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For most, the man needs no introduction. But in case you do, here’s one anyway.
Leo Babauta is the founder of ZenHabits, a massively popular blog that is considered by Time Magazine to be one of the top 25 blogs in the world. This is already enough to make him interesting, but actually, there’s more.
The connection to The Flinch seemed natural. If you read it, you’ll definitely love this.
They say if you have to ask, it can’t be explained. And so of course I’ll try to explain it: if you hear about the challenge — 12+ hours of grueling physical tasks with a 55-lb. backpack on your back — and you think it sounds like fun, you’re probably right for it.
It’s kind of like getting a taste of what the Special Forces guys do in training, but without the weapons. Weighted pushups, lunges, bear crawls, hiking, running, carrying logs, carrying your teammates … this is the kind of thing I wanted to try. I’m not into the military aspect, but I am into physical challenges, and especially into mental challenges. This was, at its deepest level, a mental challenge: you have to find it in you to not quit when it sucks really bad, to help your teammate when he’s falling down, to motivate your team to meet its missions. I found out a lot about myself.
I know they say “it’s all mental,” and I know from Crossfit, walking the Camino, etc, that it’s true, but there’s also real physical challenge there. How do you know you can do it?
You don’t know, and that’s the scary part. You should be able to run/hike with a weighted backpack (let’s say 30-lbs.) for a couple hours at least. You should be able to do a bunch of pushups, squats, lunges, and bear crawls. You should be able to sprint and run up hills. It requires strength, so practice carrying people on your back and shoulders.
If you can do all that, you should be OK physically. But it will still suck at times, and you’ll want to quit, no matter how physically prepared you are. You have to make it through the suck. You have to embrace the suck.
Now we’re talking. Ok, describe the moment where the suck occurs. How does it feel when it happens? How do you convince yourself to go on?
You’re cold and wet and you’ve been crawling on the sand for hours with your heavy pack biting into your shoulders and your knees are bloody and your shoulders want to collapse, and you don’t know when this will end. Your mind has been complaining constantly, “Why are we doing this? What’s the worst that would happen if we just quit and walked away? What are we trying to prove? Is it worth it? You could go home and sleep. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
And it’s incredibly tempting to give in to your mind, because it is very convincing. We are very very good at rationalizing, especially in the face of pain. It’s painful, and you want the pain to end, and you want to just rest. This is what happens when it starts to suck. And that was just the beginning of the suck — there were many other such moments along the way.
I would convince myself to go on first by being aware of what my mind was doing. I would watch my mind as an outside observer, and laugh at my mind and its rationalizations. Then I would pay attention to the ground in front of my face, the waves on the beach washing up near my body, the incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge lit up at night, and think, “I am incredibly lucky.” I would feel the pain and the tiredness, and think, “What a wonderful thing it is to feel.” And then I would say, “Just one more step. We can re-evaluate after one more step.” Then I’d repeat that after that one step. It also helped that I had a team relying on me, and that I couldn’t just quit or I’d let them down.
I lived in a Japanese temple for a while where I did that. To delay the decision to stop meditating, I would say, “I will decide in exactly 30 minutes.” And then after that time: “Well, that wasn’t that bad, I could do that again.”
True, it works for anything. It helped me too when I started marathon training — you inevitably want to stop running, but if you just go a few more steps, you’ll be fine.
What I’m trying to figure out is how to make people resistant to the BS of that inner voice. To do it, you need a certain distance from yourself. How did you learn to do it? Were you born that way?
I learned it when I wanted to quit smoking, and the urges would be so strong and the rationalizations would nearly always beat me. I would tell myself, “Just get past this one urge.” I didn’t even need to go the whole day, just that one urge.
Before I learned this, I would give in to any urge. But when you realize the urge is there — you become self-aware — you learn that you can watch it, and listen to your inner voice. The inner voice is extremely intelligent, and the worst part is that we are usually not aware that it’s speaking. We just listen to it without being conscious of it. And it is talking all day long. Most people don’t realize how persistent and powerful it is.
