2 Life-Changing Habits to Live more Intentionally

How to really create change in your life.

close up of beer bottles on wood
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What is life??

Does anyone else ever worry that they are just strolling through life without a clear plan or goal for the future? I know there are a lot of “I’m just taking it day by day” types out there, but I just get the feeling some folks might be ignoring that life has a way of just passing you by without you even realizing it. At the same time, living day by day doesn’t mean living in oblivion does it? One can choose to live day by day and still develop meaning and purpose in their lives.

Seek Clarity

A life with meaning and purpose is a life worth living. It’s your WHY. So many people go through life without these two things, constantly searching for the next big thing that will make them feel seen, heard, and grounded in life. Your version of WHY can be many different things, or just one thing. I know my mother’s WHY are her children and her family. My WHY is the love and appreciation I feel for my family, my community, the planet, the people on this planet, the other living things on the planet. Once you gain clarity around your WHY, you will start developing a life with meaning and purpose that is centered around your WHY. Here are some concrete habits you can develop to live your WHY.

Practical Exercise- Start a Gratitude List

Gratitude is the feeling you get when something brings you happiness. You feel gratitude because you are thankful for whatever happened to bring you this happiness. Keeping a gratitude list is a visual representation of all the things you are thankful for. After a while, you will start to see patterns. I am always thankful for the love and support of my family— could they be a part of my WHY? I am always thankful for my dog Lucy— is the love of animals part of my WHY? In this way, we can start to see clearly the things that are important to us and the things we should be focusing more of our time and energy into. If you want to go the extra mile, you can start a gratitude journal. This will help you capture in greater detail why certain things give you gratitude and in what circumstances. Similar to a gratitude journal, you can start a habit tracker. This is for those who know already what brings joy and satisfaction to their lives and what to make sure they are incorporating those things everyday.

Make Definite Decisions

This is hot off the press in my life. I just came across this idea of making definite decisions as I was listening to my audio book by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. His main argument is that those who are indecisive (i.e changing their minds frequently) are less likely to get anything done in the end, in which case, indecisiveness and procrastination are one and the same. Hill gives several examples of successful people who made a definitive decision and stuck to it, only to reap the benefits of their persistence. This is something I personally struggle with because I seem to overthink things to the point that I can’t tell which is the better option. One way to get over this is to realize neither might be better than the other and just pick a course and stick to it. Otherwise, inaction will stunt your growth and leave you stuck in place.

Practical Exercise- Start a Hobby and stick to it

Often times hobbies are things we like to do…often times. Sometimes we pick hobbies that we know will challenge us, or make us grow in ways we deem necessary. Which ever the case, I’ve found that sticking to your hobbies is closely related to making definite decisions. It’s a small thing, in the grand scheme of things, but an area where you can practice the art of making a definite decision. Sticking to a hobby that you like and enjoy is easy and can have the added benefit of making it to your gratitude list, but what’s even better is sticking to a hobby you realized you don’t enjoy as much or a hobby that makes you uncomfortable. For example, I signed up to play softball on a social league a few summers ago and initially I thought it would be great! When the season was about to start, all of my anxiety and suppressed feelings of athletic inferiority came rushing back. But I stuck to it, and I stuck to it (mostly because I had a friend doing it with me, if I’m being honest!), and once it was over, I was really proud of myself for accomplishing something despite my discomfort. In the end, I became more confident in my ability to deal with adversity (I still can’t play softball, but alas!) and I felt great about following through on something I’d committed to doing.

The Bottom Line

Self-care and self-improvement are essential to showing up for yourself. When you show up for yourself, you free up the space that uncertainty, ill-feelings and no direction took in your life, allowing you more room to show up in other ways. That is one of the reasons why personal development and professional development are related but different. Aligning your everyday life with your WHY, building consistency, confidences, and resilience in your personal life are all things that will make you a better leader, expert, and professional, but even more important, they will help you live with intentionality.

Let’s be real, I was broke till not too long ago. But no more. I’ve been learning the ways of the rich and I’m here to share these golden secrets with you. It’s actually not a secret at all —the rich love to talk openly about how they got to where they are. You know what it is? It’s hard. That’s the real barrier to entry. The rich can feel comfortable sharing all their secrets because most won’t listen and those who do won’t follow through. It’s why the rich get richer and the rest of us resent them.

How Not to Get Rich

Sometimes it’s not about what you do or don’t do, but how you think. I first learned this lesson in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. Most notably, he said his rich dad thought he was rich before actually being objectively rich. He didn’t say “I will be rich” he said, “I am rich.” Right now I’m reading Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and it’s the same deal— those who believed without a plan B that they will accomplish something, inevitability accomplish that something. If you don’t have the rich person’s mentality, you lack vision and therefore cannot grow rich.

Most of us cannot conceptualize this mentality because we see things at face value. How am I rich now if my bank account is empty? To us, being rich is an objective, observable and measurable thing to be. You are rich if you have X amount of money and assets, full stop. The secret here is that being rich is NOT a status, it’s a mentality. In Think and Grow Rich, Hill describes it as desire plus faith. If you desire something deeply AND you have faith you will get it, it will come. Of course not magically out of thin air, but it will come eventually because with desire and faith, you will keep working and working at it until it comes true. If you don’t desire with relentless faith, you lack commitment and therefore cannot grow rich.

