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Education Lifestyle

My Must Read Book List

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin (1948 – )

Here’s a list of all the books that had a massive impact on my life and would bring tremendous value to everyone else too – in no particular order:

Laws of Human Nature (2018) – Robert Greene

This is hands down one of the best books ever written. When I read the title, I thought it was too ambitious to try to capture human nature in a book but Robert Greene was the perfect man for the job and he did it fantastically. Greene beautifully outlines the underlying forces that control our behavior and gives us the tools to recognize them within ourselves and others. After reading this book, I was given new insights on what really drives human beings and the pitfalls that we should be aware of as we navigate life. I was especially impressed and surprised with the chapters on narcissism and envy. Greene opened my eyes to how deep those two forces run in our society today and how dangerous it can be. I went to a book signing when it was first released and Robert said it’s important to read this book as as insight into ourselves rather than as insight into other people. I cannot say enough positive things about this book. Right now, it’s my #1 most recommended book for everyone to read. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for someone you really care about. Then buy another copy for someone they care about. This book is too important to skip over.


Outwitting the Devil (1938) – Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill is the O.G. when it comes to writing about success. OTD isn’t as popular as Hill’s best seller, Think and Grow Rich, but it shares many similar themes. The concepts that Hill uncovers in this book laid the foundation for a majority of my own personal development. Styled as an interview between an intelligent human and the devil himself, Hill captures how the devil is very much alive and well in our world — just not in the way that we think. Idle hands truly do the devil’s work. He cautions us of the dangers of being a drifter, the power of definitive purpose, independent thought, and hypnotic rhythm. A fantastic read for anyone who wants to get into reading and doesn’t know where to start. This book really helped me out when I first got out of college. It really gave me the tools to outwit the devil that I didn’t even know I was battling.


Tao Te Ching (~4th Century BC) – Laozi

This ancient Chinese religious text details the common principles of Eastern thought. A must read if you want to live well. The wisdom written in this book is timeless. The book itself is a practice of minimal necessary effort. So it’s a short, easy, but deep read.


Show Your Work! (2014) – Austin Kleon

This book is so great for creative types who have trouble putting their work out. It’s also great for those wondering how to get their creative endeavour started. It’s given me new and fantastic perspectives about creativity and what it means to make art. We should all strive to be amateurs – Sharing my art inspires others and contributes to the culture around me – No one artist or genius was created in a vacuum. This book has shown me countless ways to be inspired by and inspire others. It’s also filled with creative methods from so many unique creative types. If you want to unleash the creative side of yourself – read this book.


Lord of the Flies (1954) – William Golding

Lord of the Flies is a masterpiece. It’s about a group of boys stranded on an island and their attempt to govern themselves. Golding perfectly nails the complexities of the human spirit. He captures the everlasting struggle between our desire for order and tendency for chaos. This book is gripping and perfect for anyone looking for a good story. Even putting the themes aside, the plot is interesting and the characters are lovable. This was one of the first books that opened my eyes to the power of reading. For the first time, I saw that characters in a book can be as complex as people in real life. I used to think characters in books were just representations of the author, but Golding showed me that people can put enough thought and care into a book and create a literary mural that represents humanity.


The 48 Laws of Power (1998) – Robert Greene

I think about this book at least four times a week. This is the book that Andy from The Office should have read to truly win over Michael Scott. This was Robert Greene’s first book and it took the world by storm. He explains each of the 48 laws of power with examples from history of how each law can be used to one’s advantage and disadvantage. In his early days, similar to Benjamin Franklin, Robert Greene found himself getting the short end of the stick on many situations. He took his intense frustration and anger and articulated each and every trick that his superiors would use on him. This book helped me understand the power plays used on me in the past but the best part, is being able to spot the power moves others try to pull on me now. The world belongs to those who read.


Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732) – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite people in history. He’s accomplished enough for 10 men and in Poor Richard’s Almanack he lays out his basic principles which set the foundation for his success. I love this book because the principles are so simple and, for the most part, common sense. It’s essentially a list of 670 nuggets of wisdom. Most people link the famous idioms “Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise,” or “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” with this book. One of my favorite quotes was “Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep the.” It’s one of those books that you can go back to and always find something new. The best part is it’s free and you can probably read the whole thing over your lunch break.


I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Second Edition (2019) – Ramit Sethi

Yeah, the title is sounds scammy but it’s legit. Ramit Sethi goes over all the financial knowledge necessary to build an automated money machine that can help you live a rich life. This book gave me a solid understanding of financial fundamentals to take control of my own finances. Since I didn’t study anything financial in my formal education, it was really helpful to learn about credit card optimization, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, Target Date Funds, stocks, and bonds. He even includes scripts to negotiate down interests rates, remove banking fees, and asking for raises. Admittedly, I read the book in two weeks and applied the principles over a four week period but by the end of it, I established my own automated money machine equipped with an emergency fund, multiple savings accounts and a retirement investment portfolio. However, the most important thing I learned from this book is that we can learn how to do anything if we decide to go out and look for the information. Investing my money and learning all the financial jargon seemed out of my depth, but this book showed me that everything can be learned.


On The Shortness of Life (49 AD) – Seneca

I first heard of this book from Maria Popova. She is a fantastic writer and runs a blog (there really should be a different word for what she does) called Brain Pickings. It’s a huge archive of the deepest ideas from an extremely well articulated writer. Maria recommends people to start with her post about this book. I read her post and loved it. Then I read this book and it changed my life. Seneca talks about how there is more time than life. So much more that we actually waste it. How much of our lives are spent trying to answer the question at a dinner party, “so what do you do?” We give most of our time to others and much of the time dedicated to ourselves is in the service of impressing others. It’s no surprised life is exhausting. The key is to take the time back for ourselves. Seneca suggests that if we were to give all the time we were allotted on Earth to ourselves then we would greet death with open arms. This book has given me a damn good reason to let go of the idea that life is short.


The 4-Hour Workweek (2007) – Timothy Ferriss

Oh boy. To be honest, I’m not sure where to start with this book. Read it. It’s literally a manual to escape the 9-5 and live like the new rich. This is the first book I’ve read from Tim Ferriss and I fell in love with it. Tim breaks down what it means to start and automate a business that gives you the money and freedom to live your dream life. Tim started a mega successful online business in his 20s which gave him a pretty solid fortune. However, he was spending literally all of his time working (specifically replying to emails). Tim, being the unique thinker he is, found a way to restructure his business to maximize his efforts and run his company with only a few hours of work a month. This book isn’t literally about cutting your workweek down to 4 hours, its about maximizing the output of the work so you can free yourself up to do the things that really matter. He has ways to increase productivity with lower levels of stress and effort for all types of jobs. Whether you own your own business, work for an idiot boss, or are looking for a way to escape the rat race, this book is a must read. He’s included little “life hacks,” mindset switches, and resources that you may need to start an automated business. Pair this with Ramit Sethi’s just as scammy sounding book I Will Teach You To Be Rich and you have the tools necessary to design and live out your rich life.


