The striking similarities between getting rich and getting ripped

ba-baracas-costume-4With financial independence comes extra free time. One way that I’ve chosen to spend mine has been on my fitness. And over the past year, I’ve changed my exercise focus towards strength and flexibility.

In the past, I’ve found just going to the gym to lift weights BORING.  And, by myself, the motivation just wasn’t there.

But then I discovered this strange class called Body Pump at my local gym. For me, Body Pump has been a gateway “drug” into weight lifting.  Its basically weight training set to banging tunez.  This has solved the problem of lack of motivation in subtle and interesting ways.

The music is loud, upbeat and pumps you up (the clue is in the name). The group vibe means that if you slack off or are out of time, its a bit embarrassing. There’s a healthy degree of competition going on in the class. The class is mixed and there’s nothing more motivating than seeing a woman outlifting you. At times like that you have a little word with yourself and add some more weight.  Its amazing what you can do if you really try.

The longer I’ve been doing this, the more I have been struck by the similarities between getting rich and getting ripped.

Both can seem like they’re impossible

If, like me, you put on weight (and here I really mean fat) easily, its tempting to blame your genes. From there its just a short logic jump to telling yourself that getting ripped is impossible for me…so there’s no point even trying.

This is of course bullshit.  It’s also similar to people that just assume they are “bad with money” or don’t know anything about investing….so just stop and get stuck there.  True, its easier for some than others…but we can all get better.

And remember the inestimable advantages of hardening the fuck up.

You need to balance offense and defence

Getting ripped is hard because you have to combine 2 very different things. These are 1. exercise (offense) and 2. diet (defence).

To gain muscle, you need to do weights / high intensity training. You can’t diet your way to more muscle. Muscles grow when they are challenged.  This is the offense side of the equation.

On the other side of the equation is defence. You can’t out-train a bad diet.  In other words, I could spend all my time in the gym and still not burn off enough calories to compensate for a donut habit.

Getting rich is the same. Its impossible to get rich without balancing earning (offence) with spending (defence).  There are plenty of frugalistas who spend very little but are not earning their full potential.  They may not know how to negotiate a pay rise, take intelligent risks nor cultivate relationships.  There are also plenty of high earners and spenders who keep pouring water into a bucket shot full of holes.

As usual, MMM has a good rule of thumb here which is that if your household income is $100,000 (~£75,000) pre tax or less then you should be focussed on getting your earnings up. And if its more than that, then you should be focussed on your spending.

Better still, work on both sides of the equation.

Both take time and patience

It was about a year ago that I decided that I was going to get stronger. And, lets be honest, I’ve had plenty of time to work on it.  I’m the opposite of those people that join gyms in January and then never go.  I’ve been there a lot.

For me, fat loss is almost immediate with a natural diet. I can see the effect in days and weeks. But muscle gain is much slower so its only in the last couple of months that I’ve really noticed the full effects on my body shape. So we have a long term objective but a process that can feel a bit like watching grass grow.

This is what puts a lot of people off saving / investing. It can seem quite boring for the first few years. At 12% per year, your money doubles in 6 years. But when the amounts involved are small at first, those 6 years seem long and boring.  After that, as the snowball gets bigger, it stops being boring and becomes really very interesting.

People look for short cuts

In fitness, I’ve noticed that people are fascinated with gadgets, gizmos and supplements.  For example, I’ve been out running with groups where there would be lengthy debates about trainers or gels or gps watches. In weight training, there seems to be a similar fascination with equipment, protein shakes and food supplements.

The truth is that you can’t buy your way to being ripped.  But that doesn’t seem to stop people being drawn to the idea that the right protein shake or amino acid supplement will allow them to get a six pack without doing the work.6 pack

In the same way, young guys are often drawn to get-rich quick schemes like spread-betting, day trading etc etc.  It’s all bullshit.

Intensity matters

With fitness, intensity matters.  It’s only by getting into the red zone that your body is stimulated to make the changes necessary to allow you to lift more next time.

With financial independence, its possible to get there either over a leisurely 30 year jog or by “sprinting” at it via extreme frugality for 7 or 8 years.  Different approaches suit different people.

I’m the sort of person that tends to go all in on things.  That’s how I was in my job.  For me, total commitment to something hard like financial independence is the way to go.

What gets measured, gets managed

Keep track of your progress towards your goal. This helps you stay motivated and tells you when you need to make changes.

Its easy to lose track of what you are eating. And the human mind has this weird ability to justify / rationalise just about anything.  So to get a grip on your diet, the most effective method is to keep a food diary of everything you eat and pin it up on your fridge door or hallway or somewhere you’ll see it every day!

What is the financial equivalent of a food diary?  It is of course recording all your spending…in other words, answering the question: where does it all go?

Both bring confidence 

You don’t need to be a dick about getting stronger (or richer).

One thing that puts some nice guys off weight training are those obnoxious blokes that swagger around like they are carrying a roll of carpet under each arm…oh no, its just that my muscles are SO HUGE!  They can be found as bouncers, beach posers or flexing in front of gym mirrors.

Its the same with money.  We’re all suspicious of people that show off about money. (As an aside: that’s why its not easy to write a good personal finance blog.  You’re basically walking a tightrope between inoffensive (dull) and entertaining (smug). Its inevitable that you’re going either to be boring or inadvertently offend sometimes).

