So You Want to Be Happy?

Start by doing this: Spend less time thinking.

“Homo sapiens” means thinking human. But for the great majority of our species’ development, we did very little serious thinking.  Most of our brain activity was directed toward survival.

You might think that a lifetime spent searching for grub worms and running from predators would be an unhappy one. The evidence, according to Yuval Arrari, writing in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humanity, suggests otherwise. Prehistoric man seems to have led a reasonably happy life, in part because he had very little time for thinking.

I remember reading about an experiment in England, where a group of volunteers went off to the woods and lived prehistorically. Their lives were very simple. They spent three or four hours a day hunting and gathering, and 20 to 21 hours sleeping. And what did these intrepid volunteers have to say about their experience? They said it was the happiest time of their lives!

There have been several significant studies on happiness in recent times, including the famous Harvard Study that spanned more than 70 years. Most of them came to the same conclusions:

* If you ask young people what they think will make them happy, they will name the usual suspects – wealth, fame success, etc.

* But when you study the actual data, it turns out that happiness comes from experiences rather than things and relationships rather than accomplishments.

These sorts of studies dovetail with the teachings of the Stoics and Transcendentalists and Buddhists. Their view was that wellbeing comes from living “in the moment” and not fretting about the future or the past.

It takes a fair amount of thinking about oneself to achieve success, acquire wealth, and/or become famous (when fame is the goal). But achieving happiness in life is mostly the result of caring about others and living in the moment, which is almost impossible to do when your mind is active with thought.

As someone that spends 98% of his waking day thinking about anything and everything other than what I’m actually doing, I could be a poster person for the deleterious effects of living in one’s head. My bouts of anxiety come, at least in part, from thinking frantically about the future. And dredging up thoughts of the past only exacerbates my bouts of depression.

I believe in the positive effects of meditation. The practice is meant to bring the mind away from transient thought and toward a more grounded state of consciousness – one in which your essential self somehow stops paying attention to the thoughts and feelings that race through the mind and focuses in on the present moment, in all its wonderfulness. But perhaps because I’ve spent so much time thinking, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to meditate in any serious way.

I don’t seem to have much trouble thinking and caring about others. I don’t do it naturally, but I can do it. And when I do it, my mood improves – sometimes into the happiness zone.

But it’s not just caring about others that stimulates a sense of wellbeing. I find contentment, too, whenever I’m working well on something I care about. A building project, for example, or landscaping my botanical garden or a writing a book or playing the French horn.

So what does that all mean?     READ MORE

Continue Reading

Ego, Inspiration, and Achievement*

It’s impossible to see the pyramids of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, or the Great Wall of China without thinking about the will it must have taken to build these wonders of human creation. They were built thousands of years ago when the technology for building at that scale didn’t exist.

Even something as “ordinary” as the Palace of Versailles, built in the 17thcentury by Louis XIV, is awe inspiring.

Or how about what it took for Michelangelo to paint the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel… or Mozart’s gargantuan struggle to compose his Requiem… or Thomas Wolfe’s painful work revising Look Homeward Angel

And that’s to say nothing of scientific or business or military accomplishments.

Most of what we think of when we talk about human “achievement” is the result of one part inspiration and nine parts long and sustained effort, often under difficult conditions, focused toward a specific objective.

In fact, this quality of sustained and focused activity towards “making” new and bigger and better things could be said to be distinctly human. Animals are capable of hard and sustained work to create food and shelter, but they do not create new things for the purpose of bigger and better.

Put conversely, if human beings were not capable of such focused effort, civilization would have enjoyed few (if any)  scientific, industrial, social, and even artistic innovations throughout history.

The impulse to fix, improve, enlarge, and beautify seems to be hardwired into our brains. There is no human society that hasn’t produced inventions and art.

But what is the thing that drives people to do these things?   READ MORE

Continue Reading

Four Proven Ways That Employees Can Get Big Raises and Retire Rich

It’s commonly said that you can’t get rich working for someone else. That the only way to achieve financial independence is to own your own business.

