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How to Change Your Life: An Epic, 5,000-Word Guide to Getting What You Want

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Downey

Everybody talks about it. Nobody does it.

If I’ve learned anything about the world by my age, it’s that most of the world, myself included, is composed of talkers, not doers.

There are very few exceptions to this rule. The good news is, you can be one if you want.

The ability to act is not something you’re born with. Change is a skill you can learn– as long as you have the guts to actually do it.

I’ve changed a lot in my life, but it’s not because I’m special. I just created special circumstances. Whatever you want is usually easier to get than you think, as long as you are willing to adapt and do what is necessary.

Now, most posts of this nature will give you little tips, maybe even 100 tips, in the hope that you’ll be impressed by how large the list is and just tweet the hell out of it. They do this because it works (my last one is currently getting 40,000 visits a day from Stumbleupon actually), but writing of that type also usually appeals to those who want simple answers, and that’s not what I’m interested in right now.

So I’ve decided to make this post ridiculously long instead. It weighs in at almost 5,000 words. You may want to go make some coffee.

By the way, I’m also going to say that I’m not going to be writing about this stuff for much longer. I’m starting to get referred to as a “self-help” guru, and honestly, I don’t like it at all. I also began to realize that once you start to talk about success, instead of be successful, you become a talker, and not a doer, which is counter to what I’m trying to do in life.

I’m starting to figure out that the way your time should be spent is largely like a pyramid, with a wide base of learning, with a smaller level of acting on top of it, which is directed by the learning, and then on top of that, an even smaller level of writing about it. If you begin to live your life differently than the pyramid should be built, it becomes unbalanced and topples over. But that’s another subject entirely.

Anyway, the point is, I can’t just snap my fingers and change you– nor would I want to if I could. But what I can do is give you guys a real primer on how change is done. This would be the learning part, as said above, but then you’ll need to go ahead and act in order for any change to occur. So I added in homework assignments. As long as you know this, and you’re willing to actually do them, then we can go forward.

Take the following as one guy’s experience, along with the proverbial grain of salt.

1. How to break bad patterns

The entire human brain is a complex pattern-recognition system that, at one point, was largely there to help you survive and reproduce. Patterns were recognized to help you react properly to a new stimulus, which kept you alive long enough to have as many kids as possible (after which, you could basically die as far as your genes were concerned).

The problem is, that’s no longer our biggest priority, at least as far as the conscious mind is concerned. Now we want to write books, and we want six-pack abs with only 4 hours of gym time, blah blah. We want to know ten languages and have a gorgeous, smart and successful significant other, etc. etc. Oh yeah, and we want to be happy.

The problem is that our whole brain is still largely designed to keep you alive until puberty, and then, when that moment happens you’re like “I’m a man” or whatever, your brain’s job is to get you to reproduce as often as possible, doing your part in the long-standing, subconscious war to stay in the gene pool.

In other words, your conscious brain is trying to do one thing, while the rest of your brain is trying to do another. Our brain is now maladapted to our goals, and its patterns are hard to break because, 100,000 years ago, learning about the world meant just surviving, which was fairly easy, and once that was under control, you could stop learning entirely because the forest you lived in wasn’t going to be changing anytime soon.

Now, our world is changing all the time, and in order to change ourselves, we need to ease into and embrace the coming chaos. Those that are most comfortable with change for change’s sake will adapt better to the future, and you can only get good at change by trying to do it, in small ways, on purpose.

In other words, you have to try and break your patterns and build new habits around them, constantly, because that’s how the world now works. You also have to gather infrastructure around you that helps you do this, because your brain is simply not built for it.

This, by the way, is central to my thinking about challenge, and how your reactions to any bet or dare will shape your future. You need to get good at challenges– in other words, at reacting to unexpected stimulus– if you are going to be capable of change.

Now, I know that some people would say that people’s problem with change is fear– I know that some people would argue that it’s the number one thing stopping most people– but I don’t actually think that’s true, on a conscious level. I think most people’s primary problems is that they literally forget to keep doing the thing they wanted to do. “Dammit,” they think, “I wanted to write today. I forgot. Oh well, tomorrow’s another day.” And then they forget tomorrow and they day after, and it’s all shot to hell until next New Year’s. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

So while fear is a problem, building a habit of doing things that need to be done, whether you like them or not, is often a good first step. Let’s start by listing some ways to do that.

Find the moment where you have the most energy. For me this is usually early in the morning. I have a dog, so I may walk him, or my girlfriend may, but I keep all the lights turned off, launch Freedom on my computer (as it is on right now) and then write for one hour. I have no goal but to sit down and do it. This takes the pressure off. I know that if I don’t do it before I do anything else, it just doesn’t happen. I learned this the hard way.

Do the hardest things first. The way life works is that easy things will get done anyway. You look at your list of stuff and think, “what is going to be the most difficult thing to do?” If you work on this one first, you’ll discover that your day will get easier, and the rewards will get better as time goes on. So the first thing is hard, but next is easier, and then easier still, and so on until you have the most fun doing the easiest things on your task list.

Have a list of 5 things you want to do, maximum. Don’t start with 5 world-changing acts, though. Begin with one and do it for as little time as you can so it gets done. I know that Zenhabits recommends you start with 5 minutes a day, but I’ll often start with 15 or 30 minute chunks. It’s how I started drawing again, 10 years after dropping out of art school.

The goal is not to succeed. It is just to sit and do it. As I’ve said before, ugly is just a step on the way to beautiful. If you sit down and expect anything, you will freeze up. So just sit down with no expectations. Like the gym– the goal is just to go and do your best, not to deadlift 500 pounds, but to lift just a little more than last time. And even if you failed at that, it’s fine, because you’ll be doing it again next week. No rush. Just sit down and begin.

Homework assignment 1. I know you guys like homework, so here’s something for you to do right now. List the 5 most important things you can do to improve your day. Then, place them in order of difficulty, starting with the hardest. Next, set your alarm right now at one hour earlier than you’re used to waking up, and begin tomorrow morning with the hardest task you have.

DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.

2. How to get back up again

While you are building habits, it is 100% certain that you will be failing, not just a few times, but often. This is because you’re doing new things, and new things are by definition hard to do.