Running really helped me to learn to listen to it, but not heed it. I run without an iPod, which means it’s just me, the outdoors, and my mind. So I pay attention to the nature around me, but also I have nothing to listen to but my mind. So I listen. And it talks, constantly.
Meditation helped strengthen this skill. Meditation is the same as running — you have nothing to pay attention to but your breathing, your body, and your mind. And your mind is very active. So you watch it, and you learn to be this observer, and it’s fascinating if you stick with it.
I’ve started to think that people should be doing difficult things on purpose, if only to train them to be able to push past their usual habits and internal programming. Do you agree? What other internal walls have you been able to push past?
I haven’t found this to be necessary myself, though I’m not saying you’re wrong. I do things in baby steps, so that change is easy. I find it much more sustainable than trying to do things that are really difficult.
I also think people are already doing difficult things in their routines — it’s incredibly unpleasant to be in a job you hate, to be overweight and unhealthy, to be deeply in debt. I know because I’ve done those things, but I felt stuck in this difficult life. The baby steps helped me to get out of the routine, to change my internal programming with micro changes.
As for other internal walls … one that I’ve been exploring is giving up goals. I’m very much programmed to be goal-oriented, and I think a lot of us are. When I first considered giving up goals, I thought it was impossible and stupid. But slowly I’ve been learning that it’s a much better way of thinking, at least for me.
Explain “giving up goals.” Did it help you complete the Goruck or was that something separate?
As I looked deeper into what’s necessary and what’s not, I started to question the need for goals — are they really essential? What would happen if you gave them up? Are they really the driving force behind what we accomplish? I’ve found that they are unnecessary — without goals, you’ll still work on things you’re passionate about, and do fun fitness activities and other things that excite you.
Goals take credit for our accomplishments, but our passion and interest is what really make things happen. Goals also add a lot of administration — goal setting, tracking, making sure you’re sticking to the goal, finding next actions, etc. Goals stress us out — if we’re not on track or don’t reach them, are we failures? Goals also fix us on a certain path, when in truth there are many possible paths and staying on one predetermined path with a fixed destination is an artificial limitation that’s completely unnecessary and unnatural.
When you remove this limitation, you are freed to do anything.
When I did the Goruck Challenge, I didn’t have “finish challenge” as a goal. I just wanted to have fun doing a new challenge. It didn’t matter to me if I finished or not. However, when I felt like quitting, I decided to stick it out through the urge to quit, to explore what that’s like. I think it’s a really interesting experiment, pushing past these urges to quit, and so that’s what I did. So yes, it did help me to finish.
“Free to do anything.” That is the perfect final sentence.
Last question: After all this progress you’ve made, is there anything you still feel any anxiety about? What do you still have problems with, if anything?
Sure, I have all the same insecurities as anyone else. I get anxious about unfamiliar social situations, public speaking, will people like my writing, am I good enough to write fiction? I have fears, about financial security and being alone and whether my life is meaningless.
The key I think is whether I let those insecurities and fears stop me from doing the things I love. I’m learning to watch those feelings, like an outside observer, and realize that they are not a part of me, but just something that happens. They are natural phenomena, like the sun rising or leaves changing color, but they are not who I am. So I watch, and let them happen, and don’t let them define me or what I do.
1000 years ago, the amount of moves a peasant could take were limited. He understood the risk in his world well, but it isn’t because he was super smart. It’s because his world was small.
The world is now too big to understand how risky a single action can be. Still, some people are more adept at understanding risk than others.
How adept you are at assessing risk has a lot to do with how much practice you have. If you’ve never done it before, you don’t truly know what the consequences will be. This either prevents you from acting entirely or it changes what moves you will make.
One of the best ways to understand this is to watch parkour videos, or skateboarding videos. Here’s one that my friend Julie Angel made.
As you can see, risk is relative. These guys are not born geniuses with their bodies, they were made geniuses through scars and experience.
So, being able to assess risk does not mean you are special. More often than not, it just means you are practiced. And because most people are not willing to practice, most people are not good at assessing risk.
Meanwhile, those that get good at it get very good. Their understanding of the world grows. They see shortcuts where others do not. They take advantage of them. This is what parkour is all about: finding shortcuts through the environment.
