Are you afraid to fix your finances?
It’s understandable if you are! Confronting a bad spending habit or debt problem can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable.
But leaving financial issues unresolved is never a good idea. Little annoyances become serious threats if you don’t take initiative to nip them in the bud!
Fortunately, there are dozens of simple financial decisions that you can make today. Here are some of the most important ones!
Save anything you can, no matter how small
If you stash away a single dollar, you’re already ahead of the game. Half of all Americans had zero dollars (you read that correctly) saved before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.¹
Anything that you’ve put away where you can’t spend it is a good thing, even if it’s a dollar. Putting money away regularly is even better. You might literally have only $1 to start. That’s fine! It’s the thought (i.e., habit) that counts, and you’ll already be closer to financial stability than many people in the country.
Americans might not be great at saving, but we sure do love playing the lottery! We spend, on average, $1,000 per year on precious tickets and scratch-offs.² Yikes! You’ll probably get struck by lightning or crushed by falling airplane debris before you win a powerball.³
If you don’t play the lottery now, don’t start. If you do play (which should fall in your budget under “fun fund”), write out how much you’ve spent on tickets vs. how much you’ve won. That’s a ratio to always keep in mind!
Eat at home
Regularly eating out can devour your income. We spend about $232 monthly at our favorite restaurants, or about $2,784 annually.⁴ There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a meal out at your favorite spot. But it becomes a problem when you’re eating out multiple times a week and using fast food as a substitute for cooking for yourself while your budget goals suffer.
So instead of hitting up a drive-thru tonight, go to your local grocery store and buy some fresh ingredients. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Ground beef and pasta or chicken curry with rice are both great (and tasty) ways to start. Check out some online recipes and try some new dishes!
Just trying these three simple things can put you ahead of the curve. They might seem small, but you’ll take a huge step forward to financial independence. Choose one of these actions and try it out today!
¹ “Here’s how many Americans have nothing at all in savings,” Ester Bloom, CNBC Make It, Jun 19 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/19/heres-how-many-americans-have-nothing-at-all-in-savings.html
² “Americans spend over $1,000 a year on lotto tickets,” Megan Leonhardt, CNBC Make It, Dec 12 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/12/americans-spend-over-1000-dollars-a-year-on-lotto-tickets.html
³ “The Lottery: Is It Ever Worth Playing?,” Investopedia, Jul 28, 2022 https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/
⁴ “How Much Should I Budget for Eating Out?,” Erin Lowell, The Simple Dollar, Jan 26, 2022, https://www.youneedabudget.com/do-you-spend-too-much-eating-out-try-this/
How are you protecting your income?
Maybe you already have a life insurance policy worth about 10 times your annual earnings. That should help protect your family in the case of your untimely passing.
But what if you aren’t able to work during your lifetime?
It’s more common than you might think. 1 in 4 20-year-olds will become disabled before they reach 67, and 67% of private-sector workers have no disability insurance.¹ Here are some basic facts about this essential line of protection for you and your family.
Disability insurance has a lot in common with life insurance.
At first blush, it might be hard to distinguish between life insurance and disability insurance. But there are some key differences that are worth exploring.
Disability insurance activates when you can’t work Life insurance pays out in the case of your passing. Disability insurance can provide a stable income replacement if an injury, accident, illness, or something else renders you unable to work.
There are two types of disability insurance: long-term and short-term Short-term disability insurance can replace your income if you can’t work for a few months. Long-term disability insurance can protect you if a serious health issue takes you out of the field for more than 6 months.
Employers sometimes offer disability insurance (but it might not be enough)
It’s not uncommon for employers to provide their workers with some form of disability insurance. As of 2018, 42% of private sector employees had access to short-term disability insurance via their work, while 34% had long-term disability insurance options.²
However, it’s worth noting that this might not be enough to fully protect you and your family. Disabilities can increase your expenses, so you’ll need a strategy that replaces your current income and then some. Make sure your employer-provided plan will give you enough to cover all of your needs in the case of a disability and help your family for the long haul. If it doesn’t do either of those, you may need to turn to private coverage.
The government offers disability benefits (but they might not be enough, either)
Social Security does provide disability coverage to individuals who have worked long enough and paid enough into the system. However, applying for it is a time consuming process and average monthly payments were just over $1,000 as of 2017.⁴ Do your research to see if you’re eligible and if you’ll receive enough before you apply.
Above all, meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional to weigh your options and start developing a plan. They’ll assist you as you evaluate your need for protection, what employer-provided options you might have, and how disability insurance fits into your overall financial strategy.
¹ “Fact Sheet: Social Security,” Social Security Administration, https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/basicfact-alt.pdf
² “Employee access to disability insurance plans,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2018/employee-access-to-disability-insurance-plans.htm
³ “Disability Benefits,” Social Security Administration, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/
⁴ “Disability Insurance: Why You Need It and How to Get It,” Barbara Marquand, Nerwallet, Oct. 20, 2017, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/disability-insurance-explained/
It’s true that sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money.
But there are plenty of things that people spend money on that give them absolutely no return. Some of these are obvious (lottery tickets and ponzi schemes), but others are subtle parts of our lifestyle. Here are three money black holes that you should avoid at all costs!
Nothing feels better than driving off the lot with a new set of wheels. Until, that is, you realize that your car’s value has already started plummeting.
