Breaking the Poverty Mindset: Budget versus Increasing Income

The poverty mindset is a phrase I use to discuss a way of thinking many who grow up in poverty have learned. It is very deceptive. Relatively speaking, I grew up in poverty. Of course there are varying degrees of poverty, and poverty for some may be wealth for others. Part of the poverty mindset is believing that all your financial problems will go away if you could just make a little more money. This is a critical error that is incredibly simple, but is so deeply ingrained in the poverty mindset that it is very hard to undo.

The other day I was driving with my kids in the car. I was talking to them about the importance of salting the sidewalk in front of our home so that no one slips and gets hurt. If someone slipped, not only would it cause injury, but we could get sued. Responding to my son who asked what it meant to get sued, I told them a story about how my father one time got injured on the job and collected a settlement of a large lump sum of money. My son astutely responded with, “If grandpa got all that money, then you weren’t poor your whole life then right?” What a profound question.

My boys know the history of our family and how we struggled a lot financially growing up. We would sometimes be without electricity, or hot water, or a working home phone (this was before the mobile phone era).

This question my son asked was so incredibly insightful and perfectly captures the poverty mindset. Although my father received a lump sum of money at one point, we still never stopped living our lives to some extent in poverty. I still remember my mother rationing out the cereal even after that lump sum of money. Sure, we enjoyed a temporary time of relief for a year or two in which we were not lacking as much as we did earlier in my life. However, my father also had the home foreclosed on not more than 6 years after purchasing it. So why the poverty lifestyle even after a large sum of money was infused into the finances?

The answer lies in something that I am still learning to correct. Daily lifestyle, especially budgeting. If someone wants to break the poverty cycle, possibly the most important thing they need to do is learn to live within their means no matter how much they make, learn to write a budget and live under the authority of that budget. If we cannot learn to do that then we will never truly break the poverty cycle because no matter how much money we have, we will always feel like we need a little bit more because our spending will always be more than we bring in.

Below are a list of resources which may help you if you are trying to learn to break free from the poverty mindset and poverty cycle in your life. I hope you will join me in striving hard after learning how to discipline ourselves to live within our means and live according a budget.

https://www.crown.org

https://www.everydollar.com

 

Should You Believe in Yourself?

Belief is a powerful thing. What we believe about any one thing will directly affect how we interact with that thing. If I believe the floor is sturdy, I will stand on it without questioning or even thinking of its integrity. If I believe something is dangerous, even if it’s not, I will be more careful when interacting with that thing. An example of this is being under a car. No matter how strong, sturdy, or secure a car is when it is up on a lift or pulled up on a set of ramps, I can’t seem to shake my fear of it falling on me when I am underneath it. Recently I was changing the oil on my Ford Explorer, which has tires big enough that I can crawl underneath the vehicle without having to lift it at all. Even though the truck was not lifted and was resting on its tires on the ground, when I was underneath it draining the oil, I could not shake my fear that the tires were going to burst in that moment and the truck was going to fall on me and crush me. What we believe about anything affects how we act when interacting with it.

This is also true about what we believe about ourselves. When we believe we can do something, we will try it. When we believe we can’t do something, we will never try it or give up quickly. This is why, as a teacher, I often saw my students, and still see my own children, quickly give up when working on something that is difficult and then just sit there, waiting for “help” instead of struggling and trying on their own. Similarly, we humans foolishly choose paths in life too often based on these false perceptions about what we believe is true about ourselves, which have no basis in reality. I have made many life decisions in the past 20 years of my life based on a false understanding I had about myself which I now call the poverty mindset, which was based entirely on a myth that I was not worthy to be counted as successful by society’s standards.

That is what the content of this blog symbolizes for me. An internal change in my beliefs about myself.

Believe in yourself. For some of you that seems like not a very profound statement. Not me. As a Christian for most of my life, I have always wanted to be careful to not ascribe to statements that would compete with all glory going to God. I used to go to a church that was very intent on identifying the right things to say, and which highlighted a very close link between your beliefs and your actions and words. This church was full of wonderful people and I learned much and developed a love of Jesus there that I never had before. However, this church also instilled in me an overly critical mindset. When someone would say something like “Believe in yourself.” I was trained to instantly identify that as a heretical statement. For, humans are only sinful wretches and offer nothing good. We shouldn’t believe in ourselves, we should believe in Jesus; He is the only one worthy of our trust.

