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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.

Categories
Lifestyle

2020 Yearly Review: Time in Abundance

“Live as if you are living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.”

Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

Fred Rogers (Creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood)

A large part of this year is the COVID-19 pandemic which brought with it the phenomena of social distancing. This year the world changed forever. The future looks to be cashless. People no longer need to drive to work. Everyone is forced to find the joys in simplicity.

A lot of people claimed to have a terrible or wasted year, but I see it differently. We were given an abundance of time, which I would argue is the greatest gift of all. Staying home and not traveling under the threat of this virus has made everyone confront their own mortality and existence.

For me, I wanted to use the beautiful gift of time to have a year that I could look back on with pride.

I believe I did that.

I created more than ever before, I trained myself in so many ways, I made more money than ever before, and I learned so much about so many important subjects.

I underwent a physical, mental, financial, and creative revolution. Admittedly, this has been one of the best years of my life.

Last year, I started to assign themes to every month because I felt like my life was slipping through my fingers. It was a way to keep life from escaping me. Looking at the year in chunks of 4 weeks made every day feel a little more meaningful. The idea is that I pick two themes that I do not want to improve or focus on, or two areas where I feel weak and I try to improve them in any way I can. I keep this very low pressure (so I actually do it) and I record my thoughts on the process at the beginning and end of every month.

This is my first year of actually doing a full year of monthly themes. Last year I started this practice and I started roughly in the middle of the year. You can find 2019’s yearly review here.

Last year, I felt like I didn’t write enough. This year, I fear that I have written too much.

All journal entries are in italics and my comments from today follow CM:

January – Integrity & Steadfastness

Beginning of the month: I feel like last month I did a lot of work on my integrity, but last month I realize my integrity deficit was much higher than I anticipated. So this month I’m going to be focusing on my integrity again and trying to restore more of my integrity. As for steadfastness, I have a job interview coming up and I know I’m going to need to be firm in where I stand to not only get the job but to get the highest paying offer for it. I also feel like it would increase my self-respect. I read somewhere, probably some stoic philosophy, that a man’s ability to stand up for what he believes in is directly correlated to his belief that he belongs to be here on earth. I probably butchered it, but it’s something to that effect.

CM: “…a man’s ability to stand up for what he believes in is directly correlated to his belief that he belongs to be here on earth.” Who cares where I read it, ideas are of the Earth – still a beautiful lesson though. I feel like that was something I had a hard time with last year, but this year I’ve managed to internalize it.

Jan 17th: Integrity is a tough theme. I know the point of this tracking system is to improve myself even if it’s just one percent, but now I feel like I’m not making progress until the whole system improves dramatically. It’s the wrong perspective, but it lights a fire under my ass to get better faster. As far as steadfastness, I can see myself in specific moments when I know I should be more assertive or stand my ground, but I choose not to. It’s strange. I get really upset about it, but now that my eyes are open to the exact moment when I need to kick my steadfastness to high gear, I’m less upset. I guess it’s the idea that I have a choice, a say, in the matter that gives me slight relief. I give into the weaker side of myself more often when those moments come, but it’s nice to know when they’re here.

CM: Baby steps are everything. Upward trajectory is everything.

End of the Month:  Integrity was a big battle this month. Paying attention to my integrity is always difficult because I have such a strict definition of being “whole” within my integrity. Something as small as my room being dirty or my bag being in the wrong spot was enough to pull my attention away. However, the challenge is welcomed. I’ve developed a more refined version of the attention I pay to myself and the things I care about. I know this is valuable moving forward, but goddamn was it a bitch to revive in me again. Steadfastness is the real win for this month though. I feel a lot better sticking to my guns when times get tough and not feeling as bad for people when I can’t deliver on their arbitrarily developed wants and “needs.” This requires years of unlearning and I feel like this month I made real headway in this. My ability to be steadfast is going to be crucial for me in the next few months since I’m embarking on this creative journey. I can already feel the attacks on my identity (from myself) and my proclivity for withdrawal is creeping in ever so slowly but as long as I focus on my steadfastness, I should be okay.

CM: I am a lot less tough on myself now (in the unhealthy way that I was so desperately trying to purge at the beginning of the year). So far I’m glad I’m doing this review. It really helps me see the growth I’ve had over the year.