But the point is never to look back at past failures, and even not to sulk in current ones, but to say “I’m going to start again right now.” In other words, it’s not about this current attempt and its success and failure. It’s about the process of doing it again no matter how horrible the previous attempt was.

I’m sure you know from experience that one of the most difficult things to deal with when making new habits is the realization that you have screwed up. A few days ago I was going out for a friend’s birthday and I was thinking “Ok, well I only have one more thing to do. I still have time though, I’ll do it later.” God, it’s amazing how often I still believe my own bullshit.

I know that, from reading this blog, some people seem to think that I am some paragon of industriousness. This is so far from the truth that it’s laughable. I’m actually one of the laziest people I know. I have the most excuses, among the most horrible habits of anyone I know, and I am sure that, in an alternate universe somewhere, I am either homeless, a janitor, or dead. I am not exaggerating. That I’ve gotten through all this is somewhat of a miracle.

I say this because I want you to know that I am not unlike you, and that you are not alone in your horribleness. We’re pretty much the same, I just happen to be observant enough to have learned a few lessons. One of the big ones is that I am no longer as concerned with failure.

The only real difference between you, the one that does nothing, and you the super successful multi-millionaire, is that the other guy gets up over and over again, like a boxer in the ring that needs to win the fight.

In life, you can just get knocked down and stay down forever with no real impending deadline. In sports, you can’t. There is a timer, and you can hear it as you are failing, and the only option is to get back up again. Since life does not work this way, I have taken an alternate stance, which is that no one is watching or even gives a damn. My failure is inconsequential and silent, so I can fail over and over again in my little cave while no one is watching, and then as I get better, I can get more public about my efforts and do better.

Produce horrible material on purpose. Whatever your work is, perfectionism is a killer. You just sit there thinking “I’m horrible at this,” totally paralyzed, unable to continue. *****

Give yourself several chances in a day. I read the book 18 Minutes earlier this year and it gave me a great tip to help me get up over and over again. I set up a timer now using the RE.minder app for iPhone that pings me once an hour to ask “Are you being productive?”

Realize that there are no consequences. Almost everything that sucks stays in the draft stage anyway, and the stuff that doesn’t (and is public) has almost no social consequences at all. I have a friend who’s one of those dating coaches, and he always says that the perceived social consequences of talking to strangers is always WAY worse than actually doing it. Whatever errors we make are diluted into the fabric of society, so the larger the fabric is, the smaller the error seems.

Homework assignment 2. Carry around a smartphone, or alarm, that reminds you every hour (9 to 5) to get your ass back to work. Sit down first thing in the morning and write, draw, go to the gym, or create something, no matter how bad the result is. Do it for a given time period, begin before you stress out about it, and continue until the anxiety has subsided.

DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS. SERIOUSLY.

3. How to handle fear

Ok, we’ve gotten past the basic stuff.

You’ll notice so far that what we’ve been talking about is largely an issue of philosophy. The first assumption is something along the lines of: “You are naturally weak. If you want to become strong, use society’s infrastructures and your own willpower to strengthen the structure around you.”

The second conclusion you come to is: “If you fall, the environment you fall into is safer than it has ever been. If life was at one point nasty, brutish, and short, it is now long, diplomatic, and peaceful. Failing is therefore easier. So is getting back up.”

If you follow these, the next conclusion must therefore become “I have a structure around me to make things easier than they’ve ever been. And even when they are hard and I fail, nothing much happens. So there is really no reason for me to be afraid at all.”

I’ve actually written a whole free book about this (that you should download!) so I won’t elaborate, but one reason that many people can’t change is because they simply can’t handle the flinch– a reflexive almost physiological response to exiting the safe zone. This may happen even though they know, consciously, that their safe zone is huge. In this case, it’s not the conscious mind that matters. It’s the emotional one.

So you have to start convincing your emotional brain that beating the flinch is no big deal, and you can only really do this by having visited the other side. In other words, the intellectual part of the equation will only get you so far.

You can’t just think it. You need to feel it.

How do you do this? Each person’s methods will differ. I can tell you that having epileptic seizures, getting tattooed, pierced, and branded over and over again from the age of 18 until now (32), helped a lot. I can tell you that learning to talk to strangers helped a lot, as does (badly planned) travel, which helps me deal with unexpected circumstances as they arise. The more you leap into the unknown, the more you discover that the unexpected is rarely something you need to actually worry about. You ease into surprises and learn to deal with them as they come instead of reflexively avoiding them.

As you discover this, you’ll see that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a virtuous circle that builds confidence upon confidence in layers, like armour or calluses.

But each type of armour is actually quite specific. You don’t lose your fear of getting jumped unless you prepare for getting jumped beforehand, and you don’t lose social anxiety unless someone teaches you what to do, and what not to do.

So losing the flinch isn’t just about jumping into the unknown; it’s also about learning what technique works in the new environment you’re leaping into. Swimming helps you deal with being in the water, but nowhere else, while fighting helps you learn to deal with fights, etc.

Write down the worst case scenario. I picked this one up from Tim Ferriss. While you’re in a safe place (i.e. not under pressure), look at what’s going to happen and ask yourself what the worst possible conclusion is. You ask someone out, they say no, or worse, maybe they laugh. You’re embarrassed, and in a few days you’re over it and laughing with your buddies. Or, you ask for a raise and your boss says no.

Recognize that pain evaporates quickly. The brain is wired to associate pain with death. Most pain, however, is insignificant and doesn’t last– either it vanishes quickly or, in the off chance where it’s longer-lasting, it’s dull and can easily be ignored. Realize that pain is a temporary, vestigial reaction created by evolution in an environment where a single scrape could mean death by infection. Then recognize that we have antibiotics and move forward anyway.

Deal with discomfort as it comes; don’t predict it. As I write this I have turned my internet connection off with an app called Freedom. I do this because it makes me more productive, but I also notice that being disconnected from the web feels awkward, and it makes me way more nervous than I should. I keep thinking “when is my hour up,” or “I’ll just check my phone,” etc., because this process of writing for one hour (minimum) per day leaves me struggling to find things to talk about. But it also means that I’m getting better at discomfort, every day, the same way you adjust to a cold shower after a few seconds of being in the water. And as the hour finishes, I can feel myself internally saying “thank God it’s over.” Now think about this: if I can’t deal with that tiny discomfort, how will I deal with anything else that happens out in the real world?

