Reducing The Need For Willpower

There was a bowl of chocolate covered almonds sitting out in the kitchen. Throughout the day, every time I would go to grab a drink, grab a snack, or get something for anyone in the household, the little bowl of treats called my name. I really like dark chocolate covered almonds (or nuts of any kind). On a normal day, I don’t really eat any sweets. If I do, it’s typically a small nibble after dinner. In fact, we try not to keep many unhealthy things in our household because I know my willpower is weak when I’m hungry and ready-to-eat treats are around.

choco nutsI think everyone has some type of change they would like to make in their life. Throughout the years we often think in terms of resolutions or goals. While I still participate in the practice of thinking through areas of self-improvement, I’ve come to the conclusion that systems work a lot better than willpower. In fact, most people concentrate on the goals they would like to meet and the mental power it takes to ‘deny oneself’. However, I think we rely too much on our own will power when we would actually be better served by putting ourselves in a position to succeed in making needed changes. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was easy to make significant changes in our life? What if it was easier to eat healthier, work out more, have more time and waste less money. Too often, our lives are simply designed to fail. We spend more time dreaming about the results of our resolutions, but spend entirely too little time on the systems that make our goals succeed. We need better systems in place to reduce the need for willpower. Continue reading Reducing The Need For Willpower

Delaying The Big Decisions

Certain seasons of life are filled with big decisions. There are inflection points in life which determine the trajectory of our future. Choosing a career, a spouse, where to live, and to have children (and how many) are all huge decision points that radically affect our life and lifestyle. The pressure to make the right decision can be tough as we move through different seasons of life. One way to make the process more palatable is to simply slow down the process. If I am not comfortable moving forward, I must take additional time, gather more information, and make one big decision at a time.

Our family is in the middle of one of the largest inflection points we’ll experience. Life has been pretty straightforward for the last five or six years. We’ve lived in our little college town, maintained the same jobs, and executed the plan of starting our family. While kids were a game changer, we mostly continued our life and just towed the kids along. Our lives are quickly becoming more kid-centric. I also started a long graduate program (PhD in Financial Planning and the study of Behavioral Economics) that added an additional four or five years of clarity to our plans. But now the mini-stage of life is coming to an end. We are having new discussions. We are trying to decided how many kids to have, to remain in the city center (vs. suburbia), considering possible career changes, deciding about school systems, family friendly homes, and who we need to become to be great parents. I feel like our big decision making pants have been on autopilot the last few years and it is all coming to a climax. Continue reading Delaying The Big Decisions

The People We Love The Most

The holiday break and new year are often times where the activities of our life change. Growing up, it was a time where stress and responsibility went away and fun and relaxation filled every day. I wouldn’t say that holidays are stress free these days- but certainly the activities change and the grind of work or school flow into managing crazy kidschildren’s activities, spending time with friends, and entertaining extended family. In my life, I certainly notice that I have a lot more unstructured time to think and contemplate. In fact, I often push many of the family discussions about long-term plans to the end of the year when Ms. SE and I have a little time to spend together.

The question I need to evaluate and answer each year is this: How am I treating the people I love the most? Am I prioritizing the right people? Am I allocating my time and attention appropriately? And lastly, am I communicating my love in a way that the people I care about understand and internalize? Continue reading The People We Love The Most

Slowing Down the Input Stream

Sometimes I feel like I have too much information coming into my life. I’m especially aware of information that is not helpful and does not meaningfully contribute to a fulfilled life. In the modern age we are constantly bombarded with news, options, advertisement, requests, and astutely crafted marketing plans. Often, it is simply too much.

streamI’m not a big fan of negativity. I certainly appreciate (but dislike) constructive criticism but still I struggle with negative things that impact my mindset- especially in areas where I have little actual control. I still spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter and I find myself reading about ‘news’ as a way to procrastinate when important things are on the line. I’m always striving for contentment and I’m pretty sure there is a relationship between the input steams that enter my life and the level of satisfaction I feel.

I need to be intentional about the stream of information that comes into my brain. I need to constantly monitor the positive ones and discourage the negative ones. I need to remove the unproductive ones and concentrate on the ones that bring actual fulfillment. I need to slow down my input stream.