The most important rule to remember is that cars are practical tools, not long-term investments. Blowing a huge stack of cash might feel cool, but it’s a huge misallocation of money if you don’t have any to spend. Try to find a used model of the same car that’s five years old or more. Chances are you’ll get many of the same features for a fraction of the cost.
It seems like phones are improving every day and in every way. But is your high-end, name brand personal assistant really worth the steep price tag? Phones always decline in value after you buy them—around -14.80% for iPhones and -32.18%.¹ Unless your mobile device is a tool of your trade (i.e., you’re a TikTok influencer), dodge the hype and choose a cheaper or refurbished alternative.
New threads are awesome. You’ll never feel more like a hero than when you first hit the town in a freshly fitted suit or a designer t-shirt.
They’re also insanely expensive. Sure, they might not cost $1,690 like a Tom Ford long sleeve solid T-Shirt. But regularly buying top-of-the-line clothes can burn huge holes in your wallet.
Fortunately, you have some fun alternatives at your fingertips. Off-price retailers might sometimes carry your favorite brands at a fraction of the cost. And thrift stores can be goldmines of high quality finds if you’re adventurous enough to explore them with a friend!
Remember, it’s okay to spend money on cool gadgets and gear if you’ve saved up for them or you’re already financially independent. But if you’re just setting out on your journey, it’s best to practice some discipline and seek out cheaper alternatives to these potentially dangerous money black holes.
¹ “2021-2022’s Phone Depreciation Report: Operating System, Manufacturer, & Device Price Trends,” BankMyCell, https://www.bankmycell.com/blog/cell-phone-depreciation-report-2021-2022/
On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.
Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.
You must create a plan
Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²
Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.
You have to stop borrowing
Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!
That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.
Your lifestyle has to change
But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.
When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.
You can still do the things you want
This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.
Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.
Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!
¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf
² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan
The best way to determine your retirement target savings is to use your income.
Almost nobody wants to work 40 hours a week in retirement. Not you, not me. To avoid that, you must have money at your disposal to cover expenses like food, travel, and medical bills.
But how much do you need?
There’s a 38% chance that if you retire at 65 you will live to 85, and a 5% chance that you’ll make it to 95.¹ That means you’ll need enough cash to cover at least 20 years of life with no income.
This is where your paycheck comes into play.
Aiming to save 20 to 30 times your income helps prepare you to maintain your current lifestyle into retirement. You might even have extra spending money if you’re debt free!
Plus, it forces you to scale your savings as your income grows.
Setting a goal based solely on how much you want to spend in retirement can result in lowering your savings goal. You might splurge more now, telling yourself that you’ll just live on less later. But you’re cheating your future self!
Using your income as a retirement benchmark forces you to increase your savings amount as your paycheck grows. Let’s say you make $80,000 annually and you start saving. Your goal is to stash away 20 times your income, or about $1.6 million.
After a while, you’re able to save 5 years worth of earnings, or about $400,000.
But then you get a raise! Suddenly you’re making $100,000 per year. Your retirement target shifts up accordingly to $2 million. That $400,000 you have in the bank is a hefty slice of cash, but it’s now only worth 4 years of income instead of 5.
In other words, basing your saving around your income actually encourages you to save more as your income increases.
The best thing about this method is that it focuses on the most important part of retiring—to sustain the lifestyle that you envision. Meet with a licensed financial professional to map out what that would look like for you and how much you must save to make that vision a reality.
¹ “How Long Will Your Retirement Really Last?,” Simon Moore, Forbes, Apr 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2018/04/24/how-long-will-your-retirement-last/?sh=31a59fb37472
50% of Americans have less than $500 saved.¹
That means most Americans couldn’t cover unplanned car repairs, home maintenance, or medical bills without selling something or going into debt. They’re constantly living on the edge of financial ruin.
That’s where your emergency fund comes in. It’s a stash of cash that you can easily access in a pinch. You’ll be able to pay for that blown transmission without visiting a payday lender or selling your grandma’s silverware!
But here’s the catch: Your emergency savings account won’t help you much if it’s under-funded.
Follow these two rules to ensure that your rainy day savings can withstand the storms of life.
Rule #1: Only use your emergency fund for real emergencies.
I get it. Your emergency fund is an easily accessible chunk of money. Of course it’s going to be tempting to tap into it when you’re buying a new car or planning a dream vacation.
But your rainy day savings shouldn’t fund your lifestyle. They should protect it.
Think of it like this. Your vacation fund pays for your annual beach trip. Your emergency fund covers the bill when your car breaks down on the drive home. Only touch your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and enjoy the peace that comes from being prepared.
Rule #2: Always refill your emergency fund when it’s low
Ideally, your emergency fund should be stocked with 3 to 6 months of your income at all times. That should be enough to cover the gambit from small unexpected costs to a month or two of unemployment.
Don’t be afraid to tap into your emergency savings when you face unforeseen financial hiccups. Just remember to refresh your fund when the emergency has passed. The last thing you need is to be caught in the crosshairs of another crisis without a buffer.
Don’t let a financial storm blow you off course. Prepare for your future, and start building an emergency fund now. If you follow these rules, it can help financially protect you from the challenges life will inevitably send your way.
¹ Maurie Backman, “50% of Americans Have Under $500 in Emergency Savings. Here’s How to Build a Safety Net ASAP” The Ascent, Dec. 2, 2022, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/personal-finance/articles/50-of-americans-have-under-500-in-emergency-savings-heres-how-to-build-a-safety-net-asap/
There are some workplace distractions that we all know torpedo our productivity.
