Why Having a Purpose is More Important than Having a Budget

If you read biographies of successful people, the beginning is often very tragic (and sometimes the middle and the end, as well).* I remember reading about Mission Chinese Danny Bowien’s early years as a cook at a fancy French-Japanese restaurant where they threw pots at his head and hazed him mercilessly.  He made so little money that he ate scraps. And you think, of course he kept going because he became a wild success later. But he didn’t know that was going to happen and how hard it must have been to go through the abuse. The poverty. For years. Always doubting if he was on the right path. All because he had a passion and a dream. He endured because he had this glimmer of hope that it would work out.

In Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, it’s a lot worse than that. But the happy ending is survival.

41C2r7-HbkL._SX280_BO1,204,203,200_
As a quick summary, Frankl recounts his years being tortured at a concentration camp and he finds that what sustained the survivors, what sustained him, was having an ultimate purpose. For him, he lost his life’s work, the manuscript that comprised his life’s research, upon entering the camp. He needed to stay alive in order to recreate his research. Throughout the book, he echoes the quote by Nietzsche:

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.

Frankl sees the modern problem** as:

people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning.

I see this lack of meaning always underlying today’s blogs and articles about saving money. I can see why it’s hard to think “stop buying coffee and avocado toast, save for retirement!” Because retirement is when people die. Also it’s a long time away. Why would you delay your happiness for death (or 40 years, whichever is sooner).

You should live now. And I don’t mean live recklessly on drugs and rock and roll (or whatever the kids are doing). But if you really loved something or had a dream to do something with your life, it would be a lot easier to say, I’d rather put the latte money towards that dream. I’d rather find ways to cut corners so I have money to help me on my dream.

I think most of the time we have no idea what to save money for. That’s why we just fritter it away towards things we think are meaningful but have no overarching purpose. We work to have enough money to chase the lifestyle we want. We don’t work to chase a dream. But if we did, I think a lot of the wastes of money would just dry up.

It’s a lot easier to give up the lattes if you have a reason to give them up. 

For the super short term, it could just be a little thing that you want. For the short term this might mean a great vacation. For a longer term, it might be getting rid of debt, quitting your job and writing your book or starting a business. It could be donating to charity or starting a family or seeing your family more often.  It could be whatever your amazing ridiculous dream is, and it’s very likely that money will help you achieve it.

What about you? What’s your meaning in life? (ooh big question).

*They’ve done studies where successful people with tough childhoods drew strength from their hardships. It’s not just that it makes for a better story but it could be a secret to their success.

**Don’t worry – he puts in a caveat that some don’t even have the means. Also note that Frankl died 20 years ago but his assessment of modern problems are still relevant today.

***A good book re passion and finding your purpose.

What Amount of Money is Not Worth Saving?

When I was a kid, I thought my family was poor. So poor in fact that when we would eat out, I would get the cheapest item on the menu – chicken fried rice. I’ve always hated chicken fried rice. But I love shrimp fried rice. The difference in cost was probably 50 cents. 50 cents was a lot of money to me when I was a kid, so of course I thought it was a lot of money to my parents. I thought I was being quite a good selfless daughter.

Of course I didn’t realize that my family wasn’t actually poor and certainly not so poor to care about 50 cents. They also didn’t want me to eat something I hated.

I wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid.

Fast forward to today and I see that Uber charged me $7 more for my ride than I was expecting. Now $7 is a lot more than 50 cents, even with inflation. But I have a much better view of my finances and I know I’m not poor. And I know the $7 won’t make any difference in my budget, in my savings, in my retirement goals. And contesting the matter with Uber seems like a hassle. On the other hand, it’s not like I’m getting anything better by paying an extra $7 – the ride already happened. And while we’re at it, $7 is probably enough to buy some delicious shrimp fried rice!

Clearly something has changed in my valuation with money. I had discussed this issue with my ex a year ago. I had paid off my debt and had amassed quite a bit in savings and he was well on his way to paying off his debt. We both make six figure incomes at pretty stable jobs. We were at places in our financial lives where saving a dollar here or there didn’t seem quite worth it. It doesn’t mean that we would willingly pay more for no reason, but there were now limits to how much trouble we would go to in order to save a buck. We realized we don’t need the buck, the buck saved means nothing to us in terms of short or long term goals and our time and desire not to deal with hassle became more valuable. We could blow thousands of dollars and we’d still have enough. We can order anything off the menu and I like that.