This idea feels true when you are stuck in a thankless job, working long hours for mediocre pay. But it’s nonsense.

It’s perfectly possible to become wealthy as an employee. You’ve just got to (a) be working for the right kind of company, (b) chart a course for yourself that takes you from ordinary to valuable and from valuable to invaluable, and (c) make sure you get the compensation you deserve.

I know this to be true for three reasons: I did it myself. I mentored at least a dozen employees that did the same thing. And I looked at a foot-high stack of research on highly paid employees that confirmed my experience.

(In this essay, I’ll outline the principal ideas I’ve developed on this subject. I’ll present them just as I presented them to those I’ve mentored: as observations and advice. Sometime later this year, if I can get someone to help me, I’ll expand this essay into a book. But what you are about to read should get you going and keep you moving in the right direction, if you are interested.)

Nothing I’m about to suggest will be especially difficult. It will take time. And commitment. And the willingness to do some things that you are not doing now. But there will be no big scary leaps required of you. Begin where you are now, with the skills and knowledge you currently have. Then move forward, taking small, sensible steps, acquiring the skills and knowledge you currently lack.

There are 5 stages to this journey:

  1. Make sure you are working for the right company.
  2. Become extraordinary at what you do.
  3. Develop additional, financially valuable skills.
  4. Expand your reach so that your business can’t do without you.
  5. Move from employee to stakeholder.

Work for a Business That’s Right for You

There are basically three kinds of businesses that can provide the environment you are looking for, where you can become rich.

Big corporations

Big corporations will pay you serious money if you are at the top of their food chain. A senior vice president of a billion-dollar business can easily make $350,000-$750,000.

It’s not difficult to accumulate an eight-figure net worth if you get yourself promoted into one of those highly paid jobs quickly. But the competition will be strong. You will be competing with dozens (if not hundreds) of very smart, very hardworking, very ambitious young people. You will have to be not only outstanding at your job and then move yourself strategically towards the money side of the business, you will also have to be politically shrewd. Because all big companies suffer from some amount of corporate politics. And even if you have what it takes to rise to the top, it will likely take 10-20 years.

Financial service businesses

Brokerages, banks, and insurance companies are particularly good places for ambitious people that want to get rich as employees because they are designed to motivate and reward their employees with commissions and bonuses. And if you are with the right company, those commissions and bonuses can be huge.

There are probably a thousand such businesses in the USA that are happy to pay their best people $250,000 to $1 million or more – if they can perform. Career paths at this level include portfolio managers, marketers, and salespeople.

Becoming a high-earning portfolio manager is a matter of knowledge, skill, and luck. If you are highly intelligent, mathematically oriented, and mentally disciplined, this could be an exciting and rewarding path for you. But be prepared for the emotional challenges. It is difficult to keep an investment portfolio’s performance above the pack. When the performance is up there, you are a superstar. When it drops below – and eventually it will – you will be a pariah.

A less demanding (in my view) career path is to become a broker – starting out working under another broker, developing leads and then signing up your own accounts, and then eventually having a team of junior marketers and junior salespeople working for you. Brokering is 80% salesmanship, 10% customer management, and 10% knowing what you are doing. To succeed as a broker, you need to be very good at all three.

Small companies with big potential

The third type of business that offers employees the potential to become rich is the small, entrepreneurial company with big growth potential.

This was my choice as a young man, and I don’t regret it. Starting out with a small company, especially if you are young, gives you a fast track to making big money that you won’t get in a big corporate environment. You are not competing against dozens of hyper-smart and uber-ambitious colleagues. And there is no formal corporate ladder to climb.

With small businesses, it’s generally easier to take on more responsibility. It’s also much more likely that you will be working directly with the founder, who will be very conscious of everything you are doing to make him or her rich.

Plus, working for a small business gives you a much greater ability to shape the corporate culture so that you can become not just wealthy but also proud of what you do.