Like a good follower, I always reacted to the “Believe in yourself” statement with instant criticism. I would not fall into that trap of believing in yourself. No way. The problem with my commitment to never condone the “believe in yourself” mantra is that I have also always struggled with lack of confidence around fellow adults, especially other guys. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake this lack of confidence.

I believe there is a direct link between my religiously-based rejection of “Believe in yourself” and my lack of confidence. Could it be that it is okay to “Believe in yourself” and still be a faithful Christian who wants to glorify Jesus in all you do?

Not too long ago, as I wrote about in a previous post, I stumbled upon the story of how Matt Nagy, who was just voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season as the Chicago Bears head coach, rose to become an NFL football coach. Nagy’s story and example of how he lives his life has been inspiring to me. During games he carries with him a large laminated play-calling sheet. In big words in one corner are the words, “BE YOU!”. He told some reporters that he tries to live by that saying. That if he is going to fail he will fail giving it his all while being who he truly is. That struck a chord with me, and continued me on an exciting journey. I began more deeply reflecting on my life and who I am and how I got here.

In my full time job I am a Realtor. I used to be a middle and high school teacher, but left teaching for various reasons two years ago to be a full time Realtor. Having always struggled with self-confidence, especially around other guys, I felt very frustrated with myself that I had not accomplished more in my life and gone further in any given career.   As I began to self-reflect with honesty and began asking myself some hard questions, I began to realize that I had what I call a poverty mindset, and this poverty mindset was limiting my ability to grow.

A story about an encounter I had with someone while I was serving with my wife in the church nursery caring for babies on a Sunday morning best captures one of the major causes of my confidence struggles, and sheds light on the solution. As I was speaking with a fellow church member who was serving in the nursery with us, he was telling me about being unemployed and how hard that had been for him. At the time, I was a teacher at a small Christian school making $20,000 per year with no benefits. My wife worked as a stay-at-home mom and we had two boys under the age of 5. We struggled to pay the bills. As this guy was telling me about his own struggle of unemployment, he said, “This year has been hard. It is the first time in my life that I have never made at least $100,000 in a year.” My jaw dropped. I was working 50+ hours per week making a poverty income and had to pick up a job stocking shelves at night and on the weekends for an additional 15 to 20 hours per week just to pay our bills, and this dude is complaining to me that he hasn’t made $100,000 this year?! Who does he think he is?! How arrogant of him to say that to me! Doesn’t he know who he is talking to? Those were my thoughts after his comment.

For several years after that I was pretty ticked off at the guy. You see, when someone believes it is wrong to “Believe in yourself.” and they struggle with self-confidence, they put powerful and low limits on what they can accomplish. This was an amazing scene. The other guy believed in himself and I didn’t believe in myself. So his comment was very offensive to me because I did not believe that I would ever make that much money in my life.

My family grew up poor by American standards. My father never finished high school. He was a very good man who did the best he knew how to care for and provide for his family, but he was not very well equipped. We moved from house to house growing up. We would get behind in rent and we would be forced to move to a new rental home. Consequently I changed school districts about every 1 to 2 years. By the time I was in 8th grade I had been in 6 different school districts. Consequently my grades were also bad. My dad did not effectively teach me to be disciplined. My mother worked very hard to teach me self-discipline but I was a stubborn, resistant child. Furthermore, I remember there were many times when our power was shut off for days or weeks at a time, or we had no hot water and we had to boil water to take a sponge bath or take a cold shower.

My dad struggled with a lot of insecurity as well. He was often borrowing money from people and unable to pay it back. He created a low self-image for himself and our family and projected that low self-image onto others. I recall one time I was sitting in the bleachers around 12 years old at a church softball game in which my dad was playing. A couple of young men in their early twenties sitting right in front of me began making fun of my dad behind his back unaware of my presence. When they realized I was sitting behind them and could hear them, they seemed embarrassed but said nothing to me. I understood who we were and that identity became my identity. When my dad was finally able to buy a home for the first time when I was in high school, he then had it repossessed when I was 19 years old. This way of life was generated out of a way of thinking within my dad, and I was brought up in that same way.