I still clip coupons, because it’s a habit that I find calming, but even when I was watching every dollar, I still ignored the 5 cent or 25 cent coupons. I mean, that amount of money wasn’t worth cutting out, remembering the coupon and presenting the coupon. There’s still a part of me that loves the thrill of saving a few bucks on my ridiculously expensive contact lens solution. And I still remember when I thought these habits were so important, because these amounts of money were critical. It doesn’t mean, however, that we have to keep the same habits for all time or that we can’t adjust for inflation.

I did go through with pestering Uber and Uber readjusted my fare. Old habits die hard.

What about you – what amount of money is not worth saving?

How Watching TV Can Help you Reach your New Year’s Goals

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 11.19.28 PM.pngI would love to see the meetings where TV commercial directors make pitches. Like who thinks up these Geico commercials? Or car commercials?

Or this recent commercial I saw? Johnny Depp narrates saying how he needs to escape, drives into the desert while an ominous guitar riff plays. He buries his jewelry and watches the sunset. End scene.

How can someone sell this concept as an ad to sell cologne?

Then I started to think about it. I can understand that it’s hard to sell perfume when you only have visual and auditory communication. And a large part of what draws us to particular scents is not the actual smell but the memories associated with them. If it’s a new perfume, you don’t have any memories with it. So the pitchmen make a memory for you.

I should know how this works after watching Mad Men and specifically the amazing episode, The Wheel, where Don Draper is pitching for Kodak slideshow equipment:

But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate… but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means, “the pain from an old wound”. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called a Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around, and back home again… to a place where we know we are loved.

The marketing execs are trying to tap into your nostalgia. Especially in times of stress, uncertainty, shame, vulnerability (hello 2017!) we tap into our minds to find those memories where we felt free, we felt certain, we felt beautiful and smart and strong and secure. And I can understand having trinkets or talismans – I guess we call them souvenirs when we return from a vacation – to help us remember the fun times, the good times. And marketers want their product to be your talisman. They want all their products to serve as talismen until your home is overloaded with products and fake memories.

Still, I think it’s interesting to watch advertising as an introspective exercise. These Dior perfume commercials in particular have been appealing to me and I believe it’s because they have this idea of freedom and romance.

In the Miss Dior perfume commercial, in a variety of vignettes, Natalie Portman jumps off a bridge, fights with her lover, screams, runs along a beach in a pink ballgown, recklessly drives a pink convertible and then asks “And you? What would you do for love?”

Well, I probably wouldn’t do any of those things for love. But even if they’re not necessarily all positive actions, the passion is appealing. (Also Natalie Portman looks so pretty).

So what should I do? Well, I like the Miss Dior perfume but I already have my signature scent (Chloe – Roses, if you’re curious). Watching the commercial does reinforce the idea that I feel inadequate in the lack of passion in my life. It’s something that I’ve been working on, and I still feel the yearning in my heart. I need to work on my passion for life, not buy the product.

On the other hand, these family memories commercials have no effect on me. I guess I feel ok about my relationship with my family.

I’ve heard that a big reason (not the only reason) people don’t keep their New Year’s Resolutions is because they don’t even really want them. They set a goal but it’s the wrong goal. It’s like what they tell you in the Bullet Journal Start Up video – if you keep setting the same goal every month and you never complete it, do you really want it? It may be time to reevaluate.

This may all seem silly. We all know what we really want, right? I recently read, for whatever reason, a summary of a 2013 interview with Brad Pitt for Esquire. In it, he states that he felt that he was wasting his life away during his marriage to Jennifer Aniston and that in Angelina Jolie he saw “a very adventurous person who was grabbing on to life and taking it to its nth degree.” So Brad Pitt wanted adventure and he saw adventure in Jolie. This is not to say he didn’t also want Jolie, the most beautiful woman in the world. But there was something stronger than her looks because most people don’t leave their spouses for the other person. He left Aniston because of the marketing. It was the missing adventure that touched his soul.

