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The Ultimate Life Coach

Almost  nineteen years into early retirement now, I’ve come to realize that the complete freedom of this lifestyle can be a double-edged sword.

You’ve already heard me raving plenty about the upside: having the freedom to raise a son from the day he was born to beyond his eighteenth birthday with no compromises. And then to put thousands of hours into everything else I value as well: family, health, friends, adventures, building stuff, and even writing the occasional blog post. No complaints about any of this.

But if I can indulge you to play me a brief Tiny Violin of First World Problems solo, even this perfect life comes with one flaw: I never have to do anything I don’t want to do.

To most people, this sounds like a dream come true. Especially if you combine total freedom with plenty of money, life is just a non-stop blissful playground of self actualization, right?

Well, maybe, but maybe not. In reality, the answer depends on who you are.

 Freedom and money reveal a person’s true strengths and weaknesses, and the result is a spectrum with “Unlimited drugs and booze on the couch” at one end, and “Create and manage a series of nonprofit foundations which employ thousands of people to research and invest in medical advances and clean energy” at the other.

For most of my journey so far, I seem to have found the balance pretty naturally. My Dad job was very intense for the first decade, but somehow I also had time to build and restore quite a few houses in the neighborhood, take plenty of intense trips to interesting places, give some talks and make some videos, and still write a few hundred blog posts. 

But in these last few years, I have started slowing down, and it has become more and more difficult to wrangle and focus myself to get these things to happen as often.

Instead of constantly bouncing around the construction site building cool things, or falling into laser focus on the keyboard finishing an article that I just had to share with you, I found myself retiring to the couch earlier and earlier each afternoon, seeking distraction on the phone and wishing I had the energy and focus to do those other more enjoyable things.

So I fought back, by learning more about health and wellness. Trying to study and train my way into more energy and focus and motivation. And you’ve seen some of the results here, in articles I’ve shared about daily habits, steering clear of excessive comfort, and more.

And all of these things really work, IF you take the knowledge and actually put it into action. And therein lies the problem:

I kept learning effective new things, and successfully incorporating them into my life. They would work for a while, but gradually my brain would invent various excuses to stop doing them consistently, leaving me with plenty of knowledge but far too little accomplishment to show for it. 

Until finally, just a few months ago, I realized that I had been sabotaging my own progress by turning my biggest life advantage into a disadvantage:

I have been using my freedom too much – in order to avoid doing things that I didn’t feel like doing.

See, freedom is great if it frees you from leaving your children at 5am so you can drive an hour through a traffic jam to sit in an office building for nine hours. But that same freedom goes to waste if you then just plunk the kids down in front of a playlist of cheap cartoons while you lounge in the corner to scroll Facebook all day.

You need to use it to do things that are even more valuable than the job you just quit. And if you can’t do that, you might as well just keep the damned job.

This is what I was doing, while lying about it to myself. I would focus on the easy things which are still good for me, like taking care of the house or hanging out with friends who live nearby. But I avoid doing the harder things – which for me means the things that require more planning, energy or focus. Even though these are the things that allow me to lead the life I enjoy most.

Let’s use workouts as an easy example. I already know that on a minute-for-minute basis, this is the single most effective thing almost anybody can do with their time because it drastically improves every other area of life. But despite knowing this, I was still following this pattern:

I want to get in a really good weight training workout today.
But I don’t feel like doing a workout because it’s hard.
So I’ll try to grease the wheels for myself so it’s easier to achieve. 
I’ll pick the perfect time of day when the weather is nice, and my energy level is high.
 I’ll set up my gym in advance the night before.
And when that golden moment of perfect conditions hits,
I’ll hit the gym!

But between you and me, that moment didn’t always come. Some weeks I’d achieve it 2-3 times, some weeks I’d get “busy” and make excuses like “well at least I walked a lot today”. Some days I would complete a great workout, but when recording it in the journal I’d see that the previous one was over a week ago.

And the results of this lackluster effort were exactly what you’d expect: lackluster fitness.

