Your Money and Your Life – The Six Basic Principles

Your Money and Your Life – The Six Basic Principles
Have you lost track of your life in the pursuit or money and “stuff”? Do you spend more time paying bills than enjoying life? If so, you are not alone. You may be suffering from a syndrome that has become known by the term “Affleunza”. Many Americans suffer from affluenza, which Wikipedia defines as: 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.
Supporters of this term feel that the benefits of valuing material wealth are vastly outweighed by the costs. They claim those who become wealthy will find the economic success leaving them unfulfilled and hungry for more wealth. The condition is considered particularly acute amongst those with inherited wealth, who often experience guilt, lack of purpose and unconstrained behavior, as well as obsession with holding on to that wealth.
It that are continuously struggling with how to make our money and our lives work. Some have called it the classic battle of “Your Money OR Your Life”. I like to think of it as “Your Money AND Your Life”. They are inextricably integrated. You cannot separate them – no matter how hard you try. You have to make them both work. And I believe that you can.

I have identified six principles that will allow you to live a life that is full, well-integrated, fully on purpose and puts money in its proper perspective. These six principles are:

1. Vision – know where you are going
I have been fortunate in my life. I have done a lot of traveling and have seen a lot of things – the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and extraordinary works of art in the Louvre. All of these things have one thing in common – they each were created twice – first in imagination and then in reality. A building is created in the mind of the architect before it rises into the air. A car is modeled in the mind of its master designer before it ever hits the highway. Your vacation is created in your mind before you actually get to enjoy it. Your life and financial successes will be created in your mind before they become reality. Having a clear vision of where you are going is key to a successful financial plan.

Sure – there are those people who stumble into something good, but they are few and far between. As a general rule, if you know where you are headed, you are much more likely to end up there. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra told us, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”

In his well-known classic “Alice in Wonderland”: Lewis Carroll reinforced the importance of having a clear vision with his story of Alice and the Cheshire Cat :
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.”

Where are you headed? What do you want? When do you want it? What will it take to get there? What will your life look like in 5 years? In 10 years? In 30 years?

Define your goals – and don’t just focus on things, stuff and money. Set goals for time to relax, read, maintain excellent relationships, etc.

The more crystal clear your goals are, the more useful your financial plan will be and the more likely you are to achieve your goals. A clear vision of what you want sets into motion all sorts of invisible forces that act to help you move in the right direction to achieve what you want and to have your financial plan be meaningful and successful. Although most people will agree that a clear vision is important, few people actually take the time to develop their vision. In fact, it has been said that people spend more time planning their vacation than they do planning the rest of their lives. I urge you to be one of those unusual people. Develop a clear set of written goals that will drive your life.
Take the time to know where you are going in your life.

2. Simplicity –
Thoreau said – “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”
With complex lives, we waste time, money and energy. Simplifying our lives gives us back that time, money and energy – so that we can spend more of those things activities that are really important to us – the things we included in our vision of our ideal life.

Simplicity is fighting affluenza.

Richard Stine said “Is there not more to life than getting stuff? And getting More of it, Bigger of it, Faster of it, and then stuffing what you can’t use now somewhere so you can use it later. If this is so… what a sad routine. How really very, very sad. ON THE OTHER HAND… know for sure that you are rich, when your hunt for alternatives becomes sincere.”

Do you really need the bigger house? Or do you want it so that you can store the things that you don’t use and don’t need?

Is the pursuit of money and stuff stealing time from your family, your health and your relationships. As Richard Stine told us, you will be rich when your hunt for alternatives becomes sincere.
The most practical way of simplifying is to live within your means – and even well within your means. If you can’t afford it – don’t get it. In my opinion, this is the most important financial habit that anyone can adopt to increase enjoyment of life. Living within your means results in no debt, minimal stress and increased energy to spend on the things that mean the most to you.

3. Integrity – being true to yourself
Dictionary. COM defines integrity as “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.”
Spending time developing your personal vision of your ideal life helps you discover your unique dreams, gifts and talents – your purpose. Integrity is staying true to your unique self – to your values, your beliefs and your dreams. It means that every aspect of you is integrated – and is operating as one. Your actions are aligned with your values. Your values are aligned with your goals. And your goals are aligned with your unique gifts.
Too many of us are living lives that were defined for us by someone else – by our parents, by our friends or by society. The pressure to conform and the pressure to please are tremendous. Staying true to yourself if hard work – but it pays off.
Stephen Covey said: “I believe that a life of integrity I the most fundamental source of personal worth. I do not agree with the popular success literature that says that self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind set, of attitude—that you can psych yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.”

