12 Things to Inspire You in July

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life. Please enjoy the archives of earlier collections of inspirational things.

1. Robert Fritz on the path of least resistance

“You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. We all do — all human beings and all of nature. It is important to know that. You may try to change the direction of your own flow in certain areas of your life — your eating habits, the way you work, the way you relate to others, the way you treat yourself, the attitudes you have about life. And you may even succeed for a time. But eventually, you will find you return to your original behavior and attitudes. This is because your life is determined, insofar as it is a law of nature for you to take the path of least resistance.” – Robert Fritz

Almost all of us go through daily life following the path of least resistance. We do the things that check off the things we need to get done with the least amount of effort and pushback. For short periods, we can push ourselves to do things differently by providing our own resistance, but if we just rely on willpower alone, it will falter and we’ll fall back into the path of least resistance.

If you look around you, you’ll see others doing this as well. People eat unhealthy diets because it’s easier. People don’t exercise because it’s easier. People do all kinds of things that are obviously poor choices because it’s easier.

How do you get around it? The trick I’ve found is that you have to use your willpower not to artificially make yourself do something for a while, but to establish a new routine, one where the resistance against a better path is a lot less than it was before. If the only thing you have in the cupboard is healthy food, there’s a lot less resistance to a healthy supper and a lot more resistance to junk food.

Think about things you want to change in your own life. How did you get to your current state in those areas? Likely, it was due to following that path of least resistance every day. How can you exert some effort right now to establish a new routine so that the option with the least resistance moves you in the direction of the change you want to make?

2. Dean Furness on why you should stop comparing yourself to others

From the description:

When you stop comparing yourself to others, you can accomplish great things, says wheelchair athlete Dean Furness. He shares how, after losing the use of his legs in an accident, he discovered a powerful new mindset focused on redefining his “personal average” and getting better little by little.

The only metric that matters is comparing yourself to where you were and to where you want to be. Are you better today — in the direction you’re concerned with — than where you were yesterday? A year ago? Don’t worry about what other people have done – they’re not you, with your unique set of traits and skills and advantages and disadvantages. Worry about what you’ve done.

The same thing is true of your values. You don’t have to have the same values as everyone else. If something strikes you as wrong, figure out why it’s wrong. Dig into that. Adjust your values to what is right. Become a better person than you were a year ago.

This is a constant process, in part because perfection in anything is essentially impossible, and also because the thing you’re aiming for will change as you grow. That’s good. Every day, just aim to be just a little bit closer to what you’re aiming for than where you were yesterday. It will all turn out well.

3. Martin Luther on planning ahead

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther

If I think about what I would do if the world would end tomorrow, it would involve things like telling people goodbye, spending real quality time with the core people in my life and maybe writing down a few thoughts for the future.

The thing is, all of those things are things that plant seeds for the future. They’ll help my kids have great memories. They’ll help my friends in whatever their lives may yet hold. At the same time, those things warm my heart, too.

The things really worth doing are the things that make you feel good but also make the world a little bit better, too. Planting your apple tree feels good, even if you know you’ll never see the day it bears fruit.

Fill your life with lots of apple tree plantings. You won’t regret it.

4. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

As I’ve noted a few times, my family and I have spent a lot of the last month camping in very rural areas, aiming to have a vacation that’s pretty far off the grid. I’ve been trying as hard as I can to minimize my time in front of digital devices, with one exception: I brought a Kindle full of books with me and spent a lot of time reading those books.

One of the books I read — actually, a re-read for me — was Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. The book makes the case that most digital devices serve as both useful tools and enormous distractions. While there are incredible things you can do with digital devices, they’re also incredibly distracting, and that ongoing distraction erodes our ability to focus on much of anything.

This felt very similar to my own experiences, both with camping and with my own experiences during the coronavirus lockdown. Whenever I want to pay attention to someone or do some deep thinking or really focus on something, I am almost always better off doing them as far from digital devices as possible, only using them for very specific tasks (like looking up a specific piece of information, then walking away).

I’m making much more of a concerted effort in my life to walk away from the constant rush of headline news, of rushed opinions and hot takes, of interrupting a moment with my family or my kids or my friends to just stare at a screen. There’s time for screens, but there needs to be a lot of time without them, too.

5. Oscar Wilde on sinners and saints

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” – Oscar Wilde

Every person out there in the world has some things in their past, things that they regret, mistakes they’ve made. All of us have something that we wish we could have done better.

Even the worst among us deserves some space for redemption, even if that space is merely a jail cell.

In my own life, if I did not have space to redeem myself for the mistakes I’ve made in the past, I would be living a much worse life than what I have now. I would never have the opportunity to show the world anything good if I had never been able to overcome my own mistakes.

We all deserve that chance. Every one of us.

Think of the moments when you made mistakes and when you had the space to overcome them and make things right again, or at least have an opportunity to move on from them. Now, think of those in your life who made a mistake. Did you give them that same opportunity you were given? It costs so little to give that, but it’s worth so much in the life of someone else.

6. Rob Cooke on the cost of workplace stress and how to reduce it

From the description:

By some estimates, work-related stress drains the U.S. economy of nearly 300 billion dollars a year — and it can hurt your productivity and personal health too, says wellness advocate Rob Cooke. He shares some strategies to help put your mental, physical and emotional well-being back at the forefront.

Those of you who read The Simple Dollar every day know that I have a new article up and ready to go, every Monday through Saturday, basically without fail. That is difficult to sustain at times. While there are times when it comes easily, there are other times when it is really stressful to keep writing new things. I have periods of writer’s block and periods where I just feel uninspired to write anything, and if those go on for long, it can get really stressful.