Becoming a Valuable Employee

Whatever type of company you choose, your journey to wealth begins by establishing yourself as a valuable employee.

Most employees go through their lives working for businesses they care nothing much about, dealing with problems they’d rather not face and getting paid very ordinary wages. They would like to earn more. They may even be willing to do more. But their ambitions are sporadic and fleeting. Most of the time, they are simply showing up.

Such employees are never going to get substantial raises. They can expect their salary to rise very slowly and very gradually. From 1984-2017, for example, the average salary rose by around 3.5%, according to the Average Wage Index.

As an ordinary employee, that’s what you should expect. But getting a 3.5% increase every year will never get you rich. It’s barely enough to keep up with inflation.

Becoming a valuable employee, however, puts you on a different trajectory. Extraordinary employees can – and often do – get raises that begin at twice the 3.5% average and often jump by 10% yearly with periodic leaps of 25% or more.

That sort of arithmetic is why most college-educated employees starting out today can expect to quadruple or quintuple their salaries over a career span of about 20 years, whereas top-performing employees can easily double or triple that.

A valuable employee, earning only a minimum increase of 7% a year, will see his compensation grow from $50,000 to $193,000 in 20 years. At 10%, he will see his compensation break into the quarter-million-dollar range.

There are basically four ways to distinguish yourself as a valuable employee and see your compensation accelerate at a faster pace:   READ MORE

Continue Reading

No, You Didn’t Choose It… And, No, You Can’t Change It… So What Are You Going to Do About It?

You didn’t choose and cannot change the locale of your birth.

You didn’t choose and cannot change your ethnicity or your parentage.

You didn’t choose and cannot change the color of your skin.

But you can choose to change almost everything else.

Dwelling on what you didn’t choose and can’t change does you no good.

It doesn’t soothe your pain.

It doesn’t change the past.

It doesn’t lift you up.

It doesn’t give you hope.

And it cannot improve your future.

Feeling victimized by what you didn’t choose and can’t change actually hurts you.

It makes you angry,

Which depletes your energy,

Which makes you weak,

Which makes you less capable of moving ahead.

Ultimately, this way of thinking is a tragic waste of your precious time.

So why do so many supposedly smart and learned people promote it?   READ MORE

Continue Reading

The New Challenge I Give Myself Every Day

I received a note from a former protégé who is using my personal productivity system (my “Goaltending Program”) to accomplish her very demanding schedule as editorial director of a growing publishing company.

I thanked her for the note, congratulated her on her success, and said, “You know, I’ve taught this system to dozens, showed it to thousands… yet you may be the only person besides me that is using it!”

Then I shared with her something that I’ve added to the Goaltending Program.

It’s a new challenge I give myself – four things I try to do in order to enjoy the satisfaction of an intellectually fulfilling day:

  1. Write something worth reading.*
  2. Do something worth writing about.*
  3. Read something worth recommending.
  4. Learn something worth teaching.

This is a quality-of-life challenge. There are no requirements in terms of “how much” or “how long.” For example, “Learn something worth teaching” might be how to adjust one’s side view mirrors so that there are no blind spots. And “Write something worth reading” might include this little journal entry that you are reading right now. (Of course, you are the judge of whether I’ve succeeded.)

*I got the first two from Ben Franklin.

Continue Reading

Your Ultimate Productivity Guide for the New Year

Most ambitious and successful people set goals and use task lists. I’ve seen those task lists. They’re usually handwritten on lined paper – pages and pages of “things to do” with no way to sort out what’s important.

I used to do that. But I was never able to accomplish my long-term goals that way.

I doubt those people do, either.

The time-management system I use now is more detailed. And it takes a bit more time. But it works. I mean it really works.