We don’t need an article to tell us that social media and break room chatter hinder us from getting things done.
But what about music? Afterall, that’s what we use to block out distractions and get in the zone.
Do our favorite tunes actually make us productive or do they slow us down? It turns out that the answer to that question depends on why you listen, how easily you get bored, and what you’re playing.
The goal: avoid multitasking
The golden rule of music and productivity is that you must avoid multitasking at all costs.
There’s no better way to hamstring your productivity, torpedo your IQ, and potentially damage your brain than by trying to divide your focus between two tasks.¹
So if you’re listening to music to drown out your talkative co-workers or that weird noise the AC makes, you’re on the right track. If you’re jamming out to tracks that make you think about highschool crushes and epic concerts, you might be doing yourself more harm than good.
Complexity and distraction
But it gets more complicated. Some people respond better to working while listening to music than others.
A study discovered that boredom-prone individuals performed both simple and complex tasks better in silence, while the opposite was true for the less boredom-prone.²
The researchers hypothesized that the jobs at hand were engaging enough to keep the easily bored occupied. The music was unnecessary external stimulation that dragged their attention away.
This means that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for using music for productivity. If you’re easily bored and distracted, you might want to avoid music while you work altogether. Noise canceling headphones might come in handy, but be sure not to pump music through them. By contrast, more naturally focused individuals might find soft background music helps them zone out the noise and laser in on what they need to do.
What makes good focus music?
So let’s say you’re not distraction prone and you like working to some tunes. What music should you listen to? Despite what your uncle in the orchestra would have you believe, there isn’t a single best genre of music to stimulate your brain (sorry, Mozart). What you’re looking for is music with certain qualities.
First, find music that’s the right tempo. You’re shooting for around 60 beats per minute to minimize stress and promote focus. No dance music or break-neck metal!
Second, avoid words. You’re probably listening to music in an attempt to cancel out conversation, not distract you with lyrics chock full of hidden meaning and symbolism that may catch your curiosity.
Choose instrumental music over your favorite lyrical genius next time you need to work.
A third option is to find something to listen to that’s not even music: nature sounds.
Weirdly enough, trickling streams and the soft fall of rain are all random enough sounds that your brain doesn’t even bother with attempting pattern recognition. It’s a great way to mask office noise if music just isn’t working for you.
Ultimately, you’re looking for music (or nature sounds or white noise) that reduces diversions without becoming a diversion itself. Make this an opportunity to explore new kinds of music and try listening to them next time you need to focus on a project. And let me know if you find any hidden gems of slow classical music being performed in front of a gurgling mountain stream!
¹ “Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest,” Travis Bradberry, Forbes, Oct 8, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/#22ceaf9956ee
² “Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?,” Adi Gaskell, Forbes, Mar 11, 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2019/03/11/does-classical-music-help-our-productivity/#89f9fc411bba
Mentorship is a key to success.
The numbers confirm what we already know. Students who regularly met with a mentor were 52% less likely to skip school and 46% more likely to say no to drugs.¹ At-risk adults with mentorship expressed more interest in pursuing higher education.² It makes sense; a mentor can offer a unique perspective on your circumstances and also help you talk through the situations you face. There isn’t a person on the planet who wouldn’t benefit from having a mentor at some stage in their life.
But finding the perfect mentor for you? That’s where the challenge begins.
Building a mentoring relationship with someone can be time consuming work that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are three essential indicators to help you identify the right person to be your mentor.
Do you want to be like this person?
There are plenty of high-achieving, high-earning individuals that you probably wouldn’t want in your life. That’s not to say you can’t learn from someone who doesn’t share your values, has totally different interests, and works in a field you find less than stimulating.
But a mentor should be a person who you strive to imitate. Ask yourself these questions… Who inspires you to work harder and smarter? Who do you admire for their integrity and kindness? Who do you find yourself emulating and feeling good about it? That’s the person you want as a mentor.
Can you develop a friendship with this person?
Mentorship is NOT just having an older buddy around you can swap jokes with. There must be a real bond of friendship for it to actually work. It’s worth considering what you look for in a friend.
Do you seek someone who respects your decisions and opinions? Are you comfortable with appropriate and constructive criticism? Or do you surround yourself just with video game partners and rec league teammates?
Nothing wrong with those friends or acquaintances, but a mentor must also have the interpersonal skills and emotional maturity to achieve a deeper level of connection. It’s the only way they’ll be able to speak into your life, challenge you, and help you level up.
Will this person challenge you?
Ultimately, a mentor is someone who pushes you to be better. Someone who fuels your personal growth and accelerates your maturing process. That means they can’t shy away from taking you to task for your failures.
But they’ll also celebrate your victories with you and won’t take credit for your accomplishments. They’re not afraid of pointing out your weaknesses, while at the same time giving you tools to overcome them and move on. The right mentor for you realizes that the truth is a powerful tool of change, that encouragement is the best motivator, and that accomplishment is the ultimate reward.
Let’s be clear; there’s nothing wrong with casual, relaxed friends. Not every hangout has to be an intense brainstorming session or motivational seminar.
