My Best Books of the Year: 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.

My Best Books of the Year: How to Have a Good Day

Ok I didn’t finish reading this book. But I skimmed it and there’s an appendix that lists all the best practices as an easy shortcut. Here are the most helpful tips I found.

Before Work

  • Think about something you’re looking forward to.
  • Set your intentions. What matters most today? What does that mean for my attitude, intention, attention and actions? What specific goals should I set for the day? Try to keep these answers in mind.
  • Visualize the most important thing you’re doing today and picture yourself doing your best. Notice what you’re doing and saying.

As you get started.

  • Batch your tasks. Plan a block of uninterrupted working for your most complex tasks. Answer email at specified times.
  • Prime yourself and set the toneDecide what mental attributes you most need to be successful today and cue a song or image to remind you of this attitude.
  • Schedule play/thinking time.
  • Assume good person, bad circumstances.
  • Fake a good mood by smiling.
  • Label any frustrations and write down what the facts are and how they make you feel.
  • Take breaks to stretch.

Lunch

  • Connect with someone.
  • Do some exercise.

For each task

  • Maximize your motivation. Ask yourself: What’s most interesting about this task? What’s the bigger reasonf ro getting this done?
  • Start on a positive note – Ask what’s going well so far.
  • Get unstuck. If something has been on your to-do list for awhile, be honest about what’s getting in the way. If it’s something you still want to do, think about what the smallest first step would be and replace your to-do list item with that step.

At the end of the day

  • Write the 3 best things that happened today.
  • Avoid screens right before bedtime.

My Best Books of the Year: The Broken Ladder

Look – a Republican reading a book about inequality? You all should be so proud of me.

Have you ever played that game where you’re trying to survive as a working poor person? The game keeps giving you terrible options but I’m so much of a stoic that I came out ok. It seemed like a bad exercise. I’m sure others would think I wouldn’t really be able to pass the game in real life.

According to The Broken Ladder┬áby Keith Payne, the latter group may be wrong. The book covers how inequality completely changes the poor’s perspectives, focusing on the now, increasing risky behavior. Because I’m not one of the poor, I may be able to lift myself by my bootstraps but, if I had been born in poverty, I likely couldn’t.

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My Best Books of the Year: The Longevity Plan

The Longevity Plan by Dr. John Day chronicles an American doctor’s journey to a bucolic Chinese village that has one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world (yes, Chinese. Everyone keeps correcting me to say, don’t you mean Okinawa? Nope. China! people). Not only are there plenty of centenarians, but the centenarians are in great health.

The tips described in the book aren’t really earth shattering, but it’s good to be reminded of them and sometimes, a certain way of describing the problem can finally spur action.

1. Eat good food

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On Treating Yo’Self

I had lunch at Popeye’s – 3 piece platter with 2 sides and a biscuit. I had one of those sugarbomb Starbucks Holiday drinks the other day. I also hate a cinnamon bun. I’ve been known to eat whole huge desserts without sharing. I’ve never counted calories and I hate dieting. I hate salads.

Judging from that, it would seem that I’m overweight and pretty gross. Well, maybe the latter but not the former.

How do I do this? Well, what I’ve listed above are all aberrations to my diet. 90% of my meals are home cooked. I rarely eat dessert, sugar, caffeine, snacks, processed or deep fried foods. I also have a very calorie restricted diet. So when I eat my decadent meal, it’s really an outlier to my normal lifestyle. I look the way I do because of my normal lifestyle – not because of my outlier.

I think most people in America eat some sort of quasi-healthy dish most of the time and then they may splurge. A quasi-healthy dish is like a store-bought salad but as the Internet is quick to point out, restaurant salads aren’t necessarily healthy. So if they splurge, and the button pops off their pants, maybe the splurge was the tipping point, but it’s the everyday lifestyle that got them to the tipping point all along.

So people may see me eating unhealthily in one instance and think, “she must have really good genes. There’s no way I could do that.” But they’re seeing a snapshot. They have no idea what the whole story is.

