We love freedom. We all want to feel powerful, like we’re fully in charge of our lives.

But there are forces in life that seem conspired against our freedom. Bosses and spouses telling us what to do. The responsibilities of work and family. The invisible need to conform to cultural norms. The build-up of laws and regulations. There’s a constant sense that people and situations and life are controlling us.

Can we ever be truly free?

The road to freedom starts between our ears, in our mindset, where we often sabotage our sense of power because we imagine ourselves as less free than we truly are. With a better sense of freedom and power, we’ll start living better immediately.

Think about these phrases. We’ve all said them:

  • I have to go to work.
  • I have to finish the dishes.
  • I have to pay my bills.

Are these statements true? No. When we say these things, we believe we’re powerless, that we’re victims, forced to do things we don’t want to do.

To unmask this lie, let’s imagine that we don’t “have to” do anything, for anyone, ever. How might our mindset about our work, the dishes, and the bills change?

Do we “have to” go to work?

No, we don’t. We can choose to stay home, skip out and have a free day. We can just call our boss and say, “I’m not coming in today,” and hang up. Or not call at all. Then we can refuse to pick up the phone when the boss calls. We’re absolutely free to go out and enjoy ourselves. We don’t have to go to work.

Unless we want to keep our jobs.

Do we “have to” do the dishes?

No, we don’t. We can let them pile up, forever. I’ve seen the hoarder shows on television that reveal how some people never do their dishes. There’s absolutely no truth to the statement, “I have to do the dishes.” We don’t have to do them. Ever.

Unless we want a clean kitchen.

Do we “have to” pay the bills?

No, we don’t. We can ignore them. Forever. We can ignore the phone when the collectors call. I know people who have ignored their bills then got sent to collections then lost their homes and their cars. We certainly can do all these things. We don’t have to pay our bills. Ever.

Unless we want a house, a car, or light and heat.

The One Thing We “Have to” Do

We don’t have to do anything at all, except suffer or enjoy the consequences of our choices. The better we understand this, the better we understand the full extent of our freedom, as well as the limits of our freedom.

It all starts by seeing ourselves as fundamentally powerful and free. Then, from that place of freedom and power, we think next about the consequences of our choices.

Ahh, the Consequences

But here’s where it gets tricky. Consequences are real. Consequences constrain us. Consequences can even imprison us. Consequences can and absolutely do take away freedom.

Even though we’re free to make any choice, we’re not free to choose the consequences of our choices. Which means we can be free now, but make choices that sabotage our freedom down the line.

Think about the consequence of getting addicted to heroin. We tell ourselves, I can do anything I want, so we go to a drug party and shoot up. It’s the best experience of our lives.

For about two hours.

Studies show that one in four get addicted to heroin in one use. Imagine we’re one of the four, and now we’re an addict. We were free a couple hours ago. Now we’re not as free. The choices we made yesterday reduce our freedom today.

Now imagine we make a series of choices to work hard and invest wisely, and by age 60, we have enough investment income to pay all our bills and more. We weren’t that free to spend money and slack off for a couple of decades, but now we’re more free than we would otherwise have been. The choices we made yesterday increased our freedom today.

Turning “have to” into “want to.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in a sense of duty that we forget why we’re doing our duty. But when we get a clearer view of what it’s all for, we can find the motivation and power to “want to” do things that we previously told ourselves we “had to” do.

It’s true that if we want to keep our jobs, then we have to go to work. If we want a clean kitchen, then we have to do the dishes. If we want a house, a car, and light and heat, we have to pay our bills. There are things we “have to” do now if we want certain things later.

It helps, however, to see the things we “have to” do as a bigger part of the things we “want to” have. We change our words to reclaim our power, saying,

  • I want a good job and consistent income, so I want to go to work.
  • I want a clean kitchen, so I want to do the dishes.
  • I want a house, so I want to pay my bills.


I love helping leaders lead better because there’s a lot at stake.

  • If we’re a leader, our own success, fulfillment, and happiness depend on good leadership.
  • So does the success, fulfillment, and happiness of those we lead. The atmosphere of our organization can be hell on earth, or heaven on earth, just because of the skills and style and mannerisms of the people running teams.

Unfortunately, leaders aren’t doing near as well as they could. A 2011 Gallup survey showed seven out of ten workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged,” and would rather have a new boss than more pay.1 It’s not the work itself that’s making them miserable, but the skills and mannerisms of the leaders.

