Help Yourself!

Are self-help books all they’re cracked up to be?

 

selfhelp

If you walk into any decent bookstore, you’ll notice that a large section of the store is devoted to self-help books. Self help books usually fit very nicely into three inter-related categories:

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

Depending on one’s  personal situations, one of these three categories may be more important to you than another, but from my personal view point wealth (or financial stability) is the lynch pin that holds the other two components in place. The stress and worry associated with poor financial decisions will ruin both your health and your relationships.   Fighting about money is the number one relationship killer. With such a huge selection of self-help books and authors to choose from, you might wonder if self-help books really work at all.

A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. – John Milton

John Milton was a 17th century English poet. His most famous work was Paradise Lost, a long narrative poem which basically expands upon the biblical story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino  plays a character named John Milton, a lawyer who is  actually Satan in disguise. At one point during the film, Pacino utters this quotable dialog : “The worst vice is advice”. It’s a statement that’s a little confusing, but I found it to be both funny and profound. Some people are in the habit of advising other people about anything and everything, even when they have no worthwhile advice to offer.  So it’s very important to be able to discern if the advice given is of any value. I cannot tell you how many times people (who didn’t know what they were talking about) gave me bad advice which had I been foolish enough to act upon would have had disastrous consequences.

If you’re considering seeking out a self-help book, then you’ve already made the first step in problem solving, admitting to yourself that there’s a problem. The second step is gathering information so you can formulate a solution. The third step is putting that information into practice, but the forth and final step is the real key to success. That forth step is maintaining the third step while improving upon and refining it as new and better information comes along. Practice makes perfect, quitters never win, and winners never quit.      

All the good advice in the world is worthless if you fail to apply it. Therein lies the problem. Most people looking for self-help books are ACTUALLY seeking quick fix solutions to their problems that require little or no effort on their part. They are NOT expecting to discover PERMANENT life changes.

Take diet books for example.  (At the risk of insulting any actual dietician or fitness expert who may have written a really sound book, I’m NOT going to mention any specific book title, or author.)  

Average Joe is 100 lbs overweight and hears  about a fabulous new diet book by a well respected author, and he immediately orders a copy. The book arrives and after a month of making all the tasty  meals, Joe loses 25 lbs. He pats himself on the back uses his new diet book to prop up the short leg of the table, and goes to the all-you-can-eat buffet to reward himself. A month later, he has gained back the weight he lost, and blames the author and the stupid book. Then he hears about another new diet book and repeats the process over and over.  The problem isn’t the advice he received, it is that he stopped following it the moment he saw positive change, and resumed all the bad habits that caused the problem in the first place.

If you want to stop a problem,  you MUST stop going all the things at caused the problem, PERMANENTLY! You don’t go back, ever.   Occam’s razor, dictates that “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one “. If you keep wondering why all your problems keep happening to you, it’s because the problem isn’t the problem, the problem IS you. To quote Shakespeare  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”  You’re not a victim of your circumstances, you’re a volunteer and it’s up to you to break the vicious cycle that you’ve trapped yourself in.

As I’ve said many times, I grew up poor because my father died when I was young, and my mother didn’t have the intelligence to handle money. If you gave her one dollar, she’s spend two.  I broke the vicious cycle of poverty that had trapped most of my family by seeking wise council on money and financial matters.  I put these practices into place years ago and never stopped working my way towards financial freedom.   This is why I’m successful today. I realized that my way of thinking was what caused the problem, and I actively sort out better information from someone smarter than myself.  This is because a greater intelligence is always needed to fix a problem than the intellect that caused it.  

So as your trying to figure out which of the near infinite self-help books will provide the answer to your problem, let me give you a ‘short cut’. The best self-help books all offer the simplest answers, and often quote the Bible.  If you read enough of them, they all eventually seem to offer the exact advice.

  • For wealth–  Spend  less then you earn,  live within your means, and save and invest.
  • For health– Eat proper nutritious meals and exercise regularly.
  • For relationships – Be good.  

It’s just common sense, not tricks or gimmicks.  

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

You may have heard it said ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is NOT biblical. You will not find that phrase anywhere in the Holy Bible. Benjamin Franklin popularized it.  The Bible tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and also encourages us to seek wise council. It is the first and the greatest ‘self-help’ book, timeless and perfect.

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 13:10

Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.

Proverbs 19:20

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

So if you’re seeking the ultimate self-help book why not try reading the time tested original first. As always I wish you happiness and success!

Sorry, Not a Winner!

Don’t fall victim to ‘Get-Rich-Quick Schemes’.