Of course, we know how this eventually played out because of their messy divorce.  Maybe if he had learned to work out the longing for adventure within himself, instead of looking outwardly, then he could still be married to Jennifer Aniston and I wouldn’t have an irrational hatred for Angelina Jolie. #TeamAniston

So sometimes you think you know what you want (most beautiful woman in the world), but you’re actually going after your hidden desire (adventure, meaning).

The guys who make advertising are masters at drawing out your emotions. By watching commercials (or TV) that really move you, and understanding why they’re moving you, you’re letting the masters direct you to the goals you really long to achieve. What is it that resonates with you? What is the pain from an old wound that you seek to rectify?

I love this quote from Sean Brock, chef: “Suffering is suffering. It doesn’t matter if you are addicted to porn on the internet or you’re codependent or you’re addicted to gambling or if you’re addicted to ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta.’ You’re suffering, and that’s what gets us into trouble.”

We are all suffering and we are all seeking out ways to fix that suffering, consciously or not. And if we are not consciously figuring out the solution, we definitely can get into trouble trying to find solutions where there are none.

So the first step is to figure out the suffering. And watching TV is the cheapest therapy you can find (so long as you don’t buy the products they’re selling and maybe even if you do). And once you find your weakness,in the future, you’ll be able to see how advertising is manipulating you. No, I don’t want that perfume. I want passion. I want to look like Natalie Portman. I do kinda want a pink convertible.

Go create your own memories, find your passions, repair your relationships with your family. You’ll never find the solutions in a product or even outside yourself. But perhaps you can find what you’re really missing in the New Year by looking at advertising.

Have any ads exposed to you about your inner desires?

I Would Do Anything for Love, but I Won’t Do That (for Money)

I did something I thought I’d never do – which is brave Bath and Body Works during the holidays. The place is crazy. But they were having  a(n equally) crazy candle sale and I will admit to being basic enough that I got quite excited.

After buying three candles, my mother realized that I had gotten a $10 off $30 coupon that I could use that day. She suggested, because I had spent $27 on candles already, that I return the candles and repurchase them and something else to use the coupon. Thus I would get all three candles plus something else, for less than what I had paid for just the three candles.

My first thought was that I didn’t want to do that because it seemed like a hassle. Additionally, it just seemed unethical. I wouldn’t have received the coupon if I hadn’t made the first purchase. That was not how the coupon was intended to be used. If it were, they would have given the coupon before the purchase.

Some people would say, Bath and Body Works is a big corporation and makes a ton of money, so it’s not the same as cheating a smaller company. But my ethics have nothing to do with who I’m dealing with and everything to do with how I conduct myself. If I treat nice people well and “bad” people poorly, that’s not so much a system of ethics so much as the path of least resistance. I don’t want to violate my own code of ethics for $10 or any amount of money.

I saw a personal finance blogger mention cheating a “bad” company by intentionally buying things to qualify for free shipping that he planned to return immediately. It’s not necessarily immoral, but the blogger had specifically justified his actions because the company was bad, and not because he thought his actions were ethical. It makes me wonder, who else will he try to cheat? Where are the boundaries to what he will do to save money? If he’s going to cheat for a small amount of money, what would he do with a large amount of money?

Personal finance is about money but it’s more than that. It’s about what you will do, how you will live, who you will become, in relation to how you treat your money. You become a certain kind of person when you treat money as your biggest goal, your idol. I never want to be the kind of person who does that. I will pay the money to live by my own code of ethics. I would rather have no candles at all.

Saving money is important, but there should be principles that are more important. What boundaries will you not cross to save money?

The Power of Community

There was a famous antidrug PSA during the 1980s that showed a rat alone in a cage with two water bottles. One bottle was filled with pure water and the other was laced with cocaine. Unsurprisingly, the rat became addicted to the cocaine water. The ad ominously warned: “Nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it . . . and use it . . . and use it . . . until they are dead.”

But here’s the catch: These tests were done in isolation. Each rat was by itself, alone in a cage for a prolonged period of time. The experiment was repeated a second time, but the rats were now living together. This time, the rats mostly ignored the cocaine water. They didn’t like it, and no rats died.

Community and togetherness, it turns out, can often overpower the most self-destructive threats. Like many people, these rats were less interested in getting high than in escaping a profound sense of loneliness. 

