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
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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