Choose Your Treadmill Wisely

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4 min read

For my first 21 years on Earth I was impressed by people who drove flashy cars, wore nice clothing, and lived in luxurious houses.

In fact, I aspired to be that type of person. I wanted to impress others with my stuff. I dreamed of making $100k a year because then I would have enough money to buy the impressive car, the clothing, and house I needed.

But all of that changed when I discovered Mr. Money Mustache and the rest of the personal finance community during my junior year of college. I had a financial awakening.

I began to see money as a tool to craft a good life instead of just a currency for buying stuff. I began to see that the road to a good life was built on becoming a person with more skills and savings instead of becoming a person with more things

I’m Not Impressed

The people I view as “impressive” has changed dramatically.

I’m no longer impressed by the guys I pass at the grocery store wearing Yeezy shoes or $1,000 Bape Hoodies. I’m not impressed by my coworker who drives a $40,000 truck.

I’m impressed by people who build great things – great blogs, books, apps, and businesses. I’m impressed by bodybuilders who spend hours in the gym each day in pursuit of a goal, the guy who runs a nonprofit while raising a family, the college student who works on her own side projects outside of class just because she wants to get better.

I’m impressed by people who build stuff, not by people who buy stuff.

I’m impressed by people with skills, not by people with things.

I’m impressed by people who save a million bucks by age 30, not by people who spend a million by 30.

I’m impressed by people on the self-growth treadmill, not the hedonic treadmill.

Two Treadmills

People on the hedonic treadmill are in constant pursuit of more stuff and better stuff. They want more gadgets, newer clothing, pricier cars, and bigger houses. 

People on the self-growth treadmill have a different focus. They are in constant pursuit of building their skills and their savings. They want more knowledge, more experience, more skills, and more commas in their bank accounts. 

Very few people run on the self-growth treadmill because it’s hardWhen you choose this treadmill, you choose to kill your ego. You make a decision to prioritize gaining skills and saving money over buying things and impressing others. Your ego craves the hedonic treadmill because it offers immediate gratification. Buy this thing, upgrade this thing, flaunt this thing on social media. Think of all the likes! The attention!

Internal vs. External Rewards

It’s especially fun to be on the hedonic treadmill when you’re young because it feels good to flex on Instagram and brag about your ‘lifestyle’ to your peers. It feels good to walk into a party wearing those new sneakers or pull up to your workplace in a new car. This treadmill offers something most people can’t resist: attention.

The self-growth treadmill offers a different reward. It’s internal. It’s the satisfaction of seeing your skills improve, your knowledge increase, your bank account grow. It’s the satisfaction of becoming a person who can offer real value to the world through your skills. But this treadmill is not easy to hop on. It requires that you kill your ego – the spending machine that wants to get those new things to impress people.

Fleeting vs. Permanent

When you’re on the hedonic treadmill, everything you acquire is fleeting. Your 2017 Bape Hoodie will be outdated one month from now. That new iPhone will be outdated in a year. Anything you buy will become old news over time.

But when you’re on the self-growth treadmill, everything you acquire is permanent. The skills you learn fundamentally shape who you are as a person. The knowledge you acquire from books changes the way your brain thinks. Listening to podcasts and interviews of brilliant people changes how you view the world. Investing money helps you build a passive income machine.

The hedonic treadmill begs you to buy that new watch so you can show it off on Instagram, even though your post will be drowned in the never-ending feed of photos. By the end of the day it’s irrelevant and to regain attention you  have to buy something else.

While most people are competing for fleeting attention on the hedonic treadmill, the small minority running their own race on the self-growth treadmill are improving just a little bit each day, building their skills and their savings, slowly gaining freedom. The hedonic treadmill offers fleeting attention while the self-growth treadmill offers a life of options thanks to your skills and savings.

The 20-something’s Dilemma

Perhaps the hardest time to choose the self-growth treadmill over the hedonic treadmill is in your 20’s. This is an age where social media runs the world and the need to show off via photos, status updates, and profile pictures is at an all time high. But this is also the most important time to choose the humble road of self-growth instead of the ego-driven road of lifestyle inflation.

The 20-somethings who make the decision to run on the self-growth treadmill will have tremendous financial flexibility, skills, and knowledge by time they hit reach their 30’s. The ones on the hedonic treadmill will have very little savings and a collection of outdated things.

The self-growth runners will be at the beginning stages of a kickass life with plenty of options in their 30’s. The hedonic treadmill runners will be at the beginning of a road filled with mandatory 40-hour workweeks and one-week vacations each year.

Choose Your Treadmill Wisely

There are plenty of people with nice cars, clothing, and houses, but not many people who have built anything worth admiring. 

Plenty of people will spend a million bucks over the course of their lifetime, but very few will ever save a million.

Plenty of people will run the easy race on the hedonic treadmill, but few will run the hard race on the self-growth treadmill.

Choose your treadmill wisely.


My favorite free financial tool I use is Personal Capital. I use it to track my net worth, manage my spending, and keep an eye on my monthly cash flow. It only takes a few minutes to set up and it makes tracking your finances simple and easy. I recommend trying it out.

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7 Replies to “Choose Your Treadmill Wisely”

  1. Very nice read Zach! You are a natural writer, great job. I would have to agree with you. I don’t know if I was ever that impressed by people who blow money but I was always curious. Curious to learn how they had the means to blow money.

    Then I learned how to actually start investing and it has changed my life. I also am far more impressed by those who build an continue to work on themselves!

  2. Hi Zach. I loved this post! Very well written and impressive — everything you said.

    It reminded me of all-time favorite quote:
    “The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or an Outer Scorecard. It helps if you can be satisfied with an Inner Scorecard.”
    — Warren Buffett

  3. Most of my friends who have treadmills do not use them. It seems like they start with good intentions and then the treadmill quickly starts to collect dust. One suggestion I had is to pick a treadmill that has smart capabilities that let you interact with and track your progress. This seems to help with motivation to use it more in the future and gives you goals to achieve. Everyone likes to see their progress and share it with family and friends.

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