10 Habits that Changed Me from Penniless to a Millionaire


I came to the United States with two pieces of luggage after graduating from college in Southeast Asia. I was alone with no friends nor relatives. My intention was to study for graduate school in San Diego, but then life got in the way so I had to be financially self-sufficient. I worked instead after obtaining a work permit.

The notion of USA as the land of opportunity was what kept me going. But for five years, I was still in the rut and penniless. After working a series of jobs from bathing dogs, making sushi, legal assisting, to working for several dotcoms during Web 1.0, none gave me the financial independence nor the type of security I was looking for. I was wondering whether “American dream” was actually just a dream and only occurred when you were sleeping.

My last job was hiring writers for a dotcom, which is now defunct. A part of my job was reading a lot, so I could distinguish “good writing” from the piles of “bad writing.” Among the books I reviewed were Joe Vitale’s, including his masterpiece book on copywriting “Hypnotic Writing.”

Through his books, Vitale taught me how powerful our mind is. And to succeed as a person and a marketer, all you need to do is change how you think. The more I read his books, the more convinced I was that we were what we thought.

When the bubble of Web 1.0 burst, I lost more than half of my income. Living in a one-bedroom apartment in Daly City, approximately five minutes drive south of San Francisco, I was miserable, cold, and alone. The foggy climate didn’t help either.

Penniless, I was bitter and super frugal. However, deep down, I was still grateful. And the top of this grateful list was because I had the chance to read all those empowering life lessons from Joe Vitale, James Allen (As A Man Thinketh), and John C. Maxwell (How Successful People Think). They kept me motivated and feeling grateful.

The only thing I must do at that time was: Internalizing those lessons by “brainwashing” my mind.

We aren’t happy because we are successful. On the contrary, because we are joyful, then we can be successful. Unless I changed my thought patterns, I was unlikely becoming successful.

I started changing how I thought. Gradually, I started meeting people again, both in person and online. I networked more regularly and attended community potluck parties. Those were small steps that later proved the importance of “keep peddling the bicycle” despite rocky road.

During the “brainwashing” process, I adopted these habits.

Habit one: reframe negativity into positive thoughts.

Reframing requires a strong will, because human beings are programmed to see the negatives more clearly than the positives. According to evolutionary biologists, it’s a part of our evolution process and survival skill.

Habit two: give without expecting anything in return.

When you’re down and broke, it’s hard to give without expecting anything in return. However, you must reframe your mind from “scarcity” mindset to “abundance” mindset. You must give first, so you can keep the wheel of life moving. You can give out information or your time, if you have no money to give.

Habit three: be humble enough to accept help from others.

Oftentimes, we feel uneasy accepting help from others, which make things even worse. Being humble to accept help doesn’t mean we’re weak. On the contrary, it’s a sign of being strong because we know that someday, when we’re strong enough, we will repay people who has helped us many times over. We can even pay forward to help others in need.

Habit four: pray upon every visual affirmation.

Visualizing something doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. If you do it when complaining, most likely, you’ll not get it. What you need is flooding your mind with positivity, super strong determination, and on-going 24/7/365 podcasting yourself how you love your success self. Positivity, peace, and joy are fuel of success, not the other way around.

Habit five: use every hardship as a “fuel” to excel.

Learn from every mistake. Look at life from a different angle. Author and syndicated columnist Lisa Sugarman said it well about running in all kinds of weather in her book “Life: It is What It is,”I’m just doing it to improve the quality of my days. Because whenever we’re pushed, we usually respond by pushing back. And I think pushing back is exactly what helps us to keep moving forward.”

Habit six: learn from mistakes, take note of the lessons.

Stanford University Psychology Professor Dr. Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset,” said that there are two kinds of mindset: growth mindset and fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their intelligence and talent are fixed traits and can’t grow any further. In a growth mindset, people believe that abilities can be developed through dedicated activities. In growth mindset, grit makes a big difference in people’s success. It starts with learning from mistakes.

Habit seven: refocus from saving to earning.

An old adage said, “it’s not how much you earn, but how much you save.” I disagree. Most, if not all, rich people have a system to earn their money. And the smarter ones even have multiple systems to earn money. If you must spend to learn new skills, meet important people whose network is valuable, or take your family on a well-deserved vacation, do it. Whatever you spend with good faith, it will come back to you in multiply.

Habit eight: refocus from working hourly to earning residuals.

If you have been earning $15 per hour without having any system that would bring residual income, it’s most likely you’ll be retiring collecting Social Security. However, if you earn $15 and have been reading about starting a scalable Web-based business, you have a bigger chance to retire well-fed. I shifted from working from 9-to-5 to working as a solopreneur using scalable Web technologies, which proved to be working.

Habit nine: spend money to help others instead of buying unnecessary things.

The best Karma is the one that makes you and others happy. When you give, your brain releases a feel-good hormone and keeps your “good Karma” wheel turning. There are many ways to help others, so be creative. When you’re down but still giving, it also boosts your confidence that you’re not that poor at all. You have the capacity to give, so you must be in the state of abundance. When your brain believes so, your action would reflect it. And success is imminent.

Habit ten: make friends with successful and kind-hearted individuals.

It’s easy to contact anyone these days. All kinds of social media networks allow us to connect with anyone who matters to us. Reach out, be creative, and be open to all kinds of possibilities. If you have a LinkedIn account, mention it in your profile that you’re “seeking collaborations” so people would know.

I’ve made myself a millionaire several years ago, just after being down to my last pennies. These ten habits would take a while to get internalized. With a super strong will and determination, it should and will be done. Some experts said that it would take 21 days to adopt a new habit. Others said it’s gonna take 90 days.

It took me perhaps almost a year to complete the transformation through “self-brainwashing.” And I’ve never looked back. I have the so-called “millionaire mindset,” so whenever I’m low on cash flow, I wouldn’t feel “poor.” It’s just a part of life. I’ll earn back all my millions.

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