10-Part Step-By-Step Plan To Transform Your Life
Part 1- Introducing The Salience Network
Part 2 - Taking Back Control
Part 3 - Jedi Mind Tricks
Part 4 - The Power of Meditation
Part 1 - Your Biggest Obstacle
Part 2 - Why Discipline Is So Important
Part 3 - How To Gain Unstoppable Discipline
Part 4 - The Importance of Reward
Part 1 - Becoming Unstoppable
Part 2 - The Samurai Code
Part 3 - Learning From The Stoics
Part 4 - Fear Setting & Taking Chances
Part 1 - Boosting Your Self-Confidence
Part 2 - Why Self-Confidence Will Change Your Life
Part 3 - How To Boost Your Confidence
Part 4 - Training Your Confidence
Part 1 - A Healthier You
Part 2 - How To Think About Food
Part 3 - Fixing Your Fitness
Part 1 - How To Develop Powerful Habits
Part 2 - How To Create New Habits
Part 1 - Is Your Life Meaningful?
Part 2 - The Monomyth
Part 3 - The Evolutionary Shadow
Part 3 - How To Give Your Life Meaning
Part 1 - How Your Brain Works
Part 2 - How To Hack Your Brain
What we’re interested in here is what neuroscientists and
psychologists refer to as ‘attentional control’ or ‘executive
attention’. This describes the ability we have to direct our attention
and hold it – the control we have over what we choose to focus on
and what we choose to ignore.
So how does this work? It comes down to several frontal regions
within the brain that control this function. Perhaps most notable is
the anterior cingulate cortex which has been the result of a fair
amount of research.
In fact though, attention is controlled by two separate networks of
brain regions in the brain: areas that work together in order to get
the desired result. Specifically, these networks are referred to as
the ‘dorsal attention network’ which includes brain regions that run
along the top of the brain (dorsal means ‘top’ in biology – hence
‘dorsal fin’) and the ‘ventral attention network’ (which runs along
Understanding these two different attention networks is key
because they have different purposes that clue us in on how to
get superior attention. The dorsal attention network is concerned
with our intentional attention (bit of a tongue twister). In other
words, when you decide that you want to focus on a book for a
while, or you choose to check the time, you are using the dorsal
The ventral attention network meanwhile is used when our
attention is directed beyond our control in a reflexive manner. In
other words, when you hear a loud bang and you turn to look at it,
that is your ventral attention network.
But your ventral attention network can also be distracted by a
range of other biological clues. If you are hungry for instance,
then your ventral attention network will begin to direct your
attention toward getting food and if you are tired, then your ventral
attention network will direct your attention that way.
So, if you’re trying to get work done and things keep stealing your
attention away, then it is going to be hard for you to maintain your
The next question we need to ask is how the brain knows what to
pay attention to.
The answer comes down to yet another neural
network called the ‘salience network’. This network tells us what is
important and what isn’t and it appears to be very closely
connected to our ability to motivate ourselves.
In other words, those with the ability to tell their brain what is
really important will be able to stay focussed on work, they’ll be
able to run longer distances and they’re be able to stay intensely
focused during competition.
But if you weren’t born with a powerful salience network, then
what can you do to fix the situation?
How does the salience network work? What does it deem as
The answer comes down to our evolutionary history. Every aspect
of our psychology evolved the way it did in order to help us
survive. Traits that proved conducive to our long-term survival
would be passed on to our offspring and those that did not, would
eventually die out.
Thus, the job of this network is to alert us to things that are
important for our survival – which is based on biological signals
from the body and our associations. If you see a lion, then your
salience network will identify this as important, it will trigger the
ventral attention network and this will direct your attention there.
The result will be that your parasympathetic nervous system kicks
in and triggers a hormonal and neurochemical response: you’ll
produce adrenaline, dopamine, cortisol and norepinephrine and
these chemicals will raise the heartrate contract your muscles and
narrow your attention to that one thing.
To a lesser extent, this happens if you’re hungry, too hot, too cold,
or if you are stressed about something else whether that be debt,
your relationship or anything else.
The first thing you need to do then to improve your ability to focus
and stay motivated, is to ensure that you remove these
distractions that can override your dorsal attention network. This
means you need to create a working environment that will be free
from distractions and that makes you as comfortable as possible.
Any loud noise, any discomfort, any hunger or any lingering stress
can potentially make it hard for you to maintain your focus.
One trick that you can use in order to encourage a more focused
state of mind to this end, comes from WordPress creator Matt
Mullenweg. He described to Tim Ferriss during a podcast
interview, how he would listen to music he knew well on repeat.
The music would play over and over again and he would become
immensely familiar with it. As a result, the brain would then start
to phase that music out. In other words, it would become
desensitized to it, just as you eventually stop hearing the ticking of
the clock. Only if you are listening to that music through
headphones, it will drown out all other sound.
This effectively creates a kind of sensory deprivation. The only
sound there is, is completely blocked out by the brain. You can
achieve something similar by using white noise and this is
something that many people will use in order to focus while
working. Similar to white noise are other innocuous sounds, such
as the rain or background chatter. Rainymood.com and
coffitivity.com are both sites that provide these kinds of looping
sounds for you to block out your surroundings. Similarly, using a
widescreen monitor can help you to stay more focussed on work.
Studies show that widescreen monitors can increase productivity
by up to 30%!
But the most important thing you can do is to try and remove all
other stress from your mind. That means that you need to try and
stop worrying about your debt and even about the other work you
have to do that day. If you are worrying about those things, then
your brain will keep being distracted away from what you need to
do. So, try to learn to block out feelings of stress and anxiety and
to just focus on the task that is in hand. This may take practice,
but this works much like a muscle – the more you train your mind,
the greater the control you will get over it.
But we need to go further than this if we’re going take complete
control over our motivation. Ideally, we need to ensure that our
ventral and dorsal attention networks are aligned. How do we do
The answer lies with the reason that we are distracted in the first
place. The reality is not just that we think other things are more
important, but also that we feel that what we should be doing isn’t
important. You might know consciously that you need to clean the
house, go to the gym or tidy up. That’s your dorsal network doing
But your body doesn’t know that. To your body, this is an
unstimulating activity that isn’t serving any of your prime
directives. One thing our brain needs is stimulation and that
corresponds with neural activity that comes from doing something
that seems biologically important. This is why we find it easy to
focus on computer games or films – they simulate exciting,
important events happening, all charged with emotion.
Entering information into a spreadsheet though? Not so much.
But our human intelligence comes from our ability to focus not just
on what is biologically important right now but on what we need to
be doing in the distant future. In other words, it’s our ability to
extrapolate, plan and predict that has made us so highly effective.
This comes from our working memory, which is our ability to store
information in our ‘mind’s eye’ as it were. We can focus on things
that have happened or that we think are going to happen and this
causes the brain to light up as though they are happening. This is
what our visualization really is – we’re internalizing our experience
so as to be able to manipulate the variables.
One way to give yourself more motivation then, is to learn to link
the boring event or the thing you don’t want to do, to the
worthwhile and important goal that you hope to achieve.
In other words, you need to remind your brain why you are doing
this using visualization. If you’re sat typing out a spreadsheet,
then visualize how this is going to eventually lead to you being
wealthier, more successful in your career and less stressed
tonight. Consider what will happen if you don’t do it – you will be
behind with work and you won’t be able to accomplish the goals
you’re aiming for!
If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to go to the gym, then
imagine what it will be like to have rippling abs and a 10% body
fat. Seem worth it now?
Another tip is to make whatever you’re doing more interesting and
more fun if you can, which makes it more salient to your brain. I
always say that the best cure for writer’s block in particular is to
make the scene or the paragraph you’re writing more interesting.
If it’s not interesting enough to write, then it likely won’t be
interesting to read!
If you’re doing data entry, then make it a little more rewarding by
putting some TV on in the background on silent – as long as it
isn’t too distracting to prevent you from paying attention to what
you’re doing. A good option is to watch people play computer
games on YouTube, as this has no plot but still provides
Oh, and once you get into the flow – make sure that there is
nothing there to break that concentration. Put your phone on
Another trick is to practice meditation. Meditation is nothing
mystical, it is all about focusing the mind and taking control of
your attention. When you meditate, you practice clearing the mind
of distracting thoughts and focusing on nothing. This is literally a
way to train your salience network just as you might train your
muscles in the gym and it can build great focus and discipline.
What’s more, is that meditation teaches you to detach from those
distracting stressors and to let go of things that might be playing
on your mind.
Meditation can provide perhaps the biggest upgrade to your
well-being, productivity and focus – so it is something that
everyone should be doing.
The only problem? Meditation is hard to take up if you have low
motivation! My tip then is to start out with just small 5 minute
sessions and to try tacking this onto a habit that is already a part
of your routine. If you regularly work out, then try meditating after
your gym sessions. Or how about tacking meditation on after
each tooth-brushing session?
And if you struggle to know what you’re doing while you’re
meditating, consider using an app like Headspace
(www.headspace.com) to guide you through it.
Procrastination is one of your biggest obstacles to achieving what
you want to achieve. So many of us have things we want to
accomplish that we never manage to fulfill. Too often, this is
mainly down to a lack of concentrated, strategic effort.
So, we maybe blame time. We might claim that we would love to
start our own business/improve our home/write a novel/get in
shape/actually clean the kitchen… but we just don’t have the time
because we are so busy with work and with looking after our
This is simply untrue.
24 hours (16 of which are spent awake) might not sound like that
much, but it should be more than enough to accomplish all you
After all, didn’t you watch a whole boxset of your favorite TV show
only last month?
