How to Radically Change Your Life

I have a friend named Layla who is one of the best people I know; when she was about 20 years old, in the 50s, she left her nice little home in Britain, and went by herself, literally wading through the jungles of Central Africa. Chest deep in muck, elephant gun held high above her head, she found the famous explorer she’d been looking for and spent the following years Indiana-Jones’ing with him.

The problem with tips and tricks is that incremental improvements won’t solve your malaise. You read articles about how to improve your life all the time, right? So why does your life still seem like 90% sitting around on the internet reading articles? When is the last time there was a seriously tangible difference in the quality of your daily life?

This is to all the people who are stuck and have been for a while, you know who you are.

I say this shit all the time, and you think I’m joking or that it doesn’t apply to you, but here it is people: If you want change then change, goddammit. Radically and permanently alter your daily life. Leave everything behind and literally, not figuratively, join the peace corps, or move to a commune, or travel the world. Cut yourself off from old patterns and old baggage.

The excuses welling up in your brain right now are so loud, I can hear them from here—shut your trap. Break your lease, quit your job, kiss your mama goodbye, and piss off into the wild blue yonder.

Come back in a little while for all I care. I’m not saying you should live the life of a hermit or vagabond forever. Layla isn’t a vagabond. She came back from Africa, and now she’s a real estate mogul in California. Why is she among the best people I know? Because she’s alive, she’s had among the best experiences I know.

There is probably something you’re working toward. You tell yourself that’s what makes the grind worth it. You want to be a big actor or writer, or a successful business person, and you’re diligently working through that between checking facebook and reddit. But if you’re honest, you’re frustrated and burned out. It’s because that one goal you have requires a huge infrastructure of other investments. Living a middle class lifestyle requires a respectable house (with, like, plumbing), a livable income, friends you can relate to and the rest. You can’t just “be an actor” because you have to maintain the rest of the web of requirements that seem to be a prerequisite, and you only have the sliver left over to act with.

The bottom line is that if you are stuck in your life, you have a choice between keeping all the shit that’s burning you out, and staying exactly as you are, or throwing it all away, all at once, right now, and grabbing life by the scruff. There’s nothing stopping you, just do it.

Young and Dumb

1.

I was a precocious kid, the kind that’s remarkably well-spoken for a 6 year old, and everyone thinks it’s cute. At that time I figured, since I got along with adults so well, I must be pretty much on par. I knew I had facts and figures to learn, but obviously I operated on a similar level.

But then I turned 10, and I could plainly see how much sophistication I lacked when I was only 6. I’ll skip the montage, you get it, this is an ongoing process.

But think about this. Now that you’re an adult, when is the last time you can remember being young and dumb? What is the oldest you can remember being, when you were a categorically different person?

I remember turning 18, and I’m talking to this girl online for a couple months, and fast forward a year and I’ve eloped with her. That was dumb.

I’m 21, I’m spending a lot of my week as an officer in this “business fraternity” at my third tier business school because I have this vague idea that it’s a “great networking opportunity,” whatever the fuck that means. That was pretty dumb.

It gets fuzzier at that point. As an adult you have fewer growth experiences than you do as a child, so it takes longer. The gap between now and when you were young and dumb gets longer and longer.

That’s a bad thing.

I have a theory that you should strive to keep that gap as short as possible. Every year you should look back and think about what a dumbass you were a year ago. That way, you know you’re growing.

To phrase it another way, if you look back and don’t see how much of a dumbass you were a year ago, then you’re still the same dumbass from a year ago.

2.

The perception of time passing is controlled by how many “salient events” take place during that time. For our purposes, salient events are events that we consciously notice. They might be novel in some way, either by being different and new, or by being exciting.

You can see this is true if you consider that a year backpacking abroad will seem in retrospect to have been a whole lifetime. So many new and exciting things happened during that year, that when your brain recreates the experience it feels subjectively “longer” than if you sat in a cubical filling out TPS reports the whole time.

When you’re a kid, time crawls by because every day you’re experiencing new and exciting things. As you age, you settle into routine and soon nothing much is new or exciting, and time is flying by.