But I’ve also noticed another type of person in the gym.  Those that have a quiet confidence about them. They don’t need to swagger or be aggressive…perhaps because they have strong inner game? Or perhaps its just that being in shape (physically and financially) brings confidence?

Both are hard…

I’m not gonna lie to you, this stuff can be hard.

Trying to get ripped has given me a deeper understanding and empathy for those that struggle with money and with controlling their spending (which nowadays comes quite naturally to me).

For someone with my genetic inheritance, its very easy to get fat (I just have to look at a photo of some bread).  And gaining muscle through weight training is, for me, a slow and sometimes painful process.  The truth is that I am never going to be Arnold Schwarzenegger or that Chris Hemsworth guy that plays Thor.

But that’s why its so worthwhile and rewarding when you do make improvements.  As Charlie Munger says about outperforming the stockmarket:

It’s not supposed to be easy.

…but are easier with the right environment

One of the tricks to getting into great shape is to control your environment.

What do I mean by that? Well partly its about keeping temptation out of sight and out of mind.  So I avoid having alcohol and chocolate in the house all the time. Or, when they are in the house I stash them in a cupboard out of sight.

I pin up my Bulletproof diet sheet and my food diary in full view on the front of the fridge where there is no hiding from them.  I got myself a coach and I tend to hang around with other people into fitness (at least to some extent).

What’s the personal finance analogy?  Avoid the Joneses, turn off the TV and The News, remove advertising from your life. And don’t hang around in shopping centres. Get out into nature!

Don’t worry about failure

With personal finance, just as with getting in shape, perfection is not required for success.

Success is anything that improves your health and physique…even marginally.  Just one bike ride (instead of taking the car), one extra press up or one healthier meal.

If you’re eating healthily (I don’t like the phrase diet) and are anything like me, you are gonna fall off the wagon pretty often….usually onto a big pile of fruit and nut chocolate.

That’s not really failure.  Its just a setback, don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t cover up the fact…you write it on your food diary….no blame, no shame.  And then do better next week.

Related reading : There is no failure

9 comments

  1. Nice post – very true in my experience. The same people who try one diet after another talk about dabbling in bit coin ..

    The only I’d add is – don’t wait for financial independence to get fit or get control of your finances.

  2. It’s funny because I often see people pursuing fitness and FIRE at the same time. I think they both require lifestyle changes and discipline; why not try them at the same time? 😛

  3. I have been getting into Calisthenics and Gymnastics training recently. When you have more time to yourself as in FI, you realize that physical health is one of the few areas in life you can work on and improving your mental and physical wellbeing. Calisthenics and Gymnastics are interesting in that you don’t just pump out reps after reps but you work on skills like handstands, Bridges, Planche, splits etc. You have to start with easier progressions and slowly work your way up to learning the movement. It is more satisfying then pumping reps after reps as you mentioned and perhaps way more impressive. Similar to working to FI, you are not going to get there in a week and perhaps not in a month, but slowly but surely, you will get see an improvement. Very satisfying.

    -FIREplanter

    1. Respect to you for that. I have also learned that there is far more to lifting than first meets the eye in terms of technique, complexity and progression. Gymnastics also provides flexibility, balance and mobility which are super-important…more on that in another post

  4. I’ve never thought of offence / defence for exercise / diet. Great analogy!

    If you want to get stronger and build muscle using simple (but deceivingly complex) lifts, I recommend stonglifts 5×5 (https://stronglifts.com/). To me it was the equivalent to obsessively devouring an FI blog or pouring over spreadsheets trying to optimise spending / saving.

    “Keep it simple” is the motto of the author. Sound famiiar?

    You do feel a bit self conscious squatting a bar with a tiny 1.25kg plate on each side at the start (like those tiny returns at the start of FI) but before you know it by small increments over time, you’re squatting out 50kg on each side of your bar.

    I’m planning on doing it for 4 months every year when the cross country season finishes.

    Enjoy!

  5. Interesting post!

    I have relatively recently found financial independence and through the same route decided to get my fitness (weight and strength primarily) on track. There are a lot of similarities.

    Tracking my finances and tracking my eating and weight have grown together.

    Reddit fitness, loseit and the various financial independence sites have been great for both topics.

    It’s good to get over the zealot like focus and move to a calmer approach to both finances and health, i.e. not worrying too much if I left the heating on etc (money) or that I had a cake (weight).

    At least I’m consciously doing both, and controlling both with an end goal, which is what it’s mostly about to me!

    Andy.

  6. Use myfitnesspal app

  7. You might enjoy Matt Schifferle’s book “Fitness Independence – escape the dogmas, be fit your way”, along with his website and YouTube channel – red delta project. Full of very good stuff for a quest to be physically as well as financially fit.
    “Strong Medicine – how to conquer chronic disease and achieve your full genetic potential” by Chris Hardy and Marty Gallagher, is brilliant at bringing it all together.

  8. Excellent post. Working towards FI and being in good health require the same personal traits and a good deal of patience. I don’t think it’s a coincidence to find individuals who pursue one also enjoy the challenge of the other. To extrapolate your theory, perhaps fitness anf FI can also be regarded as two sides of the same equation? After all, what is the point in achiving FI without having the good health to enjoy it?

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