My mom says I’m special. (I think maybe it’s an insult?)
My gene test says I’m in the 96th percentile for Neanderthal DNA.
Like Henry David Thoreau and my caveman ancestors, I can’t seem to march to the beat of anyone else’s drum. It’s led to a very weird and strange and lucky and blessed life:
- I don’t own a cell phone, but I’ve produced four films that have played on TV in twelve countries.
- I’ve traveled to forty nations including North Korea and the Vatican, where I enjoyed an audience with Pope Francis and a three-course meal with his personal aide.
- I don’t have Netflix or Spotify or Instagram or Facebook Newsfeed, and I don’t experience ads on the Internet, including Youtube commercials.
- I’ve been incredibly blessed to receive more than $200,000 in book deals and have gotten my books endorsed by presidents and prime ministers. (Not because I’m anything special, but because I’m willing to ask even when odds are very low. More on this later.)
- I don’t vote, but I’ve testified in committee and have helped change two laws.
- I write more than 1 million words per year, none while sitting down. (I write half while standing, half while lying down.)
- I have DNA-confirmed elevated episodic memory, but can rarely remember what it’s called.
- Taraji P. Henson once gave me a shout-out on Twitter. (#LameClaimtoFame)
- I once missed out on meeting the world’s oldest man because he died the day of our appointment, but ended up watching March Madness and being treated to beer and chicken wings by a Senator that night.
- I’m a super-slow reader, but I automatically read about fifty books per year without really trying.
Like I said, strange… but hopefully some of what I’ve learned can materially improve your daily life without all the mistakes and setbacks I’ve endured along the way!
My promise to you
I plan to continue updating and expanding this document, so feel free to bookmark it for future reference. What follows is my list of the top 50 recommendations I’d make to anyone looking to grow healthier, wealthier, and wiser… not for selfish reasons, but so that you’re work can become more valuable to those you serve.
The 50 recommendations aren’t nonsense hustle-culture tips like “word harder!” These are quick and painless ways to know more, do more, be more. Because I’m pretty far outside what’s considered “normal,” I hope this list is packed with unique tools and surprising ideas you’ve never implemented or even considered before.
Don’t let the short page-count fool you: I promise the next 10,000 words will save you hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and millions of ad exposures. I tried to cut all the fluff, all the BS, all the wasted words. I want this to be the most practical, tactical, actionable, helpful piece of writing you’ve ever read. Ever.
Because I want you to grow to trust my insights, enjoy my writing, and buy every book I ever write. I publish millions of free words, and if I add enough value to your life, my hope is that you’ll help me spread the word organically so I don’t have to play the Instafamous game. [Word of mouth > shouting.]
I want to live authentically, and I hope you love this guide so much that you share all my work with everyone you know. But first: let me add some extreme value to your life for free.
So grab a pen and paper, brew a coffee or steep a tea, settle in, and enjoy.
Table of contents:
Part One: Healthier
Part Two: Wealthier
Part Three: Wiser
Author’s note: Please don’t read anything on this list as a bossy command, as though I’m trying to tell you what to do. This is more of a list for myself that I happen to share with friends. Glean what’s useful for you, and throw away the rest. 🙂
Part One: Healthier
When I was nineteen years old, I went off a jump in a golf cart and seriously injured my neck. I didn’t know about therapy back then, so I spent the next eighteen months sleeping on a sheet of plywood. Since then, I’ve spent more than $10,000 on body experimentation so you don’t have to.
Here’s what works for me:
1. Nerd out with periscope glasses.
Have you ever wanted to lie down and read a book without holding it above your head? Now you can rest a book or laptop on your stomach and read/work for hours without cranking your spine. I use mine for several hours every afternoon.
2. Get a split keyboard.
When you write 1,000,000+ words per year as I do, it’s only a matter of time before your shoulder joints lock up and leave you in screaming pain. At least, that’s what happened to me.
Split keyboards change all that. (They also attract a huge amount of attention when working in coffee shops and libraries.) By putting 12–36 inches between your hands, you unpinch your shoulder joints, relax your back, and un-freeze your neck. Welcome to Ergonomics 2.0.
Don’t worry: it takes less than a minute for your brain to re-adjust to typing a bit further apart. I was surprised how quickly I adapted, and how quickly my shoulders healed.
3. Get your $#!t together.
My wife and I visited Ethiopia a few years ago for a docuseries Michelle was working on, and to visit the source of our local fair-trade coffee shop, and to find Michelle’s childhood home. (Success on all three counts!)
Toilet paper is still expensive and rare in Ethiopia, but the toilet in our hostel was equipped with a spray hose. I’d seen various bidets before but had been too nervous and snobby to try them. Now, out of necessity, I gave it a shot.
It was fantastic. Ten seconds of water and you’re cleaner than any amount of wiping, and you only need a few squares of toilet paper to dry off. Considering that toilet paper destroys ~100 million trees per year, I’m surprised the U.N. hasn’t already mandated bidets in every bathroom on the planet. The other issue with tissue is that it requires 1.7 trillion liters of water and 250,000 tonnes of bleach just to make enough TP for Americans alone. (FYI, Canadians, the Yankees are literally deforesting your country to wipe their behinds.)
Unfortunately, the Western world still hasn’t embraced this way-cleaner way of cleaning yourself, so I went online and bought a portable bidet for ten bucks, along with some 100% recycled toilet paper. (IE WhoGivesACrap.com)
Also: stop procrastinating and get a Squatty Potty. Sitting while pooping is absolutely terrible for your insides, and you’ll make a much cleaner exit if you squat like your jungle-dwelling ancestors. If you’re straining or pushing, you’re doing it wrong.
Now match a squatty+bidet+green-paper and you’ve got some serious eco bathroom game.
(The only downside to this power move: I’m now at the point where I absolutely dread having to dry-wipe using a non-squatty potty. It genuinely feels so disgustingly savage, like I’m living in Louis XIV’s Versailles. Embrace the future, help your body, and save the planet!)
And that, my friends, is the life-changing magic of tidying up your bum.
4. Shoot yourself with a Hypervolt.
My friend Jordan is a partner at the chiropractic clinic that handles the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights. He’d just given me a full-body adjustment but couldn’t reset my ankles because my calves were so tight. He grabbed a gunlike contraption, roared it to life, and smiled. “I hope you like pain.”
