How to Find Your Zingers

I attended a writers’ retreat at a scenic guest ranch last weekend and had two days of blissful solitude to dedicate to writing. As the twelve other writers in attendance furiously tapped out world-record word counts, I barely managed to scribble one hundred incomplete sentences.

If it sounds like a serious case of writer’s block, you’d be only partially correct. (I can blame this bout on the grief I experienced recently when I my website was hacked and I realized I would need to start over.) But more importantly, I discovered that I needed the solitude to reflect on more than just my writing.

The ranch was a gorgeous, inspiring place to move in and out of my head. I walked along the river, hiked up into the hills, exchanged warm greetings with the resident furry beings and admired the tranquil beauty of the place. I sat upon a gigantic pancake-flat rock along the river’s edge to watch the birds bathe and preen for so long that my butt froze. My camera accompanied me everywhere and it seemed that everywhere I turned, a picture was begging to be taken. If it’s true that a picture says a thousand words, than I suppose I “wrote” plenty.

Truth is, I’m feeling restless. Early winter always puts me in a bit of a funk. I know that I need a new, engaging project, especially this time of year. My intention is to wake each morning eager to do something that grabs hold of my attention with such vigor that time becomes a non-issue. My life, by intentional design, is open to endless opportunities. And with this blessing comes a seemingly impossible list of options from which to choose. Sometimes the enormity of choice feels overwhelming and I’m tempted to respond with apathy.

When I was a working stiff (meaning that my job wasn’t a good fit for me), I’d hit the snooze button on my alarm clock at least a half dozen times, then make my grumpy commute. At work, I’d watch the wall clock all day, urging the arms to tick forward faster so that I could punch out and make my escape. That was hell. I wasn’t making a living — I was earning a slow death. Once that realization hit, I was no longer willing to participate in that kind of “life”.

One introspective day, I asked myself what I wanted to do when I woke up. “Toss the alarm clock, sleep until I’m done and work at something I love to do, from home, in my pajamas.” the little voice said. I figured out how to make it happen. And I lived. This shift happened only after I could identify what it was I wanted to do.

And this is where I tell you about zingers and the 100 incomplete sentences that I wrote during the retreat this weekend.

My spare words came as a result of a simple ten minute writing exercise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Number the left side of your paper from 1-100.
  2. Write as fast as you can on one topic (see below for topic ideas)
  3. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Just get it down, even if some of it doesn’t make sense.
  4. Repeats are okay.
  5. Write the list in one sitting. It is the sheer volume of entries that dredges up the information from your subconscious mind.
  6. When you are finished, look for patterns. Usually the first thirty items are pretty obvious to you. The second third often contains repeats, and somewhere in the last 10-20 answers, you’ll find a zinger that surprises you.

Some Ideas for Lists of 100:

100 marketing ideas for my business
100 ways I can make money
100 things I want to do
100 things I’m good at
100 things I’d do if I had the time
100 things I’m grateful for

I chose to write a list of 100 things I want to do. Many of my responses were predictable for me (places to see, ways to be creative, nature appreciation) and some took me completely by surprise (ride a zip line, attend a sand castle contest, stay with a host family in an African tribal village). And then, just as predicted in the instructions, the last dozen were my zingers:

89. hit the road and go wherever we want to go
90. settle in and snuggle
91. see the world
92. wonder
93. feel
94. experience
95. live
96. be awake
97. be amazed
98. feel content
99. find the story
100. tell it.

As soon as these items were out, I knew what I wanted: I envision hitting the road with my family in a cozy, snuggly home-on-wheels and letting curiosity lead our way. I want to experience amazing places and meet amazing people. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, I want to find the stories and share them.

Try it. Find your zingers. Live life your way.

How To Increase Your Financial Bliss

Everyone needs food, shelter and clothing. But beyond basic survival needs, there is an endless array of money-hungry possibilities that can consume disposable income. Many let money slip through their fingers without giving much thought to the big picture. We often buy the latest and greatest stuff simply because our neighbors do; so we can keep up with the infamous Jones family. Advertisers, the media and society influence how we spend.

