Summary: Depression is literally no laughing matter. Use these tricks to beat depression once and for all. (Tweet This!)

Today, January 25th, is often called Blue Monday, a day that some consider the most depressing day of the year. It's not a real holiday. I wouldn't even call it pseudoscience.

While that science behind determining whether it is really the most depressing day is in question, the factors that go into the calculation all makes sense. The weather is historically bad, the days are short, new year resolutions start to fail, debt from the holidays comes due, and most importantly fans of 30 football teams have seen their season in depressing fashion. (Yesterday, the Patriots

Technically Blue Monday was last Monday, January 18th, but I reject it. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. day which gives us a reason to celebrate one man's great fight for racial equality. I find that inspirational, not depressing. There were a group of government workers who had 3-day weekends... not exactly a recipe for depression either.

Whether Blue Monday is legit science or a marketing gimmick to get people to buy vacations isn't important... depression is real.

Today's article is the most serious I've ever posted on Be Better Now. It might be the most serious, I've written in my life. As always, remember that I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist and this is certainly not a substitute for their years of expertise. Depression is best treated with professional help.

While depression is literally no laughing matter, as a Red Sox fan, I have to share this 15-second clip from Saturday Night Live:

Even a fake David Ortiz makes me laugh.

All jokes aside, this sadly is how most people react to depression. They simple tell people to just snap out of it. It reminds of these two comics I saw on Twitter.

If you know someone who is depressed it is important to exercise a little understanding and sympathy. If it was so easy to snap out of depression, it wouldn't be an issue. We'd cure it just like shutting an open window if it is too drafty in your house.

Beat Depression

Beat Depression!

  • Exercise - This WebMD article runs down some of the benefits. Improved self-esteem, reduced stress, improved sleep... hey sign me up, right? Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which make you feel good. Since any exercise will do, why not kill two birds with one stone by doing some house or yard work? You'll get the feeling of accomplishment as well. This Forbes article suggests that group workouts can help too. Maybe you'll make a friend after a post-exercise Jamba Juice.
  • Shed Some Light on the Subject - With Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in full effect during the winter season, sunlight has been shown to help others. Since going outside on a 25 degree day is a depressing thought in itself, a good second option is a light therapy lamp. Look for lamps that state their are 10,000 lux, a measure of light. Here's one with awesome reviews on Amazon.
  • Talk Therapy - That's a fancy term for getting a shrink. It can be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist. You can get talk therapy from more than just psychiatrists and psychologists... social workers and counselors would qualify too.
  • Antidepressant Medications - This one should be pretty obvious and may be a natural follow-up to the talk therapy step above.
  • Limit the Alcohol - You've probably heard that alcohol is a depressant. You don't beat depression by adding a depressant to your life.
  • Consider a Multi Vitamin - It looks like a there may a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. That makes sense considering Seasonal Affective Disorder comes at a time when people naturally stay inside more, thus getting less vitamin D from the sun. For around $12 a year these Kirkland Multi Vitamins & Minerals Tablets give you plenty of vitamin D and a bunch of other vitamins too.
  • Other Supplements - I'm always a little skeptical about supplements because it seems like more an more information is coming to light showing that they don't help. However, for completeness, this LA Times article covers a variety of other supplements that are thought to help with depression. The only one that seemed promising to me is the Omega 3s. Like the multi-vitamins above, Kirkland fish oil pills will set you back about $12 a year, which isn't bad. Might be a good place put some of that money you've been saving on this site.

I mention the two suggestions of multivitamins and supplements with the usual caveat of understanding health studies. Don't let snake oil salesmen convince you that some vitamins are crap and not digested and that their brand is a depression cure. Don't fall for the "it gives your body what it needs to heal." I only mention them because at their minimal cost, there is little downside even though there is a little credible evidence they help.

So what's the best way to cure depression? I think building a house with Habitat for Humanity would be ideal. You get outside with some group exercise, while accomplishing something and giving back to the community. However, if you live in a cold weather climate, they probably aren't building houses in snow.