But don’t neglect the relationships that will push and challenge you to grow. Look for the people in your life who inspire you and start a conversation. Ask if they want to grab some coffee and talk about how they do it. Put in the legwork building a real mentorship with someone you want to be like and watch the fruits of that friendship flourish!
It can sometimes feel like there’s a life insurance language barrier.
Words and ideas seem designed to confuse and trick you. But you might be surprised by how simple the concepts and terms actually are once they’re explained.
Consider this article your personal life insurance phrasebook to help you cut through the lingo and better understand the products you’re exploring. Let’s start with the basics!
Policy and Policy Holder
A life insurance policy is a contract between you and an insurer stating that they will pay out a certain amount of money upon your passing (or another event specified in the policy). The policy holder is the person who owns and controls the policy.
The money that gets paid out from the policy when you die.
You, as the policyholder, get to decide where the death benefit will go. The people who receive the money are called beneficiaries. That could be a spouse, child, or anyone who depends on your income.
The payment you give the insurer in exchange for the life insurance policy is called the premium. You might have to pay these monthly or annually.
Term Life Insurance
Some life insurance covers you for a specific amount of time. Your beneficiaries only receive the death benefit if you pass away during that time frame. This is referred to as Term Life Insurance. It’s typically considered the most straightforward form of life insurance available.
Permanent Life Insurance
Another type of life insurance lasts for your entire life. This is called Permanent Life Insurance. There are multiple subcategories of permanent life insurance.
Some permanent life insurance options come with a savings component. This is called a Cash Value. You can usually borrow against the cash value and spend the money on whatever you please!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of life insurance words and phrases, but it should be the minimum to get you started. Consider reaching out to a financial advisor to act as your translator as you dive deeper into the language of life insurance!
Mastering a skill takes time, effort, and sometimes money.
Hours of dedicated learning, training, and mentorship are required to move from amateur to expert. But who has the time for that? Most of us are still figuring out our careers or how to be a better parent or partner. With our busy lives, acquiring an additional skill—no matter how beneficial or fulfilling it may be—can seem like a fantasy.
But what if there were a way to quickly become competent at a skill?
It turns out that there are some simple steps you can take to jumpstart your learning process. Here are some tips for quick skill acquisition!
Skills are typically composed of smaller processes. For instance, playing a song on piano requires a few different abilities. You must be able to move each finger to the right keys at the right time, you should probably know how to read music, and possess a sense of when to play more loudly or softly. Trying to play a song without some command of those capabilities can feel overwhelming or impossible!
That’s why it’s useful to start with the end product and work backwards to discover the little skills you need to master. Once you see the micro-processes involved, you can start working forward. This might feel silly at first. Jumping between the same few notes over and over again until you’ve got them down isn’t the most glamorous endeavor! But it lays the foundation for a more complicated and satisfying skill that will pay off in the long run.
It’s easy to think making progress will be a straight line. We’re building up our little skills, getting better and better with each practice session. But pretty soon we hit a wall. There’s a problem that seems insurmountable. We might even start backsliding or feeling like we’re getting worse!
Don’t sweat a roadblock. It’s perfectly normal to hit a plateau when you’re trying to acquire a skill. Take a break from practice, go for a walk or take a nap, and get back to it with a fresh perspective. You might be surprised by how much learning occurs when you allow your brain to relax and process.
As nice as it sounds, multitasking simply does not work. There’s overwhelming evidence that it actually slows down your brain and wildly reduces efficiency.¹ Multitasking must be avoided at all costs when you’re trying to quickly learn a new skill. Try setting aside some undistracted time every morning or evening for a few weeks to work on your skill. That means leaving your phone in another room, turning off the TV, and telling your family that you’ll be busy for a while. Get in the zone and start practicing!
An hour every evening for a month won’t transform you into a Picasso. You’re not shooting to be a virtuoso. Instead, these tips and strategies may help you quickly acquire competence in just about anything you set your mind to. So draw up a list of some skills you want to develop and start learning!
¹ “Multitasking: Switching costs,” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006, https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask
Are you stagnating?
Have you fallen into a rut of living the same day over and over again, rehashing the same information and thinking the same thoughts? Maybe you’re bored and looking for adventure or intellectual stimulation. It turns out that there are actually a few things you can do to consistently push your mental capacities and become a lifelong learner!
Good writing is magical. It can transport us to distant lands and introduce us to incredible worlds and characters. But reading can also transform our minds, especially when we encounter new and challenging ideas. We’re able to overcome the limitations of our own imaginations and experiences and see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Surveys have shown that almost all successful people, regardless of their backgrounds, read extensively.¹ And it’s no wonder; the ability to assume and appreciate perspective is incredibly powerful. But what should you be reading?
Expand your horizons
Not all reading is created equal. Romance novels about vampires and werewolves might count as brain “junk food”. It also might be best to avoid a 19th-century philosophical treatise right out of the gate!
Instead, explore entry-level books about topics you don’t know a lot about. Dip your toe into new subjects and see if they spark your interest! You can always move to more advanced work on the subject from there. On the other hand, you can find new opinions and perspectives on topics that you’ve already mastered. How is your field changing or evolving?
Conversation is another great way to encounter new ideas. Chances are that you’re surrounded by vast amounts of knowledge sitting untapped inside your friends and family. You just need to know how to extract it! The keys are to listen seriously and ask real questions based on what you’ve heard. Most of us are more consumed with what we’re going to say next than with what the other person is saying. Honing in on what you’re hearing and trying to develop questions as you listen helps you understand what they’re saying and fuels your curiosity. It’s a virtuous cycle where everyone benefits!