Sometimes this is ok, and it’s moral. Some find loopholes, disrupting using technology which, at the core, helps make the human experience better. Other times, it’s largely about personal gain, and not about the human experience at all.
Everyone has to decide what place they want to occupy on the slider. Nothing is entirely black or white. To some people, getting a job through your connections is a lot like skipping the line at the airport. It pisses people off and seems wrong. To others, it seems perfectly fine.
As these Occupy Wall Street protests spread, I’ve been thinking a lot about risk and how it is misunderstood. I originally ended up in school and, had I not found it horribly boring, I probably would have graduated and tried to find a job in my field (likely social sciences). At 32 I would probably be making ok money and feeling like I was making my way in the world. Little would I know that dropping out and working horrible phone jobs for 5 years would eventually lead me to where I am today.
The situation is a bit the same for those who feel that the social contract has been broken for them. They were told to go to school and that it would make them more employable, but little did they know that the infrastructure beneath them is largely about money and risk avoidance, and designed for a factory system that is already filled to the brim with people who do not want to (or can’t) leave their jobs. They feel screwed, and I can relate. It could have been me.
You also see people who moved through the world and, through a series of coincidences and smarts, ended up making millions by finding loopholes that allow a disproportionate reward in comparison to the risk they’ve had to take. These people worked hard, and they’re probably smarter than average, so they feel they deserve what they got. After all, they found the loopholes and saw the world as it was, maybe. There will always be loopholes, after all, so there will always be people like this.
It’s almost like a game of snakes and ladders. Some people got bad directions from people they trusted and went in the wrong direction. Others happened upon ladders that got them places fast.
The problem is that we need to understand risk much more completely than we currently do– and there is no concrete method for doing so.
Imagine that you’re a child and that you’re afraid of the dark. This fear is in fact quite logical, and for millions of years, humans who did not fear the dark got eaten. Now, however, it’s useless. So your parents explain to you that you don’t need to be afraid, etc, and as time goes on, you are no longer afraid.
This system is what we need to understand the rest of the world. It needs to be organic and it needs to be complete, because the modern world is too unlike the world we evolved in. The system either needs to be taught to us, or we need to develop one.
Right now, it’s all about lucking upon the right answers– this is not how a fair, modern system should work.
I am working on a small book right now. It’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done.
The editor is better than I could have ever hoped for. The idea is amazing, and something I care deeply about. It should get good visibility. Everything seems like it’s in line.
This kind of thing never happens to me. It probably rarely happens to you.
So, naturally, I’m paralyzed with fear.
This is how the whole world works. When you’re on auto-pilot, no problem. You’ve done it before, so you recognize every pattern you’re in and there’s no need to worry.
But this also means you’re going the wrong way. You’re getting no new input, so you’re not recognizing any new patterns. If this is the way your life is going, you are actually actually becoming more useless. In an increasingly chaotic world, the best pattern recognizers win.
So the way to have an amazing life is to be constantly fearing failure, but driving forward anyway. It’s difficult to be doing this all the time. You need to pick your battles. Most things need to be stable and allow for safety, so you can focus on these one or two very difficult things.
In other words, your relationship can’t be in shambles while you’re building a business. This is natural, and it’s how the whole world works. You need to have the energy to spend where it matters.
So your whole world should be a cycle of balancing and unbalancing, contraction and growth. Imagine weight lifting. The more stable you are, the heavier you can lift.
I suspect that those who can do many things at once aren’t actually doing anything properly. They commit to numerous ideas and try to deliver on all of them, but none end up exceptional. They’re blogging every day but few ideas are truly interesting or have much of a wide spread.
This is how someone like me can end up not blogging for a month. I focus on one thing and make it happen in the best way possible. Afterwards, I’m drained. I have to do something else– anything else– but worry about delivering new ideas.
So today, for the first time in a long time, I feel kind of free. The project feels 90% done. A great weight is lifted off my shoulders and I have energy to deliver in other places.
If you are not doing your life’s work, you will feel perfectly comfortable. There will be an occasional malaise as you wonder if there’s “more” out there, but you won’t know exactly what to do.
