Property Investory
Thomas Corley: A Brain Expert Unpacks the Power of Rich Habits
September 17, 2023
Tangibly experiencing the stark difference of living both in wealth and in poverty from a young age, Thomas Corley weighs in on the advantages of being financially well-off and takes us on a deep-dive on how developing rich habits can impact the trajectory of your life towards success.
In this episode, equipped with key insights on the power of habits, this best-selling author, motivational global speaker, and property investor gives us a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes practices of the rich. Plus, he reveals the story of a night in 2004 that inevitably led him to the path of becoming a 'brain expert'!

00:01:12 | From Accounting to Writing
00:02:35 | A Well-Structured Life
00:04:14 | The Early Years
00:06:05 | Education is Wealth
00:07:49 | Being Poor v. Being Rich
00:11:51 | Stronger Together
00:15:23 | A Worthy Risk
00:17:40 | Always Behind the Eight Ball
00:19:49 | The Brain Expert on Board
00:22:41 | One Night in 2004…
00:25:00 | Dissatisfaction and Discoveries
00:29:04 | Wealthy Habits


00:01:14 | The 'Why' Behind
00:05:36 | Rich Habits Applied
00:09:38 | Practical Baby Steps
00:15:18 | The Keystone Habits
00:17:55 | Skin in the Game
00:21:37 | The Best and the Worst
00:25:53 | The Lowest Point
00:30:09 | Forging Habits Ahead
00:35:04 | To the Future and Beyond
00:36:54 | Vision: A Powerful Ally

Resources and Links:


Thomas Corley:
And their excuse was, 'I worked so hard, I worked so hard. That's why I need to rest'. And I said, 'Well, you know, the rich people work harder than you. They're busier than you. And they still have time, two to three days a week, to go out during the week to build relationships with other success-minded people'. 


Tyrone Shum:
This is Property Investory where we talk to successful property investors to find out more about their stories, mindset and strategies.
I’m Tyrone Shum and we’re speaking with best-selling author, motivational global speaker, and property investor Thomas Corley. Equipped with key insights on the power of habits, he gives us a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes practices of the rich. Plus, he reveals the story of a night in 2004 that inevitably led him to the path of becoming a 'brain expert'!



From Accounting to Writing

Tyrone Shum:   
Known as 'Tom' by friends and colleagues, Corley is not one to shy away from a good interview. Picking up my call from the United States, he gives us a bird's eye view of all the metaphorical balls he's juggling these days.

Thomas Corley:
I'm a CPA. I'm a Certified Financial Planner. I have various licences and securities licences. But I guess what I'm known for is my rich habits research. 

I did a 5-year study on the daily habits of rich people and poor people, and then eventually wrote a book about it called 'Rich Habits'. And that evolved into what right now is about seven books. I just kept coming out with another book called 'Wealth Academy' in China. So my books in China seem to be doing really well. 

In fact, Michael Yardney and I had a great year on 'Rich Habits, Poor Habits'. In 2021, we sold a ton of books. 

I have like four balls in the air. And the fifth ball is really the speaking engagements. I'm going to Memphis, Tennessee, to speak at something called 'Freedom Fest'. And so there's all these speaking gigs that I get involved with. And then of course, I continue to write. I write every day, and my website, and share my research as much as I can.

A Well-Structured Life

Tyrone Shum:   
With a clear purpose, Corley doesn't waste a second of his day as his schedule and busyness roughly depends on what season it is for him in his country.

Thomas Corley:
A typical day for me is getting up at around anywhere between quarter to five to five-thirty [o'clock]. I usually do about an hour to an hour and a half of research and reading. It's rich habits research, primarily, but also my my tax and financial planning research, and technical reading. And then I'll head off to the gym. I'm usually there between 35 to 60 minutes a day. And then I head to my office, and I run a CPA firm. We've got, you know, about 1,000 clients. So it's a pretty busy place. 

And we've also got a partner in a financial planning firm. So I'm very busy with the financial planning. And I try and get most of my rich habits work done in the morning. And some a little bit during the day, depending on, like, if I have a media interview or from writing something from the media. I contribute to CNBC, Business Insider, and some other outlets. 

I usually finish up my day, depending on the time of the year. It's slow now. So I'll finish up, you know, before five. But during tax season, it's, you know, eight [or] nine o'clock. So it's a busy— it's a good 12- [or] 13-hour day during tax season, which lasts about 10 weeks. And then [for] the rest of the rest of the year, I'm involved in in pretty much managing all four businesses.

The Early Years

Tyrone Shum:   
It's safe to say that Corley is an undeniable hardworker. With a tough character-building childhood, he rose to every obstacle that stood in his way.

Thomas Corley:
I grew up in New York City. And up until about the age of nine, we were wealthy, my father had a very successful tool distribution business. He practically owned the whole Northeast of the United States. And unfortunately, his sales partner died; he had a heart attack. 

So my father ended up, you know, selling the business. And he took the business back when they didn't make all the payments. And anyway, we/he almost went bankrupt. In today's world, most people would go bankrupt, you know, but my father was that just not— he wasn't that type of person. So he fought his way out of it. And we were poor. 

When I went to college, I was a janitor. I had to pay for college myself, and the only way I could afford to do that was by being a janitor. So I did that. And then when I got a job, I went to graduate school at night. Then I got my CPA, I got my CFP. 

And, you know, I have three kids. So I've got all three of them; I got them through college, with very little student loans, so I'm proud of that. That's probably my biggest goal that I've achieved other than selling my books, trying to get my books out there. 

I've had an interesting life, you know. It's pretty much everything was on my shoulders. And I did everything I could; in some cases, I had two jobs, three jobs, just to make ends meet. And now things are much better. And, you know, life's a little bit easier.

Education is Wealth

Tyrone Shum:   
Touching on the specific money-challenges that he and his family experienced, Corley gives appreciation on still having a great education growing up.

