In this excerpt, Altucher explains how his fortunes rose and fell — from millionaire to pauper — from happy married to single — and how he figured out that it was only through choosing himself that he and others could succeed in an increasingly volatile world.
Altucher then transitions to how we too can choose ourselves, applying the very practices and insights that helped him succeed and sustain his achievements.
I CHOSE MYSELF: AN INTRODUCTION
I was going to die. The market had crashed. The Internet had crashed. Nobody would return my calls. I had no friends. Either I would have a heart attack or I would simply kill myself. I had a four million dollar life insurance policy. I wanted my kids to have a good life. I figured the only way that could happen was if I killed myself. My expenses were out of control. I’d made some money and amped up my lifestyle to drunken rock star status. Then I promptly lost it, my bank account bumping along zero during the worst economy in maybe twenty years.
I had no idea what I was going to do with my life to make money. Every month I didn’t have enough money to pay my mortgage. I had gotten myself millions in debt. I had to hustle to make it. I’m talking about 2002 but I could also have been talking about 2008, the year I lost home, family, friends, money, jobs.
Nobody was helping me. Nobody was giving me any chances. Nobody was giving me an outlet to prove how talented I was.
In 1998 I sold a company. I cashed out. Then I did everything wrong. I bought a house I couldn’t afford. I had expensive habits I couldn’t maintain. I gambled, and squandered, and gave, and lent to everyone I knew. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then millions of dollars.
I started another company. I put millions into that. I felt like I needed to buy love. And that if I didn’t have an enormous amount, nobody would love me.
Finally, after I failed at every attempt to succeed, I was lost. I lost my house. I lost all my money. I lost any self-esteem I had. I lost my friends.
I would look at my daughters and cry because I felt like I had ruined their lives as well. What a failure I was as a father, I felt.
Finally, I had zero left. Less than zero because I had debts.
By 2002 there was nothing left in the ATM machine.
I thought running out of money would be my worst moment. Worse than death. But then it got worse.
I thought running out of money would be my worst moment. Worse than death. But then it got worse.
At the end of 2002 I had a conversation with my parents. I was angry and depressed. We got into an argument. Over what – it doesn’t matter anymore.
I hung up the phone.
Over the next several months my father tried to reach out to me. I was starting to come back. I was writing. I was appearing on TV. He congratulated me. His final congratulations were about six months after I last spoke to him.
I didn’t respond.
A week later he had a stroke. He never spoke again. He died without me ever speaking to him again.
And I was still broke, hungry, despairing, and depressed. I was constantly in a state of panic. The world was upside down and I didn’t know how to straighten things out. To make things right.
If I was to get off the floor, I had to figure out from the inside out what was going to transform me into someone who would succeed. Nobody else was going to do it for me.
In the past twenty years I’ve failed at about 18 of 20 businesses I’ve started. I’ve written ten books. I’ve probably switched careers five or six times in various sectors ranging from software to finance to media. I’ve lost multiple jobs. I’ve been divorced, crushed, on the floor, suicidal, desperate, anxious, depressed. And things only got worse until I finally figured out the qualities that consistently occurred every time I picked myself off the floor and found some success.
In 2008, it was almost the same for me as 2002. I had sold a company. Made a lot of money, but then through mindless squandering, I pissed it all away. Again. And this time I was getting a divorce, losing my friends, failing at two different companies at the same time, and I had no clue what I was going to do to climb out.
But I had to. I had to get better. I had to take care of myself. To take care of my children. To figure out AGAIN, how to come out of the hole. To make it worse, the world had changed. Money had left the system. Everyone was getting fired. It felt like all the opportunities had disappeared. Not only had I failed this time. But the world was failing and there was no way out.
My stomach hurt all day. I felt like I could will myself to death. There is no way out. There is no way out, I kept repeating to myself. But I had kids. But I had I don’t know what. I had to keep going.
That’s when everything changed. When I realized that if I was going to survive, I had to choose myself. In every way.
In the past four years I’ve made millions in various businesses and investments, I’ve met and married the love of my life, I’ve gotten in shape, and every day I wake up and do exactly what I want to do.
This hasn’t happened to me once. Or twice. But many times. I’ve had to reinvent myself, reinvent my career, reinvent from the inside out. On most occasions, I didn’t realize what steps I was repeating over and over from the times before. And once I achieved success I would inevitably return to my negative habits and start squandering my good fortune.
But now the stakes have risen even higher. We can no longer afford to rely on others and repeat the same mistakes from our pasts. The world is changing and the tide has come in. As we will see in the next few chapters, the middle class has caved in, and every industry is in the process of transformation. In order to keep up, individuals have to transform also.