February – Articulation & Patience

Beginning of the month: Articulation is one of the themes I’ve found throughout every book I’ve ever read, every lecture I’ve ever listened to, and pretty much everything I’ve ever researched. Higher articulation leads to a better life with less suffering. So I’m going to focus on trying to articulate myself as specifically as I can. I can tell a lot of my fears and insecurities lies in my unarticulated speech and part of me knows I’m “letting myself get away” with these insufficiencies by not bringing them to light. I know I’m not going to stop it all this month, but like my steadfastness, I want to move in the right direction. The trajectory is more important than where I actually am now. Articulation. So important. Too important for me to not practice. As for patience, I know I do this one every couple of months. I used to feel like an asshole for constantly needing to pay attention to my patience, but I’ve learned to develop compassion for myself here. A huge part of the culture I’ve grown up in leans towards instant gratification and swiftness. The faster the better in this day and age, and I’m seeing that belief manifest in all things I do. I know that some things aren’t better when they’re faster, like learning and cooking, but I have to create a conscious effort in doing things that take a long time. If I want to be successful in creative endeavors, I need to maintain my vision, keep the faith, and have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is the empire I am building. I have to remember that if I focus on running the systems I’ve developed to create effectively and if my patience stays intact, in time I will be feasting my eyes upon a beautiful empire of my creation that provides value and positivity for those who enter.

CM: Lot’s of good lessons here. “Higher articulation leads to a better life with less suffering.” “The trajectory is more important than where I actually am now.“If I want to be successful in creative endeavors, I need to maintain my vision, keep the faith, and have patience.” I feel like I’ve really brought those with me throughout the year!

End of the month: I feel like both of these themes were challenges at first, but paying more attention to my articulation has allowed me to develop patience. If I found myself in a situation where I could clearly articulate exactly what I meant, how could I fault someone else for not understanding what I meant clearly? Being aware of this helped me take more responsibility in my interactions with people. However, it has made me listen to how people try to articulate themselves and I see, with growing certainty every day, that most people can barely explain what they mean. The ability to articulate is not something that people spend a lot of time doing. Not gonna lie, there were people I “helped” this month who are worse off because they cannot articulate themselves. From now on I want to treat articulation as a virtue and try to further sharpen my abilities. As for patience, this month worked as a practice in presenting myself in the terms of making myself present to the moment. My practice of patience has given me the ability to see the moment in relation to the entirety of my life. Learning patience has been more than a temporal journey. Being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice is something I found worth practicing. It helps me sacrifice more often and thus reap the rewards of that sacrifice. Like other months, I honestly felt like working on these two wasn’t worth the energy but now that the month has wrapped up, I can say wholeheartedly that it helped in more ways than I expected. I love delightful surprises.

CM: I feel like this month helped me understand the importance of keeping my linguistic skills sharp. I also feel like I’ve internalized “being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice.” I’ve done a lot of difficult things this year, by my own personal standards, and I feel like it comes from me being patient enough to endure the moment of sacrifice. Perhaps this just sticks out to me because my theme for this month as I am writing is Sacrifice.

March – Disagreeableness & Vision

Beginning of the month: Disagreeableness because I’m tired of using my agreeableness as an excuse to do things that make me weak. My agreeableness is less of a virtue and more like a crutch these days. So I’m going to actively try to be more disagreeable. The path to wisdom is through the point of the forest darkest to me, right? I’m terrified of being disagreeable, probably because I’m terrified of rejection. Hopefully, I get the crossed wires straightened out this month, or at least start to. As for vision, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, inspired this for me. He talked about how he hated what television was at the time and worked on The Sopranos, which was the total opposite of what was showing on TV those days. He didn’t go against the grain for shits and giggles, but because he had a greater vision for the show. I believe, after just watching it, and seeing many interviews with Chase, that the show had a larger commentary on life and how we choose to experience the privilege that is consciousness. The man has a vision bigger than anyone could understand, and he saw it through to the end. Down to every single word. I feel like both of these themes will work nicely together to bring out my own vision. I have a vision for myself and my life and I have seen time and time again that pushing my vision is the way to bring about the Kingdom of God. I don’t say this to mean that I know what is best for everyone around me, but I do know what is best for myself if I follow the signs that God has given me, so to speak. I’m terrified, but I’m ready for battle.