–Andrea Miller, Radical Acceptance

How many of our financial woes are due to an interest in escaping loneliness? Do you think a sense of community might help you spend less?

How I Paid off $112,000 in Student Loan Debt in 18 Months

How I paid off $112,000 in student loan debt in 18 months

I was fortunate enough to graduate from college debt free. Then I had to go and attend law school where I racked up $112,000 in student loan and credit card debt. So you can add this to the unremitting list of “student loan debt payoff” stories. I will admit that my story is more boring than most:

My secret is that there is no secret: I got paid a salary that made it possible to pay off the debt while living a reasonable lifestyle. There are no magical tricks herein. My story is completely mathematically realistic.

The high income was the most important key to paying off my debt. Still, there were a few basic guidelines I followed that helped me pay off the debt.

1. I Reduced Student Loan Debt Before Repayment

Part of the reason I was able to pay back my student loan and credit card debt in such a short time was that a year and a half is not that long a time to sacrifice. Had I taken the maximum load of debt offered to me, it wouldn’t have been feasible to pay off the debt for several years, and I likely would have given up the fast-paying scheme.

The more interesting articles are why I only accumulated $112,000 in debt as opposed to upwards of $180,000, which is the full cost of tuition, fees and approximate living costs at my law school for three years, without interest:

How I Saved $65k in Four Years for Graduate School

How I Saved Tens of Thousands in Law School

It was critical that I was entering a profession that offered jobs that could be high enough to pay off this debt in a reasonable time period. I worry sometimes that these amazing debt paying stories may encourage people to accumulate huge debt while preparing to enter low-paying fields. My favorite debt payoff stories are boring because it’s a bad situation to end up with a lot of debt and a low income. Don’t accumulate so much debt that it becomes mathematically impossible to pay back!

2. I Used my Bonuses

I was lucky enough to get two bonuses during this time period, both of which I put completely towards my debt. I didn’t even consider using the money to buy anything else. What motivated me was that I wanted to be debt-free more than I wanted any more stuff or experiences.

3. I Plowed All of My Money Towards Student Loan Debt First

After bonuses, I paid about $5,000/month for 18 months to pay off my loans. I had an auto payment of approximately $3,000/month (3 times my minimum loan payment). Then I would make periodic extra payments. I could have made a higher automatic payment but I had already had one disaster where extra expenses left me without sufficient funds to pay my rent and credit cards on time. I figured I’d give myself a little more leeway on the monthly payment.

Instead, I would make extra payments when my bank account looked high. Having large balances in my bank account that encourages me to spend. Low balances, even if they are artificially low – like the money is in a separate bank account – subliminally encourage me to spend less. So the extra payments served both to pay down my debt and discourage spending. Still, it was really difficult sending such large amounts out of my bank, particularly after loan payments were already taken out. It was like ripping a bandaid off. You force yourself not to put it off and then when you get to it, you do it quickly and move on. If I had given myself the option, I would have left the money to wallow in my bank accounts. But I was determined to pay off my debt.

4. I Knew the Value of Money


After maxing out my 401k, transportation, taxes and health benefits, and after rent and utilities, and paying off my loans, I had $1,100/month left. That covered the cost of my car, home goods, clothes, food, insurance – basically everything else. For a lot of new lawyers, $1,100/month is too low. (I knew a classmate that was renting a $7,000/month apartment after all).

But $1,100 was enough money for me and I knew the value of this amount of money. When I was an entry level employee, I lived on just a little bit less disposable income, because I was maxing out my 401k. And I remember during that time wanting for nothing.

I was used to living like a law student.  Knowing that I could survive on less was invaluable knowledge to me. I wouldn’t have paid off such large chunks of debt so quickly had I thought I would have had to feel deprived. I knew the value of money so I knew how to be happy with less.

I cooked at home. I kept my 15 year old car. I shopped at JCPenney to create my corporate work wardrobe. I bought a handbag from Target. I rarely shopped and, in fact, my apartment was basically unfurnished for my first six months working. I didn’t get a smart phone until 8 months in, relying on my work phone if I needed to look something up. I was used to this lifestyle, and even though it’s been years since I’ve paid off the debt, this is not so different than how I live today.