Every second, you have to choose yourself to succeed. For me, I had to look back at my life and see what I did every time I got off the floor, dusted myself off, and went out there and did it again. Because now there is no room to fall back down. I knock on wood, superstitiously, every morning because I pray I don’t fall back into my addictive behavior.
Every day when I wake up I have to be grateful. I have to count the things that are abundant in my life. Literally count them. If I don’t, they will begin to disappear. I’ve watched them disappear before. I don’t want it to happen again.
In some cultures, you want the things in your life to disappear, to reduce your needs and wants. To achieve some sort of enlightenment. I believe in this brand of spirituality also. If you lower you expectations to nothing, then your expectations are easy to exceed.
But I hate to say it – first you have to pay the bills. And the bills are expensive. And it’s getting harder to find the opportunities to pay those bills.
And it’s one thing to know “The Secret” or whatever life affirming steps you can take to bring positivity in your life. That’s all great. But it’s not through reading a book. It’s a moment by moment effort. It’s a practice that interweaves health with all the tools of financial express with also an understanding of the macro picture which is causing this economic sh*tstorm we find ourselves in,.
In the past three years I’ve begun writing about the steps I took to come back from the grave. I’ve heard from thousands of readers. I’ve answered tens of thousands of questions. I’ve gone back and seen the results of people who applied the principles I applied to my own life. I would never write about anything that didn’t work for me personally.
Now I’ve seen the results not only on myself but on many others. My life has changed so much for the positive it’s like magic. It’s beyond magic because I never would have dreamed this possible.
I write about it in this book. I chose myself. And you will also.
[Excerpt Skips Two Chapters: “The Economic History of The Choose Yourself Era” and “Permanently Temporary”]
HOW TO CHOOSE YOURSELF
I’m an addict. For 20 years I replaced one addiction with another. I can’t even describe all of them. I’m actually embarrassed. Ashamed.
I would cling to whatever addiction was making me happy at that moment. A fire sucks the oxygen out of everything in the room. When the oxygen is gone, the fire is extinguished. Then burnout occurs. That’s addiction. It takes every form. Entrepreneurship, Drugs, Sex, Love, Games, and escapism of all forms. I’ve been addicted to all of the above. I’ve even been addicted to the 12 step meetings where you get to meet the other people who might be as screwed up as you are.
Addictions: Let’s work 100 hours a week for fame, money, sex, health, more fame, then F-you money, then stand on our heads, then get fancy artwork, big houses, guard dogs, pit bulls that kill people, bigger bank accounts. Heck, let’s own the bank. Then let’s double down on all of the above.
Now there is a new addiction. “All I want is freedom,” a lot of people say. But freedom from what? Who is enslaving you that you can’t get away from? Then people want freedom for their kids, or their parents, or their siblings, or their kids’ kids. Or five generations of kids. Where did all these kids come from?
But still, “it’s all for them. Everything I do.”
Then we get burnt out. Too much fighting for freedom. Who were we fighting all of that time? When all that time we were free without realizing it. There are no chains on me as I write this. But the feeling is immense: “all I want is freedom”.
There are two very important basics for harnessing that freedom and succeeding in the Choose Yourself Era. There’s no avoiding them. There are no excuses for not doing them. The good news is they are free.
ONLY DO THINGS YOU ENJOY. This might seem obvious to you, but it isn’t to most. One might also say, “Duh, I’d love to do what I enjoy but I have to pay the bills!” Relax for a second. We’re going to learn how to do what we enjoy, first. And this might seem like a BS platitude. But it isn’t. I’m not just talking about “only do a career you enjoy”. I mean it down to your very thoughts. Only think about the people you enjoy. Only read the books you enjoy, that make you happy to be human. Only go to the events that actually make you laugh and fall in love. Only deal with the people who are winners and want you to win.
This is a daily practice.
I only just started doing this in the past few years after being infinitely unhappy, getting divorced, losing money, losing jobs, careers, friends, everything I was clinging to. Eating a turkey sandwich in a diner by myself on Thanksgiving Day 2008, I said “F**k it.” I was done.
I used to go out every night. “You never know,” I would think. I used to go to every business meeting I was invited to. “You never know,” I would think. I used to go on TV every time I was asked. “You never know,” I would think. Maybe someone would SEE me. And call me and offer me and give me and want me and like me and love me. Maybe they would press the LIKE button on my face. Brilliant
[Note to self: invent TV sets with "LIKE" buttons so people can LIKE people they see on TV and that somehow gets transmitted back to the TV networks.]
99% of meetings don’t turn into money. 99% of the news is a lie (trust me. I know them). 99% of TV is about scandal, murder, and cheating. 99% of the people on the street will lick the flavor right off your lifesaver if you let them.
Every time you say “YES” to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, “I did it again.”