End of the month: Not gonna lie, there was more than 1 day that when by and I forgot about this entirely. I’m not going to blame COVID-19, but social distancing has put a kink in my plans for sure. Since I’m being honest with myself here, I can admit that I don’t think I got better in terms of developing my disagreeableness or capacity for vision. Some days I forgot and that means I’m dedicating my energy elsewhere. Plus, I didn’t write it on my whiteboard this month. Just goes to show that my whiteboard really influences my mind. I don’t feel like I’ve developed these skills properly even with the slight development I did practice this month. On the days that I did practice being disagreeable, I felt it affecting the relationships with my family and Kyra. I guess it makes sense, considering that agreeableness is a common trait I have with these people so they all have some level of agreeableness that they require for them to be satisfied in a relationship. That being said, I feel like I did not develop my disagreeableness correctly because it negatively affected my life. Not that I’m saying anything that causes negativity in my life is bad, but I wanted to develop my disagreeableness to work in my favor and not to my detriment. Getting my way at the cost of others is an effective way to get things done, but it’s not something I’m willing to practice, especially on my loved ones. As far as vision goes, I guess I did a little better. I’ve been getting better at working out consistently. I think that blog post I did on Churchill stuck with me more than I expected. The lesson I got from it was something like – “It does not matter if the battle was won or lost yesterday, the fact is we have to fight it again today.” There was another quote I found fascinating it was something like – “studying the way of the warrior and living a warrior’s life is very different.” I feel like focusing on vision, setting my aims to improve my vision (not physically, but my mind’s eye), has helped me grasp these quotes and lessons through the transcendent. These quotes are not only fantastic for me, but they give me a pretty clear idea of what tomorrow will look like too. Most likely, I will feel the same way and experience the same obstacles, but the difference will be how I choose to act in those moments. Over time, these choices will dictate my life and I will experience what I deserve. Perhaps. I’ve known this for a while, but I feel like this month I have really internalized that idea. I’m not vice free, however. I feel like I’m struggling up against my self-destructive tendencies pretty hard this month, but I feel like that is a function of the uncertainty that lies in my country.

CM: March was scary and difficult because of the pandemic, but I guess this was a great time to think this way. In retrospect, the pandemic hitting helped propel me into doing a lot of creative work this year. I was trying to figure out what could drive me and at the same time, I get hit with the greatest gift, time. Honestly, this was my most creative year yet and I think a lot of it is due to being in this headspace when the pandemic hit. I didn’t see the result immediately, but once I understood that the pandemic isn’t as bad as I was anticipating I started creating like Alexander Hamilton writing The Federalist Papers.

April – Tracking & Disagreeableness

Beginning of the month: Last month, I made some progress, but it was mostly disappointing. Some crazy things happened, like a global quarantine, which is still going on and it made me realize that I need to learn how to adjust to atypical conditions. At first, it felt like a vacation but then I realized that this is going to be at least a significant portion of this year and I better learn how to stay on the upswing or this could be terrible for me. So I’m deciding to go back to “What gets measured, gets managed” and I’m going to work on my tracking abilities. I feel like as long as I’m tracking and trying to improve, I’ll make more progress this month in terms of personal development, rather than feeling like I didn’t do much. I even wanted to scrap this entire monthly theme thing, but I didn’t want all my work to go to waste. Hopefully, I can take advantage of that little mental tick I have and trick myself into sticking with more worthwhile things just simply because I won’t cut my losses. I also want to bring back disagreeableness again. I didn’t do it right last month. I need more finesse. I feel like season 1 Peter Campbell from Mad Men, I’m trying to play a game that I don’t understand and as a result, I’m pissing off everyone around me. In the show, he gets better at playing the advertising game and I’m hoping I can get better at the disagreeable game as well. This already feels like a bitch, but like what Schopenhauer says – a man just moves back and forth between pain and boredom.

CM: This probably saved my life. This tracking month was so crucial in influencing how I operate today. Tracking is the reason anything is better than it was at the start of the year.

