You Want More Out of Life? Here’s What You Gotta Do

“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.” – Simone De Beauvoir

Six months ago, I set up an informal lending bank for employees of Rancho Santana — the beautiful Pacific seaside development I’m involved with in Nicaragua. The deal is pretty simple: Local people associated in some way with the project can borrow a certain amount of money to build a house and then pay it back over a period of time. Once the loan is paid down, they can borrow again.

Since the program started, 20 people have taken advantage of it. More will follow. It’s good to know that some people who had been living with their parents now have houses of their own and that others have been able to enlarge their homes by adding on much-needed extra rooms. Backyard wells have been dug, doors installed, cement floors poured.

All that has been good.

But there was one thing about the program that bothered me from the beginning: The only option these people were given for repaying their loans was to have the payments automatically deducted from their paychecks. And their paychecks were already so small — typically, for an unskilled worker, $150 to $200 a month.

So, recently, I came up with a scheme to provide extra work for those who wanted it. That way, they could keep their take-home salaries intact and repay their home loans by working an extra few hours every week.

This idea hasn’t gone over as well as I expected it would. “The problem is,” the lady who is running the loan program told me, “they don’t want to work the extra hours.”

That’s not true of Enrique and Yessenia, who take care of my house in Nicaragua. They’ve kept their salaries (even increased them) while building and improving their homes. And in the process, they’ve acquired new and financially valuable skills. Yessenia now knows how to maintain a house, stock a kitchen, cook, etc. Enrique can paint, repair roofs and plumbing, do light carpentry, and more.

The material aspects of their lives are richer now, and, if one can judge from appearances, their self-esteem and confidence have improved. But what about the others? The gardeners and guardians and construction workers who borrow money but aren’t willing to work a little bit more to pay it back? What are they thinking?

“There is an expression here in Nicaragua,” GS told me, “that it’s ‘better to be lazy than tired.'” It’s obviously at least a little bit ironic, but it does reflect a way of looking at work that is widespread — not just in Nicaragua, of course, but all over the world. This is based on a view of work as something unfulfilling, unpleasant, and ultimately undesirable. It’s easy to understand how a person can develop that sort of perspective. It’s how I looked at work for a part of my youth. But it’s ultimately self-destructive — and not only because it prevents you from acquiring wealth. It’s bad medicine for the soul, because it sours the one human experience that’s most likely to give you a feeling of well-being.

I should qualify that statement. It’s not that they are afraid to work. They work hard already. And it’s not a question of intelligence, education, or upbringing. If there is one thing that links human creatures — regardless of where we come from, what we do, or what kind of backgrounds we have — it is this: We are creatures of habit.

You have a certain routine you follow after the alarm rings in the morning. Maybe you go back to sleep for 15 minutes. Maybe you lie in bed staring at the ceiling. Maybe you jump up and head right to the shower. Whatever your routine, the regularity of it is comforting.

Once a routine becomes a ritual, it provides you with a certain sort of soothing pleasure that’s addictive. That’s the thing about a routine. It doesn’t matter whether it is healthy or unhealthy, stimulating or depressing, wealth-building or financially depleting — once you get used to it, it’s very hard to break the habit.

The way you eat, for example, is a routine. And even though you may recognize that you could eat better — and that if you ate better you’d look and feel better — you’d still have trouble doing it because your eating habits are so deeply embedded.

To make a change in your life, you have to be willing to do something new. To do something new, you have to be prepared to discontinue something old. Discontinuing something old means breaking a routine. Therefore, all the change you want in life must begin with some discomfiting change in your daily routine.

How much change?

There is no definite answer to that question. But if you are willing to begin with an hour a day, I believe you could see some major changes in a relatively reasonable amount of time. You might even experience a miracle in no time flat.

It would take about three years of one-hour-a-day work to log 1,000 hours of change in your life. And 1,000 hours of change would probably be the most you’d ever need to make a major, life-altering transition.

What can you do in 1,000 hours?

  • Become your company’s best marketer.
  • Perfect the art of one-on-one salesmanship.
  • Make your company’s product the best in the business.

If you can put in more than an hour a day, success will come faster. But three years is not too long to wait to change your life. It’s time that will pass by whether you do something new or not.