Powerful Ways to Improve Your Life

Today I thought I’d step outside of the purely financial realm and talk a bit about self-improvement. While many of the following thoughts can improve your finances, they have the potential to have a much broader impact on your life.

Focus on your passions

“Anyone can dabble, but once you’ve made that commitment, your blood has that particular thing in it, and it’s very hard for people to stop you.”

-Bill Cosby

I’ve found my greatest success by simply focusing on just 1, 2, or 3 things about which I’m passionate. Take stock of your commitments and obligations to see if you’re involved in things that you no longer truly interest you. Also, while you may not like telling people “no, ” sometimes it needs to be done, and everyone involved is usually better off in the long run.

Don’t know what you’re passionate about? Take some time to figure it out. Here are some ways you stand to benefit from follow your passions:

  • Accomplish more. If you’re doing what you love, or at least working toward it, you’ll be amazed at how much you can and will get done.
  • Increased joy. You’ll be more of a blessing to all those around you if you enjoy what you do day in and day out.
  • Increased self-confidence. If you’re following your passions, you will undoubtedly end up exercising your natural gifts. This will increase your success which will, in turn, increase your confidence.
  • Increased self-worth. Few things make you feel more useful than when people benefit from the work you do. If you’re working in your ideal field, the chances of your work being beneficial increase dramatically.

Stop (or at least set limits on) watching TV

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

-Darryl F. Zanuck, President, 20th Century Fox, 1946

Like guns, wine, and many other things in life, television can be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on how you use it. Whether you’re an adult or a child, your TV time should undoubtedly be limited. Simplifying your life by limiting your television time can help you:

  • Save money. Cancel your satellite/cable TV service and use a cheap digital antenna to pick up a good number of local broadcast stations.
  • Complete lingering projects. How is your “honey do” list looking? Turning off your TV will force you to focus your time elsewhere and can be an excellent way to take a huge bite out of that oft neglected to-do list.
  • Free up more time to exercise. Whether you’re doing projects around the house, or simply walking around your community, turning off the “boob tube” will certainly increase your physical activity… Trust me.
  • Spend more time with your family. Instead of watching TV, get to know each other better. This will boost creativity and improve family relations.
  • Free yourself from excessive commercial advertisements. Watching less advertising almost always leads to increased creative thought since your mind will not be as saturated with “less than perfect” ad rhetoric. You might also save some money!

Make the switch to homemade/homegrown

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

What did humans do before the advent of the train, the automobile, and our massive modern shipping and logistics networks? Well, we purchased the majority of our foods, goods, and services from locally, of course!

Here is a list of changes you can make to simplify your life and even a few benefits you stand to realize:

  • Use homemade products. Making your own homemade products can save you money and provide many other health and environmental benefits.
  • Make homemade gifts. This is another great way to save money, boost creativity, and provide an artsy learning opportunity for kids. Your gifts will also most likely be appreciated on a deeper level.
  • Eat homegrown foods. Eating locally-grown foods is a great way to save money, improve your health, and reduce your environmental impact. If you can grow your own garden, great! If not, visit local farms and/or frequent the local farmers market to pick up healthy local foods.
  • Lose weight. Tying in with the idea of eating homegrown food, my wife and I have both lost over 15% of our body weight after cutting fast food and heavily processed commercial foods from our diets. We focus 90% of our eating on whole foods such as dry beans, whole wheat, raw fruits and veggies, etc.
  • Reduce healthcare costs. Despite “the miracles of modern medicine, ” obesity and related diseases are growing increasingly more common with each passing day. Our families and communities deserve better, so why not set a healthy?
  • Support local farmers and craftsmen. Tired of spending all your hard earned dollars on products made in China? Stop that craziness and start supporting your community by purchasing local goods and services. Doing so is good for both you and your community.

Adopt a reuse philosophy

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

-Unknown Proverb

The adoption of sustainable habits and a resourceful mindset gets easier and pays higher dividends with each real-world application. The concept is simple — instead of being so quick to throw things away, consider reusing them for some other task.