End of the month: So I fucking love tracking. I downloaded an app called Streaks where you can choose different things you want to keep track of and it records things like how many days in a row you have done something, what time of the day you complete a streak, what days of the week you complete them, and other things too. It’s been eye-opening to see all how I work. Even without realizing it, I have patterns. Like I always break productive streaks on Fridays! I’m not sure why. Mondays and Wednesdays are my most productive, I usually don’t miss writing or producing on those days. It’s also been nice to have something that keeps track of time during this pandemic. The weeks are starting to blend together. Tracking my habits this way has also allowed me to start journaling consistently. It’s nothing serious or deep, just a quick 5-minute journal that facilities gratitude, sets positive trajectories, reflections, and potential improvements. I’ve been able to actually improve my days as it goes on. I’ve even noticed my tracking habits spilling onto Kyra as well. It just goes to show that our actions have a much bigger impact than we think. Thank God I started this monthly theme thing. It’s been an anchor in chaotic times and a springboard for all my best practices. As far as disagreeableness is concerned, I feel like I have made tremendous improvement. I believe I’ve found a balance between being disagreeable and being a total cunt. I’ve been able to stick to my guns and stay firmly planted in my positions (within reason, of course) without compromising relationships or self-respect. I’m not sure how to exactly articulate how, but paying attention to my “magnitude of disagreeableness” has helped tremendously in developing disagreeableness within myself. This month could have been a disaster, but because of these themes, I feel like I have come out of this a much better person with an exciting future. I’m going to continue using the streaks app as long as I can.

CM: Streaks app changed my life. Every once in a while I change the habits depending on my priorities at the time, but it’s been a Godsent. I can’t even begin to explain how crucial tracking is. I’m still using the Streaks app and it’s a staple in my life now. I will probably never leave it.

May – Scheduling & Practice

Beginning of the month: Last month was amazing!! I made leaps and bounds in the worlds of wisdom and habits, but this month I would like to focus on scheduling and practice. I’ve been using my calendar a lot less since the pandemic started and I’ve noticed that I have a difficult time trying to fit everything I want to fit in one day. I’ve noticed that some tasks are put off for days and sometimes weeks. My rooms have gotten dirty, clutter has risen, and I keep saying I’ll clean later or I’ll write later or I’ll produce later, then the days end and I have no energy to do anything. I used to schedule everything I did and I knew that before the pandemic, I could get mountains of work done within 24 hours. Now, I’m lucky if I can get 5 things done. This month I’m going to attempt to return to my roots and schedule everything. Thankfully, I know a thing or two about it so this month isn’t really about getting better and scheduling but reviving the practice in my life again. Another perfect theme for this month is practice. Kyra is reading The Practicing Mind, and I’m finding that book to be eye-opening. Focusing on practice will create more results than my product focus mind has been. I know this to be true from my own experience as well as experiences from others, so I’m excited to see what comes out of May 2020.

CM: I don’t have that much to say specifically about this month, but I want to acknowledge myself for developing the level of self-awareness I’ve been painstakingly cultivating over the past few years.

End of the Month: This month was interesting. Being practice focused helped me get so much work done. It just goes to show that focusing on the process rather than the product is exactly the right way to spend our attention. Focusing on results makes it harder to generate results and I end up not wanting to write or make music at all. I’m glad I practiced practicing this month. It’s def something I’m going to bring with me on future adventures. I went from thinking my blog and YouTube channel are going to die to having slack in both of those art forms. The blog slack isn’t much, but I’m relieved of the pressure of my deadlines which is what really matters. It’s so strange, I’m terrible under pressure, but I acknowledge that I need it in my life. AS FOR SCHEDULING, this was a hot mess. I tried to schedule things for myself at the beginning of the month and it just wasn’t working out for me, which is extremely weird because I know that scheduling is key to high yield productivity and mental clarity. I think it might be because of the pandemic, now that I’m on my own time I don’t feel the pressure to do everything at a scheduled time as long as I get everything I want done in the day. I’ve been doing really well at getting what I need to get done, but that wasn’t the point of the theme. I was supposed to practice scheduling and instead ignored it. I did somethings, like pay attention to the days I drink alcohol, but that’s not as substantial as I know the changes could be when practicing these themes.This is going to be a theme I’m practicing again.

CM: It is true, deadlines can be fatal to me if I get too close to them, but I do need them in my life or nothing will get done. It is only time that will force me to say “good enough!” I really screwed up the scheduling theme, but I’m glad I decided to just try again instead of admonishing myself for failing like I normally do. Compassion for myself comes in low supply, but it’s oh so important.

