Build A Better Future by Fighting Our Dark (Lazy) Side

When I was around 19, I decided that my future had to be different from what I saw around me.

The unsatisfied workers who plodded along just to pay their bills.

When superiors wouldn’t listen to valid ideas or objections.

And the limited choices and freedom that goes with following the well-worn, lifetime-consumer path.

After reading a few books on wealth creation, a light bulb went off.  Effectively, I was going to have to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing, to end up with a drastically different future.

The best part is all the new habits and behavioural changes were learn-able.  All I had to do was practice them long enough, with a sprinkle of self-discipline, and they’d eventually catch on!

 

Being Contrarian

Often, I’ve read that it’s a more powerful motivation to run away from something, than it is to run towards something.  

I know that sounds strange.  But I can confirm it’s true!

I suppose reaching for something better, is not quite the same as running from something terrifying.  And if we think about how humans evolved, this makes perfect sense.

As I thought a bit more about life (perhaps unusual for a 19 year-old), I started thinking of all the things that could be part of my future that terrified me…

Being permanently stressed.  Working a job I hated to pay the bills, with limited options.  Being unhealthy.  Having no free time.  And the mindless consumption to chase short-term happiness, leading to the realisation it was all a waste of time.  Trapped on the treadmill until the pension kicks in at age 70.

All these things combined, to make me fearful of what my life could turn into, if I let it.

Some of these things have nothing to do with money, and all to do with mindset.  But this is how I was thinking at the time, and still do sometimes.  So it plays into fear-based actions that are often motivators.

Rightly or wrongly, how I thought at the time was:  If I simply follow everyone else, I’ll end up in a position I’d regret.

But to get the life I really wanted – wealth, happiness, health, free time and meaningful activities, I’d need to flip the script and do the opposite of what I saw was the most common approach.

Here’s what I began to focus on, using that fear as fuel, to drive changes in my life.  And while fighting the dark (lazy) side of our human brain.

 

Health

Naturally, we are quite lazy.  I think it’s human nature to try to preserve our energy stores.  So that when a critical time comes, we have ample reserves of energy to take action and ensure our safety.

Nowadays, this hidden instinct is much less useful than it was.  In fact, it’s downright harmful.  Taken to its extreme, we will simply keep eating and stop moving, to build up large stores of extra energy.

Indeed, some people make a sport of this.  We all do sometimes, but the point is to stay in control.

By focusing on eating healthy food, instead of junk, we can steer ourselves away from becoming that future unhealthy person.

And by exercising regularly, instead of making excuses and opting out, we’re building the strong habits needed to build the healthy, vibrant individual we want to become.

 

Wealth

Obviously, the standard path of work/spend to infinity and beyond, simply doesn’t work to build wealth.  So clearly, we’re going to take a contrarian path in this area.  But you already know this of course!

Instead of spraying our money far and wide, giving in to lifestyle inflation – saving and investing will be our core focus!

If you focus on saving first, you’ll have all the spending and lifestyle options open to you later.  But by focusing on spending first, you’ll have very little lifestyle or freedom options later, and your spending will inevitably need to be reduced to match the age pension you receive.

What a tragic short-term focus.

Even for hardcore spenders, imagine the insane spending they could do with just a decade or two of saving and investing before they let loose!

They’d be positively drooling at the thought of the lifestyle they could purchase at that point!

Ironically, its only the hardcore savers that tend to get this option.  But after carving out their modest and happy lifestyle, many aren’t interested in all the ‘extras’ their money can bring.  They’ve reached the point of ‘enough’.

 

Education vs Entertainment

Another contrarian move you can make, is to focus on continued learning.

A large amount of people finish school, get a few employable job skills under their belt, and hope they’re done with learning forever.  I was probably one of those types.  If something wasn’t on TV, I wasn’t interested.  If it was so important, they’d turn that book into a program and then I’d watch it!

How sad is that?

Out of pure laziness I didn’t make the effort to learn anything new.  That is, until I decided it was a necessity!

Once I decided my future had to be different, learning was no longer optional.  So I began reading books and blogs.  Also watching videos and going to seminars.  And I loved it!

I realised learning new things and expanding your mind is one of the most thrilling and productive things you can do.  Now almost all idle time is spent reading, rather than watching some painful and pointless reality television.

Incredibly, most of the population watches 17 hours of entertainment a week!

By diverting some of this free time to learning, your future self will be massively rewarded!

 

Thinking

Yes, thinking can be some of the most profitable time you have.  And it seems any spare moment we have, we pull out our phones to browse social media or play a child-like game made for bored adults.

Back in the old days people would think to themselves and come up with ideas or simply gather their thoughts and process the days events.

Because we’ve developed this habit, to avoid being idle and thinking, I believe this causes anxiety, as there’s simply too much for our brain to process, and we don’t give it enough time to keep up.

Instead of continuing on in robot-mode, I started thinking about my life, and which direction I wanted it to go.

So many people never question the way things are done.  They simply follow along with the crowd and assume there’s no alternative.

As I’ve come to realise how much of an introvert I am, I now appreciate the spare time to sit and think.  About today, about tomorrow, and about plans for the future.

