Inspiration from the “Notebook System,” Wendy de la Rosa, Sturgill Simpson, 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. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe on the potential of others

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

It’s hard to move past seeing people as they are, often hemmed in by their mistakes in life, and seeing people as what they could become with a little encouragement and a hand held out to them. The truth is a lot of people don’t have anyone’s hand held out to them. They don’t have anyone in their life that believes in them as a good person or as a potentially successful person. As a result, they buy into an idea that they’re defined for their entire life by their worst moments.

Every single one of us has that “worst moment” or two in our life that we seriously regret, that we would take back if we could. For a lot of us, we’re defined by that moment, either in how we define ourselves or in how others see us. And it’s awful. It limits our sense of what we could be. It makes us feel like we can never be successful in the way we want to be, that we can never really feel like a good person.

It’s hard to shake that feeling. It’s really hard. For me, the only way I’ve ever found to shake it is to be around people that treat me like the person I wish I could be rather than the person that I often think that I am. That feels good. It makes me want to be that person all the time.

The least I can do is do the same for others and treat them like the person they are at their best, the person that they’re capable of being.

2. The “notebook system”

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about how we keep track of the multitude of things we are both juggling. Both of us are “sandwich generation,” meaning we have children still at home, aging parents, a career, a home to maintain, a marriage to maintain, and some desire to still have hobbies and a bit of a social life and community involvement and charitable involvement… it’s a lot to juggle.

I showed him my system, which is a mix of Evernote (for jotting down notes on my phone) and Omnifocus (for keeping track of tasks) and a pocket notebook and pen (for notes when I don’t have a computer). Then, he showed me his system, and I found it really inspiring.

His system is just a notebook. When it’s opened flat, it shows two pages. Those pages are covered in what looks like a giant to-do list. Whenever he has something on his mind that he needs to do or needs to remember later, he writes it down as a “to-do” on those two pages. When he takes care of something or moves a piece of information to where it should be, he checks it off his list.

Then, when those two pages get full, he stops for 30 minutes or an hour and just tries to take care of as many unchecked items as he can. With the rest that he can’t take care of right then, he decides whether each one is actually important or not. If it’s not important, he just checks it off. Everything else is moved forward to the next page – he literally recopies all of them – and then he checks them off on the previous page with a special check (a backwards checkmark, meaning he moved it forward).

That’s it. That’s his whole system. It kind of combines what I use a pocket notebook for with what I use a checklist manager for into one analog system, and it works pretty well for him.

I am so familiar with the system I’ve built up for myself over the years that I don’t think I’d switch to his system, but I can certainly see the appeal, and it’s tempting to consider it if I were starting from scratch.

3. Bessie Stanley on a life well lived

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.” – Bessie Stanley

I used to not like this quote because of the of the “gained the respect of intelligent people” part. What value is there than that?

The older I get, though, the better I understand it. It’s not saying that you should bend yourself so that others respect you. It’s saying that you should build yourself with such strength and quality that others respect you.

There are two kinds of respect in the world. There’s the “easy” respect, where you bend yourself and alter yourself to meet someone else’s approval. There’s also the “hard” respect, where you stay true to yourself and win respect due to your deeds and accomplishments.

“Easy” respect is flimsy. It usually only wins favor from a few people and everyone else just ignores it or sees it with disfavor. It’s also fleeting, because if that person changes what they want to see out of you, you have to change, too, so you’re constantly changing who you are to have some fleeting “easy respect” from someone.

“Hard” respect is what matters most. It comes from a long record of good deeds and good effort. Those deeds and that effort generally aren’t done to please someone, but rather they’re done because they’re in line with what you value and what your own morals and ethics are.

Think about the people you deeply respect – not those that pander, but those who have done enough in their life to earn your respect through their character and their efforts. That’s “hard” respect, and that’s the kind that’s worth something.

4. Wendy de la Rosa on psychological tricks to save money

From the description:

We all want to save more money — but overall, people today are doing less and less of it. Behavioral scientist Wendy De La Rosa studies how everyday people make decisions to improve their financial well-being. What she’s found can help you painlessly make the commitment to save more and spend less.

The three psychological tips she shared were (1) harness the power of precommitment; (2) use transition moments to your advantage; and (3) manage small, frequent purchases.