Then something changed and I learned that there’s a much better way to get those workouts done. It’s by replacing the long, meandering, frankly wussypants dialog above with this one:

I want to work out today.
I don’t feel like it.
^^^ AHA!! I JUST CAUGHT MYSELF TRYING TO SELF SABOTAGE! ^^^
I am now already putting on my shoes and walking to the gym.

I’m using workouts as an example because this is the behavior I managed to change most successfully, but the exact same technique applies to everything else that you or I want to do, but fail to do regularly. 

The key is learning to watch over yourself like an Eagle and identify that exact moment of hesitation.

And then instead of using it as a trigger for excuses, you use it as a trigger for action.

It’s so counterintuitive at first, but then obvious in retrospect. Hesitance feels shitty in the moment, and it really can ruin your life if you listen to it too often. But the ultimate solution is usually to run directly towards, rather than away from, the stuff you don’t want to do.

So really, Hesitation can be the ultimate life coach.

Using Extremely Badass People as Fuel

As part of writing this article, I shared the idea around with friends to test it out first. And I was initially surprised to get mixed results. About half of them could relate with me: they felt they were underachieving in life and wanted to do more. The other half though I was crazy: these people feel they are already doing too much, raising multiple kids and managing multiple businesses and training for ironman triathlons in the mountains.

The overachievers go through life nicely buzzed but often stressed. When hearing them describe their schedules, I was absolutely not envious. At the same time, they weren’t impressed with my schedule either because it’s too easy. We could both benefit from making adjustments towards the center.

Enter Goggins

Typical Goggins results on Youtube

Impressive overachiever friends are one thing, but the thing that really flipped the switch for me was hearing a podcast interview with our planet’s most extreme example of driving yourself beyond your former limits, David Goggins.

I learned about his life story with a mix of awe and horror. Severely beaten as a child, he grew up with a looming wall of psychological demons and issues, but his reaction was the unique part: he has been driven to compulsively seek out and overcome extreme hardship, not just to unimaginable levels but hundreds of times beyond that.

From pushing through several near-death experiences just to qualify for a Navy SEALS career, to breaking his own legs, heart and lungs from the constant exertion of things like running 240 miles over four days without sleeping, to setting a world record of 4025 bar pull ups over 24 hours (shredding his hands to look like ground beef in the process), the man does things I would never have thought are even close to possible for a human.

And that flipped a switch for me, by putting my own incredibly easy, under-achieving life into perspective. 

Because while I absolutely do not want any part of the Goggins life, and I would gladly live my life never having run more than 10 miles at a single stretch, I do find it incredibly helpful to learn that pretty much all of our barriers are entirely mental, not physical or placed upon us by the outside world. 

Sure, we do have different starting points and different amounts of luck. But instead of thinking of life like this:

I now realize that things are more like this:

And that’s a really empowering way to think about life, that feels like the sky has opened way up.

Ongoing Inspiration

So the podcast was just an introduction. I wrote down the particularly concise quote “You already fuckin’ know what to do.” on a piece of cardstock, stuck it to my bathroom mirror, and started acting on it immediately.

Suddenly, I was able to hit the gym every single day because I had two ways to approach it: wanting to put in a workout, and not wanting to put in a workout, either of which became a trigger to work out immediately.

And of course, once I finally put in the effort, it started working. Even though I’ve been sorta into this type of training since I was a teenager, I have mostly floated along on a plateau for years. But with this change in attitude, I gained ten pounds of lean weight over the first four months, returning to the strength and flexibility that I had at age 25, and every single joint in my body feels like it has been upgraded to a study, well oiled spring.

Middle aged man reclaims youth through motivation.

I also used the “catch yourself at the moment of hesitance” trick to get myself to run instead of walk more often (over 20 runs since I got back to Colorado last month), get over to the MMM-HQ coworking space for more work and socializing visits, and even to sit back down at the computer to write this post for you. While I’ve found that too much blogger work (and internet “success”) is a bad thing, there is still a right level that works for me. But it takes a lot of discipline to be willing to do it, because of all the other easier and more thrilling activities I could be doing with this same stretch of time.