Prior to using this system, I was able to accomplish my main goal, which was about achieving wealth. But I was forever putting off my other life goals. Had I still been writing down yearly resolutions and daily task lists, I am sure I would have continued to add to my net worth. But I doubt I would have done much if any of the following:

  1. I wrote and had 30+ books published. (Two of them were New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.)
  2. I wrote four screenplays. Three were made into movies.
  3. I earned a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
  4. I started a family charity that funded – and is running – a $5 million+ community development center in Nicaragua.
  5. I relearned the French horn.
  6. I developed several financial products and services that have helped many people achieve their financial goals. (I’m very proud of that.)
  7. I started a boutique publishing company that has produced books for unknown writers who I think deserve to be noticed.
  8. I am developing a 20-acre botanical palm tree and sculpture garden that I hope will one day be open to the public for free.
  9. I stayed healthy, kept my friends, and enjoyed my family.

As I said, before I began using this system, I never had time to write poetry or produce movies. I never had time to get involved with charitable endeavors. I was very busy. But my life was speeding by without any hope of being able to look back and think, “I did everything that was really important to me.”

Determining Your Core Values

Most people you meet on the street don’t like their jobs, are unhappy with their family life, and want more money. They believe that if they could just do this or that, everything would be better.

Winning the lottery would make it all okay. At least that’s what they think. But the truth is otherwise. Unless you live your life according to your core values, no success will be enough to bring you joy.

So before you attempt to set your goals, you have to spend some time determining your core values. What do I mean by core values? I mean the feelings you have about good and evil that are buried deep within your heart.

What does goal setting have to do with core values? It’s all about ensuring your long-term happiness. If you set goals that contradict your core values, you will wake up one day and say, “I did everything I said I wanted to do. But so what?”

You don’t want to end up being yet another highly successful but fundamentally miserable person – a fate so common it’s become a cliché. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen…

Begin by imagining a funeral. It is taking place in an elegantly appointed room. The room is full of friends and family members who have assembled to talk about the deceased. You look around. You begin to recognize faces. “Who is the deceased?” you wonder. You look at the casket. Good grief, it’s you!

So what are the people at your funeral saying about you?  READ MORE

Continue Reading

So You Don’t Believe in Making New Year’s Resolutions? Why Not?

Ask 10 people if they make New Year’s Resolutions and nine of them will tell you they don’t. So I’m guessing you don’t do it either.

And if that’s true, you’ve been squashing an impulse that’s key to success in life: the natural desire to improve yourself.

I can’t say that I’ve always felt as strongly about New Year’s Resolutions as I do now, but I have felt strongly about the power of self-improvement my entire life. And I’ve attributed all of the good things I’ve managed to achieve to my drive to keep getting better.

Benjamin Franklin was my inspiration in many ways. I admired the determination and perseverance that took him from poverty to wealth, from being a nobody to being a success at everything he put his hand and mind to. (If you have never read a biography of him, you should do so one day.)

So about 20 years ago, when I decided to start writing a blog, I chose to model my theme on the advice in his generous and pragmatic letters, essays, and books.

I liked almost every recommendation I’d ever read by wise old Ben, but I had bridled at the one about “early to bed and early to rise.” After all, I had managed to achieve a fair amount of success by going to bed late and waking up after 9:00 (and sometimes 10:00).

But since he was so adamant about this particular idea, I had tried it out. And lo and behold, it immediately and measurably improved my life. It made me about 30% more productive in terms of gross work output. But it made me about 300% more productive in terms of accomplishing business, personal, and social objectives that really mattered to me.

And that, needless to say, made me about 100% happier!

So I named the blog Early to Rise, with the focus on efforts I had made to achieve the three core objectives identified in Ben’s maxim.

* My first priority at that point in my life was to increase my wealth.

* My second was to improve my health.

* And my third was to become smarter about things that I valued.

That tripartite approach worked well. It forced me to understand that although I had made wealth building my first priority, I could not ignore my second and third priorities if I expected to enjoy a somewhat balanced life.

Continue Reading

Final Countdown to Christmas: Only One More Day!

