The Power Of Five: The trick to make life better

Sometimes I feel like I’m engulfed in red flames. I don’t want to be afraid or anxious any more.

There are two banks to the river: on one bank are all the regrets, guilt…past.

On the other bank are all the worries, anxieties…future.

I lived most of my life on the bottom of the river, clinging to my fears of being swept up by all the currents. It’s hard to let go. I was afraid to crash into the banks. Everyone else around me was scared also.

But the only way to get to the ocean is by letting go of the fears and anxieties. By not clinging to what was stolen so you can enjoy the energy that is yours forever.

I know it’s easier said than done, but this helps me. I hope it helps you too…


Everyone knows the first one:

1) You are the average of the five people around you.

This isn’t quite true but you get the idea. Be around people who love and inspire and respect you and who you respect. Every moment otherwise is a waste.

That’s the first. But there are other “five things” that are important.


2) You are the average of the five things that inspire you the most.

It may sound corny but surrounding me in this room…

  • The original sketches Joe Harris put together when he was pitching his 60s cartoon “Underdog”. I always feel like the Underdog. I WANT to be the Underdog.
  • An animation cel from the opening sequence of “I Dream of Jeannie”. I like to believe in magic. I like to believe everything I don’t know or understand is magic. And Barbara Eden is sexy. She’s 80 year old sexy now.
  • An animation cel from “Alice in Wonderland”. I went down the rabbit hole in 2010 and never looked back. I don’t even know what I mean by that but I’m in wonderland.
  • A photo from the 1957 World Go championship with Sakata Eio staring at the board with such intensity. I wish I could be that intense even once in my life. And in the photo, there’s one tooth that juts out and you know it’s enough to just kill you. I write about it in my post, “The Tooth“.


3) My thoughts are the average of the five things I think about. 

I try for it to be gratitude, abundance, health, value, and WOW! In reverse order.

4) My body and mind are the average of the five things I “eat”.

I put “eat” in quotes because I include mental food. For instance, I don’t put junk news, junk articles, junk tv in my head. And I (try) not to put junk food in.

5) I am the average of the five things I do to help people each day.

If you can’t think of five things, then build up. This is not only how you avoid the banks of the river but how you move down the river.

So that’s five things of 5 things.

If all I do is focus on this little “power of 5” then I know I won’t hit either bank of the river. In the comments, put your five things most important to you.

When I’m tired I float on my back and stare into the sun and when I close my eyes the sun is still there in blue and fire.


P.S.: Take action today:  (1) Find your five people… thoughts…objects… ways you help people.. and things you consume (food and mental ingestion)   (2) Share your insights in the comments (3) Congratulate yourself, you’ve identified them!

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  • Another good thing to remember when you find yourself back in the present moment is, “Ah, I’m okay.” Usually we let things get us all mixed up and bothered, and we forget that we’ve got two arms, two legs, two functioning eyes, a beating heart, two lungs, and everything is functioning well enough. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this a lot. Being appreciative towards your eyes, your heart, your lungs, etc. A very good practice.

    • I love the TNH quote, when you breathe, say to yourself, “I’m alive!”

  • This reminds me of a note I keep in the notes on my phone for days when entrepreneurship is beating me up (and it frequently does):
    1.) It could *ALWAYS* be worse.
    2.) It’s just an experiment
    3.) Through suffering comes strength
    4.) The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.
    5.) There’s no failure; any result is learning.

    And then I love my wife and read my gratitude journal.

    • Another “5”! Great points. I particularly like #2. I try to live my life that way.

  • So sorry to hear about the accident. That’s horrible and I hope the kids (including yours) are doing okay.

    My little sister’s karate sensei’s son passed away and she was really shaken. She never realized life could end before. It’s scary. None of us really think about it on our day to day basis and suddenly when we’re reminded how fragile we are we start contemplating our lives along with everyone we know.

  • Life is precious indeed.

    In 2011, myself (and my family) suffered from a bad stomach bug. My family got over it the usual way, I didn’t.

    That year, I finally realized what decades of eating poorly (most of the time) had done to me. It was a wake up call.

    I’m thankful every day that I got that wake up call instead of something worse… and that I get to spend every single day with my wife of 21 years, and my two boys.

    All the bad stuff is just bullshit that tries to get in the way of that.

  • We need to live while we are alive, and rest when we are not. Small reminders should make us aware of this at all times. Sometimes the reminders are huge.