It’s the same with spending money. I spent $200 at Sephora over the past week. That’s crazy money. And I think if someone had seen me do this (I mean I did it online, but let’s say I bought it in a store), one might think “she’s a spendthrift.”

But you have no idea what the other 51 weeks were like.

There are two lessons to learn here. First, don’t hate on people who seem to get away with whatever they eat or buy, thinking they were blessed from birth. I mean, maybe they were, but maybe this is a rare occurrence. Maybe they’ve planned other things in their life so that this is a possibility. Maybe this is their rest day from the gym. Maybe this is their vacation. Don’t let it discourage you.

Second, if you want to splurge guilt-free, or even if you don’t, figure out how to live a baseline lifestyle that allows for some wiggle room. What you do everyday is so much more important to who you become than what you do once in a while.

I think there’s nothing wrong with splurging. It may even be good though I don’t have any research to point that out. The rare splurge is not going to make or break you. But there’s nothing worse than a splurge that you can’t enjoy. And you’ll just feel worse about the splurge if your everyday habits are pushing you to the brink as is.

You won’t fully enjoy the fancy dinner if you’re worrying about all the other small medium dinners weighing on your credit card. You won’t fully enjoy a decadent meal if your current diet is already making you gain weight and become lethargic. When you have everything in order, the splurge just tastes amazing, because you aren’t having it with a side of guilt.

How do you afford your splurges?

How to Deal with Bad Service

I took my mom out to lunch yesterday. Or to be more clear, I intended to pay for her but the meal was comped. A half hour after we ordered, we noticed the cooks were shutting down as the entire dining room had been served, except us (it was an open kitchen).

I caught up with my waiter by the open kitchen and asked about our food. The manager happened to be standing next to him (I didn’t plan this. I was lucky to find our waiter) and he asked if what I said was true. The kitchen expediter seemed to acknowledge the presence of a ticket for our meal and the manager apologized profusely and offered to comp our meal if we stayed. He also sent over some complimentary dip while we waited for our meal. The food was very good and I was impressed with the manager’s handling of the situation. I’ve had some not-so-great service as of late in restaurants and it’s made me less inclined to dine out.

And it got me to thinking, why do I get bad service? Part of it is that I don’t order drinks as often anymore and there is some anecdotal evidence that waiters are more attentive to big-spending parties. We could always go the racist angle. (My mom did, but there were some other minorities that got food). I’m sure this was an isolated incident. I’m sure it had nothing to do with us.

But of course, I’m still digging on the Internet on what to do. On Quora, I liked the following suggestion on “If I receive poor service from a waiter/waitress in a restaurant, what’s the best way to show my displeasure?Quora

If the food was good but the service was atrocious I walk to the host and tell her that I hated the service but loved the food and can’t bear to tip for that piss poor of a performance but want to show my gratitude for good food.

–Mikka Luster

On the other hand, when we have exceptional service I ALWAYS ask to speak with the manager. I have a philosophy that the managers usually hear nothing but complaints all day while excellence is normally taken for granted. So when they have a server that is above and beyond I make sure they know.

–Cleo Mouri

I can definitely think of some fancy schamnce places I’ve been to where the food was divine but the service was lackluster. It doesn’t feel right to cheap on the tip or to give a good tip to such lackluster service. This seems to go well with my idea of right and wrong. That should always be counterbalanced with always praising a waiter/waitress when things are going well.

But overall, I don’t think I’ll do this. Instead I would opt for the following approach:

When your waiter/flight attendant looks gloomy or is not doing his/her job properly, instead of teaching him/her a lesson as many people suggest, ask with a strong interest in your voice: “Are you OK? Are you sure you are OK? Did something happen to you today?” When they start wondering why you are asking (which usually follows your question), tell them your concern and what you are displeased with, but in a very supportive (not aggressive form).