What I’ve come to accept despite my reluctance is that commitment is not enough. You could be fully committed to accomplishing your goals and end up getting knocked down so many times that you eventually give up. Say your an actor whose gone to 300 auditions and never had a call back, would you go to the 301st audition or would you finally call it quits? If you’d call it quits then you do not have a rich person’s mentality. Rich people are winners and winners don’t quit. According to Hill, Thomas Edison failed at inventing the light bulb over 1,000 times before he finally get it to work. If you quit, you lack perseverance and therefore cannot grow rich.

Rich Habits 101

People don’t grow riches, riches are inside all of us. Maybe your parents or your community didn’t teach you how to foster a rich person’s mindset but it’s never too late. It all starts with your mindset. You can cultivate this mindset by doing as the rich do.

  1. Hone in on your problem solving skills
  2. Change your spending habits
  3. Keep learning and Think Smart
  4. Obsess over the goal
  5. Be flexible

Hone in on your problem solving skills.

Poor dad thinks, well this was the hand that I was dealt, can’t do much about it, while rich dad thinks, I am rich, I just need to get the money to show it. Poor dad thinks, can I do this? Rich dad thinks, how can I do this? Problems are only problems because we don’t know the solutions yet. According to Kiyosaki, the rich do not disengage when there are obstacles, in fact, that’s when they lean in. That’s why it took Edison over 1,000 tries to figure out the lightbulb. Smithsonian Magazine reports a quote of Edison saying “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” It’s the kind of mindset that fuels perseverance and that never give up attitude that allows failures to turn into lessons and lessons to turn into riches.

Change your Spending Habits.

Here’s a practical one. It’s not all in your head, you do also have to make literal changes to grow rich. I dive deeper into this topic on my post, Your Broke because You Act Rich, Except Rich people don’t act like that. One common mistake people make is living at capacity, or in other words, spending every dollar you make. When you live at capacity, you don’t have room to save and then what happens when you need money for an unexpected expense? You go into debt, that’s what happens! Even if tomorrow you start making loads more money, if you aren’t careful, you will experience lifestyle creep, where your spending habits re-adjust to match your income and your back at capacity. Changing your spending habits so that you live under your income capacity is a great way to secure funds for savings and cut out unnecessary (and detrimental) spending.

Keep Learning and Think Smart.

Attaining knowledge is one of the first steps to attaining success and wealth. Of course, it’s not just about attaining knowledge, it’s about how you use that knowledge. As Hill said in his best seller, professors hold a great amount of knowledge but they get paid very little. Someone who doesn’t hold half the knowledge of a professor but thinks smart has the potential to make triple that of someone who knows many things but not how to use them. The trick is to know what to do with what you know and to know when you should enlist in someone who knows more. For example, I know from experience if I have a salaried job I can easily do my own taxes because it is not very complicated. On the other hand, if I am self-employed, I should hire a professional that can help me get more bang for my buck and masterfully work through a more complicated process. In this way, thinking smart is simply knowing how to use what you know and what others know to your advantage.

Obsess over the goal

No one accomplishes a really hard goal that they are mildly interested in. First of all, if it’s extremely difficult or seems impossible (like building generational wealth) only someone that is unapologetically obsessed with accomplishing it will get it done. That’s why Bill Gates and Paul Allen spent day and night working on a software for a micro-computer that was more sci-fi than reality at the time. Gates and Allen were not only obsessed with the goal, they’re entire futures were resting on this goal. That’s the type of energy and weight needed for someone who wants to see their dreams come true. Let’s be clear here, it’s not just Harvard dropouts that make their dreams come true; Eminem started off with major disadvantages as a poor, white kid with nothing but a dream, only to become one of the most widely recognized and acclaimed lyricists in his genre. His story of rags to riches, like so many others, speaks to the tunnel vision and ‘can’t give up’ attitude that can bring you success and prosperity.

Be Flexible

Don’t be flexible with your goals, be flexible with the means. I once interviewed the CEO of a company I worked for and she said something I’ll never forget. She said, I am where I am today because I always said yes first and figured out how to do it later. She said first they asked her to open a branch office in another town she’d never lived in, so she said yes and then she learned how to open a branch office; then they asked her to manage the team at the branch office so she said yes and then she learned how to manage the team; then they asked her to be the director, she said yes, then they asked her to be the CEO and she said yes. Along the way she was asked to do so many other tasks she’d never down before but she said yes anyhow. The point is not to go around saying yes to irrelevant things, but to be flexible and take risks, learning as you go.

The Bottom Line

I hope everyone gets a few takeaways from this post, but most importantly, if you want something enough and you are willing to work hard for it, push through the lows and keep moving, you will get there. As humans we all have doubts, but our courage has to be stronger than our doubts. Most importantly, we have to believe more than anything that we will get there.

My friends and I unofficially started a little book club and this was the first book. We all braced ourselves for a tear jerker and potentially the saddest think we’ve ever read (based on the reviews). I didn’t think it was all that sad, frankly. Maybe because I felt it was an unfinished story or maybe it was the philosophical tone of the whole thing, I don’t know.

From my perspective, Paul was objectively looking at his own mortality as if he were observing the life of someone else. It didn’t necessarily feel impersonal, but it was very “as a matter of fact.” This isn’t a criticism though, I actually enjoyed the book — as much as you can enjoy a book about death and dying. Actually I’m not convinced it was about death in the first place. It was as much a story about life and virtue, meaning and happiness, as it was about death and dying. What I really appreciated were Paul’s revelations in the face of death. What he chose to do after he found out his time was imminently coming to an end was really telling and quite inspiring!