So when this man in the nursery lamented having not made $100,000 for the first time in his life, it offended me because he was supposed to know what I already believed, that he was talking to a failure whose lot in life was to always struggle to provide for his family. That was the way I saw myself. I wouldn’t dare to allow myself to believe I could make $100,000 per year, and if I did dare to think that might be possible, I certainly wouldn’t let anyone else know I was thinking it. They might mock me and think I was crazy. After all, it is me we are talking about here.

This whole mindset was supported out of a belief that it is wrong to “believe in yourself.” I would never let myself ascribe to the “believe in yourself” mantra. It was a couple of years after the $100,000 comment that I began to slowly realize that I am no different than the other guy, and I can give myself permission to think big and dream big. I continued to teach another 5 years at two other schools before I decided that if I was ever going to break this low self-image, and earn enough money to truly provide for my family, that I would have to leave the teaching profession altogether and pursue a career which had an uncapped earning potential. So I became a full time realtor. Ever since then I have been on a journey of slowly identifying ways I am still living in the self-inflected poverty mindset and trying to break down those false barriers I have constructed preventing my own success.

Then I learned of Matt Nagy and his rise to head coach. Nagy was selling homes as a realtor when he had a chance to become an assistant coach in the NFL. Something about his “Be You” slogan, his self-confidence, and his risk-taking struck a chord with me. Around the same time, I stumbled across a book entitled The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by a Christian man named John Maxwell. In the book, he urges his readers to believe they are dignified humans with a lot more potential than they realize. He spends a lot of time encouraging his readers to believe in themselves. This challenged me. How can a Christian writer be saying we should believe in ourselves. Believe in Yourself? Could it be that it is okay for me to believe in myself. That I can do that without compromising my faith in Jesus.

That I can confess to be a sinner in need of God’s grace while also believing I am a human created by a creative God who has given me certain gifts and qualities that are good and worthy to be developed. Yes! Something clicked. 

When I realized it was okay to be a Christian and still believe in myself, my gifts and abilities, and that I have great potential to accomplish great things, it was like something clicked inside of me. The potential to excel and accomplish great things, and earn enough to provide for my family has always been there but I lacked the ability to access it. I suspect I will be continuing to gradually uncover ways I have limited myself by believing something was impossible for me. I suppose living in the reality that it is okay to believe in yourself will be a lifelong journey in which I have to uncover many old barriers I need to break down, but I now have access to the right mindset to break down those barriers. If you or someone you know has struggled to believe in yourself/themselves, I hope this post will be an encouragement to you. I hope you will realize that no matter where you come from, you truly are a person created by God with dignity and the potential to do more than you realize. The first or next step for you just might be to believe in yourself.

Writing Goals Is Stunting Your Growth

Have you ever considered the possibility that being goal oriented might be limiting your overall growth. I know, sounds crazy right? Everyone talks about the importance of setting goals, writing them down, looking at them regularly in order to accomplish them. This is what I have been doing lately. However, this morning I was challenged by John Maxwell in his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, where he challenges his readers to stop setting goals and instead be “growth-conscious”. The concept is astoundingly insightful.

He describes setting goals as limiting or putting a cap on our potential. In this short section, he outlines the differences between someone who is growth-conscious versus someone who is goal-conscious.

“If you’re goal-conscious, you focus on the destination. Whereas if you’re growth-conscious, you focus on the journey. Goal-conscience motivates you and others; growth conscious matures you and others. Goal-conscious leads you to be seasonal; whereas growth-conscious leads you to be lifelong. Goal-conscious challenges you; whereas growth conscious changes you. Those people who are goal-conscious stop when a goal is reached. People who are growth-conscious keep growing beyond their goal.”

This concept has hit me like a ton of bricks, challenging me to rethink my growth as a human. It was so opposite to what is typical for good advice that I thought I would share it with you today. Consider transitioning from being goal-oriented to being growth-oriented. You may find yourself growing in ways you hadn’t seen before.

Update on 1/18/19

I don’t mean to say that writing goals is bad or detrimental, and I don’t think that John Maxwell would say that. I think that writing goals can be very helpful. But John Maxwell’s point seemed to be about the mindset we have. We may use goals to grow, but we must live with a growth mindset instead of a goal mindset. A growth mindset will help us grow far beyond our goals.

