James Altucher shares the four words that guide his life and work as an entrepreneur, writer and father. These four words also saved his life.

I had sold my first business for enough to last me a lifetime and then in a constant drive for “more” I decided I needed to make $100 million instead of the amount I made.

Within a year I was dead broke. I had invested in bad businesses, bad ideas, bad real estate, bad everything.


I was lying on the floor, crying. I was going to lose my house. Nobody was returning my calls. After all of the work I had built no lasting relationships. Nobody who would help me.

All I had were two kids and a $4 million life insurance policy. My brilliant idea: better for my kids to have the $4 million than to have a father. I tried to figure out the best way to kill myself.

I told my daughter this many years later and she said, “That would’ve been mean.” And she is right.

But I was scared. I was the jailor of my own prison. I was scared of the smiles I would see on people’s faces. Who could be happy when I was so miserable? And I was scared to take any action that could hurt me even more.

I asked myself the question. What worked on the way up for me? What didn’t work on the way down?

I decided that every day I would improve 1% in four areas of my life. I chose a word or phrase to represent each. They were: ’physical’, ‘emotional’, ‘mental’ and ’creative gratitude’.

Physical can’t be measured by strength or weight. It’s measured by the energy you have to face the day. Better sleep, better movement, better diet, and a willingness to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I don’t mean this as self-help! This is how I actually helped my self.

Emotional – I looked around and realized I had nobody I could call. No friends. I had nobody around me I could love and trust and who loved and trusted me.

I actively spent time building relationships based on love rather than business. I disengaged from anyone not willing to love and support me.

Mental – I do this every day: I write down 10 ideas a day. It doesn’t have to be ideas for businesses. They don’t have to be good ideas. They can be crazy ideas. The best ideas come out of the crazy ideas. To be frank, Virgin Atlantic was originally a crazy idea.

But the idea muscle is a muscle like any other. If you don’t walk for two weeks then suddenly you need physical therapy to walk again. The same with the idea muscle. It atrophies. To prevent it from atrophying you have to build it.

Creative gratitude – Every day I practice what I call ‘creative gratitude’. It’s gratitude with a challenge. Don’t fall into the trap of “gratitude porn” where you just provide sugar for the brain. It’s too easy for me to be grateful for my kids, or for the roof over my head.

I have to find five new things to be grateful for every day. This doesn’t sound like business but I will tell you this one rule: you can’t be grateful for things you aren’t abundant in. You can’t be abundant if you aren’t grateful.

These four words and the ideas behind them became the 'legs' of my business as well as my life. This is how I peeled myself off the floor.

But it wasn’t yet a business. It was a boomerang. I had to survive. I had to throw myself into life again. Throw myself into the air.

It was just me surviving. I still had to feed my family.  But these four words were how I chose myself to live. If you improve 1% a day, the 'compounded abundance' of those four pillars would make me improve 3800% a year.

I will tell you my life has never been the same since.

But what about other lives? What about creating real abundance for others. What about really giving back? Giving back is the same as 'doing business'.

By being around people who were emotionally supportive, by being healthy and grateful people, I started coming up with creative business ideas for other people.

The only way to build a business worth $X is to provide two times $X in value to the people around you. You create abundance for yourself when you give to the many. The only way to be a true leader is to be the servant of many.

So I started coming up with ideas for everyone else and sending to them. In one year of 10 ideas a day you will send out 3650 ideas.

How has this changed me? How has this changed my business life?

I have now visited, consulted, invested in, and built up businesses with billions of revenues all over the world. I have made back more than I have ever made before and I have helped millions of other people in the process.

Every six months my life is completely different than the six months before. I can’t even predict six months in the future. All I can say right now is, “I know six months from now my life and my businesses will be a miracle.” And it will be.

When I lost my home, those many years ago, and I was dead broke and packing up my kids’ boxes they turned to me and said, “Where are we going to go?” I told them we had to move far away to a place we can afford while I regain my strength.

The day we moved there was a blizzard. We unpacked the truck and our new house was blanketed by the snow.

My kids started making snow angels. I stuck out my tongue like I was a kid again. And ever since, I’ve been growing.

– James Altucher is an entrepreneur, investor, best-selling author and podcaster. He has founded or co-founded over 20 companies, of which he says 17 have failed. You can follow his work here and on Twitter. This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

This blog post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite, BBH London and the B Team to spark a conversation about language and the future of business. 

Find all the other posts in the series here.