four perpetual recommendations

from  Celestial Bodies  (2016)

from Celestial Bodies (2016)

The smallest things change your habits, attitudes, and life. Here are four things that I’ll never stop recommending. (No sponsored content in this blog entry, just the things I use and love every single day.)

1. Danielle LaPorte: The Desire Map

“Everything we do is driven by the desire to feel a certain way.” Despite the simplicity and clarity of Danielle LaPorte’s thesis in The Desire Map, I had never thought this way before reading the book.

I came to The Desire Map because I was plagued by constant questions about my work. Why am I drawn to this job? Can I do this for the rest of my life? I like X, but not Y or Z… Essentially, how did I get here, and what should I do next?

The Desire Map blew away every unrealistic expectation, unfulfilling goal, and misconception I had about how I spend my time — and not just at work. From reading this book and completing the included exercises, I learned that I was choosing activities in order to please and impress others, and to chase status that didn’t even matter to me. I learned to prioritize how I want to feel, not what others think of me, and that allowed me to quit jobs, change my attitude, pursue what matters, and, perhaps most importantly, simplify and clarify my life. I find myself recommending the book to anyone and everyone who is facing big questions or chronic destructive patterns in their life.

A note on Danielle LaPorte: some may be turned off by the language on her website and social media — lots of talk of soul, spirit, “heart centering”, and all the other phraseology one would expect from someone who works in today’s self-empowerment sphere. If this isn’t the way you think, please don’t write off the book because of it! In the last several years since The Desire Map was written, LaPorte has drifted more into the spiritual and esoteric realm with her writing, and as such, her current language choices are much more “woo woo” than what is contained in the book. The Desire Map offers practical advice from LaPorte’s history as an entrepreneur and marketer, and will offer concrete help to all those willing to give it an open-minded read.

2. Barefoot shoes

Someone always asks me, “Are those shoes comfortable?” or “What brand are those?” Now that I’ve fully abandoned my fashion-forward, high-heel-wearing lifestyle, most people are unfamiliar with my footwear choices.

I grew up performing, which means that by high school, I was buying every black dress that fit me, and the heeled shoes to match. I became aware of more natural footwear styles when I started running in my late teens, and the science — as well as the common sense — is overwhelming. Our feet evolved to work a certain way, and they do their best without any restrictions. Moreover, our feet have a huge effect the alignment and health of our entire body. Today I wear shoes as seldom as possible, and when I do put some on, they have no arch support, cushioning, or heel of any kind (not even that unnecessary half-inch block inexplicably glued to every sandal).

The most common response I get when explaining my shoe choice is, “Oh I could never do that. I have [insert body pain here]. I have to wear [orthotics/a short heel/etc.].” Unfortunately our instincts are driven by the “set it and forget it” mode of today’s medicine. We want to take two pills and get immediate relief from what ails us, even if that means staying on the pills for some time. Think about it this way: if you had a pain in your wrist or leg, would you put it in a cast and leave it there for the rest of your life? That’s what we do with orthotics and other specialty shoes. With cushioning, heels, and misshapen toe boxes (do anyone’s toes come to a point?), they force our feet into new and unnatural shapes, and then they keep them there. Much better, more sustainable, and less expensive to do the slightly longer work of transitioning and exercising our feet back into their natural state.

Where to start? Take off your shoes. Walk barefoot in your house, your yard, your local park, and anywhere else you can. Read Whole Body Barefoot, by the fabulous Katy Bowman, for the science of how your feet and body work, and how to transition to barefoot life. My favorite brands of natural shoes: Vivobarefoot, Unshoes, and Vibram Fivefingers.

3. The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save is a book by Peter Singer and the charity named after the book. Both have changed my life immeasurably, and I have written about them extensively on this blog. If you are interested in giving to charity, saving lives in the best and most effective ways possible, please check out:

4. Budgeting software, used daily

After discovering The Life You Can Save and deciding to give at least 10% of my income to charity, I realized that I would need a strategy to make that happen. As a kid I’d always been interested in finance, partly because my family had gone through a few financial struggles in my childhood, and I wanted to ensure that I knew enough to be financially stable and independent throughout my life.

I learned a lot about personal finance from basic introductory books and blogs: catch-alls that covered how to create a budget (I use 50/20/30), to clarifying goals for longterm saving, to what exactly is investing. If you’re absolutely brand new to managing your money, or if you want to double down on budgeting/saving/paying off debt, you’ll have to do a little reading. This blog has quick, accessible reads, and this book is a more comprehensive planning guide.

Regardless of how you get started, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of one small habit: look at your money every day. I use Mint to manage my budget and track all my expenses, and every single day, it’s the first page I open on my browser. I’ve linked my credit cards so I can see all my transactions in one place. (I only use credit in order to maximize rewards.) I’ve created budget categories for all expenses, savings goals, and charitable giving. Now every single morning, I know exactly how much cash I have on hand, how much I’ve made this month (incredibly important for freelancers), and how much I have to spend. It only takes 3 minutes to feel secure and confident in my finances every day.

If you want to read more about any of these topics — or what I perpetually recommend in other areas of life — let me know.