Thomas Corley:
When we were wealthy, my dad... we went to a probably the best school in New York; it was one of the top schools. And fortunately, when we hit the skids, when we became poor, my dad had raised so much money for the school—he was that kind of person —that [the school] let us all stay in school for free. 

Even the high school that we [went to]—I went to a private high school—they did the same thing, because he had raised so much money for them. So while we were poor, I had probably a wealthy education, I guess you would say that. You know, I had the best education that money can buy even though he didn't pay for it. 

It was difficult in the sense that I was going to school with a lot of upper middle class, mostly upper middle class individuals, and we weren't, so that was a challenge.

I mean, there were eight in my family—so eight brothers and sisters. Yeah. 

[00:08:33] I was in the middle, Tyrone, the [indiscernible] child.

 My dad had everything and the world on his shoulders, you know. 

 These things happen in life, these unintended consequences, these, I guess, you could call it 'bad luck', it happens. And you have to fight your way through it. 

Adversity visits everybody, whether you're rich or poor. It's the people that survive adversity and the ones who don't surrender to it, they always wind up to some extent successful.

Being Poor v. Being Rich

Tyrone Shum:   
Looking in hindsight, Corley now talks about moments in his young life when the contrasting effects of being poor and being wealthy became as clear as day and night.

Thomas Corley:
Well, I'm grateful, of course, that we were able to keep going to such good schools. But being wealthy was awesome. I mean, it was way, way better. Life was way easier, and happier. 

 When we were poor, everything was a struggle. Every day, you know, it was a new problem to solve. And I didn't have many problems to solve as a kid, but I do remember the nuns coming at night and in a van, periodically dropping off food to our house. 

 I didn't understand it until later. And when I got older and realised how difficult it was for my father to get us through all that, [I] really learnt to appreciate him. And you know, his personality changed. He was a very involved father when we were wealthy. When we weren't, he was never around. He was constantly working just to survive. So I lost that connection. It was a shame.

Tyrone Shum:   
Experiencing both the worlds of wealth and poverty, Corley lists their most apparent differences and how they affected his perspective and the way he lived his adult years—and he starts by sharing what he enjoyed most being financially well-off as a child.

Thomas Corley:  
Well, besides the country clubs, and the country club that we were a member of—that was just an awesome place for as long as it lasted. The vacations. We had just great vacations, and we were all together. 

 I associated wealth with being together and I associated poverty with being apart. We were all separated, and we all had to work. 

We started work at 12 [years old]. I continued, you know, and I haven't stopped since then. So, I think that part there was less recreation, less fun; you couldn't do things with your friends. I remember that they had an amusement park here in the Northeast, and it wasn't far. It was in New Jersey. 

 My friends would all go there when they were 15 [or] 16 years old. I couldn't go. We had no money. So it was just out of the question. And I remember feeling, you know, sort of an outcast and outlier because we were pretty much raised in a fluid community, even though we didn't have any money. 

My father somehow managed to keep the house. 

But it was constantly under foreclosure. I do remember real estate agents walking on the property, showing it off and my Aunt Peg letting the dog out to chase them off the property. That was fun. 

 I wouldn't say my life was the worst life because it wasn't. We weren't homeless. 

But I do remember thinking I was an outlier, where I lived and in my school.

 I've always felt that way. I always felt that I was an outlier. And even when I became a CPA, I felt like I was an outlier. I didn't feel like I fit in. 

Because a lot of the CPAs— they weren't sales-oriented. They were people that could work 12 hours a day at a desk; that wasn't me. I needed to be around people. I like being around people. So I didn't fall into the financial planning until later in my career. And that's when I realised that was the career for me, because you're meeting so many people. And the CPA work is sort of behind-the-scenes stuff, you know?

Stronger Together 

Tyrone Shum:   
Corley has had a remarkable bond and teamwork with his siblings. He recounts what they all did to make things work for their family when life was messy.

Thomas Corley:
We were all in it together, so to speak. 

 We did as much as we could, you know. If I've made money, it went right in to the household. I didn't get to keep any of it. But I guess, in a way, I helped with the kids because [with] that money that I made, we were able to buy food and groceries and stuff like that. 

And I remember buying groceries with the money that I made. I would just finish shoveling or finish mowing the lawn and go down the street and pick up milk and bread and the things we didn't have in the house. And so I do remember that; that was common. 

 I remember when I was in college, and I finally— we have something called 'unions' in New York City, where I worked [in] the public school system. I was a custodian, a janitor. And I got on the union because I worked 20 hours a week and I was able to get braces for my brother, Timmy—basically claimed him as a dependent—, and he got braces. 

 In that sense, we all were in it together, that we were all there to help each other. 

I worked every summer full-time and then, during a week, I worked 20 hours a week. And the way they scheduled it was to allow me to go to college full-time. So I would leave school... I tried to schedule my classes so they ended at about 2 p.m., and then I would start my janitor job around 3:30 p.m. Finish up at about 8 p.m. And that was Monday through Thursday.

Friday nights [was] a night that we, you know, where a lot of my friends went out. On Friday and Saturday night, they would go out. That was the two nights that I had—the two nights and days that I had available to do my homework. So that was kind of my life.

A Worthy Risk

Tyrone Shum:   
Armed with good work ethics and integrity, Corley relays the reason why he decided to become his own boss and start his own business.

Thomas Corley:
Once, I got a job at a big accounting firm called 'Arthur Andersen'.

The money back then wasn't very good. It was okay. 

 I just got married. And so we were living in a condominium. And, you know, that was kind of the start, I suppose. 

And then I became an assistant tax director, and then I started making a little bit more money. 

Things really took off when I purchased us a CPA firm that [has] been around for a long time. And that was a big risk, because that was $1.2 million. So I had to put up quite a bit. And then I took a big note. There's [a] big risk, you know. 

 Although I had a good work ethic and I was a hard worker, I never liked working for somebody. So I felt that I would probably do best working for myself and, you know, managing people, because I'm a mentor. I'm a teacher. And I think those kinds of people should be managers and should be in charge of people. 