Homework assignment 3. Find several daily practice that makes you uncomfortable. Go to the gym and put yourself (safely) under as much weight as possible. Meditate every day for as long as you can stand it– no email, no phone, no clock– until your alarm says you can get up. Start with ten minutes and do it right after your biggest task of the day (as discussed above).

YEP… DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.

4. Raise all hurdles.

I’m going to guess that, in your social circle, you don’t have that many people you hang out with that make you feel like utter, worthless garbage. I don’t mean a psychotic ex or something, I mean someone that is working harder than you, has more money than you, is happier and better with people than you, all that stuff.

A lot of change has to do with watching your blind spots. Returning to old habits is easy when you have no one watching you, calling you on your bullshit when you fall back into your old ways of thinking. You need someone, or many people, who’ll call you on it, who will tell you the truth when you need to hear it. If this is someone you hire, that’s fine, and if it’s someone close to you, like your spouse or friend, that’s fine too. But they have to be able to both tell you the truth, help you raise the bar, and be in your corner at the same time. This is not an easy person to find.

About a month ago my friend Mitch and I got together for sushi. He told me that it’s rare, for people at his level (and mine) to have someone call him out, to tell him he’s wrong. I feel the same way. People around you don’t want to rock the boat, but if you’re like me, you’re surrounded by supporters and no one is telling you you’re not good enough– which is actually what you want to hear. This, by the way, is why I love that I’m going to TED this month. Simply put, I know that five days of feeling like garbage about my accomplishments will do wonders for me.

Anyway, the point of this was that, the next day after I called him on his BS, as he had asked, he produced a 15,000-word book proposal. It was almost instantly sold to Hachette by our agent and became this book.

So the question is, what would it take for you to produce that much amazing material, that fast?

Stay in over your head at all times. If you’ve ever wondered why my blog has the name that it does, you now have your answer. “In over your head” should be the state you are always reaching towards– not knowing entirely what you’re doing, having taken on too much, being too ambitious because you’ve made ridiculous promises, etc. All these things are good because they will make you extremely resourceful. You need to find ways to over-promise so that you begin to freak out, at least a little.

Have regular meetings with people way above your level. I just got introduced to Paulo Coelho via my co-author Chris Brogan. I love his work, as many do, but unfortunately doesn’t make me feel like garbage because he is so above my level that I can’t even relate to his experience and success. So while I’m extremely pleased to be speaking to him (stay tuned for that), in terms of raising the bar, it doesn’t quite cut it.

What you need are people that are close enough to your level, in age, intelligence, and resources, but who have done much more with them. When I remember that Gary Vaynerchuk is only 35, for example, now that makes me feel like garbage. When Mitch gets more speaking engagements than I do, same thing. When Greg is flying to New York (again) to meet high-up VCs to get his company sold, and I suddenly remember that he’s fucking 23 years old, that makes me feel like garbage. So find people like this. Buy them lunch if you have to, whatever it takes.

Incidentally, I’d like to mention that accomplishments alone can’t carry you. After a while, I have a feeling you’ll get burned out on them– that the bar will get raised so high, and you’ll have done so much, that you simply don’t care anymore and just want to produce good work. That is a good thing, of course, and you shouldn’t just be driven by accomplishments, but it genuinely does help me, so that’s why I’m telling you that.

Expose yourself to ideas you don’t understand. People often write or produce ideas and then don’t draw them to their logical conclusion. You can often see people trying to emulate the Seth Godin style of post, for example, because they think that style works since he’s the most popular marketing blogger, etc. But the reality is that these people are having simple ideas, writing them down and going “wow! I’m done,” when they’ve in fact just begun.

Ryan Holiday wrote a post a while ago which is relevant here (see How to digest books above your level). This is important because pushing things past their usual end point is the only way you will ever come across conclusions that others haven’t yet had. Last week I spoke to Gad Saad, who basically invented evolutionary psychology as it relates to consumer behaviour, by combining ideas that had been discussed elsewhere but had simply not been put together before. His work is considered a breakthrough in the understanding of how human beings make buying decisions.

Homework assignment 4. Start reading more. Read biographies of people you have heard of and respect– not necessarily Nobel laureates or geniuses, but people who are like you that you respect. If you’re from Iowa, pick someone else from Iowa. If you’re a web entrepreneur, find people at your level but that have done more with it.

DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ UNTIL YOU HAVE DONE THIS.

5. Change is cyclical.

We’ve come almost full circle at this point. You’ll notice that once your bars get raised, and you can build habits that help construct new skill sets to help you reach them, you will continue to expand your horizons exponentially compared to where they were used to.

I wrote this post, by the way, by using the exact set of things I wrote about here. I could not have written 5,000 words about this without having a daily writing habit. I could not have finished it without being ok with seeing this post fall flat (which it might). I’m ok with it falling flat because I have seen posts I have worked hard on fall flat before, and besides a little disappointment, I did not die… I was fine.

But you can definitely see the process, now, of how normal people become extraordinary through changing their behaviour alone. Then, after behaviour changes, the mind usually changes with it, leading to more confidence, which expands your reach even further, etc, all in a giant cycle.

The sad part about all this is that some people simply are not willing to put themselves inside the system to make it happen. Most people feel as if they are doing it, but they often are not. What they really need to be doing is stop listening to themselves as if they knew what was best for them. The reality is, they don’t. Only when you recognize this can you make change happen.

Conclusion

Ok, this is all fine and good, but the final question is, what should you really be changing towards? Maybe you’re not happy with where you are, and you want to go somewhere else, but why do you even want to go there? What’s the goal, and will you be happier when you get there? You don’t know, so you may not want to change.

I suspect that the real answer to this is that it simply does not matter where you go. Remember, you’re not looking to be perfect. You’re only looking for a small improvement over your current state, and as long as you’re ok with fumbling on your way there, you should just start moving immediately and deal with the decisions as they come.