But living according to your own personal values is the key to happiness and financial well-being. Once you’ve mindfully identified what truly makes you tick, your financial decisions can be guided into alignment with your value system. When you live (and spend) true to your values, you are bound to feel fulfilled, content, peaceful and happy.

You may value a beautiful home — so you spend generously on a home purchase and decorating, remodeling and furnishings. I may value freedom, travel and recreation above all else — so I don’t mind living in a more simple home. Perhaps you feel strongly that it’s important to protect the environment — so you’re willing to fork out more moola to purchase a vehicle that operates on alternative fuel. Your neighbor’s priority might be safety — so they drive a large SUV.

On the other hand, perhaps you are unconsciously investing in things that are not as important to you as others are. Financial happiness occurs once you figure out what is important to you and spend accordingly. Evaluating your key priorities provides a beginning structure for your spending plan– a budget that you’ll be enthusiastically motivated and happy to adhere to. Not sure what your top priorities are? Take a good look at your Treasure Map to a Rich Life — it will reveal important clues.

For purposes of illustration, I’m sharing my own list of priorities and values today. It’s been my experience that the ways in which we choose to think directly influences our actual behavior and in turn, our behavior powers our outcome. Therefore, note my choice of words that serve as affirmations such as “I choose to…” rather than “I wish…”.

My List of Priorities and Personal Values:

1. Family Relationships: I value spending quality time with my family each and every day. I choose to spend more time with my family than on any other endeavor, including my career. Therefore, I accept less income in exchange for more free time.

2. Friendships: I choose to have enough free time to nurture, maintain, and enjoy my friends. Again, I choose to trade income for free time.

3. Health: I value strength, energy, and longevity. I choose to take care of my physical self so that I am better equipped to do all of the things that I love to do. Therefore, I gladly trade money for organic foods and weekly massage therapy.

4. Fun: Life is a precious gift meant to be enjoyed. I choose to live an enthusiastic life; to enjoy my relationships, hobbies and interests; to laugh, smile and acknowledge my gratitude daily. Therefore, I choose to be a do-er, not a have-er.

5. Freedom: Freedom from money worries, serious health problems, stress, and time restrictions. I choose to be able to do what I want, when I want, where I want; and to be free from shoulda-coulda-can’t types of thinking. I choose to be free from the need to wake in the morning by the obnoxious bleeping of an alarm clock. Therefore, I choose to be my own boss and set my own hours.

6. Curiosity-Led Learning: I value a lifetime love of learning. I choose to pursue my own interests, and I facilitate the same curiosity-led learning opportunities for my daughter.

7. Environment and Sustainability: I believe that everyone has an individual responsibility to protect our natural resources. I choose a lifestyle that emphasizes sustainability over wasteful consumption. Besides, by owning less stuff, I have more money – and time – to spend on the activities that matter most to me.

8. Community and Compassion: I believe that each individual is an important and integral part of our world-wide community. I choose to feel and act compassionately towards others. Therefore, I am willing to work sans pay (volunteer) for the benefit of others.

When you review and revise your annual spending plan (aka budget), ignore the Joneses. Make sure that your plan reflects your personal values. By mindfully doing so, you’ll likely find that money can buy you happiness!

How to Create a Treasure Map to a Rich Life

If you had a million dollars and no debt, what would you do?

At age 30 I paused long enough to ask myself this question. Just ten years later, my husband and I were completely debt-free and had a million dollars in the bank.

How did this happen?

We didn’t win the lottery, inherit from a long-lost uncle, or invent the pet rock. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, either. When I was a child, my parents struggled to live paycheck to paycheck. My sister and I shamefully hid our free-lunch tickets, then spent after-school hours dumpster-diving behind our neighborhood grocery store. As a young adult, anxious to get out of the house and start making my own money, I dropped out of college… and landed the graveyard shift at the corner donut shop. Then I married a blue-collar construction worker.