For me, the most effective strategy for getting around this is to lean into those “flow” moments. If I have a day where writing comes easily, I write and write and write. I will write for 12 or 14 hours if the words are coming well. On other days, when they aren’t coming as smoothly, I’ll edit. I also make an effort to try to stay ahead as much as I can, to always have several “timeless” articles ready to go if needed. Something else that’s valuable: going on walks throughout the day, short 20- or 30-minute walks, and also having some blocks of time throughout the week to do things that have nothing whatsoever to do with writing.

Doing that reduces my stress, but I didn’t know that when I first started doing this. I didn’t know how to handle writer’s block. I didn’t know how to handle stress at all.

How did I figure it out? Rather than trying to ignore the stress or drown it in a flood of distraction, I looked at it. What was I stressed about? I was worried about missing deadlines and writing bad things. What could I do to avoid those pitfalls? I focused on answering that question.

Use the same thing in your own life. Don’t try to hide from the stress or drown it in vices. Look at it. What is it that’s worrying you? What can you do to make that worry go away or at least reduce it in size?

7. Yuval Noah Harari on the unknown

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.” – Yuval Noah Harari

The world as it was doesn’t exist anymore, and it won’t exist again.

Every single day brings something new. A new idea, invention, person or relationship.

Every single day brings an opportunity to make things better. And to make things worse, too. The optimist in me says that we mostly choose the better.

It can be unnerving to see things change, particularly when they change suddenly, but that’s often how things have changed throughout history. Things simmer under the surface for a long time, then suddenly things change drastically, and it feels disruptive and painful.

Make the most of it. Make sure you’re ready for that change. Make sure that your part in it is helping to make that change result in something better.

8. Terry Crews on acting on emotion

“Never do something permanently foolish just because you are temporarily upset.” – Terry Crews

You are never so prone to make a huge life mistake as when you are feeling a strong emotion. Whether that emotion is anger or sadness or intense desire, a strong emotion coursing through your veins is a very potent recipe for doing something you’ll regret for a very long time.

If you are feeling a strong desire, angry, upset or sad, take a step back for a little while. Step back from the conversation or the situation by simply saying you need some time to think about this. Get out of the heat of the moment.

There are very few moments that really require you to take action right then and there, and if you fall into that trap of taking action, saying a harsh or ill-considered word or giving into a desire, the long term downside of that choice is almost always far worse than any fleeting momentary benefit.

Think about some moments when you gave into an impulsive desire, said a word out of anger or did something foolish out of a rush of momentary social shame. Occasionally things turned out fine, but I’m willing to bet there’s a lot of regret in those moments. Use that as motivation to start stepping back from the emotional rush.

9. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s What’ve I Done To Help

This is the first track on Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s latest album, Reunions, which I’ve listened to countless times in the last month or so.

I find that whenever I listen to an album many times over the course of a few weeks, different songs stand out at different times. There’s usually a song or two that appeal immediately — these are the ones that usually end up getting played on the radio. (For me, the songs with an immediate appeal on the album were “Be Afraid” and “Only Children.”)

After a lot of listens, though, different songs always emerge, and for me, this one did. It’s been stuck in my head for days and days now, and that’s the kind of music I love to share.

10. Carl Sagan on changing your mind

“In science, it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it.” – Carl Sagan

I’ve witnessed this approach from many scientists over the course of my life. During my earlier career, I interacted with scientists all the time and the one thing that stuck with me as a common thread with all of them is this very thing: they would change their opinions often when exposed to new data. This typically spread into other aspects of their life as well — if you offered up new data sets and evidence that didn’t match with their opinion, they would either change their opinion or at least acknowledge a flaw in their opinion.

The world would be far better off if everyone acted that way. People in everyday life would seemingly prefer to hold onto opinions and ignore new data if it clashes with those opinions, even as it becomes more and more clear that the old opinion just doesn’t make any sense anymore.

What have you changed your mind on recently? Beyond that, what viewpoints have you thought about recently that you disagree with but were open enough to honestly consider — and not just “honestly” consider, but really ask yourself whether this other viewpoint really made more sense?

11. Tabletop Simulator

I mentioned this a while back in an article about playing games inexpensively during social distancing, but I really wanted to highlight how Tabletop Simulator has been a huge help for me during social distancing.

So, what is Tabletop Simulator? It’s a piece of software that digitally recreates a table and all of the components necessary for a board game, and there are packages available for pretty much every published board game. Most of those packages don’t enforce the rules — people have to know how to play — but they do manage things like shuffling decks of cards, drawing them, moving pieces around on the board and more.

Along with voice chats, this has become my replacement for weekly game nights. I’m able to log on at home, chat with several friends around the area (and, in some cases, spread out across the country) and play a board game with them. We tell jokes, laugh and enjoy a large portion of what we miss from our weekly game nights.

It’s not exactly the same. We all miss seeing each other face to face, and we miss the tactile nature of actually moving the pieces around. This is a pretty good substitute, though.

I still look forward to my game nights returning, but this has really helped as a substitute for a hobby I miss.

12. John Quincy Adams on passing it onward

“I am a warrior so that my son can be a merchant, and his son can be a poet.” – John Quincy Adams

When I read this quote, I see myself as the “merchant.” I am far from the “poet” in this analogy. Though I write for a living, it is almost constantly with an eye toward the practical, putting much closer to “merchant.”

My parents were warriors. They sacrificed a great deal to give me the opportunity to be a merchant, to have a thriving career where I could build a solid financial foundation for myself.

My children will be poets. They have all of the tools and all of the opportunities I can give them to do whatever they want to do in this life. Their life is an open book before them.

That’s exactly what I want for them, and it’s exactly what my parents want for them, too. They were warriors so I could be a merchant. They were warriors and I’m a merchant so that my children can be poets.

Who are what are you being a warrior for? Who or what are you setting up to be a merchant, so that someday someone or something can be a poet?

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