Mastery (2012) – Robert Greene

Robert Greene is a powerhouse and heavy hitter when it comes to writing damn good books. This book is a guide to mastering anything. Robert researched masters from all walks of life throughout time and found the common threads between each of them. He covers everyone from Mozart to Charles Darwin to Temple Gradin to Freddie Roach. My favorite person he writes about in this book is Benjamin Franklin. I love how Greene outlines Franklin’s journey to mastery in writing and social interactions. Robert goes above and beyond for this book (as usual) and takes things much further than the typical skill acquisition advice like the 10,000 hour rule or practicing every day. I saw Robert Greene at a book signing and he said that he writes books out of anger. When he wrote this book, he said he was angry that people couldn’t make things well anymore. So I like to think of this book as a guide to learning how to do things well.


The Art of War (~5th Century BC) – Sun Tzu

Perfect reading for learning war strategies on a battlefield. Also perfect reading for MBA types about to enter the business world. Also perfect reading for anyone who finds themselves in adversarial situations. This book is pure wisdom when it comes to war, or anything that can resemble a war. Sun Tzu’s philosophy on war is to win without fighting. Running in head first into a battle is a sure way to get yourself killed, lose resources, and cause long term damage to the state. It’s better to cultivate your defenses, fortify your plans, and only fight when you know you are going to win. This is a quick and short read. The Art of War was originally written for military strategy but that doesn’t mean it can only be applied in the literally battlefield. Much of our encounters and challenges we experience today are war-like and the principles discussed in the book are worth applying to other areas of life. I have a thing for books written mad long ago but are still relevant now. This was written around 5th century BC but the lessons have been true throughout time. Timeless books are the best books.


The 4-Hour Body (2010) – Timothy Ferriss

One of Tim’s main goals in life is to learn something once and never have to learn it again. To make this happen, he takes meticulous notes on his diet, work out, habits, etc. so when he sees a picture of himself years prior he knows exactly what he was doing to get the body he had. He also keeps journals too, so he can do a similar type of assessment with his mental health as well. The combination of his meticulous note taking, years of experimentation, and hours of consulting physicians has given us this unconventional guide to healthier and easier living. Similar to The 4-Hour Workweek, this book is about getting the maximum results for the smallest effort. This book is filled with Minimum Effective Dosages (MEDs) for fat-loss, muscle gain, better sex, better sleep, reversing injuries, and much much more. I highly recommend this book for anyone that wants a guide to the human body.


Letters From A Stoic (65 AD) – Seneca

This book came up in the afterglow of reading On The Shortness Of Life. It’s a collection of letters Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius. There are 224 letters and each one is on a profound topic. Reading these letters made me feel like I was getting to know Seneca personally. I love his humor and his unapologetic fanboy attitude towards Epicurus. What I loved the most about this book is that it explains Stoic philosophy within the context of something relatable which made it easy to see the usefulness of stoic practices. Wisdom is an art and this book is filled with it. Each letter is short but the ideas introduced will have you thinking about them for years to come. Every time I pick up this book it’s an absolute mindfuck. Seneca was able to articulate some of the most complicated thoughts I have ever had but never been able to say. This book was simultaneously a justification and condemnation of my perspectives and value structures and I love it. This book has wisdom beyond my years and I’m excited to see what else I’ll learn as I read the book with older eyes. This book has an extremely high reread value. Similar to Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature, this is a book that you study – not read.


12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018) – Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Let me start by saying if you haven’t checked out Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s work – check all of it out. This is his 2nd book and it’s more than worth the read but diving into his hours of lectures on YouTube will really take you for a ride. Peterson is a clinical psychologist from Canada who taught at the University of Toronto and Harvard. He’s spent decades studying the world’s best thinkers and reading some of the most complicated and influential texts. And through those studies, he’s articulated the true importance of meaning and responsibility. This book is a small part of that perspective. It originally was a list of 40 rules Peterson wrote in response to a post on Quora: “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” Peterson cut down the list to 12 and wrote this book. Peterson said that these 12 are not necessarily the most important rules, but they do make a cohesive narrative together.


Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers (2016) – Tim Ferriss

Another Tim Ferriss masterpiece. Tim Ferriss is to me what Epicurus is to Seneca. Tools of Titans was written after Tim’s 4-Hour trilogy. The book was created from a plethora of interviews from The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim interviews the world’s highest performers about their habits, mindsets, and personal quirks that make them successful and put that in this book. He interviews everyone from Jocko Willink to B.J. Novak to Rick Rubin to Sam Harris to Maria Popova. Since there are so many people in this book, it’s easy to look up people that you already admire as well as discover new people to learn from. He breaks up the book in 3 sections (I love that it’s inspired by Ben Franklin): Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. My favorite chapters were in the Wise section, but that’s just me. There is enough information in this book to build empires and has an extremely high reread value.


Updated October 20th, 2020
The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: The Wisdom of Life (1851) – Arthur Schopenhauer

Probably my favorite piece of work from the Great pessimist. I thought the title was too grandiose at first, but Artie delivered. This book truly contains the wisdom of life. There are some things he was pretty off on, but for the most part he was on point. He captures the beauty, rarity, and absurdity of life in a way that doesn’t play them up or down.

I also think this book is great because it’s like a collection of blog posts Schopenhauer would have written if blogs were a think in the 19th century. I’ve already written things in my blog that I don’t completely agree with and I could imagine that if Schopenhauer wasn’t bounded by his time that he would redact some of what he said. When we write down what we know, we are sure to be wrong but I believe it’s worth it to capture the things we got right.

Schopenhauer is a thinker for the ages and I highly suggest this book is someone who wanted to check out his work. He wrote it later in his life so his words carry the wisdom of his past works and it shows.


