Self-improvement is a marathon which involves following a path different for each of us and my advice is as follows:
- Stop keeping cash in your bank account: start saving money and, after you have set up a good emergency fund in cash, invest everything else in one or more low-commission, index-tracking, ETF funds, as soon as possible. The Vanguard 500 ETF is a good starting point (also Vanguard’s VIG is very good). This must be a priority. Because compound interest takes time (like a decade or more) to produce its amazing results, the younger you start, the better. (Since many asked in the comments, I also recommend to Google: compound interest+ dollar cost averaging in order to understand the benefits of this double-pronged strategy). In this way, money in your bank account will grow steadily during the years and give you an invaluable peace of mind in case of emergencies and allowing you to take new opportunities down the road.
- Stop smoking, doing drugs, drinking alcohol for the sake of having fun: these things do not add anything to your life, and only subtract cash from your bank account (that you should rather invest in ETFs). We live in a society that for marketing purposes has almost inextricably attached the idea of fun to the act of smoking cigarettes, getting drunk from alcohol or stoned by drugs. This is purposely done exclusively for the benefit of the people selling cigarettes, alcohol or drugs: in reality there is no reason to think this way. Respect your body and your bank account by eradicating yourself from this mental layer as soon as possible.
- Stop watching TV: same as alcohol, TV does not add anything to your life. By not watching TV, you can spend more time reading interesting non-fiction books to educate yourself about the most different topics. Knowledge has a powerful compound effect: as you progress putting different knowledge eggs into your basket, your analytical firepower will gradually increase and the benefit that you will derive will be exponential. TV does not add anything to your knowledge basket. Sell it, and invest the money (either by buying ETFs or by buying many interesting books) instead. After 6 months without watching TV, if occasionally your eyes will happen to look at it you will be amazed to think that people spend hours every day watching that crap.
- Stop eating outside too often: learn to cook your own meals. Cooking at home will naturally push you to learn new recipes from different countries: many of these new recipes that I learnt turned out to be new “classics” at home which you cannot even find at the restaurant downstairs. Delicious! Also in order to save money and be healthy: limit red meat if possible (as it has many bad implications both for your health and the environment), and prefer beans and vegetables instead. Do not buy sugar-based snacks & sugary drinks (we are becoming addicted to sugar in the last 30 years with direct impact on the rates of people getting diabetes later in life) and bottled water (a big scam) at the supermarket.
- Stop Facebook and other social media: remove the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest apps from your iPhone so that you can only access them via your desktop computer (you will automatically reduce your wasted time by at least 90%). Social media are monitoring everything you do & even think throughout the day, thus allowing advertisers to haunt you wherever you go online. Also, many social media outlets (like Instagram, Facebook, etc.) allow by design infinite scrolling, so that they trap you into scrolling and scrolling with no end for an immense waste of time and impact on your productivity.
- Stop sitting on the couch playing PS4: it’s probably as bad as Facebook. Every time you want to play a game, go for a run outside instead.
- Stop surrounding yourself with all these fake friends you don’t care about: they don’t care about you either and they will dump you at the first time you will be in need. It is better for you to be prepared not to count on them (or on anyone, actually). Choose your friends extremely carefully and text/call/see your parents/grandparents more, instead.
- Stop shopping to impress or please other people. It doesn’t work. They will still hate you even if you have a new car or some ridiculous Gucci shoes. The rare, true friends will like you and be at your side regardless of what you own. Once you will start doing this you will learn that you are not what you own. We do not need99% of the stuff for sale out there anyway. Acquiring this mindset will free you from a thousand mental layers that cloud many of our life choices. It feels amazing.
- Stop being a cheapskate: show the fewpeople that matter to you how much you care about them. Bring flowers to your girl/wife/mum/grandma. Make a nice wedding gift to your best friend. Offer discreetly to pay a dinner out if your friend cannot afford. Be a gentleman for all people you interact with. Write a thank you card to a colleague who was helpful in a difficult situation (I still remember the “thank you” card that one of my first bosses left to me — a young and inexperienced trainee at the time — 19 years ago just saying: “You are a star!”) . Be grateful, very grateful, for these good people that touch your life kindly. Do not be afraid to spend money for those who are important for you and deserve your attention, kindness and generosity. The sky will not fall if you spend money and give them your attention and, most importantly, they deserve it. I have seen countless of truly good persons being hurt, friendships broken-up in horrible ways, just because of people being outright stingy. Also, remember to give a part of your profits to a charity that is important for you: the good these people do to this world is invaluable.
- Stop taking new debt. Ditch your credit cards. Pay all the new stuff you want to buy upfront. No exceptions. If you cannot afford something upfront, simply do not buy it (most likely you will not need it anyway). Same for the “mortgage” (from the French “death pledge”): rent / share a cheap place and invest your savings in stocks instead. If you already took debt, repay it as soon as possible: sell stuff & work double shifts if necessary.