Who Shapes Your Mood?

Someone is controlling the experiences you have, the feelings you experience, and the ways you react to your circumstances.  Where can I find this person, you ask?  You need only look in your bathroom mirror.

No Slave to Circumstances

The importance of a positive attitude in shaping one’s experience is often underestimated, but truly successful people everywhere understand and adopt the philosophy of looking positively on life.  We tend to think that our moods are largely driven by our circumstances—and it is true that some events can have a drastic impact on us in the moment—but most of the things life throws at us can be taken in stride.  These everyday ups and down that we so often allow to control us can be overcome by taking the following two actions.

Tend Your Garden Well

First, plant good things in your brain.  This is the long-term strategy to getting you in the place where a “negative” experience can’t dampen your day.  Recognize that your mind is in many ways similar to a garden.  The people you choose to associate with, the books you read, the TV shows you watch, the music you listen to, and the church you attend are all seeds that you plant in the garden of your mind.  As these messages are positive, helpful, and uplifting, you plant seeads in your mind that help you react positively to experiences you later face.  As these messages are angry, sarcastic, or demeaning, you plant seeds in your mind which will cause you to react negatively.  The latter seeds manifest in statements like, “that will never work,” we can’t ever get ahead,” and “it’s just not worth the effort.”

Start Off Right

Secondly, have a great morning.  Don’t try to have a great morning; have one!  Every day.  What is your current habit first thing when you wake up?  If it’s anything other than, “praise God for creating another great day!” change it.  If you don’t believe me that this makes a difference, you need only give it a try tomorrow.  Make a decision tonight to wake up tomorrow happy and thankful.  Then, when your alarm rings, follow through on the decision you’ve already made.  Have a good breakfast, spend 10 minutes reading Psalms, and see if the rest of your day is better than normal.  Don’t fight the smiles that come your way tomorrow, and notice how those around you react to the positive person they meet in your office.

But It’s Too Easy!

Too simple, you say?  Maybe so, but it is the practice of people who have the kind I lives that I want.  And if you want to live an abundant life, all you need do is follow their lead.  Enjoy the happy disposition on your way to the top!  🙂

Invest or Save

In today’s post, we’ll explore the important distinction between saving and investing — two terms that, though often erroneously used interchangeably, must be treated in distinctly different ways on your path toward a thriving life.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Saving ought to be done first — and for a specific purpose.  As we’ve discussed previously, one of the first milestones you need to hit as you pursue the thriving life is to save a full emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses.  The emergency fund is not an investment; rather, it exists to protect you from the unexpected expenses that will most certainly come your way.

Damage car

Great places to keep an emergency fund include savings accounts and money market accounts (fnbodirect.com is a great place to get started).  Though the interest you’ll typically earn on such accounts is quite low, they provide a few important benefits that you need for emergency savings.  First, your principle is protected.  This means that your value won’t go down in times of economic recession.  This is important because oftentimes unexpected drains on your cash will come during times of economic hardship nationwide.  With your savings in an account at a bank or in a money market account, you can rest assured that the $10k that you put in will be there when you need it.

Make Your Money Make Money

On the other hand, an investment ought to involve significant growth.  While a savings account is earning less than one percent, a good investment should earn in the neighborhood of ten percent.  But here’s the catch: that 10% rarely comes linearly.  Unlike a savings account which will return 0.5% per year, every year, an investment may earn 5% one year, 30% the next, and -15% the year after that.  The returns are a function of the market you’re invested in (e.g., the stock market or the housing market), so you never know how the investment will do in a given year.  But, you can look at history to draw reasonable conclusions at what the investment should do long term.

Exhibit A

Take for example a mutual fund we’re quite fond of here at totalthriver.com:  Fidelity Contrafund.  This fund is primarily comprised of stocks of large U.S. companies such as Google, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola.  The following chart shows the return for each of the last four years:

2008 2009 2010 2011
19.78 -37.16 29.23 16.93

As you can see, 2010 was a great year for this investment, and 2009 was a lousy one.  Of course if you knew that ahead of time you could make a killing!  But since none of us have such knowledge of the future, we must simply follow the averages.  This fund in particular has averaged 15% per year over the past 3 years, and 8% per year over the past 15 years.

Time Horizon is Important

Because even good investments like this one can fluctuate violently, most financial experts only recommend investing when you plan to leave the money alone for five years or more.  Generally, this is a long enough period to ride out the turbulent ups and downs of the market, and give yourself a high probability of making money with your investment.  For short-term savings (e.g. for a newer car or living room set), you’re usually better off to take the guaranteed 0.5% of your money market than risk losing 20% of your money should the market take a bad turn one year.

Make It Happen

In closing, it’s very important to recognize the difference between saving and investing.  As you make progress toward your financial goals, you’ll need to be very intentional with which of the two you’re doing.  Will you be using the money in the next two years?  Open a money market.  Will you be leaving the money alone for the next five years?  An account with scottrade.com or a visit to your local financial advisor (see the “investing ELP” section at DaveRamsey.com) are great places to start.  And as always, be sure to check back at TotalThriver for help along the way!

