Get Rid of Your Bad Habits

I went on one date with a girl so of course the next day I called her. We met while I was hitchhiking so I thought this would be a great story for our grandchildren. She said, “we should definitely do this again.” So I called. She wasn’t home. I waited five minutes. I called her again. She wasn’t home. I called her 20 times. I spaced it out every five to seven minutes just to mix it up. Finally she picked up, “was that you calling all those times?” I said, “maybe”.  I wanted a second date with her. I thought I was in love with her. I never saw or heard from her again.

(I wish she had been this eager to pick up the phone)

Another time I was sure I was going to go broke. I did everything possible to make sure my vision of going broke came true. I invested huge amounts in the stock market and lost it all. I bought a huge loft and lost it. I stopped paying attention to my work until I lost my job and the business I started. Then it came true. I went broke.

My kid just turned into a teenager. Everyone tells me, “WATCH OUT!” as if she’s now going to fall from some horribly huge building. I don’t care. I’m not listening. I’m just going to enjoy her right now.

These are all related to bad habits. We have apocalyptic visions of the future and obsess on them. We give excuses. We blame people. We dwell on past angers. Historical equals hysterical. We blame the world, the President, the rich, the poor. We’re afraid of going broke a year from now. Afraid someone is talking behind our back. Refuse to advance ourselves until…until…and then until again.

That’s why bad habits are so insidious. We actually develop mythologies as to why the bad habits might be good. We confuse self-improvement with bad habits or at least talk ourselves into thinking that.

Here are some:

A)     Worrying about obstacles. I have lots of obstacles in front of me. There are many things I worry about. But I know if today I do things to help people, if today  I work on what I need to do and nothing else, then instead of worrying I can also enjoy my down time.

When you have an obstacle in the future (you have three months of money left in the bank), you get scared. Or, your girlfriend is cheating, then it’s like being hit by an arrow. But when you then worry or obsess about it, it’s as if you are being hit by a second arrow. It’s the “obsess arrow” that can kill you.

(no obstacle is so big it will prevent you from finishing the race)

99% of the things I am anxious about never come true. Perhaps I am more anxious than most. But I’m always trying to calculate the future and I’m usually wrong. It’s hard to predict the future, particularly if it’s clouded by your anxieties and worries. And none of those worries will help you make a decision about what you need to do right now, today.

B)      Complaining. Saying, “I’m not good enough for X, or Y, or Z” where those things might be a person, or some money, or a job. Complaining never got anyone the job. Or complaining never got anyone love or success. Complaining is scratching an itch. Complaining is riding a dirty subway without any destination.

And yet people do it all the time to make excuses. If you say all the time, “I will never find the love of my life” or “I will never find my passion”  or “I will never get a job” then those words will become trapped in your body and mind, taking up the space that the love of your life could’ve taken up.

C)      Blaming Others. When I lost millions of dollars in 2000, many people encouraged me to sue my stock broker. Blame him. When I lost my marriage, I could’ve blamed any number of people, including myself, when a company I was involved with didn’t perform as well as I felt it should’ve , I had many people to blame. And many blamed me.

Blaming makes you angry. It brings you down a path that will have no good results (for instance, suing my stockbroker would’ve been a wasteful and expensive effort, or killing a guy who I thought was affecting a relationship I was in would’ve probably put me in jail, or blaming a boss for a company’s bad results would’ve only made my job harder. )

Everyone wants to blame. But Anger only causes wasted energy and tension. Anger never causes success. And even if you blame yourself, it only takes up moments where you could’ve been creative, or relaxed, or enjoying life, or laying down your next plans for the future. When you look in the mirror, saying, “I hate you” won’t make you more handsome.

When I was a kid I was so hideous with acne and messed up hair, and wimpy looks that a friend of mine looked at me and said, “you should smile more. It will make you look better.” And he was right.

D)     Time. A girl I used to date called me up crying. She said, “I’m fat. Everyone is ripping me off. I’m getting insomnia. And I’m going to run out of money in two years.” She had been married to someone very successful and had two years left on her alimony payments.

I said to her, “Well, I have the solution that will solve all of your problems.” She wanted to know what it was. I said, “Stop eating at that fancy steak restaurant every night. Stop drinking until two in the morning. Stop hanging out with that same group of people you are always complaining to me about. That’s it. Then come back to me in six months I bet everything will be better.”

She said, “I can’t do that. My whole lifestyle depends on those things you just said.” So now she weighs more, has less friends, less money, and is more scared. She’s considering surgery to help with these things but I’m not sure what surgery will help. Meanwhile, she has three million dollars in the bank and is 100% convinced she is going to go broke within five years and obsessively thinks about it.

