Small things have big consequences. Over time, those consequences compound. We are the accumulated momentum of all our choices. Some of those choices are binary. Go to the gym or not: that choice in that moment is going to change your day. Over time that choice will change your life. We tend to ignore the importance of fractional benefit because we lose sight of the concept of the tipping point- the little benefit that tips the cup releases a flood of many benefits. It may be a 2 percent difference in force or momentum that flips the coin from heads to tails, or yes to no. – Aubrey Marcus
There’s no area of your life that’s separate from the others. Your health will impact your work. Your work will impact your relationships. Your relationships will impact your happiness. Your happiness will impact your performance. It’s an interconnected system. And if one of the systems is out whack, the others are inevitably impacted by it. The investment with highest ROI is the one you make in yourself. You get that ROI is by making the following five essential investments.
1. PHYSICAL HEALTH
At the beginning of this year, I had the misfortune of getting the flu. It was one of the worst years ever for the flu. I was incapacitated for almost the entire month of January and was spending entire days in bed. My productivity plummeted. I had to cancel interviews for The Unmistakable Creative and didn’t get very much writing done. It made me realize just how much we take our health for granted. Your health is the engine for the rest of your life. If your health is out whack, nothing else really works. Investing in your health produces an ROI in every other area of your life. That’s why I placed it first on the list.
How exactly do you invest in your health? It’s not as complicated as it might sound. It comes down to three basic pillars: sleep, diet, and exercise.
The impact of sleep became apparent to me at the beginning of 2015. I was at a major low point in my life. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest aggravators of depression. And I was stuck in a vicious cycle. I was depressed because I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t sleep because I was depressed. I knew that I had not only change the way I slept but make it a priority. Thanks to Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution I made some changes that led to big improvements.
A Casper Mattress: I was fortunate enough to get a Casper mattress because. The company sponsored multiple episodes of the Unmistakable Creative. After a couple of months of sleeping on it, I started noticing a difference anytime I didn’t. I always slept much better the Casper. A good mattress is probably the most worthwhile investment you can make in your sleep.
A Reduction of Screen Time
Sometime last year, I was going on lots of first dates with people on dating apps. During that time a lot of my good habits went to hell. I’d be checking to see if someone responded to my messages, sometimes while I was in bed. This didn’t do much for my sleep. The blue light emitted from smartphones, laptops, and tablets is incredibly disruptive to sleep.
But, people are scroll through Instagram, swipe right, and check Facebook, often before they fall asleep. When I don’t check my phone 2 hours before bed, I’m more focused the next morning. When I do check my phone, the mornings are less productive.
Soft Sheets: When you sleep in a hotel bed, you feel like a king. I wanted to replicate that experience in my bedroom. When I did a google search, I stumbled upon this article by the team at Apartment Therapy. Shortly after, I upgraded to 1000-thread count sheets. And I immediately noticed a difference in how I felt.
As my friend Mike says, “sleep is the magic elixir.” If you improve the quality of your sleep, you’ll improve every other area of your life.
If your body is an engine, your diet is the fuel that makes it run. In his program How to Stay Motivated, Zig Ziglar asks a thought-provoking question.
“If you did have a million-dollar racehorse, would you let him stay up half the night drinking coffee and booze, smoking cigarettes and eating junk food?” Next question: “Would you treat a 10-dollar dog or a 5-dollar cat that way? What about a billion-dollar body?”
I’d love to tell you that I’m a total health nut. But, I slip up on occasion. I love desserts more than you can imagine and have “experimented” with a handful of substances that probably aren’t the best thing in the world for me.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to value the way my body feels more and more. I rarely drink to the point of feeling hungover the next day. I don’t eat pastries for breakfast. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve had some of my most significant professional accomplishments as I’ve gotten older. As I said in my upcoming book, if you put garbage into your body, it’s likely what you’ll produce regarding creative output.
So what exactly does it look like to invest in your diet? There are a couple of simple things that you can do.
Consider using a meal planning service: Meal planning services can sometimes seem costly. But, the energy you get back from eating well can justify the cost. You can apply that energy to building your company, writing your book, or another goal. It becomes an investment instead of an expense.
A Good Doctor: A few months ago I kept stumbling on these ads for Go forward, the doctor’s office of the future. It’s a bit like the Apple Store for Doctor’s offices. Every time I saw the ad, I drooled. Unlike a traditional doctor’s office, these guys take a data-driven approach to health. Watch the video below, and you might find yourself salivating for them to bring it to your city.