What you need to do is become paralyzed with fear.
If you aren’t paralyzed, you aren’t going far enough. If you don’t feel yourself being avoidant, you’re probably settling. This is normal. Your brain wants you to be safe. Your body is built to procreate and die, not thrive. Naturally, facing pain will feel horrible and unnatural. It can’t be any other way. It feels like a threat, and threats must be stopped.
In order to get anywhere in life, you need to be uncomfortable constantly. You need to have new input and absorb new information or you’re not growing. If you don’t want to grow, it’s because things are fine as they are. You should be conscious and ok with the fact that they won’t change.
So do you want to be bigger? If yes, then you know what you have to do. If no, keep moving along.
Postscript: As I wrote this post, an email came in, and once again I’m paralyzed with fear. I must be on the right track. Back to work.
Life is a series of decisions, one after another. When put together, they make you who you are.
Each decision is a bet. Some are made consciously; others not. Each bet you win shows you what you’re capable of, and what your next bet should be. As you win more bets, you get more ambitious. This is a good thing.
Here is an ambitious bet I just made that I think will interest you: in May, for 30 days, I will be quitting the internet.
Instead, during this time, I will be walking an 800 kilometer, thousand-year-old pilgrimage route in Spain– one that many people have walked or dreamed to, from Paulo Coelho to American President John Adams.
It’s something we’ve been planning for almost six months. It’s pretty cool to be on the cusp of a big trip like this.
But this post isn’t about my personal quest. It’s about yours.
Do you have something to quit the internet for?
Our brains are not wired to be made happy by the internet. Our emotions, like fear and joy, are based in a primal understanding of the world. This is something we can’t escape.
Saying the web is important to your life is like saying that television is important. It might be social, sure, but it’s still media. It can help connect but it also divides in a very fundamental way.
Touching a screen isn’t the same as touching a person.
The best stuff happens outside the web. Outside is new and frightening, not comfortable. Encountering pain helps transform your vision of yourself and forces you to grow.
And there is very little that is new and frightening on the web. The biggest realizations happen when you are in free-fall, not when you have a safety net.
Happiness is not related to Twitter feeds, blog posts, or even books– although books do get closer. What happiness is connected with is unique human experience, often untranslatable into any other medium. Much like Jacques Derrida’s ash or Zen, the quiet and the sacred have no way of speaking for themselves other than personal experience.
So, personal experience is what we must seek out. It’s personal and rare, so unlike what’s easily accessible (the web), it’s valuable.
But your life needs one. Your existence needs a purpose. For now, I have one. It helps me think about the future and will give me time to think and consider what’s important.
You should have a quest for the same reason. You should feel like you’re a part of something bigger, and that you’re going somewhere. You should feel like you have challenges to overcome, things that might even feel insurmountable.
It may interest you to do something like what I’m doing– or you may find it boring. You may have some inkling of what your quest should be, or you might have no idea. It might be crazy and amazing to others, or it might be entirely mundane to them. No matter, because it’s your quest, not theirs.
It doesn’t need to impress anyone but you.
Paul Nicklen goes to the coldest, most miserable parts of the world to photograph and document the animals that live there.
Brett Rogers makes documentaries about rivers by traveling down them in non-motorized craft.
The examples above are just from TED conferences I’ve attended this year, they weren’t hard to find or anything.
But isn’t it interesting how the examples I mentioned all came from people going to tough natural environments? If you’ve been here a while, you probably already know this about me. I love nature, earthworks and endurance. It’s all right up my alley.
You probably have stuff that’s similar. Do you remember what it is? Often, ideas like these are so buried that you have no idea what you actually care about anymore. Or, you do remember, but don’t realize how long it’s been since you thought about it.
So how do you find something you care about so much you’re willing to take a break from your regular life? In the end, that’s what this is about– finding something that’s so great, you want to take a break from your regular life to do it. Work, the web, your neighbourhood, whatever it is, if you feel like you’d love it more (or as much), you’re on the right track.
You can do this by performing certain exercises– removing boundaries like money, dependents, or the amount of possessions you have. Some people say you should write ideas down until you cry.