    A beautiful young 22-year old woman across the street from us lost her life to a heroin overdose this past summer. I cried as a procession of 49 vehicles passed by her house on her way to be buried. A vivid reminder of how short life can be, and is.

    We never know.

    • Yes. And its’ even shorter when you look at how much of our lives we actually “live”. I think it was Ben Franklin who said, “many people die at 25 but are buried at 75”.

  • Cherry

    “Barbara Eden ” you kiddin? YOU are completly right!! that smile aahhh… she’s gorgeous!

  • Linsi Brownson

    Love this, thanks James. Another ‘5’ for me is “Others view me by the 5 things I say most often.” So I’ve tried to cut back on the sighs or complaints I offer when I talk to people. I don’t want to be the negative friend/daughter/neighbor, I want to be someone who people look forward to seeing.

    And I’m so sorry to hear about the accident. My heart goes out to the families.

    • That is great, Linsi. I write about this in another post but the power of silence is louder than just about any other power.

  • I always feel WOW when I read your posts. Today is no exception. Wow.

    That’s it! I’m making my vision board for 2014 this weekend! Please thank Claudia for the indirect kick in the pants.

    • I have to say, it’s magic. It really works.

      • Beth

        Love this article! James, do you or Claudia have a post anywhere about how you put together a “vision board”?

  • Osaghae Napoleon Irianan

    Thanks for this man! Your articles have really gotten me thru some serious shiit man! like u have no idea! each time i come here it’s like getting one of those boost in mario/packman just when i am about to run out of life! launched two software this year, they flopped! just decided last night to pursue my third idea (out of almost a hundred, thanks to u btw)! a website this time, got on elance and quickly found a programmer and the mission is officially a go.

    Having failed in more than 10 biznesses and products/ideas, I can say this one is a real killer, i may be wrong, but time will tell. Having had a near death experience in 2008, i dont do what i dont love, i pursue any idea i think its worth pursuing and i have no regrets. In the mean time, though not all my ideas will succeed and take off, I thank God that my life is a composition of stories in which i am the actor, the director and the producer, and whenever the day comes that i have to take my last breadth, I can comfortably sit back, relax, grab a pop corn, turn off the lights and enjoy the movie. God bless you James

  • Alexandra Leh

    I hope you don’t think I’m missing the point when I say, Please don’t stare into the sun!

    I get the 5×5 “average” idea. I think it’s the same thing I refer to as “the standard.” We alone set the standard in our lives, for the people and thoughts and actions we allow into our immediate sphere. We can always tell (if we’re paying attention!) where we’ve set the standard for the day (I’d say for the month or the year, but I’m a recovered alcoholic and take it a day — sometimes, a moment — at a time).

    Your four basics remind me of the Four Agreements — probably because the last one is a shared tenet. Simple, practical, effective.

    You are a fine dad for your children to have in the face of this awful loss. It isn’t enough to say, “These things happen,” ‘tho they do. We all have within us the capacity to manage the horrible stuff that inevitably befalls us as individuals and communities and nations and worlds. The attention you’ve paid, and continue to pay, serves them well. Us, too. Thanks, as always…

  • Jenny Epel Muller

    I’ve been reading your blog for two and a half years and only now did I realize we live in the same town. That’s just bizarre. I’ve probably seen you on Main Street. Thank you for these suggestions on how to emotionally process the derailment. My husband rides that train every day and I’ve been really shaken up.
    I first heard of you and found your blog when that NY Magazine article about the uselessness of college came out, and you were quoted in it. The myth that school will provide you with a great future is my pet topic, and I love all your ideas on it. In fact, I’ve been working on a writing project on that subject, and your posts on how to deal with the self-doubt of following your own path have been invaluable in that process. Like, you wrote a few weeks ago that it takes a YEAR just to get the lay of the land with any new project, and that was so heartening to read. I’m still pretty much reading my 500 books at this stage.
    When the derailment happened I started to doubt my interest in the project. I thought, sure, I “care” about this, in the sense that I’m preoccupied with it, but I don’t CARE about it the way I care about my husband and son, and there’s so much ego tied up with a “writing career” which after the derailment makes the whole endeavor feel like superficial bullshit. It made me wish I had become a doctor or scientist instead so I could save people’s lives and fewer people would have to deal with the sudden tragic loss of their loved ones. And yet, if fewer people believed in the school myth, maybe more smart kids would become scientists who save people’s lives instead of debt-soaked retail clerks and office temps who thought going to college would take care of their futures. So in that way I am doing something important, but it’s often hard to see between all the anxiety about the future and the fact that my project is rooted in regrets about the past and egocentric desire to right those wrongs.
    Anyway: Hi, neighbor.

