The Slope of a Gentle Soul

Mostly we are unhappy because we do not have what we want. We surrender our happiness to the future by thinking that if someday we have what we want we will be happy. But that is seldom how it works—you take your happiness with you.

As Buddha said—wherever you go, there you are.

The world, to a considerable extent, is a reflection of ourselves. Science has determined that we are all born with an inherent baseline of happiness and we hover around it for all our lives. In other words, you will only ever be so happy in your life.

If you can stop desire and let go of attachment to outcome, life becomes about the moment; until then, however, it is about the past or the future.

And we all have our own angle of repose.

The angle of repose is an engineering term; it represents the angle at which piling more sand (or any granular material such as sand) on a pile of sand will no longer raise it. Instead, what happens, when the angle of repose is exceeded, is that the sides fall away. The pile collapses.

But the term also has another meaning wherein it refers to the maximum angle at which an object can rest on an inclined surface without sliding down: Mountain climbers use it in to analyze the likelihood of an avalanche.

My point is that we all have our own angle of repose—it is the point at which, if we pile one more thing onto our life, the pile itself might well give way. Emotions, feeling, tragedies, despair can all pile up and cause just such a collapse.

And just as we are all bound by the natural laws such as gravity, we are all bound by our own, individual angle of repose and, if you exceed it, your life could well begin to slide away.

A mountaineer will bet his life on his judgment of the angle of repose. Your life might depend on your judgement of it, as well. The slope of a gentle soul is tenuous.

Be aware of your personal angle of repose and be sensitive to it. Moderation, equilibrium, and balance in all matters will work best in this regard. And understand, too, that desire is the most granular of materials.

Rich and Skinny

Almost every self-inflicted wound in life is caused by a lack of self-discipline. And what is self-discipline other than the will and fortitude to do the right thing?

The two topics that sell the most self-help books have always been, and will always be, personal money management and weight loss. In either regard there are no secrets. And, yet, year after year new books flood the market wherein the author promises to share the secret to a fat wallet and a thin body.

But ultimately achieving rich and skinny comes down to the self-discipline to do the right thing day after day for life.

Of course, you must know what exactly the right thing is, right? So, if you have issues in either regard, that is, if your money or health is an issue, you need to know what to change, which actions, in order to produce a more desirable outcome.

But we all know what needs to be done because the problem is obvious and what is keeping us as a society fat and broke is that we eat too much and spend too much.

Whenever I talk to someone who is facing money issues…considering bankruptcy, or living with credit card debt, say…I always begin by stating the obvious:

You can’t keep doing what you’re doing and expect a different result.

In other words nothing will change until you change. And the change that is required in every case is always the same—wrong actions must be replaced by right actions. You need to stop doing what got you into the mess you’re in and begin taking those actions that are already proven to alleviate your issues.

So, first, you need to identify the wrong actions in other to remove them and replace them with the right actions. 

Such redirection of our actions is easy over the short term. Over the long-term? Not so much. That’s why all diets ultimately fail—because they are dependent on calorie restriction to achieve results.

And we all know that we need to save money for our future…for the rainy day that is as certain to arrive and so entirely predictable. But according to a recent survey, almost 80% of us in the USA live paycheck to paycheck, refusing, as it were, to back off our spending at all

Even though we know it is wrong to do so and unsustainable, regardless! 

It is revealing to consider that the same tool has proven its value in both weight management and personal financial management—the daily tracking register. When it comes to using this device to lose weight, you simply list everything you eat every day. For the purposes of gaining control over your finances, you simply list every cent you spend every day.

Simple enough, right? The daily log is a simple tool that is proven to work. But few who need to lose weight or gain financial control use it. Why not? A lack of the necessary self-discipline to do the right thing.

All of us who work for a living will put in ten to twelve hours a day to earn the money to pay the bills; but how much do you work on creating your future? If you worked as much on your future as you worked on your job, someday you might not need to work at all.

Live Below Your Means

One common bit of personal financial advice is to “live below your means.” But what does that mean exactly? And why? I mean, why is it smart to live below your means?

And, besides that issue with the common wisdom that dictates that you strive to live below your means, is the fact that the meaning of the word “below” is objective and subjective at the same time. Below has an objective meaning, certainly. So, living below your means would imply that, in keeping with the wisdom of living below your means, you spend less than earn.