The gun in question was a Hypervolt by Hyperice, a professional-grade percussive massage gun that quickly turned my rock-solid calves into lumpy mounds of very happy pizza dough. He popped my ankles back into place and I was on my way.
Hyperice makes a big range of massage guns, but the Hypervolt is the gold standard. Michelle bought me one for Christmas, and though it was expensive, it now saves me more than $1,000 per year on massage therapy treatments.
(If you can’t yet afford a Hypervolt, you can start with a more-affordable percussive massage gun and work your way up to the big leagues.)
Just a head’s up: if you accidentally pack a Hypervolt as a carry-on, TSA agents will 100% stop and search your bag, then gather around excitedly to try out your totally-not-a-gun toy. I’ve made many a stressed screener’s day.
(I’m also currently experimenting with deep-tissue shiatsu neck massagers and heated massage pads. In the long-run, I’d like to acquire a zero-gravity massage chair, which I’ve tried and absolutely loved.)
5. Have a maximum of two IIs per day.
A few years ago, fellow Canadian Jason Fung dropped a bombshell on the nutritional world when he published The Obesity Code. I dropped 10 pounds by following just one of his suggestions:
Limit your number of insulin incidents per day.
Every time you eat or drink anything, your body produces insulin. When you don’t eat, your body has time to recover. The more insulin in your body, the fatter you become. Get too much insulin too often and your body develops insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. (Dr. Fung has helped thousands of people reverse their diabetes without drugs.) If you want to regain your insulin resistance, eat less insulin-inducing foods, and/or have fewer insulin incidents.
This one paragraph of knowledge immediately caused me to cut out all snacking from my life — it’s not worth the extra II! (If you want a sweet, just eat it for dessert so it’s not a separate insulin incident.)
My hunch is that I’ve severely insulin-resistant — diabetes runs in my family and I grew up on sugar, and my weight can fluctuate by 10+ pounds in a single day. So now I have just two insulin incidents per day: break-fast at noon, and supper six hours later… because, according to Gut(highly recommended)that’s how long it takes our bodies to fully digest our previous meal.
Skipping snacks and meals helps our bottom-line, too: this max-two-IIs rule alone saves me over $1,000 per year, so we can more easily justify “splurging” on way more organic foods for supper. Win-win.
6. Eat sardines every single day.
Fishies, as my wife calls them. Most of my friends are revolted by the thought of eating sardines, but about half those people calm down when you tell them they’re probably actually thinking about anchovies. 🙂
Sardines are definitely an acquired taste, but I forced myself to eat them and now I’m absolutely hooked. I get boneless in olive oil. Each 150-calorie tin contains 15 grams of protein and 1.3 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids — which massively help maintain heart health, but also help to decrease pain and inflammation.
I used to skip breakfast and lunch but discovered that a.) I was getting constipated, and b.) about three afternoons a week I was so ravenously hungry that I couldn’t focus on work. Because sardines are full of healthy fat, they’re incredibly satiating despite their small size. I purposely use a baby spoon to slow me down while eating them, and the result is that I have a minimal insulin incident that gets me through the day without distraction.
Best of all, because I don’t eat breakfast and eat lunch directly out of a recyclable pocket-sized tin, I save a ton of time on doing dishes — just one baby spoon before supper. Between not having to cook and clean up an extra 650+ meals per year, I estimate I save at least 200 hours per year. That’s like five extra weeks off work!
7. Drink chia.
Chia seeds are amaze-balls. 25 grams of chia seeds— about three tablespoons — contain 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of Omega-3s, and 8 grams of fiber.
Right before I eat my sardines, I use a food scale to measure out 25 grams of organic chia seeds into a huge mug, then add 16 ounces of water. While I eat, I occasionally stir the chia until it no longer clumps. Then I let it sit there all day so it reaches maximum absorption. (A word from the not-so-wise: It can be extremely constipating if you drink chia before it reaches full water-weight. Trust me on this!)
About six hours later, just before I begin to cook supper, I chug the mug. By the time I’m ready to eat dinner, about half an hour later, the chia appetizer has already started to signal my stomach that I’m starting to get full. This means I naturally start to feel full sooner and am less likely to overeat. My guess is that this saves us an extra few hundred dollars per year.
Plus, all that good fiber helps blunt the insulin impact of the meal. Another easy win-win!
8. Protect your eyes with blue diode blocking glasses.
Our generation’s carpal tunnel is called Computer Vision Syndrome. Eye drop sales are on the rise. Rates of myopia have doubled in a single generation. Nearly 90% of all computer users have at least one symptom.
See, screens emit blue diodes that radiate your eyes. Here’s an experiment I recently performed:
While unprotected light radiates the paper, blue diodes beamed through a pair of blue-blocking glasses leave no residual mark.
Having now seen this, I can’t believe that hundreds of millions of us stare at a box of light for 8–12 hours per day, but won’t invest twenty bucks on a pair of blue diode-blocking glasses with an anti-reflective coating. It’s the smartest eye money we can spend. Rather than eventually needing expensive trips to the eye doctor and prescription glasses, dropping a few tenners can save you thousands. (I put mine on every day at noon.)
9. See an osteopath.
I’ve seen dozens of chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, and other specialists in my day. Save your time and money: I’ve essentially ditched all of them since I discovered osteopathy.
Osteopathy, which is basically a mix of chiro, massage, some physio, and lots of musculoskeletal manipulation, isn’t very well known. 246,000 people Google chiropractor every month, while just 14,800 Google osteopath — despite the fact that chiropractic is actually just a branch of osteopathy. (Osteopaths like to joke that “a chiro is an osteo who quit halfway.”)
I think the reason why osteo hasn’t fully taken off yet is that it can be very hit-or-miss. I’ve seen a few terrible osteopaths who are too gentle and accomplish nothing. (One lady held my feet in the air for seven minutes.) But if you can find a good one who actually roughs you up a bit, it’s a lights-out, before-and-after experience.
My osteopath changed my life. By sight and touch, she identified six major problems in my neck, back, hips, and pelvis, and without the horrible cracking of a chiropractor, she manually works me back into proper position. When I leave her office, I feel thirty pounds lighter, because everything’s efficiently re-aligned.