With that in mind I should say that I really don’t know how to finish this post. It’s by far the largest post I’ve ever written, practically like a mini-book, and I’d just like to finish it so I can go ahead with my drawing, cleaning out my inbox, and everything else I need to do today before I can go out and see my friend Justin without any guilt on my mind.

So thank you very much for reading all the way through. I hope this helps. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer all of them. Oh, and please subscribe using the form below. Thanks. :)

* Filed by Julien at 3:19 pm under challenge, guide


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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94 Responses to “How to Change Your Life: An Epic, 5,000-Word Guide to Getting What You Want”

  1. Michal Palczewski Says:

    Anyone have a good android app that they use for homework #2. Maybe I’m not that good at finding one. If not, I’ll write one and put it up on the market for free.

  2. Caleigh Says:

    Change definitely is cyclical. I’m constantly reminding myself and others that when you ‘improve’ or ‘change’ yourself, you’re not necessarily working your way up a hierarchy of human beings, but turning yourself into a different colour. Which is why it’s so hard. Unless a person is a terrible slob with no friendly qualities and is a lazy bum there’s really nothing inherently wrong with that person. He/she wants to change for the sake of change. And a person with those mean, sloth, lazy qualities is almost certainly not going to want to improve or change him/herself.

    Improving or changing yourself is not like climbing up and down a ladder, but rather like picking your way through a package of Mr. Sketch Water Color Markers.

  3. Ken Brand Says:

    Thanks man. Cheers.

  4. thebeeobee Says:

    Thanks, JS. This post is exactly what I needed tonight.

    I use an Android phone so I ended up setting google calendar tasks for every hour that remind me to focus, and got the Google Notifier for my Mac so that I can growl alerts on my desktop.

    It’s going to be a good week!

  5. Adam Dukes Says:

    Thanks to Mitch Joel for Retweeting this. Awesome post! I have spent the last 30 minutes on your site reading some of your posts. I plan to spend most of the night here.

    Thank you!

  6. Merlene Says:

    Phew! As always Julien, after reading one your posts I want to lie back and smoke a cigarette (and I don’t smoke!).

    “I think most people’s primary problems is that they literally forget to keep doing the thing they wanted to do.”

    You nailed it right here for me. You know how they say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? I think I’ve paved it about 40 levels deep in both directions by now.

    I’ve begun thinking that the whole “forget to keep doing” bit is some sort of self sabotage play run by the sub-conscious mind.

  7. stephanie Says:

    Hi there ! awesome post, definitely going to make some changes in my day to day. It is very true that even though we know we want to change, we don’t do anything about it. But it is small stuff like this (I am referring to your post) that remind us of our forgotten goal and encourage us to move forward and pursue the change we want to make.
    Anyways, I was wondering which of Gad Saad’s books you would recommend

  8. Chris Hanson Says:

    Good advise, but you really have to want it bad or it won’t happen. Thanks for the guidance–all 5000 words.

  9. Someone Says:

    If I ran a word analysis on your article, most of the words would be negative. Say, for example, “not XYZ”, “do not”, “hurdle”, “pain”, “not happy”, “not perfect”, “fail”, “unfortunately”, “worst case scenario”, …

    What’s going on?

    I’d rather say: “Be the change. You are what you think you are. Smile (with crows feet) more often than you do.”

    Cheers. =)

    • Julien Says:

      If you think this post is negative (or that I talk in a negative way), you should read the book I just put out. I guarantee you it’s far worse than that.

      And yet, some people say it’s among the most uplifting books they’ve ever read. It makes me wonder how it’s even possible that “negativity” helps create a “positive” image.

      • Jackie Shelley (@jackinessity) Says:

        Maybe b/c sometimes, people need a kick in the rear more than cheerleading. There’s a book by Larry Winget, “It’s called WORK for a reason,” that once kicked my ass when I was really down, and probably saved me from a fairly deep depression. I was appreciative, and it wasn’t a super positive book, not in the sense of using positive wording… Different things for different times in our lives.

        I love “The Flinch.” Still processing. I’m reminded every time I -literally- flinch, before getting out of bed into the cold, getting in the shower, etc. It makes me think a lot about that reaction & what it means.

        Haven’t finished this one, but am intrigued by your recent work. Thanks for continuing to kick ass, literally and figuratively.

        J

    • T Says:

      I agree that the article is a bit negative, especially wanting the people around you to make you feel like crap. That would only lead to depression and low self esteem.

      I never understood why some people get jealous of friends and contemporaries of they have accomplished something. You should be proud of them. You want honest people around you, but any critisicm should be constructive, and not about making you feel bad. Your motivation should come from wanting to make yourself proud, instead of a negative space such as jealously of others or low self esteem (which is what the portion of the article comes off as).

  10. Justin Pintwala Says:

    This is a fantastic post!
    Wondering if you could expand on this line…
    “The sad part about all this is that some people simply are not willing to put themselves inside the system to make it happen”.
    By system are you referring to the process you list above? Many thanks.

  11. Emma Says:

    This is the longest blog post I’ve read in a long time. Normally I’m really put off if it’s going to take more than one minute to read but this info is so compelling and potentially life-changing I had to read it all.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to put this together in such an easy to digest way. Fabulous stuff. Loving your work!

    Emma

  12. Ralph Says:

    Solid advice and a lotta words. Slow reader (deliberate) so it took a while. I think I said this on another blog with a similar theme but the best advice I ever got was from my father-in-law (yeah, go ahead-laugh) who said if you want to increase your odds of being sucessful surround yourself with people more successful than you (and yes, I KNOW it’s subjective).

    Thanks again for the kick. Eventually it will sink in.

  13. Mars Dorian Says:

    Damn, another epic gun shot. Nice.
    I’m currently working on taking more action, and moving way beyond your comfort zone, and it’s challenging like hell.
    I live in a western country where nothing really bad can happen to me, but I’m still flinching.
    I’m looking for a personal mean, bastard-like mentor who really kicks my ass if I don’t follow through.

  14. JonathanZero Says:

    Thanks for this and thanks to CC Chapman for sending me here. It really is what I needed this morning.

  15. Mitch Joel - Twist Image Says:

    Let me just add one more word: YES!