Refilling the Inspiration Tank

For me, fully internalizing this one powerful piece of inspiring profanity has been transformative. But I still find that returning regularly to the well makes all this work even better. So I downloaded both of the Goggins audiobooks and worked through them in little chunks on my morning walks over the period of a month. Then I moved on to Peter Attia’s Outlive, and Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership

While the intellectuals fret about the perils of “Bro Science” or the “Toxic Masculinity” of today’s tribe of health podcasters and question their motivation, I simply absorb the messages that work for me and discard the rest. Find people who make you reach a little higher, and feed on their energy.

And for me, being exposed to successful, strong, athletic people who squeeze a lot of work out of themselves is a big source of inspiration. It helps me do more with my day, which is exactly what works for me right now at this phase of life.

And I wish you more of what works for you too!

  • Joe May 26, 2024, 8:08 am

    Whenever I feel apprehensive about early retirement, I come here for a hit of MMM. Now, I am about 1 month out from leaving full time work forever. Your posts help keep me motivated and help keep things in perspective. Thank you.

    Reply
  • John M. May 27, 2024, 5:44 am

    I read this article and was first reminded of Atomic Habits and making the ‘chores’ as accessible and visible as possible to get the habit going. But, I quickly thought that I could summarize the article with “I want to bang my head against the wall for the future, but I have lost my motivation to bang my head against the wall.” Like the term pick your poison, you have chosen poison as the antidote to health. Mental torture.
    I recommend any other exercise that is interesting or exciting. The gym and anything repetitive like laps in the same sterile pool, or repetitions of literally anything, will stop me after a short while. It’s probably a personality type thing for those who are structured and scheduled versus those who are open-minded. I prefer bouldering, snorkeling in the ocean, riding bike around town, snowboarding, etc. Maybe you should switch to a new, always-changing “exercise.”

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 28, 2024, 8:18 am

      Those other types of activities are great and I fully agree. But strength training is by far the best way to prepare your body for everything else you want it to do for you.

      There’s a reason every elite sports team, military team, and athlete uses weight training as their foundation, rather than just saying something like, “I’ll simply play soccer to get in shape for that world cup game!”

      It doesn’t take long, 10-20 minutes a day doing about 5-10 different types of lifts. If you appreciate the intensity and the incredible changes it is making to everything from tendons and muscles to metabolism, hormones and bone density, most people enjoy it just as much (or more) as any other type of intense activity.

      Reply
  • Jeff Haas May 28, 2024, 8:20 am

    Hi MMM,

    I love the blog, thoughts and most of the ideas that you present
    This last article seems like a need for me to tell you or remind you rather that life is good.
    Sometimes when our world of conciseness shrinks to the bubble of our known the stimulation of the unknown is hard to inspire and sometime to find. I would say get out of your comfort zone, find something that inspires you know, from the heart.

    All the best,
    Jeff Haas

    Reply
  • CS May 28, 2024, 6:18 pm

    I can relate to this post, and maybe offer something else to ponder this topic further.

    I am not working for a paycheck, but my duties homeschooling with my son (who just graduated) have decrescendoed as my duties as a caregiver for my parents with dementia have crescendoed. First, let me point out that I have witnessed my dad die of dementia and my mom struggle as a caregiver and then follow suit with her own dementia–NOTHING could motivate me more to invest in robust daily exercise, healthy plant-based diet, intellectual and social engagement, good sleep, etc. Sometimes those awful parts of life are actually a powerful push (and gift) to pivot toward a better direction. I would also add this: KUDOS to anyone who invests in their health–it is a priceless gift not only for yourself as you age, but a huge gift of freedom to your spouse and/or kids. (And even more critical if you don’t have a spouse or kids.)

    Second, even though I don’t have as much free time as others here who do not earn paychecks, I still feel a more climatic shift in my motivation (versus a local weather pattern around making dinner tonight). I appreciate the work of James Hollis, a Jungian analyst, who points out that around our age (I’m 49), the scripts society handed us have played out. For many of us, these scripts are no longer compelling. It is a natural part of life’s developmental phases for us to reach a moment when we cannot will ourselves to live our lives according to external messaging anymore. It takes something pretty foreign to us to listen to what we are actually here for in this life, and an equally foreign type of courage to create that step by step by messy step.