You know what usually works for me. This may sound crazy, but The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun:

Maybe you have a happy song or movie that will help boost your mood?

I realize that some of these suggestions may be temporary mood boosters and they may not cure the underlying cause of the depression. Before you be too mean to me in the comments, please go back and read the introduction about this article not being intended to replace professional help.

This post involves:

Mind

... and focuses on:


The first three weeks of January are behind us and I’m writing an article on New Year’s Resolutions. Have I gone crazy? (No, I’ve always been crazy.)

Seriously though, this is the best time to make a New Year’s Resolution. Don’t take it from me, let Bill Murray tell you:

”I find that resolutions are best made a couple of weeks later. I think that there’s a lot of stress, panic, and tension around New Year’s, like you feel you have to make a resolution now. I would say resolving to make a resolution is the most important thing.”

Like they say to quarterbacks, the first step to success is prevent the pass rush from forcing you into a mistake. Making a resolution for the sake of having a resolution is a recipe for failure. It’s like waking up one day and saying, “I’d like to make 2 million dollars today.” We’d all like that, but it just isn’t going to happen.

Aside from Bill Murray's thoughts, this is around the time that people give up on their resolutions. This is really when most people need that extra drive to focus on their resolutions.

However, before we get to that, the very idea of a “resolution” can be looked at as a bad start. New Year’s Resolutions have a notoriously low success rate (around 8%). With that poor success rate comes low expectations. You might as well say, “I hope to lose weight.”

Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

I think the problem is that most resolutions focus on the destination without necessarily putting together a plan. It’s great to know where you want to go, but it’s useless you know how you are going to get there.

So how can we get there?

I’d like to say that I’ve got the perfect proven formula to give you, but I don’t. This isn’t like my Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom where I can almost 100% guarantee you success if you follow the very simple steps.

However, since perfect is the enemy of good we won’t let perfect get in our way.

Here are the seven steps, I’m going to try to succeed in my New Year’s Resolution this year:

  1. Think of your resolution as a goal

    A resolution and a goal is really the same thing, right?

    Now take your goal and make it SMART with these goal-setting tips. We aren’t going to be looking to “be rich” this year. That isn’t specific. We aren’t going to look to make “2 million dollars tomorrow”, because that’s not attainable. We could look to make an extra $15,000 this year as that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant (you’d like an extra $15,000, right?), and Time-bound.

    Now that I have a good goal, I can move forward.

  2. Break Your Goal Down

    That $15,000 comes out to be $1250 a month… or roughly $40 a day. I like to think of the $40/day as it doesn’t seem like much. However, for the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to set-up monthly checkpoints, “Did I make an extra $1250 this past month?” If the answer is no, I’ve got to work harder, smarter, or differently.

  3. Create Some Kind of Plan

    How might one make an extra $1250? Last September, I started dog sitting. When I have a dog staying overnight, I can make $30. That seems to almost get me there, but there are a lot of days that I have no business. I estimate that I’ll make between $4000-5000 in dog sitting this year.

    What am I going to use to cover the shortage? I’m hoping to write a relatively short ebook that I can sell for $9.99. I’m not sure if I can sell a thousand of them, but I’ll never know until try.

  4. Baby Steps: Start Small and Keep Improving

    When I started sitting dogs, I was far from an expert. I was good with my own dog, but I didn’t have a lot of experience with other breeds. I forgot what it was like to have puppy in the house. My own dog knows where to go to the bathroom… and the visiting dog does not.

    The fastest way for me to learn was by doing. It was slow at first. I had no reviews and I could understand why people might not want to book with me. However, dogs (and reviews) started trickling in. By New Year’s, I had to turn away business. In December, I made $718, which is a significant portion of my $1250 goal.

  5. Have Purpose: It Has to be Meaningful

    If your resolution doesn't mean anything to you, it's going to be hard to keep. It's great to have a goal to make $15,000 more a year, but what are you doing it for?

    For example, I want to be able to put more in my kids college savings so that they can go to any school they want to. It means a lot to me.

    If it was money for the sake of having more digits in a checking account, it would be a different story. I wouldn't be as willing to work hard to get it done.

