This is important.
This is one of the longest things I’ve ever published. At 2,962 words, honestly, I’m surprised I had this much to say, but I’m taking a more principled approach to things this year. If you’re content to keep skimming and scrolling along while life passes you by, by all means, this one might not be for you.
[ tl;dr? I’ve recorded an audio version for the podcast. Access the Director’s Cut here: LINK ]
But, at the risk of sounding like some kind of commercial, if you’re ready to start actively making your life better—and want to spend more time with people doing likewise—you’ve come to the right place.
Right to the point, this piece is about how mental, physical, and financial health are the pillars of success—but whom am I to talk about these things?
I’m not a psychologist, or a personal trainer, or a financial advisor. The Gearhead Project isn’t a self-help blog peddling life coaching services or anything like that. It’s a place where those of us actively working on making our lives a lot better are hanging out; sharing what we’ve found that works—and helping each other get things done.
If you can kinda see how having the right attitude, taking care of your body, and getting your financial house in order might solve more than a few problems in your life—or if you feel like you might want to spend a little more time hanging out with people like YOU who are actively trying to make their lives better—you might think it’s cool someone out there took the time to write a seven page, 2,900-word blog post sharing something he’s figured out that he thinks is pretty friggin’ useful on this front.
This is the stuff I’m personally working on this year—through the lens of my automotive passion. I feel like I’ve found some important clues. I’ve spent a few hours writing this article—and recording myself reading it—to share them with you.
Maybe this is what you needed today. Maybe it isn’t. Either way, here we go.
Why am I talking about mental, physical, and financial health on a “car blog”?
I’m 42—and closing fast on 43. Last year I decided to call my 10-year plan “Project Opportunity”. By the time I turn 52 (my stretch goal is 50), I want to finally—finally—have my shit together and be living life on my own terms. No more reactive, consumer-grade bullshit. I want to be fully realized, engaged, and autonomous. I want the freedom to chase interesting opportunities without having to worry about how I pay the bills—or how much paid time off I have available.
The best way to get there is by helping my gearhead friends do likewise—but where do we start?
A lot about life can be distilled down and (overly) simplified. Want to lose weight? Consume less calories than you burn. Want to be rich? Spend less money than you earn. Want to be smarter? Speak less than you listen. Easier said than done, right? Or is it?
(Believe me. I’m trying.)
Many of us struggling with weight, finance, or happiness find ourselves there because we’re too casual about those aspects of our lives. Then we fall into traps of making things more difficult than they need to be when we go to fix things. We force ourselves into fad diets or short-lived gym memberships. We buy into shortcuts and gimmicks.
We’re always looking for the simplest, easiest solutions. Our brains are hardwired for it. And yet we often make things harder than they need to be. Why is that, do you think?
You probably don’t need to cut out all the carbs and go keto, or join a punishing CrossFitTM box, or go back to college, or start a business—and yet, we often find ourselves putting all these constraints on ourselves, imposing massive course corrections upon our lives, trying to fix problems over and over again—without really addressing the root causes of those problems in the first place.
Visualize the win!
Experts agree we’re supposed to visualize what we want. The more details the better. That means including all our senses. How do you do that, though? Well, say you’re trying to visualize owning a Ferrari…
What does the interior of that black, Ferrari Monza SP2 smell like? How does the steering wheel feel in your hands? Can you imagine yourself downshifting and punching it in a tunnel? Can you feel the wind in your face as the acceleration pins you to your seat? You get what I mean.
Frustrating, then, when visualizing the win’s not as easy as it sounds. Sure, we can close our eyes and imagine driving our dream machines, going on once-in-a-lifetime vacations, and living in our dream homes—but try visualizing a typical day in the life where you’re successful enough to be doing all those things as often as you’d like.
Things get fuzzy real quick.
Looking ahead to that amazing, perfect life I want for myself within 10 years, I often find myself struggling to define it at the daily driver level. I’ve tried dozens of times in the last year alone and I’ll be damned if I can see it. Here’s how it goes…
- I wake before dawn, fully rested, and eager to start my day.
- I do some kind of exercise.
- I meditate for a bit, maybe do some yoga.
- Then I write in my journal for a bit, before waking P and helping her get ready for school.