    This may or may not resonate with you, MMM, but I felt pretty confident that it would resonate with some readers. I hope it might take some pressure off of us in terms of expecting ourselves to “perform” like we are accustomed to performing or accomplishing or achieving. It is not wussypants to give ourselves grace with this, or to tip-toe into the fog instead of charging ahead into it.
    Thanks for your post, by the way. Your posts always make a positive difference.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 29, 2024, 11:49 am

      WOW, wonderful comment and thanks for sharing so much from a similar life situation – almost all the same factors except for my remaining parent (Mom) is still vigorous and healthy, for which my siblings and I are all very thankful.

      I got some interesting pushback on this article from people saying “don’t be a Goggins and overwork yourself just for the sake of achievement!” – and I totally agree with this.

      For me, it’s all about making my life as great as possible, which means simply having as many great days as possible. And I’ve learned from experimentation that I simply feel much more happy and joyful during all the moments and days when I’m engaged and active and out there building cool shit alongside friends.

      So, this article was simply me sharing my tactics of how to do that a bit more often, and to chicken out “because I don’t feel like doing something hard right now” a bit less often.

      Reply
  • Angela May 29, 2024, 1:05 pm

    This is *precisely* what I needed to read today – thank you!

    Reply
  • Neill Slater, MD MBA May 31, 2024, 4:55 pm

    Enjoyed the post. I love Goggins’ message, but as a physician I wanted to offer a slight word of caution. While we all can do more, if you’re in your 40’s or beyond, take it slow and focus on your form. Consistency is the key. I’ve seen too many of my friends get “over motivated” and start training like they were 20, only to get hurt and have to stop. Temper motivation with the reality of your aging body and current physical condition.

    Reply
  • Calvin June 4, 2024, 12:01 am

    MMM,

    A great article and very prescient for me. Having just hit FI in my very low cost of living area previously, I could have just chosen to stay there and do…well, not really much besides what I was already doing. Instead, I took an opportunity with something harder (a new job in the most expensive state in the US) and it has been successful BEYOND MY WILDEST IMAGINATION.

    Getting rich with trust — had a friend of a coworker at my old job that had a spare bedroom — and BOOM! goodbye expensive hotel while I find a new apartment here, hello new friend and group of friends. We went hiking with some more of her friends at Koko Head — and BOOM! One of them is a proud member of Hawai’i Bicycling League — now I’ve got a fun advocacy group to be a part of and a bunch of new friends through that.

    O’ahu is notoriously car-dependent?? BAH. I got myself one of those fancy e-bikes (considered building one, but a bit difficult to do without a permanent address to ship parts to…) and I’ve been whizzing by traffic every morning to work, legs pumping harder than the pistons in the backed up cars I pass. The state gives you a $500 rebate if you buy one and sign a form saying you don’t own a car, so that’s what I went and did. I did the math and conservatively speaking, this thing’ll pay itself off in a year from not needing to buy fuel, insurance, etc. People ask me about it all the time, and I think I’ve probably already planted the “hey, maybe I *don’t* need this car after all…” seed in a few minds.

    Seeking out the hard times and knowing what to fuckin’ do — couldn’t get access to the first gym I had planned to hit up before I began my job, BAH. No big deal. Found a local gym, hit a helluva good pull workout one day — AND BOOM! A local modeling director found me working out and we started chatting. Now I’ve got a fun new side project as a part-time model atop my challenging new day job, which I don’t need to work if I didn’t want to, streaming on Twitch, and joining HBL. And of course, I’m still hitting the gym as hard as I always do.

    Now could I have just kicked back and hit the beach all day every day apart from work while I was here? Sure, and I still do make sure to be lazy in the sand sometimes, but embracing hardship and biting into those mangoes of opportunity is half the fun — you never know what great thing might happen!

    Ah… Life is so exciting. The possibilities are truly limitless and the future is BRIGHTER THAN EVER!

    You’ve touched my life and quite a few others in a way you’ll never truly know. For that, I say Mahalo nui loa, MMM.

