This blog is all about living your dreams with as much actionable content as I can imagine to get you and me both to making it all happen. As I work on living, doing, working better, I come across a lot of advice and it’s great, especially when it agrees with what I already think. We all look for confirmation, right? I want to give you that confirmation, and some attending strategies to boost you to success.
“No one wants advice—only corroboration.”
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
Ah, success, so fraught with confusion and emotion. My key to success in life has been finding compartmentalized success, which comes down to trying out and refining strategies and habits that make my life better bit by bit. That’s it. The easiest way to feel successful in life is to start automating your little wins, like replicating those months in which you lived well, within your means, and saved for your future, or regularly patting yourself on the back for making good eating choices, or clearing clutter and freeing up physical and mental space once and for all. You’ll find success in those things you do well, done over and over, with a sense of fulfillment.
In order to give examples of fulfilling compartmentalized success, this article will seem advice-heavy, and the topics will seem disparate. But here’s the theme: limits, restrictions, and eliminations do NOT work as a strategy for sustainable success in any part of our human lives. Granted, a “What Not to Do” article is pretty easy to write. We all have made ridiculous mistakes, right? And it’s pretty entertaining to read–I like a little bit of schadenfreude as much as the next gal–but “what not to do” doesn’t tell you what to do when it’s your turn to show up. So let’s see what limiting ourselves looks like and formulate some alternative ideas for positive action in our lives. And hopefully, we’ll build success upon success, for a life well-lived.
Cue the smug comments about how budgeting has worked so well for a bunch of people. Yes, some people are good at budgeting, feel set free by budgeting, even. Most people, though, can’t stand even the word. I’ll be honest, the word makes my skin crawl. Like any average person, I’m not super finance savvy. I have student debt, the cage of my generation (no regrets, but with hindsight, I might have handled that differently), and I have my first ever car loan, which I hate. I don’t have any other debt and I’m working on reducing the constriction of this debt. So, I won’t give you my personal financial hacks, because I’m not a model. I will say, you must believe in yourself and invest in yourself, all financial decisions flowing from those principals. You are your number one asset.
On to the advice, and it starts with this quote: “Human beings don’t want to be controlled, we want to be in control.” This is why restrictive strategies don’t work in any part of our lives. David Bach said that in his book The Automatic Millionaire (affiliate link). Bach eschews budgeting and that sort of limitation in your finances in favor of recognizing the small, day-to-day wasteful spending, paying yourself first (not your taxes, not your bills), and automating your saving and investing habits so they aren’t a decision you have to make (and neglect) every month. Make. It. Easy. The Automatic Millionaire is a short read and it’s the kind of basic personal finance that every high school student should learn. If you haven’t read it, stop limiting yourself and go get it!
“Human beings don’t want to be controlled, we want to be in control.”
David Bach, The Automatic Millionaire
The hardest part of Bach’s advice is noticing and changing the day-to-day wasteful spending habits. He uses the example of getting lattes, gratuitously spending a few bucks here and there with regularity. If you can’t imagine where you’re spending this kind of money, keeping a spending journal for a week will help you see where you can be redirecting dollars from waste to the dream fund. I have had excellent luck by assessing any expenditure with two questions:
- Is this necessary to live? and
- Will this fit on the boat? I’m referencing my dream of living on a sailboat. This question could also be framed as “Do I have a place for this in my life?” or “Would I pay to move this?” or “Does this bring me closer to my dream life?”
I don’t advocate strictly limiting to purchases that answer “Yes” to both questions. Not everything is necessary, but awareness of optional spending accompanied by the decision to forgo more than once in awhile will naturally reduce spending. Add to that the minimalist/small-space-living edge of “will it fit” and you’ve got yourself an empowering filter for spending with awareness. If I’m being honest, I have had great success with paring down my consumerist tendencies in the past couple years, but I love to spend on food and dining out. Which brings us to our next topic.
Have you ever attempted to live by a restrictive diet or eating plan? You’re probably familiar with long lists of foods you can’t eat: Carbs, Dairy, Legumes, Refined Sugar, Processed Food. Those plans will generally yield weight loss results when you adhere strictly to the rules. If you manage to read and internalize a 300-page diet book, you can probably avoid the diet landmines for awhile. Until your friends want to grab a slice of pizza and a beer. Huge sad face. Maybe this time you have the will power to get a salad with only veggies and vinegar, and splurge on a glass of wine. No fun, right? There’s no triumph in a battle with your own will.
