What you’ll get: a short email each Monday with some (mostly) useful pearls of wisdom.
What you’ll not get: bombarded with shitty marketing techniques.
Life’s too fucking good to piss it away living to someone else’s rulebook.
Still, it happens. People sacrifice their precious time and energy trying to measure up to standards and expectations that have nothing to do with who they are and what they want from life.
The worst part is, people are often aware of this. They know they’re chasing ideals they didn’t set. But they don’t know how change direction, or they don’t have the courage to actually do it.
The third step in this journey is about just that: taking control of your life.
Why is it we are all born with limitless potential, yet few people fulfil those possibilities?
– Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow, the godfather of motivation, knew this. He spent more than forty years building and refining the most famous model for human motivation: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The Motivation Don basically said that we have five levels of needs and that we generally take care of one level before moving up to the next. If you’re not familiar, the model looks like this:
Now, anyone that’s tried to draw a masterpiece while bursting for a piss will be able to tell you there’s some truth in this. But there are limitations too. Sometimes we fuck lower needs off and aim for higher needs, now more so than ever in a world that values aesthetics more than health.
But because people are happy to live on Prosecco and pop tarts and spend their money on Louis Vuitton and lip-fillers doesn’t mean that this should be the model we all aspire towards. There’s obviously sense in making sure you can pay the rent (safety) before you tick on a new BMW (status).
This doesn’t mean we have to perfectly fulfil each level before moving onto the next: entrepreneurs risk the roof over their head in pursuit of fulfilling their potential all the time, people work themselves into the ground risking their health for their family, we give up sleep for intimacy and never mutter a word of complaint.
But the difference between these guys and the Prosecco Princess (or Prince) is meaning.
My point is this: If we decide to sacrifice a more basic need for a higher need, we should be aware of the price we’re going to pay and be certain it’s a price worth paying. Pop tart diets eventually catch up with you and sleeping in the back of a BMW isn’t fun.
Maslow’s model of motivation gives us a decent basis from which to build a good life based on internal motivation. We touched on internal motivation in Figure Shit Out. Basically, if what you do comes from internal motivation it’s more likely to make you happy.
Why, then, is it so fucking hard to put it all into practice?
Often, when we want to achieve something, we know exactly what we need to do to achieve it. Literally, we know the exact actions that will give us the result. Need to lose weight? Eat less, move more. Need more money? Earn more, spend less.
And we can break these down, too. Earn more means a second job, working overtime, a side gig, etc. Spend less means buying less clothes, ending subscriptions, having a shit car, etc.
With all this common knowledge, you’d expect more people to be walking around shredded, loaded and living their best life. That’s not quite the case though. Enter fuckery
The term used in psychology to express behaviours that are learnt and reinforced through direct experience is conditioning (3). The term I’d like them to use is skullfuckery.
Psychologists have studied skullfuckery about as much as they’ve studied anything. That makes sense because understanding it has a huge impact on everything from public health and education to marketing and corporate management.
All of that studying comes down to one little model that creates a whole lot of fuckery. Enter the habit loop:
First, something happens in your environment, called a cue. This triggers a craving before you act which is your response. Finally, you get a reward for your action.
As an example, let’s say you have a shit day at work, so when you get home you crack open a beer. The model looks like this:
Now, the first time you do this, there’s no real association behind the stress of the bad day and the beer. It just seems like a good idea.
In time though, the more you respond to stress with alcohol, the more automatic the process becomes. And, thanks to skullfuckery (conditioning), all sorts of shit can get pulled into this loop.
Usually have a drink you see your friends? Soon you’ll want to get pissed every time you see them. Even on Tuesday mornings.
Eat pizza when you watch TV? After a while, every time you watch TV you’re going to want pizza.
You get the picture.
This little box of fuckery is a huge drive of human behaviour, where some cue in your environment triggers and reinforces a response.
We touched on neuroplasticity in Step 1 – but I kept shit light because I was breaking you into the science-speak gently. Don’t worry though – this shit’s easy.
Think of your brain cells as a little community, all living in different houses. The paths cutting between the houses represent your thoughts, which are neural connections. The more these paths are used, just life real paths, the deeper and more clearly defined they become, and the more likely the next little thought will follow the same path. This is called neuroplasticity. (4)
So, the more a cue (bad day) provokes a response (beer), the easier it happens, until eventually there’s little thought involved at all.
The way the human mind works, based on cues and feedback from our environment, was pretty decent crack when we lived in little tribes. There, learning what rhino tracks looked like (cue) could put us on guard (response).
This is much worse crack now, as thanks to psychologists working with marketers we’ve got cues everywhere – and thanks to capitalism we’ve got rewards on tap.
Feeling hungry? Here grab a three thousand calorie pizza, we can have it with you in 20 minutes.