The first leader test is to gauge whether people follow us because they want to or because they have to. Are we leading by “force” or in “freedom”? The “force leader” pulls rank to get people to cooperate. But the “free leader” has voluntary followers.

Which are we? Here are some questions that might help:

  • Do people feel a sense of freedom when working with us, or are they anxious and stiff?
  • Do people resent our leadership or appreciate it?
  • Do people follow us only to keep their jobs, or because we’re giving them something more as a leader?

Two Types of Leader in Maxwell’s Five Levels

Leadership expert John Maxwell describes five levels of leadership, where this first and lowest level is “positional leadership.” We have a position, and we lead from this position. People have to follow us to keep their jobs. This is our “force leader.”

Maxwell promotes four more levels, which I think are extremely interesting and useful. And because I’m always analyzing things and trying to break them down into their simplest form, I see the levels as variations of our two types:

  • The “force leader.” Leaders who lead by force. People follow because they have to.
  • The “free leader.” Leaders who lead by freedom. People follow because they want to.

Level one, “position,” is the “force leader” type. Leaders lead by force, saying, Follow me or else.

Level two, “permission,” is the “free leader” type. People follow freely, because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. They’re getting something positive out of the leadership.

Maxwell’s remaining three levels could be labeled “free leader 1, 2, and 3 in this viewpoint, because they offer reasons followers want to follow instead of feeling like they have to follow. Here are the levels:

  • Production. The leader is helping people get things done. There’s a sense of group and individual achievement that people appreciate. Therefore, they want to follow.
  • People Development. The leader is developing people as leaders. The followers believe the leader is making them better. Therefore, they want to follow.
  • Pinnacle. The leader develops a reputation for getting results and growing people who in turn get results and grow people. There’s a legacy effect in achievement and duplication. There’s a level of trust that isn’t there for leaders who haven’t been leading effectively as long. Therefore, they want to follow.

The point is, there are two basic types in Maxwell’s five levels. As I wrote earlier, the five level idea is useful and powerful, and has been one of Maxwell’s core teachings for thirty years. My purpose here isn’t to invalidate the levels but see the two types in the levels, with the “force leader” at the first level, and a few variations on the “free leader” in all the following levels.

The Leader’s Two-Question Test

The effective leader thinks of force and freedom, and works to build a freedom-based leadership style.

To build that free style, effective leaders are always asking two questions, and working to get positive answers:

  1. Am I helping people achieve better than they could without me?
  2. Am I helping people become better than they could without me?

1Carmine Gallo, “70 Percent of Your Employees Hate Their Jobs,” Forbes, 11/11/2011, and Dr. Piers Steele, The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), p. 101.

Every time we make a decision, we say yes to one thing and no to another.

  • “Yes” to a burger and fries is “no” to a trim stomach.
  • “Yes” to driving north is “no” to driving south.
  • “Yes” to an afternoon with a friend is “no” to an afternoon at work.

Yes and no are the two sides of the coin of decision. We make decisions by evaluating options and choosing the one we think is best, and by extension, saying no to every other option. Every decision is a yes to one thing and no to other things.

Think of it like a path with constant crossroads. The path diverges, and we can’t travel both. We must choose a path, and accept where that path leads.

This is why good decisions require a constant sense of the bigger yes. For instance, when we have the bigger yes of a fit body in mind, we can say no to the urge for a burger and fries. But without that bigger yes in mind, fast food wins.

One way to get clear on the bigger yes is to create a “Dream To-Do List.” Fill a page of writing that completes this sentence: “If I knew I couldn’t fail, and had all the time and money I needed, I would…”

Why might we do this? To cement a bigger yes in our minds. Managing our motivations is a constant challenge that requires saying no every day. Without a bigger yes, we lose sight of priorities and lose self-control.

But when we have a bigger yes in mind, saying no is much easier.

Do you often feel unsatisfied? Like something’s missing? Like you don’t have enough of something?

There’s a deep human need for fulfillment.

Certainly, this can be a deep philosophical and religious need. I’m reminded of a saying by Saint Augustine of Hippo, the fifth century Algerian church father:

You have made us for yourself, and Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.

But in the past few posts I’ve been exploring this restlessness, not at the high level Augustine considers it, but at a lower level. I’m thinking about basic human motivations, considering the general relationship between goodness and quantity, and ways we can maximize good in the practical areas of our lives.

