Can We Change Our Lives?

[This question came from my Twitter Q&A last Thursday. These Q&A posts are getting so big I'm going to start rolling them out in smaller pieces. If you like them, please Facebook Like above, or Follow me on Twitter and join me for the next Q&A, every Thursday from 330-430 EST. ALSO, if you have more answers for the question below, please put them in the comments. For instance, how have you changed your life for the better?]


Emeric Caron ‏@CaEmeric: hey James, a little question. I work in a bank that I hate, do you think we can change our lives for the better?


The worst is wondering how you'll find the strength tomorrow to do the exact same horrible things you did today and have been doing for maybe years.

Where will you find the strength for these incompetent people around you, for the running runing RUNNING, all over the place and getting nowhere, despite attempts to escape the crushing necessity, the sickening feeling that destiny won't change, that every night you will be down and out, crushed by the dread of even more sordid and more insecure tomorrows?

(sometimes it feels hopeless)

But right now it's over. Starting this second. You might have feelings about the past ("I did nothing with my life", "I hate that I took a job at the bank", etc) but those are just feelings. The past is gone. Yes, you have feelings about it. Say hi to them. That's it.

The future is wide open. The music in you hasn't died just yet. We're always afraid that the ever-closer old age will threaten the worst, ending with cruelty and malice, ending with NOTHING, but it never has to threaten the music. Instead we're going to finetune the instrument. Make it more melodic, make it more symphonic, make it sing with beauty.

How can you bring about a better future?  I've been in unhappy jobs. I've been broke. I've been in an unhappy marriage. I've been depressed, medicated, lying  on hotel hallways passed out with people walking over me. Lying on the corner of 52nd and Lexington at 2 in the morning passed out drunk while cars that could barely see me swerved around me. Making it home just in time to vomit, just in time to wake up to meet with investors the next day. Could I change?

It's not fun to be unhappy.

But that changes today. Right this second. Are you breathing? Take a second and check. Take two deep breaths. Are you breathing? Ok, now you can change completely.

You need to get your body back in shape. Not just your body but everything inside of you. Your brain. Your soul. Your emotions. Your angers. Your worries.

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Make four goals for today. Just four.

One goal to make your body physically better (don't drink, don't eat carbs, sleep 9 hours, exercise, walk around the block, CLEAN YOURSELF, etc - that's all. Just pick one of those goals. Or two, or three. Whatever you want).

Make one goal emotionally: Be grateful for someone in your life. Tell them. Connect two people who should meet. Read a book you love. Be  nice to someone you know. Say "no" to someone you don't like, someone who brings you down. Again, just pick one goal. Maybe even this: everytime you think about the past that brought you here just say, "I acknowledge I have bad feelings about the past" but stop the blame that you caused it. It's done. Make that your one emotional goal of the day. The past is one arrow that has been shot at you. But blaming yourself is the second arrow. Don't kill yourself with the second arrow.

(answer in the comments: what is your emotional goal for the day. What are good emotional goals?)

Make one goal mentally. I always suggest coming up with ideas but it doesn't have to be that. Read a book. Underline things you like in the book. Memorize a list of 7 letter words for Scrabble. Here's one for today: every article in the newspaper think about how that article is lying to you. Because they all are. Not on purpose but because they don't know better. Just think. A simple goal. Later you can add to your mental goals.You can list ideas for companies you want to start. You will start a company. You will break free from the bank. But you need the other three categories to do that. And you need to build up your mental body first the way you would build up your physical body.

Spiritual. Surrender. Accept the past. Here you are in the present. It's happened. There's nothing you can do. So accept it. And accept the future. Why accept the future? Because you know the music is not going to die. Because if you do these four goals every day life is going to get better and better. Surrender to that. Because doing these goals begin to unlock the mysteries inside of you. They want to come out and play.

Every week add one more goal in each category. You will be the lighthouse of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and all of the other lost boats will seek you out. Your light will shine through all the fog until you can see all the shores around you.

Use to track your goals (Again: the developer, Jay Shirley, is going to kill me for giving out the URL before final features are in but it's a great tool for monitoring and tracking these goals). Put your goals in there. Make sure you check the box on them each day this week. Each goal is in a different color. It's pretty when you see a week's worth of goals checked.

Note: this is not "The Secret". There's no visualization here. There's no future that we create. Today is about TODAY. Do what you need to do today. Surrender to it. Tomorrow will take care of itself once you do that.