Related Books

Guess what? I wrote my own book on death and dying. It’s loosely based on my father’s death and the part of me who died with him. Coming oh so soon!

Unsuccessful people bring it upon themselves.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who said that we all have equal opportunity to be successful and that those who aren’t successful are not working hard enough or just don’t want it bad enough. Of course I believe everyone has the right to their own opinion but I’d just like to point out that there is a plethora of statistical evidence that proves without a doubt that we all do not have equal opportunity to be successful…

At the same time, “success” is a abstract concept and what it means to achieve it varies from person to person. So for the purposes of this conversation, I’d say a “successful” person is someone who has their basic needs met (food, home, income security, and strong social connections) and who is looking to build upon this foundation usually by climbing the social influence ladder or the financial ladder. Without delving deep into a black hole of civil inequalities, I’d argue that you must have these basic needs met before you can climb any ladder, otherwise you aren’t working towards striving in life, you are only just surviving.

Here’s the thing…

There are many people out there who do have all their basic needs met and the potential to be successful, but aren’t. The people that I’m referring to are the ones that have all the tools but they haven’t set themselves up for success. In short, they haven’t focused their time and resources into developing and maintaining habits that lead to positive outcomes.

If you are one of those people…

Fear not. If you think of life in it’s simplest form, it is just a series of actions. Actions done over and over again become automatic, or in other words, they become habits. Changing your habits can change your life. Someone who quits smoking can clear their lungs in a few years, changing their life course. If they take it a step further they can invest the money they used to spend on cigarettes and move the needle even further.

Start with visualization. Visualization is just a fancy way of saying you believe in yourself (as they say, seeing is believing!). I wrote an entire post on visualization and what it means, but I’m not sure I made it clear enough that visualization on its own is not enough— hence why it’s only one step. The trouble is that it’s extremely difficult to change behavior, will power alone just won’t do it, you need to develop habits that will move the needle.

10 Things You can do RIGHT NOW to get moving.

  1. Gain Clarity – This is something I learned from performance coach, Brandon Burchard’s book High Performance Habits (Book review coming oh so soon!). To Brandon’s point, knowing what you want out of life is essential to being a high performer. If there is no clarity, the vision is blurred, and if the vision is blurred, so is the finish line.
  2. Call a friend – Sometimes we need a little help, and that’s what friends are for right? Picking up the phone and being able to have an honest conversation with your best friend or your sister or your dad, mom, brother, uncle, neighbor, etc, can be a great way to focus your thoughts and also gain some perspective (ergo why it’s so important to have the right people in your life!).
  3. Make a plan – If you’ve been here before, you know I love a good plan! They say that creating lists and plans are just tricks to make yourself feel productive, but there’s no better feeling than checking something off a list as done. First things first, you have to create the plan.
  4. Set an alarm – I’m the type of person who will not remember where I put my phone down two minutes ago. It’s impossible for me to remember deadlines and appointments, so I have several alarms, on several devices to keep me on track! Set an alarm now to wake up early tomorrow and get something done!
  5. De-clutter – Clear space, clear mind. I know some people say they are naturally “messy,” but that is just not conducive to productivity and healthy habits. Giving yourself an extra ten minutes a day to tidy up can make a world of difference and potentially help you de-clutter your mind as well.
  6. Meditate – Another way to declutter your mind and also calm anxiety and stress is to mediate. Set your thoughts free, as they say! (Has anyone ever actually said that about meditation?)
  7. Exercise – Get your body MOVING! Physical health is a pillar of achieving excellence. You don’t have to be an olympic swimmer or a competitive bodybuilder, but you should get that lazy behind off the couch and move!
  8. Find a Mentor – Anyone who is serious about accomplishing their goals will invest in a mentor. Whether that’s a monetary investment in a life coach or spending more time with the right people, we could all use some encouragement and support in our lives.
  9. Stay Accountable – So you made a plan, now what? A good way to keep yourself accountable is to monitor your progress. I, for example, keep a daily record of the habits I want to incorporate into my everyday life. Things on my list include walking, writing, reading, meditating, and exercising. Every day I check off whether I’ve done one or more of my habits so there is no way of denying that I clearly haven’t worked out in two weeks (or a month)!
  10. Count your #Blessing – Sometimes we are so down in the weeds with our problems, we can’t remember being any other way. Gratitude is humbling, and it’s also a good reality check. When you are having a terrible day (or you’re living in 2020), it really helps to take a second and think about all the things you can be grateful for. Let’s take this moment for example, I am currently sitting in my backyard getting terrorized by mosquitos on this swam like DC summer night. BUT, I am thankful for having a backyard (hard to come by in DC), and I am thankful for my dog, Lucy, who hangs out with me in the backyard, and I am thankful for my landlords who let me share their backyard with them.

Karma is a bitch.

Photo by Harry Cunningham @harry.digital on Pexels.com

What I said in my last post about the negative influence your friends can have on you applies to everyone you ever come in contact with. You can be walking down the street and bump into someone who yells at you and completely alters your mood for the worse. Had the person said they were sorry and smiled apologetically, you might have thought, “oh it’s okay, no worries.” Or maybe you are the grumpy one who scowls at them and completely sours their day. If the latter is true, you should seriously re-evaluate the energy you put out into the world, because that same energy will come back at you three fold.