It Begins Here
My cell phone and my internet connection. I’m pretty sure the bulk of my unproductive (and also my productive) inputs come from two simple sources: My cell phone and the Internet. I’m to the point where I rarely watch unplanned television and most of my friends are healthy inputs. When I make the time to read for fun it is often relaxing and productive. But, I do find myself guilty of many of the things productivity gurus restrict. I know I shouldn’t look at my cellphone right when I get up or check my email before I do important things- but I find myself doing them anyway. I know that I rarely workout after 7am but sometimes I still hit the snooze button and skip my morning workout. I know I need to spend more time doing “x” but I waste time doing this or that. Social media, deals, and news. These are my time wasters. When I’m feeling extra unproductive I can spend plenty of time reading about my favorite sports teams and fantasy football. Assessing my input streams really begins with understanding how to control my phone and the time I spend online. Continue reading Slowing Down the Input Stream

When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice

We write a lot about optimizing life and living as simply and efficiently as possible. But do we actually live it out? Or better yet, have our lives evolved and changed to the point where things that were priorities years ago now have changed? That is the internal (and now external) debate that has been raging in my head the past few months. I’ve started to question many of the assumptions we’ve made to determine which aspects of our life are passing fads and which are grounded principles.

adviceI don’t really like giving advice. I’d rather tell stories about what works for us and give examples of how it is possible to live efficiently in one area or another. There is a point where I still encounter the mental challenge of trying to live out my own advice. I often find myself in circumstances where I can rationalize my way into almost any possible scenario. I find myself saying things like, I would never recommend this to a friend but our family is a little different. Or, we could probably make that work- it would be a stretch, but we could do it for a little while. So, when the dust settles, will we be able to live out what we actually think is best for our life? Continue reading When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice

A Year of Driving Only Electric

Last October we took the plunge and sold our gas sipping hybrid to make way for a fancy new electric car. With the federal and state incentives combined, we actually determined it would be the absolute cheapest form of automobile transportation possible for our family (12c per mile thus far). The transition was slight but we adapted rather quickly. Overall, we have been more than pleased with our Nissan Leaf over the last year and I’m convinced that electric cars are the future. The quick verdict: Success.

20141029_124030011_iOSOur family lives in a smaller college town and almost everything we need is less than five miles away from our home. I walk or ride my bike to work everyday and Ms. SE often uses the car to take the kiddos around and run errands during the day. We make occasional day trips around the state, and for longer trips, the Atlanta airport is about 70 miles from our home. Overall, we make good candidates for the first gen electric vehicle. Despite the hesitation about only being able to drive about 80-100 miles a day conveniently, range anxiety has been a surprisingly small issue. We have literally done zero maintenance and the car drives as well today as it did off the lot. Continue reading A Year of Driving Only Electric

The Pull of Complexity

I want my life to stay simple. But I’m often torn between the ideals of simplicity and the temptations of complex options. As our lives evolve and mature, we are constantly filled with new challenges, opportunities, and decision points. The natural movement of life is toward complexity. Ironically, it actually takes effort to maintain a simple life and a relaxed mindset. If we forget to pay attention, we will default life into a sea of unfulfilling commitments and an unproductive, busy, and stressful lifestyle.

complex-664440_1280We rarely cull our responsibilities. If left without consideration, we often pile more and more onto our already full plates. Our default is to accept new opportunities. We often add activities, relationships, projects, and extra-curiculars without an end goal in mind. We don’t even properly evaluate our current commitments before we add more. Without conscientiousness, we are pulled into a life of complexity. But we still have a choice. If we take the time, we can identify, evaluate, and eliminate- so we are left with only the simple things in life that truly bring us joy. We must actively seek the optimal path for ourselves and direct our life course to it. Continue reading The Pull of Complexity

You’re Probably Living Above Your Means

It’s true. More often than not, we shaft our future selves by making unwise or non-optimal choices today. Do we all live above our means? What exactly is “living above your means?” Living above our means is more than simply running out of money before each month ends. Honestly living within our means involves incorporating all of our values, future goals, risk, and future cost/spending into our current level of consumption.