When we are bored, we become aware of each passing second. Each agonizing moment becomes a salient event because we’re aware of them as they pass, and so time passes in a trickle. Later that day we sink four hours into World of Warcraft without a second thought.

3.

To be a new and better person means to have new and better experiences—events that shape who you are, and color your perception. Each new experience can potentially be the event horizon of being “young and dumb.” On one side of the horizon you see your young self, and on this side you find your new, better self.

The key ingredient to growth and the perception of a full and meaningful life is those salient events. Don’t sink into routine; seek out new ideas and new people, and new experiences.

The last time I clearly remember being young and dumb was a little over a year ago when I separated from my wife. That was a tremendous moment of growth for me, and I can confidently say that I’m a categorically different, better person now.

But that gap is getting too long, so I’m getting antsy. It’s time to up the ante, make a rukus, meet new people, go new places, start new projects. You should think about doing the same.

Life is a Sunset

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of being unattached to outcomes and someone commented that it was a very Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist see everything in this world as temporary and encourage people to disengage from temporary things to break the cycle of rebirth.

I don’t consider myself Buddhist, because I think disengagement isn’t the right answer. I think we’re here having a human experience, and we should revel in it and soak it up. I’d feel better jumping off Samsara if I knew what it was for.

Buddhists are right that your experiences as a human being are illusory and temporary, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We don’t spend our lives obsessing over a coming sunset, or living in existential dread for when the sunset is over. We just see it, and it’s beautiful, so we sit with it a while and enjoy it.

We enjoy the moments we have with it, and we fully expect and are at peace with its inevitable ending. We know it’s not really a “thing” in itself—it’s just an arrangement of the sun and the sky and the earth, with a certain type of light hitting our certain type of atmosphere at a certain angle that only people standing near us can see. All that makes a beautiful, meaningful, and temporary experience that really only exists from your particular vantage point in the universe.

When it’s over, nothing is lost, it just means you’ve moved out that vantage point. You also know that you’re part of an ongoing cycle and you’ll see a similar, maybe more beautiful sunset, when the time comes.

That’s my philosophy. I think any experience that you become consciously aware of has the capacity to look beautiful from your particular vantage point, if you want it to.

Success and failure, and love, and anger, and power outages, and travel, and sex, and everything you experience is beautiful, and you can give whatever meaning to it that you choose, and you will eventually move out of the vantage point from which its visible, and that’s perfectly fine.

You’re part of a larger cycle, and when the time is right, you’ll see it all again. And since you’re going to be wiser when that happens, maybe it’ll all be more beautiful and meaningful than you ever knew before.

Say Hello 2 Heaven

There’s a creeping bitterness that nips at my heels. I think I do a good job of keeping it at bay, but everyone knows the cliche of the bitter old person, and I can see how the gray get there. Not everyone can keep it at bay. They get disillusioned after being broken one too many times.

It’s hard to blame them for becoming cynical. There are only so many times you can die under your Dad’s car tire, grow up with a broken face, sink good years of your life into an abusive relationship, lose your father, your mother, your siblings, your children, your livelihood and legacy, and keep on trucking with clear eyes.

I guess it’s important to hit bottom at least once, for perspective, but the part that strikes me as really strange is that there’s nothing to do with all the heartbreak. It feels like there should be something, some outlet for it, and I think people get stuck—sometimes for their whole lives—trying to process their bad experiences, trying to find that outlet to get the hurt out of their bodies and spirits, trying to find the key that will make whatever happened acceptable so they can have permission to be happy again.

But there’s nothing there to find.

There’s no catharsis, there’s no movie ending where the bad guys get what’s coming, or the douchebag sees the errors of her ways. Life just rolls on, and you have to keep moving and just exist with whatever has happened, otherwise you stop living and growing, and burn out into one of those bitter, gray people.

Heaven & The Abyss

I was listening to that song that everyone loves “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” which is about a guy named Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose after battling with depression. One of the lines struck me:

“He hurt so bad, like his soul breaking
But he never said nothing to me”

And that’s what got me thinking about all this. I’ve been broken a few times, and come back mostly better and stronger, but I wonder where the line is between that bitterness nipping at your heels but being at bay, versus being broken and just not telling anyone in the hope that if you fake it long enough, you’ll make it.