Didn’t you complete the latest Call of Duty game?
Didn’t you spend over an hour watching TV or browsing Facebook
most evenings last week?
If you were to have spent all that time in a way that was useful
and productive, then of course you would have accomplished
your goals. And probably much much more. Heck, you would
probably speak five languages right now!
Part of the problem comes down to procrastination. But really this
is a result of some much bigger issues: those being energy and
discipline. In this guide, you’re going to learn to solve all of those
WHY YOU LACK DISCIPLINE
Procrastination comes from a lack of discipline. This is what
happens when you sit down to get some work done and
immediately your mind begins to wonder.
This in term comes down to a couple of factors. For starters, the
work you need to do is likely somewhat boring and unrewarding. If
the work you had to do involved playing a computer game or
eating a delicious pie, you probably wouldn’t procrastinate.
The other problem comes down to stress and anxiety. When we
feel anxious and stressed, our mind wants to turn to the source of
that stress and focus on that – it doesn’t allow us to engage in the
things we need to do. This is why we’ll often find ourselves killing
time by browsing the web: it’s a little like burying your head in the
sand and hoping the problem will go away.
Of course, the irony is that delaying will only make matters worse!
Ultimately, this is an example of you not being in control of your
own mind. This is the ‘monkey mind’ at its worst and it’s a great
example of how we can feel out of control when it comes to where
we want to direct our energy.
And that brings us to the other problem: energy.
Often, we are simply too tired to do the thing that we need to do.
Perhaps you’ve just had a long day in the office and now you
need to tidy up or clean the hoes. You’re too tired to do that and
so you think you should give yourself five minutes to rest first.
Which quickly becomes ten minutes, or twenty. And then it’s bed
Heck, sometimes we lack energy and will-power to such a degree
that we can actually procrastinate before it’s time for bed! We
actually find ourselves watching rubbish TV or browsing
Facebook when all we want to do is sleep – because we can’t
face the thought of having to get up and brush our teeth.
And energy is responsible for this in a bigger way too. You see,
discipline actually requires energy. Whenever we make any
choice, making the harder choice actually requires energy. This is
why we also tend to become less moral as it gets later in the day.
Our will power is fatigued at this point and so we’ll often take the
easy route – other people be damned!
Now you know all of this, the next question is how you can go
about ending that procrastination and gaining unstoppable willpower.
WHY DISCIPLINE IS SO IMPORTANT
Willpower and discipline are actually two sides of the same coin
and this is an area of your life that you should look to cultivate if
you want to become a more impressive, powerful and successful
version of you.
Discipline ultimately comes down to control over your own
emotions and actions. And that in turn means you need to learn to
stop being a slave to the way you feel.
We don’t want to work through the night because it doesn’t feel
nice. And so we do it slowly and our mind fights us every step of
The disciplined individual however can simply tell themselves that
it doesn’t matter whether they like it: it has to be done and that is
that. They choose one goal, one objective and they shut out all
other distracting thoughts and impulses.
This is powerful stuff because it allows you to gain laser focus
over what you are doing and to complete any task. At the same
time though, it also creates congruence in everything you say and
do. People will notice that you aren’t easily upset by things people
say, desperate to please them, or torn about what to do: you are
decisive, disciplined and immune to life’s concerns.
This is so important. So often we try to please everyone because
we want to be liked and we end up making weak decisions that
end up upsetting everyone. So often we let our emotions lead us
in our conversations and disputes which causes us to react badly
in conversation. And so often we curl up in a ball and don’t do the
things that need to be done, which only causes our life to become
The disciplined person rises above this and they are in complete
control over their actions and reactions.
So how do you become that person?
You'll find that out next...
How do you gain discipline?
The same way you gain anything else: through practice and
And what this also means is that you need to recognize the
discipline that exists in every moment. Discipline is the conscious
choice to focus on one thing and to shut out distractions.
Distraction is procrastination and procrastination is distraction.
So, when someone is talking to you in a conversation, it is your
job to focus acutely on what they’re saying.
When you are meant to be working in the office but you’re
interested in what is happening on the other side of the room, it is
your job to ignore that urge to look up.
When you are trying to exercise but you feel tired, it’s your job to
ignore the feeling and to power on through anyway.
It starts with recognizing that your feelings don’t matter.
as you’re not hurting yourself, it doesn’t matter if you’re a little
hungry, a little bored, a little cold, a little tired. It doesn’t matter if
you feel you deserve a treat.
Being an adult is all about resisting
that urge and on focusing on the things that you need to focus
on in order to accomplish your goals.
This is a kind of ‘incidental’ training that turns all of your
interactions and experiences into chances to hone your focus and
discipline. But you can also set up further training opportunities
throughout your routine.
One example might be to take a cold shower.
Standing in a cold
shower takes a huge amount of willpower and discipline and this
is something your body and mind will fight you on every step of
the way. But if you can force yourself into that cold water anyway,
you will be training and harnessing your willpower.
cold showers are very good for us seeing as they help us to
produce more testosterone, they increase blood circulation and
they train our immune systems.
Another example is to make your bed. This is something very
simple but it’s a great habit to get into: if you can successfully
motivate yourself to make your bed every morning, even when
you’re stressed, even when you’re in a hurry, then this will be
great training to get yourself to do other things that you need to.
And guys: here’s a big one. One of the most important things that
you can do to enhance your discipline is to stop masturbating.
This is the power of ‘nofap’ – a movement that encourages men
to stop watching porn and only to gain satisfaction through sex.
The problem with porn is that it provides us with too much
stimulation and too much reward too easily. We have an amazing
chemical reward ‘on tap’ that we can easily access at any time
and this essentially trains us to give in to baser urges. We have
no reason to wait, no work to do and no discipline necessary.
The same goes for any other ‘bad habit’ that you often give into –
even if that just means entertaining bad thoughts. It may sound
extreme, but when you indulge yourself physically or mentally,
you are reinforcing bad behaviors and weakening your resolve.
This is why practicing various forms of abstinence can actually be
powerful tools for honing your discipline. I’m not suggesting you
become a monk – I’m suggesting that if you really want to kill
procrastination, you have to learn how to avoid all manner of
I’m really not telling you to become a monk here. While it’s
important to be disciplined and to fight procrastination, it’s also
important to enjoy life. And no one is going to be 100% disciplined
100% of the time – no matter what they tell you.
repressed and too strict can end up leading to more serious
issues down the line.
What I’m telling you to do instead, is to give yourself rewards at
set times and only once you have worked for them.
Want to eat a big chocolate bar? Sure you can. But only once
you’ve gone a whole day keeping your calorie total to X amount.
Want to kick back and enjoy a good book? That’s fine. But first
you need to complete X amount of work so that you’ve got that
under your belt.
Can’t stick to nofap? Fine: but limit it to once a week at a set time
and make it quick!
Giving yourself rewards for good behavior is a great way to
motivate yourself and to allow you to add a little fun to your life without having to completely give up on being disciplined and
One simple example of this might be with your daily work. If you
normally start your day’s work by getting a cup of tea and then
having a chat, it’s time to turn that on its head.
From now on, you
get the cup of tea and the chat as a reward for doing other good
work. You’re only allow those things after you have completed X
amount of work.
This motivates you and it allows you to work less
interrupted. The same goes for checking your phone – put it on
silent and allow yourself to check it once an hour for five minutes.
Doing this helps to prevent procrastination because your will
power doesn’t have to be so strong as to completely avoid ever
doing that thing. Instead, it just has to be strong enough to hold
off for a while.
One More Thing…
And one last thing you can do to train yourself out of
Meditation is essentially an exercise in discipline.
This is the
practice of trying to remove all distracting thoughts for just a short
period of time and using this skill, you can start to become far less
easily controlled by stress, by tiredness, by hunger or by other
Meditation makes us far more disciplined as well as much less stressed and far better able to concentrate and focus
for long periods of time.
Of course that requires discipline in itself.
Start with small five
minute sessions a few times a week and build up from there!
Want to become the most incredible, unstoppable version of
I’m not talking about the usual ‘self-help’ stuff. This goes beyond
being a little better with the opposite sex, or being a little more
Want to take on all new challenges, explore new frontiers, grow
and transform yourself?
Then the answer is to overcome your fear. Your fear is what is
holding you back. Your fear is what is making you less capable
and less formidable. And your fear is what is taking away from
your happiness and your fulfillment.
It’s time we destroyed fear once and for all and unlocked our full
If we want to learn how to really conquer fear, then we can turn to
some examples from history. Some of the most fearless,
formidable warriors of all were the samurai. So how did they
achieve this complete lack of fear?
According to legend, there was a technique that the samurai
would practice right before battle in order to eliminate their fear.
To do this, they would vividly imagine every possible way that
they could be killed. They would imagine being impaled,
dismembered and decapitated.
Then they would focus on accepting these possibilities and
coming to terms with them.
They would become okay with a
horrific and brutal death.
The samurai were actually a very morbid and fatalistic bunch. The
bushido code explained that it was an honor to die in battle and
that they should constantly keep their mind on death.
You’d think this would make them more fearful but paradoxically,
it empowered them to be the completely ruthless, fearless
warriors that they were.
This makes sense: if you fear death, then
you will fear life.
If the samurai have accepted the worst thing that could happen to
them and if they have come to terms with it, then what reason
have they to be afraid?