Games People Play (1969) – Dr. Eric Berne

This fantastic book goes over something called transactional analysis which is the study of how humans interact with each other. Berne suggests that everyone had 3 primary ego states — Child, Adult, and Parent and those ego states communicate with each other. The “games people play” are dependent on which ego state is communicating with what and how they do so. For example, there’s a game refers to as NIGYSOB (Now I’ve Got You Son Of a Bitch) is a game played between one’s parent ego state and the other’s child ego state. I might do a post on the different games mentioned in this book (at least the one’s I’ve found most prevalent) sometime because it’s almost unbelievable how much of human interaction are simply games.

On top of the incredibly deep analysis of human interaction, he sprinkles in humor throughout the book with smart ass comments and witty names for the games. This is book spelled out many ideas that I knew existed, but couldn’t articulate for myself and having access to these ideas gives me a greater understanding of human interaction and a special peace of mind.


The Seagull (1896) – Dr. Anton Chekhov

This is the first play I’ve put on this list and admittedly, the first play I’ve read since my appreciation for literature blossomed. I read this when I was at a point in my life when I felt like I had to choose between pursuing medicine and being creative and I was shocked to discover Anton Chekhov, famed playwright/physician. I first heard of Chekhov in Robert Greene’s Laws of Human Nature and I was so blown away from his story that I had to check out his work.

This play is super short and can easily be read in a few hours. The characters are brilliant and the story is beautiful. It’s a fantastic dramatization of the violence that occurs when a beauty is misplaced. One of the ideas I took from this play was “beautiful creatures in beautiful places will lead to destruction if things are not in their right place.” Chekhov created an excellent depiction of the realities of true rage, the struggles of the creative spirit, and the dangers of not being seen in the hearts and minds of others.

This play also gave me insights into what I was feeling as a creative person. If a Russian playwright could perfectly write about a similar struggle and capture my feelings perfectly, then what I was feeling must have been universal and archetypal. This realization lifted a huge burden on me because I realized that what I was dealing with could be surmounted by man and didn’t have to crush me.

If we’re not careful, we can all be like Treplyov.


The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2009) – Dr. Atul Gawande

I wouldn’t suggest this book to beginner readers, as most things written by doctors are long-form and operate at a certain level of complexity, but if you’re comfortable reading lengthy texts, then this is a great book.

I originally didn’t want to put this book on the list, but as I continued to write my blog and work with my students I’ve noticed how much this book changed my thoughts and actions. Any book that changes how I act and think on a daily basis for the better is worth putting on this list.

I guess that’s precisely what Dr. Gawande was referring to in the book as well — the idea that checklists are so easily overlooked, but also so effective.

Checklists are my primary go-to method for organizing the chaos and getting things done right. They are too simple and too effective to ignore.


Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959) – Dr. Carl Gustav Jung

This is the deepest book I’ve ever read. On top of that, Jung is the smartest person I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. He accurately sums up the most abstract and complicated ideas in a concise way that’s easy to understand. Jung believes that humans encounter the experience of the unknown in similar ways, through archetypes. These archetypes are patterns of behavior coded in us from millions of years of human evolution and are the same no matter what society we’re from. The archetypes give us access to the collective unconscious which allows us a greater understanding of the human psyche.

Jung puts this way better than I could and has been a MASSIVE contributor to everything I do. The way I teach and conduct myself in the world is informed through my knowledge and understanding of the collective unconscious.

He doesn’t go into as much detail as I’d like in this volume, but he touched upon his famed archetypal ideas in a way that provides a rudimentary understanding to those who aren’t familiar. He talks in depth (by not deep enough) about the Shadow, the Anima (Great Mother), the Animus (Judgemental Father), and so many more.

This is the only book (so far) that I haven’t finished yet, but I’ve gotten through a good chunk of it. It’s so dense and rich with knowledge and wisdom. I knew that I had to put this book on my list when I was just a few pages in.

This guy sees the edge of human knowledge and goes there. Jung is probably my favorite author of all time. Read this book and get your mind blown.


Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) – Dr. Viktor Frankl

This book changed me life and I cannot understate it’s value. Everyone needs to read this book. It details the horrors of the Holocaust from the perspective of Jewish psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl. He is an incredible writer and captures such powerful images despite being traumatized himself. The images he describes were vivid and dark, but the lessons he learned about human beings are both beautiful and tragic. This book also outlines a method of created for his medical practice – logotherapy, which is based on the premise that meaning is our fundamental driving force as human beings.

This book is one of the most beautiful pieces of work ever created. Frankl showed us how people can really find meaning, even in the most hopeless situations. Meaning will carry us through any and all suffering.


Self-Reliance (1841) – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

This book is so dope. It’s written in a slightly outdated language, but the message is evergreen and powerful. He talks about the importance of self-reliance, giving to yourself, and the morality of only involving ourselves with the things which concern us.

In a weird way, this book was able to give me the reasoning I lacked to only concern myself with matters that concern me. I used to feel like I couldn’t act purely in my own interests, but this book has shown me that it isn’t only okay to act in my own interests but a moral duty, especially if my interests can make things better for me, my family, and my community.

One of the most amazing parts about it is that this was written while Emmerson was away from society locked up in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Then fast-forward almost 200 years, I’m reading it on an iPad in the comfort of my own bed. This realization had nothing to do with what he wrote, but it speaks to the power of writing. After I read this book, I was able to find the strength within me to write more vigorously and focus on myself and that led to incredibly important groundwork.


The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus Into Your Life (2006) – Thomas M. Sterner

Everything worth achieving requires practice and Thomas M. Sterner gives us techniques to develop the focus and discipline necessary to practice successfully. I’ve written an entire blog post based on the principles from this book that highlights some of the ideas that I thought were the most worth knowing.

Reading this book gave me a much-needed perspective on what it means to practice effectively. It’s so easy to see practicing as work, but after applying the methods Sterner talks about in the book, practice becomes a time full of meaning and purpose. Focusing on the process and intentionally staying present are highly underrated ideas that will bring out the best in anything.


The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business (2010) – Josh Kaufman

This is a fantastic book on business. Honestly, it could be THE book on business if there was one. It’s cool to see all the fancy business jargon wrapped up all nice and neat and it’s doubly cool to see a book that’s kind of like the book I’ve been writing but in a completely different field.

It’s been a huge influence on me and how I run my business and is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship. It goes over everything from value creation from marketing to sales to finance to the mind to creating systems and so much more.

I’m constantly finding myself going back to this book. It’s full of amazing information that is extremely useful when starting a business, especially since I never had any formal training. I read it shortly before starting my 1st official company and while I was reading it, I knew that I was going to be going back to it for years to come.

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner in business, this book is a must-read if you want to be intentional about your business.