June – Scheduling & Limit Expansion

Beginning of the month: Scheduling is something I need to get better with. I feel like I’m getting what I need to get done on my own time and that’s great, but I feel like I could get more done. Plus I had a few hiccups last month as far as forgetting tutoring sessions and other poor scheduling related issues. Limit Expansion is something I’m definitely not excited about, and that’s how I know it’s a good theme. By Limit Expansion I mean I want to expand my current limits of everything in my life and welcome every opportunity to do so. Right now, I feel like it’s better to stick with what I have going on, but the part of me that’s aiming the highest knows that I need to expand my horizons. Hopefully this doesn’t end in flames!

End of the month: So scheduling I did better with. I started using my calendar more than I was before and it actually helped with getting things done! I know I didn’t use it to its full potential. I know how to do that and I know the power a good schedule has and I didn’t maximize the power of my schedule this month simply because I didn’t listen to it. There were times when something would come up on the calendar and I’d just reschedule it or ignore it. What I really should have done was sack up and do what my calendar says if possible. Regardless, it was a great exercise and helped me remember how powerful scheduling could be. Limit expansion has been the death of me this month, but I knew it would be. I increased my kettlebell swings, got a bigger tv, got a new credit card, got a new wardrobe, made new kinds of videos, watched tv shows I wouldn’t normally watch like Eastbound & Down and Righteous Gemstones (Limit Expansion helped me discover Danny McBride and thank God I did!). I love that my limits are expanded. I feel like a more full person and it’s lovely, but it also was extremely difficult to consistently move out of my comfort zone. It took many days of expended more energy than I was willing to. I guess that’s what life is like right. You get out what you put it. You have to be willing to give to receive. We grow by expending more energy.

CM: I feel like ever since this month my limits were expanding every month all the time. I became addicted to branching out. It’s opened so many doors for me and I feel like so much of the richness of my life came from me voluntarily opening myself up to the unknown and different.

July – Focus & Exploration

Beginning of the month: I want to practice my focus. Not necessarily how long I can focus or how hard I can focus, but I want to be able to focus on one thing at a time. Like truly just one thing at a time. I find myself often thinking about other things or wanting to do everything at once and there have been more than 1 occasion where I’ve tried to do that and it ruins everything. I love to stack things so I can move more efficiently, but I want to try things differently this time. I want to try to just focus on one thing at a time. This doesn’t have to mean move slower, but it does mean that when I’m doing something I need to trust that I will be able to complete the other things I want to do. I also want to try exploration as my other monthly theme. Exploring opens possibilities to serendipity and discovery. I want to look for moments to explore and discover. I also feel like giving myself permission to explore in this way will help with the intense guilt I feel for doing aimless exploration. Some things I specifically want to explore this month are photography and videography, but I’m open to other things as well.

June 10th – I want to start tracking more accurately, but I don’t have another place to log this so I’m going to put it here – From what I can tell, from working on blog posts and such, my average attention span is about 15 minutes. How embarrassing, it used to be so high. But that just goes to show the damage that atrophy can really do. Since this month’s theme is focus, I want to try to get that up.

CM: Oh I remember the struggles of not having a place to track my things. I use Notion for organizing little things like this, but also for the big things too.

End of the month: I feel like exploration was a hit! I dove deeper into video editing and investing. I started reading more books on investing. I feel like because I was focused on exploring, I was actively looking for new perspectives and opportunities. I see the world as a bigger place. It’s almost like exploration opens up my world. It makes sense intellectually, but it’s a whole different thing to live it. As for focus, I felt like I’ve been a little better at maintaining focus. My attention span is nowhere near where it was when I was heavy in my MCAT studying, but I feel like my focus is much more refined than it was at the beginning of the month. I feel like I’m able to voluntarily just focus in for small bursts of time, which has been a way that I’ve been getting myself to do certain things like writing or working out. I also feel like I’ve been more attuned to myself and my body. I can focus on my body and feel where I’m tight or what I’m feeling in general. That seems like a super small thing, but for me being able to know what my body needs is a new thing. I really enjoyed just exploring and focusing. This was one of my more fun months for sure. Learning about investing and video editing is so damn fun.