Now imagine fighting someone who has zero fear of death: who is
willing to put themselves at risk, to launch 100% into a movement
and not be concerned for the potential outcome. They would be
The good news is that we live in a much less dangerous time and
you probably don’t need to come to terms with your death in quite
the same way.
But we can take this same notion and we can look
at ways to apply it to our own lives.
Interestingly, stoic philosophers took a similar worldview when it
came to their fears. Stoics believed that the secret to happiness
was to be prepared for all the worst possible outcomes and to live
inside those possibilities.
They thought that blind optimism was
one of the quickest ways to leave yourself miserable and
Think about it: if you constantly expect the worst and get the best,
then you are going to find yourself feeling either pleasantly
surprised or getting what you expect.
If you constantly expect the best and get the worst, you are going
to be consistently disappointed.
If you accept that negative things happen and you’ve prepared for
them, then there is no reason not to take chances and risks.
And there is a beauty in things going wrong.
The saddest points
of our lives are rich with emotion because we have lost things we cared about.
The only way to avoid that is to lived a bland and
unexciting life. The moments when we have felt sacred for our
lives have been the times our biology and psychology were tested
and we had to use our wits and our courage to survive.
The stoics pointed out that the times we are most likely to curse
the heavens are the times that we are shocked.
For instance, you
don’t swear when it starts to rain – this is a normal occurrence
and something we anticipate. You swear when you burn your
hand because you were surprised.
If you expect things to go wrong, they don’t catch you out.
Tim Ferriss is the author who wrote The Four Hour Workweek.
This is a book about finding ways to make your job fit around your
lifestyle, instead of having your lifestyle fit around your work.
means deciding what you want from life and then creating a
career that will work within that context.
Tim explains that many of us will remain stuck in jobs we hate and
living lives that we find unrewarding because we’re scared of what
will happen if we take a chance.
If we go travelling, our partners might leave us.
If we take up a
new career, then we might fail and end up bankrupt and destitute.
If we look for a new job, we might get turned down by everyone.
Fear keeps us frozen and prevents us from moving forward. We
are naturally risk averse which means we’d rather cling on to what
little we have rather than go forward to win the big prizes.
To get around this, Tim borrowed the concepts from stoic
philosophers and formalized them into a process that anyone
could use to get over their crippling fears.
The process goes as so:
1. First, identify the goal or thing you would like to change.
Let’s say you want to quit your job and start your own
2. Next, write down all of the things you are afraid of and all of
the things that could go wrong. First, your partner might think
you are irresponsible and they might leave you. Second,
your new business might fail and you’ll be left with debt.
Third, your house might get repossessed. Fourth, you might
end up vagrant. Fifth, your friends might laugh at you. Sixth,
it might all go to plan but you find you hate your new position
even more. You get the idea.
3. Now score each of those things on how honestly likely they
are to happen. Would your partner really leave you? It’s
unlikely unless there are problems in your marriage to begin
with, so we can give that a ‘2’. Would you end up destitute or
would you probably find another job, even if it’s a step down
from what you were doing before? Give that one a ‘3’.
4. Next: do these things really matter? Score them 1-10. If your
friends judge you… who cares?
5. Now, you’re going to go through that list again and you’re
going to write down all the ways you could cope with the
things that go wrong. These are your contingency plans and
the things that you could do to cope. For instance, if you
ended up broke you could get benefits, you could dip into
your savings, you could ask your parents for help, you could
take on a part time job. If your partner left you, you could
fulfill that dream of travelling the world.
6. Then go through the list another time. This time, write down
all the ways you can mitigate the risk so that it is less likely
to happen. Worried about getting into debt? Then write a
business model that doesn’t involve a big upfront expense
and bootstrap your way to success. Worried about leaving
your job? Then start your business in your free time first.
Now you’re going to do something else: you’re going to think
about the worst case scenario if you don’t follow through with your
That might be that you end up stuck in a job you hate. That one
day you’ll be 80 years old and you’ll look back on your life and
feel that you never made anything of it. That your body and your
mind atrophied from lack of challenge or experience.
What’s worse? I know how I feel!
And focus on what we discussed on that section on stoicism: bad
things will happen. You can’t possibly avoid all bad things
Meanwhile, you are only responsible for your own emotions. You
can’t make everyone happy all of the time so don’t even try. What
you should focus on is accepting this reality and then just doing
what you need to for your own emotional and psychological
well-being in the meantime.
This is why Tim also has the mantra that you ‘don’t ask for
permission, ask for forgiveness’. If your partner is going to be
unhappy that you travel, that you take up a business… so be it.
You can’t live without taking chances because of someone else
your whole life or you will be filled with resentment.
And you could die tomorrow, or lose your legs in a car accident. Maybe your
partner might run off with another man/woman!
How they react to your decision is up to them. But you can’t let
that define your actions.
You can’t hold onto things just the way they are. You can’t
prevent bad things from happening. All you can do is live life to its
fullest and richest right now. That’s why you have to take those
The above technique can work when you need to make a big
decision or plot the course of your life. But what about that acute
fear? That short-term fear?
Here, the exact same process comes into effect. Scared to speak
up in public? Then quickly run through that fear-setting technique
where you consider the possible outcomes and why they don’t
You ultimately have two choices: stay quiet and
remain fearful, or take chances and grow as a person so that
you’re less scared next time.
Thinking of doing a bungee jump? Then again, run through all the
things that could go wrong and how likely/serious they are. Sure, the rope could snap or turn out to be too long, but you know that
the likelihood of that happening is somewhere in the region of
0.0001% or less.
Not only that, but it would be over instantly, you’d never know
anything of it.
And you can’t live your life in fear.
Returning to the stoics for a moment, there is a saying that you
can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your
reaction to it.
Keep this in mind and keep your reaction calm, even
when the world is crashing down around you.
All of this can be helped with a little meditation, mindfulness and
CBT. CBT is ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’, which is a form of
psychotherapeutic intervention that recommends changing your
thought patterns in order to change the way you feel and the way
Techniques include the powerful ‘thought
challenging’ which essentially amounts to fear setting. Here you
simply look at the limiting thoughts and beliefs you have and then
assess how realistic or valid they are.
And unsurprisingly, CBT is one of the favored methods for
But something that is even more powerful from CBT is the notion
of ‘hypothesis testing’.
This means that you don’t just test the
ideas in your mind: you actually get out there and test them in
If you have a crippling fear of public speaking, then you get out on
stage and you purposefully give a rubbish speech. You
experience that ‘worst case scenario’ first hand and you prove to
yourself that it really isn’t that bad.
In doing this, you can learn to desensitize yourself from the things
you would normally find scary and you can become a much more
fearless and confident version of yourself.
And this is really the very best way to overcome fear: it’s to keep
pushing yourself and challenging yourself.
yourself to the very things you find daunting. Fear is a good sign –
it’s a sign that you’re growing – and the more you practice
keeping your mind calm and steady in these situations, the more
you will find that reaction comes naturally.
And one more thing: remember to breathe! Breathing deeply will
activate your rest and digest system – the parasympathetic
nervous system – and this will slow your heart-rate and subdue
your panic response.
Keep your eye on the prize: if you can eventually eliminate fear,
you can take on any challenge and succeed.
First, let’s take a look at why self-confidence is so important and
how it can change everything.
You know when you were younger and you fancied the boy/girl at
school? You told your Mum and she said: it’s all about
You probably thought that this was a lie: that really it was all about
looks or money. Saying it’s ‘all about confidence’ and you should
‘just be yourself’ is car bumper-sticker advice. It’s a nice platitude
that is ultimately just a lie to make us feel better about ourselves.
Self-confidence really is what it is all about. I know some guys
who are unattractive in the conventional sense, not wealthy and not in good physical shape either. Yet they get loads of girls and
the reason for that is simple: they are outgoing and fun.
This is why ‘bad guys’ will famously get all the girls. These are the
guys that don’t care what others think of them and that do
whatever they want.
This comes across as confidence and it
happens to be very attractive.
The same is true for women. A woman who is a 6 out of ten can
beat an out of ten if she knows how to flirt (which comes from
confidence) and if she dresses to impress (which comes from
There is a caveat: if you lack social skills then no amount of
confidence will save you.
That is something else you need to work
on (and you’ll learn here). Otherwise, it’s all about confidence.
The same goes for your career and the same goes for the way
you fit in with your friends.
We all know people who are supremely confident and we know
that they are highly attractive and highly successful.
We all want
to be like those people.
And the reason for this is that confidence sends the signal that
you are higher in the hierarchy than others. In the dating game,
we want to date people who we believe are ‘out of our league’.
This makes us feel good about ourselves and from a biological
perspective, it is the best way to ensure our DNA thrives.
If someone has confidence, this tells us that they must be an
evolutionary catch. On an unconscious level we are drawn to
them because we think it will boost our status.
someone who thinks nothing of themselves will be ignored and
will be taken advantage of.
It sounds harsh but unfortunately, this is just human nature.
So how do you go about getting that boost in confidence?
There are two different avenues to take and these are external
and internal. External confidence is much easier to acquire but it’s
the internal confidence that will make the real difference to who
you are and how you feel about yourself.
We’ll start with the easier, shallower option and then move onto
the more profound change we can make.
Shallow Confidence Boost
The first thing you can do to give yourself an immediate boost in
confidence is to change what you can about yourself to align
yourself more with what you think a successful individual should
be. For example, most of us feel that people who are more
attractive and smarter are more successful. One of the biggest
reasons that we might feel bad about ourselves is that we don’t
like the way we look.
So, the easy step one is to fix that!
