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How to Finally Break Out of Financial Mediocrity Using the Virtuous Cycle

David Greene
10 min read
How to Finally Break Out of Financial Mediocrity Using the Virtuous Cycle

On the BiggerPockets Podcast show 274, Brandon and I interviewed real estate investor, lawyer, bestselling author, and real estate brokerage owner Paul Morris. Morris’s episode was packed full of awesome content as he described several of the life lessons that have led to his success and ability to become a multi-millionaire and sharp businessman. If you haven’t already listened to it, I recommend you do when you’re finished with this post.

One of the most powerful points Paul made was the concept of a “virtuous cycle.” A virtuous cycle can best be understood when compared to its opposite, the vicious cycle.

We’ve all heard of the vicious cycle. One bad decision creates an environment likely to lead to another bad decision, which makes things even harder. Ultimately, the bad decisions grow worse and worse until you spiral out of control and hit “rock bottom.”

This is often seen when substance abuse gets out of hand. Someone is dealt a bad hand in life, maybe including job loss or a breakup. They turn to alcohol to cope. The alcohol prevents them from making any positive changes in their life, and in fact, makes life harder. They start staying up late drinking and sleeping in. Soon they give up on going to the gym. Then, their social life becomes weaker as they lose touch with friends and withdraw. The formerly happy, cheerful person becomes sullen and depressed.

Soon, their mood is affected and this bleeds into their job performance at work. Eventually, they lose their job and have to find work with a much lower performance standard. This is usually accompanied by lower pay and fewer benefits. Soon they have to give up their nice apartment for a smaller, dingier one and sell their nice car in favor of something more practical. If this person doesn’t consciously disrupt their negative pattern, they will find themselves spiraling into total life destruction.

As a police officer, I would see things like this all the time. Though the stories were different, the pattern was always the same.

  • Unfortunate thing happens to person.
  • Person embraces victim mentality and turns to self-pity for comfort.
  • Person finds unhealthy coping mechanism.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanism becomes habit and ultimately addiction.
  • Addiction leads to loss of self-control. Life spirals downward.

But Here’s the Good News

The flight upward in life follows the exact same pattern as the fall down. We don’t have to fall into a vicious cycle. Instead, we can embrace a mindset and certain mental tools that allow us to do quite the opposite. The virtuous cycle is a way of looking at the world that allows us to make a good decision, look at how that good decision made life better, then use this new, better position to make more good decisions. These new, good decisions open up more doors, and we progressively find our way into a better life and stronger financial position than we may have ever thought possible when we first started!

Why am I talking about mindset tools in a real estate post? Because as the co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast (and overall student of real estate), I see this mindset in the most successful investors and business people that I come across.

I am also a real estate agent in the San Francisco Bay area of California. In my first year, I became the top agent in my office. In my second year, sales have grown around 30 percent. How did I do this? Well, the secret is it’s not me. It’s the strategy I put in place to do well in one area, then look to see where doors open in another. If I can do this, anyone can.

This strategy can be better understood if you can grasp the concept of the virtuous cycle.

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Related: 5 Business Books That Changed My Real Estate Investing Life

The Story of Ambitious Adam

I want to share a short story with you.

Ambitious Adam does not love his job. Adam hates his boss, hates his lack of freedom, and hates the way he’s forced to clock in and out of the same place every day. Adam works for a company that sells computer equipment to large businesses. It’s Adam’s job to make sure the orders get filled and loaded up into the trucks to be shipped. This means Adam has to monotonously study spreadsheets, shipping dates, and order forms. Adam is fairly good at his job and decently respected by his supervisor. He spends a lot of time wishing they would offer him a better position in the company that would allow him to be promoted.

When he feels particularly unsatisfied, Adam turns to BiggerPockets for guidance. Adam dreams of buying enough rental properties to find financial freedom through real estate and never have to work his dull job again! Adam very badly wants to buy his first property, but he doesn’t have much money saved up and can’t qualify for much of a loan because his debt-to-income ratio is high. Adam blames his job for not paying him enough, and this makes his dissatisfaction deepen.

