Matt Foster

Monday Morning Musings

Financial Peace Mindset

Financial peace is an interesting topic to me, especially since its not about the money. Dave Ramsey is the one who I’ve heard about it from the most because he was the right person at the right time for my parents. My dad tells the story about being up to their eyeballs in debt and got the news that my sister needed braces, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He happened to catch Dave’s show on TV and kept tuning back in till all we heard from 5pm to 7pm was Dave Ramsey. We heard Dave in the car thanks to XM’s 6 month or year free trial. Dave essentially became the fifth member of our family. Quite frankly we were all tired of Dave. Being young, I was mostly upset about the fact that we weren’t eating out as much. I loved pizza and still do, so it felt like a big hit at the age of fourteen.

Now that I’ve had to live on my own for the past three plus years I can better appreciate the sacrifice my parent’s went through to get themselves out of debt and to put my sister and I through college without student loans. I was naive to think that I’d be entitled to get a job since I had a degree and had work experience in retail for over two years. So I moved out to Portland with a buddy and expected to get at least a retail job until I started getting bio interviews. I spent a good three to six months either unemployed or underemployed and blew through my savings to the point where I had to ask my parents to help me to pay my rent and food bills. I finally got a job after six months that paid well enough to pay my bills, buy stuff I’d been neglecting like new shoes and live life a bit. I built up a small amount of savings and started to contribute to my IRA, but I heard six months in that my company had been bought out. Since my department was one of the reasons the claimed that they bought us I figured that my job was safe. So I didn’t listen to my dad’s advice and kept putting money into my retirement account instead of building up my rainy day fund. Sure enough two months later my position was cut by my company, not the acquiring company.  I was given the options of transferring back east for the same job, transferring down into a store position, or taking a two thousand dollar severance. With nine months left on my lease and a roommate, I felt like I only had two options and since I didn’t listen to good advice, I was really only left with one option. God damn did that store level job suck. The people I worked with were great but I dreaded going into work everyday. It got to the point where I rejoiced that it was raining because less people came in to cause me headaches.

While the money obviously would have helped buy me the time to take the severance and look for a different job, the peace of mind would have been worth so much more. I would have felt better knowing that if my car gave out that I could pay for it without freaking out or god forbid something happened to a family member that I could fly back east without putting a strain on my family. The options to use that money for whatever came up is where that peace of mind comes from. Even now that I did get one of those infamous jobs within my field of study and a pay bump, I’ve still had to focus on getting my emergency fund up to par. I built up what I thought would be enough to move back east and it was just enough to move, but it wasn’t enough to replace the shocks on my car or to cover transferring the title and safety inspection etc. Which was enough to again wipe it all out. So I’ve had to spend the past 6 months saving up and not doing much fun activities to build up that emergency fund. I’m not there yet, probably another three to six months to go without any more setbacks till I’ve got it fully funded. The peace of mind to handle a car repair/replacement or another job loss,  is well worth the temporary sacrifice.

Lowering Your Standards

People always talk about raising your standards when you want to implement a habit. Write two thousand great words a day in order to get your book finished. New Years resolutions for exercise tend to be working out an hour a day 4-7 days a week. It sounds good and is easy for the first week or two, but eventually leads to burnout.

Neil Strauss and Tim Ferriss talk about lowering your standards instead, in order to avoid burnout and get over the bumps in the road. Neil doesn’t believe in writers block, it’s usually when we get performance anxiety. This is a big reason why I’ve dropped posting everyday to posting once a week. I’m trying to write a thousand words a day but I don’t expect the majority of it to be any good. Some days its just getting stuff out of my head that is nonsense for anybody else. I just need to get it out of there so it won’t keep rattling around in there.

The best part of lowering these unrealistic standards is that you can get a feeling of accomplishment and anything else you do is bonus, which also feels great. It’s why Scott Adams harms on Systems over Goals. A system is supposed to be easy so that it’ll actually get done. If you write a thousand words a day, you might get into a flow and keep going. Other days its just shit, but you still accomplished implementing your system for the day that will pay more and more dividends over time.

Paying for Failure

I’ve obviously not kept the initial goal of making this website. I have not written and posted everyday. I’ve not made the big red X’s to intimidate myself. And now I’ve paid several hundred dollars because of the convince of auto renewal.

There’s a lot of reasons why this hasn’t turned out the way I had hoped. I have since moved, gotten a new job, and six months later I’m finally getting comfortable. I’ve always been impressed with Seth Godin’s output but I still have no idea how he publishes everyday. It’s amazing that he hasn’t run out of material. Even if I don’t relate to it everyday, it’s easy to see how somebody can. Maybe it’s cause he simply has more life experience then me. Maybe he’s worked out his idea muscle James Altucher style. Or maybe he just simply can.

