James’ note: Happy New Year, Daily Cut readers.

I hope you’re all recovered from last night’s festivities, because we’ve got a great essay for you today…

Palm Beach Research Group cofounder Mark Ford reveals his secret for becoming 100% happier in 2020.

Ask 10 people if they make New Year’s resolutions, and nine of them will tell you they don’t. So I’m guessing you don’t do it either.

And if that’s true, you’ve been squashing an impulse that’s key to success in life: the natural desire to improve yourself.

I can’t say that I’ve always felt as strongly about New Year’s resolutions as I do now, but I have felt strongly about the power of self-improvement my entire life. And I’ve attributed all of the good things I’ve managed to achieve to my drive to keep getting better.

Benjamin Franklin was my inspiration in many ways. I admired the determination and perseverance that took him from poverty to wealth, from being a nobody to being a success at everything he put his hand and mind to. (If you have never read a biography of him, you should do so one day.)

So about 20 years ago, when I decided to start writing a blog, I chose to model my theme on the advice in his generous and pragmatic letters, essays, and books.

I liked almost every recommendation I’d ever read by wise old Ben, but I had bridled at the one about “early to bed and early to rise.” After all, I had managed to achieve a fair amount of success by going to bed late and waking up after 9:00 (and sometimes 10:00).

But since he was so adamant about this particular idea, I tried it out. And lo and behold, it immediately and measurably improved my life. It made me about 30% more productive in terms of gross work output. But it made me about 300% more productive in terms of accomplishing business, personal, and social objectives that really mattered to me.

And that, needless to say, made me about 100% happier!

So I named the blog Early to Rise, with the focus on efforts I had made to achieve the three core objectives identified in Ben’s maxim.

  • My first priority at that point in my life was to increase my wealth.

  • My second was to improve my health.

  • And my third was to become smarter about things that I valued.

That tripartite approach worked well. It forced me to understand that although I had made wealth-building my first priority, I could not ignore my second and third priorities if I expected to enjoy a somewhat balanced life.

But as time passed, I found that three core objectives were not enough. I had to split each of them into two.

For example, I recognized that to achieve any sort of substantial and meaningful level of financial wealth, I had to focus on two things: my income and my net worth.

With regard to my health, I came to realize that mental health was as important, if not more important, than physical health. So I divided my health goals in two.

That third category – wisdom – was perplexing. I understood that “becoming wiser” meant something more than merely acquiring knowledge. That it meant growing my intellectual and my emotional capacity in some way. Ultimately, I realized that it meant understanding my deepest values and trying to realign them with both my social behavior and my personal habits. So, again, I divided my wisdom goals in two.

Now I had six core objectives. That made it easier to come up with long-term goals that were very specific. And that made it easier for me to develop the time-management system that I still use today.

Although I never believed that there was anything particularly magical about reviewing and revising my goals on the first day of the year, it does make emotional sense. (Not surprisingly, it is something that Homo sapiens have been doing in nearly every one of their cultures in every corner of the world.) So I accepted it and made the annual ritual a cornerstone of my self-improvement program.

I introduced it to my Early to Rise readers, and I refined it over the many years that I wrote that blog. Basically, you begin at the beginning of January with a set of yearly goals that you take from a set of longer-term life goals. Then, you break down those yearly goals into monthly and weekly objectives and even daily tasks.

You can get started on making 2020 a life-changing year for you by spending some time today thinking honestly and bravely about three things:

  1. The reality of your current situation – in terms of your wealth (income and net worth), your health (mental and physical), and your wisdom (aligning your values with your social and personal behavior).

  1. What you would like your reality to be next year on January 1. To do this, you must forget about any excuses you may be making right now about what you haven’t yet accomplished or don’t yet know. Just imagine what you would like to have and know and be 365 days from now.

  1. Some of the things you could do, starting immediately, to move yourself from the reality of where you are to where you would like to be.

To help you do your best and deepest thinking, here are some questions that may help you come up with specific, concrete, and helpful ideas…

  • What are three or five or 10 things that make you angry? What scares you? How would your life be better if you could get rid of those feelings?

  • How much money did you make last year? What would change in your life if you could make more than that next year? How much more would it take?

  • How would you rate your mental and physical health and fitness? What would change in your life if you were healthier/fitter? What is one thing you can do to make that happen?

  • Are you as informed as you’d like to be in every area of life that has meaning for you? If not, what sorts of things would you want to learn more about?

  • Do you feel wise in most things? Do you feel you understand what’s important and what’s not in your work, in your social life, and with regard to your personal interests?

  • Is there one thing you do or one relationship you have that you would really like to give up?

  • Is there one thing you can do in 2020 that would make you really proud?

  • Is there one thing you can do in the next 30 days that will give you more happiness immediately and for the rest of 2020?

So think about these things today. It might take 30 minutes. It might take three hours. Whatever it takes, it will be – and I can promise this – the most useful investment of your time and mental energy that you will spend in 2020.


Mark Ford
Cofounder, Palm Beach Research Group

James’ note: For more great essays, stories, book chapters, poetry, and journal entries from Mark, be sure to check him out at www.markford.net. He calls it “the open-for-inspection half-way home for [his] writing.”

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