But the key to both of these lifelong learning strategies is to focus intensely. That means when you’re reading or taking a class, turn off your phone and absorb what’s right before you. Engage in conversation intentionally, asking real questions based on what the other person is saying. You might be surprised how tricky both of those things can be at first! But stick with it. Those learning muscles will grow stronger and stronger until you’re brimming with information!
One final tip: always ask why. Don’t just ponder something to yourself. Ask someone who might possibly have an answer! And don’t be vague. Be as precise and specific as possible when you ask your question. The best thing about learning is that you can potentially keep learning forever! Learn to love the process of learning, and you might be amazed by how far your brain power can go.
¹ “A self-made millionaire who studied 1,200 wealthy people found they all have one — free — pastime in common,” Kathleen Elkins, Insider, Aug 21, 2015, https://www.businessinsider.com/rich-people-like-to-read-2015-8
Receiving criticism is rarely fun.
Having flaws in your work pointed out to you can be a stressful experience and seriously affect your mood and self-image. Even criticizing someone else’s performance may make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
But criticism is incredibly important. When done correctly, it can empower us to improve our weaknesses and maximize our strengths. But first, we have to learn how to receive criticism well and not let our egos get in the way. Here are a few ideas!
Pause and reframe
It’s easy to react poorly even to the best intentioned criticism. There’s an emotional leap we make where something simple like “I think this could be said better” gets interpreted as “you’re dumb and made a dumb decision and will always be dumb.” But that’s often our own emotions or insecurities talking and unnecessarily connecting dots.
Next time you’re facing criticism, try taking a deep breath and pausing before you respond or react. You can also take that pause to reframe the situation in your mind. Is this really your boss seeking to degrade and destroy you or is this an opportunity to learn and improve?
Know your value
One of the key factors in how you handle criticism is how you value yourself. Even gentle advice can deeply hurt someone who has a low estimation of their worth. To them, it may seem to confirm their suspicion that they’re really not that useful and that they should probably just give up.
The same goes for people who are dependent on praise and approval. Criticism can make them feel like they have to perform like a superhuman to earn the approval of the person criticizing. Until they do that, they’ll be a nervous wreck!
The key to overcoming these barriers is to understand that you have value in and of yourself. Part of that worth comes from your accomplishments and skills, but some of it comes down to your mindset. What do you tell yourself about yourself? Have you really studied the art of self-confidence? Start developing the skills it takes to know your own worth and watch as your attitude towards feedback changes!
Consider the source
It’s also worth remembering that not all criticism is created equal. There’s some feedback that might not be worth taking seriously whatsoever.
Your nagging grandmother, your impossible to please friend, and your nitpicking coworker are probably not the best places to turn for useful critiques and advice.
But bosses, experts, and mentors? That’s where you need to put aside your pride, remember that you still have value, and actually listen.
You might be surprised how these simple steps can transform your perspective on criticism. Suddenly, the advice and critiques of others seem less like threats and more like opportunities. There’s so much wisdom walking around in your peers and mentors. Learning how to handle criticism like a pro opens up access to a whole new world of experience and ideas that just might change your life!
There are some aspects of creativity that you just can’t fake.
Some people seem to be born with an eye for the new and the unexpected and the exciting. There’s nothing wrong with conventional thinking; you probably don’t want a doctor or nurse known for an avant-garde attitude!
But there are times when we’re confronted by problems without obvious solutions. We have to think outside the box to overcome and make progress. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to approach life more creatively.
You might not become a Van Gogh, but these tips might come in handy the next time you encounter a roadblock.
Talk to the experts to expand your horizons
Experts can be a touch boring, especially when they keep lording their knowledge over you at dinner parties. But they can also be a huge source of inspiration, if you know how to talk to them!
Instead of zoning out or looking for a way to interject your own opinion, start listening for opportunities to ask questions. Look for things you don’t understand about what they’re saying or an idea that strikes you as interesting and ask them about it.
And when they’re done explaining it, try repeating it back in your own words. You might be surprised by the connections that your brain starts to make. Plus, the person you’re talking to will feel valued and appreciated!
Boredom births creativity.¹ It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it.
Your brain likes to be busy. Watching paint dry or reading the phonebook is so dull that (if you actually did those activities) you’ll spontaneously start exploring new ideas just to pass the time. Your brain is never less inhibited or less constrained than when you’re performing a mundane task. Clear out some time in your schedule for a boring activity.
Maybe (safely!) try voice recording your ideas in the car on your commute to and from work. You might find a long shower is the perfect time to brainstorm and think through problems. Get creative and do something monotonous!
Pick up a creative hobby
If your schedule is already full and you’re constantly on the move, picking up a hobby might seem kind of pointless. But a hobby can teach you important lessons about creativity that you can’t learn anywhere else.
You might learn that performing a beautiful song is composed of dozens of little micro-movements and components that all take time to learn and master. You might learn that painting a stunning landscape starts with a single brushstroke.
And you might learn that out-foxing your opponent in chess comes down to your burgeoning ability to imagine a dozen possible outcomes and responding well when things don’t go your way. Clear out some time, talk to an expert, and start creating something just for fun!
