The Upside: Habits of the rich and thin

Since the recession began, we've all been tightening our belts, but only metaphorically. As our finances have grown leaner, Americans' bellies continue to grow larger. Therefore, the question of how to increase net worth while decreasing net girth has been on my mind for a while -- like about 20 years.

You see, I've been both rich and poor as well as fat and thin. Say what you want about the best things in life being free and money not being able to buy you happiness; in my experience, rich and thin were way better. What's more, for me physical and fiscal fitness seem to go together.

For instance, with the help of Jim Karas' The Business Plan for the Body I lost more than 60 pounds in a year by applying the skills I learned from running a successful small business. Since then, I've noticed that the challenges and benefits of following a diet mirror that of following a budget.

The opposite may also be true. As Daniel Engbar asked recently at Slate, "Does poverty make you obese, or is it the other way around?" It's a hard question to ask without sounding like a jerk, but it's one I've been asking myself as I strive to stabilize both my weight and my income.

So I've been researching What's Necessary to Be Rich and Thin. And here's what I've learned so far:

1) IT'S A CONSPIRACY. It's not a coincidence that the obesity epidemic of the last 20 years parallels Americans' overspending. The food and credit industries have actually conspired to make you overweight and in debt. And it takes an extraordinary will to combat them. Because:

2) YOU'RE NOT WEAK, YOU'RE HUMAN. More and more, studies of behavioral science are showing that humans are pack animals determined to follow the herd. Which is why you're more likely to be overweight if your friends are. Therefore:

3) IF YOU WANT WHAT SOMEONE HAS, DO WHAT THEY DO. According to Jean Chatzky's The Difference, what separates financially successful people from the rest of us is that they set goals and -- here's the important part -- actually stick to them. Chatzky is Oprah-approved, so I'm apt to believe her. (Of course, so is Dr. Phil and I think he's a gaseous windbag.) In which case:

4) CHANGE YOUR HABITS. This one has worked for me in the past, so I'm trying it again. Instead of making some dramatic changes, I'm working on little ones -- the barest minimum of what I'm willing to do. Take exercise. If all I can muster is a set of push-ups one day, that's what I do. I figure it's better than nothing, which is what usually happens after a few days of compulsive, Herculean efforts. Small, repetitive changes stand a better chance of becoming automatic and permanent. "Habit is habit," Mark Twain said, "and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time." Which ultimately means you get to:

5) REWARD YOURSELF. There's a lag between behavioral changes and results, so I've started treating myself like a lab rat -- giving myself rewards for accomplishing a task. Like this article, for instance. It's a small part of my overall business strategy of generating steady income. Now that I've finished it, I'll give myself a reward.

But it won't be a snack.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.
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