Your life is going to change with such blinding speed you won't believe it. It will feel like magic coming out of your fingertips and your eyes. But change will happen. Do these goals today. Surrender to them.

The Journey towards Personal Freedom Starts with YOU

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  • ClaudiaYoga

    Love this, if you can breathe you can change! YES

  • Peter S. Chung

    I love this. I absolutely love it. Thanks so much James.

  • you changed my words;) The most important is to be aware of the infinite possibilities that we have, and not feel forced to have a house, children … That’s what started the change, and motivate us to take risk, those who drive to the success.

    •  Yes, very true. My kid just asked me “what’s a normal life?” and there is really no such thing. We do have infinite possibilities.

  • very nice James.  I’m only 23 and I’m still thinking how I can change my life for the better.  I think this world has brought upon my generation too many worries like finding the most high paying job, living in a great apartment, driving the best car, etc.  Sometimes I think the career path I chose won’t fulfill my desires.  But at the end of the day I realize that I am grateful for many things, like having a job (since most college grads don’t have employment) and learning a lot about business.  I should be grateful for what I have now.  

    • Jeremy Taylor


      • Jeremy, I think his blog prepares our generation for the future… It’s great to read and learn everything now and sort of “prepare” for it.  I always appreciate advice that is real.  I rather have someone tell me how it is then have some guy sugarcoat advice saying, “If you work hard, you will succeed.”  I honestly appreciate the hard honest truth.  

        Stay strong brotha

        • luos

          I’m 23 too, and i find his blog useful and inspiring. :)

    • I agree, and my improving yourself from the inside out helps to get rid of that brainwashing thqat constantly tries to come from the outside-in. The younger you start getting rid of that brainwashing, the better, although its never impossible no matter what the age (I can attest to that)

  • Nick

    This is interesting, because the answer to the question in the title doesn’t have a simple answer. When most people try to solve a problem, they think, e.g., “well, of course, I just need to do X, Y and Z, so let’s make a 10-step plan to get these things done.” But the kinds of problems you’re talking about aren’t like this. What you seem to be saying (and I agree) is that the individual and their ego can’t really speak to problems like this. Rather, the solutions are found by generally improving yourself and making your world a kinder, gentler place to be. Because this makes you receptive to whatever forces other than your will are waiting to help you.

    • Yes, EXACTLY.

    • Mat

      Actually, the question does have a simple answer….yes….the deeper question is, Will you?

    • Chouaib

      ohh! I understood it the same way as you did but I couldn’t figure out how to say it and here you write it down perfectly! great comment! 

  • Rob Hunsicker

    James, I would like to hear more of your thoughts on goal visualization. It seems to be firmly entrenched but I’ve never found it to be particularly effective. 

    •  Rob, its a great question. I think that improving things from the inside makes life happen EXACTLY as it is supposed to happen. Whereas goal visuatzation tries to make our tiny brains control a big universe that doesnt care what our brains visualize.

  • Darrin S

    Emotional goal:  To enjoy today for what it is, not for what happened in the past to lead me here, or how the things I do today will affect the future.  Today I am free.

    •  Great goal. Very hard sometimes to not get immersed in the past but good to be able to take a step back and say, “I might have negative feelings abotu the past TODAY, but the past doesn’t exist anymore”

    •  WOW, Darrin! Just wow – not constantly take note of the symmetry, balance and circle of life and just – clear the moment – enjoy. Very well said, set the bar unbelievably high, but I am comfortable with failure!

  • The emotions are what make us humane. I had sex
    1 time with my ex-lover & another time with an old school girl friend. And
    I know the exact difference b/w the two. It’s now happening that I can realize
    what the true love can be and I would love to go afar in subtle search of it!

    The emotional assets are those whom we can share our love with. So whatever you
    have, try to share it with the people you feel are either deprived or very close
    to you. Don’t forget to rebel with the negative people because you have to take
    up this responsibility too, seeing the increasing difference b/w govt &

  • I just love how quickly you took her question and turned it into the *real* question she didn’t ask! That really is the beauty of your Q&A – we don’t even realize we’re asking the *wrong* questions, but that doesn’t escape you – *boom* ! “There’s that, imagine that, deal with *that.* Here’s how it goes…” -James Altucher, in unfairly  succinct summation. 