–Slav Bochkarev

Tip extra . . . . Criticizing someone else who is already in a lower position than you (they are serving you) is not an easy thing to do, especially if the goal is to improve the overall experience (as opposed to just making a point). That’s why I suggest , as the person in power, you should have to pay extra for your ability to criticize the waiter. It feels like the modest approach to an already tricky situation.

–Max Siskin

It seems really easy to think just about me, me me. How I’m trying to reward myself for my hard work by going to a nice restaurant and now I’m being ignored and feel like crap.

It shouldn’t be that way. It’s true. But I’m not being served by robots.

The waiters/waitresses have to deal with obnoxious people every day all day all the time. They have their own struggles. It’s probably not easy getting by on their salaries. And sometimes I go to work and have a bad attitude. No one is going to yell at me for that. No one is going to call over my boss and yell at me in front of both of us.

These responses totally got me out of my own bubble. It’s the restaurant’s job to show me a good time. But I can show compassion and understanding to every one with whom I interact. That’s my job.

In the future, if I encounter bad service, I will flag the waiter down away from my table and ask if there’s anything wrong and actually listen. And then I will commiserate because we’ve all been there before. I will also calmly explain how our night is going not so great. I will say we are neither thinking about changing our tip nor calling the manager over. We are not threatening anything at all. We just want to have a nice meal. Then I will ask how we can work together to make that happen.

How do you handle bad service at restaurants?

How Others Perceive Your Status

I confided in my friends that I was afraid of going car-free because I thought it would make people think I was poor. I’d be the weird kid biking everywhere while everyone else showed up in their cars. They all responded the same way: driving my 18-year old Honda made people think I was far poorer than being car-free.

And so, without adding or subtracting a cent, (and actually subtracting one car), I was now wealthier in the eyes of others. But how strange to think that someone who doesn’t have an asset could seem wealthier than someone who has that asset (a car, even if beat up). Wouldn’t one naturally think that the person who has more stuff is wealthier?

It got me to thinking, we buy these markers of success in order for us to look a certain way but sometimes we are completely wrong about how we are being perceived.

I asked my friend, who is a fancy businessman, if he thought I was broke based on how I’ve furnished my apartment (a strong Ikea theme). And he said no, because one’s bank account isn’t reflected in one’s possessions. I think this may be how wealthy people think in general. I mean, when I first met him, he was wearing a NASA shirt that he bragged that he got for $6. Wealthy people appreciate a good deal.

On the other hand, I have a friend who always seems to be going on shopping sprees at expensive stores – Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzmann. And then she spends a lot of time selling stuff on consignment. It’s like a rotating door of expensive clothing, kind of like fast fashion with bigger price tags. And honestly, hearing about her expensive clothing habit made her seem poorer because it didn’t seem like she valued money or time, no matter how expensive the tags were.

So really, we may live a certain lifestyle to be perceived a certain way, but we really have very little control over how we are perceived.

What financial habits do you think make a person look wealthy or poor?

Abundance 4: Giving and Getting

I completely forgot two more things from my series of cultivating abundance – some really important parts too (so I guess it’s good that this blog doesn’t have a big following, phew!).

Counterintuitively, giving is a key part of feeling abundant. I’m currently reading The Broken Ladder and it starts off by saying that feeling poor can have debilitating effects whether or not you’re actually poor. And of course the problem with this is that numerically there is a limit on the number of people who can be poor. (Technically, this could be a large percentage depending on how you define it, but if we’re assuming that some people have to fall under “rich” and some people have to be “poor”, I guess we’d understand probably the bottom third to be poor). Technically anyone can “feel” poor even if they’re the richest person in the world, because feelings don’t have to be tethered to facts.

The way we feel poor is to look at people who have more. Thus, to feel rich, we should look at people who have less. Obviously, that sounds really condescending. I mean, don’t criticize those with less. I mean, give to those with less.