5. Everyone was in the same boat


I knew I could live on less, but I also had more expenses in this time period than ever before. I had medical expenses, a new wardrobe, a drastically increased rent. During this time, It helped that most of my friends were also paying back loans and lived similar lifestyles. A lot of my friends were supporting their parents with their salaries.  It also helped that we worked such long hours our first year that we had very little time to blow through our money. (Some people though would take this as license to spend more). I didn’t take my full vacation days until 4 years in (I don’t recommend this – I mean take a frickin’ staycation even. But forgoing expensive vacations does save money).

I felt that I was able to maintain a fairly comfortable existence – just without any lifestyle inflation – and I knew that the time for watching my purchases was short. It was a small price to pay to be debt-free in 18 months.

***

How I Paid Off $112k in Student Loan Debt

So there you have it – I paid off my loans by reducing the loans I took out, making enough money to cover the loans I had and then just throwing money at the loans until they disappeared.

It was technically possible, and indeed my initial plan was, to pay off the debt in one year. But I thought my life was becoming too Spartan. I had increasing visions of dying without having bought a sofa for my apartment. So I went on Craigslist and I bought a sofa and chair for $60. (frugal doesn’t change, natch).

Whatever your plan, being debt free is amazing.  I don’t regret any part of it (even law school, which is rare among lawyers).

Do you have any debt repayment tips?

Don’t Force Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables: What I Learned from “First Bite”

All the books I’ve read this year have changed my life – via new information and/or new perspectives. This book, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, is the only one that changed my family’s life.

I accidentally left this book in my sister’s car, and she started reading it. She tried an experiment described in the book, the tiny tastes program, on her picky son, to great success. His palate has been considerably expanded to include new favorites like cherries, asparagus and cucumbers. The program consists of offering the subject an incredibly small amount of the target food over a period of a few days. The subject can also be bribed with a spoonful of their favorite food for successful completion of each “tiny taste.” But because the taste is so small, the subject generally complies anyway. And with repeated exposure to the taste, the subject learns to like the taste.

This is exactly the opposite tactic that adults who are picky about eating were subjected to – generally their parents made them eat a whole plate of food they hated without any choice.  This program works because it’s not as frightening to eat a small amount of the food and because many children and adults really can enjoy a wide variety of foods if they’re comfortable with them.

The most interesting bit of knowledge that I learned from this book is that there is almost no genetic component to our taste. If we were born in a different culture, we would be eating that culture’s food rather the one we currently do. The food we tend to like is food that is familiar to us and that may also be associated with good memories. The food we tend to avoid is food we are unfamiliar with and/or is associated with bad experiences in our past, like being forced to eat a whole plateful of food we hate/weren’t familiar with.

I know I still can’t stand the smell of creamed corn because I threw up once after eating it when I was a kid, so I totally believe in this hypothesis that bad memories dictate the foods we avoid. Also, I’m not a picky eater at all and perhaps part of that is due to growing up in an Asian family where we ate all our meals family style. I could put as many or as few things on my plate as I liked. I was fully in control, though my parents would of course encourage us to expand our palates. (We all eventually grew to enjoy bitter melon but it was definitely a no-go when we were young. Hey, it took 20 some years of “tiny tastes” but we made it!)

The more I read about our personal preferences, it seems like we are really products of our culture. Like how our taste in music tends to run towards whatever was popular (or at least whatever music we listened to) when we were 13. That’s why I’m a 90s music girl, but that’s why most women of my age also listen to the same music. We are all uniquely the same in this way. Our food preferences just show that we are products of our upbringing and how scary the food culture was when we were children.

Overall though, people can still change. One way to do this may be to incorporate something like a “tiny tastes” program into one’s own life. Small exposures breed familiarity, which may breed to affinity (though there’s no guarantee that you’ll like something even after a tiny taste). You are not confined to your childhood experiences and instituting  small changes can help you change your habits and your tastes (maybe, I’m shooting off the cuff here – it’s a hypothesis).

Let’s talk about our traumatic eating experiences!