Back when I was in college, I used to work late nights and weekends at a convenience store. You know the type, a small retail business that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, coffee, soft drinks, tobacco products, newspapers, and magazines. I’d start at 10 pm and would usually be ending my shifts around 7am. Like most c-stores, we also sold lottery tickets, both the ‘instant win’ scratch-off tickets and the computerized state and national mega-million number games.  Time and again, I would see the same people on their way to and from their places of employment. These regular customers would stop by daily to grab a cup of coffee, a pack of cigs, and usually lottery tickets. This was an everyday occurrence.  Often, they would scratch off the instant lottery tickets at side of the counter while sipping their coffee, and if they won a free ticket, they would redeem it for another chance to win.  I can’t tell you how many of the same people day in and day out spend upwards of $5.00 a day on lottery tickets. It was worse when the mega-million jackpots started growing and lotto-fever hit these would-be millionaires. I never once in all the years I worked there, sold someone a million-dollar winning ticket.        

lotto

The one dollar trap.

Part of the allure of lottery tickets is how inexpensive they are. For only a buck you could be a winner! After all, what could you possibly do with that measly dollar? Because of this, it’s very easy to get caught up in the lottery trap.  My mother, and all of my aunts spent tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes chasing the elusive ‘big win’. Not only did they play the lottery, they also played bingo, went to casinos, and gambled. My late grandmother was a book-maker, taking in illegal spots bets. One of my cousins lost $600 at a casino in a single evening last month. My last surviving aunt, who lives in near poverty,  frequently wastes her precious few dollars on lottery tickets, and betting on horse races.  Not a single member of my family ever became wealthy by gambling, and all died penniless.

But the Apostles cast lots in the Bible, so gambling is ok, right?

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD,” (Prov. 16:33)

In the Bible, the casting of lots is mentioned several times.

  • The eleven apostles cast lots to determine who would replace Judas (Acts 1:26).
  • The Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35).    
  • God instructed the Israelites to cast lots on several times in the book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2)  
  • The practice of casting lots occurs most often in connection with the division of the land under Joshua (Joshua chapters 14-21)
  • The sailors on Jonah’s ship (Jonah 1:7) also cast lots to determine who had brought God’s wrath upon their ship.

This is NOT the same as gambling. The casting of lots was the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin to make an arbitrary decision.  Another thing you may notice in all of the above references, is that there was no initial up-front investment by the participants to be included.  When you gamble, you have to wager a personal stake of some sort which becomes forfeit if the outcome is not in your favor. I’ve also heard people try to justify gambling by saying that bingo is played in Catholic churches, so it’s okay.  Actually there have been several times over the past seventy years when bingo was banned in churches, and even today it’s rare to see bingo played  outside of a bingo hall or at a private club. It’s not illegal, but that doesn’t make it ‘good’.  Anything which becomes an addiction is bad, and as God has given us free will, we have to decide for ourselves through studying his Word if we are becoming addicted to a particular bad habit.  

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.   1 Corinthians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)

The easy way

Buying a lottery ticket is not against the law. On very rare occasions even I have been caught up in ‘lotto fever’ when the mega-million jackpot hits record highs, and I feel compelled to contribute to the office lotto pool because I don’t want to be the one guy that got left behind should my co-workers win and split the jackpot.  It’s not wrong to want to have a better life. But if you feel that there only way to improve your lot in life is by gambling, then there is something seriously wrong with your way of thinking. Let’s go back to the guys I mentioned who brought daily lottery tickets on their way to work back when I worked at the c-store.  Let’s say they spent $5 a day, five days a week on lottery tickets on average.  I sold some of these guys tickets for years, and they never hit any big jackpot. So let’s assume that instead of wasting $25 a week on lottery tickets, they just put that money in a jar every week for a year. At the end of the year they would have $1300.00.  Now let’s assume they did this every year for twenty five years, never toughing the money, just putting it in the jar, $25 a week, every week for twenty five years. They would have stashed away $32,500! Now suppose instead of just hiding the money away in a jar, they had placed in a brokerage account and invested it in a index fund tracking the S&P 500, (assuming about a 12% interest rate APR ) that investment would have grown to over $100,000!   

The easy way to became rich is not by gambling. The easy way to achieve wealth is to do it slowly over time, cutting all unnecessary expenses, and by making wise investments.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!  

 

Opportunity only knocks once?

Unleashing  your inner potential.

skysignknock

The word genius means exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability. It used to be a word that described the ability to do something remarkable, but sometime during the 1800’s the definition changed and began to refer to the person, not the potential. As a result, a line was drawn in the sand, and people were classified. You either were born a genius, or you weren’t.  This is a lie.

We are all born the same way, and we all die eventually. Aside from accidents, tragedies or illnesses which may cut our lives short, we have decades in which to learn, and potentially improve our lives. The sad reasons that the majority of the populace fails to do so is largely because they either don’t know to improve their lives, don’t believe they can improve their lives, or flat out don’t want to . There’s really nothing that can be done for that last group, you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.

“If you don’t believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it.”