I’ve referred countless people to my osteopath, including my mother, who was in excruciating pain — which my osteo diagnosed as a nerve entrapped between two out-of-place ribs, which she promptly corrected in just one session.
My recommendation is to try a few different osteopaths until you find one that sorts your individual body and its needs.
10. Get a Nexstand.
Your head weighs eighteen-ish pounds. When you tilt it down and jut it forward to stare at a laptop screen, it’s the equivalent of putting a toddler on your neck.
Introducing the Nexstand:
It’s lightweight, foldable, safe, and pro-posture. Plus, elevating your laptop increases airflow and keeps your drive cool. I never travel without mine.
Warning: if you use this in a coffee shop, you will have a dozen very excited people strike up conversations and ask to take photos of your workstation. Pair it with your new split keyboard and you can start handing out business cards. 🙂
11. Don’t forget about your backside.
For those of us who sit/stand/lay at a computer all day, it’s important to maintain strength, mobility, and blood flow to our back and neck. That’s why I take several minutes several times per day to stretch and strengthen my traps, shoulders, neck, and back with a range of gentle movements using resistance bands. Michelle even says my hunchback posture is slowly improving. (I use is latex Thera-bands.)
12. Filter your air.
Michelle and I recently moved into a 200-year-old Victoria cottage and the air wasn’t stellar, so we bought a high-quality HEPA filter (with an ionizer) that runs 24/7 and we immediately started getting less stuffy noses.
Don’t just get a plain-old air filter — be sure it’s a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which filters 99.97% of airborne particles, dust, pollen, mold, allergens, toxins, and bacteria. Your lungs and brain will be clearer.
13. Brush your teeth like an adult.
My wife had been bugging me for years to switch to an electric toothbrush but I’d resisted because I’m such a low-tech person. But after my gumline started to recede and my sister joined the craze and swore by it, I finally acquiesced to my dentist’s wishes and bought an electric toothbrush.
All I can say is that I wished I’d switched a decade ago — the gum massage function stimulates blood flow, I’m seriously decreasing my chance of cavities, and whiteness is improving, particularly between my teeth.
I’m also saving quite a bit of time: I used to absentmindedly brush manually for 5–10 minutes, so having a built-in 2-minute timer is saving me about 25 hours per year.
14. Drink kombucha.
Booch seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it drink, but I managed to acquire a taste for it when I learn how phenomenal it is for gut health and regularity.
For those with a sweet tooth, it’s also a great low-sugar fizzy replacement for juice, beer, and soda. (My favorite is GT’S Organic Raw Gingerade.)
If you can’t handle the tartness at first, try watering it down or adding a little honey or maple syrup.
15. Wield a Klean Kanteen like a Viking battle-ax.
You can always spot a plastic-conscious Canadian abroad because they’re carrying a stainless steel water bottle. Mine’s a gigantic 40-ouncer and I down two of them per day — it’s the easiest way to stay hydrated without murdering plankton with microplastics.
Speaking of murder: I’ve attached a heavy-duty climbing carabiner to the bottle’s handle so I have a solid self-defense weapon in case my plane is ever hijacked. It adds about 12 inches to my reach, but still passes through TSA checkpoints. It’s like carrying a bowling pin on a whip and I pity the fool whoever takes it to the skull.
16. Walk 15+ minutes first thing every morning.
My brother, who is a highly-educated fitness trainer, told me that exercise first thing in the morning is an effective way to decrease overall body pain, and I can attest to this habit’s veracity. (Plus: morning sun+movement tells your body you’re awake and helps sets your sleep clock for the day, making it easier to fall asleep that night.)
So, rain or shine, you’ll see me tromping to the river and back every morning. (I invested in a high-quality windproof umbrella, waterproof boots, and a windbreaker rain jacket so I don’t have any excuses.)
17. Hang upside-down.
I first experienced the glory of inversion tables while visiting friends in Texas and family in Florida, and there are few weirder feelings the first time you encounter one. The blood rushes to your head and you think you’re going to die in a matter of seconds.
Most people, it seems, hate their first few rounds, but if you stick with it you will quickly grow hooked. If my neck is feeling out of place, or my lower back is tight, I’ll hook in my feet, flip upside down, and hang for just 30 seconds — that’s pretty much all it takes to click-click-click-click everything back into proper alignment.
It’s awesome for herniated discs, spinal decompression, sciatica, back pain, leveling your hips, etc. Michelle can typically ward off a headache with a good minute upside down. It’s also a great way to get a psoas stretch — key for anyone who sits a lot.
It’s no wonder that mega-selling authors like Dan Brown use inversion tables every day. Inversion tables aren’t cheap, but mine paid for itself by saving us dozens of trips to the chiropractor. Over our lifetime, I’m guessing our $250 table will save us $10,000 and hundreds of hours of driving, waiting, etc.
18. Think: beds and boots.
Here’s something most people never think about: you spend a third of your life in bed, and a third of your life on your feet. Yet most people never put serious thought into their footwear or their sleep setup.
Your mattress and shoe choice are essentially the two most important purchases in your life. You need firm foundations. My shoe of choice is the orthopedist-recommended Keen Targhee Mid Wide Waterproof Hiker, and I sleep with four pillows and a custom mattress topper, but nevermind me — take the time to consult with professionals and test what works best for your body.
19. Pop pills.
I no longer take any of the expensive chemicals that my Big Pharma-sponsored doctor has prescribed to me over the years. (I even had to wean myself off of one drug that had long-term, life-threatening side effects that he conveniently neglected to mention.)
That said, I take a number of fantastic natural supplements on a daily basis:
- Liquid Vitamin D3 (I used to get hardcore seasonal depression, but 4,000 IUs/day has completely cleared it up. Vitamin D is used in more than 200 body processes and is probably the #1 thing that we indoor-sapiens should all be taking.)
- Magnesium before bed (Magnesium helps put you to sleep, so don’t take it in the middle of the day like I once did.)
- Time-release Vitamin C (2000–3000mg per day, or double that if I’m feeling like I’m coming down with a cold.)
- Sublingual B12 (I don’t caffeinate, so this is an amazing afternoon pick-me-up.)
- White willow bark (This is the active ingredient in Aspirin that First Nations tribes have been using for millennia. But unlike the synthetic version which comes with a risk of internal bleeding, you can enjoy the natural benefits without the worries.)