The only real fire to cultivate is the fire inside of you. Nothing external will cultivate it.
The only real fire to cultivate is the fire inside of you. Nothing external will cultivate it. The greater your internal fire is, the more people will want it. They will smoke every drug lit by your fire. They will try to ignite their own fires. They will try to light up their own dark caves. The universe will bend to you.
Every time you say “Yes” to something you don’t want, your fire starts to go away.
You will get burnt out.
You can say, “but what if I have to say ‘yes’ to something I don’t want to do.” Fair enough. We have mouths to feed, responsibilities, retirement to save for, and many things that might keep us in the prison of “No”. Don’t worry about that yet. The Daily Practice plows the field, makes everything clear so that you’ll know if your “yes” or “no” comes from a place of deep internal satisfaction.
THE DAILY PRACTICE. You are empty. I mean this literally. Our bodies are like little galaxies. Galaxies have billions of massive stars in them and yet the reality is the space between those stars is so gigantic that a galaxy is mostly empty.
That’s exactly like you. You are made up of atoms. Every piece of you. And yet the actual physical matter in an atom (protons, neutrons, electrons) take up only 1/50 of 1% of the space in that atom. The rest is empty.
So you are empty. There’s nothing really there. The real you, the real fire, is inside this emptiness.
We spend our lives afraid of the emptiness. We want to fill it with love, with money, with pleasures, with anything that could put off the ultimate. But all of those things are never enough. They all decay.
Only the emptiness does not decay.
The best way I have ever found to fill that hole is not to seek external motivations to fill the emptiness. But to ignite the internal fire that will never go out. To light up my own inner sky.
So how do we do this?
Picture your body for a second. You have a heart that pumps blood 100,000 times per day, or 72 times per minute, sending 1.3 gallons of blood all over your body. If there’s any blockage – in a vein or an artery – you’ll die very quickly. Within minutes. That’s a heart attack. Blood cleans the system, sending water, oxygen, nutrients to every part of your body.
All you need to do to live longer is to constantly make sure you are doing everything you can to protect your heart and the blood that flows through it. This is a function of diet, exercise, sleep, and other things. If the heart gets sick, you die. When you finally die, it’s because the heart got sick.
Imagine now you have three other bodies alongside your physical body.
- An emotional body.
- A mental body.
- And a spiritual body.
Imagine a life force that flows between them and through them much like blood. Imagine a central core that must keep everything healthy. Just like you must keep your heart healthy to live a long and productive, and even happy life, you must keep these other bodies healthy as well and exercise them on a regular basis. A daily basis. A minute by minute basis.
This might sound corny. It might sound like mumbo-jumbo. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s a method of thinking that works for me. Other techniques might work for other people. Good luck to them. This works for me.
I call this the Daily Practice.
In the next chapter I describe a Simple Daily Practice to start off with. But below I describe the best way to keep these bodies healthy. It is from a foundation of health (in all four bodies) that you build the platform to choose yourself. The rest of the book describes how one can use this foundation to build the succeeding layers to create even more choices that lead to success. And I describe the stories of people who have done it.
THE PHYSICAL BODY: The shell that we must take care of to live. It houses everything we do. And it’s pretty simple. We know when we are doing bad things to it. Too often we think, “Once I achieve X, Y, Z, goal I’m going to get back in shape”. But it doesn’t work that way. Not that you need to be ripped and jacked or 8-packed or whatever. You just need to be healthy. And you know what I mean?
You need to sh*t regularly. That’s it.
And how do you do that?
You don’t eat junk food. You sleep 7-9 hours a day. Avoid excess alcohol. Exercise. And by exercise I don’t mean run 8 miles a day. I mean take walks. Can you take a 10 minute walk every 90 minutes? Can you take a 20 minute walk? Can you use the stairs instead of the elevator? Do 5 minutes of yoga?
My routine: 5-6am wakeup. Mostly protein breakfast (I like Tim Ferriss’s slow carb diet that he describes in his book “The Four Hour Body”), a late lunch around 2 or 3. Lots of walks and breaks while I walk. You can never get enough exercise really and no creative person has ever complained about too much walking. And then I go to sleep between 8 and 9. Nobody ever died of starvation avoiding that third meal of the day. And if you eat too late in the day, or drink alcohol too late in the day (which pretty much wipes out drinking alcohol at all) your body gets into trouble digesting at night. Which will hurt your sleeping. Which will hurt your metabolism in the morning. And so on.
THE EMOTIONAL BODY: Emotionally I try to be only around positive people who inspire me. This way I can learn to be positive. To be a beacon to those around me.