When I say “energy,” I don’t mean the force is with you, or that we are all walking around with a ring of translucent light around us. It’s really simple actually. Your energy, your vibe, your “aura,” is the person you present to the world. When you walk into a room and smile at the people there or greet the bus driver or acknowledge the homeless, you make the impression that you are a kind, compassionate person. It’s not necessarily a “feeling” others get about you, it’s an observation. Everyone we come into contact with makes a observation and a judgement call about us.

Other people’s reactions to our actions dictate the way we view the world and visversa, the way we view the world dictates the way we interact with other people. This can be explained through the law of Karma. Karma has research behind it that suggests that our own behavior can influence the way we see the world around us. In other words, if you see the world as a dismal, fruitless place, then the world will inevitable respond in a dismal, fruitless place. That’s because we as social beings are inherently prone to mirror each other. If Stacy smiles at me, I smile back, if she keeps walking and ignores me, I will more than likely ignore her back— that kind of thing.

On the up side, we have agency over our actions and reactions, so we could choose to smile regardless of what Stacy does, and that’s the secret to getting Karma on our side. If this does nothing else, it keeps us in a positive state of mind, further promoting the idea the idea that having a positive attitude is more useful and productive than having a negative attitude, which also has been studied widely by social scientists. The point is that there really is a boomerang effect at play here. Whether you look at the scientific evidence or the spiritual, there is something to be said about how we interact with the world and how the world responds.

Life Lesson #799 Want success? Ditch your loser friends.

Caroline had an interview early in the morning but her friends convinced her to go to happy hour until late the night before. She made it to the interview on time but had a massive headache and was off her A game. James has tried to quit smoking time and time again but every time he hangs out with his college buddies, he starts back up again. It’s the classic case of peer pressure and FOMO (free of missing out). Peer pressure is not all bad though; Cassie wasn’t sure about college but all her friends were having SAT study parties, so avoiding FOMO, she decided to take the test too. She ended up getting a pretty good score and decided to apply to a few schools after all.

We hate to admit it because none of us want to feel gullible and spineless, but our friends and all the people around us influence our decisions everyday. If it wasn’t for my one good friend, I might have never left my ex-boyfriend, despite being unhappy. If it wasn’t for my college friends, I might have never studied so hard and gotten straight As. Then there were other people in my life who would somehow convince me to make questionable choices with little to no effort.

It’s not really a mystery, it’s human nature; we all want to feel a part of something and we all want to feel accepted by our peers. It’s literally how stereotypes are born. So really, the question is not whether our friends will influence us, but rather, how will our friends influence us? Which leads me to the thesis of this post: we need to ditch our loser friends.

You are an influencer…

If the logic is that your friends influence you than you too have the power to influence your friends. Say you were to change your ways (assumingely for the better), your friends might catch on. Those who don’t catch on might disengage but that’s okay because those friends weren’t ready for change and eventually they will be replaced by friends that are attracted to your changes.

Here’s another way of thinking about it; all of us as individuals give off a certain energy/vibe/attitude/whatever you want to call it. It’s the way we interact with people— whether we smile, laugh, pout, or grimace at those around us. At some point, other people pick up on that energy and it either resonates with them or it doesn’t. If it does, they engage, if it doesn’t, they retreat. So in the end, you attract like-minded people, people with the same mindset, and attitude towards life.

Still with me? Okay, so if you want to be successful in life, first you need to define success. What does being successful mean to you and do you feel you are on that path? What I’ve come to realize is that if you are asking yourself that question, you probably do not feel successful and need to change paths. That’s where the change comes into play. Now you look around at your sphere of influence, otherwise known as your friends, and ask yourself, are they successful? The answer to this crucial question will determine whether you need to pivot your attention away from the people you surround yourself with and towards more positive influences. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to lose all your friends, because remember, you influence your friends as much as your friends influence you.

The Key is…

to surround ourselves with people we admire. People who inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves and to some extend become our mentors. Maybe this starts with people we will never meet. For example, I admire Dave Chapelle. I admire his authenticity, his “I don’t give a damn” attitude, his willingness to push the envelope and make people uncomfortable, and his epic comeback after years of being missing in action. All of that. I don’t know him personally (and I will likely never meet him) but he is in my sphere of influence and when I meet someone who reminds me of him, I want to befriend that person.

The Bottom Line

Ditching our friends in order to be successful sounds pretty harsh. But the fact is that we are a reflection of who we surround ourselves with. Once we start fostering positive relationships and separating ourselves from the less advantageous kind, we will see growth in ourselves and we might even see growth in those people that we disengaged from. It’s funny how that works, sometimes we are the negative influences as much as our friends are. Obviously we aren’t going to wake up one day and delete all our friends’ numbers, but maybe we put ourselves out there and open ourselves up to the possibilities. And keep in mind, we attract like-minded people, so if success is truly what we seek, it starts with the energy we put out into the world.

Don’t let Despair Drag You Down

Whether I was brainwashed by the “American Dream” or whether it’s for other reasons, ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to buy property. I imagined myself making money from my 6-7 rental units and traveling the world. I wanted to be a real estate guru and business women extraordinaire. Far all I have is debt.

