John Lanza is an author and host of the podcast The Art of Allowance. He is the creator and the Chief Mammal at The Money Mammals Kids Club. Lanza’s mission is to help families raise money-smart, money-empowered kids so that they can live happier, more fulfilled lives.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in suburban New Jersey. Kind of like the show Stranger Things without the Demogorgon (as far as I know). I enjoyed my childhood. We lived in The Cedars, a beautiful, tree-lined enclave in Caldwell. I had a wonderful group of interesting, inspiring, and even intellectual group of friends. We played board games, learned to program at the beginning of the home computer revolution, and played outside all the time (when we weren’t programming, making, or playing games). We’re still friends to this day.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

Reading is a beautiful way to experience the world. I wish I’d developed my morning reading habit in my twenties if not earlier. One of the problems with secondary education is that it has a way of squeezing your love of reading (and writing, for that matter) out of you. I wish we’d taken a somewhat more non-traditional approach to our kids’ education. I hope they sustain a strong sense of intellectual curiosity.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Financial folks almost always tell people that they learn how to budget. But how many people actually make and stick with household budgets. Very few. My late stepfather used to say that we need to monitor our “gazintas” and our “gazoutas.” We want more of the former (money in) and less of the latter (money out). If you’re a budgeter, fantastic, but you can become money-empowered without one. 

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

My parents divorced when I was a tween and that was difficult. I developed a bit of a temper. I remember my dad telling me that one of my strengths as a young pitcher (around fourth grade) was that I couldn’t be ruffled on the mound. That changed after the divorce. I was “ruffle-able.” My friends would laugh at this because I’ve had some legendary temper tantrums on the field. I read selections every day from The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman and The Tao by Lao Tzu and translated by one of my favorite people, Ursula K. LeGuin. This, along with meditation, has helped. At least, I think it has.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

This is a difficult question because it’s easy to weave a beautiful narrative looking back on your life. In reality, everything’s pretty chaotic. If I had to pick one contributing factor — it was my parents’ belief in me. They supported me at every turn. When I was interested in programming as a kid, my dad would lug a massive Compaq “portable” computer home from work so I could use it. When I expressed an interest in art, they started me with lessons. Talent seems to be overrated. Unflinching parental support is probably underrated.

What is your morning routine? Please include the time you wake up.

I’m proud of my morning routine. I typically wake up at 5 am. I meditate for 10 minutes (82) and then read selections from The Daily Stoic and The Tao (88). I then read for 30 minutes (87), journal (48), and exercise (88). Those numbers are the percentage of days I’ve completed each habit since I started using the habit-tracking app, Productive. Completing this interview and reviewing these numbers tells me that I can improve my journaling habit.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

It’s a toss-up between meditation and reading. I’d give the edge to reading because it’s helped my Jeopardy game. And my wife and I have developed a slight addiction to playing along at home.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

I’m constantly tweaking my approach. I like The Pomodoro technique, in which you use a timer to set up distraction-free work periods followed by quick breaks. I also use Evernote to capture and use notes to create content and Things to ensure what I need to do gets done. I also keep checklists for things like packing for travel, my podcast. When I can turn something into a system with a checklist, I try to do that. 

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod — It helped me develop the morning routine I detail below.

Mindset by Carol Dweck — You’ve likely heard of the growth vs. fixed mindset. It comes from this book, and the examples Dweck uses were enlightening and mind-altering for me.

Your Money & Your Brain by Jason Zweig — Taught me that most of us are intuitively poor investors, yet most of us think we’re above average.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

Contentment is wealth.” — Lao Tzu