The Slight Edge (2005) – Jeff Olson

When I first read this book I didn’t think the slight edge could be true because of the sheer simplicity of it, but then I started trying it in my own life.

I think everyone should still read this book (obviously because it’s on this list), but the slight edge as a concept is pretty simple — small disciplines over time is what determines our life outcomes. The good things we do make our life better, the bad things we do make our life worse. These outcomes work on an exponential basis so over time, the successful win more often and the losers lose more often.

The slight edge really is what separates the successful from the failures. Olson says the slight edge is what’s the difference between a beach bum and a multimillionaire because he’s been both.

I’ve also seen Kobe Bryant talk about this being the reason why he was so much better than everyone else in the NBA. He kept pushing when everyone else didn’t. It’s probably a cognitive bias thing, but after I read this book I’ve noticed it in so many places.

Like everyone – this list is forever in a state of becoming.

Categories
Lifestyle

On Trials and Stumbles in Creative Pursuits

“Frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?”

Rollo May (The Courage to Create)

This is the first blog post that I’ve posted since mid-February, which means I haven’t published something in well over a month. This on its own isn’t a very big deal, especially since my priorities have been elsewhere, but I feel like it’s too big to just simply ignore.

Originally I wanted to just jump back right into my regularly scheduled content, but I feel like there are lessons to learn upon reflecting on my short absence. So I’m going to slow down and take the time to reflect.

When I started my blog, I intended to write a blog post every week.

No matter what.

I even lowered the standards for what a blog post is. I told myself that a blog post can be about literally anything. I set the bar low, so I can actually hit it every week. I try to optimize my systems for consistency, not necessarily quality. I figured the quality will come with multiple iterations. I like to rig the game to win, especially games that I play on my own.

Unfortunately, the lower standards didn’t matter and I still didn’t post over the last month and a half.

When I first started writing, I knew that there were going to be times when I was going to be tested. I knew that there were going to be weeks when it felt impossible to put out a blog post, but I expected myself to step up to the challenge. When I started this blog, I was excited to see if I actually could step up. I kept it up for over a year and I was pretty proud of myself. There were weeks when it was hard, but given the nature of the things I was writing, it was too hard for me to stop writing and create a relationship with myself where I know myself as someone who doesn’t step up to the challenge.

Recently, I feel like I’ve been truly tested and I let it take me out for over a month. (I’m hoping I can publicly speak on this in a few months.) I reluctantly admit that I’ve allowed the chaos of life to interrupt what I was building.

In fact, I let the chaos convince me that what I was building wasn’t even worth the energy at all.

This was the worst part. I fooled myself into believing that nothing was better than something. This gave way to nihilism, victimization, and apathy. All three of which I don’t have the luxury to entertain.

Once I realized that these were just ideas going on in my head, I was able to separate my actions from my thoughts.

A wise man never believes every thought that enters his head.

Now I’m in a place where I can actively choose to not let this take me down. I can more effectively resist the temptation to self-destruct or abandon all commitments.

The chaos of the recent months is not going to destroy my blog, my YouTube channel, or any of my other creative pursuits.

I cannot let it, especially since the chaos is not of a tragic nature. The disarray is not tragic and, if I can help it, the results of it should not be either. I shall not let a good thing destroy creation. I must look deeper within myself to find the strength to choose to contribute to “more life” rather than death or “less life.”

I can detach from the part of me that wants to give in and make room for more intentional thought habits.

We can overcome trials with a certain level of detachment.

When we’re tested, there are perspectives we can take on that will crush us under pressure and ones that allow us to act with more freedom.

Detachment can be a fine line. Seeing the situation, not from our own perspective, but from another point of view that doesn’t take our personal feelings into account gives us the freedom to act in an intentional way rather than reactionary.

However, it’s possible to be too detached. I feel like that happened to me over the past few weeks and it’s the underlying cause of my stumble.

If I allowed myself to simply give in to what I felt I needed, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, nor have plans for future blog posts. The real tragedy would be the premature death of all of the other creative works I’ve planned around this blog and the lives that would have been touched by those works are left without its influence. I felt like I needed to stop writing and focus on more practical elements of life, but that’s not meaningful enough for me.

While there are practical elements to consider, completely abandoning my creative pursuits would be me choosing “less life”.

It would be meaning dampening down my will.

Extinguishing the white-hot fire within me that makes me human.

It would be destroying my own potential.

Now, I have to give credit where credit is due because I did not come to this conclusion completely on my own through a detached perspective. There were a series of external influences that helped push me in this direction.

I have to thank my students and my fellow writers for reaching out to me during my hiatus. Although no one was explicitly concerned that I wasn’t writing anything or even knew that I was considering dropping it altogether, they all showed me that my work matters way more than I thought it did. The combination of people emailing me to write for my blog and my students asking me about my books and music showed me that I do not create in a vacuum.

I will also have to give a mention to Rollo May’s The Courage to Create. It’s full of fantastic quotes that I felt were pertinent to what I was dealing with.

“If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”

Rollo May (The Courage to Create)

My creative projects have a nontrivial influence on people and I cannot throw that away simply because I’m overwhelmed.

In the thick of my trials and tribulations, I forgot about the world I’ve been working so hard to create.

I forgot that I had a vision for a better future.

I forgot that I sacrificed day in and day out to bring about this vision.

I forgot that I sold other people on this vision – a world where people can live their life by design.

I forgot that I actually love writing and sharing ideas.

I forgot that being creative revivifies me and imbues my life with meaning.

And so I humbly admit that I’ve stumbled.

I did not have a perfect run of things, but that is okay because I am standing back up. I will be up and running in time, but I have to acknowledge that I’m not as strong of a writer as I was when I was being consistent.

However, I do have something new to bring to the table – more wisdom and a more experienced perspective. I still have the willingness to improve, which is the most important ingredient to getting back on my feet.

I’m going to start slow, aim at consistency, and remember that creativity makes me and the world better.

I’m going to fall back in love with the research, learning, and writing process.

I’m going to let go of the judgment and contempt I have for myself in failing to reach my commitments.

Forgiveness of the self is crucial.

While I acknowledge that I probably have enough to finish my book, I want to work on learning more and synthesizing these ideas deeper. I want the process to be full of passion so the book comes out that much richer.

While I learned a lot during my hiatus, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my younger self has real wisdom in him. Usually, when I look back on younger versions of myself, I can’t believe how foolish I was. But now, for the first time, I am surprised by the wisdom and forethought I had. For the first time (that I’m aware of), my future self wasn’t as wise as my past self and that makes me really happy. To me, it’s evidence that I’m growing and I have my own best interests at heart (which isn’t always obvious to me). I’ve developed a new trust in myself that I cannot accurately describe and I hope to take it with me during this journey.