I think my conclusion is to throw out the question. That is a question framed by inevitable bitterness, and the question is about what degree you let it affect you. But I reject that premise.

I’m saying that the advice I’d give to my younger self, is that you need to remain unattached to outcomes, and just learn to exist in a state of unconditional, childlike wonder. Horrors and atrocities and soul breaking tragedy will undoubtedly hit, and all you can do in the face of that titanic sadness is shine as brightly as you know how, as a reflection to others that there’s love and hope in the world, but also as a reflection to yourself.

Don’t fake it—I’ve wept until I couldn’t breathe, until my soul ground to a halt, until I had no light to give. If you’re there, be there. The worst thing you can do is exist in limbo, between gut-wrenching sadness and the veneer of normalcy. That limbo is where people get lost—they stumble through a fog of distractions, with that sadness at their heels forever, until the day they die.

I say plumb the depths of that darkness, and stare it in the face. There’s no movie ending, no catharsis. Just you and that abyss, looking back at you. When you can look into it and stop fighting against it existing, then it loses its power over you. It exists, you exist. That’s all.

You exist. Let that childlike wonder take over.

Now you can shine again, from a place so deep inside that tragedy cannot strike, so bright that darkness cannot exist.

Dominoes and the Price of Admission

I really wanted to quit my job. I was too afraid of the domino effect to do it though. Quitting my job meant not being able to pay my mortgage and take care of my family.

We get stuck because we start thinking about the domino effect. The fear that the changes we want are going to cause a cascade of changes we don’t want.

The sticking point here is that we spend all this time thinking about the aspects of our lives we want to change, but when we can’t figure out how to change those things without affecting anything else, we give up.

Fuck yeah, fuck my boss! He can take my gray little Dilbert cubicle and shove it right up his ass!” sounds great until your car payment is due.

Leaving your verbally abusive wife sounds good until you think about finding a new place to live, and the reality of your growing waistline in the face of having to go out and date again. You stop thinking about it because it feels too painful.

Don’t do that.

Here’s what you do instead: write down the consequences of the thing you want to do and work backward to eliminate them. Get rid of the bills you’re afraid you can’t pay. While you can still afford to live in the bigger place, move into a smaller place. While you can still afford two cars, sell them and buy two bikes instead, or a clunker. Now you’re free to stay or quit without the fear of the domino effect.

It helps to think like the worst has already happened. Sit and imagine you’ve just been fired. What do you do? Do you start looking for ways to cut back expenses? Do you take some time off to relax? Do you look for a different job? Do those things now, before you leave your job: cut expenses like you’re destitute, take some time off, look for a different job (you really are a masochist, aren’t you?). Now those dominoes have no power over you.

Tah-dah! You’re free to quit your job.

Caveat: Price of Admission

There are circumstances in which you endure one thing in order to hang onto another thing, and that can be okay. I call it the “price of admission.” You might have a boyfriend who you love dearly, and he might drive you up the wall by constantly leaving his clothes on the floor. You pick them up and wash them. Price of admission.

If you’re facing something that you think might be a deal breaker but you’re not sure, then:

  1. Ask yourself: What is causing my pain? I pick up dirty clothes because I want a clean room and my boyfriend leaves his shit everywhere.
  2. Ask yourself: What do I get for my pain? In exchange for cleaning clothes on the floor and a small portion of my sanity, I get an intensely loving, sexy boyfriend.
  3. Is what I get worth my pain? In other words, if someone proposed a deal to me to get the thing from question two in exchange for my pain, would I take the deal? Yes, I would take a kickass boyfriend in exchange for a life of uncertain laundry cleanliness.
  4. No, the upside isn’t worth the downside. Then stop taking the deal: it’s a deal breaker.
  5. Yes, the upside is worth the downside. Then you have two things to do. You must do the first. The second is up to your discretion and creativity:
    1. Become 100% okay with whatever the bad thing is. Even if you wouldn’t generally choose to clean up clothes after a grown-ass man, you have chosen to clean up in this context. That word is important: cleaning the dirty clothes is now a choice that I made, not a situation that I’m victimized by. If you find it impossible to be okay with a situation, then stop kidding yourself: the upside really isn’t worth the downside, stop taking the deal.
    2. Solve the problem in a different way. Hire a housekeeper. Problem solved.