The question is, When is enough enough? When is more of something worse, not better? When do we have enough money? When we do have enough happiness?

Today’s question is, When is enough never enough? Are there some things in life that are vital but that never permanently satisfy? Is it right to feel continually driven and “restless”? Why is the appetite never satisfied?

In a moment of existential crisis, the ancient Hebrew sage-king Solomon felt worn out by this constant human drive:

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

My point today is, we should embrace this drive, we should celebrate this constant sense of restlessness, as a fundamental and permanent attribute of human nature. In some areas of life, we should expect to never reach satisfaction, because the “restlessness” is what makes us alive. It’s a good thing. It moves us forward. It makes life the great adventure.

We should abandon the false idea that enough should be enough in some areas of our lives.

Think about love. Showing love to others. Doing good to others and experiencing good from others. When is enough enough? The answer is, never.

Think about food. Or air. Or showers. When is enough enough? Never. We don’t ask deep philosophical questions about these things. We expect to be constantly going after them. We never arrive at a place where we won’t want these things, or need these things. Sure, we might be satisfied after a good meal. But that won’t last, and it shouldn’t. There’s another awesome meal ahead. The appetite renews. We get dissatisfied again. Restless. We want to eat again.

That’s a good thing.

Same with showers. Eventually we’re going to want another one. And another one. Showers aren’t a one-and-done sort of thing, like a trip I took to Disneyworld with my six children. There’s always going to be a “restless need” for showers.

I like to think of motivational talks like I think of showers. They won’t last, but they’re helpful right now. I’m going to need more of them in the future. We might think, Yeah, he gave a good talk. But it won’t last. That’s the wrong way to think. The talk isn’t designed to last. It’s designed to help us now, not later.

Same is true of achievement. Human nature is wired to make good things happen, constantly. When we think we should find some place in life where striving and achieving are done, and we’re sitting in a hammock on some beach for the rest of our lives, we live under a false impression. That place doesn’t exist. We’ll enjoy the hammock for a couple days, then realize that we’re hungry for purpose again. To be truly happy, we need to keep on making good things happen. A while back I invested over ten posts to show how happiness is “a pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.” There’s a flow to happiness, a never-ending stream of happenings that drive it, like the flow of water keeps a water skier afloat. Without that flow, our hearts are restless.

As they should be.

Let’s ditch the false impression that something out there can give us permanent satisfaction. That’s not the way life is set up. Life is a river, and we’re made to paddle it. Constantly. That’s the adventure. That’s what makes us feel satisfaction and dissatisfaction, over and over, in the dynamic currents of life.


This is the second in a series that asks the question, How much money is enough? Click here for part one.

Last post we looked at the “Inverted-U Graph” and money. The point of the graph is, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. There’s a relationship between the amount of good we get out of life, and the quantity of the good. The graph shows that past a certain point, more is worse, not better.

The question was, what about money? How much money is enough? Is there a point where more money is worse, not better?

My answer was, it depends on the reason we’re making money and spending money. Last post surveyed spending money. This post will look at making money.

Making Money, Making a Difference

In a free and moral economy, making money is making a difference. The only way to make money is to create value, then trade it for dollars. We must create a meaningful impact for a client and/or an employer in order to get money honestly.

Of course, if the economy isn’t free, and some people are forcing money from others at gunpoint, then the whole idea of making a positive difference as we make money falls apart. Voluntary trade is the key.

There’s a moral element here as well. When two parties trade illegal drugs for dollars, that isn’t making a positive difference, even though the trade is voluntary and each party sees themselves as benefiting, because each party is creating a long-term loss along with their short-term gains. What seems good to them in the short term creates addiction and crime and poverty in the long-term. The moral component of the market is designed to prevent long-term losses that disguise themselves as short-term gains.

Another moral factor is honesty. If we sell our used car and fail to tell the future owner that the engine is about to quit, that’s a dishonest transaction. Or if we trick a customer into buying something that isn’t what they thought it was, that’s wrong. The customer wouldn’t make the trade if they knew all the facts, which means one person will benefit at the expense of the other. The free and moral market is all about creating true win-win relationships.

But if we’re providing a valuable product and service that does no long-term harm, and the trade is voluntary, and if the parties are honest, all money-making is value creating. Making money is making a positive difference. The only way to make money is to first make a difference, then trade it for dollars.