  6. Use Cues and Rules

    There's a great book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. I highly recommend reading it. One of the many ideas that I found useful in the book is called having cues.

    He describes how cues, routines, and rewards work here. The idea is to figure out what (the cue) is leading to a negative routine, and what the reward is. Boredom may lead one to eat a pint of ice cream with the reward being the great taste. If you can eliminate the cue (boredom), you can break that cycle.

    Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less suggests that you create rules instead of goals or resolutions. This is like creating positive cue.

    I've used this to implement a flossing routine in the morning. I wake up and the first thing I do is floss before brushing my teeth. (here's why that order is important.) It might seem silly to floss before I eat, but my eating routine is tied to planning my day routine and dental hygiene gets forgotten. This way, I at least get some flossing in and that's an improvement.

    This change is a baby step that I can grow on. Once flossing becomes a habit, I can work on changing the time to after meals.

  7. "Don't Break the Chain"

    I was reminded of this idea by Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks. He relates a story of how Jerry Seinfeld stuck with his habit of writing everyday:

    To help develop this habit of writing, [Seinfeld] would write an X in a calendar if he wrote that day. Over time, he’d develop this chain of X’s in his calendar and he’d be motivated to write just so he wouldn’t 'break the chain.' The phrase 'don’t break the chain' refers to this idea. It’s worked out pretty well for Seinfeld.

    This builds on the idea of cues/rules above by adding visualization into the picture. As you start to see the success of the Xs building their way across the calendar it becomes motivating to simply create more Xs. A simple rule could be, "Each day I need to get an 'X' on the calendar. What do I need to do to earn my 'X'."

    For Jerry, it was writing. For you, it may be eating two healthy snacks. For my goal of making $15,000 more a year, it would be doing something that brings in an extra $40 a day.

Further reading:

This post involves:

Be Better Now

... and focuses on:

Summary: When things get difficult, make it easier by just focusing on what matters: Do Your Job! (Tweet This!)

Those three words is the slogan of the New England Patriots. In their run to becoming World Champions this year, those words became got an awful lot of wear. There's a whole clothing line with the phrase.

If you are familiar with the phrase as it applies to the New England Patriots, you probably thought it was something new for this year. Nope. It's been plastered for seasons as the last thing that players see when they head onto the field. Back in 2003, Bill Belichick even worked it into an article in the NY Times.*

do your job

Even the ducks in Boston know to do their job.

Those are 9 powerful letters. Whenever things get difficult, I think back them and things get a lot easier. All I have to do is what I've always done, what I know how to do. There's no rocket science behind to it.

Recently, I invested in a "Do Your Job!" shirt myself. I call it an investment, because when I'm wearing the shirt, I'm unstoppable. You simply do not want to mess with me with frivolous crap. I'm a locomotive and nothing is going to derail me.

About the Last Few Weeks Here...

You have probably noticed a few tumbleweeds around this blog. A case could be made that I haven't been doing my job. If this blog were my job, it would be a strong case.

I have a number of other jobs. I have another business that is exploding, unprecedented growth in last 10 years. I'm the family CFO and one of our big projects was to get solar power installed. In addition, a huge stomach bug went through the family leaving me as a nurse or patient for the better part of a week.

All of these things are my job. I think most everyone would put family and money-earning high up on their priority list.

Things are starting to calm down. The solar power is installed and running. The stomach bug has left the family. My other business is still growing, but I've become accustomed to the new workflow.

There will always be more interruptions coming around the corner, but hopefully things will return to the pace at the beginning of the year when this website launched.

* As a Patriots fan, this phrase in that article still hurts: "Maybe next season you'll finish tied for first place in the division, but you'll go home anyway because you lost the third tie-breaker."

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation

... and focuses on:

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Summary: The smallest details in your life can snowball. Fix the broken windows before they get out of control. (Tweet This!)

I have broken windows everywhere. They are on my kitchen counters, in my car, even in my bed.

They aren't real broken windows, but these metaphorical broken windows:

"The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening."