Because [the] most important thing in businesses [is] mentoring people, so that they can do their job to the best of their abilities. And that was something I really had a passion for. I just loved teaching and educating, and I had a lot of patience. 

It worked out perfectly for me. And we have a great firm; we have a lot of people that are really good at what they do. And I don't have to do the grunt work like I used to. And it gave me more time so that I could write books, so I could go on to speaking engagements. 

And I've been everywhere. I've been to Vietnam, Australia, Canada, [and] China. I've been all over the place. The books have taken me all over the place to speak. So I wouldn't have been able to do that if I was working for somebody, right? So being the boss gave me that; [it] afforded me that luxury.

Always Behind the Eight Ball

Tyrone Shum:   
Remembering how his father struggled with debt after he lost his booming business, Corley shares how he and his siblings did their best to rise to the occasion. It was a time in his life when one of the big realisations about being poor hit him.

Thomas Corley: 
We all chipped in. My father recovered. 

 It wasn't until the later part of his life when his money started running out that we had to step up to the plate. But that only lasted for about 10 years, I would say, maybe 15 years where we had to help support him. But we got him into a sort of [an] assisted living facility for older people. [It] hit my hand, my wife, my mom, and then they could afford... They didn't have financial problems after that. So, yeah, it was difficult. 

I remember when we had to tell my father that he had to sell his home because we couldn't—all of the brothers got together and said 'We just can't afford to raise our family and afford to pay for everything, your home'. So he ended up selling that; it all worked out in the end.

Tyrone Shum:
Yeah, 15 years wasn't a short period of time though, Tom.

Thomas Corley:
Yeah, you get used to it though. 

Tyrone Shum:
Yeah, that's true. 

Thomas Corley:
It's a point, Tyrone, that I think is important. Poor people—one of the things that is an albatross around their neck is if you're a poor person earning an income, you become the family's banker. And so you can never get behind... you're always forever behind the eight ball. 

 I remember saving $5,000 [or] $6,000 or $7,000 only to see it go out the door for property taxes for my father. So I think poor people have to struggle with that; it's a real burden. 

The hardest thing [is], if you're really an up and comer and you're success-minded but you're poor, and the people around you—your family—they kind of hit you up for money if you're moderately successful. And that's what happened to me.

The Brain Expert on Board

Tyrone Shum:   
Diving deep into his journey of finally writing his first book, Corley recounts how it all started and how he eventually became something akin to a 'brain expert'.

Thomas Corley:
When I was doing my research, my study, I didn't go into it, Tyrone, thinking I'm going to do a habit study—you know, a study on habits between the rich and the poor. 

 My understanding of habits was what anyone's understanding of habits was back then. 

So when I finished my research, I [had] asked 144 questions to each person. And there were 366, I think, in my study, [or] maybe 361, I think. And so that's like 54,000 questions, and I gathered a lot of data. And then when I started breaking the data up between rich and poor and [the] self-made millionaire[s], because some of the rich people had inherited their wealth. 

I wanted to really understand the dynamics between those three groups. 

And then when I found in looking at the summary sheet, which went page after page after page, I said, 'Oh my gosh, this, I would say probably 60% [or] 70% of the data points were habits' —[they] were daily habits, things that [are] repetitive behaviors. And so that took me down a rabbit hole, where in I had to become somewhat of an expert on the neurology of habits. 

So I studied. I must have read about 20 books on the brain. And these were not easy books to read. But I became sort of a brain expert. I understood the physiology behind habits, which is important because whenever somebody is talking about... some expert out there, [if] he's talking about how to change your habits, if they're not addressing it from a physiological standpoint, then they're wasting your time. 

Because the physiology behind habits is what makes creating a habit possible. And so in my book, 'Change Your Habits, Change Your Life', I talk about the physiology of habit change—the neurology behind habit change. 

 What was interesting is when I got approached by a big, huge, publisher—I think the biggest publisher in China—they liked my research, they liked my books, and they combined [my books] 'Rich Habits' and 'Change Your Habits, Change Your Life'. And their thinking was in alignment with mine. I always thought those two books belong together. 

And we talked about it. They read both books, and they said, 'Yeah, you're right, they belong together'. 

One tells you about —the 'Rich Habits' [book]—tells you about the habits, the keystone habits that you need to incorporate into your life, and [the other book] 'Change Your Habits, Change Your Life' teaches you how to actually incorporate habits, how to how to forge a habit, and how to get rid of an old bad habit.

One Night in 2004…

Tyrone Shum:   
Notably, Corley gives insight on the heart-wrenching encounter that thrusted him into all this research in the first place at a time when he was already running a successful CPA business and managing people.

Thomas Corley:
What happened was, almost immediately after I took over the helm as president of my CPA firm... and I was approached by one of our business clients who had been with us for probably 30 years. 

 His business was his father's business, and he took it over. 

 We met one night in 2004. And his bank had converted his line of credit to a term loan. So now he didn't have access to any more capital. And he couldn't come up with enough money to make payroll for that Friday. So the guy came to my office; he was hoping that I could help him find a banker, you know, that week, which was impossible. 

Anyway, he didn't know me and he didn't know what you know... 

And I told him, 'It's not going to happen'. He broke down and started crying. He said, 'What are your successful clients doing that I'm not doing? Why am I struggling?' 

And so, I did some research, [an] initial research, on that I was trying to answer his question because he was so emotional about it. It stirred me emotionally. 

I spent about three to six months trying to find research out there that would explain the difference between rich and poor people. Why are rich people rich? Why are poor people poor? 

The thing that was the best resource but it was so inadequate that I had to do my own research—but the book that was the best resource at the time was 'The Millionaire Next Door'. 

Tyrone Shum:
Oh, yes. I love that book.

Thomas Corley:
I read that book. And then there was another book he [the author] came out with. I read that book, and I studied that book. 

And I said, 'You know, this doesn't answer the question of what...' 

Those books were talking about these wealthy people when they were wealthy. It didn't really explain how they got wealthy or what they did every single day. 