How long have you sustained a restrictive diet? Not long enough to make it your lifestyle, probably. And this explains the huge dieting industry, along with the shame, guilt, and sense of failure that are its handmaidens. Do you want to know how to eat healthy and stick to it? You focus on the YES foods. You create a master shopping list of everything you enjoy that you can eat. Healthy, delicious foods abound! The trick is enjoying what you can eat day to day and not triggering a cortisol stress storm every time you want a slice of pizza with friends. I don’t have a book for you, but you don’t need one. Barring extraordinary health struggles, here’s what you’re going to do:
- Google “healthiest foods” and start reading a handful of the listicles that come up: the 10 most, the 17 most, the 57 most, the 100 most good for you foods. Bloggers have done this work for you and they are giving you your grocery lists for free.
- Create a list of all your favorites that will go to the grocery store with you. Put it in a place that it’s sure to go with you. For many that will be in the phone, I carry a journal, others can fold up a list in their wallets, etc.
- Bonus practices:
- You pretty much can eat anything around the walls of the grocery store. If you avoid the aisles in the center, you’ll be in good shape.
- Even if it’s decadent and has sugar and all that, if you make it from scratch, you will still be fine. If it lacks convenience, it’s hard to overdo.
- And finally, if you know you have a habit of overdoing it at each meal, you can eat everything you can fit on a smaller plate. It helps for practice. If you’re still hungry 20 minutes after you finish, eat more.
I’m not a diet expert, but focusing on the good, healthy, and delicious foods has served me well. No limits, just getting excited about being good to my body and taste buds. I still eat out and have a little packaged junk from time to time because I’m human, and you can overdo healthy eating, too! You have to eat. Remove the restrictions and start filling your meals with the healthy foods you love.
OMG, the stuff is taking over. That is how I felt in the past few years and I was fed up. I’m writing this in the wake of Thanksgiving, with news of record-breaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending on all kinds of stuff. What do you do when you have too much stuff? You have to find a way to get rid of stuff. If you’ve ever tried to purge stuff and have had little success, it’s likely because you’re stuck in the limits and negative focus on what you don’t want and don’t need. It doesn’t work because at some point you wanted everything that came into your stuff collection. It’s difficult to see beyond that.
When I was 20, plus and minus, I was driving home to Washington from college in California every summer. I would pack up all my belongings, including a cat at and a rocking chair, into a small, old hatchback. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would have more, or better possessions and I covetously collected the things that would begin to furnish my successive homes. However, as I obtained better things, I had no qualms about dropping the shabby predecessors on the sidewalk with a free sign. Quite the dichotomy of possessiveness and disavowal. And we wonder why it’s so difficult to eliminate clutter and instead simply attempt to organize again and again. Our stuff and our emotions have a complicated relationship.
Marie Kondo, inventor of the Konmari Method and author of The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, discusses the complicated emotional relationship with our things. In so many ways we are our stuff, from physical extension to memory, we see ourselves in our things and so parting with things, even junk, becomes a judgment of and painful excision of a part of ourselves. Marie, in her genius, shifts the focus of the process from painful to gracious and joyful. She instructs that you touch, hold, focus on each thing in your home and evaluate if it currently brings you joy. Her book presents an ordered process for decluttering your whole home and detailed elaboration of the joy question, but the premise is simple. If something brings you joy, you keep it and give it the respect it deserves with proper care and placement in your home. If something no longer brings you joy, you remember how it has served you and dignify it’s role in your life with gratitude before bidding it farewell and sending it to it’s next home, whether that’s to be sold, donated, or trashed. Marie’s book is worth the read simply to mentally practice and internalize the method. You’ll quickly and easily become a positively purging machine, creating a life and home that brings you ease and joy. In my case, I still have the cat, but I’ve joyfully parted with the rocking chair.
Maybe none of my advice sounds right to you. That’s okay. But I encourage you to face up to the message that limiting, restricting, and eliminating are not workable strategies to shape your life into the dream you want it to be. These tactics are non-specific to the point of overwhelm. They’re negative and disheartening. And they leave you disempowered. Stop wondering what do you do and find specific, positive solutions. Awareness of habit-based decisions and a focus on all the good, enriching, joyful things in life have been my fool-proof strategies for improving my life in a sustainable way and feeling success grow and spread through my life. In what part of your life will you start making positive choices first?