Despite the odds, I became a work-from-home small business owner and self-taught investor, and by age 40, my husband and I were millionaires.

How did I go from free-lunch kid to millionaire mom?

You will never leave where you are, until you decide where you’d rather be.
— Dexter Yager

My transformational journey started when I discovered an important truth: Our lives are the stories we narrate for ourselves. If you don’t like the story your life has become, tell yourself a better one. Change starts with a thought, not an action. Think about all of the things you can do instead of the things you can’t. Start a different internal conversation and you’ll become wealthy in more ways than one.

If you don’t know where you are going, there’s an excellent chance you won’t get there. You need to create a crystal clear vision of exactly what being rich is for you. Your personalized image of “rich” needs to feel so real to you that you can literally smell it, touch it, hear it, see it, taste it, FEEL it. You need to own it.

Visualizing what wealth means to you shapes the way your mind thinks about money and your life. Your mind then sets in motion the actions necessary to begin achieving your goals. By taking the time to establish what real wealth looks like to you, you direct your efforts in ways that make becoming rich, in your own terms, simple.

I created my first “Treasure Map to a Rich Life” vision board in my early twenties. A few years later, I was living the story I had envisioned through the Treasure Map tacked upon my wall. Every few years, life experiences modify some of my aspirations and passions and my vision of wealth and happiness change, so I design a new Treasure Map. Lo and behold, my life soon morphs to fit my new vision. And it repeats over and over again.

My most recent Treasure Map (included above) reveals:

  • I choose to live an enthusiastic and playful life.
  • World travel, culture, nature and creativity continue to place very high on my list of interests.
  • I will share my passion for lifelong learning with my daughter. The world is our classroom – we can homeschool as we travel.
  • My heart is open. Perhaps we will adopt a second orphaned child in need of a loving family.
  • I remind myself that romance and parenting is a balancing act.
  • I yearn to give back and make a difference in the lives of others.
  • I am opening the door to new possibilities – perhaps I’ll write a book, offer financial education, motivational speaking, mentoring, teaching.
  • I choose happiness.

How to Create Your Own Treasure Map to a Rich Life:

1. Round up a poster board, some old magazines, scissors, glue, and colored markers.

2. Flip through magazines and cut out images, photographs, illustrations, titles, and quotes that catch your eye. Select images that evoke your feelings of happiness, phrases that put a smile on your face, and words that intrigue you.

3. Glue your cut-outs onto your poster board to create a collage.

4. Use your colored markers to add any additional words, quotes, or statements that make you feel happy.

5. Place a title on your poster board- something like, “My Treasure Map” or “My Rich Life Is…”, or “Happiness is…”.

6. Now step back and take some time to look at your collage. Do you like what you see? Do you feel happy when you look at it? If not, simply paste new images over the parts that don’t make you feel good.

7. Make a wild guesstimate. Write down how much money you think you’ll need to live the happy and rich life that you’ve just created on your Treasure Map. Don’t worry about being accurate, but do be specific. “I want to have lots of money” is not specific enough. You need to quantify how much money is “lots” for you, and include when you want it to happen. Write down some specific numbers and dates. Try something like “I want to make $100,000 next year and I want to have $1,000,000 saved by 2020”.

8. Proudly hang your Treasure Map where you will see it every single day.

9. Finally, take a photograph of your Treasure Map. Place this photo in your wallet or checkbook.

Consider your map a work in progress. As you look at it daily you’re bound to change your mind about a few things and clarify some details. Just pull out your glue stick and modify your map accordingly.

Now that you can visualize exactly what it is that you really want, you’ve taken the biggest step towards living a rich life. Your personalized image of wealth and happiness will drive your daily actions in simple and incredible ways.

Next, I’ll explore how identifying, prioritizing and living according to personal values is key to personal happiness and financial well-being.