  16. Robin Gerhart Says:

    Sending this out to friends who are struggling to make change, and of course to myself because I am making changes every day! Thank you for everything Julien! Glad the link the The Flinch is in this post for my friends too!

  17. Gillian Lanyon Says:

    This is awesome. Reading your posts is like having that rare lunch where someone calls you out, and it comes from a genuine place of them wanting you to expect more from yourself. Bookmarked.

  18. Katherine Bull Says:

    Good stuff. One thing I would challenge you on is that you’ve created special situations. Maybe..butI think you’ve probably recognized when there is a special opportunity. That’s hard to do. Paying attention is critical. It almost always results in something cool happening.

    A couple of small differences (very small) that work for me.

    If I’m avoiding something I have to do or feeling like I want to take a nap (I like to nap) or whatever, I do ONE easy task first. That helps me to finish something and gets my energy in the direction of the thing I don’t want to do or is really hard.

    It used to really mess me up to look around me and say “so-and-so is happier, richer, a better sibling, child, parent, lives a more exciting life..” On and on… It was totally depressing and kept me from reaching high. I started thinking “yeah, it may look like they are XX but what I see is not always reality.” Aren’t we always surprised when someone who appears to have an awesome life commits suicide? The way I look at it is everyone has their problems and demons so comparing myself in a negative way is stupid and utterly not motivating.

    Oh and then there’s internal guilt. Being raised Catholic helps me on this one. If I have something I need to do and I pick up a book to read instead, I can’t focus on the book. Finally I just think “Dammit, just do the work and then you can read the book.” That helps me.

    I like this discussion you’ve got going. I don’t see it as self-help though at all; I view it as a way to think about my life in a different way.

    Katherine

  19. Margie Clayman Says:

    Hi there Julien,

    So I was reading along, getting all inspired, and then you wrote that you are 32. That makes me older than you by a year. You have my unadulterated hatred :)

    I think the 30s actually are the absolute perfect time to figure things like this out. I don’t think it’s an accident that you have traveled along this particular path at this particular time. The funny thing is that there is such angst about turning 30. I know when I was 29 I was horrified at the fact I was about to turn 30. I didn’t have a husband, not to mention 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, or 1.5 dogs. I wasn’t a millionaire. What a bummer. I figured you had to have everything figured out by the age of 30, and I figured those markers were how you knew you had “made it.”

    Over the last year or so, I have come to realize that all of that thinking is most assuredly a product of the teenage years and into your 20s. It’s still the high school/college mentality of, “If I do x, then I have made it. If I don’t achieve x, then I probably suck as a human being.”

    Anyway, I think I could probably go on for 5,000 words, so I’ll stop here. You are fabulous and I am happy to know you.

  20. Bill Says:

    Thanks Julien,
    Feeling like garbage before i read all 5000 words and feel worse now. The success of my business requires business folks to be at least open to change. My challenge is for me to tell better stories to inspire change. Keep Pushin- Failure not an option.
    Again thanks for your refreshing slap. :)

  21. Rosemary ONeill Says:

    Dude. Long form blog posts blast the cobwebs out of our “top 10 ways…” smothered brains. Thanks also for the tipoff on RE.minder, I hadn’t seen it yet and it’s totally awesome.

    • Stu McLaren Says:

      “Long form blog posts blast the cobwebs out of our “top 10 ways…” smothered brains.” – I LOVE that… and it’s so true.

      We’ve become conditioned to consume the short, “tippy” type posts.

      This post was refreshing and although long, well worth the read.

  22. SHW Says:

    Excellent article. Will work on #2 which seems to be my largest failing.

    One thing – in #4, you write: “Last week I spoke to Gad Saad, who basically invented evolutionary psychology as it relates to consumer behaviour, by coming ideas that had been discussed…”

    Did you mean “*combining* ideas…”?

  23. Devon Dudeman Says:

    Like I said on FB, great fucking post, Julien! The only thing I didn’t care for was the part about exposing yourself to contemporaries that are more successful than yourself.

    That makes me feel like shit, and worse, makes me feel like a fuck up. Being 22, if I see another 22 year old like Greg, I feel like, “well, I’m a fuck up.” and it doesn’t really motivate me. I keep going nonetheless, but it doesn’t make me feel good.

    Anyway, it was a great read.

    • Julien Says:

      To each his own. Maybe it’s not Greg, but it could be people around you that are ambitious and helpful to you and keep you in check. Whatever kind of people they are make sure they challenge you and your self-perception.

  24. Dan Says:

    Julien,
    I love your posts, but hate reading them in the tiny space and format. For this article, I copied and pasted the whole post into an editor so that I could expand the visual space. Maybe I’m the only one who does this… I hope you will consider redesigning the UI of your site so that at least more vertical space can be used for reading. Maybe have the hardwood floor rest on the bottom of the page and have the white wall resize to fit your browser window?

    In any case, thanks for the great thinking and writing.

    A fan,

    Dan

  25. Meredith Says:

    I decided this semester to write for an hour daily from 8 to 9am, forcing myself out of bed in the morning when normally I’d sleep until ten. It’s been successful so far, and the writing gets easier every day.
    I get scared, though, when I think about my class load and all the writing and reading I have to do for that. How will I be able to work on my book regularly AND write three short stories for class AND write a fantasy book proposal for class AND ace my quizzes AND read the history of the world, while also maintaining a balanced social life and regular exercise.
    It scares me, but I know that if I work at it, I can handle it. Just one thing at a time. And I’m hoping to learn — like I did in soccer practice growing up — that I am capable of far more than I think.
    Thanks for the post. It was a good encouragement.

  26. Claude Oggier Says:

    Wow & my goodness. I finally came to the end of probably the longest blog post I have ever read. You just kept me going and I thank you for that Julien;-)

    Cheers,
    Claude

  27. Nassim Says:

    Julien…don’t worry you’re not a self-developement guru,you *just* have the fantastic ability to synthesize the knowledge you have into these kinds of article.
    So please just write !