One of the best ways to change the way we feel about our looks
is to make some kind large change. A makeover might sound like
a cheesy way to give ourselves a confidence boost but it really
The key here is to be bold and to change things about yourself
that you would normally be shy to change. You want to make
changes that people will actually notice so that when you walk
into a room, heads turn. You want people to think of you in a
different way than they did before and you want to feel like a new
So, for women, wearing a bright red lipstick, wearing taller heals,
or wearing a lower-cut top can all help, especially if these are
things that you wouldn’t normally do.
For guys, this might mean wearing a suit jacket, it might mean
getting a much shorter hair-cut, or it might wearing a tank top to
show off your arms.
Most of us can think of some outfits that we dare not wear but that
we know look good on confident, attractive people. Guess what?
You’re attractive too and the only thing missing is the confidence.
Wear that outfit and you’ll look that confident and that will make
you feel much more confident.
Of course, you should still be you. So, don’t wear things you don’t
like or that make you feel like someone else.
But just try to get outside your comfort zone and perhaps surprise
people’s expectations. Likewise, take some time to invest in
yourself when it comes to your clothes and your grooming. Spend
a little more money on better quality fabrics, take the time to do
your hair and to moisturize. If you show that you think you’re
‘worth it’ then this sends powerful signals too.
And if all of this is beyond you, consider hiring a stylist! There are
people out there who do this for a living and who can help you
feel amazing. Women: consider going on a makeup course!
Now enjoy those heads turn when you walk into the office and
work that look you have.
This latter example of confidence building works because it
creates a ‘virtuous cycle’. In other works, one good thing is going
to lead to another. You’ll dress more confidently and that will
make other people treat you differently. In turn this will make you
feel more confident and you will start to become more confident.
But if you want to truly upgrade your confidence then you need to
do more work on that internal feeling of contentment.
And you know where this comes from? It comes from learning to
stop worrying what other people think.
This is what confidence really is. The most confident person in the
room is the person who spreads themselves out in a way that isn’t
done to make them ‘look more impressive’ but which is done in a
way that makes them feel comfortable regardless of what others
The truly impressive person is the person who isn’t afraid of
upsetting someone with what they say. They aren’t about to agree
with the general consensus just so that they can feel liked. They
speak their mind – while of course still being respectful to others.
So how can you get to this stage? Where you genuinely stop
caring what others think?
The answer is that you have to know yourself and you have to
know what’s important to you. Spend some time reflecting and
finding what your life’s ‘goal’ is, what your true purpose is and
what you want to accomplish.
Once you’ve done this, you will be able to start working toward
that goal and focusing your energy on those things that matter to
you. And once you’ve done that, you will be able to shrug off the
insults or the opinions of others.
People are teasing you for being short? What does it matter when
your goal is to become a great writer?
Not sure if a group of people like you? What does it matter when
you know who your true friends are?
Knowing yourself and judging yourself by your own standards will
make you immune to the judgements of others and will help you
to strengthen your resolve and your determination.
And now, you will become someone who is much more interesting
and much more engaging. Your passion will be apparent in the
way you speak and the fact that you aren’t so worried about what
other people think of you will make you much more enigmatic and
interesting. People you aren’t trying to please everyone around
you, other people are going to start trying to please you.
And this is the route of supreme, bulletproof confidence.
Like everything else, this confidence won’t appear overnight. It
needs to be trained and it needs to be practiced. And this works
just like training for anything else: on the basis of the SAID
SAID stands for ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’. In
other words, we become better at doing whatever it is that we do
often. If you want to be more confident and stop worrying about
what others think, then you need to subject yourself to things that
you would normally find daunting and continually reinforce your
If you are usually too shy and unconfident to speak in public for
example, this is going to be the perfect way to practice your new
esteem. Force yourself to speak up in front of people. Better yet,
force yourself to get it wrong on purpose so that you learn to face
the music. Remind yourself: it doesn’t matter what these people
think and the worst that can happen is that you bemuse a
Practice talking to people and striking up conversation and always
remind yourself that it doesn’t matter what happens. You are
developing yourself into the person that you want to be and that is
all that matters. You can even try joining classes – a stand-up
comedy class or a drama class can be a great way to lose
inhibitions for example.
Meditation and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can also help
you to learn to react appropriately to the comments and reactions
of others and to focus more on what really matters to you.
If you can do that, you’ll find that you eventually start to like
yourself. You’re meeting the standards you set for yourself and
you are thriving as a result.
In order to dress in that bold and more colorful way, you need to
stop worrying about what others might think and instead focus on
how it makes you feel.
And once you get a little bit of confidence like this, you’ll find that
it begins to grow and grow into something huge. Everything you
do will be reinforced by those around you and each win will only
give you more confidence to focus on more challenges.
If you want to become a better version of yourself and begin a
transformation that will reach into every aspect of your life, then
one of the most important places to start is with your health.
Your health is the source of all your power. The way you feel
when you wake up first thing in the morning is what will
determine how much you can get done that day. Your health
impacts directly on your mood, your ability to complete physically
or mentally demanding tasks and even your looks. Then there’s
the fact that your health will determine how long you live and the
quality of your life during that span.
In other words, your health is the single most important thing to
consider if you want to make life objectively better. And yet it’s
something that many of us don’t give any thought to.
Seriously: most of us will give far more focus to our careers,
whether or not the house is tidy and what our friends think of us
than we will to our physical strength, the condition of our heart or
how much body fat we’re carrying around.
And it should come as no surprise then that a huge proportion of
us are incredibly unhealthy. Many of us will drive to work every
day and then spend all day sitting in an office in a hunched
position while feeling very stressed. We come home and eat a
ready-made meal which is packed with salt and sugar and zero nutrients and then we crash out on the couch before having a fitful
and all-too-brief night’s sleep.
Then we wonder why we are overweight, unattractive, tired,
depressed and prone to illness.
The big problem is that many of us don’t know how to go about
fixing this problem and becoming healthier. And moreover, many
of us think that getting into a healthy place is going to involve a
large amount of work and effort – too much for us to attempt.
Maybe you’ve had a go at a new training program or diet at some
point and found that it didn’t provide the results you were looking
for? Or maybe you gave it a go and then just ran out of energy
Let’s see what we can do about that shall we?
We’ll start with diet because that is ultimately the easier thing to
Our aim here is health first and foremost, seeing as this will make
weight loss and fitness easier. So don’t focus on starving yourself
– that isn’t ‘healthy’ even if it leads to weight loss.
The key shift in thinking is to realize that food is not just ‘fuel’. A
lot of us treat our diets like we might treat the gas that we put into
our car. We start to feel hungry, we start to tire out and so we
realize that we need to refill the tank. We thus seek out any kind
of food we can – preferably something that we will find tasty – and
then we eat until we’re full.
But food is not just fuel. More important than acting is as fuel, is
the fact that food is also a material and a resource. This is what
the body is made from. Our bodies work by taking what’s in our
diets and then recycling that into the raw materials that build our
bones, our muscles and our brains. This creates the important
hormones and neurotransmitters that enable countless reactions
and processes throughout our body. And it is what we use in
order to fight disease and cancer.
If all you think about is ‘filling yourself up’, then your body will be
missing out on crucial nutrients and that is when you start to feel
slow and groggy. That is when you start to notice your skin
flaking, your eyes looking bloodshot and your hair becoming
Did you know that 80% of the US population is deficient in
magnesium for instance? That is a huge number and it’s
devastating when you think just what this mineral does: it helps to
form bone and connective tissue by helping with the uptake of
calcium, it prevents muscle pains and aches, it accelerates
learning through brain plasticity, it enhances our sleep and it
helps men produce more testosterone for greater virility and
This is just one nutrient and it does all that. Imagine the effect of
not getting enough.
And then there is vitamin D: which we can get from the sun or a
few dietary sources. Again, many of us are deficient thanks to our
desk-bound indoor lifestyles, which results in lower testosterone
production again, poor sleep, low mood and susceptibility to
disease and illness. Vitamin D acts like a ‘master key’ for many of
your hormones and helps to regulate your hunger and your
energy levels among many other things. Studies suggest that
adding vitamin D to diets could save thousands of lives each year
by preventing serious diseases!
Then there’s vitamin B12. This is a vitamin that enhances the
body’s formation and use of red blood cells, enabling us to
transport energy and nutrients to our brain and muscles. Many
people are low in this – especially vegetarians – which can cause
nerve damage, depression inflammation.
I could go on and on. Essential fatty acids, vitamins, amino acids,
minerals… all of them serve countless crucial and important jobs
throughout the body and most of us aren’t getting enough. That’s
because we’re just eating processed sugary foods – things like
cake, sausage rolls and Coca-Cola: empty calories.
So, there are three things I want you to do:
A) Switch to fresh, natural foods. That means that you’re going
to try to eat things that you prepare yourself from fresh
ingredients at least four times a week. This doesn’t have to
be complicated or expensive. It can be as easy as having
some chicken with a side of broccoli and rice, or it could
mean having a salad leads with avocado, tomatoes and tuna
fish. This takes minutes to make and it’s not more expensive
than a ready meal.
B) Take a multi-vitamin. While it’s true that it is better to get the
nutrients we need from our diet, many of us will fail in this
endeavor and so we’re left with no option other than to get it
from supplementation. There is nothing wrong with doing this
as long as it absorbs and it certainly can’t hurt to boost your
levels of those crucial nutrients.