Either way, I’m not Seth. So I’m not gonna pretend to be. Since I already spent the money, I’m gonna go with a more conservative goal of a post once a week, while writing most days offline. If it’s Monday, I’m gonna try to have something here. Hopefully its worth your time.

Consistency Seems to Have Its Limits

When I say limits, its not as in for how long you can do something. It’s more of how many things you can consistently do in a day. My personal limit seems to be 3-5. After that, the rest of life gets in the way and messes with getting more done every day.

Maybe that’s due to a retail job with a varying schedule or maybe that’s all the discipline I’ve built up to this point. It could also be a sequencing issue that I haven’t gotten into place. Regardless something to work on, provided the fundamentals don’t lose out.

Simple Solution

If I’m feeling moody or pissed, I’ve been trying to simply go outside and take a walk. Apparently scientific studies have come out saying motion changes our emotions. That and the fresh air seems to make a difference. Not much else to say, after all, its supposed to be simple

Failing Forward and Skill Acquisition

Back in college I read Joshua Kaufman’s The First 20 Hours, a book on rapid skill acquisition. His argument is that the 10,000 hour rule is to get to world class, but that we can gain skills much faster than that. He has ten steps or principles to rapid skill acquisition including things like focusing on one at a time, dedicating time to practice, deconstructing large skills into sub-skills.

They all make sense and are simple enough. Therefore they are also easy to skip over with a “Yeah, yeah, yeah, got it” attitude. The one I skipped over was the fast feedback loops. I got relearned why it is a useful step after hitting a snag in coding and recently listening to Scott Adams talk about Failing Forward. Essentially to fail in a way that you learn something from it or gain something like a network.

In my course in learning coding, I’ve been using free tutorials on YouTube which is great since its free and has loads of useful information and examples. The downside is videos rarely get updated and programming languages are constantly being revised and updated. So you end up with depreciated code and need to figure out the work around to make it work with the tutorial.

To make an already longer then expected story shorter. After googling different keywords and phrases, I was still coming up empty and considered just skipping it until someone else figured it out and posted the new code under the tutorial. But thanks Scott’s advice and to the fast feedback loop of Python, I was able to tinker with the code until I figured not only how to make the code work but why it did.

Don’t worry, I posted my answer below the video with hopefully a decent explanation.

Goals vs Systems

Scott Adams talks a lot about Goals vs Systems. He says that goals are for losers, while winners use systems. He makes some good points. If some one has the goal of losing 10 pounds, they feel like crap and once they hit the -10 pound mark, they are likely to have cake as a reward. Meanwhile, someone with a system that says to move daily and eat healthy foods is more likely to lose that 10 pounds without feeling like crap on the way and possibly more. Also once you complete this goal you lose your purpose.

If you do something everyday, its a system. If its something for the future, its a goal.

Remember apply systems, not goals. It doesn’t sound as sexy but I’d rather be successful than sexy.

Success Is Simple But Not Easy

Scott Adams, yes that Scott Adams, has some tremendous ideas in his book How To Fail at Anything and Still Win Big. One that stuck out to me was the idea that success was simple. You simply have to decide what you want to be successful at, figure out the price, and then pay it.

While not a guarantee, its certainly a better bet then just wishing for it.

July Books

Six books down this month. Two Asimov and four non-fiction books. Naturally, there is more to be said about the non-fiction books, but I can’t recommend enough Asimov’s books and would hate to give away the endings.

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov 4/5

A solid conclusion to the Foundation series (despite being book 5 out of 7, kinda like Star Wars). A continuation of Foundation’s Edge, Golan, Janov and Bliss continue to search for Earth, the forgotten origin of humans. Golan is nagged by his choice for Galaxia and wants to find out why he made the choice that he did. They end up traveling from Gaia to Federation worlds, to old spacer worlds. Without spoiling the ending, Asimov does a brilliant job of tying in other series he’s written while leaving the ending open to possibilities.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday 5/5

I am a massive fan of Ryan Holiday’s. His previous book, Obstacle is the Way, has been tremendously helpful to me and would highly recommend it to everybody. This book is a similar style to Obstacle and can be considered as either a sequel or a prequel to it. While Obstacle focused on Roman Stoicism and outside obstacles, Ego talks about our inner barriers. He breaks it down into three distinct phases and how we can be tripped up in each. The Aspire phase when we’re starting out. The real problem here is that we’d rather talk about becoming a success instead of actually doing the work. There’s an entire book called “I’m Working On My Novel” made out of nothing but tweets of people saying they’re working. Its doubtful they finished any of those novels. We need humility to do the work, but we’re afraid its not enough. The next phase, Success, is when we’ve “made it”. Its a great feeling to have arrived, but that’s when we start to run into the problems. We feel like we deserve certain things. We start telling ourselves a story about how we got there and we stop learning. Which all can lead to the last section, Failure. This step is going to happen to all of us, but what we get out of it depends on if we can keep that ego in check. We can learn from our mistakes. We can realize that the effort is what mattered, not necessarily the results, after all we can’t control the world around us. Make sure to keep your own score card and remember what your values are, not the world’s values.