4. Philanthropy – sharing your gifts

Each of us has been blessed with a unique set of gifts. Philanthropy is sharing those gifts. The word philanthropy is derived from the Greek language, meaning, “love for mankind.” Modern definitions include the concept of voluntary giving by an individual or group to promote the common good and improve the quality of life.
But, to a certain degree, we have been duped – into believing that when we give we have less. The truth is the opposite, as St. Francis of Assisi told us when we said “For it is in giving that we receive.” So many great people have told us about the personal riches that we gain when we give – that we really ought to believe it. Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” And, Winston Churchill told us that “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

We are a generous nation. In fact, the United States is the most generous country in the world – and an incredibly prosperous one. As my friend Bert Whitehead says, “We are not a generous country because we are prosperous. We are prosperous because we are generous.” I believe that we are here to make the world a better place – by sharing our gifts. Philanthropy keeps the world moving forward and makes our lives worth living. Not only is it nice for us to give, some people think we are obligated to give. Albert Einstein said that “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”

Helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself. What you give comes back to you. Ken Blanchard said “I absolutely believe in the power of tithing and giving back. My own experience about all the blessings I’ve had in my life is that the more I give away, the more that comes back. That is the way life works, and that is the way energy works.”

The very rich can make a difference by sharing their fortunes, but all of us can help by giving of our time, treasures and talents. There are very few of us who have not been touched in some way by the generosity of others. My life was molded by those who shared their gifts with me – the scout leaders, the volunteer coaches, the Sunday school teachers, those who contributed to build YMCAs, to keep Scout Camps running, and to make little league fields available and then contributed their time to make these organizations run. I believe in “Practical Philanthropy”. For most of my life I have believed that “Love is a verb” – that what we do speaks much more loudly than what we say. Practical Philanthropy is a way of showing the love you have. Helen Keller said “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Your practical philanthropy can support your pursuit of a worthy purpose.

Share your gifts – and reap the rewards.

5. Gratitude – appreciate what you have
The first step in enjoying life is to be grateful for what we have – regardless of our circumstances.
Henry Van Dyke said: “Be glad of life, because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up to the stars; to be satisfied with your possessions; to despise nothing in the world except falsehood and meanness, and to fear nothing except cowardice; to be governed by your admirations rather than by your disgusts; to covet nothing that is your neighbor’s except his kindness of heart and gentleness of manners; to think seldom of your enemies, often of your friends…and to spend as much time as you can, with body and with spirit. These are the little guideposts on the footpath to peace.”

Philosophers and spiritual teachers have celebrated gratitude. The world’s major religions, embrace gratitude as a morally beneficial emotional state that encourages reciprocal kindness. Pastors, parents and grandparents have long touted the virtues of gratitude. But until recently, scholars have largely ignored gratitude as a subject of scientific inquiry. This has changed with the recent study at Southern Methodist University and the University of California at Davis, which discovered that gratitude plays a significant role in a person’s sense of well-being.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. The researchers also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.

These results also seem to show that gratitude works independently of faith. Though gratitude is a substantial part of most religions, the researchers say the benefits extend to the general population, regardless of faith or lack thereof. The researchers suggest that anyone can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects just from counting their blessings.

To do this (count your blessings), many people recommend that you keep a gratitude journal. Just sit down once a day and write – “Today I am grateful for …” and then make a list of everything that you are grateful for. A few online gratitude resources include:

http://www.simpleabundance.com/gratitude.html and

http://www.thehappyguy.com/articles/gratitude-journal.html .

I think that Albert Schweitzer summed it up best when he said “To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”

6. Invest intelligently
If you follow these guidelines, both your money and your life will be fine, your life will be fully on purpose and well-integrated. You have a vision and a purpose for your life, you are living simply, you are being true to yourself, you are sharing your blessings and you are grateful for all that you have. Because you are living simply, and living well within your income. You are saving 10% or more of your income for your financial independence.
The final principle is to invest this money intelligently. Intelligent investing is not difficult. It involves creating a well-diversified portfolio of passively-managed, low-cost mutual funds that is risk-appropriate for your personal situation and then rebalancing that portfolio annually to take advantage of the principle of “buying low and selling high.” Have confidence in this approach and practice discipline in adhering to it. Do not listen to the TV pundits. Do not try to time the market. Do not try to chase hot stocks or hot sectors.
You should work with a financial planner who has your best interests at heart and who does not receive compensation for “selling” products, but instead are compensated on a “fee-only” basis. The benefits you will gain from this advice will far outstrip the cost you will pay for the advice.

