My closest friends and family know I’m the last person in the world that enjoys drawing attention to himself. I don’t even like celebrating my own birthday. Not because getting older bothers me, I just don’t like being fussed over.
Sharing my lifestyle experiments from the last 17 years with you is actually a little uncomfortable for me. I’m not sharing them to show off or to even encourage you to follow in my footsteps. You are you and I am me.
I want to share my lifestyle experiments to show you what’s possible.
Most of us make assumptions or have limiting beliefs about our options in life. I’m spent my career challenging the status quo.
I never accepted the options put before me. I pursued alternatives that made sense to me for how I wanted to work and live regardless of how much money, time or status I had.
I know you can do the same. The most effective method for learning about yourself and your potential is by conducting lifestyle experiments. Action is a better teacher than listening to the monkey chatter in your mind alone.
Some of my experiments are small changes to my daily habits. Others are major life events. Some are personal and others are professional. All the experiments I conducted take less conventional approaches to common problems and desires we all face in life. I’m sharing them in no particular order.
Ran my business from Spain for 4 months.
I wanted to be able to work from anywhere, so I tested out my desire by working abroad in Seville, Spain.
At the time I was running my online sales training business LocalBroadcastSales. I never told any of my clients and learned a ton of new ways to run my business more efficiently.
Everything went smoothly and working abroad exposed me to more efficient ways to run my business I don’t think I would have ever discovered if I stayed at home.
What I learned: I made a huge discovery. How to live 2 days in one! Seville is 6 hours ahead of my home base in Boston. My “American workday” lasted from 4pm to 9pm in Seville, so I had the entire day to enjoy living in Spain and was even able to go out for tapas after I finished my work!
Helped get a friend out of $20,000 in credit card debt in two years on a $50,000 a year salary.
The trick to getting out from a mountain of credit card debt on a limited salary is to design your lifestyle around your commitment to eradicating your debt. Period.
I worked with my friend to makes some dramatic changes to her lifestyle. She ended up living with her aunt to wipe out her largest expense for 6 months, her rent. She made deep cuts to her entertainment budget and put every penny she saved toward her debt.
However, it’s important not to completely cut out expenses that give you pleasure. You need some treats to help you stick to your financial diet. My friend loved going out to eat. She ate our less, but didn’t cut that expense out altogether because it was one of her top enjoyments.
Once you create the habits for getting out of debt, you’ll never look your money the same way again.It’s your first step toward financial freedom. Once my friend paid off her credit card debt, she started saving for a downpayment on a house.
What I learned: You get still get out of debt on your current salary. All it takes is a commitment to making yourself debt free.
Eradicated paper from my life.
My life has been fairly paper free for the last decade. Paper is one of the key sources of clutter in the home. I don’t like clutter!
Clutter is draining because it requires you to have to make a bunch of decisions you don’t want to think about.
I don’t even use business cards anymore and no longer take them from people.
What I learned: Having all my information in digital form enables me to sort it in ways paper could never do, helping me gain new insights from the same information.
Stopped consuming all news media for 3 weeks.
I was a history major and I’m a lifelong news junkie. Up until this lifestyle experiment, giving up news media for even a day was a huge deal for me. Sometimes you learn the most about yourself from the toughest challenges.
Funny story, as a result of this experiment I missed the coverage of one of the biggest news events of my life: the capture of Osama bin Laden! Even stranger, it took 48 hours before I even heard about it!
My girlfriend (now my wife) finally told me. I lifted my news media ban for 12 hours and gorged on the coverage. It made me feel angry, sad and anxious.
It immediately made me realize the purpose of my experiment: how things out of your control can unnecessarily distract you from living your life on your terms.
What I learned: Most information from media is designed to entertain, rather than inform. If you want to be a truly informed citizen you need to be intentional about the information you consume and where it comes from.
Deactivated my Facebook account.
I admit it, I’m not a fan of Facebook. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not for me. (But I do love Twitter!)
I finally left Facebook in the spring of 2015 although I haven’t been active on it in years. (I returned to Facebook in early 2017 because the groups are very useful!)
I love keeping up with my family and friends, but prefer in-person visits and phone calls. They are more personal and engaging (needs for my personality type). Yes, it might take more time, but it forces me to slow my life down to focus on the people who are most important to me.