Dissatisfaction and Discoveries

Tyrone Shum:   
Dissatisfied with what he discovered in the available books on the subject, Corley finally expanded his research—thus eventually leading him to the findings that he himself would soon write about in his own books—and as they say, 'the rest is history'.

Thomas Corley:
I wanted to be that fly on the wall. I wanted to know what the rich people do with their time and what the poor people do with their time. 

Because I felt if I could understand how they utilise their time, then I would be able to explain to people, 'Hey, this is what rich people do on a daily basis. And this is what poor people do on a daily basis; do this and don't do that'. 

 The two questions I was trying to answer with my research [are] 'Why are some people rich or poor?' [which was] No. 1 and, No. 2, 'What do rich people and poor people do every day?' And my 'Rich Habits' research answered that question because I had so many, as I mentioned, 144 questions and covered almost every activity every part of the day. 

And I started learning things about how the rich people utilise their time. For example, one of the things that was like—I guess you'd call it an aha moment for me is—when I came up with the question, which became a profound question, I asked the rich people what they did with their time after they finished their so called 'workday'. 

I was, you know, under the assumption they went home, ate dinner, and that was it, right? But the answers I got, almost 100% of the time, these wealthy people, at least two to three days a week, were not home. They were on board of directors of other companies. They were on board of directors of nonprofits. 

 Some of them were going to school at night to learn something. Some of them were practicing a skill that they thought that could help in their business. Some of them were coaching sports teams. Some of them were writing. Some of them were doing speaking engagements. There was just a potpourri of things that they did with their time. And so that was fine. 

And then when I asked the same question to the poor people, they said, 'Oh, you know, I'm so tired from my job that I come home. I'll have a beer or some wine, eat, and then I'll lay down on the couch for like, an hour, and then I'll watch some TV, and then I'll go to bed and do the same thing all over again'. 

And their excuse was, 'I worked so hard, I worked so hard. That's why I need to rest'. And I said, 'Well, you know, the rich people work harder than you. They're busier than you. And they still have time, two to three days a week, to go out during the week to build relationships with other success-minded people'. 

The people on the board of directors of nonprofits, they're mostly successful people. 

So now you're building relationships with like-minded people. And those relationships open doors and create opportunities for you to make more money. And when you do it, you know, maybe [while] preparing for a speaking engagement, because you do that on the side. And I think about 18% of them did. That takes time. 

And then when you, of course, do the speaking engagement, you meet 50 [or] 100 [or] 200 [people]. 

I had one speaking gig in Vietnam, and it was 3,000 people. I mean imagine meeting 3,000 people. [And] I met a lot of them. 

 They did these things that put them in front of people and mostly in front of important people or people that could help them in some way. So I thought that was interesting—that they were developing relationships, building their brand, [and] showcasing their skills. And they weren't doing it just a 9-to-5 you know; they were doing it after work.

Wealthy Habits

Tyrone Shum:   
Contrasting the habits of the rich and the poor, Corley further explains the route he chose when he interviewed those two groups of people. What he discovered spoke volumes about the time habits of the wealthy.

Thomas Corley:
I asked them questions about what they did with their time in the morning, what they did during the day, and what they did at night. And I also asked them what they did with their time on the weekends. 

 The questions were configured in such a way that it gave me answers without asking them [the question], 'What do you do with your time?' You know, like, 'Do you exercise?' 'Yeah, well, when do you exercise?' 'Well, I exercise between, you know, six in the morning and seven in the morning.' You know, 'Do you have any outside activities?' 'Yeah, I'm on the board of directors. We have meetings once a week. You know, I coach two sports teams. And we have practice, and then, of course, we meet with the parents periodically'. 

They had all of these things. And I said, 'Well, that's consuming time. The only thing I needed to know is when you were doing it'. 

And a lot of them did it at night.

The weekends, I think, were mostly leisure. But there was a good percentage, probably over 50% of them, [that] were engaged in some productive activity. 

Some of them worked Saturdays; not the whole weekend, but Saturdays. And some of them were constantly on, so to speak, and some of them, turned the switch off on the weekends. 

But I would say more than 50% of them were constantly on, constantly going, constantly doing things that would help them to grow as individuals, grow their relationships, [and] maybe help them[selves] develop skills, like my writing. 

 Many wealthy people got up early in the morning. So I started getting up early in the morning, even though I'm not an early bird—but now I am. And that's where I did all my writing and my research, in the mornings and at night. 

I kind of took a page out of their book and I said, 'Well, they're doing it; they became successful. If I do it, I'll become successful'. And it's turned out that way.

The 'Why' Behind

Tyrone Shum:   
Continuing on the compelling topic of developing habits, Corley expounds on how the big 'why' of people impacts the trajectory of a person's life.

Thomas Corley:
Almost 100% of the time, the 'why' was some dream or goal that they had. Now, it might have been a dream or a goal that a parent instilled in them as a child. You know, [like]: 'You could be the President of the United States' or 'Tom, you could be a professor at school' [or] 'You could be a CPA' or 'You could be an attorney'.

 Somebody planted a seed in their head. And that seed maybe lay dormant. But at some point, it sprung open, and they started pursuing dreams and goals that they had. 

And those dreams and goals were the thing that created the blueprint for the life that they desired. They had this dream of the type of life that they wanted. 

And the 'why' might might be because they grew up... most people come from poverty or the middle class. So it might have been the upbringing, but that doesn't answer it. Because really, most people come from poverty and middle class. 

I think what happens along the way is you stumble into somebody who plants a seed in your head that becomes a dream or a major goal. I think that's what happens. I think that's the 'why'. 

 Then you might devote the rest of your life to pursuing that dream. 

Tyrone Shum:   
To further clarify what he means, Corley readily takes an example from the pages of his own life.

Thomas Corley:
When I was approached after I had done my research and we had some of these training sessions, I had always taught at night. 

Even while I was running the CPA firm, I taught at graduate school taxes. So I was a teacher. I just like being a teacher. And so I taught these learning sessions; I taught my 'Rich Habits' learning sessions. I did that for about 18 months. 

