Inspiration from Anaïs Nin, Dave Grohl, Tom Bodett, and More!

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Anaïs Nin on courage

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anaïs Nin

Think about it. You’re at a social event where you don’t know many people. Your tendency is to be quiet and just listen, but it’s pretty hard to build friendships that way. On the other hand, speaking up takes courage. Do you have the courage to expand your horizons.

In 2008, I quit my rather steady job to be a full time writer. That took a ton of courage. It also opened up life opportunities I didn’t even know existed.

Every time in my life when I breathed in deep and did something courageous, something that was outside of my comfort zone, something that wasn’t going to be harmful but just a little scary, I was rewarded for that leap with new opportunities and new angles on life that weren’t there before.

Be courageous.

2. How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

I’ve had a few friends go through some significant grief recently and, honestly, I didn’t really know how to help. I really wanted to be able to do something that would fix their pain and grief… but the truth is, there’s nothing I can do. There’s no magic wand I can wave.

The thing is, trying to superficially cheer someone up or suggest something to make them feel better doesn’t really help. You simply can’t cure someone’s pain by trying to take it away from them.

You’re much better off just acknowledging the hurt and letting it exist. Say it’s rough and that it’s awful that it happened and just listen. Let them be able to say “this hurts” without feeling like you’re just going to tell them some simple solution that won’t really fix the hurt. You do that by not falling on that easy crutch of giving them some simple solution unless they ask for it.

Just acknowledge the hurt, ask if they want to talk about it, and if they do, listen. If they don’t, talk about something else entirely.

3. Hippocrates on healing

“Before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that made him sick.” – Hippocrates

The advice I share on The Simple Dollar is always given under the idea that the people reading it want financial success enough to give up some of the unnecessary things in their life.

In the end, it’s unnecessary spending that almost always gets us into a financial pickle. It’s buying too big of a house or living in too big of an apartment. It’s buying too nice of a car. It’s going out to eat too often.

It’s the belief that spending money will bring us true lasting happiness. It won’t.

If you’re not willing to give up that false connection, then it’s going to be hard to ever find financial success.

4. Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

You can’t write or create anything meaningful without digging into some aspect of who you are, probably something that hurts. What people are always looking for in writing or in films or in anything is some sort of tunnel into themselves. Yes, a wonderful story is good, but what really sets the hook is a peek into the human condition, and the only way you can do that truthfully and honestly is to bore into your own heart, and that’s hard, and it often hurts.

It took me a long time to learn that some of the best things I write for The Simple Dollar are the ones where I bore into myself and realize how screwed up I am and how I stumble through life and how I stumble through attempts to fix it. I want to tell a story to myself about how I’m doing all of these things wonderfully. It’s only when I pull that story down as a lie that meaningful and valuable things come out.

5. The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth

Many people see stoicism as meaning suffering without complaint, but that’s a rather … strange misunderstanding of what it is. Instead, stoicism is a broader personal philosophy, part of which is processing your emotions before acting on them so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where you’re acting emotionally and making a huge mistake that would damage your reputation and strongly disappoint your more rational self.

There are a number of great books that have come out in the last few years that really take stoicism and put it in a modern context, and this might be the very best of them.

Read it slowly, like a good book should be read. Think about what’s being said. Try to incorporate some of it into your life. I’m very confident in saying that you’ll like the outcomes.

6. Dave Grohl on liking something

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you […] like something, like it.” – Dave Grohl

I really dislike the idea of a “guilty” pleasure. If you like something, it’s cool. It means that the thing brings you joy or pleasure. The key word here is “you” – I might not enjoy the same thing, but I can pretty well guarantee you that I enjoy things that you don’t.

I used to feel pretty judgmental about people’s taste in things like music or games or clothing or cars or other things like that. “How can they possibly like such a thing?”

Over time, I realized that I was just saying that somehow the things I liked – or the things that marketers wanted to push – were inherently better than what other people liked. That’s ridiculous. Liking something is a matter of what scratches your personal itches, and I’m not you.

Nowadays, if a friend likes something, then I usually give it a sincere try myself (provided it’s not going to lead to self-harm, of course), and if it’s not my thing, that doesn’t invalidate their pleasure.