What I learned: I’m not missing out. I stayed on Facebook as long as I did because I thought I was going to “miss out” on something. I actually haven’t missed much because all my friends keep my up to date with what’s going on Facebook anyway!
Performed a cleanse.
I decided to try a cleanse because I was curious about how my food consumption affected my energy levels throughout the day. (You feel how you eat.)
There are lots of different types of cleanses out there, but I chose the one by Dr. Alejandro Junger after reading his book, Clean. I was drawn to it because of its focus on detoxing the body. I also liked the fact that I was NOT going to have to survive on fluids alone like many other cleanses.
It was more of an elimination diet to see how different foods affect you. It took 3 weeks. I’ve never had to worry about my weight, but I was surprised how much I ate out of boredom.
I was also able to identify foods that drain my energy (grains, sugar) and those that boosted my energy (fruits and veggies). As much as I would like to be 100% vegetarian I realized I needed a little meat in my diet to feel satiated.
I know it’s common sense, but doing it versus reading about it made me “feel” the change, so I was more likely to make the commitment to altering my diet.
What I learned: I want to eat to feel energized, not comforted. Comfort foods feel good in the short term, but drain you over the long term.
Gave up watching television for 4 months.
I stopped watching television for an entire summer. Sure it was a little easier to give up because summer activities offer plenty of distractions.
However, I was surprised how many times I instinctively reached for the remote during the first week. I never considered myself a heavy TV watcher (around 10 hours a week), but I was indeed hooked on the boob tube.
What I learned: Television was artificially keeping me up beyond my natural bedtime. After a few weeks, I noticed I was getting up an hour earlier. I didn’t realize that I was starting to go to bed earlier because my old friend the TV wasn’t keeping me up.
I never ran more than a mile in my life until I completed a half-marathon after 6 months of training.
I actually lost a bet. (It was the first time the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII). I always enjoyed biking, swimming and weightlifting, but not running.
Once I make a commitment to someone, I always follow through. The friend I lost the bet to was an assistant athletic director at the time.
She helped me design a training regimen to get me ready for the race. A couple of other friends lost the best with me, so we provided each other with weekly accountability check-ins about our progress.
I finished in 3 hours flat. I never want to run one again, but now enjoy running a few miles from time to time!
What I learned: This is such a great example of challenging my limiting beliefs and my assumptions about my physical capacity. I now use this experience as a frame of reference to challenge myself in other areas of my life.
Gave up alcohol for 5 months.
I drank a lot in college. Too much. After college I worked in New York City for 9 years and went out 3 or 4 times a week. Drinking was part of the culture.
It was a regular habit in my life. By my late 20s I wanted to experience life without alcohol. It wasn’t that hard to give up.
I discovered it’s harder for me to stop after 3 drinks than not to drink anything at all.
What I learned: This significant habit change in my life saved me a ton of money (about $400 a month, yikes!) and showed me how many of my social relationships were based on drinking. It began a process of looking at how fulfilling my relationships actually were for me.
Conducted a social purge of all negative people in my life.
About 6 years ago I was rethinking the direction of my life and realized I had a lot of negative influences in it.
I’m generally a fairly positive, optimistic and happy person, but I felt my energy being drained when I hung out with certain people.
I made a list of all the people I felt were too negative or I didn’t feel a meaningful connection with them any longer. I felt liberated. I felt energized.
I made room in my life for new people who were more in alignment with the direction I was taking my life. Within 4 months of this social purge I met an amazing woman who became my wife. I often wonder if I would have if I didn’t do this social purge.
What I learned: Breaking up is hard to do and is especially hard with friends. Sometimes the reason that brought you together has faded because you have both grown in different directions.
You both are still great people, but no longer fulfill each other in a way you once did. Sometimes those old relationships are holding you back from who you want to become.
Paid off my $5,000 credit card debt within a year of getting laid off.
I love reading. The first book I read after being laid off 16 years ago was Rich Dad, Poor Dad. (I strongly recommend you read this book.)
The first action I took after reading the book was committing to eliminating my credit card debt. Even while on unemployment I started hacking away at my debt.