That means the extremely rich entrepreneur is a maker, not a taker. They should be celebrated for all the value they’ve been giving the world, instead of shamed for their wealth. If they did their work honestly, and traded freely, and acted morally, they’re rich because they’ve created massive value for other people. The wealthy have become wealthy through their giving of their time and talent and treasure to create a better world. They’re the ones who make the biggest differences. We should celebrate their riches as richness for the world they’ve served, instead of resenting them.

How much difference-making is enough?

Which brings up the question, how much positive difference-making is enough? That’s like asking, how much love is enough?

We should be creating as much value as we can, using our resourcefulness and ingenuity and effort to create value in a free and moral society. That means honest money-making is a big part of John Wesley’s rule:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

Of course, there are limits to what we can do without burning ourselves out. I suspect that’s why the Hebrews instituted a six-day limit on work. People who see their work as making a difference can get so caught up in it that they neglect vital rest and balance. So the command from THE LORD through Moses was, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”1

When it comes to making money honestly, the only limit is our physical capacity and creativity. Which means we should be massively ambitious to work. The only way to get to the bad side of the Inverted-U is to burn ourselves out by working seven days a week, 24/7.

1Exodus 20:9, NIV

For several posts lately I’ve been writing about the idea that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. There’s an Inverted-U relationship between the amount of good we get out of life and the quantity of things that contribute to the good. Here’s the Inverted-U graph:

Take vacationing as an example. Vacation time is good. But too much leisure and we lose our sense of purpose. A 2014 study in Psychological Science claims that people who retire, or who spend too much time in leisure, die sooner and struggle with all sorts of mental health issues. They prove the adage true: A life without purpose is no life at all.

The Inverted-U idea applies to a thousand things in life. Water on plants is good. Too much water is bad. Fertilizer on those same plants is good. Too much is bad. Food is good. Too much is bad. Work is good. Too much work is bad. Eating out is good. Too much eating out is bad. On and on we go.

But is this Inverted-U idea true of money? Is it possible to have too much money? American humorist Will Rogers said it this way:

What’s considered enough money? Just a little bit more.

But I say, it depends on the reason we’re making money and spending money. What’s our purpose? When we understand our purpose, we can see where we hit the peak of the U, that place of maximum good where more money isn’t better but worse.

Purpose #1: Take Care of Self

Let’s start with the purpose of taking care of ourselves. We wonder, How much money will make us happy? We write up a rough budget of, say, $10,000 a month, giving us a nice house, a couple cars, and enough money to take two vacations a year and take care of our two children.

There’s something called the marginal utility of wealth. It’s just fancy economist talk for the idea that past a certain point, more money isn’t that useful to us. If our budget is $10,000 a month, will bumping that to $110,000 a month make us ten times happier? The experts say no, because we don’t have as much meaningful use for the extra hundred grand. It’s not as useful to us as the first $10,000.

But keep in mind that’s only true of we’re thinking of ourselves. If our own personal needs are the central reason for making money, then the satisfaction of our own personal needs sets the point at the peak of the U.

Purpose #2: Make a Difference

What if we got beyond ourselves and used our money to help others? Let’s say we found a way to loan small amounts of money to rural East African women. They could start businesses milking goats or making baskets or a dozen other things. We see how transforming this is, and how the women use the money to pay for school for their children, or to get vital healthcare and nutrition, then pay it back faithfully so others can do the same (lenders say the actual payback rate is 98.9 percent). We see that we can make a difference loaning $200 at a time.

How many women would we like to empower? How many loans might we want to make?

Imagine Elizabeth gets a vision for this. She’s making $10,000 a month at work, so she’s got all her needs covered. But she inherits a $10 million real estate portfolio from her grandmother which pays her an extra $100,000 every month. So she’s set for life financially.

This is where purpose kicks in. If Elizabeth’s only interest is in serving herself, there’s not much need for the extra money. I don’t need any more money, thank you. She prides herself in how little she cares about money. She scoffs at people who talk so much about money. I have all that I need, so money isn’t important.

Notice the problem here. What seems like satisfaction is pure selfishness. Her only concern is her own needs. Her only purpose is to serve herself. If her only concern is self, she just lets it accumulate and lives as lavishly as she can without feeling guilty.