  • Recycle your waste. This practice motivated me to reduce my trash bill. I had been paying $46 every three months for trash removal, now I pay less than $5!
  • Reuse your zip lock baggies. This may be something you saw your parents (or perhaps grandparents) doing, but have never practiced yourself. There’s a lot of wisdom to be found in the practices of depression-era people!
  • Reuse commercial containers. My wife and I eat a lot of yogurt, and we use the 32 ounce containers, along with many other reusable grocery containers, to store everything from homemade ice cream to homemade laundry detergent.
  • Repurpose scrap materials. Do you have some spare wood, metal, or string lying around the house? Instead of buying products for your next home improvement project, try to make use of your leftovers and make something yourself! This exercises your creativity, creates a learning atmosphere, and can also save you a boatload of money. In fact, hust the other day I used left over downspout piping to hook my rain barrels up to my rain gutters instead of paying nearly $50 for new connectors.

Purge and enjoy the tax breaks

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

-William Morris

Every year, my wife and I donate several huge bags of clothes to Goodwill. Each time we do it, we get a receipt detailing what we gave so come tax time we can claim the generous income tax deductions. You might not think this would be very lucrative, but it can be more beneficial than selling your stuff on eBay or Craigslist.

Simplifying your life by purging your excess can help you:

  • Declutter your home. Getting rid of clutter can reduce stress by decreasing the number of things that you have to clean, maintain, worry about, etc.
  • Receive tax breaks. As I mentioned, every year my wife and I claim tax breaks associated with our donations. Each year, this yields hundreds of dollars worth of deductions, which is nothing to sneeze at!
  • Reduce your materialistic tendencies. Like it or not, the hours upon hours of commercials that we’ve been bombarded with are bound to affect our thinking and buying patterns. The more you purge, the more you realize how little how much more we have than we need.

Love your neighbor

“Man is now able to soar into outer space and reach up to the moon; but he is not moral enough to live at peace with his neighbor!”

-Sri Sathya Sai Baba

This may sound like something you’d hear at a religious service, but the concept makes an incredible amount of sense when you think about it. I challenge you to go through one day this week where you try hard to consider the needs of other people before your own. Before you react in any given situation, try to consider where that person is coming from. Instead of reacting with anger or abruptness, give that person something no one else will… A compassionate and patient response! You won’t believe the results.

This oft-neglected behavior can yield the following benefits:

  • Reduced your stress. Instead of practicing behavior that elevates your blood pressure, do the opposite. You’ll improve your health and maybe even make some new friends.
  • Increased joy. Investing in mutual funds is good, but… So is investing in karma and the general welfare of others.
  • Reduce the stress and increase the joy of others. What a blessing you’ll be if you sacrifice your agenda for the benefit of others! You’ll refresh their outlook on life, and will also help spread a positive attitude.

Closing thoughts

For the past six months, I’ve re-dedicated myself to living passionately and powerfully. I’ve narrowed my focus, charted my course, and achieved a much higher level of satisfaction in all areas of my life. Success hasn’t come overnight, and I’ve had to work hard to make it happen, but… I’ve seen a huge improvement in the quality of my life. What about you?

21 Responses to “Powerful Ways to Improve Your Life”

  1. Anonymous

    @Angie: Congrats… you’ve got to start somewhere right? You will probably wind up discovering what I did. The more I kept the TV off, the more I liked having it off… until one day I canceled the satellite service. I love that too, both the time saved & the money saved.

    Now we just have free digital over the air local stations, but I prefer to have those off most of the time too! I just don’t like TV anymore – the con’s far out-weigh the pro’s for me.

  2. Anonymous

    I had the TV off the entire night last night (mainly because it was a day game). It felt like I had about 5 times as much time as a regular night after work. It felt great! Gave me time to focus on other things I always said I would do! Maybe some day I will cut cable completely, but for now maybe I’ll institute some limits or no-TV days each week.

    Such a timewaster.

  3. Anonymous

    @DDFD: nice work! This week I saved $700 by using items I already had instead of submitting to the temptation to buy new… you’ll read about it in Thursday morning’s post.

  4. Anonymous

    Typical corny American claptrap: so suddenly recycling is ‘in’ as is locally grown food. I mean come on you guys these ideas are about as original as yesterday’s stock price. I mean ‘being nice’ – read some decent literature from from Rome or Greece thousands of years ago and …. quess what …. they say be nice there too.

    And follow your passion – a theme of every self help book going back to Dyer years and years ago has pushed – again so typically American it makes a normal (non-American) citizen of the world want to puke.

    Look you want to do good: get off you fat American asses and your coddled existence and go and do something useful in another part of the world.

    Such corn with syrup too.

  5. Anonymous

    @Matt: Thanks! And yes retiring by 35 is one of the main goals that I set out for myself. Being able to achieve financial independence drives a lot of the current decisions I make regarding saving/investing. Best wishes to you accomplishing the goals that you’ve set out for yourself too!