CM: It’s funny, I still have an “issue” with focusing on one thing at a time. I’m still plagued by the feeling of wanting to do everything at once. I’m still doing everything in short bursts of focus. I also feel like this year was massive in terms of recovery from trauma and seeing that I was taking steps to know what my body is feeling months before I knew that it would help with my trauma response.

August – Consistency & Delaying Gratification

Beginning of the month: Naturally, I had a hard time picking the new themes for this month, so I picked the first two things that made my mind go “fuck no.” I think consistency will be great because Mukiibi Enterprise is going through a massive rebranding, like everything on my website, and my music production channel is changing so consistency will help me get this massive project done. If I can consistently just do a little bit of work every day and try to focus on my daily habits, it should work out nicely. I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten the best results when I’m just focusing on the day and doing my work consistently especially when I don’t feel like it. As for delaying gratification, I’ve noticed that my impatience may not be the only thing keeping me from having peace of mind. This month I’m going to practice not being gratified for my sacrifices. Hopefully committing to accepting little gratification for just this month can trick my brain into sacrificing more than I’m usually. I wasn’t excited for this month’s themes when I started writing this, but now that I know that I could get out of it I’m kind of stoked to try this out.

CM: I’m still working on some of the stuff I set out to do in August too. Better late than never and precisely why I spend the last month of this year trying to create new systems to manage my life’s complexity. I feel like what I was trying to do in August I managed to do in December, but not all the way.

End of the month: Oh boy. This month, consistency worked for things that I didn’t expect it to work for and it didn’t work for what I expected it to work for. Originally, I wanted consistency to be applied to my website, but I ended up applying it to my book. This month I’ve spent more energy on my book. I’ve pretty much stopped doing WIUW (temporarily) and I haven’t been uploading beats as frequently, but I’m making massive progress in my book and it’s starting to come together. I’m hoping to apply a little bit more pressure to get the first draft of it finished soon. Then I can turn it into courses and YT videos. I’m planning on doing a few more WIUWs on Final Cut Pro so I’m actually capable of editing my online course videos. I want those to be really nice, especially since I’ll be charging of them. BUT, I feel like I need to flesh out why I haven’t been working on the website. I originally wanted my website to be a funnel so I can have income coming in, but since the school year started up I’ve been getting a lot of tutoring business so I don’t really need to worry about making the website bomb. What I need to do is finished the book and start developing the part of my online empire that will actually net me money. I’m starting to see that the music side of my online presence isn’t going to be making me money anytime soon so I need to divert my attention away from it momentarily. I think using my YT channel as practice for my educational stuff is the right move. My educational content will be more searchable and that will be the way. As far as delaying gratification, I wanted to be able to sacrifice as much as I possibly could so I can have epic gains at the end of this month. Similar to consistency, it worked for the things I didn’t plan on it working for and not the things I planned. I don’t play as many video games, but that may be bc there aren’t any good games to play rn. I did start jump roping and that was insane. I really had to channel the delaying gratification part of myself to get this habit going, but I’m starting to like it now.

CM: I was wrong in switching my perspective to follow what would make me money. Now I know to work on projects so the projects actually get better, not so they can fit a financial timeline. My projects are prioritized to be better, not to make me money. I was letting imaptience get the better of me and mixing up competence with income. It’s also neat to see that I started to jump rope this month and even started to like it because it’s evolved into a full-blown passion for running.

September – Intuition & Prioritization 

Beginning of the month: I need to work on trusting my gut. I feel like I know what’s best for me but I don’t listen to myself often. This is most obvious with my trading behavior in the stock market. I know when I have to sell, but I don’t and I regret it the next day. This happens with many other things too. Particularly in my professional relationships. This month I’m going with my gut. As far as prioritization, I feel like I need to be able to just focus on one thing at a time. I have a lot going for me right now. I’m caught up in a web of my own making and now is the time to focus. I’ve spent a lot of time getting most of my ideas from 0 to 1 and now I need to work on getting each idea from 2 to n, n being a place where I can get some passive income (maybe even some f u money). I think the way to do this is to focus on one idea at a time. I’m not going to stop producing content for all of my outlets, but I’m going to try to not feel guilty for not producing as much. Right now, I want to focus on finish the book and bringing that whole idea up to speed. This is going to be insane that’s for damn sure.