The focus of my lifestyle was to become debt free. Once I paid off my credit card, I maintained my rigorous habits to start building up my savings to eventually become financially independent.
I haven’t carried credit card debt since.
What I learned: Spend below your means and always pay yourself first before any of your other bills.
Saved enough money not to have to work for the next 6 years based on my current lifestyle.
I believe a very simple method of defining your wealth is calculating the number of months or years you don’t have to make money by living exactly as you are right now.
First you need to understand the cost of your lifestyle. How much do you spend to live the way you do?
Once you understand the cost of your lifestyle, you’ll want to assess all your spending to make sure it’s in alignment with how you really want to live your life. Nothing will get you more motivated to cut your expenses than putting a spotlight on unproductive spending!
Finally, you’ll want to save your first month’s worth of expenses and then another until you have at least a year’s worth of savings to cover all your expenses.
What I learned: I can’t express how empowering it is to build that kind of self-funding! It gives you the ability to work on your terms like almost nothing else can.
Got rid of all my possessions I held onto out of guilt.
I consider myself a minimalist, but even I was surprised to discover how much stuff I hung onto out of guilt!
After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up I was finally given permission to let go of all the stuff I held onto out of guilt. Gifts people gave me. Stuff my parents gave me when them moved out of our family home.
I let it all go and it made me feel amazing.
What I learned: I realized everything has a purpose, not just living creatures, but inanimate objects too. When you hold onto items out of guilt you are denying them their purpose. Worse you are weighing yourself down with guilt.
We hold onto stuff out of guilt because we want to honor the person who gave it to us. A better way to honor them is by enabling the gifts they gave you to live out their purpose once again by giving them to someone else who will appreciate them in a way you never will.
Worked from home for 17 years.
I was a “reluctant entrepreneur” for a very long time. I was never taught about self-employment as an option. At the very least I was told it was “too risky”.
Now I am happily and proudly unemployable. I am far more productive working from home than working in an office. Until you have the opportunity to work from home you have no idea how unproductive offices can be!
I have always had enough income to sustain myself through all the ups and downs of the last 17 years.
I truly believe more and more people will become “reluctant entrepreneurs” like me, but I hope I can show you how to become “proudly unemployable” instead.
What I learned: Once you liberate yourself from an office environment, you have the opportunity to decided how you want to work for the first time in your life. Until you do it, it’s hard to imagine.
Designed a business that paid me passive income of $150,000 a year.
Before I even heard the term “passive income” I had created an online sales training business that did just that.
I spent a couple of years building an online archive of 600+ training videos. The last 3 years I owned that business it paid me an average of $150,000 a year for roughly 20-hours of work per week. Never did I think I could create such a lucrative part-time job! (Of course, I put in a TON of work the first couple of years to get it going.)
What I learned: I now have a completely different view of my income. Never again will I trade my minutes for dollars. I want to create value and income by building systems that can run on their own.
Wrote two books in 2 years.
I’ll admit these were not best sellers, but they did pay my bills. I had never written a book before, but was paid $20,000 to write my first book!
It was a history of the New York State Broadcasters Association. I turned 100 interviews into 200 pages.
I was asked to write a second book on “how to get a job in media” while I was writing my first book. It was an intense experience, but it taught me a lot about how to generate quality content very quickly. A skill that is still incredibly useful to me today.
What I learned: I know this might not sound like a “lifestyle experiment” per say, but when you want to take on a huge professional challenge like writing 2 books inside of 2 years, your lifestyle gets completely reorganized around that big goal whether you like it or not!
Saved $1700 renegotiating all my monthly bills.
You’d be surprised how much money you can save every year just by renegotiating your monthly bills once a year.
Typically I save between $200 and $500 a year for a couple of hours of work. 2 years ago I broke a personal record by saving $1700 by doing extra research on competing services. I showed them it’s cheaper to keep me as a customer than the cost of acquiring a new customer.
What I learned: Everything is negotiable. Everything.
Attend conferences for free.
I’m huge advocate for attending conferences. They are a great way to meet lots of like-minded people and acquire specialized knowledge very quickly.
As much as I like attending conferences, I don’t like paying for them. They can be very, very expensive.