Start with the craziest idea first
Convention is the biggest enemy of creativity. We’ve all had ideas that we’re afraid to share or voice because we think people will think we’re stupid.
But being creative is all about seeing potential where no one else can. And that by default means some folks are going to shoot you looks. Overcome all of that by expressing your wildest ideas first. Come out of the gate with a barn burner. Listen to serious feedback and criticisms, but don’t be afraid to voice your ideas. You might just stumble on something brilliant!
These tips may not transform you into a generation-defining sculptor or wordsmith*. But they might just spark the creative edge you need to see problems in a new light and find opportunities where others see danger. So make some time, start some conversations, pick up some hobbies, and start dreaming!
*Please let me know if this article does happen to make you into a generation defining artist of any kind!
We all procrastinate.
Maybe we’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task and our brains just shut down. We might have a few odds and ends to wrap up that don’t seem very important after all. Or there might be an issue that we’ve ignored for so long that we don’t even really think about it until it’s almost too late!
Most of us know that procrastination usually doesn’t produce a good result. Here’s a quick look at how procrastination works and how you can beat it!
Why do we procrastinate?
There are a few reasons why we procrastinate. In general, your brain is much better at understanding the here and now than something that has yet to happen. The hassle of completing a task can seem more real to us than the future feeling of accomplishment we’ll have once everything is said and done.
But it goes deeper than that. Oftentimes, we procrastinate when we associate negative emotions with a task. That’s why we often put off boring or physically demanding tasks as long as possible. We might also be afraid of facing the consequences of failing at the task or being judged poorly by our peers. Putting off the task is an easy, though often costly, way of regulating those doubts and fears. But avoiding the task doesn’t normally make us feel better. Procrastination often leads to a spiral; we put off a task out of fear, feel bad about ourselves, grow more fearful, and on and on.
How to avoid procrastination
There are a few strategies you can use to combat procrastination. Try breaking your tasks down into the smallest, least intimidating pieces possible and start knocking them out, one by one. That can make a big problem seem much more manageable in the short term. You might also want to reward yourself when you overcome each milestone to help you associate productivity with something positive.
But overcoming procrastination isn’t always about strategy. Sometimes we have to overcome deep feelings of fear and anxiety. Studies have shown that practices like self-compassion and re-framing an issue can go a long way to defeating procrastination. Ask yourself why you’re avoiding a task. Is it fear of your work not being recognized? Fear of being ignored? Try to work through what’s causing the slow down and recognize what’s going on!
Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack next time you hit a roadblock. It happens to everyone! Take a breath, try to understand what precisely it is you’re avoiding, and then look on the bright side of how much better you’ll feel once your work is complete!
We all get frustrated.
It makes sense—lines are long, traffic is bad, and situations don’t always conform to our expectations. Staying calm in the face of difficulties isn’t easy. We get angry and upset and vent those feelings to anyone who will listen.
But there’s a reason patience is considered a virtue. Here’s a quick case for practicing patience in your personal and professional life!
What is patience?
Merriam-Webster defines patience as “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.” Also—“not hasty or impetuous.” Let’s unpack those definitions
Patience is basically a calm response when things don’t go your way or meet your expectations. Is a project taking longer than you want? A patient response would be to not get angry, maintain your composure, and keep working your best at it.
The benefits of patience
We don’t always have the luxury of making decisions in a stress-free environment. But patience comes with a variety of positives. First, it gives us a degree of clarity when we’re making tough choices. Enacting a bit of patience can prevent you from making an emotional call when you unexpectedly feel the heat!
Second, patience can help you achieve your goals. It can be easier to do things with short-term benefits. But doing something today that will help us a year down the road? That can be much harder. Patience can help us accomplish things now that will benefit us later in life. It helps us tolerate discomfort with grace and wait to reap the rewards of hard work later down the line!
Finally, patience towards others can encourage them to be patient towards us. There’s nothing more alienating than getting snapped out by someone who loses their temper when things don’t go their way. But responding graciously and calmly to a person’s disappointing behavior can make a huge difference in their lives and may help them improve. It might also make them think twice before they treat you poorly the next time!
How to practice patience
Recognizing the benefits of patience is one thing, but actually being patient? That’s a whole different ball game! Here are some tips for the next time you feel yourself growing impatient with a person or situation:
Breathe deeply. It’s one of the simplest ways of calming yourself down when you feel frustration starting to bubble! Take a few deep breaths and reassess the situation with a fresh perspective.
Empathize. Try to understand the perspective of the people who are upsetting you. What’s the best possible reason that they might be doing this annoying thing? Does it make some sense from their point of view and given their experience? Are they legitimately being malicious or do they have understandable motives for their actions?
Be grateful! You probably have much more to be thankful for than you realize. Take some time to count your blessings and remember the good things in life. You might be surprised by how much that reframes your experience and makes you more patient!
One last thing—don’t confuse patience with weakness! We’re so used to a go get ‘em, hustle mentality that patiently working and waiting can seem counter-intuitive and downright dumb. But patience has always been a virtue, and it can make a big difference in your personal life and your business!
Hitting the snooze button. Brewing coffee first thing in the morning. Working out right after you leave the office. Our lives are full of actions that we’re almost unaware of.
Many of them just help us get little things done more efficiently. But some habits can have a huge impact on our lives in either a positive or negative way. Here’s a quick breakdown of how habits work and ways to “trick yourself” into better behavior patterns.