I had horrible IBS as a child, and if you’re having temporary digestion issues, here’s what works for me:
- Ginger root (It’s like having a bunch of little sweepers in your intestines. You can get capsules or grate some fresh ginger into a pot of ginger tea.)
- Iberogast (A magical 9-herb flushing potion from Germany. I take this for a few weeks each year no matter what.)
- Activated charcoal (These little black pills are like a Brita filter for your stomach. If I eat bad sushi or get diarrhea from contaminated water, this will typically clear things up within half an hour. I never travel without a bottle.)
Part Two: Wealthier
Time isn’t money — time is worth far more than money. Never forget that. Our current global economic system is designed to capture as much of your time as possible: working for money and spending that money… while sleeping and thinking as little as possible. (If we did more of the latter two, we’d overthrow the powers that be!)
Your #1 financial goal should be to protect the most valuable asset in life: your time.
20. Guard your post-tax dollars.
Every time you spend a post-tax dollar, you have to earn a pre-tax dollar to pay for it. Twenty bucks an hour is only worth $12–15 after tax. Something that’s $20+tax won’t cost you an hour — it’ll cost you nearly two.
This especially gets scary with big purchases: If you make $20/hour and mortgage a $300K house over 25 years, you’ll need to work more than 20,000 hours just to pay for it, nevermind paying to insure, tax, heat, cool, and maintain it.
The key is to spend as few post-tax dollars as possible. You can do this in two ways:
- Spend less post-tax dollars. (IE tighten your belt, shop less, be frugal, etc)
- Spend more pre-tax dollars. (This is why I recommend everyone should at least start a side business. You can legally write off a whole bunch of work expenses that provide real benefits to your everyday life.)
21. Complain more.
The Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it’s the most-visited place in England besides London. Unfortunately, it inexplicably has almost zero good pubs. Every time we travel through, we try a few new ones in hopes of finding our forever pub. On a recent trip, we visited a 500-year-old Lakeland rambler’s inn. It was cozily tucked amidst the fells and looked absolutely fantastic. We were certain we’d found our Lake District local.
Evidently, they were having an off night. The place reeked of smoke, service took forever, and they screwed up our order so bad that Michelle finished her meal before mine even arrived. So I wrote to the manager and complained.
See, companies, if they’re smart, want to earn and keep your business. This inn understood that. They not only sent a kind apology but went over-and-above a simple refund: they offered us a three-course meal on our next trip through. And do you know what? We’re going to give them a second chance. If we love it, we’ll likely visit a dozen more times and refer a whole bunch of friends and readers. It could literally earn them an extra ten grand.
One example of the opposite of this is Hampton Inn & Suites. Michelle and I stayed there on our wedding night and it was a terrible experience: 30+ minute check-in at 2 AM, popcorn grease in the filthy elevator stained our bags, and they never delivered the champagne and chocolates we paid for. After our honeymoon was over, I called, emailed, and wrote a letter, to no avail. Even if they never repaired our bags or refunded us the room rental, they still owe us chocolate and bubbly. Since then, we’ve made it our company’s policy to never stay at a Hampton hotel. We’ve booked more than 600 nights on the road and not once have they seen a penny of it.
Most people never complain. They just grumble to themselves, never return to that business, and bad-mouth it to their friends. That’s not fair to the hard-working people who run that company. The reality is that humans make mistakes all the time, but smart humans want to earn your repeat business, not your negative word-of-mouth.
I actually keep a Google Drive file for complaints. This has profited us more than $1,000 in flights, shoes, gift certificates, and cash. Nine times out of ten, a company will make it right, and when they do, I often become a loyal customer and fan.
22. Stack “untakeawayables.”
I’ve been published in Esquire, The Guardian, USA Today, Smithsonian, Huffington Post, and TIME Magazine. These are some solidly fancy writing credits that look great on book covers and online biographies. It adds instant credibility, and once you’ve been published in a publication, it’s an untakeawayable that you can use for life. They also open a LOT of doors: to write for new publications, to attract new readers, to draw the attention of editors who are considering your proposal, etc.
Find the untakeawayables in your line of work. If you’re a carpenter, get yourself on a crew that’s renovating a state capitol building. If you’re a baker, find a way to supply something for a celebrity’s daughter’s wedding. If you’re a public speaker, do whatever it takes to lecture at Oxford or Harvard or the Sorbonne. Then, for the rest of your life, you can use it as part of your bio.
23. Ditch all monthly bills.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every corporation on the planet wants you on their monthly payment plan. Name a thing: Banks, insurance, Netflix, Apple, the taxman, land-lorders, even shaving clubs and toilet paper companies want you as subscribers.
Why? Because there’s no better business model than having the ability to pull cash out of people’s bank accounts and credit cards every 31 days without fail.
Don’t play their game.
Pay cash for a year in advance and you can normally save 3–15%. That’s hundreds if not thousands in savings, and you ditch the cognitive load of wondering if you’ll have enough in which account to not go into overdraft every month. Most companies will, of course, resist your attempts at economic sanity — so threaten to switch service providers and they usually come around very quickly.
24. Renegotiate everything annually.
I mean everything. Salary. Bills. All of it. Threaten to switch service providers and you’ll usually receive deep discounts, bonus goodies, or free upgrades. The worst-case scenario is that they say no — it’s all upside opportunity, and the sooner you get started, the longer those benefits can accrue.
And if a company just chronically sucks, ditch them forever. After Paypal wasted several hours of my life over three weeks in an attempt to unnecessarily “re-verify” my already-verified account, I blocked them and switched all my domestic and international e-transfer activity to Transferwise. (It’s already saved me hundreds of dollars, and that link lets you transfer up to $600 USD for free.)
Another fun thing to always do — before paying for anything online, Google: “[Name of the company]” + “discount code”. I do this for everything digital, and it’s saved me several thousand dollars. (I got a $50 rebate just a few seconds ago, which reminded me to add it to this guide!)
Another option, if you’re not in a hurry to buy something immediately, is to email the company and ask if they have any codes you can use, especially if you’re a first-time customer. They almost always have something for you — whether it’s a discount, rebate, free shipping, bonus products, etc.