But if Elizabeth’s interest is in making a difference in the world, and she gets a vision for these East African women, she starts using that extra money to empower five hundred women a month. Within a year, she’s helped six thousand women, and the number of women helped starts to compound because they’re paying back the loans. Within eight years Elizabeth has $10 million invested into the microloan initiative. She’s personally empowering one hundred thousand women a year, and so far has helped over half a million women. She’s making a huge difference, and starts speaking to groups of wealthy people about the opportunity to do the same. Finally she leaves her $10,000 a month job because she sees more value in inspiring others to build microloan portfolios like she has done.

How much money is enough for Elizabeth? I’d say she could use a lot more than she currently has. That’s why she’s out speaking right now: to get more money. Right now about 125 million people worldwide receive loans every year and there are hundreds of millions of good candidates who haven’t yet gotten loans.

So, how much money is enough?

That all depends on the purpose. If our purpose is to serve ourselves, we quickly reach the peak of the U. But when we get past ourselves and focus on serving the needs of others, the peak of the U is harder to reach.

That’s just for the spending side of money. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the making side of the money issue.


Imagine trying to water ski without the pull of a boat. We bob in the water, pushing ourselves up, trying to raise ourselves to the surface, but sink right back down because the boat isn’t moving.

This is often a picture of our emotional lives. We want to be happier, but fall back into doldrums and despair. We try to raise our spirits, only to sink right back down again.

The problem is, we’re not moving. The only way to stay float is to get moving, to create a constant flow of water that keeps us above the surface.

Same with our emotional lives. In previous posts I defined happiness as “a pattern of positive emotion that comes from seeing good things happen at a good pace.” There’s a pace to happiness. We need a constant flow of good things to keep our spirits afloat, just like we need a constant flow of water to keep our skis afloat.

Isolated Events Can’t Make us Happy

It’s human nature to believe events will give us more happiness than they actually do. If I had more money, we think, I’d be happy. If I was famous I’d be happy. If I could go to this place or do that thing, I’d be happy. 

Then we get a raise and are happy for a little while. But we settle back into the same feelings as before. Or we get some notoriety and are happy for a little while, or go someplace or do something and get a quick boost. But again, we settle right back into the same feelings as before.

Actor Jim Carrey has been there and done all that. Here’s his take from the other side:

I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they dreamed of so they can see that it is not the answer.

A Good Pace of Good Things Can Make us Happy

When we stop expecting isolated events to bring lasting happiness, and focus on a constant flow of good things, we’re on track. We tell the boat driver to “Hit it!” and get afloat.

Here are some practical ways to get afloat and stay afloat.

  • Expect good happenings to quickly lose their luster. A good meal doesn’t last. Neither does a good shower. Why should we expect other good things to last? Let’s switch our expectations. Instead of trying to squeeze all our happiness out of one event, like we’re death-row inmates eating our final meal, let’s enjoy the meal and move on to the next one. Let’s get a series of enjoyments out of a series of meals and showers, instead of expecting one of them to give us lasting satisfaction.
  • Keep the good things flowing. Constantly set goals and achieve them. Remember the warning from football coach Lou Holtz: “If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.”
  • Stop and appreciate the good we’re overlooking. It’s so easy to overlook a thousand good things that have happened or are happening to put focus on the one bad thing that isn’t going well. Scientists tell us that the average person needs to triple their positivity to reach a healthy balance, and most of the positivity deficit goes back to mindset. We’re so caught up in the wrong focus that we miss all the good that we’d see with a right focus.

See that squirrel in the header graphic? That should be you. Tell the boat driver to “Hit it!” and watch how it lifts your life.

Our team just released a video interview, it captures my heart to help leaders be more effective. Enjoy!

“Do you kids know,” I asked, “that you do not have to do what I say? You don’t have to obey your mother either.”

I have six children. One day in the year 2005, while we all were waiting in the living room for dinner, I started this casual conversation. The youngest was 6, oldest 14 – a perfect time of life for this breaking news.

They thought I was tricking them. But I wasn’t. “In fact,” I said in all sincerity, “from this day forward, you don’t have to go to school or do your homework either.” I paused to let it sink in. They looked at my expression to find a hint of humor. But I was dead serious.