There’s a wealth of research that shows giving activates a part of the brain that is typically associated with rewards (food, sex, drugs, money). Giving has also been linked with better health outcomes, promotes social connectivity, and increased feelings of gratitude. It also just changes your worldview from inward facing to outward facing, increasing our humility and empathy. Better health, more connections, a decrease in pride and an in crease in gratitude would all seem to help decrease your feelings of relative poverty and increase your feelings of abundance.

But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive (or getting, as in, the name of this blog =D). And I’m not saying you should give because you expect to receive anything tangible in return. First, I just don’t think life works like that so you’ll be mad at me for telling you a lie (although some research shows that giving is contagious, it doesn’t necessarily mean the contagion will come back to you). Second, there are perfectly good intangible reasons to give, as listed above.

But I don’t want to only say that giving alone is key to abundance. You’ll quickly be worn out. Receiving is also key to feeling abundance. I heard something on an episode of Rob Bell‘s podcast that really resonated with me: “You don’t take good care of yourself and you wonder why you have less and less to give.”

There’s all this talk about “self-care” and it sounds really mystical and self-indulgent. I’m not saying it is, but it just seems that way. I just don’t like the terminology. But I understand the concept. There’s so much pressure to be masochists – to get by on little sleep, to be as productive as a factory-farmed animal, to give and give and give. And I don’t want to advocate that. I want you to take good care of yourself. I want to take good care of myself. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella noted: “With all the abundance we have of computers and computing, what is scarce is human attention and time.”

We have no shortage of electronics or social media accounts or advertising. We have a scarcity of care, attention and time. And part of this will take some time to remedy by finding friends and family that will fill those needs but it starts with giving the attention to ourselves and being able to receive care and love from ourselves and others.

I think there is no better picture of a life of abundance than someone who realizes and receives love and attention from friends and family, and who give it freely to others. And if you have that, money becomes such a small factor in obtaining abundance. I mean, what more could you really need?

The Three Items You Need to Add to Your To-Do List

Ugh, you must be thinking, three MORE things I need to do in a day? It’s hard enough finding time to complete the things that are already on your list. Why did you even click on this link?

Because you’re a masochist. That’s why. Anyone who has a to-do list is.

And I promise, I wanted this to be “The Only 3 Things You Need on your To-do List” but I know that you need to pick up your dry cleaning, fill out that registration form and order more toilet paper. Those are all important and worthy things to put on a to-do list and I don’t want you to run out of toilet paper. In fact, go ahead and pause from reading this post while you order more toilet paper. I’ll wait.

Ok. Ready? Fill in the following blanks and then add them to your to-do list:

Tomorrow, I will really be upset/in a bind/stressed/regretful if today I don’t:
Next month, I will really be upset/in a bind/stressed/regretful if today I don’t:
Next year, I will really be upset/in a bind/stressed/regretful if today I don’t:

Basically, these items are based on the idea of “no zero” days and building habits. I recommend clicking on the “no zero” days link. It’s really inspiring and something I re-read semi regularly.

A typical to-do list is filled with routine tasks that need to be done to keep your life going. And that’s fine. It’s all important. But one should never confuse getting a basic list of routine tasks accomplished with actually accomplishing anything meaningful with your day.

The first item “tomorrow” really focuses on doing something everyday to make the next day easier. It seems like there are approximately a million productivity hack blog articles produced everyday but we never seem to accomplish enough. Well, you can accomplish this one thing – you can set yourself up for a bright start tomorrow. Some great ideas to start are packing breakfast and lunch, preparing for your morning meeting, setting up your clothes, packing your bag to head out quickly. Once you get that down as a habit, set new goals. Rinse and repeat.

“Next month” is about looking far enough forward that it seems far away but close enough that success will be dependent on steps you could and should take today. Because we’re near holiday season, something like vacation or gift planning may be in order. Any type of trip may fall into this category (although to be fair, planning a trip in a month seems a little short notice. Maybe plan to plan a trip). Look back at the previous month and think about what you wish you had been doing for 30 days that would have put you in a better position today. Maybe started an exercise program? Prepared for Nanowrimo? Written a little bit everyday so that you could have 30 days of blog posts now? Taken a risk? Had an adventure?
Think about some habit you want to start and write that down. This goal can stay static for 30 days or you can change it up every day.