25. Invest in yourself.
Rather than pressing our advantage to skim profits off the time, talent, and creativity of others via stock betting and mutual funds, think about ways to invest in yourself instead. Especially in the midst of a massive high-risk debt bubble.
- Invest in your skill set. You don’t know what you don’t know. You can upgrade your skills for cheap or free using Coursera, CreativeLIVE, Khan Academy, or one of nearly 3,000 free courses from Harvard, Cambridge, etc. Michelle learned graphic design on Skillshare and now it’s her full-time job.
- Invest in your house. Find ways to turn it into an income-producing asset, or at the very least, to cash-and-time-saving machine. If $1000 worth of extra insulation and a Saturday afternoon of installation saves you $50/year forever, it’s probably worth your time. Check out wind and solar and geothermal incentives in your area. Install water-saving faucets, or an instant hot water heater to replace a giant tank that has to be heated 24/7. Underfloor heating crushes forced air. Backyards can give you free food instead of allergies (and wasted time) from grass-cutting.
- Invest in your next. One of the smartest things I ever did was fly across the country on my own dime and intern for one of my favorite authors. It fast-tracked my book-writing career by a decade.
I’ve invested more than $20,000 in my writing career — in mentors, classes, courses, workshops, etc — and it’s paid an 1,100% return so far.
26. Compound your skills and relationships.
You can only make so much money baking bread.
You can only make so much money posting on social media.
But if you’re great at baking bread, and great at social media, and you have access to a commercial kitchen, you can multiply those competencies and connections and create value.
The formula is simple: [Skill #1] x [Skill #2] x [Relationships]= value.
What competencies and connections can you compound? Write down a list of all your skill sets and knowledge sets, then reorder them based on that perfect blend of passion+ability. Next, write down all your relationships — both individual and communal (IE your tribes) — from strongest to weakest.
If you love working with leather and your best friend has a workshop you can borrow, and your church has 300 dudes who could all use a new pair of boots for Christmas, start calling those wives. If you’re a personal trainer and your friend has an extra bay in his mechanic shop and you’re part of a reading club or a university debate society, get those bookish nerds off their butts.
Just fill in the blanks: _______ x _______ x _______ = value.
Don’t feel the need to stop at just two skills and one community: People who can find ways to multiply more competencies by larger communities can create extreme value.
27. Buy new socks.
It doesn’t matter how little or how much money comes through my hands over the course of my lifetime: for me, putting on a new pair of socks is the epitome of feeling like a king.
Epicurus gets a bad rap these days as an orgiastic bacchanalian hedonist, but the reality is that his goal was to maximize pleasure within the bounds of moderation. He declared he could be satisfied with, aside from friendship and learning, just water, bread, weak wine, and “a pot of cheese.”
Basically, we all need to become more like the Brits: find ways to take total delight in something as simple as a cup of tea. Until you learn contentment, you will never, ever, ever earn enough money.
28. Level-up your online money-making game.
There are a ton of marketers out there who want to load you up with all sorts of expensive products so they can earn a fat commission on your purchases, but the reality is that you just need a few very simple basics to start building an online business: web hosting, web design, and an email newsletter system.
- Website hosting: Siteground. I host 10+ sites on 1 account for like 50 cents a day and it’s 3X as fast as my previous hosting provider. (Most people never switch because it’s a pain, but Siteground figured that out, too — one-click site migration made it ridiculously easy.)
- Website design: Carrd. Everyone jabbers on about WordPress being the greatest thing since MSN, but let’s be honest: it’s ugly, and impossible to make it pretty without professional help. Unfortunately, most web designers are nightmarishly expensive, and most drag-and-drop design programs are stupidly costly and horribly complicated. Not Carrd. Now I can intuitively build my own sites in an hour for two dollars apiece.
- Email system: Sendy. Forget Mailchimp and all the other overpriced retail players out there. Sendy is built on Amazon SES and is 100X cheaper. I can send up to 62,000 emails per month for just 33 cents a day. Major bonus: Carrd integrates seamlessly with Sendy! (For a deeper dive into email marketing, check out my article Mailchimp Is Dead — It Just Doesn’t Know It Yet.)
That’s it. Hosting, design, email.
For literally everything else — web design tweaks, graphic design, illustration, voiceover work, translation, film and animation, SEO, programming, copywriting, anything —just hit up Fiverr.
29. Stop giving, start investing.
A few years ago, Michelle and I made a substantial donation — our first five-figure give and easily the largest of our lives so far — and were later disheartened to learn that a huge chunk (worth several months of our salary at the time) had just gone to overhead and administration, and not actually to the program we wanted to support.
It made me seriously re-think charity.
The reality is that a lot of charities spend the majority of their donations not only helping poor people overseas, but on paying the salaries of their American/Canadian/British employees and the overpriced headquarters they warehouse them in. (Churches are notorious for spending the lion share of their budgets on pastors and buildings.) Obviously, there are lots of people doing great work in the charity space, but enriching another Western consumer just doesn’t get my charity mojo going. (That’s what consumer spending is for…)
Right now, we have two giving focuses:
- On-the-ground real-time local needs as they arise.
- KIVA. For those who haven’t discovered this amazing platform yet, it’s like a GoFundMe for developing-world entrepreneurs. You loan in $25 increments along with a whole bunch of other people, and the entrepreneur uses the money to build their business and pay you back interest-free. We’ve made nearly 350 loans in 36 countries, continually re-cycling our money to help more people. It’s a hand up instead of a handout.
At the end of the day, charity won’t save us. The average American gives away just 2.1% of their income every year. It’s how we spend the other 97.9% that really matters.
We need to vote with our dollars by finding ways to spend more ethically and sustainably. Michelle and I only have been taking baby steps:
- buying eco-toilet paper (to prevent deforestation)
- only used laptops (to not create additional demand for child-mined rare earth minerals.)
- We buy as much organic and local food as we can afford (because we don’t want to contribute to groundwater contamination and soil depletion.)
- We haven’t stepped foot in a Walmart in more than ten years (because about 20,000 of their suppliers are based in China, where worker’s rights are horrible and supply chains are environmentally devastating, in addition to the fact that the billionaire Walton family breaks unions while thousands of their employees require food stamps to feed their families.)
The reality is that most of us are going to spend far more than we give in our lifetime, so spending righteously needs to become a far-greater focus.