C) Seek out superfoods and dense sources of nutrients. For
example, you should consume smoothies occasionally if
possible. I recommend swapping out your morning coffee on
the way to work for a fruit smoothie (or better yet, a
vegetable smoothie which is lower in sugar). Likewise, I
recommend boiling a bunch of eggs and then snacking on
them throughout the week. These are high in the brain
boosting ‘choline’, as well as being complete sources of
essential amino acids. Avocados are great because they
contain magnesium, healthy saturated fats and more.
Finally, if you want to supplement your diet further, here are some
things you can add that will help you to feel and perform much
• Lutein: Previously lauded primarily for its benefits for the
eyes, lutein is a nutrient that can increase energy levels, as
well as enhancing the brain.
• Magnesium threonate: Taken before bed, this will enhance
your sleep and strengthen your brain.
• Omega 3 fatty acid: This protects the cells from damage,
reduces inflammation (to combat joint pain and brain fog) and speeds up the communication between cells to boost
• Cordyceps: Cordyceps can fortify you again adrenal fatigue
and chronic stress. This is one of the biggest issues with our
health today and by supplementing against it, you can
increase your energy levels and prevent illness associated
with being run-down.
The point is that by making these changes, you should start to
look and feel healthier. You’ll have more energy, a better mood
and your brain will work quicker. This will then make it easier for
you to start focusing on other aspects of your health such as
weight loss and fitness.
The mistake that most people make when trying to improve their
health and fitness is that they aim too high. Their objective is often
to try and transform their bodies into these athletic specimens that
they see on magazine covers when they are currently barely able
to make it up the stairs.
This is particularly apparent when running. Lots of people give up
on running because they find it horrible. And they find it horrible
because they push themselves too hard – they run too fast and
too far because they want to become top runners or they want to
burn thousands of calories.
But the best approach to running is to first simply focus on
becoming better at running. Better yet, you should learn to like
To do this, you should go for shorter runs to begin with and you
should take them more slowly. Go for a light jog through a scenic
area and come home as soon as you stop enjoying it. Do this
regularly enough and you’ll eventually start to enjoy and look
forward to those runs. This is when they can start to transform
your fitness and your lifestyle.
Running once or twice a week even just gently like this will help
you to train your heart. The difference this can make to your
happiness and health should never be underestimated. When you
run, you will specifically be strengthening and enlarging the left
ventricle. The end result is that your heart will be able to pump
more blood around the body with fewer beats. In turn, this means
that your crucial ‘resting heart rate’ metric will slow down. Your
heart will beat less as you train, which in turn will result in your
sympathetic tone being better. In other words, you will be less
stressed all of the time and your heart will be far less prone to
But running might not be for you. This might be beyond you.
Another great type of exercise to start up then is resistance
training AKA weight lifting.
Weightlifting can transform your life and this is something that far
more people should consider.
Many women – and in fact many men as well – will turn away
from the idea of weight lifting because they don’t want to become
overly bulky or muscular. The point that these people are missing,
is that it is impossible to ‘accidentally’ become too bulky or
muscular. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get to his size by
accident! Rather, in order to get to that kind of size, you need
intensive training and work.
A more moderate training program will simply give you tone,
power and greater control over your body. And guess what?
Building muscle will help you to lose a lot of weight because
simply having muscle will increase your metabolism to the point
that you’ll be burning more calories even as you sleep. Oh, and it
also gives you the ideal proportions you want.
A great training program for beginners to try is PPL – Push Pull
Legs. That means you train all pushing movements one day, all
pulling movements another and then legs on the third day. Again,
don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Focus on enjoying the
training and just using your body in new ways.
You are not an athlete and there’s no rush here. There’s no
reason to push yourself beyond what you find enjoyable.
Finally, note that you also need to be more active the rest of the
time. Two or three one hour sessions a week will not make up for
a sedentary lifestyle. So start to incorporate walking into your
routine – this is a fantastic way to burn an extra 2-300 calories a
day and that amounts to 1,000 to 1,500 calories a every work
Likewise, consider taking up a class, be that martial arts, dance or
something else active that will get you into shape.
We humans are creatures of habit. We have evolved over
thousands of years to like routine, to like predictability and to
become ingrained in a certain series of events.
Most of us therefore have a routine that we pretty much follow
every single day. Maybe you start your day by waking up, making
breakfast, having a shower, getting dressed and then watching
the news for 10 minutes with a cup of coffee before running for
You probably have a similar routine in the evening, which might
involve doing a 10 minute shop at your local grocers, making
dinner, watching some TV, having a shower and then reading a
book in bed. You probably go to bed at roughly the same time
This is no coincidence. This comes down to the entire way we are
hardwired. The way our brains work and the way our biology
Repeating the same actions or thoughts over and over again
essentially means that we are repeatedly using the same
neuronal pathways and causing the same connections to light up
and fire. As we do this, those connections become ‘myelinated’.
That means that they are insulated by myelin sheaths, thereby
becoming stronger and stronger.
If you repeat one action followed by another often enough, then often they will become so ingrained
as to become automatic and beyond our conscious control.
This was demonstrated perfectly by the psychologist Ivan Pavlov
who managed to condition dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.
This is also why severely brain damaged individuals who can’t
remember their own name might still be able to play incredible
Some can do this despite even not knowing that
they can play the piano! The simple fact is that the motor neurons
are hardwired over years of practice.
The groove has been
greased over and over again to leave a final impression.
As for our biology, this is based entirely around rhythms and
patterns. The sun rises at a certain time and this triggers the
release of cortisol and nitric oxide.
trigger a cascade of activity throughout the brain which makes us
more awake and active. Then we eat and this slows us down
slightly again and gets us ready for work.
After 4pm, our lunch settles in and we start to become slower and
more sluggish thanks to a dose of melatonin and serotonin.
the time the sun starts to go down, we are producing more
melatonin and the build up of adenosine in our brain is making it
harder and harder to think.
If you get up at a different time, if the sun rises at a different time,
or if you eat a bigger meal, then this can throw that whole routine
out of whack and as a result you’ll feel out of sorts. This is what
causes jet lag and it’s why one solution to jet lag involves altering
your meal timings.
In short, the more we repeat the same behavior over and over,
the harder it is for us to change that behavior.
If the behavior in question involves smoking, then this is bad
Harnessing the power of habit can be a powerful
tool in helping you to get whatever you want from life: whether
that’s a better body or a richer bank account.
The question is how you go about forming those habits…
The 30 Day Rule
Often you will read that the best way to create a new habit is to
repeat that action for thirty days. If you can do that, then
eventually you will have ingrained the behavior deeply enough
that you won’t be able to stop.
Is this true?
Thirty days would theoretically be long enough for
you to rehearse an action long enough for it to become ingrained
at least somewhat, but that ‘magic number’ is actually very much
There is no reason that doing something for thirty days
should be any better than doing something for 29 days or 31
What this idea does have going for it is anecdotal evidence:
according to research, this indeed seems to be accurate and if
you can stick to a new behavior for that long, you’ll at least be on
the right track.
This makes it a little easier setting out too. If you know that you
have to exercise first thing in the morning for thirty days only, then
that can be easier to stomach than thinking you have to do it
Struggling to floss your teeth every day, even just for those 30
days? Then in that case, you might want to try using something
called ‘micro habits’. The idea of a micro habit is essentially to
hack the 30 day trial by finding a way to stick to your habit for that
long much easier and then extrapolating the results.
To explain, a micro habit means breaking down your new
intended habit into something that is extremely easy and simple to
stick to. So, for example, your goal might now be to floss just one
tooth and to floss a different tooth each night. This is a two
second job so there should be no difficulty in sticking to it.
But as with a ‘full sized’ habit, you should find that this micro habit
becomes deeply ingrained after a while and that eventually you
find it easy to stick to. Now all you have to do is to extend that
habit so that you’re flossing all your teeth!
A more realistic version of this might be if you wanted to write a
novel, in which case you could aim to write just one line per night.
Likewise, if you wanted to get into shape, then you could aim to
do just 20 press ups every day.
This works best if what you’re doing is still useful in its own right.
If you only ever did 20 press ups, then you would still notice some
improvement for example. Likewise, one sentence per night
would still eventually lead to an entire book!
Try to avoid a scenario where you might look at your micro habit
and feel that it is ‘pointless’ so you can just ignore it.
The great thing about micro habits is that right from the start, you
are going to find you sometimes end up doing more. For instance,
if you have set the goal of doing 20 press ups, you’ll often find
that you end up doing a whole workout any way – the hardest part
is just getting started!
What’s most important though is that you have the option to
default to the micro habit. The important thing is that you are
keeping this as a part of your routine – not so much that the habit
itself (for now!).
Another tip for creating a new habit is to try attaching it to your old
habits and your surroundings.
In other words, if you want to create a habit of flossing your teeth,
then a good option is to attach this onto a habit you already stick
to: such as brushing your teeth!
Likewise, if you want to get into the habit of ironing your shirts,
pick a specific point in the day for it to come after – such as
making your morning tea.
This works because it connects the new behavior to old ones
inside your brain. You have a network of neurons that fires
whenever you make your morning tea. Now, when that network of
neurons fire, they should also cause the new network – the
ironing shirts network – to light up. The two are connected.
This also works on a practical level: you need to find a convenient
time for your new habit to take place and you need to find a
convenient time and place in which to do it. And you need to know
that said time and place is always going to be convenient. You
need to always be able to workout at this time, in this place.
I wanted to take up meditation a while back for example as a
regular part of my routine. I struggled at first because there
always seemed to be more important things to be doing and I
could never find the right opportunity. So, what I did was to attach
my meditation session to my workout session. I already worked
out 4-5 times a week, so all I did was to say that straight after a
workout, I would meditate for just 5 (yes 5!) minutes. That’s a
micro habit that would never take up too much time and I’d always
be in the right place to practice it (the gym).