Imagine all the stuff about crime in that above paragraph doesn't exist. What you'd have left is small amounts of disorder leads to bigger and bigger disorder.

Broken Windows

On my kitchen counter one glass left out of the dishwasher invites more glasses to be left out. One paper receipt left in the car invites more. Before long, there is serious disorder and mess.

I rarely make my bed. For the first 35 years of my life, I simply didn't the point. Now I'm starting to see it as a broken window that leads to mess in the rest of my bedroom.

I wondered if anyone else felt the same way. I searched the web to find out why people make their bed. One of the top answers I saw came from Gretchen Rubin relating this courtesy of a Navy Seal:

"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better."

What really knocked my socks off is the afterwards when she states that "an unmade bed is a broken window." And then my socks were thrown around the room when I read she had an article about broken windows, which makes the same point I wanted to make with this article. It is a great feeling when someone you recognize as an expert validates your opinion.

The smallest seemingly insignificant details in your life can snowball. Don't let them. Fix the broken windows before they get out of control.

Further Reading/Viewing:

I first read about the Broken Windows theory in Malcolm Gladwell's critically acclaimed, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

And just for a little fun, here's one of my favorite commercials from childhood which happens to be about broken windows:

Don't read too much into the religious nature of the commercial. It would be many more years before I knew who Latter Day Saints or the Mormons were. I simply thought it was a very cool message about doing the right thing, even when it isn't the easy thing.

This post involves:

Be Better Now

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Here's what's going on at Be Better Now including the next charity update and Posts of the Month

Each month, I give readers a sneak peak of some of the details that goes on behind the scenes at Be Better Now.

My life at the end of March is typically chaos... and this last month was no different.

There was an annual pharmacy convention (my wife's a large part of it) which is a week of travel. In the past, I would go with my wife and there would be little done (when am I going to get another chance to see the San Diego Zoo). In the future, I'll probably stay home with the kids (though an argument could be made they'd want to go to the zoo too). Either way, there's not going to be much work done.

In addition, I have a birthday at the end of March. Birthdays should be wonderful things, but they aren't when you are already a week behind. Finally, there's the looming April 15th tax deadline. As much work as I do in February, and it's dozens of hours, there's always more in March to do.

Enough kvetching (and enough Yiddish). Now you know why there haven't been many articles in March.

What's New at Be Better Now?

Usually, I have a few site enhancements to share. This month, I have nothing.

Why even mention it? I want to guilt myself into getting some enhancements for next month.

Overall, I'm happy with the look and feel of the website. I'd rather focus on increasing traffic. Which brings us to:

Be Better Now Traffic

I wrote a guest post over at Personal Income. It was a quick guide on how to become a millionaire.

Last month, Be Better Now had 346 visits for 568 page views according to Sitemeter. That's a drop off from February. However, the guest post on Personal Income came on March 31st, and brought 85 people on April 1st. People kept coming after that. So despite not publishing a post in April, traffic is already almost half-way to the February high.

Charity Update

Each month, Be Better Now gives money to charity. Last month, I gave money to the APhA foundation.

The amount that I donate is based on traffic to this website on a formula. That formula would have resulted in a 70 cent donation due to the small traffic. Instead of donating 70 cents, I donate $25 and they go back on the list for when traffic is more meaningful.

Next Month's Charity is...

Jimmy Fund

Baseball season is here. As a fan of Boston sports, my attention is on the Red Sox. If there is one charity people associate with the Red Sox, it is The Jimmy Fund. The Jimmy Fund is well-known in the Boston area, but for those of you who might not know of it here's a description from their "About Us" page:

"The Jimmy Fund solely supports Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising funds for adult and pediatric cancer care and research to improve the chances of survival for cancer patients around the world."

It seems the focus is on the pediatric cancer and if there's one thing I can get behind, it's helping kids with cancer.

In Case You Missed It...

Of course all the articles on Be Better Now are awesome. Some are just a little more awesome than others. For that reason I thought I'd use this space to highlight a few of the articles that you might have missed last month. And since I didn't I publish that many articles, it's going to be a short list:

As always, I am flying by the seat of my pants with this. Your feedback in the comments below is always tremendously appreciated.