It’s not a new or unique story but quite depressing nonetheless. I have over 100K in student loan debt, which despite having excellent credit, has held me back from purchasing one home, let alone six. College is suppose to grant people like me financial freedom, but instead I went to college at the expense of financial freedom. It feels like I am in a black hole, being sucks deeper and deeper by a vortex powered by corporate greed and a broken educational system.

And that is despair, my friends.

The worse part is not the debt. The worse part is knowing that I would likely be worse off if I hadn’t gone to college. What’s more despairing then knowing you never had an option to begin with? If it’s not debt, its a breakup, a death, an illness, a set back of XYZ nature and it’s all the same. It all makes us feel hopeless and miserable. Will I ever get out of this? Will I ever stop feeling this way?

Baby Steps.

Getting yourself out of a dark head space requires you to shift your mindset. Here are a few things I do when I’m feeling hopeless.

-Remind myself that everything in life is temporary. Right now it feels like there’s no hope for me to get out of debt and financially free. But this is a temporary feeling that doesn’t necessitate permanent actions. In other words, I need to remind myself that I should keep trying, keep moving, keep striving.

-Remind myself of all the progress I’m made thus fair. I might have taken 10 baby steps, and that’s progress! Maybe I’m not making huge strides in lowering my college debt but I am paying off my car ahead of time, I am building up savings, I am moving the needle ever so slowing.

-Visualize where I want to be. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, visualization is so important because it helps you see what will be. You have to truly believe you will get somewhere in order to get there. It’s like every artist/actor/musician ever interviewed who says “I knew from a young age I wanted to be famous/I would be famous,” they knew it before it happen and we have to know it too.

-Talk to my friends. Despair is a common feeling, we all feel hopeless and defeated sometimes. Our friends and loved one can be a great support system to help us get out of the sinking hole. That’s also why it’s essential to surround yourself with people who are going to bring positivity and good energy to your life— a negative Nancy will only add to your despair.

Bottom Line

It’s impossible to be positive and happy all the time. Even the best of us have our days of feeling sad, unmotivated, frustrated, hopeless, etc, etc. It’s okay to feel that way and it’s okay to take some time to heal, re-start and bounce back. Just take a breath, take a break, and do what you have to do to get over the hump.

Three lifestyle changes that will bring you closer to Work Optional

Wouldn’t it be nice to work if and when you want to? To not spend over half your day making money just to pay bills and rent? That’s the basis of the “work optional” movement. Not to be confused with the FI/RE movement, work optional is having the financial freedom to work on your terms. Financial advisor, Doug Dahmer phrases it as, “Doing the things you love, when you want to, with income being an added bonus.

The main course of action to achieving any financial goal comes down to your spending, savings, and investing habits. Otherwise known as your money management skills. The Dave Ramsey cult suggests you pay down debt as soon as possible and by all means necessary; other financial advisors say savings is the key; investing is the answer; both paying debt and saving; both saving and investing. The formula changes depending on who you ask.

It’s not all about the money.

Actually, in this case, it is all about the money. Financial freedom might be the goal but the price isn’t just good money management skills— it requires a certain lifestyle. Consider folks who have decided to take on the FI/RE goal. In order for them to accumulate enough money to retire early, they need to allocate upwards of 50% of their current income to this goal. That’s anywhere from 30-40% more than the typical person allocates to retirement. Just think for a moment what that would do to your quality of life? My net income for example is roughly 36K a year, meaning I’d have to live off 18K a year and somehow pay my rent and buy food and keep my dog alive. Of course, it’s all about perspective— if your net income was 80K a year, you could probably live just fine off 40K.

FI/RE is just one route of many, but it serves as a clear example of how your life might change once you decide to become financially free. I’ve found less extreme life adjustments in my personal roadmap to work optional. Some of my more recent developments have been minimalism, zero-sum budgeting and the pantry challenge.

Minimalism explained.

If you walked into my apartment right now, you might not think of me as a minimalist, but minimalism is not just about bare white walls and no furniture. There’s no rule book. Minimalism to me is that little voice in my head that says “you don’t really need that. You probably don’t even want it.” Case in point, this past weekend I went to TJ Max with one of my friends and my little heart sang with joy when I found a bunch of dresses and shoes that would look great on me. Then I heard the little voice saying, “Really Cat? Another dress? You have 50 dresses in your closet.” Fine. I don’t need it. With all the reluctance in the world, I didn’t get the dresses and the shoes and saved myself a good $60 bucks that I didn’t have to begin with.

The little voice was right. Those dresses haven’t even crossed my mind until I needed an example for this post. This is not to say you can’t get something that sparks joy, as Marie Kondo would say; it’s more about digging deeper and really analyzing whether something brings genuine joy or whether it’s just the fleeting happiness of instant gratification. For example, when I went to Mexico I purchased a colorful ceramic owl set that hangs on a wall in my living room. Every time I look at those owls, I’m reminded of the last trip I took with my father and what a magical time it was. Well worth my money and something that continues to spark joy three years later.

In the end, this mindset frees up my money so that I only spend it when on things which I absolutely need or want and not on a “happiness quick fix.”

The Zero-Sum Game.

This is how you play: When you get paid, you sit down and give a “job” or an “assignment” to every single dollar in your bank account. Game over.