These are simple principles, that will allow you to live a simple and rewarding life.

Brexit is Beginning

brexitIf you have a good long memory, you may recall that last Summer, the U.K. panicked the investment markets by voting, in a nation-wide referendum, to exit the European Union.  There were, of course, dire predictions about the impact on the U.K. economy, which never materialized, in large part because the U.K. had not yet formally opted out of its Eurozone agreements.

 

At the end of March, the U.K. finally pulled the trigger, and made the departure from the European Union official.  The Queen of England delivered her royal assent, and the U.K.’s envoy to the European Union handed-delivered a letter to the office of the European Council president in Brussels invoking Article 50 of the EU treaty.  This delivered formal notification of the Brexit decision, the first time this has happened in the EU’s history.

 

So that means those dire predictions will finally come true.  Right?

 

As it happens, Article 50 was intended to prevent any rash or immediate consequences of an exit from EU membership, and it seems to have accomplished that goal.  Under the bylaws, the divorce will be negotiated, item by item, over the next two years, meaning that any change in economic circumstances will be gradual and perhaps accommodated as they happen.  How gradual?  Over the next several weeks, the EU’s remaining 27 members will discuss their priorities in advance of the negotiations, and then hold a summit on April 29.  Only then will the European Commission have a mandate to negotiate with representatives from London.

 

What will the negotiations cover?  First up will be Britain’s obligations to the EU for its participation thus far—a bill that could total up to roughly $65 billion.  Also: what will be the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the U.K., and the rights of more than 1 million Britons living and working in the Eurozone?

 

After that, it is speculated that the British government will seek to negotiate a broad free-trade agreement which will effectively replicate the provisions of its former membership in the European Union, as a way to protect its commercial ties with the Continent.  This is where negotiations will get sticky, since France and Germany will almost certainly oppose a no-consequences exit, and they will want to protect their own economies’ free-trade access to Eurozone markets.  On the EU side, a simple majority of countries will decide what proposals are accepted and which are sent back to the negotiating table—with one notable exception: any free trade agreement between the two sides much win unanimous approval.

 

This latter issue is problematic for the U.K., because it exposes each country to yet another referendum on the conditions of EU membership; the citizens of France, Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, Holland and, well, all the other nations would want to be involved in the final decision, which would give them yet another opportunity to voice displeasure with the EU and stir up nationalistic parties and sentiments.

 

Also still to be determined are budgetary considerations.  The U.K.’s contribution to the governing infrastructure of the EU will have to be made up by the remaining members, whose citizens are not eager to contribute more to the increasingly unpopular entity.  The British government, meanwhile, will have to create an expensive governance infrastructure to replace the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, and Parliament will have to formally repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, making EU law U.K. law.  Then, parallel with the EU negotiations, Parliament will debate every aspect of the EU law and decide which to keep long-term and which to drop.  That, too, will take years.

 

The bottom line is that nothing dramatic is likely to happen, economically and in the investment markets, for years.  Throughout the two years of negotiations, the U.K. will remain a full EU member, albeit without a chance to participate in EU decision-making.  Some are predicting that the discussions will last for several additional years, with extensions on the status quo until issues can be ironed out.  Unpicking 43 years of treaties and agreements covering thousands of different subjects will not be an easy task.

 

Those investors who overreacted to the initial (and shocking) Brexit vote sold their stocks into a market rally, and there is no reason to think that those who might panic now that the trigger is finally pulled will fare any differently.  Both sides in this negotiation have a stake in not having anything dramatic—particularly dramatically damaging—from happening, and they will probably succeed in making Brexit a boring exercise in bureaucratic handover.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/brexit-has-begun-now-what?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/03/brexit-faq/521175/?utm_source=atltw

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday’s Rate Hike

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee just raised the Fed Funds rate from 0.75% to 1.00%—the second rate hike in three months.  So what should you do with your investment portfolio in light of this change?

Nothing.

Why?  First of all, the rate change was laughably minor, considering all the press coverage it received.  In the mid-2000s, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan raised interest rates 17 times in quarter-point jumps, finally taking Fed Funds to a 5% rate.  This time around, the economists at America’s central bank are behaving extremely cautiously.

Second, although you may read that any raise in interest rates is depressing for stocks.  It’s true that borrowing will be incrementally more expensive for American corporations than they were last week.  But bigger picture, this move was actually a validation of the country’s economic progress in our long slow climb out of The Great Recession.