Most people have no clue about time management. But the basic idea is: Avoid dinner and TV and you’ve just saved yourself 100s of hours a month. HUNDREDS! And you will lose weight, you will wake up earlier, when you have time to be creative in silence (I’m writing this at 5am). Most Americans eat 3000-4000 calories a day anyway. I can tell you one thing  for sure. NOBODY reading this blog is going to starve to death. No matter what you do. Even better if you can avoid alcohol at night. I would say avoid it all the time but, if you must, have alcohol at lunch. At least then the sugar will be out of your system at night so you can sleep well.

Some people say, “well I have kids, I can’t go to sleep early.” There’s only a short window where you can’t go to sleep earlier than your kids. And you don’t have to eat with them. Gross!

E)      Envy. Warren Buffett just said that we need to tax the rich to avoid societal unrest. “Societal unrest”! Isn’t that crazy? He basically is accusing all society of being schizophrenic because we know everyone wants more money, but he’s also saying that everyone wants everyone else to have less money. Or else civil war.

I’ll keep my hand out of your wallet if you keep your hand out of mine. There’s plenty to go around.

(envy can make you look ugly)

F)      Talking too much. Do you really have that much to say? At a meeting? Or to friends? Are you trying to justify something? Or sell something that can’t sell itself? Everytime you’re in a meeting, or even just hanging out talking, you’re probably just wasting time you could be thinking, or resting, or learning, or feeling grateful for something, or just enjoying being yourself.

G)     Disappointment about Failure. I am so guilty of this. Heck, this entire blog seems to be about all of my disappointments. I had a deal fall through for me the other day. I was trying to sell an investment I had. The deal was all set. Then the other guy backed out. It was the tenth such instance this year. I thought, “why is this always happening to me??” The funny thing is, everytime one of these deals falls through I keep hearing more and more good news about the companies I’m invested in. Thank god (so far) for all my failures this year!

Everytime you fail, use it as an excuse to back up, look at what might not have been ready yet for success, and adjust your mind, emotions, and business, to be ready for the right moment when it comes. And be grateful you failed. Because it’s only going to be better.  This sounds corny but it’s true.

Someone asked me yesterday, “what happens if you fail at raising money for your business.” I said, “it’s only a good thing. It’s a message you or your business were not ready. So it gives you a chance to take a step back and make a better business.” When everything is working, raising money is easy.

H)     Blaming the World and the Economy. My 10 year old says to me, “why has the economy been bad since I’ve been born?” I feel bad for her. The only reason she’s saying that is from some anxiety she has. That she’s probably gotten from me in some way. We’ve had an internet bust, a housing bust, a financial crisis, 10% unemployment, skyrocketing food prices, oil prices, etc.

Everything always seems pretty bad. And everyone complains about how hard things are. If you look at the news here’s the same headline for the past two years or so: “Greece worries bring down markets!” Who the hell is Greece already?

But in a $50 trillion dollar world economy, the few people who manage to rise above the blaming and the despair and the fear and the anxiety and the envy and the negativity, will get their hands on a piece of that $50 trillion dollars. If you rise above the competitive to become creative then you will win, regardless of the economy.

Think about it. If you don’t engage in the anxieties and panic 99% of the people are engaged in for no good reason then you’ve suddenly eliminated all of your competition. Now you can be creative and succeed. You can take a slice of that $50 trillion cake and eat it while everyone else is vomiting in the bathroom.

(only if you let it)

I)        No advancement. I used to think, “when I get a novel published I’ll finally be happy, or get a girlfriend, or get a job, or get money.” Or “when I get 100 million dollars in the bank, I’ll start to get back in shape.” Or, “when I get a girlfriend, I’ll buy some furniture or I’ll start finally writing that book I always wanted to write.”

Advancement can happen every day. Even in the smallest of ways. Make four new goals today. Make them very simple. Don’t say, “I’m going to lift 200 lbs and then I’ll be in shape.” Just say, “I’m not going to snack today”. Or even, “I’m going to walk around the block today .”

Why 4 goals? Because of what I always say: You can’t just improve with one of your bodies: but all four: physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. They are all connected. If you make one simple goal for each of them, then and only then do they begin to compound. We all know the magic effects of compounding. It adds up to a lot over six months.

Why do I keep pushing this? I’m not selling anything. What is wrong with this guy? All I can say is: it helped me.

And I don’t publish testimonials but maybe I should. It helps a lot of other people. And maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I want to be loved more so I want people to use this trick that I use so people will say, “My God! He’s a genius!” Maybe I need to work on my insecurity. If you have trouble tracking the goals use to track. I track my goals there. Sometimes I don’t hit every goal every day. But don’t feel guilty. There’s always the next day. It’s about progress, Progress makes permanent. Not perfection.

