I’ve been writing this blog for over 4 years. When I go back and read the earlier articles, I can see that the writing has evolved over time.
Sure, some things never change…I still find my own jokes funny even if no one else does. But I can see that the writing has changed in one respect: it shows less fear.
As time passed I’ve touched on more controversial subjects…despite the best efforts of The Outrage Brigade to tell The Escape Artist what he can and can’t write.
Financial independence touches on all aspects of life and that includes jobs, relationships, feminism, not being a doormat etc etc. Getting that stuff right will make / save you more than any amount of coupon-clipping or credit card rewards.
The Escape Artist is, at heart, a mild-mannered guy and doesn’t want to create unnecessary controversy. Its just that we’ve been fed such a crock of horseshit about money and how the world works. And very few people seem willing to say it how it is…so if no one else is gonna call out this stuff, then I will.
If you believe that spending = happiness, that modern life has to be super-expensive and that its impossible for working people to accumulate wealth, then you’ll give up. But once you realise that money can be used for buying more freedom, your life will get better. AND EVERYONE CAN GET BETTER WITH MONEY.
This message seems to have caused a flurry of press interest this week. The Escape Artist was featured in The Times leader section alongside some Serious Journalism on Brexit, Syria etc. Having read it in the newspaper, my Mum now believes that FI might actually be a thing and I might not just be unemployed and making this shit up.
The media does not just report The News, it makes The News. And the coverage in The Times seemed to trigger a mini FIRE storm in the teacup that is the British media.
We then had the Daily Mail article and its comments section. They say you haven’t made it until you’ve got some haters. If that’s true, then it looks like I’m doing pretty well. Thank you to all those Daily Mail readers that took time out of their busy schedules to comment 😉
The Escape Artist was even invited onto the sofa with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning show which is apparently some sort of daytime TV show for people without jobs.
Moving on to financial matters, in recent years I’ve stopped worrying about running out of money. No doubt that’s partly down to a benign stock market with low volatility and positive returns…at least for now (we know that there’s a major market crash coming).
The fact that I’ve been FI for 5 years means that sequence of returns risk is becoming less of an issue as time goes by. That helps. As do some other changes that I’ve made. For example, I’ve got rid of my old habit of compulsively checking my portfolio, a fear based behaviour.
But the bit that I find most interesting of all…and the subject of this week’s article…is the subject of bio-hacking. Or, to put that in a more down to earth way, how changes in your physical behaviours translate into changes in your emotional state.
If you’ve seen Amy Cuddy’s viral TED talk, you’ll know the idea that something as small as a change in posture can help change your mood. Cuddy’s idea is that posture influences mood (rather than the other way as traditionally assumed). So the conventional direction of causation is reversed from:
Good mood => smile, good posture etc
Good posture, smile => good mood
Or to put it more accurately, we have 2 way causation where both effects can operate at the same time, reinforcing each other.
This is all fine as far as it goes but let’s be honest…just standing up straight / holding your arms up is only gonna do so much. If we want results, we need to do more than just that.
Life is a multi-variate game. What goes into determining our moods? Everything…our relationships, our jobs, the weather, our money worries (or not) and last, and definitely not least, our health.
And when I say health I don’t just mean the absence of illness. I mean your physical fitness, your emotional state, your hormonal balance…your well-being. In short, your mojo. This stuff matters…a lot. If you can’t run 5k or cycle 10 miles or do 25 press ups then something has gone very wrong in your life…no matter how much is in your bank account. If you can’t read an article without puking up a complaint, again something has gone wrong in your life..
In my first year of Financial Independence (what I call the decompression period) the biggest physical change was just getting more sleep. When I was working, I went for many years on much less than 8 hours of sleep thanks to a mixture of long hours, commuting, children etc. Getting a full nights sleep makes a big difference.
I still believe that in our 20s and 30s its good to work hard and pull some late nighters. But sleep scientist Mathew Walker is doing great work in researching and publicising the importance of getting enough quality sleep.
This has changed me physically. What’s surprising is how its changed the way I think and feel, the way I perceive risk in the world.
As I’ve said before, weight training is one of the greatest “hacks” for eliminating depression, anxiety and fear. When you lift, you stop fretting.
If you are obsessing about stock market risk, you may be looking in the wrong place. For one thing, there’s no point in worrying about stuff you can’t control. Start with what you can control.
And maybe the underlying cause of your anxiety is bio-chemical? If you’re overweight, stop worrying about the stock market and start changing your diet. You are what you eat. That’s not just a slogan. If you eat junky processed carbs (bread, chips, noodles, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cake etc) you’ll feel like junk.
The brain and the body form a single organic system. I know from my time in The Prison Camp that many knowledge workers come to think of their body as no more than a mobility scooter for their brain. Its like they imagine themselves as a computer where all the smart stuff happens in the central processing unit (ie the brain). As if arms and legs are just peripheral mechanical devices a bit like a printer or a mouse.
But that’s not how the human body works. We are an integrated whole. Your body is not just something that moves the brain around. The state of your body has a big influence on how your brain operates, how you feel and how you experience life.
Lawyers seem to be the worst for this but accountants, bankers, engineers, surveyors etc are all guilty of this. They come to think of themselves as purely rational, intellectual creatures. They let their physical fitness slide. They live off corporate sandwiches and other processed carbs…with caffeine to wind up in the morning and alcohol to wind down in the evening.
And their world slowly closes in on them. There is something about The Prison Camp that wears down people. Many guys become grey men as they get older and I’m not talking about hair colour. I’m talking about becoming fearful and lacking in mojo.
This is anything but natural. Its NOT an inevitable consequence of ageing. You can be ripped in your 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. You can take intelligent risks all your life…but you have to get the physical side right.
When I see people anguishing over one of those hand-wringing Guardian articles about the transgender crisis or the fatshaming crisis or the avocado toast crisis, I can’t help thinking that they’d feel much better if they got more sleep and lifted some weights.
Scott Adams has a good summary of this in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
Normally when you feel unhappy, you blame your mood on whatever your environment is serving up to you. It’s easy to blame your environment because you can interpret everything as bad news or potentially bad news. Just add pessimism or cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air…
I’m here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet and exercise
No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day. You’d feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible.
Sadly, you don’t make big money from telling people to get some more sleep and get a bike. Which is a shame because consistent exercise is a more effective health intervention over time than any anti-depressant drug. This is ironic given how many billions of £ / $ / € are spent on anti-depressants.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. But before turning to anti-depressants, its worth experimenting with:
TL, DR: The state of your body affects how you think and feel. Exercise changes that. Sceptical? Turn off the TV and try it!