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Monthly Goals, Monthly Review

... and focuses on:

Summary: Doing something as simple as keeping a food journal may not only help your diet succeed, but it change your life. (Tweet this!)
food journal

Amazing things can start with a food journal

On walks with my dog I'm currently listening to the audiobook, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. After all that snow, it's great to get some fresh Spring air, a little exercise, while learning some truly amazing stuff.

I hope to review the book, err tape, err audio file... at some point in the near future. Today, I'd like to write about one very brief study mentioned in the book. I'm not even going to look up the study source, because it makes common sense if you think about it.

The book mentioned that the study asked some people who diet to simply keep track of what they ate once a week in a food journal. They weren't asked to change their eating or exercise habits in any way. Just keeping a journal changed how they ate:

“It was hard at first [writing down everything one day per week]. The subjects forgot to carry their food journals, or would snack and not note it…Eventually, it became a habit. Then something unexpected happened. The participant started looking at their entries and finding patterns they didn’t know existed. Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10 a.m., so they began keeping an apple or banana on their desks for mid-morning munchies. Others started using their journals to plan future menus, and when dinner rolled around, they ate the healthy meal they had written down, rather than junk food from the fridge.”

What they found is that the people who kept a food journal lost weight. Those who recorded their food more lost more weight.

I've noticed a similar thing in personal finance. Those who track their net-worth tend to have higher net-worths.

The act of tracking forces you to be mindful about the activity. If you are on a diet, you aren't going to want to write down that you ate triple burger with super fries and a thick shake. You not only have that mindfulness, but as the book mentions, you can go back and optimize your weaknesses. In addition you have a level of accountability.

What's even more exciting is that they found that the healthy habit spread into other areas of their lives. Those who ate healthier tended to exercise more. They smoke less. They were in better control of their spending.

A professor explained it as good habits "spill over." I like to say that they snowball.

This snowball effect is a central idea behind this website. If you are having trouble with one aspect of your life, perhaps improving another area will spill over and make the difference. If you start exercising, you'll feel better and have more energy. That will make you more productive. Being more productive makes you more money. Exercising improves your health, which may save you costly medical bills in the future.

One small habit can snowball into many positive changes in your life. Imagine what can happen if you just start with a simple food journal today.

This post involves:

Diet, Health / Fitness, Weight Loss

... and focuses on:


Summary: Perhaps nothing will save you more time than avoiding projects you don't want to do. Let's learn how to say "no."

how-to-say-no

No, no, no...

I say yes to everything.

Someone needs help moving, I'm there. There's a fly in my soup, well that's extra protein. I certainly wouldn't bother someone to go to the trouble of getting me new soup. And now that I have two very young boys, I've got a lot more things that require me to say "Yes."

Today I write about a skill that I really want to work on. My hope is that by doing research and putting my thoughts in writing, I will have a start. At a minimum it gives me something to refer back to as I try to make it a habit.

And if all else fails, I'm going to ask my two-year old how he does it. "No" seems to be his favorite word.

Why You Need to Say No

James Altucher relates a story about "how the power of no saved his life" on his Facebook page:

I started saying "No" to people who weren't right for me. I started saying "No" to everything I didn't want to do.

I started saying "No" to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.

I started saying "No" to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say "No" to and I still do.

...

I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.

The whole story takes many twists and turns and in my opinion goes far off topic, but here it is if you want to waste spend your time that way. Instead, I'll give you the powerful conclusion:

"When you start just saying 'No' to the bad things, the 'Yes' compounds every day. It compounds automatically, the way interest does in a non-US bank."

How To Say "No!"

As I said in the outset, I'm still learning this, but here are some things that I've found interesting.