- I make breakfast for everyone, see to it everyone’s day gets off to a good start, and then…
- And then…?
And then it all falls apart.
I don’t know how I spend that day.
See also the glaring lack of specific details in that list. I’ve gone deeper into each of those things—and I’ve got a few ideas of things I could see myself doing during the day—but nothing anywhere near a clear visualization of winning on my own terms.
And so my brain quickly falls into a loop, obsessing over those two first hours of my perfect day before running out of steam and deciding it’s a waste of time since I have no idea what the rest of the day looks like—considering the rest of the day is where whatever I do to pay the bills happens—and I go back to checking Reddit or something.
Keep It Simple, Son.
(Yeah, I know the saying is Keep It Simple, Stupid, but I’m done talking shit on myself.)
You know what clicked for me? Thinking about what’s standing in my way right now. Not to be confused with simply bitching about what I don’t want—that’s all too easy. I didn’t just keep complaining about my lot in life or pouting over 20 years of poor choices—I dug in deep and explored why I made the choices I did, how I ended up where I am today, and what it’s gonna take to get where I wanna be tomorrow.
The 3 Pillars
I got it all narrowed down to three things I know will do me right regardless of what lies beyond those foggy walls I can’t seem to visualize yet. These are the 3 pillars upon which I can build the life I want—for myself and those around me. You might say they’re the air/fuel mix, compression, and spark for the engine powering my dreams. Here they are.
- Mental Health
- Physical Health
- Financial Health
Now, an important clarification:
Before we go any further, there is an important distinction to be made between mental and physical health, respectively, and how I’m using those terms here. Nothing you’re about to read should in any way be misunderstood to suggest those with mental illness or physical disabilities have any choice in the matter. There are things we just cannot control.
The sole intent of this piece—and any in this series—is that happiness and success comes from taking care of our minds and bodies, and that it’s important we build our best lives on sound foundations of mindful presence, physical action, and smarter financial decisions.
The only thing any of us can actually control is how we let things affect us. The world may seem a cruel place, but it’s entirely random. There is no rhyme or reason to anything unless we assign it rhyme or reason.
In other words, if you think the glass is half full or half empty—you’re right! Everything boils down to attitude. Our thoughts determine the words we use, which influence our actions, ultimately leading to our habits, character, and destinies.
Mental health, then, for the purposes of this exercise, speaks to developing a sound mind. Consider the following, often misattributed to Bruce Lee or Warren Buffett.
“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing everything with logic. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.” — Unknown
It’s also been said that dwelling on the past is depressing, while obsessing over the future is anxiety. Not to say these habits cause Depression or Anxiety—in the formal, clinical diagnostic sense of the terms—and DEFINITELY not to suggest those suffering from Depression or Anxiety Disorders can simply “snap out of it”, but rather to keep in mind that happiness is found in the present, in the right-here, right-now (where we can actually DO something about our situation and feel a sense of accomplishment in doing so).
For those dealing with mental health issues, there’s only so much they can do on their own. The rest of us, on the other hand, have a responsibility to be more mindful of our thoughts so we can have our heads in the game and be ready to jump at opportunities.
How do you get started?
I’m going to be talking to gearheads like us who seem like they know what they’re doing on this front, or have interesting stories about how they keep their cool under pressure and live in the now—or who contact me because they’re excited to share good ideas that really work.
I don’t think any of us have all the answers. And what works for me—or seems to be working so far: casual meditation, journaling, just going for a walk during the day—may not work for you. That said, I expect to have some new, useful information to share with you on this front in the coming months as I speak with people who know more about the subject than we do.
I’ll add that, if you need help sooner, please contact me. I write all this in the hopes of helping others. I’d rather spend an hour writing to someone who’s asked for help than just because I have a weekly deadline.
“Scientists are coming to recognise the effects of the mind on physical health. The sense of relaxation associated with inner peace involves not only being physically at ease. If you are nagged by worry or seething with anger, you’re not really relaxed. The key to relaxation is peace of mind. The relaxation gained from alcohol, drugs or just listening to music may seem attractive, but it doesn’t last.” — Dalai Lama
What good is a head full of good ideas and righteous thoughts if you can’t physically do anything with them? Again, this is not in any way meant to suggest those with physical limitations are limited, themselves—merely to point out that it’s important we take care of our bodies to the best of our abilities if we expect them to last and serve us well in pursuit of our dreams.
