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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.