By raising rates, the Fed was indicating that it believes the companies that make up our economy are healthy enough to survive and prosper under slightly higher interest rates.  The markets apparently felt like this was a positive sign, that the economy no longer needs to be nursed back to health.  The widely-followed S&P 500 stock index rose a full percentage point on the news.

Third, and more good news, the Fed has now moved into a mode where it is fighting inflation, rather than trying desperately to stimulate it.  The worst thing that could happen to the economy is a bout of deflation, where prices fall and there are no policy remedies to fix the problem.  In the discussion accompanying the rate rise (the infamous Fed “minutes”) the Board of Governors expressed concern that inflation might rise above their “target” of 2%, hence the tightening.  If you read the message between the lines, they seem to feel that the threat of deflation is over.

Finally, the rate hike was expected, and already built into the price of stocks.  And more still are expected: at least two and possibly three 0.25% rises before the end of the year.  But the Fed also signaled that if there is any sign of backtracking, those plans will be scrapped.  The rate rises are anything but reckless.

So what WILL be the effect of the rate hike?  Borrowing to buy a car or a house will be slightly more expensive going forward than it was last week.  The average thirty year fixed mortgage rate this time last year was 3.68%; it’s now up to 4.21%.

Most credit cards charge variable rates of interest, which likely means a 0.25 percent rise in the rates you pay on any balances you carry from month to month.

And private student loans with variable interest rates will likely increase each time the Fed raises rates.  Balances on Stafford, Graduate Plus or Parent Plus loans will remain at their current interest rates, but the rates on new loans will probably rise.

If your portfolio is well-diversified, there’s not much more you can do to ride out a (slowly) rising-rate environment.  Ignore the headlines and celebrate the fact that even the most cautious economist in Washington are finally admitting that the economy is on solid ground.

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/15/us-federal-reserve-raises-interest-rates-to-1

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-fed-interest-rate-impact-0316-biz-20170315-story.html

https://www.ft.com/content/9ea0e1bd-8c45-31ff-9d7c-241023fd5e12

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/fed-rate-hike-4-ways-to-ride-rising-interest-rate-wave/#.WMmTRplBq6o.twitter

The Power of a Long-Term Vision

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

How does one become a success in life? Easy- set your goals, and get to work on achieving them. What are the best goals to set though? Will achieving just those goals make you successful? What is success anyway? Okay, maybe this is not going to be so easy after all… What are we missing?

Not Goals, Vision

We tend to hear about goal setting in almost ever discipline imaginable where human beings are striving for success. We are told that we need to set goals, we need to pursue goals, we need to achieve goals- however, there is a piece missing here. We are working towards something, but we have not determined what the bigger picture is.

This is because goals are great at answering the HOW of what we are doing, but not the WHY.

This is where we need to have a vision. A vision is the why of what we want to achieve in life. It is the concept that addresses our underlying passions, values, motivators, and beliefs, and allows us to incorporate them into the impact we have on the world, and the value that we create for ourselves and others.

The Why Of The Why

Okay, so vision addresses the why behind what we do, but why do we really need to know that? Isn’t it enough to know that the process of setting and achieving our goals will move us forward?

The problem isn’t that we are spending too much time trying to set or fulfill our goals. Goals are a vital part of achieving success, but without vision they are incomplete. They lack direction. This is because typically our goals are based on a measurement of where we are now, or where we have been. We use these metrics to help us figure out where we can be begin to build, and what we can realistically hope to achieve over a short, medium, or even a long period of time. A vision encourages us to step outside of our current situation, and consider the broadest possibilities for ourselves and our lives.

The How Of The Why

Creating a long-term vision is not an easy thing though. Not unlike any skill, creating a long-term vision requires practice, discipline, and perseverance, and will likely change as we become better at defining what we value. This starts with asking ourselves tough questions about who we are and what is truly important to us.

As an exercise, try sitting down with a blank piece of paper and a pen. Begin by jotting down as many of the goals or achievements you have set for yourself that you can think of, and examine them closely. Now, challenge yourself to come up with some reasons that these goals are important to you. What are you hoping to get out of achieving these goals? What are you hoping these goals will do for you? Try to be as specific as possible. See if you can break these thoughts down even further, identifying some of the “whys” that are beneath these goals you have set for yourself.

Once you have done this, try to imagine a time in the future in which you have completed all of the goals you have just written down. What will you be like? What value will have been added to your life and to the lives of the people around you because of these experiences? What kinds of new opportunities might these create for you?