Small Stones Make Long-Lasting Ripples: How A Small Part of Your Day Is Either Helping or Hurting You.

water wave circle drop of water
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever thrown stones in a lake? For some reason it seems to be one of the greatest joys of boyhood. One of the many things I love doing with my boys is going hiking at local parks. Inevitably, when we come to the edge of a lake, pond, or river, they begin passionately looking for stashes of stones in the ground that they can throw into the water. A competition ensues to see who is able to throw a stone the furthest or who can skip a rock the most times. But have you ever watched what happens after the stone lands in the water? Of course you know that it creates ripples in the water that gradually expand out from the point at which the stone first entered the surface of the water. But have you ever stopped to take a moment to watch it? The ripples, even from a small stone, carry on and effect the water surprisingly far away from the point of entrance of the stone. There is much we can learn about that concept when we apply it to our life. Our lives are made up of a collection of small decisions which create ripple effects upon the lake of our entire life. One of these small daily decisions that has huge impacts on whether we are making progress toward our life goals or moving backwards away from our goals is how we handle our bedtime routine.

Of course, I am assuming you are already on a path of living on purpose or living with what I have called inspired resolve. This means you have written down your life purpose and have written some lofty life goals for yourself which are directly connected to your life purpose. If you have not done that yet, then it won’t really matter to you one way or another whether you have a productive bedtime routine or not. And your bedtime routine will also depend on if you are single, married, living with a roommate, have children or not, etc. But make no mistake, we can trace the ripples that are created by our bedtime routines.

I have done a lot of reading about what makes successful people stand out from those who have no direction or are unsuccessful. There are many things that make them stand out, one of the most important being how they spend their early mornings. Successful people see their mornings as invaluable parts of their day. Intentionally living the early morning part of your day is critical to living your life with inspired resolve and growing towards accomplishing your life goals.

Imagine going through your life always sleeping in until the last possible minute before you have to get up to get somewhere on time. For some of you, you don’t have to imagine. You start your day out stressed, hurried, eating an unhealthy breakfast if you eat one at all. You are speeding to get to work or school, trying to see how many traffic laws you can come close to breaking without getting pulled over. You are wearing a wrinkled shirt because you had no time to iron. You are playing catch up with every aspect of your day from the moment you awake. Sounds unpleasant right?

Now imagine you wake up early, let’s say 5:00 am for the purpose of this conversation. You have a rigidly structured morning routine which includes a time of prayer and inspirational reading, stretching, exercise, reviewing your plans and goals for the day, and giving yourself plenty of time to begin your work. As you sit in the quietness of the early morning before other members of the home have awaken, you hear the birds begin to chirp while you read and drink your coffee. You get ready with plenty of time to spare. You leave for work with plenty of time to be a few minutes early. You are calm, already feel productive for the day, and feel physically and emotionally refreshed and confident as you set out to live your day with inspired resolve.

Which type of day would you like to live? I assume you said the second one, the one where you awoke early and were productive.

Let me ask you another question: What is your normal bedtime routine? Do you have a set bedtime for yourself or do you go to bed when you are just too tired to stay awake any longer. Do you watch tv or movies in bed? Do you stay awake late into the night? Remember you most likely already acknowledged the fact that you would like to live a life of inspired resolve, awaking early every morning with purpose and intention.

The way we spend our mornings creates ripples throughout our entire day, and then those days turn into weeks, months, years, and a lifetime. The way you wake up each morning is directly related to whether you are living your life accomplishing your goals and, ultimately, your purpose in life.

If you, like me, see the value of starting each day early and living on purpose, you need to realize that it requires you to have an equally intentional and purposeful bedtime routine the night before. Something that my wife and I got into the bad habit of doing is going to bed every night with a digital device and watching our favorite shows on Netflix until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. This became very harmful to our relationship and to our overall life. We both found it very difficult to get up in the morning even though we both wanted to live our early mornings with inspired resolve. We have decided to commit to no longer ending our day this way.