 Some of the students in the sessions had such success that they they nagged me into writing a book. 

 Tyrone, that became a dream. And so then, that required about six months of studying how to write a book. I must have read about a dozen books on how to write a book before I even started writing a book. 

And once I said to myself that this is easier—it seems easier than studying for and passing the CPA exam, [and] I made that that realisation at some point—and I said, 'Yeah, I could do this'.

And I did, in my book 'Rich Habits'. It was a huge success. 

 You know, Amazon has all of these different in different countries. They have these locations— huge, huge online presence. Australia has an Amazon and [the] U.S. has an Amazon, and Canada has one. 

And in the U.S., [in] one month, my book was, had risen to No. 7. In all [the] books in the United States. I was ahead of Tony Robbins. I was ahead of Suze Orman. I was ahead of the woman who wrote 'Harry Potter' for, like, a month. And I said, 'Wow, my dream kind of came true then'. I realised, 'Yeah, I am an author now, and I'm a writer, and I'm a successful one at that'. 

 You follow your dreams because you never know where they're going to take you. 

I'm talking to you. I'm in the United States, you're in Australia, and we're talking because I wrote a book. I wrote seven books. But my point is start at one one thing: Take one step. 

 The 'why' I think is [this]: Somebody, somewhere along the line, plants a seed in your head. And that seeds starts to grow. And that was kind of how it happened for me.

Rich Habits Applied

Tyrone Shum:   
With all the discoveries he's unearthed in his journey to becoming a 'brain expert', Corley outlines the rich habits he has acquired and implemented, and shares the positive impact they've made in his own daily life.

Thomas Corley:
Ironically, one of the habits that most of the wealthy people had—particularly the self-made millionaires, which were 177 of them (individuals)—they got up early. They got up usually about three hours earlier than they needed to get up. And during those three hours, they did things that had nothing to do with their core business, but they were pursuing goals and dreams that was sort of outside their core business or ancillary to their core business. 

So that was one I started, that I started getting up early. 

The other thing they did is they read to learn. And as a CPA and a tax expert, I always had to do reading. But you know what I did, Tyrone, is I bundled it. And so I would let it accumulate. Then I would get to the point of disgust, and then I would spend half a day just reading through everything. 

And that's not what the wealthy in my study did. 

They read 30 minutes or more every single day to learn. So I said, 'Well, you know, I'm going to do 60 minutes a day'. And that's what I've been doing ever since. I still do that to this day. 

 The other thing was they were on [the] board of directors of nonprofit groups, a lot of them. And I said, 'You know, I don't I don't do any of that'. So I ended up joining a couple I helped organise a business group in my town. And that became very successful. And so I was, of course on the board there. 

And then I helped with a nonprofit; we helped grow that nonprofit from 100,000 to a half a million a year. And I'm still on. I'm the president of that nonprofit. So I said, yeah, '[If] they're doing it, I'm going to do it'. 

Interestingly, probably about 25% of the clients that I have right now—the CPA and the financial planning clients—, they come from just those two organisations that I was on the board of. It was well worth it. It was good advice from the wealthy people. 

And then the other thing I did was I tried to understand how to the wealthy built strong powerful relationships with other success-minded people. How they did it, what [with] 'Hello' call, a 'Happy Birthday' call, a life event call. They networked, but they networked in their own way. 

They didn't go to these networking events, like a lot of people are taught that you have to do. They didn't do that. None of them did that. They did their own sort of networking—unique to them that they felt comfortable doing. So I think I started adopting those habits. I already had an exercise habit. So that was the one habit that I had. 

 I was constantly studying anyway, but it was in bursts. You know, I had to study for my masters in tax that took me three years. And I had to study for my CPA exam. It took me a year and a half. I had to study for my CFP that took a year. [With] my other security licences, that took two years. So I did this in bursts. 

But what my research did is it transformed my study from bursts to consistency. I consistently read to learn every single day. And now I'm much more knowledgeable than I've ever been in my life technically. And I attribute that to that rich habit: reading to learn.

Practical Baby Steps

Tyrone Shum:   
Encouragingly and without skipping a beat, Corley dishes out the achievable and logical steps one can take to get started in developing rich habits.

Thomas Corley:
I'll give you two things. One is the Law of Association. We're going to talk about that. And the second one, which I'll talk about, is you have to baby-step your way into habits. And by 'baby step', I mean if you're, let's say, listening to this [and] say, 'Yeah, I want to read to learn. And Tom's doing 60 minutes a day, wow. I'm going to do that', you'll fail. I started out at 20 minutes a day. I worked up to 30, and now I'm at 60 [minutes]. 

My recommendation is to start out at 10 minutes. If [it's] exercise you want to do, [do] 10 minutes of exercise. If it's reading to learn, [do] 10 minutes of reading to learn. So any habit that you want to forge that requires... Most habits that will require some type of activity, [i.e.] physical activity, you would take a baby step on that. Now why? 

The physiology, the way the brain works is, if you were to jump in and say, 'I'm going to forge this 60-minute-a-day habit', in about two weeks, you'll lose that war with the brain. Because what happens is, in order to forge a habit, the brain has to marshal resources. 

The brain cannot store glucose, which is the primary fuel. And if the glucose isn't available, then it relies on ketones, which come from fat. But either way that fuel has to come from somewhere. The body has to create it somehow. So the brain will say, 'Hey, Tyrone, I know you wanted to do 60 minutes a day, but we're tired of having to reach out into the body to get this glucose to forge this habit. So we're going to do everything in our power'—the brain is saying this to you— 'to stop you from engaging in this habit'. 

So those baby steps—what it does is it allows you to forge a habit. It is set as a group of neurons that talk to each other; it creates a synapse. So in a 10-minute activity, the brain is not going to put up the white flag. It's not going to even notice it. It's going to be below the radar. 