Congratulations, you have just begun to step outside of your day-to-day reality, and started to think in terms of possibilities.

“Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.” Bill Hybels

New Year’s Questions – An Exercise to Begin the New Year

I picked these questions up at a wonderful workshop I attended a few years ago and have found them very useful.

Before beginning a new year in full force, it can be supportive to complete and acknowledge the previous year. I hope that spending a few minutes with the following questions will help you complete the last year and start the new year on a strong note!

Completing and Remembering the past year

  • What was your biggest triumph in the past year?
  • What was the smartest decision you made in the past year?
  • What one word best sums up and describes your past year experience?
  • What was the greatest lesson you learned in the past year?
  • What was the most loving service you performed in the past year?
  • What is your biggest piece of unfinished business in the past year?
  • What are you most happy about completing in the past year?
  • Who were the three people that had the greatest impact on your life in the past year?
  • What was the biggest risk you took in the past year?
  • What was the biggest surprise in the past year?
  • What important relationship improved the most in the past year?
  • What compliment would you liked to have received in the past year?
  • What compliment would you liked to have given in the past year?
  • What else do you need to do or say to be complete with the past year?

Creating the coming year

  • How will you acknowledge those who most impacted your life last year?
  • What would you like to be your biggest triumph in the coming year?
  • What advice would you like to give yourself in the coming year?
  • What is the major effort you are planning to improve your financial results in the coming year?
  • What would you be most happy about completing in the coming year?
  • What major indulgence are you willing to experience in the coming year?
  • What would you most like to change about yourself in the coming year?
  • What are you looking forward to learning in the coming year?
  • What do you think your biggest risk will be in the coming year?
  • What about your work are you most committed to changing and improving in the coming year?
  • What is one as yet undeveloped talent you are willing to explore in the coming year?
  • What brings you the most joy and how are you going to do or have more of that in the coming year?
  • Who or what, other than yourself, are you most committed to loving and serving in the coming year?
  • What one word would you like to have as your theme in the coming year?

20 questions for planning New Year’s goals

I thought that this was a good set of questions by Tsh Oxenreider.  I like her approach.

Steve

20 questions for planning New Year’s goals

bench overlooking the water
Photo by Khalid Almasoud

There’s been a growing trend of disdain towards New Year’s resolutions.  I can understand why, to some degree, but I, for one, really like them.  The trick is knowing how to pick the right resolutions, and then develop a healthy, realistic game plan for making them happen.

Some of you make resolutions, and some of you don’t – but many of you took the time to reflect on this past year.

Trust me when I say I’m talking to myself here – I can join the throngs of people who make resolutions in January with good intentions, and the lofty goals are long gone by February.

I prefer to make goals for the year instead of new year’s resolutions. With resolutions, you “resolve” to do something – and then hope for the best.  With goals, you set a marker in the distance and make plans to get there.

On Monday I’ll share an approach I like for creating permanent change.  I plan on approaching my 2009 goals with this method, because it provides room for both reality and challenge.

But today, I’m posing a few questions that might help spark some ideas for your 2009 goals.  Like before, either grab your journal and pen for some solace, or print the free PDF download at the end of this post with all these same questions. I heard from a few of you that you used the 2008 reflection questions as conversation starters with your spouse – I think that’s an excellent idea for these as well.

Vision Questions for 2009

1.  What skill do you most want to learn this year?

2.  What is one skill you already have that you’d like to improve this year?

3.  Name three books you most definitely want to read in 2009.

4.  In what specific area do you most want to encourage your spouse?  What are some ways you can do this?

5.  Think of one of your major life goals.  What will you do this year to make you one step closer to reaching that goal?

6.  Name your kids’ biggest strengths.  What are some ways you can specifically nourish those strengths?

7.  Name your kids’ most prominent weakness.   What are some ways you can encourage their ability to overcome it?

8.  What is one of your strengths?  Think of some specific ways you can exercise it this year.

9.  What is one of your weaknesses?  Brainstorm some ideas on how you can overcome this deficiency.

10.  Think of an important relationship aside from your spouse and children.  How will you nurture that relationship this year?

11.  Name a few ways your physical health could be improved.

12.  Name a few ways your family’s financial health could be improved.

13.  In what way do you want to draw closer to God?

14.  What is one area of home management that frustrates you?  Think of some specific ways you could improve your attitude about it.