CM: Spoiler alert: the years almost over, and the book still isn’t finished. It’s okay though because I am making it better. I feel like I’ve been in the same loop since August. I’m happy that I’ve done this review because I’ve been able to see my patterns and discover explanations for emotions I’ve been feeling over the months.

End of the month: I feel like I trust my gut a lot more than I have in the previous month. It’s kind of nice because I’ve been working on trying to believe myself for a while now and I’m just starting to do it. I think it’s because I’ve been looking into more Ancient Greek history and I internalized, for the first time ever, that Socrates really believes that he knew nothing and that gives me great solace. I think the themes allow my orienting reflex to look for reasons to believe in myself despite my proclivity to think I’m an idiot. The themes provide the breeding ground for the knowledge to actually make a difference. As far as prioritization goes, I feel like I’ve done well at that. I’m scaling back on my music output (even though I made $150 this month from music) so I can focus on my writing. I made the announcement public on my YT channel, and the support I got was so unexpectedly positive. I kept feeling like if I lowered the magnitude of my uploading then I would surely lose all the work I’ve put in over the past year. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel like I have a better connection with my subs and I’ve been growing at roughly the same rate. It’s a little lower, but that performance hit was to be expected. Purposely cutting back on something that was rewarding me and could potentially net a huge amount of money makes me feel like my writing has even higher stakes. In a way, the sacrifice feels more now but that’s good because it’s lit a fire under my ass. I haven’t been writing more, in terms of time, but I believe my writing has been of a much higher quality and I’m spending more of my energy refining the things that will eventually blossom into something much bigger. Prioritization has helped me feel less overwhelmed and more present with my students too. I definitely want to take these themes with me as I move forward. These themes are never as insane of a journey as I think they’re going to be every month.

October – Intensity & Individuality

Beginning of the month: I feel like I need to ramp up my intensity. I’m already really intense as is, but I think I need to try to responsibly use it. Like the shadow – intensity is something that needs to be integrated, not shown off. I want to apply intensity to the prioritization that I’ve practiced last month. I’m hoping to make some real forward motion this month. As far as individuality, I feel like I’m good at marching to the beat of my own drum but I feel like I need to train it like being disagreeable. Not in the sense that I don’t have it and I need to develop it, but that I need to be able to use it with more finesse. I have no other way of describing what I mean at the moment – basically, I want my individuality to be something that I can call upon if needed, but not in a way that could potentially damage my reputation. Dealing with the people around me is tough right now and I honestly think everyone else could do a lot more in making this easier, but I can’t change them so I have to be able to trust and use my individuality properly. This month is going to be more of me trying to more accurately hone what I already have going for me. Like a teenage boy with his testosterone and animus energy, I need to learn how to control and use my intensity and individuality effectively and appropriately in ways that benefit myself and my future.

CM: I like the idea of integrating intensity in a way that allows me to use it when I need to. I feel like I’ve gotten better at that in the past few months.

End of the month: Intensity has been the name of the game for the last month. I feel like I’ve been pushing myself in so many different directions, but it’s been good. I took up running and have been pushing myself every time and I’m getting in shape faster than I expected. I’ve also been more sure of the choices I make. I can feel myself being more formidable which feels like what I was going for when it comes to intensity and individuality. The perfect union of these traits will give me formidableness in the face of the great unknown. I also feel more connected to myself – the choices I make are not bad but good and I feel myself questioning myself less too which I think is a function of my individuality developing further. I’ve been allowing myself to enjoy what makes me happy in the name of cultivating my individuality which makes me feel more connected to life. After all, the things I find interesting and enjoy are a function of my individuality. However, I do feel like I’ve been pushing really hard and I had a few breakdowns this month. I physically feel tired and I feel like I haven’t made as much progress as I planned, but I did make progress and most of it was in dimensions that I wasn’t planning, so that’s pretty cool.

CM: Formindableness = Intensity + Individuality. Worth noting and keeping for later because I feel like it worked. I struggled for a long time with believing my own choices and standing by what I believed, but I feel like intentionally developing those two traits gave me a great foundation to build upon.