Keeping your environment and your surroundings consistent is
also important as all the things in your periphery can help to
encourage your habit. This is why when trying to break a habit,
the advice is always to change your surroundings immediately. If
you’re trying to give up alcohol for instance, or drugs, one of the
first things you’re told to do is to stop hanging out in the same
places and with the same people. These have become associated
with the habit – these are now ‘triggers’.
But if it’s a good habit, then triggers are a good thing!
The Power of Routine
One action is a habit but if you string these together, then you
have a routine.
I touched recently on the practical aspect of stringing habits
together and knowing where you will be and what time it will be
when you do that thing.
This is incredibly important for
accomplishing goals and if you can build a routine for yourself that
contains multiple good habits, then you’ll find that you massively
enhance your likelihood of success in all areas.
For example, if you are going to start a new training program then
you must know precisely when you will workout and where you
will work out. And you should ‘hang’ this new habit off of your
existing routine and actions.
If you simply say you are going to train ‘five days a week’ then this
is not good enough: you’ll find yourself putting it off, forgetting or
feeling too tired.
Instead then, find a slot in your routine where you can always
make space. For me, the best time to train is after I’ve dropped
my wife at the station in the car. I do this every morning and the
gym is right next door. All I need to do is walk over in my gym kit
and then get started before driving home!
The fact that I’m already travelling means that there is no extra
time taken up by the journey. And I don’t wash until I get home, so
I’m not washing more (which also takes time) either.
Likewise, if you want to stick to a healthy diet, then you need to
identify when you are going to make the food and how you are
going to eat it. I did this by finding a local salad bar I could go to
on my lunch break. I knew it would always be there, it would
always be cheap and I could keep it consistent.
Creating a routine is a powerful way to accomplish your goals
BUT don’t forget that the value in life comes from mixing things up
and trying new things. Don’t let yourself move backwards, or you
will start to atrophy and stop growing. Habits help you get to
where you’re going, but don’t forget to enjoy the view along the
What makes life meaningful?
It’s a trick question of course. Everyone will have a different
answer and there is no one way to live your life. Any answer
would be just as valid and it’s up to you how you choose to make
your way in the world.
But there are certainly some things that don’t make life
meaningful. And there are certainly some things you can do to
help you find your own meaning. In this guide, we’re going to look
at how you can discover meaning in your life and why that is such
a powerful and important thing.
IS YOUR LIFE MEANINGFUL?
Perhaps a good place to start is by looking at the state of our lives
right now. Where do you get the meaning from right now?
There’s a good choice that you will give some of the following
Very few of us will answer that the thing that gives life meaning is
‘food’ or ‘computer games’. Somehow, our relationships and our
careers take on greater importance and the same is true of our
This roughly adheres to Maslow’s theory of the ‘Hierarchy of
Needs’. Maslow was a psychologist and according to his theories,
our needs can be plotted in a kind of pyramid with the most
important at the top and the most urgent down the bottom.
Our urgent, basal needs include our physiological needs such as
food, oxygen and perhaps sex, while things become a little more
abstract and inspiring as we move nearer the top.
His pyramid looks something like the following, from bottom to
• Physiological needs – food, oxygen, water, sex
• Safety – shelter, health, avoidance of predators/aggressors
• Love/belonging – community, friends, family, partner
• Esteem – self acceptance, self-worth, confidence
• Self actualization
So the first thing we might note as being surprising from this list,
is that love and belonging are not near the top – in fact they are around the middle. It is as though Maslow is telling us that love is
not what gives life meaning.
Poets and song-writers might disagree but this is in fact accurate.
At the end of the day, you can’t rely purely on other people for
your sense of happiness, meaning and accomplishment.
For starters, this is a recipe for disaster in your relationships. If all
your meaning comes from another person and you need them for
your sense of self-worth, you might well become possessive,
jealous, clingy or otherwise toxic in that relationship.
Likewise, this leaves you incredibly vulnerable. If your meaning
comes from another person and they should leave, your whole
world will come crashing down.
You get people who have amazing, perfect, happy families and
yet they don’t have a sense of purpose of direction. They’re stuck
in a rut and they’re unhappy because they don’t have a sense of
In fact, this is incredibly common and it’s something that a lot of
us have to deal with. This is pretty much where the mid-life-crisis
Higher on the ladder we have esteem. That is to say that in order
to be happy and fulfilled, in order for life to have meaning, you need to discover how to live with yourself and how to like yourself.
Otherwise, you will be unhappy in everything you do and you
won’t have the tools necessary to take your life to the next step.
But that’s still not number one. So just what is self-actualization?
We can get a clue as to what might be meant by self-actualization
by looking to the monomyth. The monomyth is also sometimes
referred to as the ‘hero’s journey’ and essentially, this is a
common story that is told time and time again throughout history
and throughout culture. We have many stories that we tell through
movies, through books and through comics… but all of them
ultimately tell us the same thing. It is the same hero, experiencing
the same journey.
What is this journey precisely? It begins with the hero in their
‘ordinary world’. Here we see them interacting with their family
and friends as usual and we explore their surroundings. Then
there is a call to action. Often, this comes from the hero’s own
need to explore, to journey out. It can also be prompted by an
inciting incident though (the princess is stolen) or the death of a
The hero then begins the journey by venturing into unknown
lands. This is known as ‘crossing the threshold’. The hero will
encounter new allies, new opponents and new dangers.
Eventually, they will reach the belly of the beast – the most
dangerous part of the new land known as the ‘inmost cave’.
Then comes the ordeal. The hero faces an ultimate challenge
against an insurmountable foe and usually, they are defeated.
Then apotheosis. This is the most important part of the tale,
where the hero goes through some form of transformation and
becomes ‘divine’ in many cases. They may return from the dead,
or they may ascend and become a super saiyan. Either way, the
hero is no longer what they were and they are now bigger and
stronger than before.
They take on the enemy and defeat them and they journey home
with their love/the elixir/peace.
This tale is told over and over again. Sometimes the story is fairly
literal, such as in films like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. Other
times, the story is much more metaphorical or psychological. In a
rom com, the hero is dissatisfied usually with their lack of love,
crossing the threshold often involves deciding to pursue a
woman/making a friend/trying to be ‘just casual’ and the
apotheosis is usually an epiphany at which point the hero recognizes what they’ve been doing wrong/that their love was
right in front of them all along.
Either way though, the single most important part of this story and
therefore of all stories is the apotheosis, the transformation, the
resurrection. This is the character arc and this is what gives
meaning to the whole journey.
The journey was merely training to develop the individual.
And why do we respond to this so well? Simple: because it is our
story. Because we are all that hero. We all set off from the relative
shelter of our parents’ homes in order to start a new career or
attend college. Through doing this, we learn and grow and adapt.
This helps us to find the job we really want and to get married and
to have children. End of story. The most important part was our
growth and our challenge – and moving forward toward that goal.
This is a hangover from our evolution too. In the wild, we would
have begun life as part of a community and then would have
ventured out in order to try and find more resources, shelter, food
and so that we could start our own tribe.
Along the way we would
face challenges (snakes!) but we would have become stronger
and smarter as a result.
This story is about growth, adventure, challenge – and these are
the things that keep us moving forward as individuals and as the
human race. If we stay comfortable, we never succeed.
Now it’s time for the scary part.
If it is so deeply ingrained into us that we must go after the things
we want in life, keep taking on new challenges and move out of
our comfort zone to become something new… then why is it that
so many of us eventually end up in dead-end jobs and feeling
rather unfulfilled as a result?
This may come down to something called the evolutionary
Remember how evolution works? It is all about survival. The
person who survives passes on their traits – which presumably
are positive traits seeing as they helped them survive. Thus, all
our DNA is made up of previous ‘winners’ and our psychology is
optimized to help us live and thrive.
Problem is though, evolution doesn’t care about us past 30…
maybe past 35.
Why? Because once you reach that age, you’ve already had your
children most likely (or you’re in a situation where you are ready
to). You’ve passed on your surviving genes and you’ve fulfilled
your role. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what happens to you after.
And this is seen reflected in the way we live our lives. Once we
find a stable career and raise our kids, all the journey, discovery,
newness and adventure is gone from our lives. We get into a rut
and we start to move backward instead of forward.
The movies reflect this too: it’s why there are so few stories about
married couples. So few stories about princes that have already
become kings and now must deal with the day-to-day
And this is why our lives can often feel like they lack meaning. It’s
because they lack direction.
Actualization is apotheosis. Actualization is growth. It is becoming
the best that we can be.
The quote often used to describe actualization is:
“What a man can be, he must be.”
If you are not fulfilling your potential, or moving towards a better
version of you… then you are moving backward.
The brain literally comes to life when it has a goal, when we learn
new things and when we give it challenge. It becomes more
youthful and plastic as it produces more dopamine, more
norepinephrine and more BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic
factor). Our memories improve, our attention improves and we
become more energetic and positive.
As soon as you stop doing that though, you greatly increase your
risk of starting to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive
decline. Your body is always changing and your only choice is
whether it moves forward or backward.
So how do you take all of this theory and turning it into useful
practice? What do you actually have to do to give life meaning?
The answer is first that you have to recognize that having a happy
family and a good job is not enough. That is important for your
happiness yes: but it does not provide growth and it does not
In order to give life meaning, you need to become the hero again.