    Don’t let the domino effect stop you from making the changes you know you need to make for a life of passion and fire. Eliminate the power those dominoes have over you, or fully embrace the prices you deliberately choose to pay for the life you truly desire.

You Suck At Everything

People are born with talents. You better hope you get one that’s impressive or lucrative, because otherwise you’re screwed.

Take these two artists for example:

Artist #1

Artist #2

I didn’t choose these two artists so I could pick on the first one though. I actually picked these two because they illustrate my point, and there’s something really interesting about both of these guys: they have the same name. It’s not impossible, but “Jonathan Hardesty” isn’t the most common name to share.

The Difference Between The Jonathan Hardestys

I want to show you another comparison. It’s the Jonathans’ self portraits.

Jonathan #1

Jonathan #2

What are the chances of these two artists’ names being identical?

100%

Jonathan #1 is from 2002. Jonathan #2 is from 2011, almost a decade later.

The Jonathans have the same DNA, the same mother, the same father. The difference between the two Jonathans is time, determination, and persistence. Talent doesn’t exist; get to work.

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
-Calvin Coolidge

Strong Man and Doer of Deeds

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Accomplish something today.

Change the World, No Excuses

Thank you very much!!

Your blog was a little spark that ignite a fire inside me.

I don’t know if you remember, but my heart was destroyed, and the next day a I got an email from G8 (the best 8 universities in Australia) inviting me to apply for masters. It was something i have always wanted, but at that time, it could have been a sudoku or a puzzle, no difference.

I did all the paperwork to think of something else and now I’m leaving! I’ll get my master in crosscultural communication in USydney, with a scholarship that covers everything! I think it’s fate! or maybe the spark was always there and it just needed something to ignite.

Your blog did that to me. I looked for help and i found it in your blog. Thank you very much dude. Everything happens for a reason, I guess. Sometimes things need to be torn down and apart to build something new, better and more beautiful

I feel like super happy now

Thanks!

CB

Cristian Barrera has been a reader for a long time and this week he sent me that message.

When I get those types of messages my heart skips a beat, I feel a rush of blood in my neck, I feel alive. The effort I put into my work here on this site changes peoples’ lives. It empowers people to create themselves and build the reality they choose. I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do.

I could be a well-paid software engineer. My grandparents would be proud, they would understand what I do, and be able to explain it to their friends who would all be impressed knowing I had a Good Job™.

But I chose to build this site instead. I chose to do my breakthrough sessions instead. That wasn’t an easy choice, but it was the right choice.

Do you get messages like this from the people you work with? Are you changing lives? If not, then why the hell not?

How to Choose Your Emotions

We think our emotions happen to us. The internal experience of an emotion makes it feel inevitable. Our language even tricks us: that phone bill made me angry.

But that’s an illusion.

To prove that our reactions and experiences are entirely within our control, I present one Thích Quảng Đức.

Thích Quảng Đức Self-Immolation

Thich Quang Duc Self-Immolates (Click to Enlarge)

Thích Quảng Đức, a Buddhist monk, burned himself alive in 1963. If you’re like me, your skin crawled and your heart jumped when you saw this picture. We project our expected internal experience on him, so we vicariously experience agony when we see him burning.

But look again, at his face, bubbling and flaking off his skull as it is. Serenity. Centered calm. Witnesses reported that he did not move a muscle or make a sound, until his burnt husk finally collapsed forward after about ten minutes of burning.

You should not expect that kind of adamantine self control from yourself. I’m sharing this with you to remind you that your experience of the world, and your reactions to it are entirely your choice.