But this isn’t about finding your one great idea. It’s only about taking one single step forward, which is much easier.
Quests in movies always go the same way. The hero is seeking enlightenment, or vengeance, or peace. He has to find someone to teach him. He seeks out this person on the top of a mountain or desert– that is to say, a hard place to find. This is a metaphor for how we find clarity and learn new things. It’s hard.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. The stories in our lives inspire us because they are foundational to who we are. And we learn from them what steps we should take in own quests, and where we should go next from where we are.
Joseph Campbell listed a these steps in the Hero’s Journey. Have you ever seen them?
Where are you in here? Do you recognize yourself? Most people get stuck around number 3. Some are later, but not many. Are you one of them? If so, why are you refusing?
Are you stuck at number 7? This is your darkest hour, when you feel that you should give up and quit. It’s another major departure point from the quest, but in order to complete it, you have to go forward. It’s also what Seth Godin calls The Dip, but it’s universal. Have you been tested? Did you succeed?
Some people are at number 1 and have never considered anything outside the corridor they have lived in. Do you know any of them? Well, here’s a secret– most people who seem this way are in fact not here at all. Almost everyone is actually on a quest; they’ve just refused it, or have forgotten it. A temporary sidetrack.
Oops, it’s backwards. Ha, the message actually works better that way.
Look, your life has patterns, or corridors, that you need to know in order to become better. You feel pain when you leave the corridor because it is the unknown. In fact, pain might even be a signal that you are on the right track. But in order to see, you need to know what your patterns are– both good and bad.
If you have nothing better to do than spend time on Facebook or hang out at the old bar, your life may need some serious adjustment. If you don’t care about what you’re doing from day to day, or if every day seems like the last, then your whole life will be like this. You have refused the quest. You are done.
With growth and flexibility comes life; with rigidity comes death. This is a truth that expands to all living things. Your body knows this, so you should too.
The easy is not worth doing; only the hard is. It is your exposure to the new should become the norm, and your return to the old should be comfortable, but brief.
Seth Godin recently told me by email that the most important time in any project is the point at which you decide, unequivocally, that it will ship. Before that, it’s just an idea you toy around with.
Think of a relationship. Things are beautiful and perfect when they are new or aren’t real yet– but that’s precisely because they don’t exist. Once they become real, they get messy. That’s what happens when something goes from the imagination to actual existence.
Ideas, in fact, aren’t worth much. Everyone has them, even geniuses, but only those who deliver have an impact, and only those who know themselves are able to deliver.
Act as if you are stupid. Read in order to learn something, then act as if you’re stupid again and read more to make see if you’re right. Then go out into the world. Assume you will fail, but accept it, because it will make you less stupid.
Think this paragraph is funny? Well, it is, but it’s also true. What we know is vastly dwarfed by what we do not, but we act as if the patterns we recognize are all that life is or can be. This is wrong– this is actual stupidity.
If you want to be smart, you have to begin by being stupid. The hard part is staying that way.
A few months ago, a friend pointed me to this essay from Julian Assange’s old website. I remember thinking a lot about it. He had a quest, and in a way, it doesn’t matter what it was. It only mattered that, when he really looked at himself, he was doing what he thought was best for the world.
Good for the world, but not the way that people think Reaganomics is good for the world. The way that children think it.
Because, if you have a quest, then all of the suffering makes much more sense.
If you have a goal, then a lot of the actions you need to take become much clearer.
Even if your goal isn’t perfect, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s better– even 5% better.
You feel like you are a part of something. You feel like you will come back and be transfigured, and that people will see you differently.
But in fact, you will be more yourself than you ever were.
This is my 1000th post on this blog. I’m pretty proud of it.
I remember when I started in 2003, I didn’t think I was a writer at all. I did podcasts because I considered myself a verbal person. Well, I’ve changed.
When I began, I wrote bullshit, self-interested posts that were based on people thinking that my life and myself were interesting. On my show, I played a bunch of hip-hop music. It turned out that what people wanted to hear were my opinions. So I talked more.
The result, I guess, is where I am now.