 

Wandering into Trouble

I’ve enjoyed many hiking and camping trips since I was a young child.  Walking through the forest, listening to the sounds of wildlife and seeing the sun gleaming through the trees, I’ve had a chance to appreciate the beauty and creativity of our Father’s world.  Occasionally, my hikes have become extended for a bit longer than I was planning on, due to an underestimation of how long a climb might take or a casual disregard for things like maps and compasses…. 

Oblivious to the Peril

The funny thing about getting lost is that you don’t realize you’re about to get yourself in trouble until you suddenly realize that you are in trouble!  On a certain camping trip with a buddy of mine in Arizona, we hiked out into the desert loaded with many gallons of water.  We found a good site, set our provisions down, and trotted off in search of a good “sitting log” to place beside the firepit.  We found a good one a short while later, and began carrying it back to our campsite.  At first, we thought it was pretty funny that our campsite was taking so long to get to.  “Strange how it only took us 10 minutes to find this log, but we’re taking 20 minutes to carry it back,”  we laughed.  Slowly we realized that we were actually lost, and we’d been walking for so long because we didn’t know where we’d left our jackets and water!

A few hours later, tired and thirsty, we found our campsite as the sun finally set.  This set us up for a cold night (the coldest night of my life, in fact), since we’d wasted our afternoon and now had only a half-built shelter.  But we were thankful at least for the jackets and water that we had nearly lost.

This story is an example of how we can be walking along unaware, and suddenly find ourselves in an overwhelming situation.  We were too confident that we wouldn’t get lost, and by the time we recognized our precarious position, it was too late.

Common Financial Dangers

In a similar way, we can tend to be very blasé with debt in America today.  We look around at our friends and neighbors, and many of them have student loans.  Everyone’s got a mortgage, and some debt on their cars.  And of course we’ve all got to have our credit cards!  But even though we all know that people get trapped and pulled under by debt, we mistakenly think that this can never happen to us.

Confident of our ability to keep our debt in control, we walk right along the edge of a financial cliff.  We buy a nice big house, great new cars, and a brand new living room set—all on payments.  At the end of the month, we’ve got $25 leftover after all the credit payments are made, and we think, “All right! Everything’s going great!”  But then comes something unexpected, and all of a sudden we’re $175 under instead.  No big deal, we think, “I’ll just pay the minimum credit card payment this month, then get everything cleaned up next month.”  But again, something unexpected comes, and now the balance we carried last month is compounding on us.  On and on it goes, and the debt pulls us down deeper and deeper.

Recognize the Trap

This story has sadly happened to too many people who are able to escape only through a long and painful bankruptcy.  If you’re fighting this now, know this:  many have overcome this situation through wise money management, hard work, and tenacity.  If you’re still dabbling with debt and don’t think this could ever happen to you, think again.  Banks are not evil, but they are concerned with making money, not ensuring that you keep your head above water.  Knowing what you can afford and what you cannot is your responsibility, and you owe it to your family and to God to manage the money He’s given you wisely.

The most reliable way to make sure that you can afford something is to simply buy only with cash (or debit cards/checks).  The one exception might be a mortgage on a 15-year fixed rate with the monthly payment of 25% of your take-home pay, which can be a reasonable debt, provided that you have a substantial down payment.  And some financial experts would contend that there are a few other “reasonably safe” debts as well, but use these very carefully.  It is much easier to lose your way than you think.  Decide instead to take control of your financial life by eliminating debt and paying with cash.  The confidence and freedom that come with becoming debt-free will serve you well on your path to a thriving life.

The Effect of Fitness on Productivity

This post is first in a series of six articles on why you should care about fitness.  We often don’t realize how investments in one aspect of life provide benefits not just in their own realm, but in many other areas of life as well.

Adopting a fitness regimen will not only make you more fit, but will also affect your career, your marriage and other relationships, and your disposition.  In this post, we’ll explore how fitness pays dividends in your productivity.

The enemy

Many of our jobs involve something quite harmful to the production of quality work and creative thinking–a desk chair.  Study after study indicates that one of the most dangerous things we do in our daily lives is spending long periods of time sitting in a chair.  Read here for more detail on the studies backing this claim.

Desk Chair After

Look at it this way–your body was made to move.  God did not give you muscles, joints, a cardiovascular system and a digestive system so you could sit still all day.  Your body is a machine designed for a purpose, and when you don’t engage your body’s systems properly, it doesn’t work properly.

The first step

The good news for those of us who’ve adopted poor fitness habits is that the body is incredibly adaptable.  If you will start incorporating movement into your daily life, your body will adapt and get stronger and fitter in a remarkable way.  One very simple way to get started is to find a coffee machine, water fountain, or any other excuse that’s a good distance from your desk.  Make a habit of getting out of your chair and walking to your excuse of choice once every 1.5 hours or so.  If you can walk up and down a flight of stairs along the way, that’s all the better.