My new routine is to sit down some time in the late afternoon or early evening (before I am too tired) and review what I accomplished that day and what I want to accomplish the next day. I then write out my agenda for the next day with all the tasks I want to finish carefully planned out. I have a very strict bedtime of 10pm so that I can be sure to wake up at 4:15am, my desired wake up time. Some days I am not faithful at this routine, but I am growing. I review my goals every night as a reminder about why I want to do this so that when the temptation comes to break this routine, I am able to remember what inspires me.

Just like my boys and I throwing stones in a lake and creating ripples that effect the water far away from where the stone fell in, we are constantly making ripples in our life with our daily choices. It is entirely up to you how you want your life to go. You just have to realize that the ripples you are living in today are a direct result of the stones you threw days, weeks, months, and years ago. And if you don’t like how your life is going today, then maybe you should begin to start throwing different kinds of stones in new places in your life. The ripples always come, but you get to dictate where and how.

 

 

The Glory of the Daily Grind

In “Break Free from Our Self-Adorned Chains”, I discussed the need for us to stop limiting ourselves with a focus on our own limitations. I challenged you to identify an area in your life where you have been limiting yourself based on your own false self-limitations. Too often we live our life wishing we could accomplish things we see others accomplishing, but never trying because we falsely believe they are beyond our grasp. However, breaking free from self-inflicted limitations is only the first step of accomplishing your lofty goals. If we are to accomplish much in our short time on this earth, we must not only be inspired but live daily with resolve to work at our goals, even when we don’t feel inspired.

I was sharing with my wife how discouraged I am because at 37 years old, I feel like there is so much I wanted to have accomplished by now. She encouraged me that great accomplishments happen through the mundane daily struggle of daily faithfulness. That is the key! It clicked in my heart at a deeper level than ever before. If I wanted to learn to play the piano, it is not out of my grasp; it is very achievable if I am willing to practice every day. If you want to write a book, it is not just a pipe dream that you should think you will never accomplish, it is very achievable if you are willing to sit down and do the work.

I am currently listening to an audio book by John Maxwell called The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. In Chapter One he tells a riddle that goes something like this: 4 turtles were sitting on a log in the water. Three of them decided to jump into the water. How many were left still on the log? If you think the answer is 1, you are wrong. There were still 4 turtles left on the log. Why? Because 3 of them only decided to jump into the water. If they were going to accomplish it, they still needed to go from deciding in their minds to actually doing.

So as we begin to work on changing our own self-perceptions and beliefs, we still need to take another step–actually begin to do. And that is a very hard step to take. You see it can be easy to motivate ourselves to take the first step towards our goals. (Indeed, you are reading this blog because I made the first step towards executing my decision.) But the real success comes when we commit ourselves to the daily faithfulness of working toward that goal.

I can tell you right now that I am not making rapid progress in learning the piano. I only sit down to practice once or twice per week and usually only for 15 minutes at a time. This blog was exhilarating and exciting for me for the first 4 of my posts. (I am actually surprised it lasted that long without my excitement waning). But today was a different story. My goal is to write and post something every day. But when I sat down to write this post, I initially felt uninspired and unmotivated, and did not feel like doing it. Thankfully, I was able to fight through that feeling, and I hope you are the better for having read this far.

We love beauty. We are wired for it. We vacation to places where we can behold the beauty of the majestic creation. We listen to beautiful music. We enjoy watching professional athletes because they manifest an element of beauty as they compete to be the best at their craft. We appreciate beautiful furniture, clothing, cars, homes, etc. But the greatest violinist or the most gifted ballet dancer, or the most beautiful opera singer did not become that way without hours upon hours of hard work in the quiet places and in the early morning and late at night. They did not work at practice and discipline only when they felt inspired and only when they felt refreshed and motivated. They had to commit themselves to discipline and practice on a daily basis. They lived their daily life with inspired resolve. For while it is easy to pursue your goals when you are inspired, you need resolve to pursue them when you can’t find or remember the inspiration that led you to make the goal to begin with.

As you walk with me on my journey of living with inspired resolve, I hope you and I will both commit to growing in the seemingly boring, mundane, grind of daily faithfulness working towards our goals. For it is in that boring world, that we can truly accomplish great things.

 

Your Phone’s Alarm Clock Doesn’t Work.