    -Calvin

    Reply
    • Calvin June 5, 2024, 1:11 am

      A small update — it’s official, I just got my first invitation to a runway shoot tonight! It just keeps getting better and better!

      **OPTIMISM GUN ENGAGE**

      Reply
  • Eleanor June 4, 2024, 3:53 am

    I love this but just wish there was even one woman who made the inspiration list. There are a LOT out there. I hope you can be motivated and inspired by them and amplify their messages and stories.

    Here are a few to get you started:
    – Camille Herson – setting ultra records left and right in her 40s – https://run247.com/running-news/ultramarathon-news/camille-herron-lululemon-further-ultramarathon-records-2024
    – DonnaJean Wilde – 4.5hr plank record at age 58
    https://people.com/plank-world-record-4-hours-female-grandmother-58-8629217#:~:text=For%20men%2C%20the%20benchmark%20for,38%20minutes%20and%2047%20seconds.
    – Denise Kirley – found strength training in her 50s https://www.instagram.com/fiftyfitnessjourney/

    Reply
  • denverjn June 12, 2024, 1:19 pm

    DAMN, I needed this post and podcast. Thank you for always calling yourself and the rest of us out on our own bullshit. – @runnerjessnic, Boulder

    Reply
  • John June 14, 2024, 1:03 pm

    MMM – What happened to the world-class motivational financial advice and retirement tricks? This blog was THE BEST in the world at personal finance motivation, but lately, it feels like it has shifted away from that focus. I’m not sure if you got bored, the content is limited, or you hit a ceiling. It seems like you’re trying to mimic influencers, yet you yourself were a top fin-influencer. We come here for your sharp financial insights, not for reflections on influencers like Goggins.

    Your readers need more of the classic “boring-middle” motivation and face-punches. They can be quicker hit articles; they don’t need to be marathon blog posts. We value your expertise in early retirement, frugality, and financial independence. Please refocus on providing more finance-centric content. We miss the practical tips and strategies that originally drew us to your blog.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • April June 21, 2024, 8:04 am

      That financial advice could be found in other bloggers. Even I could give that advice after reading and practicing so much. General rule of thumb is to learn some major/trade that would lead you to decent paid jobs and you could tolerate or live with for quite a while, then save and invest aggressively (40% min saving to index funds, or other safe venues), don’t fall into consumer traps, don’t burn out in the process (like tolerating toxic working environment for higher pay, not worth it for your life), and still live a relatively balanced life, don’t sacrifice your mental and physical health to achieve so called FIRE. FIRE is only a tool to have your time back for better control not a goal. Also your life problems may still remain after FIRE, it just means you may have more of your own time to deal with them. FIRE itself does not solve a lot of internal life issues, but it gives you time if you are not tied up to a grinding full time job.

      Reply
      • April June 21, 2024, 2:03 pm

        Also if you are in the US and want to FIRE there would be some particular points nowhere in the world has to worry about: 1. Education debt. Minimize education debt as much as possible (those whose family could pay for college and advanced degrees have a great head start); 2. Commute by cars. When choosing places to live/work, find a place that minimizes commute hazard to save money and energy. I know some bad ass people would claim riding a bike and using public transportation blablabla. However, if you live in the majority of the decent suburbs in midwest, the south, not a major city, chances are there are very limited options to go to work besides a car (if you have to commute to the office). The little gas money you could save by riding a bike etc. to work is likely to be offset by the time you can’t afford to spend or by those overwhelmed drivers that may hit you. Also the public transportation I have seen around the US sucks big time, i.e. why would a bus only comes in once an hour and you have to plan it accordingly, but not just show up and a bus would come in a few minutes like rest of the world? MMM would say otherwise, but he chose to live in a town that happened to have decent routes to bike and he was a IT worker who these days could enjoy most of the WFH benefits. 3. Carefully consider your life goals and lifestyles because health insurance is the biggest expense for anybody in the US: being single, or with a partner, or how many kids to have, or no kids (that would accelerate anybody’s FIRE at least 5 times), how would you like your kids to be educated, would you FIRE with your partner at the same time, or one could FIRE while the other one continues working to cover health benefits, buying a house or not (most likely buying a house in the US is far more less hassle than renting especially with kids, pets etc.), normadic life style or not (there are still a lot of professions that require onsite), how do you plan to interact with the complex and expensive and non-effective US health systems pre-FIRE, post-FIRE, with kids etc. 4. Whatever withdrawing rule you want to apply, for a family of 3 in a modest area (Midwest major metro areas, the south could be cheaper, but both coasts would be more expensive), a decent middle class lifestyle cost at least $65000 with a paid off house. That means no cable, no expensive traveling, no expensive gadgets, no major house repairs, no major medical expenses, no expensive health insurance premiums, but some basic gym membership, some local trips, some dining out and kid’s camp/extra curriculum, some hobbies for the parents. You can try to trim more or less, but there is not much room. Afterall, are people’s FIRE goal truly to get out of the grid and live in trailer parks and eating canned beans? That means minimum 1.6 million dollar nest egg with 4% rule if you want to retire before 50.

