Build Your Future: Invest in Yourself

Photo credit: Arkady Golod

My friend (and writer of brilliant blog, Exile Lifestyle), Colin Wright, once said to me (paraphrasing), “You can never go wrong with investing in yourself – that way, everything that you learn and have can go with you. You can invest in three ways – your health, your network, and your knowledge, and all three are necessary to be successful.”

Wiser words have never been spoken.

Investing in yourself is the true way to improve yourself. If you trade your time and effort now for increased skills or knowledge, relationships, and better health, your results will multiply in the future. While we all have to do what is necessary and proper to maintain equilibrium – keep working at our jobs, for instance – we should be leveraging our spare time for self-investment instead of wasting it on things that truly don’t matter.

Taking an attitude of investing your time in yourself now will result in payoffs later. The key is to discriminate between what is investing and what is not – because more things can be considered “investing” than we think. Being social – talking to just about anyone – is investing because it improves your communication skills, extroversion, and builds relationships. And, yet, many people like being social because it’s fun. Investing doesn’t have to be boring – in fact, by pursuing what you’re interested in, you can invest in yourself very effectively.

However, no amount of intellectual or emotional investment is worth it if we don’t invest in the first pillar: health.

The Importance of Health

Your health, first and foremost, determines how effective you are. How you treat your body determines your mood, your ability to focus, and how you treat others. In short, how you feel determines how you behave – and the best way to feel great is to live a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some simple ways to invest in your health:

  • Exercise Often: Engaging in exercise makes you burn calories, lose weight, feel good, and stay mobile. It’s the catch-all for good health, in my mind. Make sure to switch things up to keep your body adapting and to make things more interesting; don’t do the same workout 5 days a week.
  • Eat well: People will tell you different things, but as long as you maximize your green vegetable and fruit intake, while minimizing processed foods, you’re eating pretty well. Buy organic produce as often as you can: the difference in things other than price – like taste and nutrition – is very noticeable. Eating smaller meals and sticking to “natural” foods like nuts, fruits, veggies, and meats is a nice rule of thumb, though you can eat some carbs as well to give you energy that lasts throughout the day.
  • Sleep well: Figure out what you need to function at your best, and make it your mission to get that much sleep every night. This is simple but the hardest change to implement, in my opinion, but the rewards are great. Don’t get cocky – your body does need sleep. Give it the rest you deserve.

I could go beyond that, but that foundation of exercise-diet-sleep is more than good enough as a jumping-off point. Remember: getting the fundamentals of living healthily is essential to being effective, focused, and feeling good each and every day.

Your Knowledge and Skills

Your knowledge and skills are the places where you can actually “see” your improvement. Being more skilled – in both breadth (number) as well as depth (how “good” you are at a particular skill) will make you more indispensible in every area of your life, from the workplace to your home. Reading books, trading ideas, and learning how to do new things will make you smarter and will also help with your lateral thinking and creativity – you’ll be able to combine knowledge from various disciplines in order to solve problems.

To invest in your skills, the route is very simple: you must practice. Practicing a lot – provided you’re also pushing your limits – will make you better at anything. Period. Don’t be afraid to learn how to do new things either. By doing so, you’re adding another tool to your Swiss Army knife of skills – skills that will come in handy later in life.

To increase your knowledge, it’s also a simple route: consume lots of information. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should read the news all day. Instead, consume good sources of information. Read what people in your business are reading so you can stay up-to-date. Watch TED talks. Go on Read books of all different kinds – business, history, political, whatever you’re interested in. If you’re interested in everything (like me), then you’re in luck – just read whatever appeals to you and be confident that you’ll benefit from them. For one, exposing your brain to new ideas leads your brain to generate some of its own ideas. Those ideas, in collaboration with other ideas, can advance society.

Investing in your knowledge and skills allows you to be a more versatile, competent, and interesting person. This is also extremely helpful when it comes to…

Network and Relationships

Your networks and relationships are also great things to invest in.

Actually, since “networking” seems too big-business-esque, let’s just call this “investing in your relationships”.

Building good relationships with everyone around you – your family, your coworkers, and even the barista at Starbucks – is essential for living a good life. As humans, we’re social beings. We need contact with others in order to feel our emotional best. Not to mention, building good relationships leads to a bevy of benefits – you always have friends to go out with, you always can have close relatives to support you, and you can end up having a network of people who you have business connections with who may be able to help you out if you’re ever in need of a job.

Well, how do you improve your relationships?

Simple. Care.

Care about others and spend time with people that like you who for you are, and you’ll be a winner. The more time you spend with people, the better your relationships will be – well, as long as you’re having a good time with them.

If you ever find yourself without friends to go out with, go out anyways and make an effort to meet new friends – especially if you’re in a new city. Expanding your circles of friends is always a good thing, since you’ll always be able to meet friends-of-friends in an ever-expanding circle of relationships. Having good people skills is very underrated but is necessary, I’d argue, for living a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind that this also applies to your family. Taking time out of your day to spend time with your children, for example, can be seen as “investing”, since you’re planting the seeds for a deeply fulfilling relationship.

If you’re spending time with people and you’re not getting what you want out of the relationship – maybe you need different friends that fit you. Go out and meet them at places that cater to the things you’re interested in. Go to a bookstore if you like books. Go to your favorite cafes and spots in your city and just talk with the people who you’d think you like to meet.

With each and every relationship you make (or try to make!), you’re presenting yourself with another opportunity to enrich your life and theirs as well. Great relationships are like nothing else in life, and we should treasure them all.

Don’t Worry About Not Investing

When I first got into the idea of investing my time, I obsessed over whether I was investing enough of my time into things that mattered.

Don’t. Time spent worrying is time spent not enjoying your life – which is what you should really be doing in the first place.

As long as you’re using your time well to enrich your skills, knowledge, and your relationships, while keeping your health well, you’re fine.

In fact, this gives you an excuse to have more fun and be more social, since you’re now investing in your relationships instead of thinking of it as “spending time with my friends that I could spend working.”

As long as you don’t think of investing as work, you’re on the right track. After all, this is all meant to be fun, not something to labor through.
Brett Hagberg is a personal development blogger who writes for PluginID. You can follow him on twitter at @PluginID or his personal account, @bretthimself.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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