This blog is now about growth. I’ve said I’d like to be unrecognizable in five years. I’d also like the same for you.
So I’d like you to subscribe. Why? Because quests are important. Top 10 and Twitter posts are not, but they are loud, so they seem that way. Often, the stuff that’s important is quiet. It isn’t obvious.
Your quest is quiet but important. So is mine. Hopefully, we’ll learn something, chat about it, and help each other along.
I have to leave the house right now so I’m going to publish this post early. It is not polished, but I think the ideas are strong. If that means it gets ignored, whatever.
I am not a real investor– just a writer who wants to survive from one bubble to the next.
But today, I am pretty confident a social crash is coming. Whether you agree or not, it’s important that you read this.
We think all of this social stuff is building value for us– building wealth for some and just well-being for others. This is somewhat true– but I suspect we are overvaluing what it can do for us– most of us anyway.
It is true that there is a massive population going social online, but this growth might just be building value for established companies like Facebook. A few of us are making money off of it, but many people are at the bottom of this pyramid and will be left without anything to show for it at the end.
Because most people are not financially invested in this space, the bubble will not leave people broke. But it will leave people thinking they’ve wasted a few years of their lives.
If you’re like most people, you did not start here early, which means you’re closer to the bottom of the pyramid than the top. So it’s possible you’re being had.
But I want you to avoid this, and I will endeavour here to show you how.
But first, why.
“Friends” are valueless. Well, maybe. I’ve written before that audience is an asset, but is it really? Most of your “friends” on Facebook, if you’re a typical social media douche, will never do anything for you except social proof your popularity, an effect which is blunted over time anyway as more people realize the reality of the situation.
I view the hyperinflation of friends the same way I see the valuation and false growth of companies based on inflated/purchased ComScore traffic stats. They convince those with money to spend, or those not savvy enough to tell the difference. But eventually valuations become so unreasonably high that they are unbelievable to even the uneducated.
This collective “A-ha!” moment is when the bubble bursts. It’s when we all call bullshit on online friends, comments, and connections as a reason to know someone– online, that is.
Most startups have no business model. I worked for a startup in the late 90’s with a great idea but no business model or revenue (it was an early Google Maps type thing). It was very interesting but the decline was evident. The model was clearly to get bought.
I had a discussion with an angel/VC type the other day who is very smart. I asked him why people do this instead of, say, real estate. One of his answers was “ego.”
I think another may be that people now feel that anyone can do it. This collective sentiment is based on watching regular guys be able to develop massive followings, but it’s common to all bubbles to find an “anyone can do it” mentality. Think housing, dot-com, and many others.
Everyone is looking for the “next” Facebook or Twitter. This is probably the question I get the most often from conference attendees, as many of you probably know. Possibly many of you are looking for it or are trying to build it. God bless you and I hope you do well.
But it’s likely that the “next” anything will not be social at all.
What’s really interesting is that Facebook, Twitter, etc actually benefit from this inflation. Their valuations are not public and therefore don’t impact the public at large, but those of us inside here will definitely feel it, especially if we work in the space.
Now to the next question. How do you avoid a crash?
You must exit. This means convert to cash.
Your assets must be diversified. You cannot sit there with your Twitter expertise– you, and your company, must do more.
Your assets must be real. They must be outside this space– or if they’re in it, they must provide actual profit.
If you do not have the ability to do any of these things, your personal stock may plunge– soon.
There are those who know how to really turn networks into an income stream, by the way. They are called SALESPEOPLE.
Do you consider yourself a salesperson? This is not most of us. Most people are anxious about turning weak ties into money, but for some, it may be necessary.
So your options are to step out, or to learn to create value from what you have built by stretching your social contract to include selling to them.
Final note. During the dot-com bubble, some very interesting people emerged. I think of Frank Schilling, who is quoted as saying that, after the dot-com crash, everyone just went back to using the internet every single day. And this is where Frank picked up over 300,000 dropped, and valuable, domain names– while everyone thought they were valueless.
Now, he lives in the Cayman Islands earning… well, let’s just say a lot.