    *sorry for my english…*

  28. Marcella Chamorro Says:

    I understand that the homework sections you posted here are not as rigorous as your usual mug-breaking because maybe this audience is less flinch-ready, but pushing the envelope further may have been something people could’ve benefited from. Starting small makes sense, but sometimes starting big can be even more motivating. If they read to the bottom of post, it’s probably a note they’re more flinch-ready than ever.

  29. Kelly Says:

    Hi Julien – you wrote a post we all need. I only read through the whole thing because I have completed all these steps to get where I need to be today – someone who primarily learns, and acts on those learnings, day-in, day-out. I developed these habits by trial and error, coming to the same conclusion as you regarding this “pyramid” where you spend a huge chunk of your time learning and consuming, another huge (but less huge) chunk acting on what you’ve learnt, and a rather small chunk writing about it.

    A couple things I think are insanely important – you should always act on something you love, if you know what that is. It really is the only thing that will keep you going when times get hard. Some people think that motivation and great habits automatically come with finding what you love. I disagree – you still require a commitment to pursue that which you love. All your words and advice still apply.

    The other thing – if you don’t know what you love, then your advice is the next best thing. Act and develop on ANYTHING. It doesn’t matter what. They will act as stepping stones towards finding your true passions and your true loves. Your “acts” will create a framework for success. Then, when you find what you love, or ready to commit to it, no matter how crazy it is, you will be ready.

    Thanks, Julien.

  30. Brandon Says:

    Julien, loved the read! My favorite line: “Deal with discomfort as it comes; don’t predict it”

  31. Usman Says:

    In essence, our minds are always telling us to go for the lazy option, so we should all just do the OPPOSITE of what our mind is telling us… again and again until we get the things that we really want to get done, completed :)

  32. Azzurra Camoglio Says:

    A lot of people don’t want to feel the pressure. Or to be scared. Or to have to take some risks. Not really.
    To change something means to feel the pressure, to be scared, to take risks, to fail. To learn. To be miserable, sometimes.
    And to grow up.

    They say “If I were (young / old / smart / rich / poor / alone / lucky) like you, then I could do xy…” but this is just an excuse.
    “Just do it”.

  33. Iain Duncan Says:

    This is a great article, and my first exposure to the blog. I challenge *you* to write more long ones, this is miles better than the short posts! =)

  34. Kaya Says:

    Thank you SO much for this post.

    I’ve had my coffee while reading this and I’ve taken notes, and written up action plans.
    Thank you, this is what I have needed.

    Kaya

  35. Allen Jay Mosley Says:

    Awesome!! I really got a ton out of it, especially the links that exposed me to other posts and people I had never heard of before. Thanks. Your Post is truly helpful to me because for the first time in my life I am purposely trying to FOCUS on my GOALS. One of which is to read more books or I should say read books period because I have never been one to read book, but I now for some reason have a burning interest to read as many books as I can. I think I heard someone say…can’t quite remember who that the top CEOs read around 60 books per year. That kinda made me go…I can do that. so the link to Ryan Holiday’s Post will be very helpful to me. By the way, I loved the FLINCH. It was the first book I read this year. Later. AJM

  36. Michelle Says:

    Challenge(s) accepted. Forever until the end of time. Also, the post didn’t even seem that long. Why are we so tl;dr – it’s terrible, really.

  37. David Salmon Says:

    Julien! Thanks for writing this – it comes at a time when my flinch is kicking my ass rampantly. Just signed up for the new MovNat Certification. I associate you with the challenges of MovNat (Montreal 2 day worksop), your blog is about just those things, and the Flinch addresses the same.
    So I am facing my fears and leaning into the sharp points (it all hurts, and my balance sucks).
    Also, a minor flinch I’ve just gotten through: commenting on blog posts. So you’re the first, ever!
    David

  38. Jeff Moore Says:

    Julien,

    I wanted to thank you for the well written advice, and for your willingness to share your ideas to help people achieve their goals and make themselves better.

    At our website, we really talk about change and how success is often determined by your ability to make key changes and adapt to the forces around you. Our ability to act and to change is what gives us the constant opportunity to work towards achieving true success. In the end one of the ultimate factors is our ability to make the right choices and to act.

    As anyone who wants to achieve success does, I read a lot of content on success each week. This article is well thought out, smart, and most of all the information you share is extremely effective if someone puts their mind around your suggestions and actually implement s them. Very well done! I really enjoyed the article, and so did our staff at http://www.topsuccesssite.com.

    This was our first time to your blog. We will
    recommend it to others. Thanks for some great insight put into a simple, smart, and effective format!

    By the way, thanks to Josh at http://www.theminimalists.com for tweeting this out.

    Jeff Moore
    C.E.O TopSuccessSite.com

  39. Christopher Says:

    It took me forever to read this post because I stopped to do all the shit you asked. I’m glad I did because I have an actionable plan and schedule now…bolstered by the software you mentioned. Nice one!

  40. Deena Says:

    The part about befriending people who make you feel like crap is so, so important. I wanted to share a little piece of my story.

    I worked my tail off in school since I can remember, and made it all the way to a graduate program at Stanford. I have grand visions of transforming the way we educate people in this country — we can do so much better, and I want to do studies that inform policy that helps push us there. I know this is my life’s purpose, and I thought this program was my ticket.

    I met my now-partner four months ago. At 29, he has a PhD, a few years as a CEO at a startup under his belt, and he scares me every day. When we met, I was grappling with the fact that I actually hate my grad program. (Since I started, I have been struggling with crippling anxiety and depression.) I took him to a social gathering to meet my colleagues. When we left, he took me by the hand and said without a touch of insincerity, “these people are not your intellectual peers.”

    I was floored. I spent most days the last two years assuming I am dumber than everyone, and that my ideas have no value. After all, this is STANFORD, and I must have tricked everyone to sneak in here! It took me some time, but I have come to see that he is right. My goal of social change is not going to happen in this particular program, I am not going to gain the skills the world needs.

    If I could stick it out a few more years, I would have a nice degree and be set for life, but once I realized that I am capable of more, it lost 100% of its appeal. No one at school understands why I am doing it, but I am dropping out of my program this year, and I am going to make my own path, where I can have more impact. The next steps are scary and uncharted, and I am so nervous lately that I throw up most days. But you know what? I am doing the right thing for myself, and hopefully for others, too.