The point of zero-sum budgeting is to allocate every single dollar in your possession so that it doesn’t go to waste, a.k.a money mismanagement. So instead of saying, “I have $100 worth of spending money,” you’d give each dollar an assignment, “$45 will go to groceries, $15 towards misc expenses (buying gum, paying a parking meter, etc), $25 towards gas, $10 for entertainment (renting a movie, buying a book, buying an ice cream with friends, etc).” Granted this method of money management works best for people who are highly organized and slightly obsessed with lists and tracking mechanisms. Some folks can get away with a loose budget and general spending guidelines, but for the slightly impulsive (pointing at myself here), having a rigid budget is a must.

The Game Changer: Pantry Challenge.

Remember when our parents used to say, “There’s food at home?” Yeah. That’s the pantry challenge. Last month I literally ran out of money one week before payday (bearing in mind I get paid monthly and it was an obnoxiously long month), but I was determined not to go over budget so I sucked it up and ate whatever was in my pantry for 7 days straight. Honestly, it was not that bad. It was a bunch of stuff that I was too lazy to make or things I was “never in the mood for.” In the end I was able to get really creative and make some meals I wouldn’t usually make and I also realized I have alot of food in my pantry that I ignore.

Another important part of the pantry challenge is to eat everything you make, meaning left overs and “not so good recipes.” Essentially, if it’s edible, I’m eating it. Again, game changer. Old Cat would have succumb to cravings and ordered food or buy more groceries with my credit card in a never ending cycle of going over budget and accumulating debt. No more. The pantry challenge has taught me that not only do I have food at home, but cravings too shall pass if you wait long enough.

The Bottom Line

I’ve noticed such a big change in myself from the start of my financial freedom journey up until this point and while I still have a ways to go, it feels really good knowing I’ve come this far. It hasn’t come without sacrifices though. Whether big or small, you have to make sacrifices. You can’t carry on in the same way you’ve been carrying on and expect different results. You have to adjust your reality to fit your goals. For some that might mean FI/RE and for others that might mean cutting out a few social outing or kicking a money hungry habit, but one way or another, somethings gotta give.

Life Lesson #6: How to deal with losing someone you love…

I hear the whispers of friends and family who look at me funny when they see me seemingly thriving after a recent heartbreak. I felt it when I lost my father. She’s not even crying, they said. Is she broken? I see the look when I tell a friend I’ve broken up with someone and they ask me how I feel. I’m fine, I say. They nod and think to themselves, she must not want to talk about it. It’s not that I don’t care, or that I am blocking my emotions. It’s that I’ve built a coping mechanism for myself to help me deal with the tragedy that is losing someone you deeply care about. Of course it isn’t foolproof, but it’s definitely helped me get through some devastating times. Amongst many things, I think the three most important aspects of moving on for me have been understanding impermanence, the practice of self-reflection, and the importance of self-love.

It’s hard to swallow but no secret; all things must end. Relationships, jobs, happiness, sadness, life itself will end one day. I learned about the acceptance of impermanence around the age of 19-20 when I first discovered the Buddhist teachings. The four noble truths about the origin of suffering and its liberation reaching me at an age where I was just beginning to form my world view and identity. I remember telling myself after every heartbreak that it will soon pass, that I would be okay in no time. It worked. It really worked. Before I knew it, Joe Shmoe who broke my heart was a thing of the past.

Deep reflection is another virtue. From the time I first encountered “adult-like” problems, I’d lay in my bed and contemplate life while staring up at the ceiling. They say the process of analyzing your thoughts and feelings can lead you to a greater understanding of yourself. I feel that. Sitting with my feelings for an hour, a day, however long it would take to feel better is my version of therapy. I know a lot of people who enjoying “talking it out” or “crying it out” but for me, it’s all about reflecting in solitude. It’s just a matter of walking myself through my own feelings, understanding them, and then letting them go.

And lastly, practicing self-love. I hesitate to say this is the most important, but it is the one I think most people struggle with. We struggle and don’t even realize we struggle. Every time we think we are the reason something fell apart, we fail at self-love. Every time we think we aren’t good enough, we fail at self-love. Every time we blame ourselves for something we had no control over, we fail at self-love.

There were many times I blamed myself for my father’s death. There were times I thought I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or funny enough for XYZ boyfriend. Each time I caught myself putting the blame on me for someone else’s fate or someone else’s choices, I had to pull myself out of that negative space. There are so many instances where we think to ourselves, if only I was like this or like that, so and so would still be here. Snap out of it. We have no control over anything or anyone but ourselves. We cannot change the course of anyone’s life but our own. It is a powerful act of self-love to realize you are not to blame. It isn’t punishment for some foul play in your past, it isn’t life testing you, it just is what it is. As the saying goes, “Happiness comes once you accept the way things are, and not how you think they should be.”

Again, loving yourself throw a heartbreak can be challenging even for the most confident and self assured person in the world. One thing that’s radically changed the way I view myself is the practice of embracing my authentic self and more importantly, giving my relationships 100%. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a friendship, my sister and brothers, I make a solid and honest effort to give the best version of myself to that person. This has been particularly useful for me in romantic relationships because I know in my heart I gave it all I could and I showed my true self, so that if and when it doesn’t work out, I know there was nothing more I could have done, and no one else I could have been. Of course there’s the danger that someone might take that and think, “well I did everything I could and I still wasn’t good enough.” That mentality not only goes completely against self-love, but also the rules of romantic relationships. The goal in a relationship is not to be “good enough,” it is to be compatible. And compatibility takes two to tango. Again, you can only control your actions, feelings, and emotions, but if the other person does not reciprocate those actions, feelings, emotions, then you are not compatible.