We’ll be tried. We’ll stumble. We’ll rise again.

I’m excited to get back into creating and I hope it’s a fruitful as it once was.

I’m placing my bets on my ability to get back up and I think everyone else should too.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Our Reward Value System

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

My recent days of research and reading have led me to unpack the unexpectedly dense world of rewards and reward systems. I’ve been trying to understand how our brains decide what’s rewarding and what isn’t. This has lead to me ask questions like –

Why do we prefer donuts to spinach?

Why are some things more rewarding than others?

My last post was about the importance of understanding rewards and how rewards can trigger consummatory behaviors within us. This post is going to focus more on why we like some things more than others. Hopefully, with this understanding, we can hack our brains into actually enjoying things that are good for us and reduce the friction to creating a life by design.

A big thanks to Dr. Jud for helping me understand this.

In order to understand how our brain’s reward system works, we have to first look at habits. I’ve written a few posts on habits, I recommend checking them out. They are Types of Habits and Designing Our Lives and Understanding Habits and The 1% Rule. Habits are fundamental to our lives and understanding how they work gives us the ability to design our lives.

Basically, we need habits to get through our everyday life. We use habits as a way of saving energy. Let me put it like this, if we had to learn every single thing we did every day, then we’d be exhausted by noon! It takes a lot of energy to do or learn something we haven’t done before and it takes little energy to do things that we’re familiar with. This is why it isn’t too exhausting for most people to get up and get ready for the day. It’s a habit and habits don’t take much energy to do.

But not everything we do is turned into a habit, only some are.

So how we do know which actions to turn into habits and which ones to not?

It all depends on how ~rewarding~ it is.

Our brains have a way of rank-ordering rewards as more valuable and less valuable. This is known as reward-based learning and it has 3 parts.

Trigger

Behavior

Reward

Let me give a few examples of this: Let’s say our alarm clock goes off and we hit the snooze button to stop it. The trigger was the alarm sound. It’s annoying so we want to do whatever we can to stop it. The behavior is hitting the snooze button to stop the alarm as fast as we can. The reward is the alarm stops. This is known as a negative reward – we got our payoff when something is removed from the situation, in this case, the alarm. Now that we got our reward, we are more likely to use this method again in the future to deal with the same situation. This is why hitting the snooze button is so addictive. Every time we hit it, we get our negative reward which reinforces the behaviors to get it.

Let’s look at this from another angle: Let’s say I study really hard for my exam and I get a higher score than I was expecting. The trigger is the awareness of the exam. The behavior is studying for the exam. The reward is a high grade. This is known as a positive reward – we get the payoff when something is given to us or when something is added to the situation that we wanted. In this case, the high grade is something that we got as a reward for our studying. Now in the future, we are more likely to study when an exam comes up.

I want to emphasize that the reward reinforces the behavior that led up to it regardless of what it was. If we cheated and got the grade we wanted, we are going to be more inclined to cheat again. Rewards will reinforce anything, it doesn’t matter what it is.

These rewards can also be intrinsic or extrinsic. I talked a little about that in Consummatory Behavior and Rewards. Intrinsic rewards are rewards that relate to improving the self or other internal gains. These are extremely motivating and rewarding in the long term, but we have to want the intrinsic reward by our own volition. Extrinsic rewards related to anything that is externally given as a result of an accomplishment. These are great for motivating people who aren’t interested in the intrinsic gains from a given activity.

Bottom line: extrinsic rewards are great for the short game. Intrinsic rewards are great for the long game.

Additionally, the more rewarding the behavior, the stronger the habit. I touch on this slightly in my last post as well.

This plays off a system in our brains that we used for survival as cavemen. Back when food was scarce, our brains would prioritize eating sugars and fats so we can get the highest calories possible. This means that when we’re presented with choosing between donuts and spinach, we’re wired to want the donuts every time.

But it doesn’t just stop there.

We also assign reward values to all the people, places, and things around us. Our brain can combine good feelings of donuts, the fun of celebrations, and the friends around us all into one composite reward value which we also give to the donuts. So to us, donuts are much more than delicious balls of fat and sugar, they are also everything great about eating a donut.

In addition to the caloric bias, most of the associations we make with donuts are more rewarding than spinach. There are subliminal factors that play into our love for donuts, and they come from everything around us. Not to mention, we form positive associations with donuts more frequently than we do with spinach, and reward value increases with repetition.

Over time, these associations can become habits as well. We can mindlessly associate eating donuts with a good time and equate eating donuts as feeling good. This leads to mindless consummatory behavior, which can spiral out of control.

Consummatory behavior on its own is natural, but when it becomes mindless it starts to become dangerous.

So how do we stop automatically consuming things?

Some people say “just use willpower” but that doesn’t work in the long term. I’m sure most of us know this from experience. Every time I try to change a behavior purely off willpower, I end up going back to my old ways in about two weeks.

To change a behavior, we can’t just focus on the behavior itself. We have to pay attention to how it makes us feel, specifically how rewarding it is. If we could just focus on the behavior, then we could just tell ourselves to stop doing any of our bad habits and we could live happily ever after.

Updating our Reward Value System

We can update our system by adding one simple thing to the situation – our awareness and attention. I talk a fair bit about the importance of attention and awareness in my post The Heroes of Hero’s: The Osiris Myth & Attention. Attention is like our superpower! It gives us the ability to cast out will into the future, but more importantly, we can use it to change what we find rewarding.

The only way we can update our brain systems is if our brain determines that what it already knows is outdated and doesn’t work.

This requires giving it new information.

This new information will come in the form of mindful consumption, as opposed to mindless consumption.

According to Dr. Jud, “paying attention to the results of the behavior in the present, we can accurately determine how reward a behavior actually is rather than just run our old automated reward values.”

Let me give the example of smoking a cigarette. I’m using this example because I used these methods to quit my fairly heavy cigarette habit back in the day.

To the habitual smoker, smoking is the behavior that fixes everything. The smoker’s reward value system places cigarettes at the top, smoking is the ultimate reward. But if that smoker were to practice mindful consumption – paying attention to all of the sensations and feelings we get when smoking – the smoker will find that the cigarette isn’t actually very rewarding at all. The smoker will rediscover that smoking makes it difficult to breathe, the chemicals are strong, there’s tightness in our chest, the smell lingers, it costs money, and so many other new things.