Say No With a Form Letter

Writer Tim Walker has a brilliantly-worded letter saying no. Here's a sampling of a couple of my favorite quotes in the quick read:

"See, I’m a family man with a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a fun but demanding job, a lifelong goal of writing books, and a firm commitment to achieving tip-top physical condition. Something has to give - many somethings, actually - and unfortunately your project is one of them.
...
But please believe me, it’s not meant to be rude. It’s only done because this life is finite, and when it’s over I’ll be dead a long, long time... Unfortunately, your thing - awesome though it promises to be or already is - just isn’t my thing. And experience tells me that, if I don’t focus on my thing, I’ll go crazy."

I feel like I should steal that first paragraph word-for-word. When you read the whole letter one thing becomes obvious... he lays the compliments so thick that it doesn't seem like he's saying no at all.

Why We Can't Say No

There is a great article on Zen Habits about saying no. It cites 6 reasons for why it is hard to say no. I'm going to generalize them into 3 reasons:

  1. Yes People are Awesome - I want to help you and I want everyone to know how awesome I am for helping you. Plus, I avoid looking rude.
  2. I Don't Want to Hurt You - I don't want to reject you. I might actually like you and rejection hurts.
  3. I Want to Keep my Foot in the Door - If I say no to this, perhaps I miss out an opportunity. Perhaps you don't ask me the next time and it is something that I really want to help with.

The article also has 7 suggestions on How to Say No. I'll boil them down to these 3 responses:

  1. Just Say No - Simple and easy. You may soften the blow by playing the busy card.
  2. Deflect it to a Different Time - It might be easier to put it off and hope that it gets forgotten. Chances are the person asking you is busy as well (we all are, right?). You can either suggest a definitive time in the future or just leave it open by suggesting that you need to think about it.
  3. Pass the Buck to Someone Else - Often, I'm really not the best fit, so if I can offer better person, I might be doing more of a service in suggestion them.

Overall, I can't say I'm excited by these options, which may be why I find it so hard to say no. I feel like I might be throwing someone under the bus in passing the buck to them.

Can you help me learn to say no? I'd love to read your suggestions in the comments.

Further Reading:

You may have noticed that I referenced James Altucher a bit in this article. That's because he literally wrote the book on The Power of No - The subtitle of the book says it all: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness. That's a message I can get behind. You know what else I can get behind? The 264 reviewers who gave it a rating of 4.4.

This post involves:

Mind, Productivity

... and focuses on:


Every month, I set and review goals that I set for myself. At beginning of the year, I explained how I'm setting goals in 2015. The biggest focus was on setting goals on a monthly basis rather than have new years resolutions.

As I explained in the Monthly Review for February, it was a short month, not just in terms of calendar days. Things got started a little slow due to my hometown Patriots winning the Super Bowl and the aftermath of that. It was also a very busy month with feet and feet of snow that canceled our child card leaving me the duties of my day job, caring for children, and shoveling feet of snow.

That combination isn't conducive to getting any extra work done. It's hard to swim forward when the current is pushing you back with such tremendous force.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep oneself accountable so here are the <a href="goals I set for February.

I set two personal goals and one business goal for this website. Let's see how I did:

February 2015 Goals

Goals - Baby, Funny
  1. Personal 1: Lose 1% of body fat

    The Goal:

    "I averaged the last 7 days of January and had 20.81% fat according to my Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi smart scale. So the plan is to average 19.81% (or lower over the last 7 days of February). It's aggressive. February is a short month and I'm making the goal a week in."

    The results? They weren't good. They were terrible.

    I'm going to blame it on the Super Bowl hangover. My body fat went from that 20.81% average to a score of 23.9% by Feb 8th, 2015. I wish I had some explanation for why it continued to go up by such a massive rate in such a short time.

    I should give myself an "F", but I'm going to cut myself the slightest of slack only because I've steadily reduced my body fat percentage back to 20.6% as of March 12th.

    Grade D- (62)

  2. Personal 2: Track my Productivity Consistently

    As a review, I'm looking to quantify several aspects of my productivity with a spreadsheet. The format is still a work in progress. My commitment to using it isn't much better.

    I didn't give myself a very good goal last month. Here's what I wrote:

    Last month, I only tracked 9 of the 31 days. It's okay to miss a few days, but I need to make missing it the exception rather the rule. Once I build the habit to track it consistently, I can focus in on what areas I need to improve on.