How to Spend A Lot on Things that are Free

Yes, you read that title correctly. (And hey, you clicked on the link, so it’s your own fault). There are innumerable websites on how to get expensive luxury good items for cheap. Most of those are scams. This article, well this may also be a scam but I’m telling you upfront: the most valuable items mentioned in this article are free
We are in the holiday shopping season and people and companies are trying to sell you all manner of things to cure whatever ails you. The marketing tends to play on your emotions, promising happy family relationships, stress free and happy living.
1. Energy
There is no shortage of beauty products you can buy to make yourself look like you sleep. There’s concealer for the dark circles, brightening makeup for dull skin, eye drops, etc.  Then there’s coffee to trick your body into being awake.
The Free Solution: SLEEP!
On my to-read list if Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. I remember hearing her speak on a podcast and quote Andy Murray, the famous tennis player, as saying something to the extent of “When you sleep, it’s like the ball comes to you in slow motion.” That’s something that you can’t get from a bottle.
2. Happiness
We buy toys for our kids and toys for ourselves. We buy expensive vacations that leave us yearning to return home.
There’s nothing wrong with a vacation. Of course we need time from work. But more than 4 in 10 workers say they don’t use all their vacation time and 35% of millenials reported working every day of their vacations.
Even if workers were using their vacation days, 4 weeks of the year isn’t really enough time to recharge from our stressed and busy lives. Just as intense workouts aren’t enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle (consistent movement is key), thus, for our overworked culture, consistent play is needed.
The Free Solution: play! Take some time to doodle, frolic, go on a lark, a spree, a spelunk, and engage in some tomfoolery. Schedule some playtime into your day. TV-watching doesn’t count.
3. Good Relationships
This is the season for commercials about family togetherness, so treacly and saccharine that even the most happy families can still leave feeling wanting.
So we buy gifts! This is the season for feeling stressed about buying innumerable gifts, hoping against all hope that the gift can convey the message of how much we value each other and that the cards, gift wrap, shipping, travel, home baked goodies, and stocking stuffers only bolster our relationships for the future. And we also hope it won’t cost too much per person.
The Free Solution: tell your family and friends how you feel about them.

If you don’t sleep well one night and drink an extra cup of coffee to make up for it, that’s fine and inevitable. But once you make it a lifestyle, you can end up spending quite a bit of money for subpar replacements. Let’s not forget what really matters. And what really matters is often free, but the hardest to get.

What do you spend money on that is actually free?

What I’ve Learned from Reading My Journal

After many years of trying, this is the first year I’ve been able to consistently keep a journal since I was a kid. The research on writing in a journal is pretty settled. It reduces anxiety, clears one’s mind and helps one reflect. Also, if you’re anything like me, you change so many things in your daily life, that when some part of your body freaks out, it’s hard to pin down exactly what might be the cause.

In my head I knew keeping a journal was important but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I tried the gratitude journal, but it quickly became a meaningless list of every thing to which I have a positive association.

The only thing that worked for me was writing about what I learned that day.

Part of the impetus for this format was that I wanted to cull out the junk to which I was exposed. If the media I was reading wasn’t consistently offering tidbits that made it to the journal, then it was a goner.

Part of the impetus is that I have a terrible memory. I can rewatch movies  like new because I don’t remember the endings (the third time I watched Braveheart I was pretty shocked). So I had finally instilled in myself a habit for reading books and though I read 50 books last year, but I was afraid that I wasn’t distilling all that information for ready incorporation into my life. So it seemed like a huge waste if I didn’t write that information down.

It’s November now and I realize that I need to re-read my journal to remember what was in it. And it’s quite a funny read for the following reasons

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to worry about.

I have a prayer list that includes my brother finding a job. I completely forgot that he was unemployed this year.

I have a prayer that my ex would get a job that he wanted. He’s now working at another firm.

I tell myself I’m at my wit’s end at my job. This was 8 months ago. I’m still at the same job.

It reminds me that everything worked out. I’m not saying it was clear that it would work out in this way or that it’s futile to pray, because prayer has a lot of positive benefits for the self, but it’s true what they say when they ask if what you’re worrying about will matter in a year’s time. Some things will, but most won’t.

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to think.

I don’t think it’s necessarily fair of me to judge the stupid thoughts in my journal. It’s not a publication. It’s all a first draft that isn’t meant to see human eyes. But it’s not like I’m so much older now. I feel like a disinterested third party picking apart the logic I had back then.