15.  Have you ever created a family mission statement with your spouse?  If so, why not do one for this year?

16.  Name one specific thing you could do with your spouse this year that will deepen your intimacy.

17.  What is something that is continually undone in your life?  What will you do to fully complete it this year?

18.  In what ways will you be involved with your local community?

19.  What is one thing you’d like to accomplish by your birthday this year?

20.  Think of three words you’d like to describe your 2017.

 

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How to Finally Play the Guitar: 80/20 Guitar and Minimalist Music


When will you stop dreaming and start playing? (Photo: Musician “Lights”, Credit: Shandi-lee)

I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.

It started as a kid, listening to my dad play around the fireplace during the holidays. The fantasy continued with Guns N’ Roses and the iconic Slash. From hyperspeed Slayer to classical Segovia, I was mesmerized.

But I never thought I could do it myself.

Despite tackling skills as esoteric as Japanese horseback archery, I somehow put music in a separate “does not apply” category until two years ago. It was simply too frustrating, too overwhelming.

My fascination with guitar wasn’t rekindled until Charlie Hoehn, an employee of mine at the time, showed me the 80/20 approach to learning it.

This post explains how to get the most guitar mileage and versatility in the least time…

Do you have any additional tips, whether for guitar or applying the 80/20 principle to another instrument? Piano, violin, flute, or other? Please share in the comments!

Enter Charlie

Almost everyone has fantasized about performing music in front of a huge screaming crowd at some point in their life. For me, I’d always dreamed of playing guitar with the same mastery as Jimmy Page, Allen Collins, or Mark Knopfler. Sadly, I could never stick with guitar practice.  I ended up quitting multiple times for a host of reasons: the material was boring, my teacher moved too fast, my teacher moved too slowly, my fingers were killing me, my wrists were sore, I wasn’t making enough progress, and so on.

Then my friend Jake Ruff taught me two simple exercises that changed everything, and I’ve been able to stick with guitar ever since.

Some guitarists proclaim that you need to tackle music theory first, while others will tell you to learn sheet music while you’re practicing chords. I found it most effective to focus on a few easy exercises, while minimizing boredom and pain. In other words, the process for learning that you enjoy the most is the best one, even if it isn’t comprehensive.

Comprehensive comes later.  First, we need to get you hooked.

The Ground Rules 

In order to get past the initial pain period that comes with learning guitar, it’s critical to manage your expectations. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what these first few weeks will be like, there’s a good chance that you will get frustrated and give up.

Here are the three things you need to know before learning guitar, under my plan or anyone else’s:

1. You will feel clumsy. Remember when you first learned how to type? You wanted to hammer out 100 words per minute, without ever making an error. The reality? You constantly had to look down at the keyboard, and you’d get frustrated whenever you made a mistake. Guitar is the same way. As much as you’ll desire the ability to play all your favorite songs beautifully, your body and brain simply won’t be able to. Your fingers will move slowly, your hands will feel awkward, and the sounds coming from the guitar will not be easy on the ears. Relax, and give yourself permission to suck. Allow yourself several weeks to build “muscle memory” – getting comfortable having your hands in positions they aren’t used to.

2. Your fingers will be sore. Expect the tips of your fingers to hurt for at least a month while they’re developing calluses. If your fingers get extremely sore, take a day off, and never play until your fingers bleed.

The pain you’ll feel is largely unavoidable, but you can reduce it by using a capo (a clamp you fasten across the strings of the guitar – read more on this in “Getting Started” below). The most important thing, of course, is to not quit playing altogether because of the pain. Whenever you want to quit because it hurts your fingers too much, say to yourself, “Justin Bieber taught himself to play guitar before he was 12.” Yes, that’s right. That effeminate kid successfully got through the same pain you’re feeling, and so has every other guitar player on the planet. You’re more than capable of pushing through.

3. You need to practice for at least 10 minutes each day. There is no quick path to mastering the guitar, but there is a fast track to failing: a lack of practice. During the first month, you need to make playing your guitar for at least ten minutes into a daily habit. Playing every day will help you build calluses faster, and increase your comfort level with the instrument.

When I first started, I aimed for at least two 10-minute practice sessions each day. I found the most convenient time to practice was while watching TV. The two exercises you’ll be focusing on won’t require intensive periods of concentration, so it’s totally fine to watch your favorite show while strumming away.

Getting Started

First and foremost, you’ll need to buy a guitar (See guitar recommendations below in the Gear section). I know it’s obviously possible to learn with a friend’s guitar or one that’s been given to you as a gift. However, I found that my desire to learn increased substantially only after I put some skin in the game. Buying my first guitar only cost me $100, but spending that amount made me much more committed to learning.

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