Rules Number 1 and 2

Underlying what I’m going to share with you in this article is an age-old theme: If I can do it, anyone can. It’s a theme I believe in strongly, probably because I’ve read so many articles, biographies, and autobiographies about people who have overcome enormous odds to achieve success.

In a radio interview some years ago, the host started out by asking me, “In order of importance, what would you say are the three most essential rules when it comes to making money?” Without hesitation, I blurted out: “Rule No. 1: Stay alive. Rule No. 2: Stay healthy. Rule No. 3: Stop losing money.”

The phones rang off the hook for a full hour.

What’s interesting is that even though my answer was spontaneous, I still believe strongly in these three rules. I think the reason those words jumped out of my mouth, without my even taking a few seconds to ponder the question, was because of my belief that most people tend to ignore or skim over the basics.

By “basics,” I am referring to things that are often so obvious that people simply don’t bother to give them much thought. Yet, it’s the basics that are the building blocks of success. And Rules No. 1 and 2 are as basic as you can get. Why? Because unhealthy people tend to perform at a sub-par level, and low-level performance does not lead to success. As to dead people, they don’t perform at all.

Think of James Dean, Elvis, Andy Gibb, Bobby Darin, John Belushi, John Denver, Pete Maravich, Freddy Prinze, Reggie White – the list of celebrities who died young, or relatively young, goes on and on. And most of these early deaths could have been avoided.

A lot of famous people have died as a result of drug overdoses. I don’t like the odds against living a long and healthy life when you put abusive substances into your body, so I choose to pass on drugs.

John Denver, John F. Kennedy Jr., Jim Croce, Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly, and undefeated world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano all died in private-plane crashes. I realize that the weekend pilots reading this article will take issue with my assessment, but I don’t like the odds of flying in a small plane, either.

But of all the things that can kill you, the one that poses the greatest danger is obesity (primarily through heart attack, stroke, or diabetes). Since “obesity” is a subjective term, perhaps it would be more appropriate to just say that eating too much food and/or eating unhealthy food is an irresponsible behavior that can lead to illness and death.

Keep front and center in your mind that what I’m talking about here are Rules No. 1 & 2 for making money: staying alive and staying healthy. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring or waving aside these fundamental steps just because they are so obvious.

The reason this subject is so dear to my heart (hmm … maybe not such a good word choice) is because I had a severe weight problem for many years. As a result, I have a great deal of empathy for the tens of millions of people in America who are overweight.

I said at the outset that the underlying theme of this article would be “If I can do it, anyone can.” And I’ll tell you why it’s so true in my case: It’s because I “think fat.”

When I say I “think fat,” I mean that I can relate to Dom DeLuise and his chubby pals in the movie “Fatso” when they chanted in unison “Get the honey!”

Like most overweight people, my dinosauric eating habits developed at a very young age. I ate anything and everything I could get my hands on. When I was at my peak, alert people would guard their food as I approached. But I practiced a double standard: No one would even dare to think about asking me for a taste of my food … because I wasn’t into sharing.

We’re talking extra-large pizzas … two double-cheeseburgers, two orders of fries, and two extra-thick shakes at one sitting … and a whole salami and a loaf of white bread for a nightcap!  Homer Simpson eats like an anorexic compared to me in my heyday.

During my teen years, my habit of vacuuming in any stray food within arm’s length didn’t cause me a weight problem, because I played basketball for hours on end. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to growing up. My endless hours of exercise dwindled, but my caloric intake did not. As a result, I soon became grossly overweight and out of shape.

For years, I felt lousy, and the quality and quantity of my work output was in a downward spiral. What changed everything for me was when I realized that even though I love food, overeating is not an addiction but a state of mind.

In other words, I thought like a fat person. Meaning that even if I wasn’t hungry, I would eat, because that’s what a fat person is supposed to do. It was a self-image thing.

The reason I wanted to share this with you is that in the event you are one of the millions of people in this country who are overweight, I suggest you attack the problem with your mind. A responsible-behavior mindset is a hundred times more effective than the greatest diet book ever written.

Specifically, this means declaring war on the part of your brain that thinks fat. And understanding that it’s a lifetime war. Today, people constantly comment about how thin I am. Little do they know, I’m a closet fat person. I still think fat.

It is in the hopes of helping you that I’m baring my soul here. Believe it or not, I still periodically go on a binge and eat ice cream (straight from the container, of course!) four or five nights in a row. On rare, out-of-control occasions, I’ve even been known to go for the jar of gourmet hydrogenated fat (a.k.a. peanut butter).

But what’s been different about the past 25 years when it comes to my personal Battle of the Bulge is that my responsible-behavior brain cells never fail to come to my rescue and overwhelm my think-fat brain cells.

I’ve had some close calls, but the responsible cells always manage to win. And the tool I use to help them win is my bathroom scale. I monitor the situation every morning and every night so there’s no room for self-delusion.

The result is that even though I still think fat, I manage to eat thin – at least most of the time – because I’ve learned to intellectualize the problem of unhealthy eating habits. To intellectualize means “to give something a rational structure.” And giving something a rational structure leads to responsible behavior.

In other words, it’s 100% mental – mind over calories. I try to make sure that the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains get inside before the eating machine within me starts reaching for the saturated fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar.

Thus, if you’re one of my think-fat soul mates, take heart. I’m willing to bet that I love food more than you do. Modesty aside, I’m also willing to bet that I can out eat you blindfolded. Having said that, what’s more important is that I choose not to do so.

So I end where I began: If I can do it, anyone can. Someday, I’ll probably write an article about the third most important rule for making money: not losing it. And perhaps I’ll even write one on my views about another important component of staying alive and healthy: exercise. In the meantime, if you want to be around to read either of those articles, you would do well to heed Rules No. 1 & 2.