One day while listening to the BiggerPockets Podcast, Adam hears Paul Morris talk about the virtuous cycle, and a lightbulb goes off in his head. Adam realizes he had spent too much time waiting for other people in his life to start offering him opportunity and sees he needed to start doing this for himself. In his excited state, Adam pulls out his BiggerPockets Intention Journal and starts to come up with a plan.

The first thing Adam realizes is his supervisors are never going to look for a way to promote him. In fact, he doesn’t even know if he would want them to! If they did know he wanted to be promoted, Adam realizes the first thing they would look at would be his past performance reviews. Adam begins to kick himself as he realizes his past reviews often reflected his negative attitude and lack of enthusiasm for his current job. Adam takes note of this.

Step #1: Receive better reviews.

Adam continues thinking. Once he’s in a position to be considered for a promotion, which direction should he take? The highest paying positions in the company are sales positions. While this is initially a little scary, Adam orders sales books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and studies personality profile indexes like the DISC.

Adam also begins to form relationships with top sales people in the company, forming friendships and taking notes regarding how they communicate and what they do well. Adam realizes if he can increase his company’s revenue, his own pay will be associated with that. This gives him the most control possible over his finances and the direction his life will take. Adam takes note of this, as well.

Step #2: Prepare to transition into a sales position.

The next thing Adam realizes are that some of the top executives in the company aren’t necessarily any smarter than him. Adam had been consulted in the past about how to fix logistical problems, correct customer complaints, and fix orders that had been shipped to the wrong location. Adam’s supervisors—and even their supervisors—all recognize he has a top-notch capacity for problem solving.

Adam knows he never really made efforts to excel in this area because he didn’t feel he was being paid enough. He realizes this needs to stop. If he wants to be recognized, promoted, and prepared for better positions, his attitude needs to change. Adam takes note of this, too.

Step #3: Always bring value to others before expecting any in return.

The final thing Adam realizes is if he’s being honest with himself, he wants to climb all the way to the top. Adam’s negative attitude was really nothing more than a defense mechanism designed to protect him from trying and failing, and the rejection that comes along with that. Adam makes a decision to let go of that fear of failure and instead pursue his dreams of financial independence, regardless of what it would take to get there.

Adam orders books on leadership and starts reading. He begins to look for thought leaders in the space to listen to on YouTube and on podcasts. Adam takes note of an important part of his future journey.

Step #4: Prepare for where you are going, not where you are now.

As Adam begins to visualize how this journey would look, he sees patterns emerge and opportunities arise. He wants to be prepared to capitalize on them. Adam realizes if he begins the journey of the virtuous cycle, he would have opportunities he’d never had before. If Adam wants to be serious about improving his life, he needs to be ready to take advantage of those opportunities. This means Adam couldn’t wait for the opportunity to arise before he prepares for it. He needs to begin now.

Related: 7 Daily Habits of Real Estate Investors Who Seek Financial Freedom

Adam begins looking for ways he can improve the performance in his current position. As others notice this, he begins asking for more responsibility. It’s not long before Adam’s supervisors are more than happy to turn over their own responsibilities to Adam once they see he can handle them effectively.

The old Adam would have felt this was unfair, but the new Adam sees this responsibility as on-the-job training for the next position he wants to inherit. He knows if this continues he will excel once he receives the promotion he’s looking for. How couldn’t he? He was already trained to do half of that job!

Adam looked at all four steps and comes up with one big plan.

  • Step 1: Receive better reviews.
  • Step 2: Prepare to transition into a sales position.
  • Step 3: Always bring value to others before expecting anything in return.
  • Step 4: Prepare for where you are going, not just where you are now.

Adam realizes his plan is within reach. First, he will improve his performance (step 1). This will bolster his reputation within his company, lead to increased job responsibilities/opportunities, and put him in a strong position the next time a round of interviews for a new position opens up. It will also force Adam to improve his performance now and start actively looking for ways to do that.