“Next year” is a great goal for exactly now. It’s November and I can’t believe this year went by so quickly. I realize I worked really hard at a number of different goals, and didn’t accomplish some others.

For the goals I accomplished, actually writing the goal down was so important, not just as a way to help me to achieve the goal, but also as a memory of my accomplishment. Strangely, you can slip into complacency even when you’re improving yourself. You exercise every day, your body changes gradually, and you don’t even notice how different your body looks from a year ago. You don’t notice your change in attitude. You don’t notice that your language skills have improved. Your lifestyle is completely different and you get used to it. And you forget where you came from. And remembering the change is so motivating, so important to building your self esteem and believing that you can change in the future.

Some of the goals I started with were reading more books (I’m on track to finish about 100 books this year), exercising regularly (biking a few times a week, even in the winter), practicing my Chinese more consistently (I’ve generally done one language lesson a day but it’s still a struggle to be consistent), and traveling more (I’ve been on 3 international trips this year, compared to 0 last year).

So this time in 2018, what do you want to have accomplished that you can remember starting today?

The Ugly Truth about Frugality

I haven’t done many diets because I hate the idea of restriction. I lasted about 4 days on a no-carbs diet and they were some of the most miserable days of my life. But one that has stuck is the “one meal a day” diet.

I started by skipping breakfast. That was quite easy. I immediately didn’t miss it. Skipping lunch was much more difficult and I could feel the hunger eating (haha) me alive. But it got easier as my body adjusted. And the hunger would subside after 15 minutes, max. And when I finally eat my meal of the day – dinner – I eat without abandon. There are no restrictions. There is always dessert. So it seems like a joyous celebration rather than a constant level of restriction.

I think the parallels to personal finance speak for themselves. I look at other people’s spending, and I’m pretty shocked about the constant frittering of money.

For me, I’m pretty used to wanting something and not buying it. It seems that for a lot of these people, that’s not how they do it. They get the itch and they scratch. I get the itch, and I store the itch in a file and revisit the itch in a week.

Frugality often reminds me of my diet. I’ve heard supermodels complain that they’re always hungry. The truth about frugality is that it often feels like you’re hungry all the time as well. Frugality means you just ignore these “hunger” pangs. If you think about frugality as a whole, you’ll feel like you are constantly living in a state of desire and denial. You’re always craving.

Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re deprived. Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t have enough. You will have a list of things a mile long on your “to buy” list. That’s just the truth of denying what you want. It doesn’t get easier. Unless you have a way to tune out all marketing, there will always be new things that make you itch for more.

Of course, giving in to your desires isn’t what you truly want. The problem with scratching every itch is that your skin will be all scratched up. The problem with eating whenever your hunger strikes is that you’ll often eat too much. You don’t recognize the signals to stop eating anymore and you may start mistaking signals for thirst or boredom for hunger. And as your weight balloons, you start to worry about every time you eat, trying to restrict at all times. Sometimes it’s better to restrict from the get-go.

The upside of ignoring your desires is that 90% of the desires will go away and often quite quickly. And rather than having a lot of products that you can barely remember desiring, you’ll have a fat checking account.

It reminds me of co-opting and bastardizing Steve Jobs’ graduation speech motto, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” But here, “Stay hungry. The hunger will go away.” The caveat is though, you still remember to eat and when you do eat, relish every moment of it.

[I thought about submitting this article idea to a personal finance site but figured it would get a lot of backlash because the idea of restricting one’s meals is basically as unpopular as saying “Trump’s doing a good job.” People will accuse you of encourage eating disorders. Meanwhile, we’re facing an obesity epidemic in conjunction with widespread malnourishment. To the extent this counts as advice, it only applies to people who don’t have an eating disorder. Please take care of yourselves. ]