None of these ideas are going to be new to a regular reader of The Simple Dollar (the names of the ideas might be, but the idea itself isn’t), but that’s not really why I found this video inspiring. What makes it inspiring to me is the presentation of the ideas.

The biggest reason that I write for The Simple Dollar is that I genuinely want every single person that comes to the site to improve their financial state. I want them to experience the stress relief and self-confidence that comes from having your finances in order.

The thing is, the key ideas and perspectives that will really help someone are different for everyone. Some people are excited into action by a really practical list. Some are excited into action by understanding the core principles behind those actions. Others are excited by understanding the “why” behind those principles and actions. Some people like an earnest friendly tone. Others click with a “coach” that’s more aggressive.

Part of what I try to do when I write articles for the site is to figure out different angles on the core ideas of personal finance. I try to find different ways to express them. I try to dig into related areas so people can see the bridge between, say, their exercise habits and their finances. I try to look at the issues that people scraping by on minimum wage and SNAP might face, as well as someone with a big income might face.

Doing that requires me to think about the situations other people are in, as well as the ways that those ideas are presented, and that’s why I shared this video. Wendy does a really good job of not only explaining a few key personal finance concepts, but also explaining how to get people to respond to those concepts. I watched this video several times because there were layers of things to notice here.

Thanks, Wendy.

5. Henry J. Kaiser on quality work

“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” – Henry J. Kaiser

The best things you do in life don’t have to be promoted. They don’t have to be explained. You don’t have to go shout them from the rooftops. They stand on their own.

It’s actually a good litmus test for how good your work is. “Am I going to have to explain to anyone what I’m doing?” “If someone else did this, would I think it was good work and be impressed by i it?” “Does it require me to explain away problem areas?” The clearer your positive answers to those questions, the better your work is.

Sometimes I get there. Sometimes I don’t. The difference is that it’s always my goal to get there, and when I do, I’m proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have to brag about it. I don’t have to explain it. It’s good on its own two feet. That’s always the goal.

6. Neil Strauss on love

“Perhaps the biggest mistake I made in the past was that I believed love was about finding the right person. In reality, love is about becoming the right person. Don’t look for the person you want to spend your life with. Become the person you want to spend your life with.” – Neil Strauss

The first step in finding love is to love yourself. I don’t know a magic recipe for doing this. However, I do know that if you strive every day to build yourself into a person that’s just a little better than the person you were yesterday, you start to see things within yourself that are worthy of love.

Once you start feeling happy with yourself, once you start loving who you are and genuinely feel that, even if you’re not the person you want to be, you’re getting a little closer to that every day, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to build friendships and relationships.

Friendships and relationships work best when you know you have value to give and that your worth is not tied up in whether someone is your friend or not. That requires loving yourself as a fundamental step.

7. Sturgill Simpson – Turtles All the Way Down

This is a deeply beautiful song, one that not only left music running through my head, but a lot of thoughts about the lyrics. It’s one of those perfect songs where your own ideas match the lyrics and allows you to come up with a particular meaning for the song.

To me, the meaning is simple: just love people. Be kind to people. Don’t kill or harm people, especially when it’s about a difference over your individual spiritual journeys. The deepest meaning is usually found in the people you know and the meaningful relationships you have and the things you learn. It’s a message I think we all need.

8. Albert Camus on giving love

“Whoever gives nothing has nothing. The greatest misfortune is not to be unloved, but not to love.” – Albert Camus

As I noted above, a good relationship is between people who give to each other without expecting anything in return. If you want a good relationship, you have to give to it. That’s true for a strong friendship, a romantic relationship, a marriage, a familial relationship, a strong professional relationship – anything like that.

Sometimes, you will get burnt, giving love to someone who is only capable of returning hate (or returning nothing at all). That’s part of the risk.

More often than not, though, you’ll find that giving is reciprocated, and sometimes far more than you’ll ever expect or you’ll ever know. So often, the things we do for others are multiplied in value and meaning by the recipient in comparison to our own effort, and when that is given to us, it feels enormous.

Give. Don’t worry about receiving. You eventually will.

9. Tim Harford on unleashing natural creativity

From the description:

What can we learn from the world’s most enduringly creative people? They “slow-motion multitask,” actively juggling multiple projects and moving between topics as the mood strikes — without feeling hurried. Author Tim Harford shares how innovators like Einstein, Darwin, Twyla Tharp and Michael Crichton found their inspiration and productivity through cross-training their minds.