    Thank you for suggesting some tools that can help me during this scary-ass time. You can bet I am going to keep befriending people who are smarter, more accomplished, and less awed by bullshit than I am; in short, people that make me feel like crap.

    Thank you so much for this post.

  41. Tobey Deys Says:

    I love doing things that scare me ~ I’m wading into a radical change in my life right now so this is uber-timely. Thanks for this, Julian!

  42. Brett Henley Says:

    I’d love to post an insightful comment – but I’d rather just shut the hell up and start doing what I need to do.

    So thank you.

  43. Philippa Says:

    For someone who has just started a freelance career, the timing and content of this post is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thank you for writing this, it has been so helpful and uplifting to read.

  44. Dave Lukas Says:

    I finally had a chance to give your post the attention it deserves and I’m so glad I did! What a great post with some examples of things to try to “change your life”. I’m proud to say that over the past few weeks I’ve employed some changes that have helped me with my goals. The most important one for me is getting up much earlier than I “need” to get out of bed. This time has allowed me to write much more for my site as well as give me a chance every day to be creative before I start my day.

    I’ll be using your other suggestions too. Thanks Julien!

  45. Nina Amir Says:

    Wow. Okay so I get and agree with all of this. I can do most of it–and I know to do most of it. I just need to find the will power.

    I’m in over my head most of the time. That’s not a problem…although it feel like it. Hah.

    I think for me the biggest thing is finding those people to hang with that are at those higher levels, that can give it to me straight, that push me, that make me feel like shit. I meet them, I know them, but I don’t have them in my life on a regular basis. I can’t afford right now to pay them….So what’s the solution for that? And I crave those relationships really. They help me keep moving forward and upward. It’s pretty hard to always drive myself forward alone.

    Thank, Julian. I’m glad I took the time to read this long post. It inspired me in more ways than you know.

  46. Stu McLaren Says:

    Awesome post Julien.

    My big takeaway actually had nothing to do with what you said.

    It had to do with the nature (and length) of this post and the much deeper connection you built with your readers.

    Rosemary (above) hit the nail on the head when she said “Long form blog posts blast the cobwebs out of our “top 10 ways…” smothered brains.”.

    This post forced us to go deeper – and therefore building a stronger bond with you (the author).

    “Tippy” type posts have their place but they’re a lot like the guy who hands out a bazillion business cards at a networking event.

    It’s not always about the “number” of business cards (or posts). Sometimes when we go deeper with our readers, we build a MUCH stronger bond with those who went the distance with us.

    Thank you Julien.

    I learned a great deal from the content of the post but I also learned a lot about scheduling time to write “epic” posts as well :)

  47. Dave Delaney Says:

    I was surprised that it took me as long as it did to find a decent (FREE) iPhone app to set an hourly reminder from 9 – 5.

    I settled on Alarm Clock Pro by Koingo Software. Link below.

    I like it, because you can repeat the alarms and customize the messages. So while, I followed Julien’s advice for the work hours, I also included other alarms.

    Don’t forget to eat and stretch during the day. Drink lots of water while you work too.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/alarm-clock-pro-by-koingo/id440018541?mt=8&ls=1

    Good luck gang!

  48. Michal Says:

    Thanks a lot. I would like to translate it. What do you think about it?
    Regards.
    Michal

  49. Kyle Reed Says:

    three weeks later I finish this post.
    That homework took me a while to complete.

    Thank you again julien for writing this post. Much needed.

    My question is this, how do you fight with patience?

    I struggle to be patient and do the work knowing that it will eventually pay off. but after a while I just want results. I even associate making changes or accomplishments with success. It gets me in trouble because I am not patient with my projects, works, and relationships.

    So how do you fight patience?

  50. Naveed Zaidi Says:

    Change is the only constant process in the world.

  51. Jscott Says:

    I am late to the party. B.J. Fogg’s work might be helpful to some. Particularly his 3 tiny habits program
    http://tinyhabits.com/

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1syo7Eyhx4Hek-U51lrEFIEcDtonnB6-vZ-3n0FsnPjU/edit?pli=1

  52. John D. Says:

    Thanks for this awesome post. It wasn’t THAT long. Actually it was too interesting to feel like “long” ;-)

    The pyramid comparison reminded me of this:

    http://joeyroth.com/images/overview.jpg

    PS: Is it allowed to ask who your dating coach friend is? I’m just curious, because the community on the web about this specific topic is big, but many websites, blogs and forums lack of quality and/or repeat overused stuff.

  53. savin Says:

    Hello to all brother and friend,

    How could i change my life ? from day to day my life is the same nothing to change.

    and how can i change my bad habit? I always think small thing and to much thing in one time.

    thank you for your give me a recomment.

  54. Netty Says:

    Just a very simple ‘thank you’ Julien

  55. Scott Anderson Says:

    Since this post was quite long, I put it “on hold” until today, as I am in the final stages of cleaning out unreads in my inbox (from last year’s over 10,000 to today’s just over 100). A much needed read for me, thanks.

    One of your points that really struck me was, “Produce horrible material on purpose. Whatever your work is, perfectionism is a killer. You just sit there thinking “I’m horrible at this,” totally paralyzed, unable to continue. *****” (By the way, what were the asterisks for??? I was looking for something more later on in the post!) For the past couple weeks or so I have been going through some weird kind of funk that I cannot explain. I tried telling my wife about it last night… but we couldn’t pinpoint the issue. This paragraph of yours was exactly what I needed. That is totally me. I am my own stumbling block. (I knew that anyway.) But having someone else spell it out for me, and make me realize there are likely many others going through the same thing… it was just the kick in the pants I needed.

    Thanks again – the entire article was great – livin’ it – keep up the great work.

  56. Michelle Says:

    “…the perceived social consequences of talking to strangers is always WAY worse than actually doing it. Whatever errors we make are diluted into the fabric of society, so the larger the fabric is, the smaller the error seems.”