I haven’t done a real release of that yet. We’re adding a few more features so you can search and browse other people’s goals (depending on their privacy settings). We’re also adding more features to the Q&A side. I’ll write a full post when it’s released.

In November 2008 I was constantly worried about the financial crisis. I would lie in a hammock and I couldn’t even move if it started to rain. I thought “this is it,” the world is over and I’m going to die. Every business I was trying was going down the tubes. I have vague memories of trying to start a hedge fund then. And a business. And I had a book published that sold 300 copies.

“This is it,” I thought. “I suck.” I was getting a divorce. I was losing my friends. The economy was going to zero. The ATM machines would stop working. At some point in the future I would run out of money. My family hated me. I ate Thanksgiving dinner by myself in an empty diner.

Then I replaced all my negative thoughts with only one: I have to advance each day on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. That will eliminate all my bad habits. But back then I would lie in my hammock, soaking wet, nobody caring, the sky just getting darker and darker, and me praying for god to finally just take me home.

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  • bthewall


    I would encourage you to reconsider your views on what our government provides us and how it delivers these services to us. Taxation is a result of the citizens’ desires to have the government provide services to them. The argument that taxation is a result of envy is a canard used to deceive people who are easily fooled.

    If after careful consideration about the delivery of all government services (including Rule of Law) to all its citizens you are still against taxation, I encourage you to defend an argument that is on par with your intellect!

    •  I agree with you. BUT. How about we end the ten year wars in Afganistan and Iraq first. And wherever else we happen to be bombing. And the extra 150 military bases we don’t need. That would go a lot further towards saving lives and saving money. But, this just adds to my point. Better for me to focus on my wallet than the governments or anyone else’s because that’s the only way I’ll be able to really help my family.

      • bthewall

        I’m not for the wars either. To review: the citizens, via President Bush and Congress, decided to have specific services provided to them, namely the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The majority ruled and we must all live with it, unfortunately. (“Hey, why are we splitting the check at dinner? I didn’t want half the stuff we got?!” “You were at the table when it was ordered and you didn’t leave, either.”)

        But what about the other services that only government can provide, specifically, Rule of Law? And couldn’t the argument be made that those who benefit most from Rule of Law are those who earn the most money and/or have the most wealth? If those beneficiaries are then asked to do more to support the system they benefited so well from, why vilify that request as ‘envy’?

        •  Well, just not important to me. You can just as easily argue those are the people who create the most jobs. But there’s been polls done that EVEN IF the increased taxes were just thrown away by the govt, many would still favor it.

          • gettolibrtarian

             Your right, James.  The sad thing is that the government already ‘throws away’ many of our tax dollars.  Also, great point about the military bases.

        • pwrbrkr38

          Not to take away from a great article by James, but, I don’t see what this argument, wherein “societal unrest” is referenced in the article along w/ a reference to the Buffett Rule/Law, which any logical person knows is non-sense, and what your rantings about “rule of law” and “Iraq/Afghan et al.”has to do w/ anything… Great, governments are inefficient and wasteful… I hope you’ve known this for longer than Obama’s been in office.

          Envy = “occurs when a person lacks another’s perceived superior quality, achievement or possession and wishes that the other lacked it.”

          Assuming wealth is an achievement, James was spot on.

          • bthewall

            Didn’t mean to rant, that wasn’t my intent, sorry if it came across like that . . … . I didn’t bring up Iraq/Afghan, was merely responding to it. . . .

            Rule of Law is a very important service that only government can offer. It is often overlooked, as is fresh air. That’s the only reason I mentioned it.

            The post equated high taxes with envy and that was the point I contested in my original post.

            I agree that governments are wasteful. No question.

          • mikeyhell

            bthewall, if it is true that “Rule of Law is a very important service that only government can offer”, then you are implying that the only thing keeping *you* from reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is the threat of government force against you personally. Do you really mean that? If so, I’m not interested in having anything to do with you. My friends and associates follow the self-enforced moral law which says it is wrong to steal (or to cheat or to murder). And we have ways of dealing with those who reject the moral law, one of which is simply the right to self-defense against agressive force.

            Also, a “service” is something requested on a voluntary basis, not something forced down one’s throat by government mandate, even if the putative majority wills it to be so. Thus, government law enforcement is not a service since it is by definition a *monopoly* of legal oversight that brooks no competitors (just like a mafia). 