So now you've got this 10-minute-a-day synapse getting stronger with each day. And so, after about two months, that synapse will be formed, then you can increase it to 15 minutes. There'll be no fight from the brain. Then you could do 20 [minutes]; the next month, 25 [minutes]. 

 The brain doesn't have to reach out to get glucose to form that synapse, because it's already formed through the 'baby step' process. So you're not going to get a fight from your brain. If you try to do too much, the brain will stop you and it will win. A 100% of the time it will win. That's why almost everybody who makes these New Year's resolutions, they almost, everyone fails—almost everyone. It's probably like 2% or 3% that succeed. 

 You just can't bite off more than you can chew. And that applies to habits. You have to baby-step. The second way is to... if you want certain habits that you don't have, [and] you want to forge certain habits, surround yourself with the type of people that already have those habits. 

So if you want to forge the exercise habit, even though you're only going to the gym for 10 or 15 minutes a day, go to the gym, and meet the people in the gym. And then you'll have friends. 

I have a guy that's 84 years old. He is in better shape than Arnold Schwarzenegger. And he is sharp as a tack. He looks like he's 58 years old. 

Tyrone Shum: 

Thomas Corley:
And he's constantly giving me advice—constantly. And so he's become kind of a mentor to me. So now, I have this friend. 

I've had other friends that you know... 

So what you do is you start meeting these people that you like, and they start infecting you with their habits. Because, habits spread like a virus throughout your social networks. 

There's plenty of studies on this. And it was found in one particular study, an obesity study—they were doing a study on obesity—and what they found out that was something like 55% to 60% of the people in the inner circle of an obese per person were obese. So their habits spread like a virus through [their] social networks. 

So associate with the people that have the habits that you want. And baby-step those habits.

Tyrone Shum:
Yep. And it makes absolute sense. It's very similar to the same theory that [says] who you associate [with], the five people that you talk with and associate with you on daily basis, [is] basically what you become, and that's so true. 

Thomas Corley: 
And it doesn't have to be five people, Tyrone. It could be groups, so you could have... Like, I had a tennis group. I have my CPA group. I have my financial planning group. And so I want to associate myself with people who have habits in those groups. So I'm not just meeting anyone willy-nilly. I say, 'Oh, I like John. And I like Chris and Joe. I'm going to try and create situations where I'm around them more often'. So I make an effort to do that.

The Keystone Habits

Tyrone Shum:   
Getting even more into the meat of the subject, Corley defines what 'keystone habits' are and how they naturally help you break bad habits along the way to a better life.

Thomas Corley: 
This is the beauty of habits. And I wrote 'Rich Habits' to highlight the 10, what I call, 'keystone habits'. Keystone habits are different from, like, brushing-your-teeth habits, right?

 They affect all at so many different parts of your life. Like, exercising daily is a keystone habit. So if you can forge one keystone habit, what happens is that keystone habit will create complimentary habits, and will destroy contradictory habits. Keystone Habits are that powerful. 

So you don't need to worry about getting rid of bad habits. Just worry about forging a keystone habit, like exercising or reading, learning, [or] reading to learn every day. Forge one keystone habit, and what will happen is other complementary habits will sprout up and then the contradictory habit will die on the vine. 

 I've written about this because it's a real life story. One of the successful people in my study was overweight—obese—and they started walking every day. It was a woman. And she only started with like 10 minutes a day; she built it up to 20 [minutes a day]. And then, in a year, she was running 5 miles. In two years, she was running marathons. 

She also stopped smoking. She stopped eating in excess. She moderated her drinking—she'd like to drink a lot of wine. So she moderated her drinking. And she was always thinking, 'I don't want to drink too much because I want to run tomorrow'. 

Tyrone Shum: 

Thomas Corley: 
[And she also thinks,] 'I don't want to smoke because it reduces, it impairs, my time. And I'm going for a time on this race'. So these keystone habits create these complimentary habits that attack the bad habits. They just go after them naturally. They get rid of them naturally. You don't have to worry about getting rid of your bad habits. 

Only worry about forging one or two keystone habits a year, and you'll see all these other good habits sprout up and all the bad habits just fall to the wayside.

Skin in the Game

Tyrone Shum:   
Now looking back to the days before he first began investing, Corley lays down the foundation and tells the story of how and why he eventually got his skin in the property game.

Thomas Corley: 
My wife and I were... we just started out in life. We bought a condo. Then we bought another condo, and then we upgraded to a house. 

 The interesting thing is, when I took over the helm of my CPA firm, I had clients that had about $100 million worth of real estate—you know, real estate rentals, apartments. So we came very close to being property managers, but I stopped to the point of the accounting, right. So we were doing all of their bookkeeping, cutting their checks, [and] doing their payroll. I didn't want to be calling repairmen or taking phone calls at night because a tenant's gas heat went off. 

 We thought long and hard about that. I had a friend that was in the business, and he had no Saturdays and Sundays free of worry. He had always phone calls to deal with with the property management business. So I didn't want that. I wanted to be in control of my time. 

 I became an expert in real estate, particularly the tax and accounting behind real estate investing. And it's not just rental properties; it's tenants in common property, it's 10-storey buildings, [and] 20-storey buildings. We had real estate investor clients that had part-ownership of a building in Chicago, or these, they call them, 'Triple Net Leases', where they did nothing but they own the land, the title of the land. And, you know, I learnt a lot from my clients about real estate. 

 I learnt enough of it, that, you know... my son, I taught him. And now he started [a] real estate investment firm. He's got six partners, and they bought their first property this year, uh let's see, this year... they bought it last year, I think [yes] last year. 

So they're gonna buy another property this year and another one then in a year after, and they're just going to... They're young enough where they can, you know— 

That's where there's somewhat of a disadvantage. And with my life, and that, you know, if you have people mentoring you, it's the fast track to success. 

Mentorship is the fast track to success. All my kids have been mentored by me and my wife, but specifically me with respect to the 'Rich Habits' and to business [or] business-related stuff. 