moneyIt is certainly possible to earn a little more than we spend but still be living significantly above our means. Living paycheck to paycheck, consumer debt, and lack of emergency savings are outward expressions of over-consumption. However, I’ll make the argument that the subtler signs like inadequate future planning, being under-insured and failing to financially prepare for post-working years are all ways we mortgage our future interest for current consumption. In addition, our desire for more stuff (& money) often causes us to work more hours and spend more time away from the people we care about than the return we actually get from additional consumption. Understanding and evaluating the full consideration of our current and future needs will allow for proper planning about how to integrate all of our living costs into our current financial decisions. Continue reading You’re Probably Living Above Your Means

The Large House Dilemma

This is one article (3 of 3) on choosing the right type of house. Specifically, we are looking at the trade-offs between efficiency, sustainability, and practicality (excluding affordability) when choosing a home.

What size house do you buy when you can afford almost any size? That is the question we are all trying to address. When following the American Dream the answer is always: “Bigger is Better”. But is that really true? Do large homes come with their share of trade-offs? It’s established that most people work backwards when it comes to buying a house. We typically begin with a budget and see how nice/big/small/well-located of a house we can afford and choose the best option. The question then becomes, what do we do when we can afford almost any size house? Even really large houses. Are they still practical? We have already explored how many square feet it takes to be happy and tiny houses, but we’ll spend a little bit of time addressing the costs and benefits of large houses.

dave ramsey houseOur lives are in a constant state of evolution. Our wants, needs, goals and expectations continue to change and evolve as we age and enter different stages of life. We have lived in a large variety of different sized homes over the years and they all have their share of pluses and minuses. Tiny homes and large homes seem to polarize individuals about what is really needed to be happy. This post will examine the excitement and challenges that large homes offer. Will we end up in a large home? I’m not really sure at this point, but I’m certainly learning more about the benefits and troubles of huge home living. Continue reading The Large House Dilemma

The Tiny House Dilemma

This is one article (2 of 3) on choosing the right type of house. Specifically, we are looking at the trade-offs between efficiency, sustainability, and practicality (excluding affordability) when choosing a home.

What size house do you buy when you can afford almost any size? Is there a perfect home? Or do they all come with trade-offs? Most people work backwards when it comes to buying a house. They begin with a budget and see how nice/big/small/well-located of a house they can afford and choose the best option. But what happens when you have a nice income, an efficient spending plan, and live in an area where housing is extremely affordable relative to your other costs? We have already explored how many square feet it takes to be happy, but next we’ll look at the cost and benefits of tiny and huge houses.

elm-photo-slide-003_e9a51ac4-7f09-457f-9982-44fca367b51d_grandeWhen you take money out of the housing equation it brings about deeper fundamental issues. It forces us to ask, what is enough and what will actually make us happy? Do we need a large house? Is living in a small house actually desirable? Why not simply settle for something in the middle? The notion of Tiny House Living has been popularized over the last few years by minimalist authors, bloggers, financial personalities and television shows. But is a tiny house realistic when affordability is not an issue? What are the challenges of living small? And benefits as well?

Conceptually, I really enjoy the idea of having only what we need. It was quite refreshing to move into a relatively small place to force the paring down of essentials right after we got married. In fact, we have lived in a lot of different types and sizes of homes throughout the years. Living in inexpensive housing areas, we’ve lived in homes/condos ranging from 190 to 4500 square feet, and certainly interact with individuals on a weekly basis with homes within that range. But how do we decide what is right for us? Especially when our lives are constantly changing. While we enjoy watching shows and documentaries about tiny houses, for the purpose of discussion, tiny houses will be 200-850 square foot, single family homes. Our most recent move was from a 390 square foot studio to a 850 square foot single family home. With a family of four, we live comfortably but have certainly considered larger homes (but also much smaller condos overseas as well). Tiny might be a simple 1,200 sf single family ranch, a 700 sf condo, or even a basic 14 x 14 single room. You make your own definition, but we’ll spend some time thinking through the benefits and challenges of tiny and huge house living. By looking at the extremes, we can actually put greater context around the issues faced when deciding what type of dwelling to inhabit. Continue reading The Tiny House Dilemma