Inside: Sometimes the best way to achieve your goals—financial or otherwise—is to ignore all the sexy, attractive ideas and marketing. But no one’s selling old-fashioned hard work and research…
This spring I’ll be turning 31 years old.
That puts me in a distinct minority of people among the generations who are both adept at using the Internet now, and who can also remember what it was like before the Internet. The Internet has brought many wonderful things like my job and mail-order puppies, but I’d be lying if I thought everything was dandy and peaches.
One of the lesser-touted things the Internet has brought is a whole new level of crazy. There’s a whole new legion of get-rich-quick and snake-oil promises on how to be fitter, smarter, richer, and faster.
True, those things have always existed since Bob the Caveman tried to pull one off on his neighbor Cledus, but now the Internet allows Bob a worldwide audience to peddle his quack cures.
You can find just about any crazy idea on the Internet now, from anti-vaxxers to flat-earthers to ghost hunters. The online world is full of rich white bros selling diets to melt your fat, drinks to make your brain work faster, programs to make you earn a million bucks, or any number of hokey products in a sleek, sexy, attractive package.
Exhibit A: Investing and money management
Did you know only 30% of Americans are considered financially literate? For the under-35s, this number drops down to only 20%. If you don’t even understand how the interest on your savings account works, how the hell are you supposed to know how to invest?
That’s why there’s a whole industry of financial “advisors” who are happy to tell you what to do and scoop up your money faster than Smaug. And let’s face it: it’s more sexy to admit you’re big-time enough to hire a fancy-pants professional financial advisor rather learn how to do it yourself.
Here’s the truth: financial advisors have their place, but for the most part, you don’t really need them to know how to invest your own money. And good luck finding one that’ll work with you unless you have a metric shit ton of assets anyways. Those ones are rarer than the Lucky Charms leprechaun on an acid trip.
Here’s the truth: you can do it yourself, and for a hell of a lot cheaper than any financial advisor. In fact, just about everything you need to know about investing can be found in JL Collin’s stock series, for free. Even Warren Buffet, the famous Oracle of Omaha, advises this approach.
But here’s the problem: even though it’ll get you where you want to go, it’s not as sexy. That’s why there’s a whole tribe of nerds with glasses and pocket protectors who worship Boglehead bobblehead books in a desperate attempt to seem cool (they are; just not to most people).
Exhibit B: Just About Everything in the Health and Fitness Industry
I call BS on diets, fitness, and health trends.
Tons of people proclaim to feel better and lose weight on popular diets like the Whole 30, gluten-free, vegan, paleo, or yourmammaspancakes diets. Colonics, multivitamins, chiropractors, massages, GMOs, and organic foods are all popular health trends that have more evidence against them than most people would like to admit—but that’s not popular or sexy to talk about these things (#taboo).
The placebo effect and legitimate medical conditions aside, most of these diets work through simple caloric restriction. You aren’t removed some voodoo essence of fatness and weakness from your diet; you’re simply eating less than you used to.
And because you’re temporarily depriving yourself of something you’ve already made a permanent habit (i.e., eating more), when you inevitably quit the diet, you gain back all that weight—and sometimes more. Diets just aren’t sustainable: that’s all there is to it.
Here’s what will work though: good old-fashioned exercise and eating smaller portions. Every day. Even on days when your husband comes home with cake and beer (#torture). But because consuming less would be the marketing strategy of a rabid baboon, it’s not as sexy and not as easy to follow-through with.
Exhibit C: Learning a New Skill
Cheap, easy, and sexy options like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo promise to bring you to conversation-level fluency in a matter of months, if not weeks.
Do you know how well that worked out for me on my recent trip to Peru?
Tiny Peruvian man: ¿Necesitas contratar un viaje a Ollantaytambo? (Do you need to hire a ride to Ollantaytambo?)
Me: No, I’m not interested in going fishing.
Tiny Peruvian man: No, ma’am, ¿un taxi para visitar Ollantaytambo? (No, ma’am, a taxi to visit Ollantaytambo?)
Me: I have enough pancakes, thank you.
My friend: What are you doing? We need a ride to Ollantaytambo.
You can see about how well that worked out.
But do you know what does work? Meeting with real people face-to-face to practice the infinite amount of word combinations until you can recall them without even thinking about it. You need to talk in front of perfect strangers about your Uncle Cooties who drinks potatoes on the beach in December with cats until you can say something that makes sense.
The same thing applies to any skill, really. Another example: you can find tons of sexy-looking programs to teach you a new instrument. But what really works is playing Mary Had a Little Lamb and completely butchering your favorite songs until your ears bleed before you get good.
The Least Sexy Way is Probably the Most Successful Way
So, how the heck are you supposed to sort out the endless options available to you these days? First, if anything is suddenly popular, be immediately skeptical of it—especially if there’s someone making a lot of money from it.
If you want to make a change, rather than wasting your money on these crackpot cures and fixes, do some research instead.
Look up what the naysayers of these trends have to say. Simple Google searches like “does eating tide pods really work” or “do investment advisors really shit gold” can go a long ways towards sorting things out.
Try to poke holes in someone’s argument. Play Devil’s advocate. What could possibly be fake about this thing? Are they trying to sell you anything, or would they gain financially if they persuaded you to do something? Is this based on scientific principles, or emotions? Hint: one is more reliable than the other.
Don’t rely on blogs either (how meta). Any bozo can set up a blog and tell you how to make a million dollars with their secret investing course (price tag: $1,999.99) or how you’ll suddenly become healthy and have less medical bills if you just buy their shakes for $130 a month.
And if you just don’t feel right about shoving a hose up your poop chute, sticking a rock in your hoo-ha, or any other popular new trend, don’t do it. Your wallet, your body, and the things you want to actually be successful doing will thank you.
Can you think of any other examples where the least-sexy option is the most-successful way to do things? Leave a comment below!