Your brain craves efficiency. It looks for the path of least resistance when it comes to using energy. Making decisions takes a lot of brain power. Too many choices in a day can leave you feeling mentally exhausted, so your brain looks for ways to cut corners. It starts automating little decisions that you make repeatedly. Brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, and checking your social media are choices you’ve made so often that your brain stops consciously weighing in and seems to just spontaneously make you do them.
So that’s why your brain likes forming habits. But the mechanics of how a habit forms is essential if you’re trying to upgrade your unconscious behaviors!
Cues, Routines, and Rewards
A habit can be broken down into three basic components. It starts with a cue. That’s any kind of trigger that makes you want to do something. Actually performing the action suggested by the cue is called a routine. Following the routine usually results in some kind of reward, either physical or psychological.
So let’s say you’ve developed a habit of eating a cookie with your morning coffee. You wake up, put on the pot, and brew a delicious cup of joe. You instantly start craving the cookie when you smell that medium roast goodness. That’s the cue. You reach into the jar, grab the biggest chocolate chip cookie you can get your hands on, and take a bite. That’s the routine. And the tingling joy and comfort you feel when that life-giving treat hits your tongue? That’s the reward that brings you back morning after morning. But the consequence might be that you’ve put on a few unwanted pounds in the last couple of months.
How to use the habit pattern
It’s easy to see how certain habits can lead to some undesirable outcomes. We tend to form habits around anything that rewards our brains, whether it’s junk food, caffeine, or dangerous substances. But our brains also like things such as observing progress and accomplishing goals.
How can we use this to encourage good habits? Here are a few ideas: Start really small: Break your desired habit down into pieces and try to regularly perform each one. You might be surprised by how good it feels to accomplish something, which can prompt you to make more and more progress. Reward yourself: Some activities are very rewarding in the moment. But not everything that’s good for you leaves you feeling accomplished right away. Try something like only playing video games after 30 minutes of reading! Be patient: Habits don’t form overnight. You’ll probably mess up before it sticks. Don’t sweat the little failures and keep trying until that habit becomes second nature!
You can also use this knowledge to break bad habits. Try to identify the cues associated with the habit and avoid or eliminate them. Also, consider ways that you might actually be rewarding yourself for bad behavior. It’s worth asking friends and sometimes professionals for insights into your habits!
Imagination is underrated.
We live in a world of dollars and cents, ones and zeros, and cold, hard facts. Dreams and hopes are great, but results will always be our number one priority.
But what if your imagination mattered?
What if your mind’s eye actually held the key to success? There’s strong evidence that actually visualizing certain outcomes can reduce stress and empower you to achieve your goals and dreams. It might sound like voodoo, but it’s actually not! Here’s how it works.
Mind and Muscle
Your brain is connected to your body. Your brain registers things that happen to your arms and legs and ears and lets you know if they’re good or bad. A soft blanket? Good! Stubbing your toe? Bad!
But the connection between your brain and body goes both ways. Imagining an action in your mind can actually improve your performance in real life. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for this; legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Muhammad Ali.¹ ² But there’s also research to back it up. People who imagined exercising certain muscles gained almost as much strength as people who physically exercised!³
Visualization can also reduce stress. Studies have found that novice surgeons and police officers who receive imagery training feel less stress and have less objective stress.⁴
Some visualization tips
Imagining yourself on a generic island paradise in 15 years is just daydreaming. The key to effective visualization is specificity. Be as precise as possible. Break down how you’ll achieve your goal or throw that game-winning pass into as many tiny movements as possible, and imagine how you’ll execute each one. Incorporate your senses; what will you smell and hear when you finally achieve that goal?
Verbal affirmations can also help with this visualization process. Take a page from Muhammad Ali, and tell yourself that you’re the greatest every morning before you get breakfast! Even better, say your goal out loud before you go to bed or eat lunch. Writing up a mission statement that you read daily or making a vision board of images that inspire you are also ways to boost your visualization!
Just remember that one of the key strengths of visualization is that you can do it anywhere. Develop your goals, make them as specific as possible, and then start imagining!
——— Sources ¹ “The Power Of Visualization And How To Use It,” Lidija Globokar, Forbes, Mar 5, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lidijaglobokar/2020/03/05/the-power-of-visualization-and-how-to-use-it/
² “Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization,” A.J. Adams MAPP, Psychology Today, Dec 3, 2009, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/flourish/200912/seeing-is-believing-the-power-visualization
³ “Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization,” Adams MAPP, Psychology Today
⁴ “The Power Of Visualization And How To Use It,” Globokar, Forbes
We all deal with stress differently.
Maybe you lift weights or go for a run to get an endorphin boost. You might meditate to clear your mind and expel bad vibes. Relieving stress might be as simple as brewing a cup of coffee and chatting it through with a friend.
Or you whip out that credit card, hit the mall, and ball out.
This practice, normally called retail therapy, is a method of coping with stress by shopping. It’s actually a well-observed and common practice. One study found that more than half of Americans engage in retail therapy, and another found that 62% of shoppers had made a purchase to boost their mood.¹
But… why? Why is one of our common first reactions to stress to spend money? Here’s a quick look at retail therapy, how it works, and if it’s a problem!