The core of Tim Harford’s idea is that creativity and the generation of novel ideas comes from “cross training your mind,” which basically comes down to learning new skills and learning about new topics and then mixing those skills and topics together.

I think this is the core of creative thinking and it’s the most effective way to come up with new and interesting ideas and angles within whatever field you’re interested in. It’s why I try to read books on subjects that are only tangentially related to personal finance, or sometimes not at all related, under the guise of “professional reading.”

Almost all of my best ideas – the ones that really impact me – have come from pulling together stuff from completely different areas of learning.

10. Stephen McCranie on failure

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has tried.” – Stephen McCranie

As I’ve mentioned before, I started taking taekwondo lessons a couple of years ago. I’ve earned some belts and done some things I wouldn’t have believed before I started.

There are really two lessons that have ground into my head during this entire run. First, it’s all about being just a little bit better than you were last time. Second, the people that seem to be doing impossible things went through this journey, too.

I try something new and I fail utterly at it. I go back and work on fundamentals and then I try it again and I still fail, but the failure is maybe not quite as bad. I keep repeating this cycle until I succeed once in the midst of a bunch of failures. Then I succeed again and again until I have the technique down. Then I move on to a new technique and I utterly fail. Along the way, I keep repeating those fundamentals over and over.

When I see a high level black belt do something that seems unbelievable, I recognize that they were once doing what I’m doing. Not only did they fail many times in learning that impressive thing that they’re doing, they failed many times at learning every single step that led to that impressive thing. They’ve failed far more times than I’ve ever tried.

Failure isn’t bad. It’s just telling you that you need to work harder, particularly on the fundamentals. It’s giving up that’s bad. That’s true for almost everything you take on in life.

11. The Seven Commandments of Fake News

The seven commandments are:

1. Find the cracks in the fabric of society, the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions.
2. Create a big lie, something that would be very damaging if you could get people to believe it.
3. Wrap the lie in a kernel of truth.
4. Conceal your hand, make it seem like the story came from somewhere else.
5. Find yourself a useful idiot.
6. Deny everything, even if the truth is obvious.
7. Play the long game.

Regardless of what your personal beliefs or views are, know that there are people out there who want to make you into the “useful idiot.” They want to feed you a lie wrapped in just enough truth for you to swallow it, for the sole purpose of getting you to angrily disagree with your family members, your friends, and everything else. Those people then sit back and wait for that anger to chip away at families, at relationships, at the very fabric of society.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t be the “useful idiot.” If you see a friend sharing something with you, do all you can to verify that it’s true from multiple sources before believing it. This is doubly true if it makes you feel angry or upset or if it simultaneously seems “crazy” but somehow “right.” The “crazy” feeling is you recognizing it’s probably a lie, but the feeling of it being somehow “right” is that little veneer of truth that someone wrapped around it so you’ll swallow it.

Verify everything you read or see or hear, especially everything that tries to make other people look bad or appear evil. Don’t spread it unless you are absolutely positively sure that it’s true and you’ve checked it with multiple sources. Remember that just because a friend shared it with you doesn’t mean that your friend was the original source of it; your friend is probably sharing it without checking it themselves. You owe it to yourself and to your friend to check it out and make absolutely sure it’s true. If you find it’s not true, know that someone out there was trying to trick you for their own ends, and that person is the real bad guy. Your friend or family member isn’t the enemy; the person that made up the lie and wrapped it in just a bit of truth to cause division is the bad guy.

12. Elbert Hubbard on avoiding criticism

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Elbert Hubbard

Whenever you do anything of value, it’s likely that someone will criticize it. They’ll criticize the end product. They’ll criticize the amount of effort you put into it, saying your time should have been spent elsewhere. They’ll find a flaw in something amazing.

It’s easy to let those criticisms bring you down, but the thing to remember is that if you’ve made something that’s worthy of criticism, then you’ve made something that’s worthy. You simply cannot please everyone, nor should you try. Rather, you should aim to please two people: yourself, and the exact person you’re aiming at with what you create.

Work hard to please those two people and you’ll be fine. Don’t let the criticism of others bring you down.

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