Part Three: Wiser
How we get to the good stuff. If knowledge is power, then the world belongs to those who understand it. It’s one thing to access facts via Google — it’s another thing to gain hard-won life experience that leads to a more fruitful and contributive life. That’s wisdom at its essence.
30. Vacation at monasteries.
If you’ve never pilgrimaged to a monastery, you’ve never truly traveled. (Read the gorgeously-written A Time to Keep Silence if you need convincing.)
Whenever we travel, I try to find a nearby monastic foundation and spend at least a night if possible. No Internet. No screen technology. Minimal food. A sleep cycle more aligned with nature. An intentional focus on the transcendent. Not only is it a supremely affordable way to get around, but you’ll get to bask in the aura of centuries of prayer and service and glean the wisdom of some of the most interesting people on earth… monks!
31. Turn off your brain.
Want to skyrocket your creativity? Learn to control your dreams. I’m one of those lucky people who can lucid dream naturally. At least four nights a week I have a vivid dream that I remember upon waking, and at some point in the dream, I realize it’s a dream and take control of it.
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” — Thomas Edison
Lucid dreaming is incredibly helpful for my day job as a writer. I’ve rewound entire scripts and worked out busted plot points by replaying specific sequences. I’ve come up with book ideas and fleshed out entire outlines by sunrise. (The only downside is that the sheets on my half of the bed are covered in pen ink.)
The good news is that you don’t have to be asleep to turn off your brain and access all that raw inner creativity. Why do you think so many famous writers were alcoholics or took amphetamines? 😉
What they and we are looking to achieve — for the earliest piece in our creative process, anyway—is Neocortex disablement. There will come a time where we’ll need to fully engage that highly-critical, rational, forward-thinking editor-censor, but for now, that bossy librarian needs to sit down and shut up so we can get our blue sky thoughts on paper, canvas, or code. Find whatever (safely) works for you.
32. Write in the dark.
I’ve experimented with all sorts of red lights so I can write in bed without ruining my night vision. Most are too bright, and all the red light pens I’ve tried have fallen apart or died too quickly. I eventually settled on a USB-chargeable bike light.
I’ll assign myself a sleep task, then fall asleep with a pen, notebook, and red light in hand. Over the next hour or so, I’ll jot down several pages of notes as a drift in and out of sleep. It’s where most of my good ideas originate.
33. Make ridiculous asks.
- I faxed Pope Francis’s assistant and ended up having a three-course Italian feast at the Vatican, along with a blessing and a free rosary from the Pope, even though I’m not Catholic.
- I Skyped my favorite author from a Costa Rican rainforest and ended up landing an internship that led to my first bidding-war book deal.
- I asked a security guard to position me at a particular spot in a museum and ended up getting to meet Prince Charles.
- I got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (a former teacher) to send my sister (a current teacher) a letter for her wedding.
- I was part of the first Western tourist delegation to visit North Korea for New Year’s.
- I’ve interviewed the world’s most-decorated porn star.
- Danny Glover narrated one of my films.
All of these things are, of course, once-in-a-lifetime moments and I am fully aware that I’ve had more than my fair share of good luck.
But I also make a point of regularly making ridiculous asks. If anything, I don’t do it nearly often enough.
The key is to adopt an It’s-All-Gravy Mindset. Let’s say you want a world leader to endorse your new book. The worst-case scenario is right now — they haven’t endorsed your book. If you reach out to their people and they say no, what did it cost you? Five minutes. If they say no, you’re still in worst-case-scenario — the present. There is literally only an upside to asking. That’s how I got an African president to endorse The Road to Dawn.
Ask and you will (sometimes) receive.
Even if they say no, you’ll have grown in courage for asking, and resilience for receiving rejection with indefatigable aplomb. So it’s still a gain.
34. Start with sleep.
If sleep isn’t one of your top three life priorities, you’re doing it wrong. Adequate rest is fundamental to every other aspect of human flourishing: thinking, learning, relationships, money-making, having fun, all of it.
It’s very telling that humans used to sleep 10+ hours per night before the invention of lightbulbs. The need for rest is wired into our DNA, and it’ll take hundreds of generations to adapt to the sleep deprivation schedule of modern consumer society. Don’t play the game.
Not only is the number of hours you sleep incredibly important, but when you get them is almost equally important. You need to understand your chronotype and sleep drive and re-orient your schedule accordingly. Doing so will add life to your days and years to your life.
For more on sleep, see: If Sleep Isn’t One of Your Top Three Life Priorities, You’re Doing It Wrong
35. Ditch fixed-hour scheduling.
“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” — W. H. Auden
Most people try to live life like they’re in the military: Get up at six, workout ’til seven, work 9–5, lunch at noon, supper at six, collapse on the couch at eight, try to be in bed by midnight.
The reality is that you are a unique ecosystem (your body) within a unique ecosystem (your home) within a unique ecosystem (the planet.) Your energy levels fluctuate based on diet and exercise. Your sleep needs vary by temperature and humidity and hunger and mood and exercise and the news and the stock market. Heck, even the sun and moon affect our alertness. Yet our fixed-hour schedules rarely reflect this incredibly dynamic reality.
Try fixed-order scheduling instead.
Does it really matter if you go to bed at eight or twelve, so long as you get the 8–10 hours of sleep your body needs? If your job permits, does it really matter if you start at seven or ten if you put in your 8–10 hours when you’re at your best?
For me, it’s all about dynamic dayflow. One activity flows seamlessly into the next, regardless of start and end times. It’s all within a three-hour range, but ensures I get all the rest, work, and play that my body, soul, mind, and spirit require today.
36. Routinize your life, then smash it to smithereens.
If you do the same thing week after week, year after year, it all blends together and you forget you ever lived.
Newness is the secret to making life feel long and full. I try to take a week every quarter to do something entirely new. Once or twice a year, I try to really blow it out and travel somewhere unique and special.
But you don’t have to go on vacation to completely change your setting: try swapping houses and cars with a friend.
37. Wear the same clothes every day.
I wear the exact same work outfit six days a week: a white cotton t-shirt, black organic hoodie, blue denim jeans, and black Vans shoes with custom insoles. It’s my version of the Steve Jobs wardrobe and the Elon Musk outfit. Obviously, if I’m going out in the evenings I’ll change into something slightly less predictable, but when I’m preparing for work, I don’t want to think at all.