Again a great book, especially paired with Obstacle is the Way. Even if you don’t change much, the stories alone are worth the read.

Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins 4.5/5

Money is a very emotionally charged subject, even when we think we feel indifferent to it. Tony’s book is a great discussion on just part of the game, the investing/retirement part. He interviewed 50 of the worlds smartest investors to get their best advice for the everyday person. The basics are we need to a) start investing, b) make sure we think about where we’re allocating our assets (ie bonds vs stocks vs gold vs real estate) c) avoid common pitfalls such as taxes, actively managed mutual funds, throwing everything into one bucket or the other.

Tony’s book does a good job breaking down common myths in the financial world and gives sample portfolios from the worlds best such as Ray Dalio (manages the worlds biggest hedge fund) and David Swensen (manages Yale’s endowment fund). The simplest advice I got from the book was to pick a variety of index funds, with low fees.

This book pairs great with Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (how to pay of debt and save money) and Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich (how to create systems to reach your financial goals).

Prelude to the Foundation by Isaac Asimov 4/5

The first of two prequels to the Foundation series. This book is focused on Hari Seldon as he first introduces psychohistory at a conference drawing the attention of Emperor Cleon and his First Minister Dezmerel. After an audience with the emperor where he tries to explain that psychohistory is just a theory and has no practical application, he’s attacked in a park and helped by a stranger named Chetter Hummin who decides to help keep Seldon out of the hands of the First Minister, the Mayor of Wye and others who think they can use psychohistory for their gain.

Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath 3/5

I enjoyed the Heath brothers other books, Made to Stick and Switch and this book was in a similar style. Unlike the other two, I feel like this book is helpful on a more day to day basis. Essentially they’re looking at the mental models we typically use to make decisions and how their WRAP method helps us break out of them.

Widen Your Options helps us from getting stuck into false dichotomies for our choices. Even something as simple as thinking of a third option helps us make a better decision, even if it is one of the first two options. While widening our options, we can also test multiple possibilities at once and try and find someone who has already solved our problem before.

Reality-Check Your Assumptions helps us prevent against the confirmation bias. To prevent this we should consider the opposite to prevent us from thinking we’re always right (there’s that ego again) such as playing devils advocate, asking dis-confirming questions (why did the last three people leave this job?), and testing our assumptions with deliberate mistakes. We need to Zoom Out and In in order to see what generally happens in our situation without losing the texture. We can also Ooch (Inch/Scoot) or essentially test out our theories by running small tests.

Attain Distance helps us keep perspective. We need to overcome short term emotions by considering long term feelings (10 mins/10 months/10 years from now) or what a stranger might think (what advice would you give your friend). We also need to determine what our core priorities are, especially when they start to conflict.

Prepare to Be Wrong. We can bookend the future by figuring out what would happen if the worst case happened and the best case. Success can be as debilitating as failure without preparation. We can also set tripwires in order to remind us to realize we have a choice or to keep us out of autopilot.

Good information in the book, but I had heard of most of it. That being said it was well put together and the stories describing the phenomenons were interesting reads.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande 2/5

I heard about this book years ago, but finally read it. While well written, there’s not much here. The gist is as the world gets more complex, checklists are great tools to make sure we don’t forget steps. Pilots use it for everything (take off, landing, pre-flight, if they lose power, lose an engine, etc.) Construction teams use a wide set of lists in order to get all the teams organized and to stay on schedule. It makes getting the job done easier, faster, and more efficient. This then frees them up to focus on communication should problems arise.

Checklists seem too simple, but are effective tools when they’re short and only hit the key points. We don’t need the instructions, just highlights. Either type of a Do-Confirm or a Read-Do are effective depending on the situation.

Surprise Exhaustion

It happens every once in a while but it definitely shows. For stretches, no matter how much I sleep, I’m exhausted. My legs are heavy, my eyes burn, and apparently according to my coworkers, look pissed as hell all day.

It might be due to doing graveyard shifts twice a week followed by normal closing shifts. Not great for one’s health, but I still think I’m young enough to handle it. Despite doing this every week, it still seems to pop up randomly. Hopefully it goes away.

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