A good friend of mine lost all his money yesterday. Two nights ago he wrote me: ZNGA had bad earnings, it’s down 40% after hours. If it opens up here in the morning then my account will be shut down, I will lose all my money, I will owe the bank money, and I will probably have to declare bankruptcy, I’ll have to move in with my parents, and I’ll never get credit again.
He was very upset.
I asked him, are you going to be able to sleep tonight?
He said, not a wink.
I said, are you sure you are thinking about this correctly?
He said, yes, I will probably immediately have to file for bankruptcy and I will never get any credit again.
I asked, how old are you?
He wrote, 24.
I said, what good is credit for you right now? Are you buying a house tomorrow?
No, but maybe I will need a loan.
Well, I said, no bank was going to give you a loan anyway and if you borrow from family are they going to do a credit check on you?
Probably not, he said.
But, he said (continuing his “story”) I will have none of the money I have saved up. It’s all gone now. I’ll have to file for bankruptcy!
I said, how do you know that? Have you actually consulted a bankruptcy lawyer? There’s a lot of space between “here” and “there” where “there” is bankruptcy. And what’s so bad about bankruptcy anyway at the age of 24? I don’t think anyone’s ever done a credit check on me ever.
I remember when I was 24. Not that everyone has to be the same as me. We are all different. But I was in graduate school making a massive $11,000 a year and had no money to my name
Try to get some sleep, I told him. You’ll need your full mental capacities when you wake up.
The next day:
Everything was worse than he thought. ZNGA opened up lower than he thought it would. But then it closed a tiny bit higher than it opened. I didn’t have a chance to touch base with him until the end of the day.
Did you sleep, I asked?
Not a wink.
How are you doing, I said.
I ended up coding all night, he said. I’m very excited about my project. I programmed for eight straight hours on it and it’s doing great.
The bank didn’t close me out like I thought it would. And ZNGA closed at the exact spot I needed to not owe the bank money.
I’m done trading stocks, though. I feel like a great weight has lifted off my shoulders.
If I have to move back in with my parents it means I will be able to code more on my project and get to hang out with my parents a little more than I have been lately.
When are you declaring bankruptcy, I asked.
Haha, he said. I guess that was overreacting.
So, he had a great evening. He spent eight straight hours working on something he was passionate about. He didn’t have to file bankruptcy, which was ridiculous to begin with. He’s going to get to spend more time with his family. He doesn’t owe the bank money. And he’s giving up a negative addiction (trading stocks) that is now causing him to feel a huge surge of relief, as if a great weight has been lifted off his shoulders. In addition to all this, he has 20/20 vision. Better than me.
We should all be so lucky at the age of 24.
People’s minds tend to think very fast: it goes like this:
Hmmm, losing some money, which means I’m losing all my money, filing for bankruptcy, homeless, never get a job again, my work is useless without money, I’ll never own a home, no girls will like me, all my friends will think I’m a loser, my life is over.
BAM! Sometimes that thought process happens in the space of a second when something goes wrong.
Here’s another one:
The love of my life is cheating on me. I’ll never like anyone like I like her. She’s betraying me. Everyone will betray me. I’m the type of person people betray. I’m worthless. I’ll never be happy again. I’m going to kill myself.
SLOW DOWN. Your brain wants to run from a predator. That is what it has evolved to do. But there are no elephants rampaging. There’s no need for the brain to react so fast.
Let’s summarize all the ways to think about a bad situation RIGHT WHEN you are experiencing it.
– This feels bad RIGHT NOW but won’t feel this bad forever. Think of all the other times you felt this bad. In every case, there was some point afterwards when you felt better. I am sure of this.
– Think: Ultimately this is something I will need and things will work out better than I expect. My brain always tries to make things worse than they are because the brain is a pretty shitty human organ anyway. And it has basically evolved from a bunch of cavemen who were running from elephants all the time.
– There’s 7 billion people on the planet. Probably at least 100 million of those people (1.5%) are feeling worse than me right now. That’s a lot of people.
– There’s at least five good things that can come out of this bad situation (no matter what the situation is: even the death of a loved one, even a critical diagnosis of illness, even bankruptcy, even jail). List the five good things. You will find them even if it’s hard. Be grateful you get to experience these five things. (there’s actually probably 100 good things that will come out of any bad event but that’s too many to think about).
– The Earth is a very tiny planet when viewed from Saturn. Here it is. And I’m a very tiny part of that but grateful to be part of this vast universe.
– I’m going to do James’s alien technique: picture as if I just died and now an alien from outer space has taken over my body and this situation. He is not told anything about me: he just has to start from scratch and make the best of it. A clean slate. He has 48 hours. Visualize being that alien. Does he really see things as that bad for me? Versus all the other bodies he’s been in? What should the alien do right now? Imagine the alien is now in a young, healthy, 24 year old body with infinite opportunity in front of it, as an example. I bet the alien could work well with that.
– I’m doing to do the daily practice. Things feel bad this second. But they can feel better tomorrow. I’m going to pick one physical goal (do 20 pushups, don’t eat junk food). I’m going to pick one emotional goal (forgive someone in your life), pick one mental goal (write down 10 ideas for new businesses), and one spiritual goal (be grateful you were once a fetus). Then I’m going to write an X on the calendar once I accomplish all those goals. Then I’m going to do it again the next day. I know my life will be completely different in six months if I do this. If the goals seem too big, then make them smaller. But do all four.
– I don’t care what people think of me. My situation is bad enough. I don’t need to be a slave to everyone else’s approval. Slavery is illegal.
– People write their “story” every day. Realize that most of the time, that story is pure fiction, usually a horror story.
– I don’t care that I once had X and now I have Y, which seems less than X. That’s just time traveling. Now is the only moment worth thinking about, the rest is misery, whether I had more or less. And at least 90% of my predictions of the future fail to come true, no matter how “smart” I am. So I’m not going to think about the future either. That’s also time traveling. No time traveling!
– When you are time traveling, you are not “here”. Being here is better than being “there”.
– I don’t care that he has more than me, or less than me, or a girlfriend, or a house. Look around! I am abundant. I am alive.
– Depression, anger, and fear are all mirrors. They are also the best teachers.
– My thoughts need to slow down. Bad brain!
I don’t recommend these ideas out of any hubris. I recommend them only because I’ve experimented many times and know they work for me.
I once had more than I have right now. Many times I have felt the world was over for me, that life was over for me. The boy I describe above could’ve been me on 1000 different occasions. But now I have everything I could possibly want. And then some. And when I am finally allowed to return home to the mother ship I will be proud that I accomplished my mission.
(Should you put your money in stocks?... Are we in a bubble?...How about mutual funds?...I answer all of these questions and more in my Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Investing.)