  6. Anonymous

    @Kathryn: Congrats & keep it up. Nothing is more satisfying than discovering & following after your passions!

    @Kevin: I could not have written that any better… your comment mimics my sentiments EXACTLY! Folks need to turn off the tube & release themselves from the powerful brainwashing… excellent. (when are you going to be ready for another guest post on DFA?)

    @retireby35: First let me say, good luck in your goal to retire at 35 – I too share your passion for early retirement. In saying that… is that one of your passions? Early retirement? Also, personal finance is a perfectly acceptable passion – heck, it’s one of mine! You don’t have to be an artist or a musician to make a positive difference. The main thing is that you fervently work to discover you dreams and spend you energy working to accomplish those dreams. It takes all kinds to make this world go round, including finance guys like us! 😉

  7. Anonymous

    Great information. I’m still trying to figure out what my passion is. I know I like saving and making money but that seems so trivial when compared to a passion like composing music or writing great novels. I guess I need to focus more and figure out what I am truly passionate about.

  8. Anonymous

    The suggestion under TV, “Free yourself from excessive commercial advertisements.”–is huge.

    It isn’t just the time being spent in front of the TV while more important activities and projects could be done. I’m not sure how much most of us realize that TV brainwashes us. And I wouldn’t limit that to commercials either, not by a long shot. Throw in the programs themselves, including and especially the news.

    Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s throw in sports. How many millionaire athletes would be millionaires were it not for the power of the tube. TV makes them larger than life and we believe it enough to pay the freight that pays their salaries.

    All of TV is a relentless drive to tell us how to dress, what to drive, what (and where) to eat, where to vacation, how to speak, how to look, and even what to value, what to disdain, what to fear–you name it. There’s no free or objective thought in any of that! Maybe that’s why we sometimes feel “conflicted”. Our basic instincts are in conflict with counter values that look so convincing on TV.

    Just turning off your TV or at least limiting your viewing to as close to zero as possible is mentally and emotionally liberating.

  9. Anonymous

    Great article. I wrote something a while back on “Finding Your Passion”. My goal is to live as you say, to live passionately and powerfully. This is an excellent reminder.

  10. Anonymous

    @Rob Bennett: Taking time to discover & then focus on my passions was the most powerful agent of change in my life. Now that I have defined my life’s ambition, I am free to follow it with purpose!

    @Michael: Many people do not realize the powerful, positive, & lasting effects helping others will have on their own lives. Loving other in spite of their shortcomings goes against human nature, so it is not easy… but it sure yields a lot more crop than has to be sown!

    @Ranjana & Jeff: I’m honored that my words could provide a source of inspiration. Fight the good fight!

    @Melissa: An enormous help is to break things down into manageable tasks, as not to overwhelm yourself. I will give you a quote that has motivated me from day one even up to today. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

    @Jason & Ray: Ever since canceling my satellite TV service I have been at least 3x more productive than before. Not only am I automatically drafting an additional $75 into my Emergency Fund each month… I’m also getting healthier, expanding hobbies, reading more, and just plain getting things done. I would encourage everyone to stop paying for a bloated TV service. It is powerful! 😉

  11. Anonymous

    “Stop (or at least set limits on) watching TV”
    love this one! i hardly watch TV anymore….shows i like i record and watch when I have free time…other than that nothing much…..oh and of course big sports events

    but i notice i have a lot more free time on my hands and can be much more productive that way.

    good post Matt!!

  12. Anonymous

    Great stuff! I like your comment about the TV. It is amazing how much energy, focus and passion is sapped by that thing.

    It’s so easy to just come home and veg rather than improve your life and others lives. I think this is vital especially when you have kids, I have found it invigorating to turn the TV off, get on the floor and just play with them!


  13. Anonymous

    Wow Matt, nice stuff! I know you’ve been working on a lot lately, and now I see how you do it! I really like how you’ve broken everything down and packaged it all in one post. A very motivational read.

  14. Anonymous

    “Love Thy Neighbor” is a very powerful axiom. It is only by getting outside of ourselves and working to help others do we end up increasing our own peace and contentment.

  15. Anonymous

    I apply the first item (“Pursue Your Passion”) as a help to learning more about the world. One of the problems of life today is the flood of information directed at us. It causes us to spend tiny bits of time on thousands of issues and not understand any of them well. It is better to pick a few issues that you really need to understand well and achieve an in-depth knowledge of the realities in those areas.


Leave a Reply