In a previous post here, I discussed the importance of having restraint when using social media. Social media can become harmfully, excessively intrusive in our daily lives. If you read that post, you know that I have deleted my fb page. However, as a Realtor and a writer, I have to maintain some connectedness on the internet. Having abandoned facebook, I find I have more time available for other things. While I have more time, the temptation to be overly connected to my digital devices continues. I have realized my phone is hurting me in ways I thought it was helping.

As I went to bed last night, I set the time on my alarm clock to 4am (Yes, even on a Saturday, especially on a Saturday). I was eager to get right to work on my writing and my real estate work. However, I made one critical mistake as I fell asleep. I forgot to properly set my alarm.

You see, the night I deleted my facebook account, I also drove up to the local Meijer around 10pm, and bought a stand alone alarm clock. From the moment I decided I needed to buy a stand-alone alarm clock to the moment I came home with one in hand, there were many obstacles which could have deterred me from accomplishing this mission.

This was a very critical step in my journey to live with inspired resolve. I couldn’t let the time of night, or the fact that the electronics department was closed for the night, or the fact that some of the employees whose help I sought were uninterested in helping me stop me from doing what I felt inspired in that moment to do. I know myself well enough to know that if I did not go buy that alarm clock in that moment, I would probably never do it. But why was buying an alarm clock such an important step?

I have become convinced that if I want to live with inspired resolve, I must be less connected to the distraction of the internet and be more present in the here and now of my life. The internet has been a force for much good in the world since its beginning, but it has also become a monstrous form of living a distracted life.

Compare how the average American today spends his free time versus the average American two hundred years ago. The average American was probably working in his field, living a life of hard work and benefiting from all one can learn from reaping and sowing. If he had any free time, he was probably spending it writing letters, having face to face conversations with others, or reading classic works of literature.

How often do you spend time with a friend or loved one and give that person more than 3 to 5 minutes of thoughtful, intentional, undivided attention through listening and having discourse without ever looking at or thinking about your phone? How much time do you spend reading classic literature versus keeping your brain preoccupied or distracted on sites like Pinterest, facebook, instagram, etc. If you are like me, your answers to those questions are not very encouraging.

I got to the point with my phone that I was always aware of its whereabouts while I slept during the night. I needed my phone as an alarm clock. So I made sure it was well-charged and close by me every night before I fell asleep. I had this strange awareness of my phone’s presence at my bedside at all times. Even though I always try to wake up between 4am and 5:30am, using the phone as my way of doing that was actually hurting me. When I woke up I was faced with immediate distraction; the very thing I depended upon to wake up early to be productive is the thing that overwhelmingly tempted me with instant distraction. I woke up to spend the early morning in prayer, exercise, reading, and other early morning productive activities, and often found myself instead sitting and reading news stories or social media posts which, when I am honest with myself, are very irrelevant to me and my life.

So by using my phone as an alarm clock, I had to literally pick up the distraction and literally hold it in my hand. If I had any hope of being productive each morning, I instantly upon waking, had to be faced with a powerful temptation to be distracted and then make an active choice to deny that temptation. Why would I put myself in such a position every morning.

It was time to separate my phone from my alarm clock. It was time to put my phone to bed every night in a place that was not my bedroom. So with the purchase of a new inexpensive and simple alarm clock is the beginning of a new bedtime routine.

With a new alarm clock, it is important to remember to actually execute the change with intention and resolve. Last night, I set my wake up time for 4am. But I didn’t wake up until 7am. I was so disappointed when I discovered I overslept and perplexed about what happened. The alarm clock seemed ineffective and it was only day two.

As I got going, however, I realized what happened. When I depended on my phone as an alarm clock, I never had to reset the alarm or turn the alarm back on each night. However, my new alarm clock is different. Each night it must be switched back to the “on” position, and each morning when it goes off, I literally need to turn it “off”.

I couldn’t be more excited to have such a seemingly primitive device in the 2019 world of high tech. With this device, I am removing a deeply detrimental temptation to waste time each morning, and am forced to be more intentional about my bedtime and wake up routine. And that is what living with inspired resolve is all about…being intentional.

If you can relate to the problem of using your phone as your alarm clock, or it you want to join me in making this change, leave a comment below to let me know.