In the end, it comes down to accepting your limitations as a human being. You cannot control your loved one’s actions, you cannot control life or death, you cannot control so many things that go into building relationships— platonic, familial, or otherwise. The only thing you can control is how you response to what life throws at you.

Who am I?

I know who I am.

I am a women.

I am Latina.

I am a reader, a writer, an investor, a compassionate person, a treehugger, an animal lover.

I am a human being.

I thought I knew who I was.

I am Black. My people are Black.

We come from the Hispaniola.

Our people are mixed with Taino, African, and European culture.

We ignore the Taino.

We ignore the African.

My generation needs to do better.

Break the chains of obscured history.

I am a women.

I am Afro Latina.

I am a friend, a daughter, an intellectual, an environmentalist, a meditator.

I am a human being.

A Low Waste Dog: How Fido can Help Save the Planet

I’m back in NJ with the family. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know they cause me eco-anxiety. Yesterday I went to the store with my nephews and whipped out my reusable bags at checkout, to the surprise and amusement of my nephew, Michael. He told me NJ has started charging for plastic bags at supermarkets and other stores (progress!). In my day to day life back in DC, I find myself comfortably settling into a low -waste lifestyle without plastic bags, single use paper towels, etc, but there is one thing I’ve yet to start working on: Lucy.

Lucy is my rambunctious chug (pug/chihuahua mix) who thinks of herself as queen of the block. One minute she’s unapologetically barking her head off and the next, she’d cuddling up beside you on the couch. She’s the devil in a pink collar and I love her to pieces. For the past few months, I’ve been struggling to come up with eco-friendly living solutions for the little mutt, and I think I’ve finally come up with a few good ones that will work for me. Let’s start with the most difficult: the poop.

The Poop Situation

Dog poop is the bane of my existence. From having to get up early to put on clothes and walk the pooch, to picking it up, to walking around with it in my hands. The whole thing is a drag, but the worst part is that each little turd requires a plastic bag that will end up in the landfill.

What doesn’t work for me

One option I looked extensively into was using compostable or biodegradable bags. This seemed like the most convenient option, considering biodegradable bags are very similar to plastic bags. The problem with this is that as soon as the bag goes into the trash and later the landfill, it loses any chance it had to biodegrade. Compostable bags might have worked for me if I had anywhere to compost them, but I live in apartment and I don’t have the space to compost dog poop (nor the desire frankly), and so using compostable bags would result in the same unfortunate fate as using regular plastic bags. Another option that I knew about but did not consider for myself was flushing dog poop down the toilet. I’ve heard mixed information on the viability of flushing dog poop without causing damage to the sewer systems and more importantly, I don’t want to bring dog poop into my house to flush it.

What absolutely no one should do is just leave the dog poop on the ground. Dog poop can carry nasty bacteria like E.Coli and harmful viruses. It can run into our water systems and hurt marine life, even affect our drinking water.

What’s worked

Substituting traditional plastic bags for paper products has worked really well for me. I use the supermarket coupons and local real estate newspapers that come to my house, cut them up into large squares and take on walks with me. I lay the square on top of the poop (with the poop centered), then scoop up and twist the paper to create a closed pouch. This method saves me money on bags, reuses something I already have, and saves me from the false hope that my compostable or biodegradable bags are saving the planet.

This is not the perfect solution, because of course I am still adding to the landfill, on the flip side, I am reducing my single use plastic consumption and contributing to the overall health and wellbeing of my neighbors by picking up my dog’s poop. In an ideal world, I’d say the best solution is composting your dog poop, but again, that’s reliant on having the resources to do so.

The Diet Situation

Feeding my dog a vegetarian/vegan diet brings up a considerable amount of questions and concerns for me. In general, I’m of the belief that we as humans need to significantly reduce our meat and dairy consumption, for both the good of the environment and our own health and wellbeing. At the same time, other animal species require different nutritional needs and I’m not convinced that feeding my dog a vegan diet is what’s best for her.

On that note, there are other things I’ve started to do to reduce the environmental impact of my dog’s diet. One of those things is buying bulk, to reduce the amount of packaging waste. Another is to actually save the big dog food bag and reuse as a trash bag. This helps me save money on trash bags and reuse something that would have otherwise been a one and done. The other thing I try to do is buy dog treats that come in cardboard boxes and not in plastic bags. And finally, if I buy wet dog food, I buy it in cans instead of plastic containers or sausage-style wrappers.

Dog Toys

I don’t think I’ve ever bought dog toys for Lucy. She either gets them donated from other dogs who don’t want them anymore or I make toys from old t-shirts. Her favorite toy is an old t-shirt that I ripped up and knotted into a rope for tug-a-war. You can make balls, ropes, and even stuffed animals from old shirts.

The Bottom Line

I love my little Lucy and wouldn’t give her up for the world. She’s a pain in my behind and the only living thing that will follow me around the house for the rest of her little life. It’s important to me to be a sustainably conscious pet owner, not so I can claim to have a “zero waste dog,” instead so I can extend my ethos to all aspects of my life. It doesn’t have to happen overnight either; starting with one thing and mastering that, then expanding to something else and something else is a good way to take baby steps toward a significant change in your life.