Need some social contact? Download this app and get all the attention you need.
Feeling aroused? Flick a few buttons and watch shit you never even imagined people could do. Feeling sick of your shitty life? Don’t change it – just grab a beer and forget all about it.
All of this is to say, the pace of change of human evolution is nowhere near the pace at which society has and still is changing.
One major example of where this is out of control is with social media.
In his world-changing book, Games People Play, Eric Berne explains how children can actually die without human touch. As we grow older, this need for touch is replace by a need for attention.
Social media has now taken this need and drip feeds us it in the form of likes, comments and shares. Naturally, we’re gonna develop some pretty unhealthy feedback loops.
Let’s look at the habit loop again, but let’s add what we left off earlier:
This probably makes a lot more sense now. When we get pleasure from the response, in this case sinking a cold beer after a long day at work, that pleasure serves as reinforcement for another one. And we all know, beers don’t come in singles.
Stretched over time, this feedback loop is what creates unhealthy relationships with all sorts of shit from beers, to social media, cake, sex, love, attention and even violence.
This is exactly why I call conditioning skullfuckery. It takes us out of the driving seat and puts our environment firmly in control.
(I’m not against having a beer, it’s just the context that matters.)
Addiction is everywhere. Some forms, like crack cocaine, can slap you in the face so hard that you can’t function. Others, like having a bottle of wine most nights, we laugh about while tucking the kids into bed. Both kinds fuck us up.
While stimulus response is a huge factor leading to people forming addictions, this is only part of the issue. Physical dependency obviously plays a role in some addictions too, but I strongly believe many addictions form because there is a void within people that they are trying to plug.
This step addresses the psychological element of the problem and looks to move people from bad habits to better habits as a step towards a better life. It does not address the void.
The void, I believe, stems from a lack of purpose and meaningful human connection, and these issues are addressed in steps 5 and 6.
In his book The Compound Effect, Dan Hardy talks about how small, incremental changes add up over time to create profound effects on our lives.
Hardy presents a version of the chart below, but I prefer the one James Clear uses in Atomic Habits as it’s more realistic, so I’ve copied the shit out of it. (Both books are excellent and worth the time and money).
Basically, every little decision we make takes use either towards or away from having a good day.
And, when you start down a path of decisions that just fuck you up, each decision shaves a little bit of energy, time or happiness from your life which makes it more difficult to get back on track.
This causes the feedback loop of doom below.
This is where a bad decision makes you feel shit, which leads to another bad decision which makes you feel shitter, and so on. Sound familiar? It’s everywhere.
These loops are everywhere, and when combined with cue response it’s no wonder we’re all walking collections of bad habits.
For some, these bad habits become so uncomfortable that they force action. Strangely, these are the lucky ones.
For most people, they live in what Tony Robins calls No Man’s Land – where life is shit enough to make you unhappy, but not shit enough to spur you into action.
If all this sounds familiar – you have two options: wait until it becomes uncomfortable enough, all the while letting precious time slip through your fingers or you can take action now by realising that even a day living the life you don’t want is too long.
Environmental cues create habits that don’t serve you
The more you engage in a habit, the easier it becomes.
Your environment doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Bad decisions create bad days. Bad days create bad lives.
Bad decisions can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Goals can motivate us to improve our lives and achieve great things (5). But the heavy focus we tend to have on goals is misplaced. That’s because goals have definite endpoints.
If you wanted to lose 10 pounds, eventually you’ll hit that goal. Then what? Back to guzzling coke and demolishing cookies? Most likely, according to studies (6). If instead, you focused on creating habits where you eat healthily and exercise, not only will you hit your goal of losing 10 pounds, but you’ll continue to improve your health and body composition long-term.
If you want financial freedom, the goal isn’t £10k or £50k, it’s developing the long-term habit of spending less than you earn or earning more than you spend.
If you want to be good at Jiu-Jitsu, the goal isn’t a black belt. It’s to develop the habit of regular practice for the rest of your life.
While goal setting can still be beneficial, it’s better to use it as a benchmark to measure good habits with and focus your energies on building habits long term.
You don’t get to choose not to pay a price, you only get to choose which price you pay.
– Jordan B. Peterson
Generally speaking, we have the choice to pay a price today for our benefit tomorrow or pay a price tomorrow for our benefit today.
If we wanted to save money, by dieting today (price) we will have less body fat tomorrow (benefit). Alternatively, we can eat lots of food today (benefit) and have more body fat tomorrow (price).
This carries for pretty much everything I can think of. And, the longer you’re comfortable waiting for the benefit, the bigger your payoff tends to be.