Why retail therapy works
People use shopping to cope with a wide variety of situations. Sometimes, buying something big is a simple way to feel in control. Nothing else may be going right in your life, but at least you have the power to buy the latest smart TV! Spending money is also a way to feel better prepared for the future. Stressed about Christmas? You might go ahead and start online shopping for the family in March. Making those purchases gives you the sense that you’re building towards something and doing something useful.
Shopping can sometimes be symbolic of a big life transition. Throwing out all your old clothes and re-doing your look can be a way of moving on from a relationship or job. Buying furniture with your future spouse can represent your excitement for marriage, despite all the wedding-related stress. Shopping online for used cars might be a right of passage signaling that you’re finally an adult. These are just a few ways that “buying stuff” can be more than just practical and actually empower us or instill a deep sense of meaning in our lives.
The dark side of retail therapy
Retail therapy can work as a short-term mood-boost, but it has drawbacks. The cost of “stress shopping” can quickly add up if you’re not careful. It might make you feel better in the moment, but it doesn’t actually solve problems that come your way. Plus, all that spending to help relieve stress can actually lead to financial stress on you and your family. The last thing you need is for retail therapy to derail your plans for the future!
Fortunately, there are some ways to minimize the risks of retail therapy. Keep a wish/need list of items you can purchase when you’re stressed. It’s an easy way to make sure you impulse buy something useful! Start building a splurge fund that you can pull from when you’re stressed. That will reduce your temptation to dip into your long-term savings when you need a little pick-me-up. There’s also research that shows simple window shopping can boost your mood.² Plan an excursion with a friend to hit up the mall, look at some amazing stuff, and then go home without actually buying anything. Just remember that, like with anything we do to improve our state of mind, moderation is the key!
¹ “Retail Therapy: Does It Help?”, Rent.com, Forbes, Sep 3, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/rent/2015/09/03/retail-therapy-does-it-help/#3c743d866c88
² “Retail Therapy: Does It Help?”, Forbes.
Side gigs should be simple.
They’re not usually meant to consume hours of your time each week or distract you from your main source of income. Fortunately, right now we’re in a side gig golden age. There are dozens of opportunities just a tap or click away. Here are a few simple side hustle ideas that might make you a few extra bucks without sacrificing all of your free time!
Working as a freelance writer can be a simple, efficient way of turning your prose prowess into cold, hard cash. Powerful and persuasive writing is of top importance in the information age, and there are plenty of people and companies that are willing to pay writers for quality content. Look for opportunities to write about your favorite hobbies and interests. It’s an easy way to combine your personal passions with making a little extra each month.
Private tutoring or lessons
Do you have a hidden talent? Maybe you’re a secret chef, a low profile ping pong wizard, or a late night guitar hero. You might be surprised by how much people will pay for your insights and guidance—certain video game coaches average $21 per hour, with plenty of room for growth!¹ The beauty of this gig is that it doesn’t take tons of leg work to get started. You already have the skills and your client base can be from your local community. Just plot out a curriculum, set a price for your services, and get the word out!
Rideshares have become icons of the side-hustle economy. But ferrying strangers to and from bars on the weekends isn’t the only way to make some extra cash with your car. There are plenty of startups and companies that need drivers. That might mean delivering food for a local restaurant chain or dropping off packages for a more established company. Do some sleuthing on what’s available near you and what demand looks like in your area.
The beauty of these gigs is that they’re built on skills and tools that you already have. Put in the leg work to get things started and you might just find yourself with a dependable extra income stream!
¹ “Video Game Coach,” ZipRecruiter, accessed Sep 27, 2022 https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/Video-Game-Coach-Salary
Your credit score is a big deal. At the least, a low score can saddle you with high interest rates, or at the worst, prevent you from getting important loans.¹ It can even be a roadblock to renting a house or getting a job!²
But what exactly is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report? It turns out the two have a close relationship. Let’s explore what they are and how they relate to each other.
Your credit report is simply a record of your credit history. Let’s break that down.
Many of us carry some form of debt. It might be a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt (or all three!). Some people are really disciplined about paying down debt. Others fall on hard times or use debt to fuel frivolous spending and then aren’t able to return the borrowed money. As a result, lenders typically want to know how reliable, or credit worthy, someone is before giving out a loan.
But predicting if someone will be able to pay off a loan is tricky business. Lenders can’t look into the future, so they have to look at a potential borrower’s past regarding debt. They’re interested in late payments, defaulted loans, bankruptcies, and more, to determine if they can trust someone to pay them back. All of this information is compiled into a document that we know as a credit report.
All of the information from someone’s credit report gets plugged into an algorithm. It’s goal? Rate how likely they are to pay back their creditors. The number that the algorithm spits out after crunching the numbers on the credit report is the credit score. Lenders can check your score to get an idea of whether (or not) you’ll be able to pay them back.
Think of a credit report like a test and the credit score as your grade. The test contains the actual details of how you’ve performed. It’s the record of right and wrong answers that you’ve written down. The grade is just a shorthand way to evaluate your performance.
So are credit reports and credit scores the same thing? No. Are they closely related? Yes! A bulletproof credit report will lead to a higher credit score, while a report plagued by late payments will torpedo your final grade. And that number can make all the difference in your financial well-being!
¹ “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” Latoya Irby, The Balance, April 13, 2022, https://www.thebalance.com/side-effects-of-bad-credit-960383
² “The Side Effects of Bad Credit,” Irby, The Balance.