It’s Christmas Eve and you’re stressed. No wonder. You’ve been working double-time while attending to all your holiday obligations and trying to enjoy the festivities.

And so it’s no wonder that you feel you shouldn’t have to work today. But you do. You have to work, but you don’t have to put in another typical 8- to 10-hour day. You are going to limit your work to four hours, but they will be good hours. Your business, your family, and your equilibrium will be the beneficiaries.

Today’s objective: Get a good deal of useful and rewarding work done, as much as you can in four hours. Then go home early, feeling you’ve done your bit and met the challenge without a shred of guilt.

Here’s how I do it:


Continue Reading

10 Quick Ways to Improve Yourself Every Single Day

It’s that time of year when most people start to work on “resolutions” for next year. But don’t wait until January 1 to put those resolutions into action. Significant, life-improving change takes a long time – and the time to start is always right now.

I should know.

Perhaps because of a perennially low sense of self-esteem (probably deserved), I’ve been working on improving myself ever since Sister Christopher, my Grade 1 teacher, rubbed a wad of chewing gum into my hair as punishment for chewing it in class. (“That will teach you! And now maybe your parents will give you a proper crew cut!”)

So – and not to brag – when it comes to self-improvement, you have to agree: I got an early start.

Alas, we cannot become smarter, more skillful, more disciplined, or happier simply by choosing to be so. But the good news is (and you won’t hear this anywhere else – for the time being) that all of the psychological benefits of positive change come to you the moment you start changing. They are not dependent on the goal.

Another bonus: Studies show that the best way to change is through small, repeated actions.

Here are 10 “small” actions you can take every day that will make your life better:


Continue Reading

Learning, Practicing, and Understanding

Thursday, December 20, 2018

 Delray Beach, FL.- What’s going to be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2019? Do you want to become a masterful writer? Marketer? CEO?

Whatever your goal is, know this: There are four stages in mastering a complex skill: learning, practicing, and understanding.

The first two are intertwined. The last is an achievement.

You cannot practice without some little bit of learning. And you cannot learn without a lot of practice. But the understanding… oh, that’s the wonder!

Let me explain.

For some time now, I’ve been mentoring three young people in the financially valuable skill of writing advertising copy.

Each week, they bring in some piece of copy for me to critique. These are not long pieces. Nor are they complete. They are early drafts of what we call “leads” – headlines and the first 300 to 700 words of copy.

When mentoring copywriters, I like working with leads because they are short and yet they provoke the most important questions about advertising:

For example:

* Does the headline work? Does it hook my attention? Does it make me want to read on with positive expectations?

* Does the rest of the lead introduce an emotionally compelling promise or idea? Does that promise or idea meet the prospect where he is at the moment of reading? Does it build from there? Does it leave the prospect desperate for more?

* What type of lead is being used? A story lead? A secret lead? A promise? An offer? If it is a secret lead, is it followed by a story? If a story leads, is a secret introduced?

The other advantage of using leads for teaching copy is that if their leads are flawed (as they often are), the flaws will typically be the most common mistakes junior copywriters make.

For example:

* Mistaking topics for ideas

* Breaking “the rule of one” – i.e., presenting  multiple ideas or making multiple promises

* Making claims without proof

* Writing copy that is generalized and/or vague

I’ve been using this teaching format for decades, and it’s usually good and useful. Smart, hardworking students generally make fast progress. I’m sure there are other ways to teach and learn that are as good or better for individuals. But for me, this is a protocol that has proven to be effective for most people most of the time.

One thing that has surprised me is that there is little to no relationship between a person’s ability to understand a writing principle and his/her ability to put that principle to work.

In fact, I’ve been confounded by how often, after, for example, explaining how a particular headline isn’t working, I will get the same mistake the very next day. And the day after that. And so on.

When I first noticed this many years ago, I assumed the fault was mine. That I had not explained the principle clearly. But repeated and even variant explanations of the same principle did no good.

So was it the student? Was it his fault?

Continue Reading