    • KimO

      Jenny, you have no idea how many lives you will save with your writing. And you’d be surprised how many doctors accidentally kill people, and how many scientists inadvertently, though probably unintentionally, invent things that are literally used to destroy, rather than heal, the world. You have talents that are gifts you are meant to share with the world, and as long as you are sharing them from a place of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health, they WILL make the world a better place. So you blew a bunch of cash on an education that didn’t instantaneously make you a millionaire living the good life. You learned something. And like Maya Angelou says, now that you know better, you’ll do better. Just being present and loving your family makes you a hero in my book any day.

    • Hey Jenny, didn’t know you were my neighbor either. Friend me on Facebook. I couldn’t find you.

  • Anam

    I dont have 5 people that stable in my life BUT
    1. i have a wall with 25 people i look up to in different creative fields, their photos on one big collage. i look at them during my low times and have mini conversations.
    2. i have a ‘2014 short term goals’ list on the wall (pictures only, no words…color coordinated by importance.)
    3. i have a huge picture of me (age 5) on the wall that my mom gifted on my 25th birthday, i look at it to remind myself to be more childlike and spontaneous when i am being tough on myself. its placed right across from my mirror.

    • cgello

      I like number 1 alot. I thought about doing something similar but with like Steve Jobs and Tim Cook (with Tim’s face with an X through it) to remind myself why I want to be an entrepreneur vs employee and have it on my ceiling over my bed so I can see it first thing when I wake up.

  • Thanks for that James, I love the river metaphor. I have heard “you are the average of the 5 people around you” many times, but I haven’t thought of it beyond that. Surrounding yourself with the five things that inspire you most is an awesome idea. Thanks for the tip.

  • Lex

    Greetings from Mexico, i just wanna say i really I enjoy reading your posts. Saludos!!

  • Ashley

    I just failed a University exam. Worth 80% of my mark. . . This is a course I failed a few years ago. This is the second time I’ve failed it. I came across your article and it finally made me stop crying and wake up. Im a stubborn girl. And clearly I needed to fail twice. To learn that University does not have to be a part of my life.

    We met before in Toronto. You inspired me then and you’ve now once again reminded me what’s important in life.

    Thank you for this Post.

  • jb

    Fantastic post as always. When you don’t understand how something works it’s magic. I especially enjoyed that part of your post. Gratitude is huge and losing any sense of entitlement will propel you to higher ground for sure!

  • Hi James,

    I read about the train accident and my heart went out to those involved. I’m so sorry.

    On a daily basis I try to think about impermanence. When something is going wrong, I use it to remind myself this won’t last. This awful feeling will go away. When something wonderful is happening, I use it to remind myself to appreciate the beauty of the moment and enjoy it, because it too won’t last. This leads me to gratitude. Gratitude makes me feel better. When I feel better I’m kinder to others and I’m kinder to myself—less negative mental chatter. Less negative mental chatter, means more space for creativity.

  • kara rane

    Yes to the power of visualization and the positivity of being surrounded by art images. Color and Light have the ability to heal and transform in miraculous ways.

  • Gloria Merrick

    Wow this is so true. What really speaks to me is “time traveling” I catch myself doing it so often and it always leads me to negative places. Especially with relationships. But I have been finding so much freedom in doing what I want, choosing who I surround myself with and choosing to look outside of myself.

    Its interesting how much of life is lived in my head and how we can choose what to think about and not allow it to be dependent on outside factors. Thank you for your perspectives in your books and articles. I am growing so much from them and feeling much more quality in my life.

  • Ted

    Improving the 5 things thought about and the 5 things eaten would solve so many peoples problems. It sounds so easy that I guess it’s hard to believe.

    Check out Ben Franklins’ list of 12. Rules of (self?) management.

  • Vibhanshu Vb Sharma

    list of five is the very essence of life : Fire,Earth, Air, Water
    &Ether…. we are absorbed continuously into these and eventually by

  • Hi James, awesome post. Thanks for adding a bit of poetry to my day.

    Let me give it a try:

    1) Being humble to find the best possible solution to any problem. If ego(s) gets in the way it’s sure to fail

    2) Life is meaningless so I might as well enjoy it without fear, guilt or other unproductive feelings

    3) My girlfriend. The simple thought of seeing her when I get back home is incredibly soothing. Sappy but true.