        Reply
        • April June 21, 2024, 2:28 pm

          I could see a lot of decent paid couples with kids in the US could at least FIRE one of them or cut back on paid working hours without too much stress if they do the right things since college, that is kind of like having the luxury of a stay home parent who doesn’t have to go back to the workforce due to money (could go back for fun). I could also see people without kids have a greater advantage in FIRE and greater flexibility in Geo arbitrary. FIRE also depends on your race and gender and the community you are in. The majority of the FIRE community appear to be white professional workers whose experience is harder to simulate for minorities and women (especially women of color). There are a lot of Asians too but personally I know quite a few who could FIRE but just hang on for the fun of it or may be the sense of security is less than their white counterparts due to societal and cultural reasons. Hispanic and black communities lack of the generational family wealth/knowledge accumulation have less access to such ideas, although there are some very inspiring bloggers. But FIRE is a privilege despite personal hard work, pure luck and generational/cultural advantages do play important roles too. I am thankful for those who hang on in the workforce to make the society operational, and hope the FIRE community could also help the world in a more impactful way so individuals could choose the lifestyles they want and have more understanding of others.

          Reply
  • Brian June 24, 2024, 4:13 pm

    I’m currently reading your blog from first post up the present. I’m at Oct. ’14. You often wrote about personal fitness (in addition to personal finances). Blog posts included both exercise and diet, such as cutting out breads and pastas. But that was 10 years ago. I suspect there’s been updates since then, and I’m curious to know more about those changes. In particular, I’d like to know your thoughts about longevity science.

    Reply
    • April June 27, 2024, 1:13 pm

      Regarding longevity, read Dr. John Sarno’s and Dr. Gabor Mate’s books: 1. healing back pain; 2. Mindbody Prescription; 3. The divided mind; 4. When the body says No. The key to health is to be true to yourself, be aware of your emotions (including the suppressed and the repressed emotions), do what you love, surround yourself with healthy relationships, eat well enough and exercise moderately. FIRE is a great tool to achieve those goals, because the wealth you accumulate allows you to spend time on things and people you like and provides you some freedom in pursuing something a human being truly wants, more than just being a good and overwhelmed worker fit in the complex system. On the other hand, on the way to FIRE, never ever compromise your physical and mental health for the sake of making a little more money. In the long run, it is not worth it. The path to FIRE needs to be balanced and sustainable.

      Reply
  • Papa Jon July 2, 2024, 1:59 pm

    You should move into an intersection-two-bedroom apartment.

    Reply
  • Sanjay July 23, 2024, 10:07 am

    Thank you for the article and glad to hear this worked for you. I took a similar approach but while it worked for a while, it was not sustainable in the long run. For me, the main missing piece was fun. I cannot keep pushing myself endlessly because Goggins or whoever else is shouting on Instagram to “stay hard”. I either need an authentic or genuine reason or it has to be fun. My fun ways to exercise are to play Tennis, run, hike, walk and sometimes do some bodyweight exercises. If something is hard to do but is very important to do, I generally look into Gamifying it. This works for my personality, it might not work for others. For example, using an app like FitBod, training socially with others, etc.

    Thank you!!

    Reply

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