When is the right time to end a toxic relationship?

You know the story— the he said, she said; the lies; cheating; the arguing; the “getting back” at each other. Or maybe it’s not that bad— maybe he just sucks the life out of you with his negativity; maybe her constant nagging is crushing your soul; maybe they are just holding you back from your true potential. But you love them…Can love conquer all? That’s going to be a hard no for me.

What’s this thing we call love?

First of all, there is a huge misconception that two people fall in love, when actually they grow in love (yes, I stole that from Married at First Sight, but stay with me here). When you first meet someone and feel those famous “butterflies,” what you’re really feeling is a combination of nervous energy and sexual attraction. You might think your “falling in love” in those first three months of dating but really you haven’t begun to scratch the surface of who “your love” really is. Only after a year (sometimes two or three…) do you begin to truly pull back the layers, at which point you’ve made a conscious or unconscious decision to stick through it and make it work.

Romantic Vs. Compassionate Love

Here’s the situation— when you first meet someone and think you are “falling in love,” it’s really just your brain enjoying a cocktail of positive emotions. Dr. Loretta G. Breuning, author of The Science of Positivity, puts it this way, “Love triggers a cocktail of neurochemicals… But it cannot guarantee non-stop happiness. It feels like it can while you’re enjoying the cocktail, however, so your brain may learn to expect that.” In other words, the feeling of “love” you get when newly dating someone is quite literally a drug that fuels your brain with happy hormones. This is romantic love.

Compassionate love, on the other hand, is a commitment two people make to be together, support each other, and grow together. Essentially, it’s what replaces romantic love once the effects wear off. Not everyone makes it to compassionate love, of course. It could be the case that you and your partner didn’t have all that much in common in the first place, making compassionate love difficult to cultivate. Or it could be that you don’t understand what true love is and decide to continue chasing romantic love instead. The problem is that the person you are most drawn to during romantic love, or the person you are most sexually attracted to, is not necessarily your perfect match. In fact, according to the authors of Getting Together and Staying Together: The Stanford University Course on Intimate Relationships, you are much more likely to remain committed to someone who shares the same values, view points, and interests long term.

When Love is Dismantled

One of the reasons relationships fall apart is because people are in them for the wrong reasons. They fall in love with the idea of love, but not with the person. Or they are chasing the feeling of being “in love” but avoiding all the hard work that comes with making a relationship last. For arguments sake, let’s say you have grown to love someone and are truly committed to the relationship. What happens when things start to fall apart? How long before it’s time to call it quits? Even when you are arguing daily, disrespecting each other, feeling completely defeated and isolated, it can be hard to cut the cord.

At first it’s a commitment to love someone, but then it becomes a habit. If the relationship prospers, we might say it’s a good habit, but if it festers, it’s converted into a bad habit, and we all know how hard it is to break a bad habit. It makes perfect sense if you think about it; habits are actions that become so common to us we don’t even realize we’re doing them anymore, like sleeping next to our partner every night or making coffee every morning. At the same time, constant arguing and bickering can also become a habit; always being on the defensive can become a habit; leaving to go “blow off steam” after a fight can become a habit. The accumulation of these habits become a destructive pattern until someone or both get hurt and eventually call it quits.

Case in point, one of my friends is watching her relationship fall to pieces for the simple reason that they’ve accumulated bad habits over time. On the one hand, her partner does not believe in ‘talking out’ their problems. He prefers making amends through nice gestures or apologetic actions without ever discussing the problem at hand (no doubt a bad habit). In response, my friend finds inconspicuous ways of bringing up the problem, to which he avoids, causing her more frustration, to which he continues to avoid, until she eventually blows up in a fit of yelling, insults, and crying (another bad habit). It’s so bad that even the smallest thing becomes a huge fight. From his point of view, she is an emotional crybaby, whereas, she sees him as uncommunicative and emotionally unavailable.

The relationship started off well enough— there were butterflies and nice dates, flowers and compliment. Overtime though, their opposing communication styles started to eat at their relationship one chunk at a time. At this point, there is too much built up resentment, unspoken sentiments, and bad coping habits to make any progress. And yet, they love each other. She keeps holding on, hoping he might one day see her point of view, and he keeps holding on, thinking she won’t leave him. It’s a mess.

It’s Time to Move On

Love is a strong drug. Even after it’s gone, your constantly searching for it, with the hopes it will come back. What we fail to see time and time again is that love is a decision. When we transition from the wild rollercoaster of hormones that come with romance, we make a conscious or unconscious decision to stick through it and make it work. That is love. It is a decision to be with someone, learn and grow with someone. And just as we decide to grow in love with someone, we can decide to grow out of love with someone.

When our relationships start to take a turn for the worst, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions. Does the person you’ve chosen to love make you happy? Do your values, view points, and interests align? Do they support your dreams and goals? Do they validate your feelings and listen to your thoughts and opinions? Are they responding or reacting? Do you have healthy disagreements in which there are no “winners” and “loser”? And perhaps most importantly, are they giving 100% to the relationship (and are you)? Once you take a hard, cold look at these questions, the truth will set you free.

*** I just want to make the quick note that this is an opinion piece, not meant as professional advice. This piece is food for thought and for entertainment purposes only! Thanks for reading.