    I’ve read this blog for a long time but this is the first time I’ve commented. When I am pulled to read this blog, I always end up finding the clue/reminder/piece of truth that I needed to read. Sometimes it’s a whole blog post, sometimes it’s single line (like the one I needed to read today, which is copied above). This blog makes me think about important shit. Instead of worrying about something not-very-important I said a long time ago that I think too much about, I can think about and absorb the quote instead (way more important and reality-based). Thanks for sharing your perspective with us.

  57. Lithia Says:

    The first time I read this post was about three months ago. Since then I have formed a running habit of 45 minutes three times a week. I had never run before, now I am a runner.

    I have started writing a short story every day and publishing it, I have never gotten so much good feedback from other people.

    In addition to that I have taken up playing the violin, a life time dream of mine, and started practising 30 minutes every day.

    I read it again today. Now I am raising the bars. Thanks for pushing me – this post was just what I needed.

  58. Neha Says:

    This is the bestest post I have ever read.It makes me feels alive and motivated.Thanku so much…

  59. Rob Thomas Says:

    Hi Julien,

    Nice article! I wanted to add my 10 cents in the hopes it might help a few people. I think so many people don’t act on change because they are afraid of the outcome.

    A few years ago I was living the life most people dream of. I had many of the trappings of success, but was not happy. I quit working for a year in the hopes that I would discover a passion, but ended up trading options and pretty much lost my life savings. However, being practically broke had no effect on me. I was numb.

    One day I work up and decided I needed massive change or I would just curl up in a corner and never wake up. After hearing from a friend who had quit his job and along with his wife, left to bike across China for a year, I stated to get excited. It ignited my own spirit of adventure and within two weeks I sold everything, reduced my life to a backpack and was on a plane to Asia. I spent the next year on an incredible journey through parts of Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.

    Since coming back to the US my life has changed a lot. I no longer have the same attachment to material possessions and I pursue the things that make me happy. Currently I live in a van at the beach and am working on building a clothing brand inspired by my journey – Bondi Buddha. I have more real friends than I’ve had for years and everyday is a blast.

    I know that losing my life savings and going on this adventure was exactly what I needed. As I begin to rebuild my life, I realize the things that are important. I am inspired by the possibility of making a difference in other peoples lives and having as much fun doing the things I love.

    Thanks for reading… time to go surfing!

  60. kate Says:

    What’s wrong with being a janitor?

  61. john Says:

    Thanks for the useful insights. The most difficult thing for me is closing chapters in my behavioral life book that used to work. Growing up and accepting responsibilty for our actions is a huge part of change your life. It starts today. Thanks again…

  62. john Says:

    Wanted to change the word “change” to “changing”….somehow, I know you will catch it!

  63. abiel simon Says:

    i need to change my life.;

  64. greenmilljazz.com Says:

    You really make it seem really easy with your presentation however
    I in finding this matter to be really one thing which I think
    I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely
    broad for me. I am taking a look ahead for your subsequent post, I will attempt to get the grasp of
    it!

  65. Sash Says:

    Thanks for this, it’s a great post and really enjoyed reading it. Downloaded apps and ready to get going!

  66. Caroline Says:

    Thanks heaps for this. I was at some point in my life where I did not know what to do. I was thinking I might have severe depression. But after reading your blog I just realised I need to take the first step. Instead of crying over not knowing what to do, where to go and where to start, and what for? Just do anything. Not think of what could happen or not happen. At least I’m getting back up, and not staying on the ground…thanks again for sharing!!!! God bless!!!!

  67. xaero212 Says:

    I’ve read this and it’s a blast. Also, your book ‘The Flinch’ is kind of life-changing experience to me. I’m going to read it again very soon. It must stay in my head forever.

    I only have 1 issue: my work requires nonstop usage of the internet (google). What app do you recommend just for switching off the social side of internet access?

  68. Alisa Lomax Says:

    Just found this fabulous post and have been working through it the last few days. I’m constantly trying to find the best way to work. These practices will help me move into a new phase of productivity.

  69. Karabo Says:

    That post was quite thought provoking I really enjoyed reading it and i know realize I’ve got a long way to go but i know now how I’m going to get to where I want to be…..

  70. Jean Powell Says:

    I have so much I want to say, but I’m going to keep it simple.

    F-ing baller. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Portland completely captivated by this.

    Your non-bs, logical direct voice is so refreshing.

    Thank you.

  71. Jon Says:

    No offense to the author but not talking about these topics because of what other people say is not one of the characteristics of a successful person. Who cares if people call you a self-help guru. Why let what people say control what you write about? Just sayin’

  72. Xihlamariso Says:

    All I can say is wow!

    I just found your blog today and I am a fan for life! Thank you for putting together something like this . . . it gave a lot to think about.

    And I want to change, so I am definitely going to implement your suggestions!

  73. Dylz Says:

    Awesome shit

  74. Ayal Says:

    You’ve nailed some of it beautifully. I can say I did not continue reading until I actually did the homework (which means it took me over a week to finish reading this post!)
    An *amazing* lecture about how to change things:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daOf4QMN6vA

    I’ve also read the book and I can tell you that I’m both implementing and coaching others and it’s incredible once you get.
    The idea is to stop falling in to the ‘just do it’ trap and start realizing that there are a lot more things out there stopping you from changing.

  75. Nadine Says:

    Thank you go this post, it hit every nail xx

  76. Violet Says:

    Ahh, this is great, and I’m reading it while sitting in a Fluid Mechanics class, so I guess I’m defeating the purpose of being productive?

    As I read the title of this, I prepared myself to take everything and do it.. and then we got to the homework and it went downhill from there. Honestly as an engineering major I hardly have anytime to sleep. When am I supposed to exercise and do all these things when I already wake up at 7 most days, have class, work, research, club meetings and design projects all in one day? By the time I get home I want to honestly just crawl under a bed, but really I still have to find time to spend with my boyfriend, study and get some sleep.

    Honestly if anyone has some suggestions of how I can be as collected as this men, please shoot them my way.

  77. Violet Says:

    Honestly, this is a wonderful post. But what do us college engineering students do?

    I mean these are some great ideas but I cant afford to wake u an hour early as I only get about 4 hours of sleep anyways (and I know I am supposed to get 8) between classes, work, research, design project, meeting and a boyfriend. Sometimes Its hard to find more then 5 minutes to shower… what do we do ? :/

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