  • Kare Anderson

    In addition to Jay’s goal monitoring tool see the hundreds of self-tracking tools that the amazing individuals in Quantified Self are developing, honing and sharing

  • Mal Greenfield

    For my emotional goals I aim to do something that makes my heart sing.  That usually involves the senses (see, touch, hear…) so it could be as simple as taking home a flower (or to work) that I can look at, a feather I’ve found, a walk in the sun, or through leaves, or on the beach. 
    Sometimes I like to pay it forward, pay for the next coffee that’s the same as mine etc.  By focusing on what makes me feel good, or in my terms, what makes my heart sing, it makes me feel alive inside.  I love these posts James, they make me think and the simple things (tdp) are really quite profound.

  • kamalravikant

    A wise friend of mine likes to remind me whenever I’m whining about screwing up or falling – I should know better by now, wish I’d known earlier, etc. etc – that life is from the inside out.  It all starts within at this moment.  That is all there is.

    Wish there was to really internalize this knowledge in a way that my thoughts and emotions and actions would arise from here.

    •  Funny the way you reference it: “internalize this knowledge”. As if it is still coming from the outside and has to be stuffed inside so now it can be fit ‘inside”. the brain doesn’t want to give up power. The knowlege is already inside. But we are stuck with thousands of archaelogical layers of brainwashed knowledge spread out over the decades, over the generations. But before that there was Mother Earth. Which gave life.

      • kamalravikant

        Oooh, good point!  You’re so right, boy what shift.  Going to grok this one for a while.  Thank you, James.  

  • Travis

    Nicely done.

    Funny about the “lost souls” line coz I’d been thinking of that in relation to this blog the other day. Who else asks a stranger for life advice? And I was thinking about the lost souls and found souls in 12 step groups and the support you can get (and give) in 12-step groups and I was wondering if I should do them again despite knowing there are certain things I don’t like about them and probably never will. But I can think of at least as many reasons to go as I can to not go, and the only way to find out if it will help is to try it. And if it helps I’ll have to try committing to it. I hate the idea of committing to something (or someone) if I feel it’s likely I’ll have to decommit later – but later isn’t here yet.

  • Thanks James, I needed this.

  • Does anyone ever feel like they’d be happier just living in the woods? But I think then I’d miss some people.

    emotional goal: when you’re with friends and you’re saying bye for the day, shake their hand. They’ll think it’s weird and for some reason makes you feel better. Most people dont shake hands anymore though…they slap hands or do some crazy thing.

    • We do that all the time. Whenever our group gets together (for cycling, at the pub, dinner, whatever) the men shake hands and the ladies hug when we meet and before we part. It’s not even conscious anymore – it’s just part of the way we reconnect whenever we meet. Some people think it’s silly but it’s great. Many North Americans are so afraid of touching each other.

  • I feel like have to learn this over and over again…it’s as if I “get it” for a while then I fall way off course.

    Knowing and doing are not at all the same.  Thanks for the refresher post.

  • Ginger_gal

    Great post. Except for one point.  One should eat carbs. Contrary to what people hear, carbs (in fruits and vegetables) are good for you. Carbs give one energy and carbs also help the brain in releasing seratonin, the feel good chemicals.  

  • boo

    “…we’re going to fine-tune the instrument. Make it more melodic, make it more symphonic, make it sing with beauty.”

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for that. Really inspiring.

  • Joe

    “Accept the past. Here you are in the present. It’s happened. There’s nothing you can do. So accept it.”

    Extremely simple yet so many people do not stop for 5 minutes and think of nothing but accepting the past… its funny how it actually forever changes their paths..

    I got scammed so i will never trust anyone again, this is what their brain thinks unconsciously.


    I got scammed, it was my fault, never hire a guy with 0 ratings on elance again, it was my fault, i accept the responsibility and will never do it again. I lost, i won a lesson because i acknowledged it, im stronger now. Bad reference but the idea is there.

  • Saying hello to your emotions is a great idea.  

  • Gosia

    Thank you James. i will transfer my dreams into goals and will start NOW. have already wasted too much time thinking how my life should enravel but did not really do anything substantial to backup and propel the dreams. i am writing all these stories on loose papers and keep them in boxes, drawers, shelves..whenever…. I guess it is time to face the fear of rejection (what if they hate it?). Who cares. i will keep writing (even though english is my second language and i only started to use it some 15 years ago). Love your blog. one day i will be out there, too!

  • You make it sound all so easy and do-able! There’s just this fear of taking the plunge off the edge of the precipice that holds one back, which makes all that you write seem even more amazing. And thank you for the link to the ‘Daily Practice’, i really needed that! 

  • A great post. Straight to the point – you pared it down very well.

  • qufuk

    you can change your life to become a muslim