Our brains can now take this new information and use it to update its reward value system and place the cigarette in a more accurate position, probably (and hopefully) somewhere near the bottom.

When we practice mindful consumption, we give our brains a chance to rediscover how rewarding (or unrewarding) something is for us now.

No longer do we have to be chained to our past experiences. Through mindfulness we can create new associations.

When I practiced mindful consumption with cigarette smoking, I was able to see that I had so many other associations with smoking. For example, the satisfaction of my oral fixation, the feelings of acceptance I felt from my peers, and the opportunity to be someone who was cool and rebellious. Maybe smoking was rewarding to me when I was younger, maybe even necessary, but today it’s not so much. Once I internalized this realization, I stopped smoking naturally. I remember the moment when I took a drag and immediately felt this disgusted feeling. I thought “what the hell is this doing for me?” I noticed that it really just smelled like stinky cheese and it made it hard to breathe. I was able to put it down cold turkey with a little craving for it later.

Awareness can reset our reward value system.

We can change bad habits by paying attention.

There have been studies that demonstrate that cravings and habitual consumption lowered by as much as 40% just after practicing mindful consumption as little as 10 times. This means we can change our habits without resorting to using serious willpower and it’s all using the already built-in systems that our brain has.

Understanding our built-in systems and how they work gives us an edge in creating our lives by design. We don’t have to work uphill. Our bodies, our brains, our minds are beautiful inventions that have stood the test of time.

Let’s use its miraculous engineering to supercharge our intentions.

Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Consummatory Behavior and Rewards

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”

John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

Our brain has entire systems dedicated to reward and motivation. If we can understand how it works, then we can “hack” our brains to actually like doing challenging things. Understanding how to reward ourselves in an intentional, informed, and natural way will give us an edge in staying motivated while designing systems for ourselves. Whether it’s business, academics, athletics, or anything else, understanding how to properly reward ourselves is critical and will change how we approach situations.

In my other posts, I talk in-depth about designing our own systems to fit our specific needs, and rewarding ourselves is a huge part of that. If the reward system we create is compatible with the one that we have in our brains, then we can run our systems indefinitely and use them to reach our goals.

So what are rewards and how do they fit into our lives?

A reward is the attractive and motivation quality of something that can induce consummatory behavior.

Rewards are the reason why we do anything we do. This reason can vary depending on who we are and what we want, but everyone wants the reward.

Consummatory Behavior

In order to understanding how rewards work, we have take a look at why we love them so much in the first place. Consummatory behavior is extremely motivating. This is what is responsible for making rewards seem so appealing to us in the first place.

Anything that we take in can fall under the category of consummatory, the most common being food or drugs. But we consume much more than just food and drugs.

A consummatory behavior can take the form of buying material items, going on social media, or watching tv. Consummatory behavior can pretty much apply to everything that we love in the short term.

A few different things happen when we participate in consummatory behavior. Consuming a reward shuts off the motivation systems and reinforces the behaviors and neural patterns associated with and leading up to that moment of consumption. In order words, once we get our reward we stop searching and feel like everything we did to get it was good, even if it wasn’t.

This is partly why some people have issues with addiction. It isn’t just the rewarding hit of the drug that’s driving them, it’s also the reinforcement of everything leading up to taking the drug that’s working against them too.

For example, let’s say we’re about to take a hit of some cocaine. When we take that hit, we’ll feel really good and our brain will remember what made it feel so good so it can come back and do it again. It keeps a record of where we were, what made us feel good, what we did to get there, the time it happened, and so many other things. As a result, anything and everything we were doing up until we took the cocaine will be reinforced because it was rewarded. This makes it more likely that we’ll do those actions again and less likely that we won’t. This is how addiction can spiral out of control. Let’s say we lie or cheat or steal to get our consummatory reward, next time we’ll be more motivated to do those things again. Being rewarded for terrible behavior get our lives off track in a serious way.

Paying attention to when we are rewarded is crucial for maintaining natural and genuine motivation.

Additionally, our motivation systems will shut off. Our motivation systems were specifically designed for food and survival, so it makes sense that once we found the consummatory reward we don’t need to keep searching.

If we’re hungry and we haven’t eaten yet, it’s almost impossible to not think about food. But once we’ve eaten and we’re full, food is the last thing on our minds. We simply don’t need it at the moment so our brain isn’t going to spend energy trying to look for it. This is why consummatory behavior shut off the motivation systems.

Now that we undersand why rewards are so attractive, let’s take a look at two different types of rewards.

Intrinsic Reward vs. Extrinsic Reward

Extrinsic rewards refer to a tangible or visible reward given to someone for an accomplishment. These types of rewards can take the form of money, food, awards, bonus, etc.

Intrinsic rewards, on the other hand, refer to psychological or personal reward obtained from an accomplishing meaningful work. These types of rewards can take the form of personal growth, pride in your work, feelings of respect, trust, knowledge, satisfaction, etc.

Time & Place

Extrinsic rewards are a great tool to use, if we use them at the right times. They are great for getting momentum started. Sometimes people need a little incentive to get started and extrinsic rewards will get that done. They can even be used to enforce certain cultures or behaviors. However, it’s important to keep in mind that extrinsic motivators have a limited power and will not work in the long run.

Keep in mind that extrinsic rewards can trigger consummatory behavior, which consequently shuts off our motivation systems.

Intrinsic rewards are the tools we need to maintain sustained changes in behavior. They work well in the long term and motivate people more powerfully because they carry with them inherent meaning. The positive emotion received from intrinsic rewards is much stronger that extrinsic rewards.

I would say the best use of each of these rewards is to use extrinsic rewards to get the ball rolling in the short term, but use intrinsic rewards to keep the ball rolling in the long term.

There are a few ways we can facilitate intrinsic rewards:

  • Prioritize autonomy – telling ourselves what to do is the only way the motivation from within. Taking orders from someone else automatically makes a task extrinsic.
  • Focus on being self fulfilled and purpose driven – this is what will give us the positive emotion. No purpose, no goals. No goals, no happiness.
  • Paying attention and taking opportunities for advancement – We have to keep an eye out for the things that will take us where we want to go. We can use the same systems that we use to seek food and use them to see opportunities.
  • Prioritizing our own well being, leaning, and development – this makes everything else in service to our own personal development. Growing ourselves, working on ourselves, is a never ending job and it’s progress brings immense reward. Aiming to make ourselves better, by our own definition, is a game we can always play. There’s never a definitive end and we can always improve, which means we can always be intrinsically rewarded.
Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Opponent Processing

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (German Philosopher)

This is an idea I’ve had a hard time researching. Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any “official” research on this phenomenon, but I find it to be worth sharing. After all, just because something hasn’t been peer-reviewed and studied by a university doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but that also depends on who you ask.