This is called having a low time preference, and it’s a fucking superpower. Studies have shown that behaviour change is more easily facilitated when people have a lower time preference. (7)
Either you make small daily sacrifices and reap impressive long-term rewards, or you indulge yourself day-to-day and pay the bigger long-term prices.
I can’t emphasise this enough: your habits create your life. Everything you have, or don’t have, in your life right now is a direct result of your habits so far.
And the habits you engage in today will tell you pretty accurately where you’re going to be in years to come.
Your habits are the single biggest element that shape your life.
So, when it comes to making shit happen and changing your life for the better – the goal is to craft your life using a collection of habits that create the life you want.
Before you build your new habits, you need to figure out what your ideal life would look like. But because we have so many norms ingrained into us from society, it’s hard to see where they end, and we begin.
I believe the best way to escape this and create the life of your dreams is to do it from first principles. (This is just science-speak for from the ground up.)
Doing this takes a certain level of self-awareness. That’s because many of the classical desires people have, such as status, money and fame, stem from basic desires such as purpose, freedom and love. By understanding the core desire, we’re able to design a life that better addresses this need without all the bullshit attached.
A good way to drill into the core of this is to look at your desires and ask yourself why? three times.
This is much easier to understand if I use myself as an example from when I began my journey. Here I am, talking to myself:
That job you are doing – why? (why #1 – the superficial why)
Because it pays well, and I want to earn good money.
Why? (why #2 – the rational why)
So I can buy nice things and enjoy life’s luxuries.
Why? (why #3 – the emotional why)
Sobbing uncontrollably: because these things give me validation, they make me feel important, worthy and successful, and that makes me feel less insecure about my identity.
There we go. That’s what we needed to understand. It was about insecurity and self-worth all along.
Now, I could have continued in my corporate job. I had my sights on a six-figure salary. But what would that have done for me? It would have plastered over my insecurities a little bit more while I drowned my sorrows most weekends under the guise of enjoyment. Whatever that is, it’s not living my best life.
So, instead of continuing in a job that wasn’t right for me because it propped up my self-worth, I worked on improving my perceived self-worth by aligning who I was with who I wanted to be. This then saved me remaining stuck in a job for the next forty years that I didn’t enjoy because it gave me a poor substitute for what I really needed: healthy feelings of self-worth.
By bringing the subconscious into conscious understanding you can build a life that addresses the root of what you need, in the right way.
When developing new habits that create the person you want to become, knowing your reason why is absolutely essential.
By designing your life from first principles with a focus on why each element is introduced, you’re able to create a life that is well-suited to who you are and what you want.
Before we begin though, we need another fucking note on identity.
Our identity is the baggage we carry with us everywhere we go.
Some people carry tidy little pocket organisers. Other people rock up with four limos running behind them, in each limo there’s around 40 clowns, and in the pockets of each clown there’s a dozen life-sized animal-shaped balloons, an entire flock of live seagulls and the lost remains of Atlantis.
When it comes to making shit happen in your life – the pocket organizer is going to work better for you than the entourage. It will give you much more freedom in creating the life you want.
That’s because if you set goals that are in conflict with your identity, your identity will win. This is why steps 1 and 2 are so foundational. You need to make sure your beliefs are your own and your values are well defined, and then you can consider designing the life you want.
Instead of asking ‘what do I need to do?’ – ask ‘who do I need to become?’
– Dan Hardy
Let’s face facts. You’re not going to achieve the changes you want in your life without changing as a person. That’s because your mindset now is what has led to your results now. To improve your results, you need to upgrade your mindset.
Legendary journalist Hunter S Thompson wrote an epic letter (9) to his friend where he alludes to this point. The full letter is worth a read, but here’s the section I’m referring to, paraphrased for context:
Do not dedicate your life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but rather a chosen way of life you KNOW you will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.
The idea isn’t to ‘achieve’ some state in x number of years. The goal is to decide on a way of life that aligns with who you truly are as a person, and figure out what kind of person you’d have to become to achieve that way of life.
This is the key to making shit happen: using good habits as a tool to create the way of life you want.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains how our best chance of overcoming one habit is to replace it with another.
Duhigg explains how studies have shown ex-smokers are significantly more likely to quit when they replace smoking with another cue, such as chewing gum or doing press-ups. He also cites AA. Since alcoholics often drink due to loneliness, replacing the bottle with the supportive community is one reason for the organisation’s success.
James Clear takes the work on habits further in his book Atomic Habits. Clear presents extremely actionable tips on breaking bad habits and replacing them with good habits. In it, he defines four laws that govern habit-building:
Make it obvious. Design your environment and stack new habits onto old habits.
Habit-building example: Stretch for five minutes after brushing your teeth (habit stacking)
Habit-breaking example: Get rid of junk food in the house (environment design)
Make it attractive. Combine new habits with habits you want to do, join groups to immerse yourself in the new habit and remind yourself of the benefits of the new habit.