They quickly discovered I meant what I said. Their faces sparked with curiosity and glowed with excitement. This was a groundbreaking day in the Van Alstine household. It was skydiving freefall. It was earth shattering Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence all wrapped in one. It was Martin Luther King Jr’s ringing voice, “Free at last…free at last…Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”

And I wasn’t about to burst their bubble. I wanted them to feel the full force of their freedom. “Yes, I’m serious. You don’t have to clean your rooms. You don’t have to do your chores. You don’t have to do anything, anytime, for anyone, from this point forward. In fact, if you think about it, you don’t have to do anything at all. Can you think of anything you have to do?”

“You have to breathe,” Grant chuckled, thinking he’d pulled an ace out of his sleeve. “No, you don’t,” I replied. “You can choose to stop breathing, and die of asphyxiation. Unfortunately, people around the world make this suicidal choice every day.”

“You have to eat food,” Madison shot back. But she knew what was coming. “No, you can stop eating, and die of starvation. Ever heard of a hunger strike?”

“Well, don’t you have to work?” they asked.

“No, I don’t. I can stay at home, sleep, and play video games here in the living room with you.”

“But how would you get any money?”

“I would just do without it.”


“I’d get by. First, they’d turn off the electricity. Then the gas. We’d run out of food. Then we’d be out on the street. But I could leave you to fend for yourselves, hop a train, and live out of garbage cans in Southern California.”

“Well, you wouldn’t want that, would you?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“So you have to work, right?”

“No, I choose to work, because I want electricity to light this living room, gas to heat my shower every morning, food to eat like the dinner mom is cooking, and a home with all of you. You see, I choose work every day not because I have to – but because I want to. I, like you, am completely free to choose.”

Then I paused to make my point. “There’s really only one thing I have to do,” I stated. “I have to enjoy or suffer the consequences of my choices.”

Ever since that day, my kids have enjoyed the freedom and consequences of their newfound emancipation.

Vacations are supposed to make us feel happy and refreshed. In many ways they do. But there’s other stuff in the mix that conspires against the goodness, creating vacation stress and post-vacation blues.

Last week I vacationed with family and friends in La Quinta, California, a resort city in the Coachella Valley, about a hundred miles dead east of Huntington Beach. Here are some of the ways I worked to avoid the bad and maximize the good.

Spring Glory in La Quinta

First, this place is unbelievable. Nestled into the craggy Santa Rosa Mountains, which block the clouds and precipitation flowing from the Pacific Coast, the Coachella Valley gets less than 4 inches of rain and more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Temperatures in April average 87 degrees, and humidity is low (about 18% at noon). La Quinta is spectacular desert country, and the weather in April is perfect.

Oh, and there’s the bougainvillea, an ornamental vine that flowers everywhere in La Quinta this time of year. The whole place is bursting in magenta for four to six weeks in the spring, and since “appreciation of beauty” is one of my top values (as measured by VIA Institute, take your free survey here), I was in awe. The whole week for me was bougainvillea bougainvillea bougainvillea.

Okay, now let’s get to the travel lessons.

Lesson 1: Plan for the Planning Fallacy.

It’s human nature to overestimate how much we can do in a travel day, and we often plan trips with an idealism that makes travel a living hell. We fall prey to what psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky coined as the planning fallacy, failing to accurately predict the time and effort that will be required to achieve our plans.

Two months out from the vacation, we think, If I book a 6am flight, I can be there by 9am and enjoy the whole day. The plan seems good from a distance, but when the alarm goes off at 3am we’re wondering, Who is the idiot who booked a 6am flight? Oh yeah, I was. Sure, the plane will touch down at 9am, but we wait longer than expected for baggage, then run into a problem getting the rental car, then have to stop off for food, then get delayed at hotel check-in. Then it takes longer to unpack and settle in. What we thought would happen by 9am actually happens by noon. Then we’re so tired from the trip we take a nap, then we get up and try to slog through the afternoon lull (experts in circadian rhythm tell us 3pm is the lowest energy point of the day). By dinner we’re picking up some energy, but then there’s that 16-hour waking wall we’re going to hit at 7pm because we’ve been up since 3am. What a crappy first day, we think.

This year Sandra and I decided on an early evening flight out, and set expectations that this will take longer than we plan. We worked for half that day, didn’t interrupt our sleep schedule, used lull-time to travel, and set our expectations low enough so that it worked out nicely. We arrived later than we thought we would, but generally speaking, had a good time and avoided the planning fallacy.

Lesson 2: Work for Win-Win.