I’m convinced opponent processing is real in a similar way that Jung was convinced that archetypes are real. There is no scientific evidence that says it is so, but there are many correlations. There is some science that points to opponent processing, but the correlation is not causation.

I say all this just to say verification isn’t always needed.

Sometimes things are what we see.

Take this post, as all my others, with a grain of salt. I am just a man bounded by my myopia, limited experience, and perceptions. But I do believe this is something worth paying attention to.

Essentially, opponent processing is the idea that things become more precise when working against an opposing force.

We can see this pattern in many different places; literature, television, drama, economics, business, medicine, sports, and so many other places.

I believe that this is true partly because we are dynamic creatures that exist in relation to everything around us. Being able to relate to something helps us regulate ourselves and keeps us sane. It’s no surprise that struggling up against what we relate to makes us stronger.

Signs & Correlations

I like the idea of opponent processing because it gives inherent low-level meaning to all forms of struggle and struggle is all around us.

Everything is a struggle and everything is struggling.

But why?

That’s a big question and I’ll never know the answer but I can speculate. Perhaps it’s because they’re better for it in the end; it makes them better.

Sometimes I think that’s my naive optimism, and other times I think not.

We can see signs of opponent processing through examining different parts of life and observing what becomes more precise as a result of the opposing forces.

Humanities

Drama. Literature. Myths. Religious stories. Built into all of them is opponent processing. A struggle, tension, is born and we have to see it through. We see the hero become a better version of themselves after triumphing over their antagonist. This is almost always because they learned some kind of lesson about how to be or act in the face of danger or temptation.


“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.”

Henry James (Theory of Fiction: Hendry James)

We see it in every story we hear. Stories grip us because there’s tension and we have to stick around until we get a release. That’s drama, a series of tension and release. And after those exchanges, the characters learn and grow.

I’ve been taking some screenwriting classes and I was so shocked to discover that characters are simply just their methods of dealing with the obstacles to their intentions. Characters are developed from how they deal with their obstacles.

Character is developed from how we deal with opposition.

We can see the same kind of drama played out in less dramatic ways too. In normal everyday life, people are working up against opposing forces. Sometimes we admire these people, and sometimes we don’t. I assert that the people we admire earn our admiration through becoming better as a result of opponent processing. In other words, we admire people who struggled up against something and came out the other side better and stronger.

Yerkes-Dodson Law

I talk about this idea in my post How to Conquer Test and Performance Anxiety. The Yerkes-Dodson law of arousal points to the idea of opponent processing but doesn’t explicitly prove it’s existence.

Yerkes–Dodson, in a nutshell, asserts that we need a certain amount of stress to work at our best. Too little and we aren’t aroused enough. Too much and we breakdown. But if we get just the right amount, then we’re off to the races.

This fits well with opponent processing, if more precise is considered favorable then a little bit of stress will make things better.

Economically

We can even see opponent processing play out economically. In a free market, competition between businesses keeps prices regulated and enhances quality. Each business forces the other to become better and more refined for the consumer and the community.

One could argue that the competition is doing harm to the businesses, but I would say that they’re just put in a position to grow in a way that they didn’t expect. The business, when dealing with competitors, has to create and innovate ways to deal with the opposing force.

Romantically

We can see this play out in romantic relationships too. In a romantic relationship, each person makes the other better through a struggle of wills. If the relationship is healthy, it resembles a wrestling match where one is constantly contending with the other.

But why would we want to be dealing with our partner like this?

The same reason for everything else, it makes us better people. Providing small amounts of adversarial energy in a relationship helps both people grow.

Let me put it like this, the average person has a fair amount of flaws. Their ways of looking at the world and their methods of decision making can only take them so far and will reach eventual limits. But let’s say this person pairs up with someone else who is also flawed, but they are flawed in different areas. Let’s say they’re even flawed in complementary areas! The man is impatient and the woman is too agreeable. The woman teaches the man to be patient and the man teaches the woman to be assertive.

A healthy romantic relationship is two imperfect people coming together to make each other a little more functional so when they have to raise a child, the child doesn’t have to deal with just the flaws of one parent. The parents act as a proxy for the child to interact with the world and when two people come together the child gets access to a more refined, more precise, version of that proxy.

This is all because of opponent processing. Our relationships need to be a struggle, but like all other forms of opponent processing, too much struggle will break. I think I heard somewhere that the optimal number of positive experiences to have in a relationship is 7/10, where the other 3/10 are negative experiences. That 30% of the time our partner is not going to let us get away with our nonsense and it is up to us to grow.

People love to think the perfect relationship is all rainbows and candy, but the best ones have a little bit of conflict.

Personal Experience

Personally, I find this to be true in my own life. I perform better, my nervous system feels more activated, when I’m working up against something. The most frequent observation I made that supports the idea of opponent processing, is when I’m exercising. I literally feel weaker before I start a workout, but once I introduce a little struggle, I immediately get stronger. It’s like part of me activates once the stress some on.

Additionally, I think opponent processing can go deeper than just physically moving with more precision. It can provide access to more precise ways of acting and thinking. The struggles in my life have made me better. Everything I encounter shapes and molds me in a small way that’s up to my discretion. My studies, work, relationships, responsibilities, duties, hobbies, and passions have all imposed a sort of force that I’ve had to struggle with. And in the struggle, I came out better.

My struggle as a Black man in America has shaped me in a similar way. It’s a significant reason why I was such a high performer in school and why I work so well as a tutor now. The added struggle of having to work harder to get the same reward made things more challenging, but that made me a stronger person. Today, I’m a better problem solver, thinker, and learner than I would be if I wasn’t Black.

We are Anti-Fragile

If I was in charge of the fortunes and misfortunes of my life, I would not have given me what I’ve been through. I would have thought it was too big of a burden and it would break me. The stress would be too much, the unfairness would weigh me down, and I would crumble underneath it all.

But I didn’t. And many other people overcome much more than they believe every day. What people are able to accomplish and endure never ceases to amaze me. Actually, I believe it’s part of the human condition to rise above seemingly impossible conditions.

Why didn’t I break? Why haven’t I broke? How are people overcoming the impossible every day?