When my son called to start the real estate investment business, I knew exactly what to do, because I had started a stock investment business. We had 125 people at one point. We had quite a bit of money in there. So I knew a lot a lot about that. And I told him how to do it, and now he's becoming successful in it. 

 Real estate is probably the number one followed immediately by equities of the assets that the wealthy people had in my study.

The Best and the Worst

Tyrone Shum:   
When he weighed the details between the different types of property investments, Corley eventually ended up with research-backed opinions on what he deems as the best and the worst kinds of investments.

Thomas Corley:
What I learnt is fixed tenant in common properties and real estate investment trusts are probably the worst real estate investments that you can make, because you have no control over the property. 

 The best real estate investment that you can make is, in real estate that you have total control over that you don't have a management company that can borrow millions and millions of dollars off of a 50-storey skyscraper that you're a part-owner in like a tick or an or REIT, a 'Real Estate Investment Trust'. I've had clients in real estate investment trusts who were supposed to be exited by contract in five years, and they have to wait 20 years. 

 I learnt that from my clients that the best type of investment [in] real estate—real estate investment—is that what you control. Now the best subcategory that is not so much... I would take commercial if it's special-use property—special-use properties where that building is perfect for a doctor or a CPA firm. But you can't have a CPA firm and a hairdresser. You know, it just doesn't work. So the building has to be specific. 

Somebody that buys special-use property will pay a premium, because it fits their needs like a bank, where they'll look at a building [and] say, 'Well that that building is perfect for our bank'. So they'll buy it and they'll pay a premium on it. Whereas a four or five tenants, one being a hairdresser one being a dentist and one being something else, that commercial property doesn't have as much value. So I would say, with respect to commercial property, [it's] special-use property. 

The second best real estate investment that I've seen my clients make is property that is shore or beach property. 

 Let's just call it vacation type of properties. It could be by a lake, by the ocean, [or] it could be a mountain for skiing. Those properties are great, because you never have to chase the tenants. They pay first before they get the cake. 

So that's why my clients and a lot of the rich-habits real estate investors— they seem to have those two types of properties: special-use commercial property and vacation type properties that they rent it out, you know, for a week, a period of a week at a time or a weekend or whatever.

Tyrone Shum:
Like an Airbnb, I guess you can say. 

Thomas Corley: 

The Lowest Point

Tyrone Shum:   
Although he has reached peak success and is still making positive waves all over the world, Corley still paints an honest picture of his past. He unpacks one of the lowest points of his life.

Thomas Corley: 
2011 is the worst year in recent memory. 

 The CPA firm was was doing okay, but it wasn't growing like I wanted it to grow. So I was frustrated. I was just starting the financial planning business at that time. And that wasn't going according to plan. Rich Habit had come out in March of 2010. I sold nothing, no books. Maybe 15 [or] 20 books, family and friends. Not even family and friends were buying my book. 

2011 was probably the worst year that I can remember. And I really think I wanted to just... if I could just erase my life and start all over, if I could hit a button, I would have done that. But you can't in life, right? 

But that was the year I just didn't want to be alive. I really didn't. 

To be honest with you, I would say... 

I journal. And in my journal, I was like, 'I wouldn't mind dying right now. I really wouldn't mind dying'. It wasn't like I was suicidal. I just preferred death over living, because of the adversity. 

Every day was a new struggle and a new problem and new disappointment. 

I remember I must have spent 500 hours calling and emailing the media to try and share with them my rich habits research and my book and I got turned down 100% of the time—not even once [did I get a chance]. 

The first time really [when] somebody said 'Yes' was Yahoo Finance. 

 I would say that was April 2013. So my books were doing nothing. My book was doing nothing. [It] wasn't selling but I wrote every day. I was trying to write every day and share my research through my blog. And somebody who was the host of a very popular Yahoo Finance show had me on. And they brought their whole TV crew in and they interviewed me. 

And I was like a loaded spring, Tyrone. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they walked into because I had been a man stuck in a cave for three years. 

And they walked in and they allowed me a little bit of a glimmer to the outside world. But what happened was amazing. The interview, which got released in July of 2013, went viral. It had 2 million hits in 24 hours. They had never had more than 400,000 hits on any show that they had done over a 6-year period. They had 2 million hits. 

And one of the hits was a guy named Dave Ramsey who was the third largest radio host in the United States. So I was supposed to be off for five minutes. He had me on for 30 minutes. He loved my research. And I was exposed to 8 million people and the rest really is history that my book took off and it's continued to sell. 

Right now it's selling really well in China. In particular, I think it had some success in Vietnam, although I have not seen $1 of royalty from Vietnam. I don't know. But China, Chinese—they are good business people, China. So they're legit; you know, they're ethical. So I've had success, you know, [in] different countries. 

 I'm about as happy as you can get.

Forging Habits Ahead

Tyrone Shum:   
Corley further explains how positive habits can change one's life for the better. In fact, he credits a habit he implemented in 2012 as one of the reasons he was able to push through a difficult period in his life.

Thomas Corley: 
Habits really do two things. One is they remove the need for discipline. And they remove the need for emotion to engage in the habit. It's a habit. You're going to engage in it whether you want to or not once it's forged. So that's the good thing about habits. So I was getting up every day and doing the same thing every day. 

And I felt like a rat on a treadmill, to be honest with you. And I was thinking to myself, these habits are not serving me. 

 One of the things that did save me in 2012 from quitting—because I did want to quit this whole rich habits stuff—was that someone, one of the people in my study... I went back over the research, and I stumbled on this, you know, how you can miss some, you read some a book, four times, and every time you get something different out of it? 

Well, I was reading this, this person's folder, case folder, and I noticed that they were in the real estate agent business. And they were very successful. And a little thing that skipped that, you know, fell below the radar that I didn't pick up on until 2012: They had created something called a 'rejection goal', [or] a 'daily rejection goal'. And what they did was every day, they had to get rejected 10 times. 

And so if they didn't hit their goal, they... and in the beginning, they mentioned that it was easy. But then as they became more and more successful, they had to work more and more hours because they hit their 10 rejection goal. And I said, 'Holy mackerel!' 