You need to go on that journey and take on new challenges.
This can mean that you set out to make something amazing of
your career – by becoming a rock musician, a top lawyer, or a
Or it could mean that you pursue a meaningful hobby. Maybe you
write a book, maybe you learn to program and build an app.
Maybe you take up philosophy and try to answer some of life’s
And it can be about family or charity too. You might decide to give
back to your community or you might choose to have another
Maybe your meaning comes from your faith and that’s something
you want to explore. Maybe you want to see the world and save
But whatever the case, it needs to be a journey and a challenge.
It needs to force you to grow and it needs to give you an end
destination – even if that destination seems impossible. You must
be striving, learning, growing and you must have something that
you are truly passionate about completing.
Because when your life has direction, it has meaning.
It can be tempting to indulge in those lower layers of Maslow’s
hierarchy: to pig out on great food and to keep yourself warm, cozy and lazy. But while that might satisfy your body, it won’t
satisfy your soul. You’ll slowly start to rot and decay and life will
lose its color and meaning.
You will feel most alive when you are tested, tired, challenged and
beaten… but you choose to keep on going. You will feel most
alive when you conquer mountains. Leave your comfortable
armchair, head into that inmost cave and come out more powerful
than every before.
If you were to buy a car, a computer, a games console or even a
toy of some sort, then in all likelihood it would come with an
instruction manual of some sort so that you could find your way
around it and how you should use it.
This is important because it allows you to get the very most from it
and it allows you to avoid making mistakes that could damage it.
But unfortunately, the most important and most complex things in
the world come with no such instruction manual. Take children for
example: any new parent will tell you just how dismayed they
were when they realized that no one could tell them how to be an
And then there’s the big one: our own brains. These are the most
complex supercomputers in the entire world and they are what
create all of our subjective feelings, sensations and experiences.
And yet our brains come with no instructions and no guidance: we
are left simply to try and figure them out on our won.
So, the question becomes: how can you master your brain?
Fortunately, neuroscientists and psychologists are uncovering
more of the brain’s secrets every single day. While there is still a
huge amount left to learn, we know more than we ever did and a
lot of this information can be used practically to help us become
happier, smarter and more effective versions of ourselves.
Read on and we’ll see how you can master your brain for
complete and total self-mastery.
Neuroscience is a subject that can take decades to learn and
even then it will be necessary to specialize in one area – like I
said, it’s a complex piece of machinery. There is much more than
can possibly explained here then, but we can nevertheless give a
brief overview to give you some important clues as to how the
brain essentially works.
So, what do we know?
First of all, the brain is made up of neurons.
These neurons are
cells that have long tendrils called axons and dendrites. These
reach out so as to almost touch each other and that in turn means
that they will be close enough for small signals to jump across the
gap. This in turn creates a huge map made up of billions of
neurons with incredibly intricate connections. This network is
called the ‘connectome’ and everyone’s is slightly different. These
individual differences are what give us our different skills and
abilities and our different personalities.
Every single experience that you have can be mapped to one or
more of these neurons. Each neuron represents a sensation, a memory, an experience, a feeling or something else. Your vision
is mapped to a huge array of neurons that represent what you’re
seeing and likewise, your memory is made up of lots of interlinked
neurons that reflect your thoughts and ideas.
These neurons are groups roughly into different regions
throughout the brain based on their function. In the occipital lobe
for instance we have all the neurons responsible for our sight. In
the motor cortex we have neurons that correspond with
movements and sensations throughout our body.
cortex is where we handle things like planning and motivation.
Our brain stem handles breathing. And our hippocampus stores
many of our memories. This is why damage to a specific area of
the brain can result in a loss of specific function and this
organization is so extreme that there have even been cases
where a head trauma has led to a patient losing their memory of
vegetables and nothing else.
Interactions between neurons occurs through ‘action potentials’.
These are electrical impulses that occur once a neuron has
received enough stimulation. That stimulation is normally the
result of lots of nearby neurons firing enough to put it past a
certain excitability threshold. When an action potential occurs, this
can also result in the release of neurotransmitters. These are
chemicals released from vesicles (sacs) that alter the way that
neurons work – perhaps making them more or less likely to fire, or
perhaps making the event seem more or less
Another factor that influences our individual differences is our
balance of neurotransmitters and hormones. If you have lots of
the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, then you will be often in
a good mood and you’ll be relaxed. If you have lots of cortisol and
glutamate, then you will be a more wired and panicked kind of
Neurotransmitters and Outside Influences
What’s important to recognize here, is that those
neurotransmitters are not just a result of what is happening in the
brain but can also be a result of biological signals from our
bodies. For example, if you have low blood sugar, then your brain
produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. This is an
evolutionary response that is intended to make us seek out more
food – but it is also the reason that we tend to feel anxious and
angry when we haven’t eaten for a while. This is where the
experience of being ‘hangry’ comes from!
Conversely, serotonin can be released when we eat something
and our blood sugar spikes. This is why we feel good when we’ve
just eaten. That serotonin eventually converts to melatonin
though, which is the sleep neurotransmitter, and which suppresses neural activity. This is why we will often feel tired and
dopey after a big meal.
Countless other things also influence our balance of brain
chemicals. Bright light for instance can actually reduce the
production of melatonin and increase the production of cortisol
and nitric oxide to wake us up. Remember: there were no artificial
lights in the wild and so our brain could rely solely on this signal to
know what time of day it was!
While there is much more to it than that, this very generally
describes the form and function of the brain and how it gives rise
to our individual experiences.
Another aspect of the brain that is very important to familiarize
yourself with is plasticity. Brain plasticity – also called
neuroplasticity – is the brain’s ability to adapt and grow.
For a long time, it was thought that the brain only formed new
neurons and new connections during childhood and after that
point, it was set in stone. However, we now know that this
process continues until we die and is a crucial aspect of the way
our brain functions. It does slow down slightly in adults but it is still what gives us the ability to learn, to change our minds and to
acquire new skills.
Neural plasticity occurs through practice, repetition and events
that we believe to be very important. The saying among
neuroscientists goes: ‘what fires together, wires together’. In other
words, if you experience something, a neuron will light up. If you
experience that thing at the same time as another thing, two
neurons might light up (or more likely, two groups of thousands of
If you keep re-experiencing those two things together, a
connection between them will begin to form. Subsequently, that
connection will become stronger through a process called
myelination during which point the dendrites and axons become
insulated to better conduct the flow of electricity. Eventually, one
neuron firing will cause the other neuron to fire. This is how you
can then learn a complex series of movements when performing a
dance, or how you can memories words in a new language.
This might sound like a lot to take on board, but hopefully you
have the basic gist regarding a number of your brain’s functions.
Hopefully, you also might have found some of this pretty
interesting. After all, it is very relevant to all of us!
So now the question is how you can actually use this information
in a productive way?
One way to hack your brain for greater productivity, happiness or
whatever else, is by influencing the production of
neurotransmitters. We’ve learned that these influence our mood
and our ability to learn… so changing the balance of these
chemicals could certainly be very useful.
This is why a lot of people are interested in the idea of
‘nootropics’. Nootropics are smart drugs – supplements and
medications that can influence the production of neurotransmitters
so that we have more goal-oriented dopamine or less fearinducing cortisol. Modafinil alters the production of orexin, which
can completely change our sleep/wake cycle so we feel more
awake more of the time. This is also what caffeine does, by
removing the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine (or
neutralizing it, to be more precise).
The problem with this strategy is that it fixes the brain into a
specific, unnatural state and prevents you from being able to
easily ‘switch modes’. No one brain state is superior to all others –
for example, creativity actually requires relaxation, not stimulation.
Worse, the brain can adapt to those changes by creating more or
less ‘receptor sites’ (the points where the neurotransmitters work)
to make us more or less sensitive to the neurotransmitters in
question. This can eventually lead to addiction.
Some neurotransmitters work better by focussing more on
neuroplasticity, or more on energy production, but for the most
part this is not the solution.
What is a much more useful solution is to look at those factors
that natural influence neurotransmitter release. If you want to
hack any system, then the answer is to look at what the inputs
So, we know that bright light can increase energy and make us
less sleepy, so why not consider investing in a daylight lamp
which is designed to combat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
by simulating the sun’s rays? We know that cold likewise can
increase focus, while heat can help us to feel more relaxed and
happy. We know that the sun and that exercise can boost our
mood through the production of serotonin.
We also know that our brain is subject to certain natural cycles –
those relating to sleep and hunger for instance. By timing our productivity around those things, we can work more effectively
and freer from distraction.
And if you find yourself feeling very stressed or depressed, then it
might pay to consider some of the biological factors that may be
causing that. Perhaps you’re hungry? Or perhaps you’re a little ill
and the pro-inflammatory cytokines are causing brain fog? Once
you know the problem is transient and biological, it can be much
easier to let it pass.
Controlling Your Brain
More importantly though, it is critical that you learn to create the
moods and the feelings that you need by changing the way you
think and use your brain.
The thing that makes humans unique is our ability to visualize – to
internalize events and to imagine future scenarios or possibilities.
This is our working memory at play and it is what enables us to
think of long-term goals and to invent new ideas. And if you
believe in the theory of ‘embodied cognition’, then you might find
that this is even what we use to understand plain English (look it
up – it’s fascinating!).
When we visualize or imagine, we do so by lighting up the same
neurons in the brain as though the event were really happening.
Neurologically, we find actually doing something and imaging
doing something almost indistinguishable.