There will always be people who survive crashes, or who grab undervalued assets and use them effectively to make a killing, one way or another.
But there are many more people who think “everything will be fine” and who walk along with people all the way off the cliff.
The choice as to which kind you will be, of course, is yours.
Have you ever thought about how difficult it is to actually hurt yourself?
I don’t mean a paper cut. I mean something that’s disgusting to look at, where you’re at risk for death. What would it take?
In this society, it’s very difficult. We are safe. And even if we are hurt, plastic surgery, free medical care (sorry, Americans), and medicine means we’ll recover instead of dying of an infection.
The only injuries we’re accustomed to in today’s society are not acute injuries, but chronic injuries caused by things like food, stress, etc.
Any world where cancer is a serious risk is extremely safe, because it means many people are living for as long as it takes to get cancer.
We’re in an eternal cradle. It’s very difficult to die, or to be seriously injured.
Think of the way we treat children, versus how they were treated 20 years ago. We have all been eternally infantilized.
I thought about this the other week as I spent time in Thailand with Julie Angel, one of the top parkour documentarians in the world. Watch her videos and ask yourself whether anyone would do them in a world where they were in serious danger of dying from an injury. Stunt men are willing to do their jobs because being on fire is now reasonably safe.
Think about that.
Instead, our cultural environment creates other risks. Being broke, dying alone, not fulfilling your potential– these exist because we are no longer concerned with being devoured by predators or afraid of starving. But these are risks that are significantly less severe, and much easy to recover from.
It’s possible to seriously hurt yourself, but only if you’re alone– when people can’t come to your rescue, or won’t, because you fulfill a social role that doesn’t get help. (Drunk Japanese businessmen and the homeless, for example.)
This culture creates media like Fight Club, which is revered because people are looking for authenticity and real risk which they can’t get inside of the system. So, they go looking outside of it.
You risk more, because consequences are diminished.
Peaks stay high, but valleys are reduced… for those who use the valleys to their advantage.
If you think this isn’t relevant to you, because physical culture isn’t a part of your life, you’re wrong.
In this world, you cannot die in any environment.
You cannot die socially because the social fabric smoothes over most mistakes with time.
You cannot die on the web because failure is cheap and the worst that happens is obscurity.
We are in a world where the chance of permanent, uncorrectable failure has dropped to zero.
We think failure is forever. Wrong.
We think embarrassment can’t be recovered from.
We think losing is the end of the world.
You can cover up a bad tattoo. You can heal a broken bone. You can get into another relationship. You can move to a new city.
You can recover from anything. No mistake is forever and most are easier to recover from than you think they are.
Below, write down the first act you will take as your new self– the one that cannot die and for which failure is insignificant.
Have it be something you are seriously afraid of. Something that makes your heart beat fast.
Then, after you’ve written it down, do it.
I did a quick interview the other week with Chris Garrett, which he posted here.
The comments got me thinking. The people who read Chris Garrett’s blog are not our tribe, they’re a different kind of people. Seekers maybe. Maybe more pro-blogger types. Either I didn’t express myself properly, or my message is not what I want it to be to the outside world.
The statement which was the most repeated was “fear is not pointless.” Of course it isn’t– it is a real phenomenon that needs to be thought about. You and I know that fear isn’t stupid, but it doesn’t stop us from being anxious even though it might not make sense to feel it.
Let’s be honest here. We live in the lap of luxury. Our world is safer than it’s ever been, even with the false specter of terrorism, and the somewhat distant threat of global warming, in our vicinity. The things we’re anxious about have more to do with what our boss will say on his yearly report than anything really risky.
This sort of anxiety, the kind we feel everyday about going to a party where we don’t know anyone, or about quitting the job we hate– this fear isn’t real the way that being chased by a bear is real. It’s imaginary. It’s an illusion. If you’ve quit a job before, or you’ve walked into a few parties, you know this. You realize the core of it: in almost all circumstances where we feel anxious, we’re actually going to be totally fine.