American social psychologist and professor, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, talks a bit about this in his book, The Coddling of the American Mind. He points out that American’s are seeing record levels of hospitalizations due to poor mental health and that is, in part, due to the idea that we treat children like they’re made of glass and the world will break them.

He suggests that if we want to build stronger children, then we need to approach child-rearing from the position that they are anti-fragile.

Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote an entire book on anti-fragility and defines it as “Things That Gain from Disorder.” We can think of stress as a representation of disorder in our lives. In fact, we get stressed because we find ourselves in the presence of disorder, what is unknown. Haidt asserts that children are antifragile up to a point.

Things that are fragile get weaker when they’re exposed to stress.

Things that are anti-fragile get stronger when they’re exposed to stress.

This falls in line with what Yerkes and Dodson were saying too. When we’re stressed, we can lean into it.

When we want to improve, we just need an opponent.

Words of Warning

We get better through struggle, but the struggle has to match our abilities or we shut down. There was a study done that proved our brains have a limited capacity to deal with opponents and if we push them too far, then the nervous system will shut down and may experience damage.

I’ve said this a few times, but it’s worth emphasizing. Putting on too much stress will not make us better. We aren’t completely invincible. There is a difference between stress that helps us grow and stress that hurts us and it can be tough to tell the difference, especially at first. When I’m dealing with this, I try to ask myself:

“What can I actually do to make this better?”

“What is in my control?”

If I come up with an answer, I focus on that. If I can’t, then the stress is too much and I’ll try to get rid of it ASAP.

A Sweeter Victory

There is something to struggling that reaps a greater reward. Earning something is so much better than just getting it.

Someone told me once that working for something is so much better than buying it. I didn’t understand that for a long time, but I get it now, and as backward as that sounds, it’s true.

Our beds feel so much better when we go out and have a long day. Also, staying in bed all day actually feels pretty shitty. It’s much better to strain ourselves, then allow time for recovery.

When we do difficult things and overcome them, we see ourselves as stronger than we thought and that is a great feeling. Those are some of the feelings we live for.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”

Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)

There are many ways we can use this knowledge to make ourselves better. We can lean into the stress a little because it will make us stronger. We can use this knowledge to elevate our positions in society, make us more effective and a positive influence. Providing a healthy amount of oppositional force will grow every one.

It could be as a tutor! The tutor plays the role of the opponent during the tutoring session in order to create more precision with their student, but responsibly. That’s what I do with my students constantly. I like to just ask questions that force them to think a little deeper, especially when they come to overly simplistic conclusions.

We can also do it as a boyfriend, or husband, or friend, or business partner, whoever. We can make ourselves, our loved ones, and our associates better by allowing each other to make each other better, by playing the role of the adversary, the opponent.

Categories
Lifestyle Personal Finance

How to Manage Debt The Year Before Buying a Home

The whole value of the dime is knowing what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The most frequently asked questions I get from my students (especially the boys) are related to personal finance or financial literacy. As someone who’s pretty passionate about finances, I figured it would be fun if I started to share my knowledge and experience and created a place for students to come and learn financial literacy.

This wasn’t something I planned on doing for a while, but Katie approached me with an idea for collaboration so I figured this would be a good starting point.

The article is written by Katie, but I chime in with a few thought of my own after CM:


Written by Katie Conroy of advicemind.com

Right now, low-interest rates are extremely appealing to many hopeful home buyers. However, we aren’t all in a solid enough position to buy a house right now. Debt is extremely common, and many of us would prefer not to take on more before reducing what we already have. Plus, credit scores aren’t exactly known for treating people with a ton of debt kindly. 

Fortunately, there’s a lot that can be done to make debt more manageable. There’s no reason that debt has to stand in the way of homeownership. Here are some tips to inspire savvy debt management and strong financial decisions in the months leading up to buying a home: 

Get Informed 

When it comes to any financial endeavor, knowledge is our very best asset. Credit scores, though an imperfect representation of someone’s full financial health, are an excellent starting point when it comes to building this knowledge. There are plenty of sites online that give free access to credit scores. With this information, we can come to better understand our starting position, and make wise choices about how to proceed. 

Remember, bad credit does not necessarily mean buying a house is off the table. It can mean that we need to take steps to improve our scores or look into alternative lending options. For example, there are plenty of loan programs out there designed to help those with small down payments or poor credit scores be able to buy a home. Looking into these programs and figuring out the available options can help make the next steps clearer.

CM: If possible, I say plan on doing whatever you can to boosting your credit score. Buying a home is a big-ticket purchase, often the most expensive things most people buy in their life. I suggest shooting for the bottom of the highest tier (at least 800), this should qualify you for the best rates. If that is too far away, a 670 would get the job done in most places. Planning for massive purchases can save us thousands down the line.

Boost Monthly Payments 

One simple way we can put ourselves in a better position for home buying is to reduce that debt load. Paying more into the principal of a loan comes with a number of benefits. It can make monthly payments smaller, improve credit scores, and reduce the amount of interest that gets added back into the principal over time. 

Plus, taking this extra load on is great practice for homeownership. Although the monthly payment for a loan itself is often less than rent in the same area, that’s not the only thing that contributes to month-to-month costs for homeowners. Insurance, taxes, and utilities can mean that owning a home costs as much — or sometimes, more — than renting. When we pay more out on our debt, we practice living with higher payments and less extra spending to go around. This puts us in a far stronger position when it comes to managing finances down the road.

Make a Clear, Actionable Plan 

When it comes to any major undertaking, our best roadmap is a clear, detailed plan with actionable steps to guide our path. The first step is taking a clear look at our current financial situation, including all income sources, savings, and debts owed. Next, it’s figuring out exactly how much we can manage to put each month toward shifting those balances in our favor. Then, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions, such as, “Can I commit to this? Is it feasible? Is it what I really want?” 

Once these questions have been answered, we’ll have a solid direction in which we can move. Homeownership is one of life’s most exciting milestones, and debt shouldn’t have to stand in its way. Increase payments, boost savings, and do the work necessary to make this dream come true. 

CM: This is so true. Nothing works without a plan. Trust me, I’ve tried to make it work. My favorite financial plan is known to many as Conscious Spending, made popular by Ramit Sethi. This plan involves spending extravagantly on what I love and cutting spending intensely on everything I don’t care for. This prevents me from spending any money on unnecessary things. After practicing conscious spending for about a year, I saved more money and lived more of my “rich life” than I ever thought possible. This plan may not work for everyone, but it works great for me. Having a plan is crucial, we just need to find which plans work best for us.