We were vacationing with two other families, our close friends the Dunn’s and the Dunayski’s. They were heading down at different times, so the idea wasn’t to coordinate everything we did, but find ways to enjoy time together every day, while putting priority on our own families.

This takes work. The Dunayski’s wanted to do a lot of hiking in Painted Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park and the trail near the Quarry, leaving around 9am and getting back to the La Quinta resort in the early afternoon almost every day. The Dunn’s wanted to hike a day or two, but not the whole time. But Sandra and my two girls (Liz and Jess) didn’t want anything to do with hiking. “We don’t want to hike at all, not even one day,” they said. “We want to lay around by the pool. That’s it.”

Since this was Liz’ final high school spring break, we wanted to put priority on her preferences. So eventually we all agreed to visit Joshua Tree National Park in the late afternoon and evening on one of the days together, and have dinners together, but not get too caught up in shared activities that worked for one family but not for another.

I think we did a pretty good job of it, but the point is, win-win requires work. Leadership expert Stephen Covey encouraged people to ask, “Can we keep the conversation going until we get to win-win?” It’s natural for people run into conflict and throw up a wall, which is a mark of immaturity and leads to win-lose or lose-lose. But with maturity we can be patient and creative, talking things through and coming up with new ways to do things until everyone feels good about it.

Which leads me to golf. I love golf. Love love love golf. Given that La Quinta is one of the top golf destinations in the United States, I really wanted to play.

But not at the expense of family.

But since Sandra and I are so deeply scripted in win-win thinking, we’d come up with something a decade ago that works fantastic for all of us. If I play golf super early, she gets quiet time in the morning to read and exercise before the kids get up (usually around 10am). I usually get up around 6am every day anyway, so I tee off at 6:30am and am back by 10am when the kids wake up. Then we all spend the rest of the day together.

One day I was planning not to golf. “Ahh, I’d rather you play golf every day,” she says. “That way you aren’t bothering me in the morning.”

That’s win-win.

I played golf every day. The La Quinta Mountain course. The PGA West Nicklaus Tournament course. PGA West Nicklaus Private. PGA West Greg Norman. It was unbelievable. I caught the sunrise every morning, reflecting brilliant pink on the Santa Rosa range. It was an unbelievable experience every day, and it all happened for me before 10am. The rest of the day was fantastic as well, because everyone felt like they were getting to do something good.

Win-win is peace. Win-win is happiness. It’s worth the work.

Lesson 3: Remember the Inverted-U. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

In golf, there’s a replay rate. Once you’ve played 18 holes, you can play again that same day for a steep discount. For example, the first 18 holes at PGA West right now is $129 and the replay rate is $60.

Since I can play my first round in just over three hours, from 6:30am to 9:30am, there’s the temptation: play another round. 

I always say no when on vacation with family. Why? Because too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking about the Inverted-U concept for decades now, and have been blogging about it for years now, because I it applies to pretty much all of life.

Here it is:

The graph shows an Inverted-U relationship between the Good we want out of life (vertical line) and the Quantity of things in our lives (horizontal line). Up to a point, more quantity makes for more good. But at at certain point the good maxes out. Adding more makes things worse, not better.

18 holes of golf in three hours is good for me. The replay round, on the other hand, is bad for me. So bad that you couldn’t pay me to play it. Here are my reasons:

  • Despite what most people believe about golf, it takes energy. Its a seven-mile walk. Swinging a club is like chopping a cord of wood. One round burns 1700 calories. So, do I want to walk 14 miles instead of 7, and chop two cords of wood instead of one? I don’t think so.
  • The replay round needs to start at 10:00 or later, and by that time everyone is on the course, so a round takes about five hours instead of just over three. A replay will keep me there until at least 3pm, which cuts into family time and gets me back right in the afternoon lull. That means I’m shot until dinner.
  • The replay round is played in the heat of the day. In La Quinta, the sunrise round starts at 65 degrees and by the time the round ends we’re at 80 degrees. But the replay round starts at 80 degrees and ends at 90 degrees.

I know this, but still had to resist the temptation to play again when I shot a 73 on the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament course this week, from the Championship tees. It was a great round, better than my score showed, because I was two under par going into the 16th hole and bogeyed 16, 17, and 18 to finish one over. Man, if I replay, I could beat that score, I thought as I finished up. But then I caught myself. Remember Erik, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Don’t give in to temptation. Head back to the condo.