The purpose of thinking is to stop thinking. The human brain loves to automate behavior so it can stay vigilant against threats and attentive to new experiences. By having a pre-selected wardrobe for your workday, you eliminate the need to engage your brain in unnecessary decision-making.
This is key, because you need to avoid decision fatigue. Your goal is to automate every moment of your morning prior to your most important task. The very first conscious decision of your day should be devoted to whatever requires your utmost creativity.
Clothes don’t matter — but the next line of your song, sentence of your novel, piece of code, woodcut, brush-stroke, audition, sales pitch, or client email does. When you devote energy to choosing outfits, you’re just wasting brainpower on suboptimal targets.
38. Keep a commonplace book and two black pens in your left pocket.
At least that’s what I do, because I’m left-handed. (My mother informs me that I’ve kept scraps of paper and writing instruments — IE crayons — in my left pocket since I was three years old. I keep two pens in case one runs out.)
Read up on commonplace books. Since antiquity, and especially the Renaissance, thinkers have kept pocket-sized notebooks for jotting down ideas, quotes, recipes, lines of poetry, and to-do lists. Everyone from Milton to Locke to Bacon to Jefferson to Thoreau kept a commonplace book, and it’s a brilliant way to capture thoughts on the go.
More importantly, it’s a place to start seeing patterns and making connections between ideas. When your thoughts have idea sex, they cross-pollinate and create new insights and stronger value. Every single one of my books, films, and articles has started as a scribble in a commonplace book.
39. Protect your deep work windows.
If you’ve ever read Mason Currey’s excellent Daily Rituals, about the everyday habits of 161 different creatives, you’ll notice that a pattern quickly emerges: most of them only spent about 3-4 hours per day on their most creative work. (The rest of their days were spent procrastinating, walking, and drinking.)
The reality is that most people can only sustain peak creativity for about three hours a day. The key to producing a great and meaningful body of work is to devote those precious hours to your most important task.
I define a Deep Work Window as a regularly scheduled set of hours where you can do your best work at your best time in your best space in your best state with the best tools. (More on this in the future — I’m working on a book on this subject.)
40. Own the Internet.
Don’t let it own you. If your experience of the Internet isn’t enjoyable, private, low-anxiety, and time-controlled, with minimal tracking and zero ads (including Youtube commercials), and doesn’t actually contribute to your bottom-line life goals, then you’re doing it all wrong.
Every time you allow yourself to be exposed to an advertisement, you’re letting someone else practice mind control over you, if only for a split second. These nudges add up: my ad-blocking software has stopped me from seeing nearly 2,500,000 ads so far. (I’ve probably saved 100 hours of life just on Youtube commercials alone.)
It’s way too big of a subject to include here, so here’s my 4,300-word step-by-step manual on how to completely transform your online world: How to Take Back Control of Your Life from Addictive Internet Algorithms.
41. Get a Medium Pro subscription and binge like an addict.
Tens of millions of people pay $10+ per month to passively binge Netflix and other streamers, but you can gain all-access to millions of ad-free, life-improving articles for just five bucks a month. Medium has added so much value to my life in many different categories — personal development, entrepreneurship, marketing, health, personal finance, mindset, and more.
I typically bookmark articles all week on my Read List all week, then article-binge for a few hours on the weekend. Instead of one movie, I’ll glean wisdom from thousands of hours of lived experience from peers and experts. Not bad for sixteen cents a day.
Reading should never, ever, ever be a chore, a hassle, a pain, a must-do. It should be nothing short of pure pleasure, bliss, and happiness. Don’t settle for anything short of this.
You can make joyous reading an automatic activity by creating a culture of reading. Here’s an article I wrote on how to do that, even if you’re a super-slow reader like I am.
43. Study the Bible literately.
Postmodern humanist culture is incredibly prejudiced when it comes to religion, and it’s far too quick to write off this absolutely epic book. Most people haven’t even read it, let alone taken the time to study and understand it. (Heck, most people don’t even know that it’s actually a collection of 66 books, written over a thousand years by 40+ different authors, and that the word Bible comes from the Greek word “biblia,” meaning… books!)
The key to reading any book is to read it literately, not literally. You’d never read Harry Potter as a historical biography of an English teenager with a forehead scar, nor would you read Michelle Obama’s memoir as a work of vampire fan fiction. The same goes for the Book-of-Books.
For example, most people never make it past Genesis 1:1 because they can’t accept the creation story’s talking snake as a literal historical fact. What they don’t realize is that the two creation accounts in Genesis — which tell the story of Adam (meaning “man”) and Eve (meaning “beginning”) are actually both poetry. So they’re already reading it wrong, and therefore missing several layers of profound meaning from page one.
I try to read one chapter of the (Jewish) Old Testament and one chapter of the (Christian) New Testament every day while I eat my sardines. If I want to know the type of literature or political context or the historical veracity or approximate timeline or event location or the meaning of a phrase that confuses me or makes me curious, I then hit up:
- Tim Mackie’s Bible Project videos and Exploring My Strange Bible podcast
- John Mark Comer’s topical sermon series
- Biblehub for side-by-side translations, the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words, and free commentaries
- There are also a bunch of solid Bible commentaries out there that can help readers navigate this incredibly sophisticated work of literature.
44. Visit graveyards.
I love cemeteries. They’re always bursting forth with life — flowers, trees, birds, squirrels — all wild and free. I walk through a graveyard twice a day. (My favorite stone is from a guy who clearly wasn’t impressed by his wife, saying of her: “She hath done what she could.”)
That’s the thing about cemeteries: They celebrate life. They honor those who’ve gone before us. They help us remember. They make us ask questions:
Am I living like I’m going to die?
Will the seeds I’m planting outlive me?
45. Carry a memento mori.
Take a moment to open your hands and take a look at your palms. If you begin to close your hands ever so slightly, most people will see the letter M begin to form in the folds of their skin. In the Middle Ages, monks began their days by staring at those Ms on their palms while meditating on two Latin words: Memento Mori. Remember you must die.
The ancient greats, from Aurelius to Seneca to Epictetus, carried tokens as reminders of mortality — coins and bracelets, watches and clocks. They hung frescos and skull imagery that reminded them of death. Starting around the 1500s, people started wearing memento mori rings.