    4) Pleasures (physical, emotional, psychological, whatever). They are what we all live for. The real difference is where we get them from

    5) Avoiding complacency at all cost. When it hits, it usually hits hard

  • Sydney Diamond

    No other place to post this: Hope you and Claudia and your family have a marvelous holiday season! And continued success, health and happiness in the coming new year. Thank you for your books, your blogs, your common sense, your humor!

  • Just stumbled onto your site James. Great article (and site). The only problem is I don’t talk to real live humans anymore (except my wife and kids and even they have a Daddy app) My relationships are electronic – so I guess I’m the sum of my 5 most visited websites. Better keep an eye on that.

    Best in 2014, Sam

  • Mel Anie

    I have been feeling my own transformation progressing at a rapid pace for the past 3 months. I have always followed my gut, my passion, my curiousity. I teach a life skills course for male prisoners about to be released in our state correctional system. For 4 months we discuss specific topics that address all areas of their/our lives that may need special attention so that when impatience, frustration, even desperation creep in, we can make better choices so we don’t fall into old and negative behaviors that could jeopardize our freedom, our relationships, our future and ultimate happiness. I love what I do. I feel my own past mistakes have allowed me to compassionately yet firmly present this material in a way that these men realize change is possible if you want it bad enough. I feel the rewards of being able to help make a difference for some of these men. It helps to be upbeat and exude a positive attitude in this job. Several months ago I went through a breakup with a boyfriend that confused me, broke my heart, left me doubting myself. I have suffered deep feeling of sadness and defeat. I wanted to give up on ever realizing my own personal dreams. How can I be optimally effective when now I feel despair? My head knows the truth and what I need to do but my heart hasn’t cooperated.

    I trudged on through and have felt a force demanding me to dig deep to find the strength and peace to accept life as it comes. Hey, I’ve gone through the painful ending of my marriage 10 years ago. I know the emotional impact this might have if I allowed it to control me. I knew something needed to change in me so that I don’t waste precious time looking back on things I have no control over.

    I just discovered you today. And I am so thankful I did. Your writings are exactly the type of encouragement I need. I have felt a renewal of hope and a more positive outlook this past week and you have added even more momentum to that.

    My 5 things…..I have always tried to :
    1. Show kindness always.
    2. Listen with an open mind and see all sides, not just mine.
    3. Stand firm in positive values and beliefs when confronted with negative
    proposals or disagreements.
    4. Be funny and silly. A sense of humor works wonders and laughing brings
    people together. Laugh a lot!
    5. DO EVERYTHING IN LOVE. That’s what we were put here to do.

    Thank you, James. I will look for you on Facebook.

  • Wouter Rikmans

    First Striving: “To have in their ordinary being-existence everything satisfying
    and really necessary for their planetary body.”

    Second Striving: “To have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for
    self-perfection in the sense of being.”

    Third Striving: “The conscious striving to know ever more and more concerning the
    laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.”

    Fourth Striving: “The striving from the beginning of their existence to pay for
    their arising and their individuality as quickly possible, in order afterwards to be free
    to lighten as much as possible the Sorrow of our Common Father.”

    Fifth Striving: “The striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other
    beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the
    sacred Martfotai, that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.”

    ~ The Five Being Obligolnian Strivings of Ashiata Shiemash, by G.I. Gurdjieff

  • Great article. As an obsessive golfer my first instinct was to apply these thoughts to golf. A lot of parallels. Hope you don’t mind me sharing it on twitter to my followers. Wish I had found your blog long ago, have some catching up to do. Cheers!

  • Such a simple post. Yet it is not. Thanks for inspiring me to keep going down the river.

  • Suzanne MacDowell

    I start each day with prayer, and I start each prayer with gratitude. I had a friend once challenge me to find 100 ways in which my life was perfect at that very moment, I did, it wasn’t easy and I had to drill down, but I did. When I finished he said, very good, now find 300. And I did. And I was grateful.

    I have been improving my five these past few weeks, I ended a relationship going sour, I reached out to old friends, I am moving my real estate license so I can work with a friend/broker who is very inspiring and uplifting, I am distancing myself (though not turning my back on entirely) from a friend who is stuck in negativity, and my living situation is about to get either very much better or very much worse, so I am taking that one day at a time, not really planning but weighing options and finding inspiration in the results. It hasn’t been easy, saying good bye but it is very nice saying hello, and a bit scary. I may just be disappearing, and will only be able to be found by those I want to find me. It’s an interesting sensation.

  • James Buechler

    Excellent mental exercise, this rule of five. When I put down my guitar I will dive into it.