The next step is to find 15-20 minutes a few times a week to start engaging your body in a more strenuous workout, pushing your limits and giving you big gain potential.  Walking around the office is good for getting your blood moving and keeping your chair from killing you, but to truly engage your body’s systems and reap the productivity benefits, you’ll need something more challenging.

Where can your workout fit?

I’m blessed to have a small gym and shower facilities at my workplace, so I’m able to workout over lunch most days.  This is ideal, as it really allows my body and brain to be kicked into high gear for the afternoon.  It’s amazing how a morning that was quickly turning into drudgery and poor quality output can be turned around by a lunchtime workout.  Even if you can’t make this happen at your job, can you get a workout in before you come in in the morning?  Or ride your bicycle into work to get your body’s systems going before you boot up your computer?  Use your creativity to find how a workout can fit into your day.  Remember, our fitness philosophy here at TotalThriver revolves around short, high-intensity workouts with functional movements requiring little equipment, so there’s incredible flexibility in terms of where and when you can workout, and the time commitment is quite minimal.

In summary, we’re advocating a strategy of moving from your chair every few hours and working out as near to your work time as possible.  The most dramatic evidence for just how effective this is at boosting productivity and creativity is available directly to you.  Try this:  ramp up over a period of a few weeks until you’re doing a challenging workout 4 out of 5 workdays per week.  You will notice a dramatic difference in your capabilities when compared to where you were before you began the regimen.  Also, you’ll notice that anytime you have to miss a workout (for a meeting, a sick kid, etc.) that you’re just not at your best on those days.  It almost feels like someone stuck with you with a needle and is sapping energy out of you.  Once you feel the new capacity that this fitness regimen gives you, you feel like you’ve been cheating yourself out of so much latent ability that you never knew you had.

Test the claim

The great part is, this new productivity and energy level that you get from the fitness regimen can be a great motivator for keeping with the program.  On days that I miss a workout, I know that I’m not able to put forth my best on the work I’m doing, and I desire that workout tomorrow all the more.  When I get back in the gym and pour my all into a hard workout, I get such a feeling of satisfaction and my body is so thankful to get it’s systems moving again.  Best of all, when I head back to my office for the afternoon, I’m energized and refreshed, and my tasks are knocked out with quality, creativity, and excellence.  If this sounds like the kind of productivity boost you’d like to add to your day, why not head over to the ThriveFit page and give workout #1 a try?  You can test these claims for yourself and see the tangible benefit in a very short time.  Be sure to ramp yourself up gradually into any new program to reduce injury likelihood and to keep you from falling off the bandwagon after a week and a half.  Keep the workouts short, the form correct, and the intensity high!

Planning for Unusual Expenses

Last week, we discussed the importance of including unusual but predictable expenses in your budget.  Items on this list include things like car repairs, home improvements, large gifts, or vacations.  By allocating a fixed amount each month, these big expenses don’t have to catch us off guard.  For example, my wife and I set aside $60 each month for car repairs, which has been plenty for the minor repairs and maintenance that our vehicles have required.

This brings up a small wrinkle in your budget, though, since you’ve allocated money to be spent on a certain day, but since you likely won’t have a $60 car repair this month, your account will be out of balance if you don’t correct for this.

Thankfully, this feature is built right into the ThriveWealthy advance cashflow planning program.  If you’ve not downloaded a copy yet, be sure to head over to the ThriveWealthy page and download the latest version.  Start budgeting next month’s income in the colored boxes, along with the dates your paychecks come.

Once you’ve entered your income and expenses in the appropriate categories, notice the orange box in the upper left part of the screen.  This section is called, “pending expenses” in the example tab, and is used to balance your budget with your current bank balance.  This section is also where you’ll keep track of your car repair fund, and any other “funds” for big items that you’re saving for.

Keeping with our example of $60 per month for car repairs, let’s say that we’ve reached the 15th of the month, which is the date we entered the car repair fund to be spent.  But, since we’ve not needed any repairs or maintenance this month, that $60 is still sitting in our account.  To ensure that the budget matches the actual bank balance (ascertained by logging into your bank’s website), we need to enter the $60 as a pending expense.  Next to the value of $60 that we enter in the orange box, we need to title the expense as, “car repair fund.”  The spreadsheet will automatically adjust the budgeted balance, and the “difference” value in cell C25 should drop to 0.

Next month, we’ll have the same thing happen, and assuming no car repairs are needed by the 15th of that month, we’ll follow the same procedure.  On the 15th, we’ll replace the $60 value in the orange box with a value of $120, and so on and so on, month after month.  Anytime money is spent at the auto repair shop, simply reduce the pending amount by the total amount spent.  So, if on the 18th of that second month, you spent $20 on wiper blades, simply reduce the pending amount from $120 to $100.

Following this plan will bring you such a sense of peace–bring ahead of these unusual expenses instead of getting knocked down by them.  Please enter any questions or clarifications you have in the comments section, and as always, remember that we’re here to help you thrive!