I told my dad, “I’m a lucky guy.” He said, “But are you lucky in love?” I was six years old.
Love was the most disgusting thing in the world to me. What the hell was he talking about?
Love was living in another neighborhood at that time. Or another planet.
It would be years before Love stuck its ugly little nose into my house and said, “Hello, anyone here?”
Luck was all about rolling the dice. Or finding a quarter on the ground. Or seeing a double rainbow after a quick storm.
But now I’m different. I’m constantly checking in and out of the Hospital of No Luck. I’m older. I need luck to be constantly transfused into me or I run out of it.
Without luck, I’m dead. For me,
On a scale of happiness from 0 to 10, I think I’m about a seven or eight. But that’s a big improvement.
When I was lying on the floor here, I was probably about a zero. Or at different points in this story, I was maybe at negative. So I’m trending upwards.
I get lucky when I stick to three simple goals:
My Only Three Goals in Life
A) I want to be happy.
B) I want to eradicate unhappiness in my life.
C) I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.
That’s it. I’m not asking for much. I need simple goals, or else I can’t achieve them.
There have been at least ten times in my life that everything seemed so low I felt like I would never achieve the above three things and the world would be better off without me.
Other times I felt like I was stuck at a crossroads and would never figure out which road to take. Each time I bounced back.
When I look back at these times now I realize there was a common thread. Each time there were four things, and only four things, that were always in place in order for me to bounce back.
Now I try to incorporate these four things into a daily practice so I never dip low again.
The Daily Practice
A) Physical – being in shape. Doing some form of exercise.
In 2003 I woke up at 5 a.m. every day and from 5-6 a.m. I played “Round the World” on a basketball court overlooking the Hudson River. Every day (except when it rained).
Trains would pass and people at 5:30 a.m. would wave to me out the window. Now, I try to do yoga every day. But it’s hard.
All you need to do, minimally, is exercise enough to break a sweat for 10 minutes. So about 20-30 minutes worth of exercise a day. This is not to get “ripped” or “shredded”. But just to be healthy.
You can’t be happy if you aren’t healthy. Also, spending this time helps your mind better deal with its daily anxieties.
If you can breathe easy when your body is in pain then it’s easier to breathe during difficult situations.
Here’s other things that are a part of this but a little bit harder:
- Wake up by 4-5 a.m. every day.
- Go to sleep by 8:30-9. (Good to sleep 8 hours a night!)
- No eating after 5:30 p.m. Can’t be happy if indigested at night.
B) Emotional– If someone is a drag on me, I cut them out. If someone lifts me up, I bring them closer.
Nobody is sacred here. When the plane is going down, put the oxygen mask on your face first. Family, friends, people I love – I always try to be there for them and help.
But I don’t get close to anyone bringing me down. This rule can’t be broken.
Energy leaks out of you if someone is draining you. And I never owe anyone an explanation. Explaining is draining.
Another important rule: always be honest. It’s fun. Nobody is honest anymore and people are afraid of it.
Try being honest for a day (without being hurtful). It’s amazing where the boundaries are of how honest one can be. It’s much bigger than I thought.
A corollary of this is: I never do anything I don’t want to do. Like I NEVER go to weddings.
C) Mental – Every day I write down ideas.
I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more.
The other day I tried to write 100 alternatives kids can do other than go to college. I wrote down eight, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t come up with anymore.
Then the next day I came up with another 40. It definitely stretched my head.
No ideas today? Memorize all the legal two letter words for Scrabble. Translate the Tao Te Ching into Spanish.
Need ideas for lists of ideas? Come up with 30 separate chapters for an “autobiography.” Try to think of 10 businesses you can start from home (and be realistic how you can execute them).
Give me 10 ideas of directions this blog can go in. Think of 20 ways a president can improve the country. List every productive thing you did yesterday (this improves memory also and gives you ideas for today).
The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy.
You need to exercise the idea muscle. It takes about 3-6 months to build up once it atrophies. Trust me on this.
D) Spiritual – I feel that most people don’t like the word “spiritual.” They think it means “god.” Or “religion.” But it doesn’t.
I don’t know what it means actually. But I feel like I have a spiritual practice when I do one of the following:
- Pray (doesn’t matter if I’m praying to a god or to dead people or to the sun or to a chair in front of me – it just means being thankful. And not taking all the credit, for just a few seconds of the day).
- Meditate – Meditation for more than a few minutes is hard. It’s boring. Here I give tips for 60-second meditations. You can also meditate for 15 seconds by really visualizing what it would be like meditate for 60 minutes.Here’s a simple meditation: sit in a chair, keep the back straight, watch yourself breathe. If you get distracted, no problem. Just pull yourself back to your breath. Try it for 5 minutes. Then six.
- Being grateful – I try to think of everyone in my life I’m grateful for. Then I try to think of more people. Then more. Its hard.
- Forgiving – I picture everyone who has done me wrong. I visualize gratefulness for them (but not pity).
- Studying- If I read a spiritual text (doesn’t matter what it is: Bible, Tao Te Ching, anything Zen related, even inspirational self-help stuff, doesn’t matter) I tend to feel good. This is not as powerful as praying or meditating (it doesn’t train your mind to cut out the BS) but it still makes me feel good.
My own experience: I can never achieve the three “simple” goals on a steady basis without doing the above practice on a daily basis. And every time I’ve hit bottom (or close to a bottom, or I’ve been at some sort of crossroads) and started dong the above 4 items (1991, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2008) magic would happen:
A) Within about one month, I’d notice coincidences start to happen. I’d start to feel lucky. People would smile at me more.
B) Within three months the ideas would really start flowing, to the point where I felt overwhelming urges to execute the ideas.
C) Within six months, good ideas would start flowing, I’d begin executing them, and everyone around me would help me put everything together.
D) Within a year my life was always completely different. 100% upside down from the year before. More money, more luck, more health, etc.
And then I’d get lazy and stop doing the practice. And everything falls apart again. But now I’m trying to do it every day.
It’s hard to do all of this every day. Nobody is perfect. I don’t know if I’ll do all of these things today. But I know when I do it, it works.
James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Jared Erondu.Jared Erondu.