Because thinking is deceivingly hard work, few people bother to do it.  Much easier to flick on the TV or scroll social media.  And being tired from work doesn’t help.  But we need to fight our inner-laziness and go against the norm here.

After all, this is your future we’re talking about!

 

Delayed Gratification

A classic contrarian move by the FI crowd is the practice of delayed gratification.

While it’s quite simple, it’s still not harnessed by many people at all.  Usually, we’re quite poor in our ability to wait for things, as I noted in this article on retiring young.

As an example, when I decided I wanted to reach financial freedom to be free from work, I started working more hours.  People thought I was strange.  They assumed I loved the work.

But I actually did the extra hours, because I didn’t want to work.

The way I saw it was, the more I work now, the less I have to work later.  Or more accurately, the more I work now, the sooner I don’t have to work anymore!

There’s some fascinating studies on how delayed gratification can change ones future.  One such study, discussed here is a great article on the subject.

Simply put, we need to convince ourselves it pays off to wait, and reinforce this good behaviour as it grows and becomes a discipline that’s built into us.

 

Other Things

While we’re at it, let’s try relaxing a bit, and focus on being happy.  So often, we’re worrying about things that haven’t happened and probably never will.

Our mind likes to focus on these things to protect us from danger, future or present – a good thing.  But it also tends to distract us in our daily lives and cause us to dwell on problems that don’t exist (yet) – a bad thing.

By being more focused on what we’re doing or thinking about, we’ll short-circuit the mind wandering into worry-land.

Now this is easier said than done, but worthwhile practising.

 

Producing vs Consuming

Honestly, I’ve never though of myself as a person who produces things.  But the truth is, most of us are producing and consuming many things each day.

This blog is my attempt at producing value for the people who read it – and thanks for that!

You’re producing value for your company each day at work by helping them achieve their goals and make profits.  And we’re all consuming pretty much constantly to stay alive!

Our tendency to lean towards consuming things and preserving energy can be flipped on its head too, for maximum happiness and wealth.

By focusing on producing things at work, or growing your own food, building a business, starting a blog or whatever – it makes us feel really good.  And also takes away from the extra time we’d normally be consuming, making our lives richer in the process too.

 

Final Thoughts

Some of these things are pretty basic really.  And some of them I’m still working on.  But they all combine into a sort of life philosophy that’s been extremely helpful to me in building a better future.

Exercise instead of lazing around.  Eating healthy, instead of rubbish.  Saving and investing, instead of spending and wasting.

Continuous learning, instead of mindless entertainment.  Thinking about our future, rather than living like a robot.  Try to relax and be happy, instead of worrying.

Spend more time producing, less time consuming.  And of course, practice delayed gratification, instead of the false-win of instant gratification.

Basically, make your own decisions and don’t blindly follow your peers. Remember, to achieve financial independence at a very young age, we need to do things differently.  Sometimes, we need to approach life from precisely the opposite angle as many others.

And we also need to regularly battle against our own inherent energy-preserving-laziness, to improve our lives as humans.

Mostly, it’s about doing what we should do, rather than what we feel like doing.  And making the difficult choice, rather than taking the easy default option.

Because the hard options are, eventually, the far more satisfying and rewarding choice.

 

12 comments

  1. Hi Dave,
    It is a great summary. As an engineer, i like lists so i would single out 5 big fields that you need to invest in for a better future:
    1) Your physical investment : that good be summed up with good eating, physical activity and maybe regular fasting and being wary of pollution (in air/food/water).
    2) Your mental investment: that means learning regularly and constantly, through books/podcasts/documentary or by making things. Also working your creativity.
    3) Your financial investment: the blog is about it so no need to detail it.
    4) Your relationships investment: take good care of your friends and family. And be proactive in meeting new people.
    5) Your character investment: probably the most important of all, as this will allow you to build up the discipline, perseverance, calm and positive mindset that will allow you to become better at the 4 others, and that underpins happiness. Stoicism, meditation help on this.

    Cheers,

    Dave

    1. Thanks Dave – I’m a fan of lists too.

      Your list is well thought out! As opposed to my blog post, which was just some random observations 🙂

      Nicely said, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. “Being Contrarian”. I was talking to my fiance the other day about the philosophies that I follow. I was saying that as much as I would love to call myself a Stoic, I think I am more of a Cynic. But over the years I have noticed I just cherry pick from a whole bunch of different philosophies – the latest being contrarian. I was just randomly thinking about this concept while I was on a long flight last week and the more I thought about it, the more I felt comfortable with the idea of doing the opposite of the masses.

    Wherever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to reflect. – Mark Twain

    1. Thanks Joel. I think many of us just mesh together a bunch of philosophies we think make sense to us as we travel along the road of life. It’s a never ending learning quest.

      Haha, yes I’ve heard that quote before, it’s a good one. It just puzzles me why so many people just follow along with the crowd, and if you ask them why, they don’t really have an answer. Often though, when you question how someone is running their life, it tends not to go down too well…despite having good intentions for asking 🙂

  3. I was sitting on the station platform reading this while I waited for my train. When I reached the part about thinking, I closed my iPad. I rarely give myself time to process at the end of a day. I’m either listening to podcasts, reading blogs, or researching for my next article, before getting home and reaching straight for the laptop so I can do more of it!