Have a Healthy Food Environment: I
If you want to eat healthy, design an environment conducive to the person you want to become
One of my weaknesses is chocolate lava cakes from Trader Joes . As one of my dear friends from college once said to me “you shouldn’t trust people who don’t like chocolate. That’s weird.” The one pattern I’ve noticed is that if I don’t buy it at the grocery store, I don’t worry about eating it. If I do buy it at the grocery store, I’ll eat it every night. Simply put, if you want to avoid it, leave it out your environment.
I’m not a food expert. But I recommend checking out work of Darya Rose and Aubrey Marcus.
My dad is almost 70, but you’d never know it to look at him. When I was in college, a bouncer at a bar carded him. We’ve occasionally been mistaken for brothers. (see picture below). There are two things that I attribute to his vitality. The first is that he has the patience and mindset of a Zen Buddhist. I have no idea how, but it never ceases to amaze me. The second is that he is physically active. He parks as far as he possibly can from his office at the UC-Riverside campus and walks. He walks every evening. And because he’s the unofficial brand ambassador for Costco, he even does his evening walks there. As he likes to joke“everything in this house except my wife is from Costco.”
Over the course of my life, I’ve become much more physically active. When I started surfing ten years ago, I started noticing an immediate improvement in a bunch of other areas of my life. Because I wanted to get up and surf early in the morning, I’d go home from a bar at 10 pm. I stopped smoking when I drank. And the water became my source for inspiration and coming up with ideas for things to write about. The keystone habit of surfing created a ripple effect improving every other area of my life.
So how do you invest in exercise?
Hire a Trainer/Join a Gym
One of the most common ways to invest in your physical health is to hire a trainer. World class athletes don’t get that way by attempting to do everything on their own. They work with coaches and trainers.
My good friend Joseph Logan is almost 50 and hardly looks like it. He works with a trainer.
When my business partner Brian wanted to bulk up, he hired a trainer. You can see the before and after picture below.
I asked personal trainers on Facebook about the non-health related benefits their clients had received, and these were just a few of the responses that came back.
Confidence and courage to divorce her husband who was verbally abusive to her.
Being able to go off their pills for depression (with doctors approval OF COURSE) my training style focuses on building self-confidence and empowerment. It’s SO much more than lifting weights or losing weight.
Mental strength – once people realize they can be physically strong, they start going after other life goals as well!
It’s the ripple effect of a keystone habit at work. When you invest in your physical health, you look better, feel better, and accomplish more in virtually every other area of your life. A physical transformation can help you to ultimately become the best version of yourself.
If you hate exercise…
Develop an Athletic Hobby
To be completely honest, I hated exercising when I was in my early 20’s. I couldn’t stand going to the gym. I saw it as a necessary evil. But when I started surfing and snowboarding that completed changed. Exercise is simply one of the fringe benefits of these activities because I enjoy them so much. If you manage to find a hobby that’s athletic and fall in love with it, exercise will go from something you dread to something you look forward to.
As I’ve said before when you’re stuck mentally move physically.
2. MENTAL HEALTH
Happiness is a major enhancer or performance – Shawn Actor
Your state of mind is one of your most priceless assets, and if you want to optimize your state of mind, you have to invest in your mental health. No matter what you want to accomplish, whether it’s finishing your education, a relationship with the opposite sex, or starting a business, the pillar on which it is all built is your ability to manage your psychology. Without this one skill, you will always be at a disadvantage.
People often think that as you get more successful, this is less necessary. But one of the most telling things Sam Altman said about the process of building a startup is that it gets worse, the more successful you become. The highs get higher, and lows get lower. A world in which you have no problems is a delusional reality. And if it weren’t for the issues, you’d stop learning and growing. Problems are ultimately just a pain in the ass form of education.
So how do you invest in your mental health?
In my four years at Berkeley, I only ever went to see a therapist once because I bought into this ridiculous narrative that therapy was only for crazy people. One of the major themes of my piece on what we should have learned in school but never did was managing your psychology. When I found myself in a therapist office after a break up at the age of 36, I had one thought. “What the hell took me so long to get in here? I wish I’d done this years ago.” Therapy is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your mental health.
Meditation is one of the most low-cost, high return investments you can make in your mental health. In as little as two minutes a day, you can reduce anxiety, increase happiness, and improve your ability to focus. And if that doesn’t convince you of its virtues, I was told by an Unmistakable Creative guest, that many billionaires credit their ability not to get rattled by market fluctuations to their meditation habit.