7. Sian Leah Beilock on why we choke under pressure – and how to avoid it

From the description:

When the pressure is on, why do we sometimes fail to live up to our potential? Cognitive scientist and Barnard College president Sian Leah Beilock reveals what happens in your brain and body when you choke in stressful situations, sharing psychological tools that can help you perform at your best when it matters most.

“Choking” comes from facing a high pressure situation and not knowing how to handle that pressure well. For me, the best way to avoid “choking” is to build up to that pressure by putting myself in progressively higher pressure situations and pulling through so that next time I know I can handle it, and then eventually I ratchet up the pressure a little more.

When I was spending a lot of time actively presenting, I would run through the presentation in front of a mirror, then in front of a small friendly group, then a somewhat larger less friendly group, and then finally in front of a large conference. Each step was scary and ran the risk of “choking,” but by slowly amping it up, I held firm.

The best way to avoid “choking” is to not throw yourself into the deep end on anything that’s of high importance. Instead, build up to it. Have lots of practice and trial runs with increasing pressure so that you know you can do it in a tough situation.

8. Robert Heinlein on popular appeal

“You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

It is way easier to convince someone that something is right by appealing to things they already think is right.

The challenge we all face is in making sure that someone isn’t associating something wrong with a bunch of things we think are right so that we’ll be swept along and taken for a ride.

Just because someone says lots of things you agree with doesn’t mean that everything that person says is something you should agree with.

9. Tom Griffith on how to make better decisions by thinking like a computer

From the description:

If you ever struggle to make decisions, here’s a talk for you. Cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths shows how we can apply the logic of computers to untangle tricky human problems, sharing three practical strategies for making better decisions — on everything from finding a home to choosing which restaurant to go to tonight.

These three tactics really boil down to one principle: you’re trying to remove emotion from practical decisions.

For example, one big suggestion is to organize things in your home by how frequently you use them, meaning that when you use something, put it back in the front rather than in some sort of perfect place. That way you don’t have to remember the perfect placement of things and you can just go to a general area and look near the front to find virtually everything you need, and you can eventually purge the things at the back.

One of the tricks of modern life, in my opinion, is separating our emotions from our decisions. It’s so easy to sway us by manipulating our emotions, and so many people out there know that – marketers, politicians, and so on – and they use those emotional strings to pull us to dance like they want. We have to work to break free of that.

10. Tom Bodett on happiness

“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world; someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.” ― Tom Bodett

I’d add just the basic things a person needs to live, like food and water and basic clothing and basic shelter, along with some basic level of health, and I’d call it pretty accurate.

The thing is, you don’t really find happiness directly in life. Rather, you find things in your life that regularly bubble up happiness. If you seek happiness directly, it’s fleeting. Instead, seek out things that regularly make happiness.

Someone that you deeply love produces happiness regularly. A task that is meaningful to you produces a different flavor of happiness on a regular basis. Hope for the future produces yet another flavor of happiness over time.

That’s enough, really.

11. Why Beautiful Things Make Us Happy

From the description:

It’s hard to define what makes something beautiful, but we seem to know beauty when we see it. Why is that and how does beauty affect our subconscious?

Beauty simply means any quality in a person, place, thing, or idea that brings pleasure to the senses. Different people find beauty in different sources.

Being in an environment that a person perceives as being more beautiful enhances a person’s productivity and also their healing and mood. This is part of why I put such a high value on hiking in the woods, and why putting a little bit of effort into making your environment beautiful pays off a little.

This inspired me to do some cleaning, and also inspired me to put a few flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. It made things just a little better.

12. Albert Camus on the challenge of normalcy

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus

I’ve used this quote before in inspirational lists, but it’s one that just hits home for me incredibly hard.

I have friends that suffer from medical conditions that make it extremely difficult to even leave the house. One of my friends is suffering from multiple sclerosis and, as often as she can, she wants to go out and walk around and go through everyday life as normally as she can… but literally every step is painful and difficult for her. You don’t see the pain when you see her, but it’s coursing through her. I see it when she sits down in a heap of exhaustion and her eyes just look so full of pain.

Another of my friends has anxiety so badly that it takes about all he has to carry on a conversation with someone he doesn’t know well. He has this strong innate feeling that he’s being judged harshly with every word he speaks.

Sometimes, it’s easy for us to go through life and not recognize that those very same things are quite hard for other people. Keep those other people in mind today and maybe give the person you don’t know a bit of slack. You don’t know what they’re going through.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.