    That's just terrible.

    I only tracked 8 days of the 28, which is about the same percentage as last month. I'm starting to realize that this goal is simply not working. I think I need to learn more about why I'm failing.

    My feeling is that there's something to the motivation/easiness curve in the video at Baby Steps: Start Small and Keep Improving. I currently don't have much motivation for quantifying my productivity. Though it is easy, I think that's why I'm failing to put aside the time for this.

    Grade F (55)

  3. Be Better Now: Write 3 Guest Posts for Other Blogs

    I was able to accomplish this. The guest posts haven't been published yet, but I hope they are soon.

    Grade A (95)

Taking all three things into account, my average score is a 70.6... barely a C-.

While that grade is certainly disappointing, I'm going to focus on the fact that progress was made. I got those guest posts done, which I wouldn't have if I didn't have the monthly goals. I think I learned why I'm failing to complete some of my goals.

I wish I had been more successful, but I'll take the baby steps to keep improving.

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Monthly Goals

... and focuses on:

,


Summary: Want to create a lasting change? Build habits by taking baby steps. (Tweet This!)
Baby steps:  Start small - keep improving

Baby steps: Start small... keep improving

For the last two and a half months, I've been trying to subtly nudge you in the direction of "being better." You may have noticed it in my monthly goal reports. If that was a little subtle, you might have also noticed it in such places as the website's name and logo.

If it wasn't completely obvious in either of those places, I'd like to formally write about it today. Many times people make grand, sweeping changes and expect them to stick. Yet, we know that most New Year's resolutions fail. We know that fad diets don't stick.

What does work? Baby steps

Here's a story from James Altucher's Newsletter about Tony Robbins training members of the military to shoot better:

"Specifically, for every student he had them bring the target only a few feet away. Everyone shot bullseyes. Then he moved the target back a foot. Bullseyes. Then another foot. And so on.

This is true for everything in life. I look at the example Mark Cuban told me. He didn't just start Broadcast.com and make a billion. First he started a bar. Then he started a computer business. Then a hedge fund."

For years, I would joke around that I'd simply just get rich picking up a baseball and throwing a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. Throwing a knuckleball doesn't require one to be in the physical condition of a top athlete. Obviously, I couldn't just pick up a ball and throw a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. It took him years of practice. It took him years of study from a previous generation of knuckleballers.

I should have started with baby steps. In reality, I had other priorities and didn't see devoting years of my life to throwing a knuckleball as a risk worth taking.

Baby steps often mean going back to making SMART Goals. You want to break them down and make them attainable. As you achieve success, make it a little more difficult, do something a little bigger. Suddenly you are buying up NBA teams and financing businesses on Shark Tank.

Stanford University research BJ Fogg is one of the world's leading experts on taking baby steps. He likes to call them "tiny habits." A few years back, he had a TED talk that covered how to make lasting change. The concept starts with... you guessed it... baby steps. However, he goes further than just baby steps:

As you can see he covers developing habits, the role of motivation, and triggering change in general. These are all things I'll cover in other articles.

This website itself is an experiment in baby steps. Each day, I'm trying to capture a little bit of knowledge and share it with people. The idea is that in just 5-10 minutes a day, you can learn something. Each day I get a little better at writing. Each day, I go back and rework some piece of writing that I've done in the past to try to make it better. Over time and many iterations, the quality of the website improves. This improvement means it can help more people.

Everything gets a little better... one small step at a time.

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Mind, Motivation

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Summary: Automating your money is one tip that can make you hundreds of thousands in just a few minutes. (Tweet This)

When it comes to money, one of the best things I've ever done was to automate everything. It's great for me, but as personal finance expert Phil Taylor points out: automating finances isn't for everyone.

About a dozen years ago, I had an epiphany... if I have to keep shifting money here and there something is going to fall through the cracks. When that happens, I'm going to lose money or incur a fee. I hate fees.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is the father.