In our new age self-help world dictated by life coaches and internet celebrities, medication for mental health gets a bad rap. And it’s often got that wrap from people who have no direct experience dealing with depression. Personally, I’ve found it to make a huge difference in my life. That being said, I would consider it a last resort, something you do when nothing else is working.
Happiness is a Habit
And habits require practice. You’re not going to write down a gratitude list once, and feel better over the long haul. You’re not going to exercise once and feel energized. This is why it’s worth considering things like this daily routine backed by science that will make you a happier person.
The iPhone is a traveling university. It’s not cheap-but it’s way cheaper than an MBA. There are no tests at the end of the year, and you can pick your classes – Aubrey Marcus.
As a society, we tend to confuse learning with education. Education is a finite game. You complete a course of study, get a diploma, and get passed on to the next one. Learning, on the other hand, is an infinite game. It continues long after you finish your formal education.
I’ve I work with a writing coach on all of my books. My books are a thousand times better than they would be without her. In fact, I’d probably never write another book without her.
I’ve learned more from reading books than I ever did from my college degree.
I’ve learned more from building a business than I ever did from getting an MBA.
By investing the right amount of time and resources, you can give yourself an informal education that kicks the crap out of your formal one. With the pace at which the world is changing, the ability to learn is going to be essential to our survival in the future.
Books are wonderful in that they are low cost and produce an incredibly high ROI. You can buy them dirt cheap on Amazon, or check them out for free from your local library. So how exactly do you read more?
A couple of years ago a mentor of mine recommended that I read the 48 Laws of Power. If you’ve ever read any of Robert Greene’s books, you know they’re long, well researched and extremely detailed. They’re not the kind of books you can sit down and read in the afternoon. If I wanted to finish the book, I had to develop a system.
If I read two laws every day, I’d be done with the book in 24 days. After finishing the book, I applied a similar system to all other books I read, which has enabled me to read 100 books a year. Like any goal, the easiest way to read a book is to break it up into the smallest manageable parts. Even if you only read ten pages a day, if you do it consistently, you’ll easily develop a reading habit. This is my recommend prescription:
Start by reading ten pages a day for a week
The next week read 20 pages a day
Eventually, you’ll find that you want to keep reading.
When it comes to online courses, what you put into them is what you’ll get out of them. If you’re a person who completes all the modules, does all the assignments, and takes advantage of access to the instructor you’ll get a substantial ROI on your course. The testimonials you see on Ramit Sethi’s sales pages are not from people who bought the course and didn’t do shit. They’re from people who followed through and took action.If you buy a course, and don’t do any of the assignments or go through the material, that’s not much different than flushing your money down the toilet.
These days there’s a podcast for just about everything you want to learn. Whether you want to learn a language, build a business, or just get inspired, there’s likely a podcast that will help. What I’ve learned from more than 700 people on the Unmistakable Creative has far outweighed the value of both my degrees. These are just a few of the things I’ve learned.
I got an in-depth class from a Harvard Neuroscientist in how to accomplish personal and professional goals.
I’ve learned how to change my story from a bank robber.
I’ve learned how to shift my mindset from scarcity to abundance because of Garrett Gunderson.
I’ve learned about the foundations of a meaningful connection from Nick Notas.
I’ve learned how to create a blueprint for love and boundaries from Terri Cole.
And the list goes on and on.
4. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
We can spend thousands of hours practicing until we master a skill or we can convince a world-class practitioner to guide our practice and cut the time to master significantly – Shane Snow.
When I look back at the early part of my career and the many jobs I’ve been fired from, there’s one thing I wish I’d done. And that was invested in my professional development. If you’re serious about having a thriving career, you have to invest in your professional development.
Coaches and Mentors
In his recent TED Talk, the prominent surgeon and author Atul Gawande talked about hiring a coach. After years of practicing medicine, one thing became apparent to him. There was a point at which people stopped getting better at what they do. So he hired one of his old medical school professors to coach him during surgery. Despite how long he has been practicing medicine, his professor found room for improvement.
If you’ve watched the TV show Billions, you know that Bobby Axelrod has a performance psychologist on staff at his hedge fund. At first, it seems ludicrous that a hedge fund would have this person on staff. But given the amount of money at stake, a one percent difference in performance could make a MASSIVE dent in your bottom line.
Personally, I think every organization should have a peak performance coach/psychologist on their staff. Just because someone is a good manager, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good coach. This is why people like Michael Gervais and Todd Herman are so in demand.
If you want to become great at something, and you want to accelerate your progress, hire a coach. I’ve written before about the lifelong ROI of coaches and mentors.