Like the Dalai Lama says, there’s a virtuous circle in play between mental and physical health. When we feel good, mentally, it’s reflected in our words and actions. If you feel good, you might go outside and play, you might go out and, you know, do something.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, but you already knew that. Did you also know that it impacts insulin levels, slows metabolism, and if not kept in check over the long term can lead to weight gain?
Adrenaline just makes you want to fight all the things. You know that feeling when you almost get in a wreck? The one where you suddenly feel super alert and ready to kick some ass? That’s adrenaline getting you ready for a fight.
Compare good vibes with feeling down in the dumps. Are you gonna get off your ass and chase those dreams or go do something with friends? Probably not. When we’re stressed out, we’re more likely to stay on the couch, eating convenience foods, and making things worse.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a fantastic quote about physical health:
“A well-built physique is a status symbol. It reflects you worked hard for it; no money can buy it. You cannot borrow it, you cannot inherit it, you cannot steal it. You cannot hold onto it without constant work. It shows discipline, it shows self-respect, it shows patience, work ethic, and passion. That is why I do what I do.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
He might as well be talking about a race car. Built-not-bought.
The Governator has a reputation for showing up online, seemingly at random, to offer encouragement to those who need it most. But he clearly has no time for excuses. And we’re ALL full of excuses these days.
How do you get started? Speaking as a dude who needs to loose 100lbs to be at his medically determined, ideal weight, I’d offer you start by paying attention to what you put into your body and how you burn those calories. Beyond that, though, there’s strength training, cardio, and flexibility. Speaking personally, here, I want to be strong enough to do the heavy lifting, flexible enough to not get hurt doing it, and have the guts to do it longer.
There’s more to Physical Health than these generalizations, of course, but I’ll leave that to gearheads like us I find—or who, again, contact me—who know more about this stuff. To be sure, you won’t find this gearhead in a CrossFitTM box anytime soon, but I don’t want to finally figure out what I’m doing with my life just in time for my body to give out on me and not be able to do it.
We’ve got to be smarter with our money. Period. Despite what the snake oil salesmen say, we are not temporarily inconvenienced billionaires whose lives will be better overnight with tax cuts and removal of government oversight. We are the working class. We have work to do. We have bills to pay. We have mouths to feed.
When I say financial health, I’m talking about getting to the point where our money works for US. It’s the freedom to pursue things that matter to us—without necessarily worrying about the price tag. In my Hindsight 2020 piece on New Year’s Day, I used examples of being offered a $12,000/year racing driver job or a turnkey overlanding rig. Fictional or not, it’s a lot easier to make those kinds of calls when we’re not buried in debt, ya know?
Opportunity is the name of the game, here—and it’s a long game.
I started out calling this one “3 Pillars of Success.” If you google “pillars of success”, you’ll find almost 60 million results to consider. Plenty of people out here on the intarwebz with grand ideas how you and I and everyone else can live better lives. At the end of the day, that’s what all of us want, right?
I’m not a guru and I don’t want to be.
For the record, I’m just a gearhead—a car guy—who discovered he wants to make a living helping gearheads like us—gearheads like you. If you read this entire thing, thank you. It’s almost 3,000 words at this point and one of the longest blog posts I’ve ever written. That’s how much this means to me.
After 10 years publishing this, that, and the other in pursuit of building a better life, I’ve recently discovered a few simple truths that make sense to me. I’ve built high performance machines. Now I want to build a high performance life.
- I can’t do all the things I really want to do because I’m swimming in debt.
- I don’t have the energy to dig in and get more work done because I’m out of shape.
- And I find I beat myself up with the wrong kinds of thoughts more often than I’d like.
These are the three pillars underpinning my own journey toward success. This year, I’m finally going to get my shit together.
- I’m going to get my head right so I make better decisions.
- I’m going to get my body sorted so I can do the work and go the distance.
- And I’m going to make real progress on freeing myself from debt so I can invest more time into things that matter to me—family, friends, TGP.
And, if you actually read this entire thing, you’re one—maybe TWO—of those.