Here's a guide of the processes that I automate:

automate your money

Let a robot Automate your Money

Credit Card Payments

It has been years since I manually sent a payment to a credit card company. I let them claw into my bank account and take what they need so that I never miss a payment and never trigger fees. This way, I reap the sweet, sweet rewards of 1-5% cash back.

The downside with this is that many people don't like to give credit cards access to grab money out of their accounts. I totally understand that. I gave it a try to see how it goes and years later, it has been perfect in about a thousand transactions across many cards now. It certainly beats my error rate as a human.

An awesome side effect of this system is that I know I need to keep a good chunk of money in my bank account just to be safe. I'm going to err on the side of caution, so keeping my bank account "safe" reinforces my frugal behavior.

Automate Payments to Retirement Accounts

As we covered in The Guide to Financial Freedom, retirement accounts are one of the best tools available to you.

You may have heard the saying "Pay yourself first." That is exactly what this is. It's paying "future me." I've learned over the years that "future me" becomes "present me" quickly. Let me tell you that "present me" is enjoying the contributions from "past me."

Confused enough? Good let's move on.

Automate Payments to a Savings Account

Just like automating payments to a retirement account, you should automate some payments to a savings account. Some people use this as my emergency fund. When that's got a safe amount of money in it (generally 6 months of living expenses), it can be redirected towards and opportunity fund. It's great to have a good opportunity fund in place, use it well and it can grow your net worth quite a bit.

The important thing is to move this money out of sight and out of mind. I'm testing out a new service called Digit that I love. They automate this process of squirreling money away from your savings account. They do it in small chunks that you probably won't notice, but it adds up over time.

Consolidate Your Banking

When I was 20, I signed up with every bank that offered a free T-shirt and a single with a B-side song of Blink 182. All the banks were at College Fest. I must have picked up dozens of credit cards for free stuff.

What I didn't realize is that I'd now have all these zombie accounts out there... and they are all looking for delicious brains.

In chasing the best rate and the best perk, my financial information was everywhere. It took some time, but after seeing how my wife had consolidated most everything USAA, I saw the light. It is so much easier to have everything in one place.

Set Your Financial Calendar

I'm going to give you some work to do right now while you read this. Don't worry, it'll only take a couple of minutes. Open up your calendar software.

I'll wait.

Got it open? Good.

Now flip ahead one month from today and put an entry to check your credit report. Make it a recurring entry and set it to go every 4 months. You can get a free credit report from Annual Credit Report every year. So why every 4 months? There are three credit bureaus you can get them from. Get a different one every four months.

If one of the credit bureaus is off it may take you a little time to notice it this way. However, this way you get to view what is 99% likely to be an accurate report. It is better to catch identity theft after 3 months than it is after 9 months.

Next, flip it ahead another month and make another entry. This time we are making an appointment for checking our net worth. Depending on what stage in life you are, this one can recur 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 months. I personally like to calculate it every 3 months.

It may seem very complicated and tedious, but it isn't. If you consolidate your banking and use a spreadsheet, it can be knocked out in under a half-hour. The first couple of times will take longer, but as you get in a flow it will be much, much easier.

There's one final calendar entry to make. This one is going to be every 6 months. Every 6 months, I want you to do an audit of necessary expenses and subscriptions in your life. Many of these things like your mortgage and car payments won't change. However, you may be able to get a discount on cable service or a cheaper cell phone plan. You may find that you don't use that Netflix very often. Maybe you subscribed to HBO to watch True Blood and now that the series is over are left paying for nothing?

Conclusion and Further Reading

I can't begin to estimate how much automating my money has done for me. When I look into my retirement and see 6 figures starting with a crooked number, I can't help but think, "Would I have really saved this otherwise?" I know the answer is no.

So I guess I can begin to estimate how important it was for me. It is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the power of compound interest, it could be millions down the line.

That thought brings us right into:

Further reading: This is an easy one... The Automatic Millionaire. Personal Finance guru David Bach has earned a 4.2 star rating with 460 reviews a great value for the current price of $8.12.

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Money / Personal Finance

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