November – Vulnerability & Exploration

Beginning of the month: As usual, I don’t want to do these themes, but I know that to get the holy grail I have to enter the forest that’s darkest to me. I’ve been reading a lot of books on trauma and I think it would be in my best interest to find ways to be comfortable with my vulnerability. I had a lot of vulnerable moments with Kyra last month and maybe if I leaned into them I could find peace in a new way. It’s going to be super hard, especially since my natural reaction is to not be vulnerable. I also want to explore more. I want to explore myself and the world around me. I feel like I’ve been so focused for so long and I haven’t had a chance to really see what else gets me going. I’ve been exploring a fair bit in the world of skills, but I want to take my exploration to new places internally and externally.

CM: It’s funny, I don’t review these entries until I write this blog post and I love how I felt like I haven’t given myself chance to explore, but I did just a few month prior. I supposed exploration is a constant I need to include in my life.

End of the month: This month I have allowed myself to be more vulnerable and I have given myself permission to explore. I’ve been engaging in small talk and asking people questions more as well as using their names. I’ve noticed that people have been more open to sharing information with me. It’s not anything big, just really subtle stuff. I’m sure they don’t even notice it and I’m only noticing because I do these monthly themes. I’ve also been able to explore my own feelings deeper. I’m more aware of my own feelings, which gives me an edge in understanding myself and my decision making. I’m able to create a distance between my emotions and my actions and use that space to make more intentional decisions be it about business, personal, or otherwise. Exploration has been fun too. I’ve let myself change up my YouTube habits and I’m watching stuff that more fun and less serious. I’ve been allowing my love for Hamilton run wild and that’s led me to explore what it’s like to be a play write and composer. I think it would be cool to make a Nietzsche play that’s as engaging as Hamilton. I’ve also let myself spend hella money on software so I can further my creative exploration. Final Cut Pro and the Philharmonik plugin are so cool and I can tell I will use them for years to come. I’ve also let myself play insane amounts of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I don’t normally play Assassin’s Creed games, but it’s been so fun! It’s a series I don’t play about a part of history I don’t know anything about. I wasn’t even really into history until this month. Hamilton and Valhalla have really opened my eyes to other worlds. Now I want to deepen my understanding of history and it’s so cool. I’ve also let myself go a little crazy with my workout clothes. It really is more fun to work out when you have nice clothes to do it in. Letting myself go a little wild for a month was good. Although I did spend a lot of money, I have to say I’ve been having a fun time.

CM: I feel like this was just yesterday and I’ve actually been worried that I may have been wrong in allowing myself to go crazy with the spending and the video games. Looking back on what I wrote, I can see that it’s worthwhile.

December – Organization & Sacrifice

Beginning of the Month: This month I want to get everything more organized. Starting with my website and online presence. I’ve been working so hard to get my ideas externalized, but whenever I encounter people, it’s impossible for me to share the ideas with them. It always comes down to me having to explain it – I guess that’s why I started writing in the first place. But now I want to turn it into something easy for people to digest and I believe that starts with me getting organized. I’m hoping that organizing my website, my production over the next year, and everything else is the missing puzzle piece I need to turn all of my hard work into something tangible. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I feel like I haven’t really wanted to sacrifice for it so by making this month’s 2nd theme sacrifice I’m hoping I could nudge myself in the right direction. Also, sacrifice is always necessary for making the future better and I want my future to be better, so this month might have to come with a few sacrifices.

End of the Month: This month has been a wild ride and I’m so glad that I spent this time setting myself up. I’ve created new systems for everything and started using Notion. It’s been life-changing. I’ve created different dashboards for all the different parts of my life and it’s been helping me think of my tasks and my life in a whole new way. I feel like all the stuff that’s been floating around in my head now has a home and all the little files and notes everywhere can have a place to nest and grow. I lost sight of the bigger vision while drowning in the complexity of my life but now I see the potential in all the things I’ve been building and so much more. I feel like I haven’t been able to organize everything how I want, but that’s because I’m discovering how much complexity there really is to unpack. I’m definitely going to bring organization into my next month, but the sacrifice theme is going to have to go. In order to actually get myself to sit down and dive into the complexity of my life, I had to be okay with not releasing any content for a month (since that was where most of my extra energy was going). I was pretty sad looking at all my past work and knowing that I won’t have any work like this to reflect the times, but I will sacrifice the content of the now so I can produce more and higher quality stuff in the future. I’m hoping I’ve been making the right calls. This year was tough for a lot of people, but I’m happy with how I live my life and I feel like as long as I have structures in place for myself I will always be growing and getting better.