I’ve worn a broken sterling silver thumb ring for more than sixteen years. It’s a potent personal symbol. It’s a reminder that, while life is beautiful, I am going to die. The circle is broken.
46. Practice Examen.
Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century Spanish knight who became the founder of the Jesuits after almost having his leg blown off by a cannonball, was a famous spiritual director who invented a set of daily exercises, one of which is called Examen.
Each day around noon and before bed, Jesuits (and others) take a few minutes to practice Ignatius’s five recommended steps:
1. Become aware of God’s presence and give thanks for His love.
2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
3. Review the day with gratitude, paying attention to your emotions.
4. Reflect on one feature of the day — good or bad — and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow and consider how you could specifically collaborate with God in His plan to flood the world with His presence.
Another person who practiced a daily form of self-examination was John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Here’s his list of 22 daily questions.
Still another option to examine yourself is to ask a single question each morning and evening as Benjamin Franklin did:
- The Morning Question: What good shall I do this day?
- The Evening Question: What good have I done today?
(Franklin also had a checklist of 13 virtues that he went through each evening to ensure that his character was improving.)
47. Read by the fire and take up star-sauntering.
Sitting by an open fire and walking by starlight are two ancient and primal activities that form the backbone of my weeks.
Before the age of digital screens, fire was our superstimulus. It provides warmth and comfort and you can cook over it. A few hours in front of a fire are better than any anti-anxiety drug. Fire-thinking is one of the best ways to sort out your problems and untangle the web of thoughts that knot up all week long. The key is that it needs to be a real wood fire, and it needs to be an open flame in a dark room, one where you can hear the crackles and hisses. Let it speak to you. There’s wisdom in the wood.
Star-sauntering, too, is great for your health, but also your perspective. You realize your place in the universe — unfathomably small, yet still so carefully crafted and worthy of love and grace and a fair shot at the good things of life. Plus, walking is an idea-generating machine. (It’s why folks like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg often scheduled walking meetings.) Get under the stars and let your imagination soar to new heights.
48. Practice sabbath.
Judaism was the first nation in history that mandated a weekly holiday on a countrywide scale, but for most people, it’s just become another exhausting day for shopping and chores and commitments.
A better idea? See Sundays as the first day of the week, and treat it as a highly-intentional rest and restoration and recreation, and a chance to prepare yourself for the week ahead.
Michelle and I can’t wait for Sundays. Ours have become seriously ritualized in a non-religious way:
- 9:45 Wake up late
- 10:15–11:15 Church (currently: teaching Sunday school via Zoom!)
- 11:30–1:00 Big hike in the woods with friends
- 1:00–6:00 Binge-read in our pajamas by the fire
- 6:00–9:00 Supper and a movie
- 9:00–10:00 Star-saunter
- 10:00–11:00 Read and mentally prepare for the six days ahead.
This is the absolute best way to start our week.
49. Ditch your hometown.
Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.
Seriously reconsider why you live where you live. I was tired of spending an hour each day in traffic. I hated the summer heat and winter snow. I was allergic to several of the spring pollens and all summer grasses. I didn’t have regular mentors or anyone I could invest in. So I moved across the ocean.
In our new city:
- The rents are 20% cheaper.
- The food is better-regulated from a health standpoint (no GMOs/HFCS).
- The weather is cooler in summer and warmer in winter, I’m allergic to nothing, and the air is verifiably cleaner.
- We have a 360-degree community: mentors, peers, and people we mentor.
Most importantly, my new town speaks to me. This is a brilliant concept I learned from Paul Graham at Y Combinator.
- New York tells most people, “You should make more money.”
- Boston and Cambridge says, “You should be smarter.”
- Silicon Valley says, “You should be more powerful.”
- Washington says, “You should be more connected.”
- Los Angeles says, “You should be more famous.”
- Paris says, “You should be more fashionable.”
What does your city say to you?
After visiting more than forty countries and three hundred cities, I found a village that says, “Hide here for a while and get great work done.”
50. Know thyself.
Last year, Michelle and I visited Castle Howard in England and had the opportunity to lay hands on an object that would have seen me executed several thousand years earlier: the altar of the Oracle of Delphi.
Once the centerpiece of an elaborate shrine in Greece, the temple at Delphi was carved with three phrases attributed to the Seven Sages:
- “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh.”
- “Nothing in excess.”
- “Know thyself.”
Most people spend 12–20 years in school and not once do they learn how to study themselves.
We need to become lifelong students of ourselves if we ever expect to reach our peak potential and achieve our deepest desires and highest callings. There’s simply no other way around it.
I’ve found a few resources to be incredibly helpful for beginning the lifelong process of understanding myself:
- The Five Love Languages (one of the most-reviewed books of all-time.)
- The Myers Briggs Test (I’m an ENTJ, and it reads me like a book.)
- Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
- The Enneagram (a 1,500-year-old personality test that’s currently enjoying a huge resurgence. You can take a free online test, but it’s much better to discern your type through the brilliantly-titled book, The Road Back to You. For those who want to then move beyond themselves and discover how their type interacts with others, check out The Road Between Us. It’s been especially helpful for our marriage — we understand ourselves, each other, and how we interact so much more now.)
These resources are a good jump-off for starting to understand your nature, needs, temptations, and tendencies. Remember: if you contradict yourself, it’s because you contain a universe.
None of us will ever come close to tapping our nearly-limitless potential, but let’s try to make a serious dent. I am convinced that every single person on earth has something special and powerful to contribute to our global family, and we need to unlock that potential by discovering our miraculous uniqueness.
I hope this guide has been exceedingly helpful. I hope you apply all of it and enjoy the gains it’s given me. I hope you save hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars, and never see an ad again for the rest of your life.
Where do we go from here?
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Thanks for reading.
Jared A. Brock is an author, filmmaker, and founding editor of SurvivingTomorrow.org. Jared is a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford, and his writing has appeared in Esquire, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, The Guardian, USA Today, and TIME Magazine.
Jared A. Brock is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, he earns from qualifying purchases. He also maintains affiliate relationships with Transferwise, Siteground, Carrd, Sendy, and Fiverr. There is zero cost to you, and Jared only recommends products and services that have personally benefited his life in meaningful ways.