Suffice to say, I had read a bunch of books about psychology and had really gone full arm-chair psychiatrist on my family and friends. But I can see clearly now that the diagnoses were flawed.

  • I remember lost promises I forgot to keep.

My very first entry was how I was going to use the app One Second Video to record the best moments of my year. Unfortunately, I only reread that section AFTER I got back from my Paris trip. Opportunity lost!

  • I see my growth

My natural hair color is black but this year I put some pretty blond highlights in the front. For me, it was a gradual process but for people I hadn’t seen often, I was unrecognizable. That’s how it is with change. You don’t notice the subtle changes in your life, in your habits or appearance, but it is readily apparent to people who only see the before and after.

That’s why it’s so useful to step back in time and see who you used to be. It seems like second nature what your character and habits are now. You’ve already forgotten who you used to be. You’ve forgotten that you can change. And now that you know that change is not only possible, but at times inevitable, you can be purposeful with your changes in the future.

All in all, it’s been really helpful to revisit my diary entries. I’m really glad that I didn’t keep my journal from last year though because I’m sure it would have been filled with happy thoughts about my engagement that I would have had to relive after the breakup. This year was about rebuilding and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Do you keep a journal and do you ever reread it?

 

How to Let Go of Your Anger: Reviewing the Mistitled “How to Fight”

I’m a Christian but I understand that there is a lot of moral wisdom to be gained from nonChristian and non-religious books. I also often think that the Bible may be lacking sometimes in practical guidance. For instance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:22, that even being angry at your brother is a sin. But he doesn’t tell us how to stop being angry. And the church doesn’t usually offer any advice beyond “call on the Holy Spirit to give you [patience, endurance, kindness].”

In Bible study, we are wrestling with the idea of God being our friend, while also being someone who was revered. The group agreed that “Sup, Bro” would be too casual to say to God. But they also agreed that getting angry at God was ok. But I think it’s got to be more reverential to ask “how are you” in vernacular than it is to express anger. Plus, though I realize that God isn’t a human, so we don’t really have to worry about God’s feelings, I think the act of getting angry, even when another person is not the victim, has damaging effects on us.

How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh has a really misleading name. It’s really about controlling your anger. Hanh shares my belief in the corrupting force of anger:

When you try to get anger out by hitting something like a pillow, it may seem harmless. But it’s not certain that you can release your anger by hitting the pillow, imagining it to be your enemy, the one who has made you suffer. You may be rehearsing your anger and making it stronger instead of releasing it. . . By rehearsing our anger we are creating a habit of being angry, which can be dangerous and destructive.

So Hanh is saying, the act of getting angry, even when there are no victims, is destructive to oneself. I think we know this instinctively to be true. My favorite passage is called “Killing Anger”:

…he cursed the Buddha to his face. The Buddha only smiled. The cousin became even more incensed and asked, “Why don’t you respond?” The Buddha replied, “If someone refuses a gift, it must be taken back by the one who offered it.” Angry words and actions hurt oneself first and hurt oneself most of all.

This passage reminded me that, many times, you have complete choice in how to respond to people. (It’s also helpful to think of in terms of gifts this holiday season. If someone gives you a malicious gift, you can just give it back. You don’t have to accept everything that is given to you). They may bait you, they may come at you with anger, but you don’t have to return the gift. They can take the anger home with them. You don’t have to take the anger home with you.

It’s funny that when you start reading books, they all start to relate to one another. The Longevity Plan , which I had discussed in another blog post, had also talked about the dangers of anger for the heart and breathing as a means to remove anger.

This book was really helpful to me for understanding my own anger. When I think of getting angry, I think of fighting. I don’t stop to think, did I misunderstand what the other person said or did? Do I need to fight back? If I started fighting, what would “winning” look like?

But when you’re angry and the other person is angry, you feel like you’re the only one suffering but the fact is, you’re both suffering. Hanh compares fighting in this scenario to running after the arsonist when your house is still on fire. By settling the anger within ourselves, we stop both sides from suffering, and we train ourselves not to become angry. This is the only way to truly put out the fire and prevent more fires from spreading.

What are your techniques for defusing anger?

Image via Giphy.