As his performance improves and his reputation increases, Adam knows he’ll have chances to show the company what he has to offer. By preparing for the next step in his climb to the top (step 2) Adam ensures when the time comes, he will be the obvious best choice. Adam begins studying sales, learning the company’s products in and out, and looking for ways to increase his ability to quickly build rapport and trust with others.

Adam also realizes that before he’s given anything, he needs to earn the right to receive it. He does this by showing his employer just how badly he wants the next opportunity. Adam stays late without asking for more compensation, studies on his own time, and works incredibly efficiently at his current job.

When he shows up for company meetings, he brings ideas and plans that will help other departments work better with his own, increasing company efficiency and decreasing labor costs. Adam begins to earn the trust and respect of many people within the company, because he makes it clear he’s a team player, bringing value at every level he can.

Finally, while all this is going on, Adam commits himself to being prepared once he receives big opportunities. Adam doesn’t just want a sales position; he wants to be head of sales. Once that’s accomplished, he knows he wants a spot on the board, making big decisions that will affect the overall company. He begins reading the same books top CEOs read, studying leadership principles that will equip him for success when his chance comes.

Adam is determined to make the most of every opportunity he’s given. Financial independence is worthy of that kind of effort!


Life Is What We Make It

For those most unhappy with life, we see a belief they all carry. These are people waiting for life to bring them opportunity and frustrated when it doesn’t come. I can relate to this kind of thinking—I thought this way nearly my whole life. It is only in the last few years that I’ve realized I had the life I did for so long because I chose that life. I made that choice, and it was nobody else’s responsibility to improve it for me.

Once I started trying harder, opportunities started coming my way. Excelling in one area opened up doors in others. If I was brave enough to walk through those doors, I found a new arena in which to excel. As I built up the skills that allowed me to excel in these various arenas, my confidence grew. This emboldened me to take on new challenges, but it did more than just that. It also made it easier for others to have confidence in me. This led to others being more likely to offer me new opportunities.

The increased frequency of new opportunities combined with the increased confidence I gained from mastering them contributed to the trajectory of my life’s success.

With each new battle I fought and won, I became better at fighting and winning battles! This caused others to grow their confidence in me and led to more and more people looking up to me as a leader. Once you have the respect and admiration of your peers, excelling in life, your job, or your responsibilities becomes even easier. This is the virtuous cycle I’m describing.

  • Opportunities lead to battles (chances to grow).
  • Battles lead to increased strength.
  • Increased strength leads to more victories.
  • More victories lead to more opportunities.
  • More opportunities lead us back to more battles (the first step repeated, completing the “cycle”).

It all begins with the decision, made today, to start doing better where you are. If you wait for the opportunity to present itself before preparing to win, you’ll lose to the person who’s already been preparing. If you start preparing now, you give yourself a chance for more success later. Life tends to notice and reward those who are doing their best with what they have now.

What are ways your life is in a vicious cycle today? Are you:

  • Sabotaging yourself in relationships?
  • Pushing away those who would seek to mentor you?
  • Ruining relationship-building opportunities with those who would bring you deals?
  • Avoiding difficult conversations with those you love?
  • Putting off taking that leap of faith into a new phase of life?

How about a virtuous cycle? Are there any things you can do today to improve your odds of making things better for yourself, then act on those things to take yourself even one step higher? Which areas of your life have you been playing small, not reaching to your potential, because you were trying to avoid the feeling of failure or rejection?

How much is this costing you?

Once you really grasp the power of the virtuous cycle, you’ll see how it can change your life. If you’re not where you want to be when it comes to your real estate investing business, take a look at your approach and see if you could improve it by breaking it down into smaller chunks and mastering them individually.

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Are you using a positive feedback cycle to spur progress in your life?

Explain how you plan to change your approach in the comments below!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.