          • bthewall

            I encourage you to increase your understanding of the meaning of “Rule of Law”. It’s more than government sanctioned violence via the police force. However, since you do mention moral activity (and lack thereof) I would encourage you to ask yourself why do some societies enjoy low crime rates and others do not? Alas, it is not because of a shortage of honest people such as yourself.

            And since when is a service always voluntary? History provides us examples of restaurant meals, hotel stays and bus rides (all services) provided on a non-voluntary basis, famously in the South in the 1960’s. The contract that provides the service is voluntary ideally, of course. And since the founding of this great republic the citizens have engaged in a social contract, a concept first championed others greater than I, to wit: Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

            To argue against the social contract we have with the government is to argue against these great luminaries. It is a discussion that was settled over 200 years ago. For some Americans, though, it’s never to late to turn back the clock.

        • Otaddy

          When you look around at what our government does, do you really see the “Rule of Law”?

          I see the constant addition of more rules and regulations (and more taxes), to fix the damage done by the previous round of rules and regulations.

          By the way, if the wealthy are benefiting more from the rule of law, then that is proof that the government is failing at its job.

          I agree with the Torah on this when it comes to the Rule of Law:

          “Make fair decisions that neither show undue deference to the rich nor favoritism of the poor”. (Leviticus 19:15)

          • bthewall

            Thank you for your well thought out comment.

            Rule of Law is a tricky concept, you can’t buy it anywhere and you can’t see it, per se, either.  When you do business with the developing world, you see that our government gives this to us in spades. For example:

            Our contracts are valid: Did you read James’ post on how he got a mobile company under contract and then flipped it! (“How I screwed Yasser…”)  That was an AWESOME deal. But he could only do it because he had a legally enforceable binding contract. I learned to value this after I began doing business in Mexico.

            Security: Everyday examples include: anyone can walk the streets without fear at any time, mail is delivered to your mailbox and restaurants can be enjoyed without worry about who’ll walk in next. I learned to value this after I traveled to Africa.

            No one is above the law: Ask Nixon and Clinton if they get a special pass for being the most powerful person in the country. Even they are held accountable to the law.

            These are things that we usually notice AFTER they are gone.. .. ..

            So, to the extent that the rich and high income earners benefit from security and enforceable contracts, they benefit in absolute terms more than the minimum wage earner. If, as you say, this is then proof that the government is failing, then I encourage you to join me to seek a way to make this great nation more just.

          • Otaddy

            I agree that it is a tricky concept and I admit to having no easy answer.  

            All of the many “People’s Republics” thought they would bring justice, but they only brought more violence and oppression than the previous bourgeois rulers. 

            It’s true the rich have more pull in this country.  But then why do all the “working people” continue to vote for the millionaires and their crazy policies?  Why do they gobble up the little scraps tossed to them like ravenous dogs?

            That’s Democracy for you!  

            I’ll try to do be more just in my dealings with others, but I am not going to try to fix our government.  It’s a sunny day.  I took off work and I am going to enjoy it!  

  • James, could you share with us some daily examples of the 4-goal activities you do?


      I list some of my basic goals there and how I go about accomplishing them.

      • Andy

        Hi James, I’ve been reading you for a few months now.  A lot of what you have to say resonates with me.  Thank you for inspiring us. 

      • Thanks James, but I think you set it as ‘private’?

  • Love this, James.  And everything resonates true.  One small, seemingly insignificant statement really struck me, and I have been living by it for years—“You don’t have to eat with your kids–Gross!”  I SO TOTALLY agree with that.  I have 4 kiddos, from ages 7-15, and I have NEVER eaten with them.  I may sit with them and converse, or help them (most of the time) but eating with these small, messy, crazy people simply destroys whatever urge I have to eat in reasonable quantities, to eat healthful things (my kids eat well, but my nutritional requirements and preferences are MUCH different from theirs), and to really enjoy what I’m eating in a mindful way.  In other words, I don’t want to blow my happy thoughts (and my health) by partaking in their mealtime–just the stress of that would make me not pay attention to what I was sticking in my mouth.  Yay to you, Mr. Altucher.  I’m sold. 

    •  Haha. I know what you mean. Just all that ketchup and grease alone really turns me off to food. Of course, someone can say “you should feed them better”, but its hard enough to feed kids. Their palates are so different from adults.

      • When my son lived with me one of his favorite snacks was persian cucumbers with hummus. Because that was what was in the refrigerator. He also loved to have chicken sausage or salmon fillets or tuna steaks for dinner. 

        He went to live with his father two years ago. Now he eats potato chips, candy, soda, fried food, greasy food, fast food. 

        I love my son, but he went from a super healthy and adorable child to an overweight one. 