Can we stop there? Is that as much direction as you need? Will spending one dollar less than you earn every month lead to your accumulating wealth? No it will not.

The words are hollow, really. And do not mean all that much or are all that helpful.

So, yes, you should plan to spend less than you earn. Now you must move on and put a number to it. But, remember, a goal is something of a destination and when it comes to saving money, the first goal is to save ten percent of your gross income.

There is, however, nothing magical about that ten-percent figure other than it has the power of all goals to direct your actions—and that is powerful stuff, indeed!

Ten percent is an objective number and, for the purpose of goal-setting, works much better than simply intending to live below your means.

And, then, you need to frame the goal, itself, within the context of time. An example would be as follows: Save ten percent of my gross income every month.

But when it comes to saving money, ten percent is really only be a good first step but ten percent is not really enough for a whole host of reasons. For one thing, if you are spending 90% of your income, you are living way (way!!) too close to the financial edge. It is simply more prudent to back away from the precipice in a deliberate fashion.

How do you do that?

I recommend a three-front strategy to those I coach in this regard:

Step One: Cut spending and add the amount you reduce to your savings. The thing is, you can only cut so much.

Step Two: Earn more. Yes, this will usually mean working more hours or a second job but it is often the surest and quickest way to build a nest-egg.

Why is it important to build a nest-egg; that is, why is it so important to have a ready-reserve of cash savings? To answer that question, let me begin by asking you a question:

Are you broke?

I define “broke” as having no savings and being broke is a serious financial issue.

You see, when you do have some savings, this will be were we turn to cover expenses for which we failed to plan adequately. If you are broke, that is, if you have no savings, what do you do when one (or more!) of those expenses pops up in any given month?

Well, sometimes, it is possible to rob Peter to pay Paul. And what I mean by that is that we let some other bill go unpaid but I am sure you can see how that strategy can quickly cascade to cause several other financial issues.

So what most of us do instead of robbing Peter is that we resort to borrowing the money in one form or another. It used to be we would turn to credit cards but now many of us are maxed-out on that count and what is left are car title and payday loans.

If you find yourself resorting to any of those contingencies, you are in immediate need of professional help to get your personal finances in order. Growing credit debt or, worse still, title or payday loans, are sure signs that your financial ship is sinking.

And the last step is my strategy to grow your savings is to save more from now on. I will cover a strategy to do that in a later post or you can read my book, The Debt Whisperer to read the plan in more detail now.

Through the Looking Glass and the Eye of the Needle Both

People say it all the time…heck…ask a kid in high school and they will say it...the truth is, we all say it…“I want to be rich!”

But what does that mean…exactly?

I mean what is “rich?”

It is not a bad practice to consider your dreams; there is nothing wrong with day-dreaming, per se. An issue can arise, however, when we take those thoughts to the next level and verbalize them; especially when we verbalize them to others.

When we do that, express our dreams to others, it is often the case the something gets lost in the translation. Such is the case when someone says to someone else, “I want to be rich.” Usually, what they mean to say is that they want to have a lot of money; rich being a generic term for the condition of having “lots” of money.

But, in most cases, that is not really what they want, at all. And therein lies the problem: You can’t fix a problem you haven’t identified.

People dream of being “rich” because they believe that having a lot of money would solve all their problems. It won’t. Not the big ones.

I haven’t talked to my sister in over five years. And we both have “lots” of money. The money on either side is of no use in resolving the issue that has kept us at odds all these years. And what is ironic about our situation is that the tensions arose over a money-related issue and at a time when the amount of money involved was insignificant.

Truman Capote, the writer, once said that more tears have been shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers. I get that. Be careful what you wish for…

So, yea, dream of hitting some big lottery jackpot. Maybe dream of some distant relative dying and leaving you some huge windfall. Or simply save a little of your paycheck every month for a long time.

As it has been said—if writing a check will fix the problem, it’s not a problem. That money you put away every month will put you in a position of being able to write bigger checks and bigger problems take bigger checks.

It is entirely possible to be happy with a lot of money and happy with not so much money and the opposite is just as true. So money must not be the deciding factor in any of those equations. But when you dream of being rich, put a number on it, develop a plan to get you there, and then get to work on working your plan.

And by doing that, you will not only be rich someday, you will increase the odds that you will also be happy along the way.