This is why we need to not give into this kind of anxiety. It’s clear that it isn’t comfortable, but if we don’t get past it, we’ll feel it next time, and the time after that. Next thing we know, we’ll be like Pavlov’s dogs and be afraid to even step next to the thing that we’re afraid of. We’ll get even more distant than we were, because we’ll try to avoid the feeling itself. This is automatic. It’ll happen even if we don’t think about it.
The alternative– the “safe” alternative in the sense that it understands the illusory nature of much of these threats, is to move through the fear like a waterfall, get a bit cold in the process, and emerge at the other side. Doing this as often as possible means that we’ll understand the nature of these emotions and be able to assess them realistically instead of jumping to conclusions. We realize we’ll be able to handle it because we’ve been through it before.
This is the “risky” path. It feels risky, and it is different than what most people do. But it isn’t stupid. It doesn’t say “ignore all fear. Jump off the cliff, fuck it.” Instead, it helps you come to grips with what really happens when you do this, and learn from it instead of taking it on faith.
We, as seekers, do not take the stupid path. We do take the risky path. There is a huge difference– one is insane. The other is logical and extremely sane. We know this, and because we do, we carry on.
Julien wrote a post a few weeks ago that breaks down the essential elements of any success story: Cultural Transparency ÷ Risk = Upward Mobility.
Hopefully this guest post can help expand on the idea and enable you pursue what’s important to you.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking since reading that post: it’s a lot easier to take risks if you have less to lose.
It doesn’t matter if your goal is to spend a few months gatejumping, or you’re putting all of your effort into achieving escape velocity. If you have a lot to lose, you’ll inevitably sabotage yourself, leading to failure and an inevitable return to the status-quo.
Alright, so how do you position your life so you have less to lose?
It’s almost deceptively simple: eliminate life overhead to enable success.
Most people get out of college, get a day job that pays a little more than they need to survive and then proceed to accumulate as much as possible as quickly as they can. The house with too many rooms, the new car every two years, new gadgets every three weeks, and an entertainment system the size of their living room wall.
There’s nothing wrong with this picture for most people. This is what they’ve been told they want, so they buy into that system.
The thing is, maintaining a life like that becomes expensive quite quickly. All too soon you have the be making $6,000 a month in order to keep all of your expensive plates spinning.
Being required to spend that much is a 100% guarantee that you’ll never take risks again, and thus will stay comfortably stuck in your current place in society with no upward mobility.
In order to escape this reality, you need to opt-out (maybe even temporarily) in order to be able to take the risks you need to take in order to build a better life.
How do I know this? Because I did it. One year ago I was trapped in a job that bored me, in a city I was tired of, working 40-50 hours per week for a paycheck that barely covered my expenses. So, naturally I quit in order to pursue living a location independent life. One year later I live and work from anywhere and I’ve doubled my income.
Obviously you might not care much for living and working from anywhere, that’s just one goal. You might want to write a book, train to be a yoga teacher, or make time to go to the beach more often.
So many people fail at it for one simple reason: when they quit the job they don’t eliminate their life overhead. This makes it impossible to take risks.
If your life costs $6,000 a month, and you suddenly quit your job to pursue what’s important to you, you’ll quickly drown. If your life costs $1,000 a month, you’ll be able to risk it all in order to build a better life.
It all comes down to flexibility in lifestyle choices in order to study cultural transparency and take risks. If you aren’t flexible, you can’t make the changes you need to adapt to a new world.
How to reduce your life overhead in order to succeed at risk taking.
1. Track and then eliminate all unessential spending. Everything needs to go. Sell your house, your car, move to a walkable city with public transportation (yes, these places exist.) Stop shopping for stuff you don’t need, buying things won’t make you happy anyway.
2. Eliminate all obligations. Time is your number one asset, and you can’t risk it if you’re constantly busy doing things you don’t care about. Tell everyone that you have too much going on and you need to stop doing so much, repeat for everything until you have an open schedule.
3. Start dedicating your time to achieving what’s important to you. Learn about harnessing success systems by studying the cultural transparency that’s becoming more accessible to everyone because of the Internet. Then, start investing your 100% free time to taking the risks necessary to move to the next level.
Once you do these things the question becomes so much easier. Why not take risks? You have nothing to lose.