The Script

  • Some asshole with chrome rims and no door handles cuts you off in traffic. The spurt of adrenaline constricts your chest, and your head throbs as you grip the steering wheel. Asshole, you yell.
  • Your room mate is playing his music at 1am again, and you’re frustrated.
  • A friend flakes on you for the second time in a row, you’re pissed, you feel disrespected.

All these are normal reactions. These are the kind of reactions your parents demonstrated to you while you were growing up. Your friends and family won’t think twice if you react like that.

But the normalcy and inevitably of these reactions is an illusion. You’re just running a script, a program, that’s been passed on to you, that you haven’t thought hard enough about to stop.

But now you will.

The Choice

The limbic system is the seat of emotions in the brain. Even though our internal experience as humans seems like it takes place in the frontal lobe, with language and rational thought, the limbic system is the older, more powerful part of us. It’s the reason we can’t resist chocolate. It’s the reason rape turns our stomachs, or turns us on. It’s the reason that guy cutting you off in traffic makes you so very upset.

When people talk about choices, they usually mean a rational choice: analyze your options, then choose the one that makes the most sense. You don’t feel like emotions are a choice because they aren’t… a rational-level choice.

Emotions are a limbic-level choice, and you can’t make a limbic-level choice the same way you’d make a rational level choice. If you try to rationally choose not to be upset at your loud room mate, you will fail. The limbic system doesn’t respond to reason. The limbic system only responds to sensation and chemistry.

Think of your limbic system as a machine that you can put an experience into, and get a feeling out of. Loud noise in, frustration out.

Training Your Limbic System

Before you can train your limbic system, you have to know that experiencing, remembering, and imagining are virtually identical cognitive processes.

So a dog scares you when you’re a child, and every time you remember that experience, you are scared as if it’s happening to you again. That reinforces your limbic-level idea that dogs are scary. That’s how phobias develop: an early experience gets trapped in an echo chamber until it becomes an overwhelming emotional burden.

The good thing about how this works is that just like your early experience planted an emotional seed, you can deliberately choose new experiences that will plant a similar emotional seeds that can “echo” and grow in your mind.

If that’s not feasible for your situation, you can imagine or remember differently—remember that those are almost identical to experiencing.

Desensitization

The first option I mentioned is to deliberately experience your fears in a safe context. People afraid of spiders can conquer that fear by looking at pictures of spiders, then video of spiders, then real spiders. Then touching the spiders.

People afraid of approaching hot women cure their fear by approaching anyone at all, then women they aren’t interested in, then hot women.

What’s happening is that your limbic system is learning that nothing bad happens in these contexts. The more you do it, the more that safety is anchored, the more that well-being is associated with the experience.

It doesn’t matter that you already “know” that spiders are mostly harmless. You have to feel it.

Emotional Anchoring

This is a big topic that spans most of NLP, but I’ll give you a broad overview. The goal is to use “anchors” to trigger a desirable emotional response.

Anchors can be any action or thought. Maybe for you, going back to your parents’ house and eating a meal your mom cooked triggers a deep sense of safety and love. An NBA star might feel a rush of confidence and competence as he steps onto the court.

These are rituals that trigger emotional responses because of past experiences.

The basic steps to creating an anchor are:

  1. Choose an emotion you want to be able to call up at any time.
  2. Relax deeply by breathing and clearing your mind.
  3. Remember a time when you truly felt the emotion you chose. Put yourself back in that moment, remember how you felt, how did everything look to you? how did it feel, smell, taste? Don’t skimp here, you must really feel this emotion deeply.
  4. While fully in that relaxed state of remembering and imagining, perform some ritual. Squeeze your left hand into a fist, say some unusual combination of words, imagine yourself bathed in light. Whatever you want, it’s up to you.

Perform the steps again for the same emotion and ritual, but this time with a different experience. The more you do it, the more heavily the emotion will be anchored.

So you’ve anchored serenity and joy into a phrase: the world is beautiful. Next time a jerk cuts you off, the adrenaline still spurts, but you focus and you say: the world is beautiful. You feel better instantly.