    I have noticed that if it’s been a particularly tricky day that I don’t listen to anything, because I know I’ll be distracted by my thinking. Sounds like it is my brain’s way of making me pay attention to itself.

    I definitely need to give myself more time to think just for the sake of it, not for any end purpose. Kind of like reverse meditation?

    1. Sounds like stimulation overload if you ask me! Given you work with data and like to read quite a bit, you might be an introvert and your brain will really appreciate the quiet time of ‘nothing’ to process all that information.

      I’ve found I need a lot of quiet time, or I get quite grumpy, frustrated and even stressed (over-stimulation as Dave commented) – it’s what my brain/personality enjoys most I guess.

      From your blogs etc it sounds like anxiety is creeping up on you because you’re trying to do too much. Could be that you need some ‘mental refresh’ time aka thinking. You should at least try it out and see how it feels 🙂

  4. Hi Dave

    Great summary there.

    A lot of it is common sense, but the simple fact is that these tools at our disposal are rarely implemented (very true for me at least).

    It is a constant struggle for me to fight the lazy, impulsive, short-term, dopamine-driven part of my brain. I think it is especially hard in today’s society where there are SO many distractions and potential pitfalls – TV, Twitter, Facebook etc. In fact, I have blocked Facebook and Twitter on my browser because they were just too disruptive for me.

    The world is conspiring against us living a conscious existence.

    I fully agree with you about the overstimulation causing anxiety too. People respond to different levels of stimulation, but I personally need very little.

    I am very introverted as well, and it seems that us introverts will not only have to fight to avoid overstimulation, but we will also have to rebel against society in order to live true to our natures. I read a good book on the subject a few months ago – “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain…not sure if you’ve read it?

    The book suggests that society has changed a lot in the last century or so. Virtuous traits 100 years ago would have included such words as serious, disciplined and honorable.

    Nowadays the ideal person is extroverted and attention-seeking, and a lot of people measure their self-worth based on how many likes they get on social media. It is to society’s great detriment I believe.

    However, it is hard-wired into human nature to seek social approval, so it is very difficult not to get sucked into this whirlpool.

    It is definitely a daily struggle for me to live a conscious, disciplined, long-term focused existence – but the rewards are well worth it.

    Cheers
    Dave

    1. Thanks for such a valuable and thoughtful comment Dave!

      Interesting you went to the length of blocking social media! I use it very minimally, as it tends to be a rabbit-hole of rubbish, drama and stuff I just plain don’t care about.

      I’ve only read one book on introverts and it really rang true for me, it was by Laurie Helgoe. I’ll check that one out though, cheers! It’s a topic I want to read more about. Found it fascinating how introverts and extroverts operate so differently – one thriving on outside stimulation and drawing energy from other people and social vibrancy, others constantly absorbing and processing information, thriving on and drawing energy from their own internal thoughts and puzzle-solving type brains – something like that anyway (need to read more).

      Funny you say that about society, I feel the same, often wanting to pull away or completely uninterested in certain things considered normal. I completely agree with your points – the book I read raised many of the same issues regarding what society now considers positive traits vs 50-100 years ago.

      Yes, it’s true social approval is important, but self approval is the most important. Being happy with yourself and your own life is far better than living to fit in with others expectations. Others can have all the attention and praise they like, not a game I wish to play, will happily kick back and watch!

      Thanks again Dave. I must get onto those books as it’ll help me to better manage life, in an over-the-top, extroverted world. Haha!

  5. Isn’t it funny to see how our mindset can change over the years. After following your story, I can definitely say your mindset has changed for the better. The way you provide value to people by producing content is what the blogging community is all about. Keep up the great work!

  6. Lots of great thoughts that resonate here with me Dave:

    Producing vs consuming – really changed my perspective when I started viewing the world this way a few years ago in particular. The potential value you add is far more rewarding than anything you can consume. I’m almost too tuned into it now so that when I’m purely consuming I feel a little ill!

    Contrarian – often I feel I’m contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian and being different, but overall I prefer this to just doing what everyone else does. Much harder to do if you’re in a large group, unless you genuinely care more about ‘self-approval’ as you mentioned in the comments above.

    (Other) Dave’s comment about how the world has changed in the past 100 years is very interesting also. Some people say that all this social media communication and obsession is the ‘way of the future’, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the best way of the future if we’re focusing on things that are really important in life. I do everything I can to avoid social media.

    All you can really do at the end of the day is lead by your own example – and you seem to be doing a great job of that. Keep it up.

    Cheers,

    Frankie

    1. Great comment Frankie!

      Totally agree, I think producing things is the happier option – only realised this recently too.

      Being contrarian in a large group – we’re all part of a super-large group (society) so deciding that the normal way things are done is not for you, is perfectly doable, but peer pressure gets to many people. Different than just going along with someone’s ideas on where to go for lunch to keep the peace. When it comes to something as important as the direction of our lives, I think it’s far too dangerous to not choose our own path.

      You sum it up really well- after all, you can only lead the horse to water… 🙂

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