Habit-building example: Watching a TV show after your evening gym sessions (combine with a habit you want to do)
Habit-breaking example: Keep an app that tells you how much you’ve saved by quitting smoking (remind yourself of the benefits)
Make it easy. Start small and make the decisive moment as easy as possible
Habit-building example: A 10-minute workout three times a week (start small)
Habit-breaking example: Getting someone to change your social media passwords for Monday-Friday so you get shit done (takes away the decision to break the habit)
Make it satisfying. Allow yourself little rewards or track your behaviour.
Habit-building example: Marking X on a habit tracker when you complete the habit (tracking)
Habit-breaking example: Having an accountability partner who you’ll have to admit failure to (opposite of reward – punishment for failure)
Each of these laws make forming new habits much easier and take the power away from some of the bad habits that fuck us up.
Earlier we learnt how bad decisions create a feedback loop of doom. Now for some good news: this shit works both ways.
When we start making good decisions, we feel the positive impact of these decisions and that gives us momentum to continue making more good decisions.
The feedback loop of doom becomes the feedback loop of liberation.
This is why James Clear uses the term ‘never miss twice.’ When you’re riding the wave of momentum and you inevitably slip up – make getting back on track an absolute priority.
Here, I’ve pulled from Atomic Habits, The Power of Habit and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg to give you my ultimate guide to making shit happen.
STEP 1: Start with why.
Knowing what you want is obviously the first step. This has to be specific, and it has to be in line with your beliefs and values too.
Why you want what you want is fundamental here. If you want to build a life based around goals that are more superficial like having lots of money, there’s a chance this won’t resonate because money is a tool, it doesn’t guarantee happiness.
If instead your life was based around having the freedom to dictate your own actions day to day, this is much more meaningful and something that will have more chance of motivating you to pay the price.
STEP 2: Make a plan.
Remember your superpower: long-term thinking.
This is the part where you figure out how long it will take and what steps you need to do. Let me tell you in advance – it’ll take fucking ages. All worthwhile goals do.
And as always, self-awareness is important. You need to be willing to accept the cost of the life you want. I like to think of it this way:
Be honest with yourself on the sacrifices you’re going to have make. But if you’ve started with a strong enough why, then you’re going to be fine.
This is where you outline what tactics you’re going to use, too. There are a few key ones to consider:
Which methods are best will depend on where you are now and what your goals are, but the more tactics you use, the better your chances of success will be.
STEP 3: Take your time.
By trying to do too much too early, you increase the resistance to your new habit by making it uncomfortable – and that’s the quickest way back to No Man’s Land.
The goal here is first to ingrain the habits into your routine and then later build on them. Studies show that frequency matters here – so doing 10 minutes exercise three times a week is better than 30 minutes just once a week.
There’s nothing ‘too small’ here – just aim to get into a routine first.
STEP 4: Track like a madman.
Feedback is your friend. Find a way to track and review your progress regularly and integrate that into your routine. Focus on something reliable and stick with it as much as you can.
I find habit trackers are excellent for ingraining new habits. I just use a spreadsheet and tick off each day what I want to achieve.
Remember: never miss twice.
STEP 5: Forget all about it.
Starting habits is fun because we feel we’re doing something good, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly and then we’re faced with the reality: this is life now.
This is why starting small is so important. Small steps can be incorporated into your life without much pain. The first goal is always to secure the habit, then once it’s secured you can increase it as it becomes part of who you are.
By focusing on a long-term mindset, and integrating these changes into your life, you’ll be surprised how quickly things materialise.
Too many people live at the whims of bad habits, and struggle to build the life they want. But by taking the time to understand what you want, what it will take, and by making a plan and working for it, you can achieve anything you truly want to.
Environmental cues create habits that don’t serve you.
The more you engage in a habit, the easier it becomes.
Your environment doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Bad decisions create bad days. Bad days create bad lives.
Bad decisions can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Focus on habits, not goals. Goals expire, habits don’t.
Short-term sacrifice leads to long-term gain; short-time indulgence leads to long-term pain.
Habits create your life. Past habits have created your life today. Current habits create your future life.
Your reason for creating habits can determine their success.
To create the life you want, become the person who would have that life.
Good decisions can become a self-fulfilling prophecy too.
You can create the life you want.
1: The many models of human motivation 2: The headfuck of human motivation 3: Skullfucker 4: Neuroplasticity 5: Goal setting and achievement 6: Summary of evidence on post-diet weight regain 7: Time preference and behaviour change 8: This is based on the 10,000 hour rule that both Mastery by Robert Green and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell are based on. 9: Hunter S. Thompson’s letter to a friend