Over and over, on your commute, you’re cut off, and each time you say: the world is beautiful. Eventually you’ll condition your mind to react with serenity and joy when you’re cut off in traffic, without even invoking the anchor.

If you don’t think that’s possible, remember Thích Quảng Đức. A lifetime of anchoring serenity and detachment through meditation. Not even being burned alive could shake him. You can choose to be joyful in your life.

How to Break Your Limits

Gema is 23 years old and might be gay. She’s not sure. (Not news.)

The problem about being maybe-gay is that Gema lives with her hyper-conservative parents, and has no legal rights as an unmarried Muslim woman in Indonesia.

She was in a bind. Her parents expect her to find a nice boy (of their choosing probably), get married, and make lots of babies. At 23, she’s older than any of her sisters or cousins were when they all got married, and the family is starting to look bad to their friends.

But Gema wants to get educated, wants to experiment with girls, wants to be her own person. Then, and only then, she might consider settling down with a nice boy. Or girl, maybe.

But she’s stuck. She must live with her parents until she’s married to a boy. She’s never had sex with a boy, nor will she be able to until marriage. But she’s also never felt attracted to a boy. The couple of times she’s had sex with girls have been fraught with shame and doubt.

Most countries expect immigrants to have a college education, something out of Gema’s reach. Even if that weren’t true, any visa she could get would require parental consent.

She has no options.

You knew there was a punchline…

When Gema told me her story, the first question I asked her was what the age of majority is in Indonesia. She didn’t really know what that meant, but she knew that people were considered adults at 18 in Indonesia.

I told her I had good news for her.

First, I told her, you are a legal adult in your country. I know you think your parents have control over you legally, but they actually don’t. The idea that you stay with your parents and listen to them until you’re married is purely a cultural constraint, not a legal constraint. That means that if you choose to, you may leave your parents’ house whenever you want. You are free.

I also told her that an Indonesian adult does not need parental consent to obtain a visa. Again, she’s free to make her own choices.

Finally I told her, you are not responsible for the choices or feelings of your family members. You cannot make them happy, and you also cannot make them sad. The way they respond to your actions is entirely their choice. If they choose to feel shame as a result of you living the life you want, that is not your fault. It is entirely up to them. You are only responsible for your own choices, not for the choices of your family.

Then, she lived happily ever after.

Just Kidding

Gema politely thanked me, but restated her position:

There’s no law, she said, that specifically prevents me from moving out. But there’s also no law that specifically frees me. She said Indonesia just doesn’t have any law about the parent/child relationship as it relates to the age of the child. She told me that if she said “I’m over 18, so I’m free to decide my own life,” her parents tell her to shut up, they are an Eastern family, and she’s talking nonsense.

So I do what I always do when faced with an inscrutable question: I scrute it. I dug into the Indonesian constitution and law.

I told her that Chapter 10 of the Indonesian constitution guarantees that all citizens (Gema is an adult citizen) have the right to choose education, work, citizenship, and where they live. They also have the right, according to chapter 10, to express their opinion, to have freedom of thought and conscience, religion, and they have the right to not be falsely imprisoned or enslaved.

I explained to her that “age of majority” is the age when children legally cease to be minors and assume control over their persons, actions and decisions, thereby terminating the legal control and legal responsibilities of their parents over and for them.

That hit her like a ton of bricks. I saw the light flash across her face. She looked confused for a moment before widening her eyes. The law is on her side. She is not stuck. She is an autonomous person.

Gema immediately applied and was accepted for a work visa in Singapore. She might even meet a cute girl there.

You Are Gema

Gema had been “stuck” for years, laboring under this false restriction. She had a limiting belief, that her parents could control her every move, and that she was powerless to stop them.

For Gema, freedom was one google search away—just a quick glance through the actual laws she thought chained her down. Just a few minutes and Gema’s old chains were broken. Those chains were in her mind the whole time.

But I didn’t tell you this story because I think you particularly care about an Indonesian woman named Gema. I told you this story because you are Gema. We are all Gema, in our own ways.

Consider your desires, and think about why you haven’t fulfilled them yet. What limitations have you built for yourself that prevent you from being fulfilled?