I generally attend them for free by offering to speak or volunteer at the conference. I have also scored free tickets by covering the event as a journalist.
What I learned: It never hurts to ask for what you really want or to come up with an alternative value of exchange. I ended up getting an apartment in Seville, Spain for 10 weeks for free in exchange for consulting the management company that owned the apartment about video marketing.
Didn’t own a car the first 10 years of my adult life (except for one year).
I know cars are a necessity in most parts of the country, but they are a huge financial drain.
I was fortunately enough to live in New York City and Boston most of my adult life where you can live without a car. I did own a car for 1 year when I needed to commute to a job just outside of New York City.
Today there are so many hourly car rental services, ride sharing and Uber/Lyft that getting by without a car is becoming more and more possible. The cost of your annual usage of these transportation alternatives is often much cheaper than paying car insurance for a year.
What I learned: Just because everyone else accepts things as they are doesn’t mean you have to. Having a car is a “must have” for living your life in America, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to do something unconventional in life or your work, there’s always a way. You just have to want to find it.
Got all expense-paid trip to 1998 Winter Olympics and got paid on top of it.
This was the highlight of my career as an employee. I negotiated a temporary leave of absence from my job at CBS News to work for CBS Sports at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Everything was paid for, even my meals. I was paid a daily salary plus a “per diem” to cover any extra expenses I had. I ended up investing most of it. I was also able to get tickets to any event for free.
I never thought my boss would let me go, but I worked up the courage to ask her anyway. To my surprise she said, “Yes”.
What I learned: I learned to never make assumptions and to just ask. How many amazing opportunities do you miss out on because you were afraid to just ask?
Retrained my superiors to lighten my workload to create more time for the work I wanted to do.
When I landed my second job at CBS News I was the barely hanging onto the lowest rung of the corporate ladder.
Most of my responsibilities were very administrative, but I desperately wanted to learn how to produce television, instead of running around doing errands.
I quickly looked for opportunities to eliminate, delegate or automate my duties, so I had more time to help produce.
People use to ask me to send their faxes (this was in 1997 folks), so I taught them how to send their own. I got endless questions about how to use Microsoft Word, so I had a computer trainer come in to teach the staff the basics. When producers asked me to do administrative work for them, I told them I would be happy to do it, but wanted the opportunity to help them produce their stories.
What I learned: Never settle for doing the job you were hired to do, learn the skills for the job you want. Managing doesn’t always come form the top-down, it can also come from the bottom-up.
I quit my job the day I was offered a promotion for a my dream job that only paid $10/hour.
When you are starting a new career path, you can’t focus on the money. You need to show your passion for the work and your ability to do it.
Early on in my career I was tempted to take a job with a more senior title and more money, but it was going to take me away from my goal of working in television news.
I ended up landing a job at CBS News that was actually a demotion and paid much, much less. Within a year I got a promotion and made even more money than if I accepted the promotion I was offered at my previous job.
What I learned: Focus on what makes you feel fulfilled and the money will follow.
I paid half the price for my MBA degree compared to my peers.
The average cost of an MBA when I attended business school from 2002 to 2004 was around $100,000. I paid only $50,000 including the loans I took out.
I thought it was strange that business school students never used their business mindset to negotiate the cost of their MBA.
I managed to reduce my reliance on debt by securing a number of graduate assistantships, as well as worked full time during my second year of business school. Those 2 years where indeed challenging, but not having a lifetime of student loan debt was totally worth it.
What I learned: Don’t accept debt, even student loans. There are countless students who will be in debt for the rest of their lives. When you have debt, it prevents you from focusing all your money, time and energy on how you want to work and live on your terms.
My Experiments Continue
I’m continuing to conduct lifestyle experiments. I stopped eating sugar in December 2015. I started working outside the house at a co-working space in January 2016.
I’m also happy to try out any lifestyle experiment you propose. I’d also love to here experiments you’ve conducted as well! Send me your suggestions!
I encourage you to try your own experiments. Especially experiments that challenge your mindset, assumptions and fears.
I truly believe the only way to explore your potential is to test your limits through lifestyles experiments. As you can see from mine they don’t always have to be dramatic to have a powerful effect on the direction of your life.