It’s important to avoid people who bring you down. Not in a cruel way. But avoid engaging or overly dwelling on people who are constantly draining you of energy. A friend of mine is starting up a company as I write this. One of his partners is constantly criticizing him. Every time I talk to him he says, “ABC is at it again. Here’s what he said now.” And he goes into a long diatribe of the latest crimes against humanity his partner has done.
The key is: acknowledge that the person is driving you crazy. You can’t suppress that. But with observation, the pain will begin to wither. And the less you engage with the person, the less effect overall that person will have on you. Even if that person is close to you (and they often are. That’s why they get to push all of those buttons), find out ways to not engage. Say hello in the hallway, smile nicely, but no engagement. Put a quota on yourself how much you can complain or feel anxious about that person in a day.
You can’t be beautiful unless you get rid of the ugliness inside..
Here’s an exercise I do that can help in this regard: I try to be quiet. Instead of speaking the average 2500 words a day that most people speak, it would be nice for me to speak 1000 words a day when possible. This forces me to choose my words, and who I engage with, carefully.
THE MENTAL BODY. Your mind desperately wants to be the BOSS. It needs you to be very VERY BUSY with BS stuff so it can do all the things its good at: obsess, worry, fear, depression, exuberance, forward thinking, backward thinking, thinking thinking THINKING until…
So you need to tame the wild horse or it will tame you until you are a slave. Nobody wants that. So the way you tame it is in the focused use of it. Set a goal: I’m going to come up with 10 ways I can have more time for myself. Or I’m going to come with 10 ways I can make my job better. Or 10 business ideas. Make sure the list you plan to do is a hard list. You need to make the mind SWEAT so that it gets tired. So tired that it’s done for the day. It can’t control you today. TIRE IT OUT! Then do it again. 10 MORE ideas. I discuss this much more in the chapter: “How to be an Idea Machine”.
I’ll tell you what I did today. An online education company asked me to come up with an online course. Maybe I’ll do a course on “The Daily Practice” but I made a list of ten other courses I could maybe teach. It was hard! I didn’t even know if I knew enough about ten different topics to be able to teach them. I still don’t know. But I did the list. My mind sweated like a pig. And then you know what I instantly did afterwards?
I fell asleep.
After sleeping about ten hours the night before. Sleeping is fun. I love to sleep. It’s a Saturday. It was 1pm. I took a half hour nap. My mind was tired. Then I woke up and wrote this. Come up with 10 ideas a day.
THE SPIRITUAL BODY. Most people obsess on regrets in their past or anxieties in their future. I call this “time traveling”.
The past and future don’t exist. You don’t need to time travel anymore. You can live right now.
When I walk in NYC everyone seems to have glazed eyes. They are walking around in the past or the future. They are time traveling. One exercise I try: look at the roofs of buildings. Finding the art in the city around me is a good technique to keep me right here when everyone else is in the time machine.
I have money worries. I have relationship fears. I have insecurity. Will they like me, hate me, love me. Will I ever go broke? Will Claudia ever leave me like so many others have? All fears from the past, all worries of the future. I have regrets. Maybe if I had been a better parent…, maybe if I had been a better son…, maybe if I hadn’t lost all of that money I could’ve saved lives… Maybe maybe maybe.
All of that doesn’t exist. It’s my mind pretending they exist.
I give up. I can’t control the past or the future. They are empty, just like I am. All there is, is now.
When you surrender and accept the beautiful stillness around you, when you give up all thoughts of the past, all worries and anxieties of the future, when you surround yourself with similar positive people, when you tame the mind, when you keep healthy, there is zero chance of burnout.
How do you surrender? By trusting that you’ve done the right preparation. You’ve done all you can do. Now give up the results. The right thing will happen.
This is the ONLY way I’ve ever ignited the fire and avoided burnout. Think about the things we worry about. How, almost 100% of the time when we look back on it we realize how useless it was.
This doesn’t mean you will never have a bad mood.
Of course you will! That’s what the body and mind does for a living: it goes back and forth between good moods and bad moods. The trick is to recognize a bad mood, say: “I’m in a bad mood” and wait it out. So you can get back to enjoying things. So you can get back to making decisions, to making choices, only when you are in a good mood. A mood where you are fully present and not time traveling.
Devoting ourselves to this DailyPractice, even if it only shows the tiniest of incremental improvements in our lives; these increments build up. Today they will build up. Every moment they will build up. Every moment they will shed the extra garbage on every level that you carry with you, the garbage that weighs you down, the external garbage that eventually goes on fire, burning you OUT, on the outside.
Instead, igniting the fire on the inside burns a light so fierce it can’t be burnt out. Instead, you will brighten the galaxy. You will add brilliance to the lives around you. You will become a beacon, a light that attracts abundance, instead of a flickering flame that is eventually smothered.