “Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not.”
      3. There are some really good books that can help you. The first is The Gifts of Imperfection and the second is Wellbeing.

      I hope these help and I’m sure you’ll find your way.



  12. Hey Zack,
    Great blog, I happened across it in the Freshly Pressed section I think, or it mighth have been in the ‘writing’ topics section where I post my blogs. Either way, it’s a great read – articulate blogs are what blogging is all about. Your secret desire to become a published writer is intriguing – you and me both! Also, with developments like Amazon and Kindle, self-publishing work is a great way to earn income and become Temporarilly Independent – done correctly, income revenue comes in every month without much interaction between you and the work already out there. Of course, writing the stuff in the first place is another matter 😉

  13. 1) It is actually worse than that because it works the other way around, too. You attract people who mirror what you do (not what you really are). So if you are trying to make everyone happy because your friends are in need or very special or whatever, you will live something that is not your self. That will attract people who match the false YOU and you’ll never stop wondering why the hell you never meet people that you can relate to.

    2) You can’t marry amazon! It’s enganged to me and I doubt you will find a nicer ring. Also, it’s a HE, let me assure you, and he is totally at my service. I order everything there except for food, I even have a contract for regular diaper shipments with them.
    I too wield the mighty but treachery powers of initiation. I create and think and jump up and down when something is exciting, but I also know that my follow-thru is less than Bush’s brain mass which IS saying something. I have mastered my shortcomings by doing what you recommend – knowing how I fail and the avoiding the hassle. Outsourcing and not bothering with thoughts like “I suck, I can’t even finish XZY.” I don’t NEED to finish, who says? That should not be an excuse to goof off and not do anything at all, it just means that everyone decides for themselves what they want to finish. If it’s rewarding or interesting then do finish if you care, by all means..

    3) That’s true and goes for everything in life, not just people. I had a conversation about that just last night and we were both wondering how to break the news to “old friends”. They are OLD friends. The things between us are memories at best, but now there is nothing except old energies. How to let them go? I do love my old friends, but I can’t spend any more time with them without going bonkers.

    4) Also, your body reflects your mind and how much you care for yourself. That goes for overweight and greasy hair but also for silicone breastage and nose jobs. You are what you are, care for your body but dont mess with it. It’s just right for you. That was a hard lesson for me and still is.

    5) Easier said than done. I know it to be true but I sometimes can’t help but feel treated unfairly by life. I have vowed to stop that, though, as soon as I marry amazon..

    6) Can’t decide what I should reply here. Let me think. DO I have trouble making decisions? Gees, I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you on that one, maybe. Could be next week, not sure.

    7) That used to be a huge problem for me. I was always way to fast with everything and quickly lost interest. Now I do only hings that I really want to do (except for my job, but I’m working on that)
    and try to treasure the moments. Makes you remember more things, too.

    8) I believe that the world follows our thoughts, so #8 can make a huge difference. But really our thoughts are influenced by so much, belief systems, things our parents used to tell us (Curiosity killed the cat, stuff like that). So for me this last advice of yours is the EFFECT of all the other things we should consider in our lifes. The path becomes clearer, more homely, more US and then you can’t help but know that your dream will be true because you are yourself and your dream is just the outside reality of what is already inside you. Sounds weird, but so does poodle.

    Again all you say is so familiar to me and usually has been on my mind the night before I read this. If I ever get to BA I will look you up.

  14. Another great post. A venture capitalist told me once that health should fuel your ambitions especially when you’re older, you must have the energy to sustain your work. When others are slowing down, you must be continuously accelerating. Also for acting the part, I’ve read a leadership book before that you must project what you want to become. You must be ahead, always. 😀

  15. Hey Man! I’m really liking your blog – hell of a personal journey to be sharing! You’re a wise man. In fact, I’ve been sharing your gained wisdom on my Facebook the last cpl posts.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts of my blog. Constructive criticism would be appreciated too. Any help would be great.

    Whats your twitter? I’m @socialmayo. I want to hear more about your businesses, how you automate, the kettlebells company, etc.

    Chat soon!

  16. Congrats on another amazing piece of work here! I appreciate all your advice and keep coming back for more 😉 I feel like I should be writing half of these on my wall so when I wake up every morning I will remember them!

    Thanks again,


  17. Pingback: Inspiration; « Seasons of lust

  18. Wow, you look great, man. I feel like these are the exact topics of all our conversations over the course of our friendship… just the nutshell version.

  19. I’m really enjoying your posts. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life, make thing more enjoyable, more fun, more exciting. I’ll certainly try to apply at least a few ideas to my own life. I look forward to reading more from you.

  20. I initially read one of your blogs purely because you mentioned Buenos Aires, which is a beautiful country I was fortunate enough to visit once. Your blogs are actually about another topic close to my heart, encouraging people to have the confidence and advice to improve their lives.
    I totally agree with the advice of being aware of your failings and find a solution, I paused to re-read and all your comments are so relevant an sv valid. To suceed and progress in life a full overhaul is the bes tv plan of action.

  21. Number 7, that would be me. As for Facebook, I’ve been toying with the idea of setting up an account since my blog is anonymous, I wouldn’t want it on my own page, but 30k hits? Wow, that’s some going!

  22. I love your blog and your posts always inspire me. This post is now one of my favourites, thank you for writing it.

    The paragraph about your hits unnoticed particulars and it’s here that I ask for your help. I haven’t got Facebook, I don’t have many followers on tumble and I don’t have twitter- is there any other way I can help make people find my blog? In three/ fours days I only have about fifty hits and I’m disappointed.

    Thanks, carry on the great posts

    • I started writing about things that I really cared about and then I told everyone that I know about it. The rest took care of itself!

      If you’re serious about writing a blog, it’s going to be very difficult (but not impossible) to spread the word without social media like Facebook. I’d sign up for Facebook and start adding friends as a start.

      Good luck!

      • Zack, I actually happened across your blog because it was on the front page of WordPress when I went to log into my blog. Either way, I keep reading because I love the motivational posts and the fact that it’s not all doom and gloom like some of the other blogs out there!

      • Thanks for the tips. I do feel Facebook is a good idea, but the truth is, my parents don’t allow me to have it.
        I do have an account on deviantART with many active watchers but I fear they have tired of my talking of my blog.

        Have a good day

  23. I’m thirsty allright….for more of your wisdom. If I didn’t know I’d think you are at least 40 y.o. writing stuff like this. or maybe you’re just taking your own advice and acting 40.

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