        Kids love the food they are used to. It doesn’t have to be greasy. The problem is, once the bad habits are in place they are almost impossible to break. My son won’t even look at a veggie hummus plate now. 

      • mikeyhell

        Is it possible to get anything down a child’s gullet that is NOT a refined carbohydrate or PUFA? I have observed that parents have a to constantly push the healthy foods and police the bad stuff. I don’t know how I’d deal with that if I was a parent. It’s a crappy situation.

  • great advice!

  • Mmmesq

    Thank you for giving examples from your own life, it makes me feel like someone else has struggled as well and gives me hope. 

  • Otaddy

    Blaming the economy, etc…  I’m guilty of that.  

    But then I realized that for most people, “the economy”, “the govt”, racism, antisemitism, foreign trade, etc. are problems that they will always be complaining about and no solution will ever make them happy.  

    The bad habit here is thinking that someone else (or the Demopublicans, Republicrats, Christians, Jesus, God, etc) will fix things for you.  It’s not going to happen, so give it up!  I will try to as well.

  • When you fail to hold other people responsible for what they in reality did in error, you enable them, and you DO in fact seal in yourself scars of guilt for the steps you should have taken to stop the wrong.

    Blow the whistle. If you see something, say something. Demand responsibility-taking, not only in yourself, but where appropriate, in the wrong-doer. Otherwise you will carry that with you just like the other problems named here. We are also responsible for the good we did not do, and the wrongs we ignored.

  • I’ve seen variations of this pop-psychology piece elsewhere, and frankly I’m calling BS on many aspects of it. Number one, the assertion that the author “made and lost millions.” Kindly stop bull—-ing us with such arrogance.

  • The “time” section is the one I’m struggling with now. Right now my goal is to go to bed by 11 PM but it’s surprisingly been harder than I expected. So my new rule is to not watch TV at all during the week and not surf the net aimlessly or read interesting books after getting home from work. If I must, I’ll do such things in the morning by waking up an hour or two earlier. We’ll see how it goes, but you’re so right, especially about the drinking thing.

    • Ricky, I’m surprised.  Figured you’d be amazingly disciplined.  Nice to know you’re human :)

    • Luhar_91

      Ricky, turning off the tube helps.  I havent watched TV on a “school night” in almost a year (My wife instituted this policy now that our boys are in preschool).  it also helps to stay off the PC after 8pm or so, the screen will keep you up.  Ive been reading a ton and that seems to help, but every now and again I notice its 10:30 and Im still up.  I chalk it up to nearly 2 decades of the night owl lifestyle!  Its gonna take time, keep at it!

  • Thank you 

  • mgmarino

    “Who the hell is Greece already?”

    Classic Altucher – ♡

  • Mr Altucher… Your posts have literally changed my life… (must be a cliche now)… Do i have to be worried if I know my wife loves me but she doesnt show it… at all

    • No, you don’t have to worry. But it’s hard. What I would do is to seek counseling with your wife and find a way to tell her that her lack of showing it is very painful to you. That once you both spent much of your day figuring out how to show it. Perhaps there are things about you that she feels is missing also. Now is the time to figure these things out.

  • Mr Altucher, do you have answer for everything? I guess you do. Happy to follow you in Twitter and everything you say. So realistic. Life changer that is what you are.

  • The problem with bad habits – my weakness with them, at least – is not the habits, I can discipline them away, but it’s when I’m low, I’m sick, or things are not going well, that’s when their pull is strong, and sometimes they win.  I eventually discipline my way back, but it’s tiring.  

    They’re kind of like an underlying virus waiting for one to be in a weak state.  

    I think the daily habit might be the solution.  

  • Momo432

    did you ever stop to consider that maybe you are who you really in your deepest heart know you are and that all this pollyanna stuff is well just stuff to keep you from the cliff?

  • Andrew

    Hi James. I have read all your books and love reading your excellent blog. This post was truly exceptional. In my humble opinion this encapsulated the most important aspects in life in terms of being happy, fulfilled and maintaining the daily discipline to constantly move forward. Thank you for this!

    I also totally agree with you about your opinions on the stock market. I tried “trading” for years and it is a complete losing proposition. There are so many scam artists out there and you are one of the only people that tells it like it is. Thank you again for everything you do.



  • The Fat Boy

    James, I hope you realise just how profound this sentence is:
    ” If you rise above the competitive to become creative then you will win”
    Great strategy for living life in just 13 words.

  • mikeyhell

    Nice post, James!

  • I was having a bad day today and I sought your writing out for the humor, the truth and the thread that runneth through all of us. Thanks James.

  • Егор Овчаренко

    For me this app was helpful – it actually punished you each time you do your bad habit: HabitBreaker for iPhone. Get it here