When my business partner Brian hired Jeremy miner as his sales coach, he managed to get more than a 25x return on his investment and develop skills that he’ll utilize for the rest of his life.
Recently, I had the good fortune of attending Pete Vargas’ Stage Execution workshop, which was all about how to build a system for getting more speaking gigs. It was one of the most expensive investments I’ve ever made in my career. But, it turned out that what almost every testimonial said was true. It would have taken me a year to do what I got done in two days.
When Ryan Holiday writes a book (which usually shows up in the mail after you’ve finished reading his previous one), he hires an editor outside of the publisher. But that editor does far more than edit. He’s effectively a coach.
Most people want to find a mentor without necessarily having to pay for it. If that’s the case, I recommend you read this piece on finding a mentor by Ryan Holiday. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that when you pay for something, you have more skin in the game. When you have more skin in the game, you’re going to be much more motivated to get a result from your investment.
Mastermind Groups/Personal Board of Directors
In one of his recent podcasts, Seth Godin referenced a Mastermind group that he and Chip Conley were part of while they were in business school. They would meet once a week in a room at the Anthropology building on the Stanford Campus. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Seth and Chip have been incredibly successful in their careers.
Another way you could do this is to form what is known as a personal board of directors. This is something I learned about from a Tim Ferriss podcast guest. The parameters are quite simple.
Pick a person outside your industry who you look up to
Ask if they would be willing to meet with you once or twice a year.
Conferences and Events
Attending conference is rarely about the content of the event. The value of a conference is ultimately in the relationships that are formed from it. As a byproduct of attending a conference, I’ve managed to get new sponsors for the Unmistakable Creative, met amazing podcast guests and more. After having attended some high ticket events like Archangel, what I can tell you is that the caliber of the people in the room always varies based on the cost of the event. It’s not a coincidence that some of the most successful entrepreneurs always seem to be at the same events together.
A Body of Work
I’ve said before a body of work is far more valuable than your resume or your GPA. AS Chris Sacca has famously said “your GPA only matters to people who have no other reason to find you interesting. Building a body of work gives people a reason to find you interesting and is a low-cost, high ROI investment in your professional development. When I was in college, it used to take thousands of dollars and weeks to build a website. Today, thanks to companies like Squarespace, you can build a beautiful website in minutes for less than $20 a month.
5. Your Environment
Whether it’s the space you live or work in, the clothes you wear, and the car you drive, of all the investments you could make, the one you make in your environment will have the highest ROI.
You can’t upgrade one environment and not have it change the others. If you change one environment, it will create a ripple effect on every other environment.”
The four investments mentioned above are ultimately investments in your environment. And your physical environment is the low hanging fruit, so let’s talk about how you change that.
Where You Work/Where You Live: The space in which you work and live has a big impact on everything from the way you feel to your day to day behavior. If it is chaotic and cluttered, you’ll be more prone to distraction. If it doesn’t inspire you, it will drain you.
Your Car: You don’t have to drive a fancy or expensive car. But if you keep your car immaculate, you’ll notice a big difference in how you feel. Remember, every environment is connected.
Your Clothes/Physical Appearance: Changing the way you dress is one of the fastest ways to change the way you feel. Think about how you feel when you’ve showered, shaved, had a haircut, and put on your best threads. When it comes to clothes, my philosophy is quality over quantity. You buy less stuff, it looks better, and it lasts longer. And thanks to companies like Stitchfix you basically have the equivalent of a personal stylist available from your iPhone every month.
INVESTMENTS DISGUISED AS EXPENSES
Sometimes investments are disguised as expenses. For example, I spent a decent chunk of change on some noise canceling headphones. I know that listening to music when I’m writing makes a big difference in my ability to focus. Because I get paid to write books, my noise cancellation headphones are an investment in my career.
I come up with my best ideas for new content when I’m either surfing or snowboarding. Every year I buy a season pass and take multiple snowboarding trips. I also try to take an international surf trip at least every other year. Since these are my major sources of inspiration, they aren’t expenses as much as they are investments.
Last year, when I visited my friend Mike Harrington in Colombia, I was stuck on the opening to my new book. We ended up watching a documentary about Daft Punk, which inspired the opening story for the book. Not a bad return on investment for cashing in my points on a credit card.
Because our life is a series of interconnected systems, what appears as an expense in one area of your life becomes and investment in another.
When you invest in each of these five areas, you feel better, look better, have better relationships and accomplish far more, both professionally and personally.
As part of my upcoming book launch, we’re putting together a series of free e-books. The first one is the Unmistakable Creative guide to health and happiness which you can download here.