­­–John C. Maxwell

There are millions of millionaires, thousands of billionaires, and countless entrepreneurs in the world today. The most envious ‘unsuccessful’ people demonize these ‘successful’ people as being greedy, arrogant, undeserving and a plethora of other negative adjectives. Despite this I have never heard of a person with zero income, zero savings, and zero resources starting a business, creating jobs, and hiring employees.  Those who consider these highly successful individuals to be role models often refer to them as being ‘financial geniuses’.  They are said to have been presented with opportunities and met with influential people who in turn, helped them reach their potential. Maybe, maybe not.

I’m not going to deny that sometimes there is an element of ‘luck’. I am going to say that those who had that ‘luck’ worked hard to make that ‘luck’. In other words, what some people would refer to as ‘luck’ is not some random chance. It is the end result of years of study, countless attempts, and lots of hard work. You may have heard that old saying ‘opportunity knocks once.’  It does. It knocks once to let you know that it exists, and that it’s just on the other side of the door waiting for you to seize it. It doesn’t go away, it’s always there waiting for you to reach out and grab it, but you have to believe you can achieve it first!       

 “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

– Jackie Robinson  

The role of a father in a family is to provide for his children, and his children’s children.  This refers to not only the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter, but also guidance, knowledge, hope, and  opportunities.  If you raise a child to believe that there is no hope, no opportunity for improvement, and that things will continue to get worse, you crush their spirit. My father died when I was a young boy, but not before instilling in me that belief that anything I wanted in life was attainable though knowledge, hard work, and persistence.   If you want your children to be successful, you must first strive to be successful.  The more resources and knowledge you have to pass on to your children, to greater the chances  they have for success.

“Deliberately seek the company of people who influence you to think and act on building the life you desire.” –Napoleon Hill   

If you really want to be successful, you need to surround yourself with people who are more successful, and cut ties with all the negative ‘sad-sacks’ who keep trying to discourage you. Many of these ’emotional vampires’ thrive on seeing you fail, because it makes them feel better about themselves because you can’t achieve your dreams either. Misery loves company and these dream-crushers will find every dark cloud they can to wrap around your silver lining.

Every choice you make in life has consequences.  Good choices usually lead to good outcomes while bad ones have negative outcomes.  A single bad choice made early in life can set you back years, if you ever recover at all. And the more poor choices you make, the more cumulative the fallout becomes. Surrounding yourself with losers who apply peer pressure to encourage you to travel their path will only end badly.   This is the real reason behind the other success cliché, “it’s lonely at the top.” Think back to your high school days. How many classmates did you have? Of those, how many went on to be successful? I mean REALLY successful, not just getting by. Odds are that one-in-a hundred became super-successful, and one other became very-well-off. Yet back in high school, you were all more-or-less on equal footing. Of all the people I went to high school with, today I speak to only two of them, and only once or twice a year.  Earlier this week, I bumped into someone from high school who remembered me, but I didn’t know their name, face, or anything about them. 

On the other hand, if you surround yourself with winners, these individuals will be there to advise and encourage you.  You’ll be able to get valuable insights which will help you avoid the mistakes of others. Some may even offer to help you in  your endeavors. Successful people love to help others became successful.  The key here is to be genuine, and not have hidden agendas.  I have had some former friends who asked for assistance and had zero intention of fulfilling their end of the agreement. They intentionally took advantage of my kindness. Thus ended our friendship.  

As you go further on in life, you will find along the way friends will come and go. Some will not be able to accompany you on your road to success, and you need to let them go. It may be hard, but it will be worse for both of you if you try to make them stay. Thrust me, I’ve cut a lot of fair-weather friends in my life, it’s never easy, but looking back it was always the right thing to do. Most people can only accommodate five close friends in their life at most. Any more than that and you will be neglecting family or your own personal time. Friends are great to have, but that the only real constant in your life will always be your family. This is because you can choose your friends, but family is forever.

“Life reflects your own thoughts back to you.”– Napoleon Hill

When people are happy inside, it often shows on the outside. Successful people tend to be happy people. And when they project this positive energy outward, it tends to attract like-minded people. No one wants to be around depressing, unhappy people. Your attitude in life will open or close doors for you more often than the situations you find yourself in. People tend to respond positively towards happy congenial people. Just as what you know, who you know, and where you are in life are all important, the final piece of the puzzle is how you behave.  Charles Swindoll once said “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So the best way to be happy and successful is to start by being happy. Focus on all the good, healthy positive things in your life. If you start counting your blessings you will find that you have more things in your life to be happy about than you realize. And smile, it’s contagious. Before you know it, you’ll attract positive people to your life to fill the spaces left by the negative ones you cut from your social circle. And each new person will bring new knowledge, new opportunities,  and new adventures to share. As always, I wish you happiness and success!