So I used that on the radio interviews when I was trying to get radio interviews. I said, 'I'm going to make 10 phone calls today; I won't stop until they get 10 rejections'. And I did that. 

 It worked. I was on 150 radio stations; spoke to, I don't know, 50 million people over the course of a year and a half. And so, you know, that started the ball rolling. 

 I started to gain some momentum, which really started in 2013. And then the Yahoo hitting it, you know... It's like I got yanked out of my cave and thrown onto a stage. You know, so that was interesting. That was fun. But it was validation for all my hard work, really. 

The habits got me there. If I didn't have those habits, if I didn't have the 'writing everyday' habit, the 'reading everyday' habit, the 'getting up at quarter to five everyday' habit, if I didn't have all these habits, I wouldn't have had the opportunity for opportunity-luck, to manifest itself. 

I created the opportunity for good luck to occur because of these habits. And that's what the rich habits are all about as you engage in them. And yeah, it's boring. And yeah, they don't produce immediately. But they, they create the opportunity for good luck to occur. 

And for me, you know, it just so happened to be in 2013.

Tyrone Shum:   
Notably, 10 years ago, in 2013, Corley found himself amid a challenging season in his life. If he had met himself at that time, he has a ready message to share to his younger self.

Thomas Corley: 
Oh boy, I would say, 'You're on the right track. Don't stop. Everything is going to be validated, all of your hard work is going to be validated. And you're going to be rewarded financially, but it's not going to be immediate. So don't look at the money; don't focus on the money. Focus on adding value to the lives of others, and you will be rewarded.' 

That's exactly what's happened. As people... I have more and more people follow me. I have more and more people buy my books. I get more and more emails every day. 

 The stories that I hear from these people about how their lives [have] changed because of my research is validation for me that I'm on the right path in life. Because we're all supposed to add value to the lives of others. How we do it is up to us. 

 I use my finance skills and my writing skills, and my books, and my blog and all these interviews I do to help add value to the lives of others. And I would have told myself: 'You're on the right track. Don't stop what you're doing. You're actually doing everything the right way.'

To the Future and Beyond

Tyrone Shum:   
Now looking towards the future, Corley shares the next goals flying for him on the horizon.

Thomas Corley:  
I have one remaining dream. And that is to become JC Jobs. JC Jobs is a main character in my book 'Rich Habits', 'Rich Kids', and ’Effortless-Wealth'.

He's the main character in that book. He is the ideal future version of Tom Corley. So I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing until I become JC Jobs. And even, I suppose, when I do become JC Jobs... And I know specifically in my mind, I have an idea what that that encompasses—what it would be like JC Jobs. I mean, I wrote the character. I know what exactly what he's all about. 

I think that's what I'm most excited about is continuing this journey until I can become JC Jobs and be one of the top personal development experts in the world [and] be recognised as such. I'm getting there. 

 I would say when it comes to habits, I'm the I'm in the top 10 in the world in terms of being a habit expert. But that's not what I really intended. I wanted to help people improve their lives and go from being poor to rich. So that... I'm going to continue doing that until I become JC Jobs. And I'm going to continue. 

 The last 10 years of my career, I believe, will be my highest earning years. So I'm going to stay healthy, keep doing what I'm doing, and then 10 years from now, my guess is my life is going to be much better, even better. 

 [I'm] just going to keep doing what I'm doing and helping people.

Vision: A Powerful Ally

Tyrone Shum:   
As what you can expect from a brain expert, Corley expertly explains how luck, intelligence, hard work, and having a clear vision all come into play in his pursuit of success.

Thomas Corley:
I think luck manifests itself in every successful person. So I'm going to say that you have to be lucky. As a prerequisite to being successful and wealthy, you have to be lucky, except for the 'saver-investor millionaires'. 

There's four types of millionaires: the 'saver investor', 'big company climber', 'virtuosos'—[which are] the experts, Tiger Woods, the Roger Federer, those type of people, surgeons—and then there's the 'dreamer entrepreneurs'. 

So except for the saver-investors, you have to be lucky. Now, I'm not talking about just random good luck. I'm talking about opportunity luck; you have to create the opportunity for luck. 

 You have to keep your mind focused on on some blueprint that you have in your mind. I like to call it 'dream setting'. 

 If you write a script about what you want your future ideal life to be, then you might have a better chance of manifesting the kind of success that you want to have. But it's a combination of things. 

I think, what I learnt from my research is, particularly with the dreamer-entrepreneurs, their IQs, were about 15 points higher than when they started out. And that was because of all of the learning that was necessary. So I think when you pursue dreams, your IQ grows. 

We know that. We know that it's a fact. Your IQ can increase. The brain is malleable. It's plastic; it has plasticity to it. 

 I would like to say, you know, hard work ethic. But I don't want to turn people off, because I believe if you pursue a dream, you automatically gain a hard work ethic. You could be the laziest person on the face of the earth. And yet you decide I'm going to pursue some dream and then next thing you know, you're working 15 hours a day. 

I think hard work ethic is hardwired into all human beings. It just has to be exposed to some dream or some goal that you become passionate about—something you become passionate about. 

 Having a clear vision of where you want to be—say, 10 years from now or 20 years from now—is more important than intelligence; more important than work ethic. It's more important than who you know; more important than luck. 

I would say that's the key: Start out with a vision, and then pursue some dreams and goals. 

 Your destination... in order to get from point A to point B, that distance is... What's embodied in that distance are dreams that you realised and goals that you achieved. 

So the difference between point A and point B are dreams and goals. So you have to have that clarity of vision—the end in mind—in order for those dreams and those goals to manifest themselves. And they will, automatically. They'll pop up out of nowhere. They'll say, 'Hey, you need to do this Tyrone' or 'You need to pursue this angle' or 'You need to meet this person'. It just happens. It manifests automatically, just by virtue of having a clear vision of your destination.


Tyrone Shum: 
Thank you to Thomas Corley, our guest on this episode of Property Investory.