This means that you can use visualization in order to practice
things and develop skills – you can trigger brain plasticity just as
though you were really practicing the event! Not only that, but you
can also use this as a way to trigger the correct neurotransmitters
in order to put yourself in the correct state of mind.
Ultimately, this will lead to the ability to control your own emotions
– to trigger the best possible mental state for the task at hand. It
requires training of your visualization skills and the awareness to
then use those skills to ease your anxiety and to motivate
yourself to focus and to become more alert as necessary. This is
the neuroscience that underlies psychological approaches such
as cognitive behavioral therapy and philosophies such as
This is also why it is so important to avoid bad habits – even bad
habits in our thoughts – as ruminating and indulging actually
strengthens connections that make those habits harder and
harder to break.
There’s a lot more to making the most from your own brain, but I
hope this basic primer has given you a better understanding a
little more control.
In order to get what you want from life, you first need to know
what that is. How can you fulfil your potential if you don’t know
who you are or what makes you happy?
This is why goal setting is such a crucial skill to cultivate and
something that everyone should spend more time learning. If you
don’t know what your goals are, then life becomes a little like
going on a journey with no destination. Even if you might enjoy
the journey, you’re still going to risk ending up somewhere you
don’t want to be and you certainly won’t take the most efficient
route to get there!
So, it’s simple right? You just have to ask yourself what you really
want from life and then go and get it. Right?
Unfortunately not. Unfortunately, goal setting is anything but easy
and is very much a skill in itself. The problem is that not many
people realize this and they never think to assess the quality of
the goals themselves. They blame their motivation, their
circumstances or even other people.
But rarely do they assess whether the gault might lie with the goal
In this part, you’re going to learn what makes a great goal and
you’re going to discover how to formulate goals and targets that
you can actually stand a good chance of completing. Once you’ve finished, you might well realize why life hasn’t yet turned out quite
the way you want it.
AN EXAMPLE OF BAD GOAL SETTING
To understand how to write a good goal, it can help to first take a
look at what makes a bad goal. Why is it that some goals just
don’t work out the way they should? What should we do
differently to avoid this happening the next time?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you want to get into shape.
You’re planning on losing weight and building muscle – which is a
pretty popular goal that an awful lot of people are interested in
In this case, a typical goal might involve writing down the ideal
bodyweight and/or measurements that you are trying to reach and
then setting yourself a target – 3 months, 6 months or 1 year. And
then you get to it!
But this is a goal that is destined to failure. Why? Because it is far
too vague, far too distant and far too out of your control.
Let’s fast forward two weeks, at which point you have hopefully
been training hard for a while and changing your diet. Suddenly,
life starts to get in the way. You find yourself bogged down with other things you have to do and you just don’t have the time or
energy to make it to the gym today. Or tomorrow. And
Wednesday is looking tricky. So is Thursday.
But it’s okay. Because you don’t need to work out. Not working
out on those days is not breaking your goal. You have plenty of
time to reach your goal and it is up to you how you are going to go
about making it happen. So, if you take time off today, you’ll just
put some more time in tomorrow. Or the next day. If this week is a
write-off, then you can always make up for it next week.
And so it continues, week after week, until you get to the end of
your allotted time span and you realize you’ve blown any chance
of accomplishing that goal.
Or how about this alternative scenario? Imagine that you did put
in the time and you worked very hard every day to get into shape.
But the pounds just didn’t come off. Maybe this is due to a slow
metabolism, maybe it boils down to people offering to take you
out for dinner too frequently.
Either way, you get to a certain point and you realize once again
that you aren’t going to make it. Even though you tried your best.
So, what do you do? You give up, disheartened, and you leave it
a long time before you ever try again.
A BETTER GOAL
So, let’s imagine that same scenario but this time write the goal
correctly. What would a good goal look like if you wanted to lose
weight and build muscle?
For starters, you should remove the time element. Instead of
aiming to accomplish something in X number of days, how about
you instead aim to do something every day. Look at the goal that
you want to accomplish and then break that down into much
smaller steps. In order to lose weight, you need to eat 2,000
calories or less a day. And you need to work out three times a
If you can do that, then you will eventually notice changes – be
they big or small.
So instead of focusing on the end goal, set yourself a short-term
goal. This is something that is entirely within your control –
meaning that you cannot ‘fail’ for reasons outside of your control.
It is also completely resistant to being put off or delayed. You
can’t ‘work out today’ tomorrow! Likewise, a slow metabolism isn’t
going to prevent you from eating only 2,000 calories.
Jerry Seinfeld explains a technique that he uses in order to make
sure he sticks to these kinds of goals and he calls it ‘the chain’.
The idea is that he builds a chain as he completes his daily
targets and this then creates an immense pressure not to break
You can do this with a calendar and a pen. So, every day that you
successfully work out, you put a tick on the calendar for that day.
This will then start to gradually build up a row of ticks and over
time, you will come to feel proud of that row of ticks and not want
to ruin it by missing one. You won’t want to ‘break the chain’.
Whether you use this additional strategy or not, the point is that
you should write goals that are immediate and simple. Meanwhile,
you can let the overarching objective ‘take care of itself’.
IS YOUR GOAL TOO AMBITIOUS?
There’s nothing wrong with an ambitious goal. Many people say
that ‘dreaming big’ can even make you more likely to accomplish
your aim because it attracts attention, gravitates people toward
you and helps get people on board. If you tell people you want to
fly to space, you’ll get a lot more positive attention than if you tell
people you want to climb Mount Snowdown (a pretty small
mountain in Wales).
This is why another piece of advice that often gets thrown about is
to ‘have visions, not goals’. Visions are abstract and they are grand. These are things you visualize and dream about, rather
than things you write down and tick off. If you want to get into
shape, then your goal can be to train three times a week, but your
vision would be to become the best physical specimen you can –
attractive to everyone and full of confidence and energy.
But while a vision can be as grand and extreme as you like, those
smaller steps should still be small and they should be easy. At
least at the very start these steps should be easy and this will
then allow you to build towards your higher overarching objective.
Think of this like a hierarchy. At the top, you have your grand
vision for the future – something so exciting that it helps you to
launch yourself out of bed in the morning.
Beneath that, you might have your ‘realistic’ version of what you
can achieve with your current resources. Beneath that, you might
have the steps you are taking every day to achieve it.
The mistake a lot of people make is to clump all these things
together and not to consider the necessary progression from one
stage to the next. This is the reason that someone who has never
been to the gym before, might well write themselves a new
training program that requires them to train for an hour a day,
seven days a week and to do this on a diet of 1,000 calories.
They’ll then do stretching on top of that and start a yoga class.
Is it any wonder that we don’t tend to stick to these goals?
The problem really tends to boil down to impatience. People want
to accomplish their goals now. They don’t want to put in the time
or the repetitious work that it actually takes in order to get to that
point. And they don’t want the uncertainty that after all that work, it
may not pay off.
But you need to change that thinking. Everything worth having
comes with work and diligence and this is often highly repetitive
and boring. If you want to get into shape, you need to train
regularly and it takes years to get to a point where your new
physique is impressive and ‘permanent’. If you want to start your
own business, well then there is a ton you need to learn before
you even get going.
(Procrastinating on a goal is just as bad by the way though –
which is another reason it is so important you have a concrete
Think of this like a computer game. Computer games begin with a
few levels that are incredibly easy and this is necessary to
prevent you as the player from rage quitting. Your goals should be
the same – if your ‘level one’ is a massive boss battle, then you
won’t be successful.
Lots of people get this wrong when they are taking up running for
the first time. Here, they aim to start running long distances right away and losing weight. It’s grueling, painful and unrewarding and
it leaves them gasping and achy for days after.
What they should do is to to first focus on getting good at running
and on learning to like running.
So that means they should be running short distances, not
running too fast, not running too far and generally not pushing
themselves beyond a sensible point. This way, they can gradually
start to like running and they can gradually find themselves
running further and further without even trying.
And in fact, often it only takes small changes to get to the place
you want to be. This is best exemplified by the Japanese notion of
‘Kaizen’. Kaizen essentially means ‘lots of small changes that
build up to big results.
For instance, if you want to lose weight, then it might be easier to
look at small changes you can make to get there, rather than
• Walk from the bus stop before your destination on your
• Stop drinking calorific coffees in the morning
• Swap sugary soda drinks for still water as your main source
• Take your lunch snack out of your lunchbox
• Eat off of smaller plates
These are just a few small changes that should be easy enough
for most people to stick to and yet they can be enough to really
sway your calorie total in your favor – eventually leading to
cumulative weight loss!
As you can see then, learning to structure your goals correctly
can make a big difference when it comes to your likelihood of
accomplishing them. The key is to set your sights high, but to
have concrete, small steps that you can take along the way in
order to get there. Forget how long it is going to take, deal with it
being ‘boring’ and just focus on repeating the same few actions
every day until you eventually achieve the thing you want to
achieve or become the person you want to become.
And if you assess the situation in a year and you still haven’t
made the progress you’d hoped? Then perhaps you need to
rethink those goals again. Like anything else, this takes time,
practice and effort. But you’re not in any rush!
Your entire experience and quality of life hinges on your ability to
clear and control the mind.
Many of us believe that our happiness is dependent on outside
factors and on what happens to us. This however is not true.
Rather, our happiness depends on the way we react to what
happens to us. And the same goes for every other aspect of our
experience too: your stress levels are a result of the way you
react to events, and your ability to be productive depend on your
Don’t believe me? To prove it, let’s imagine that you’re in a
caravan and it’s hanging over the edge of a cliff. If you move too
much then it’s going to topple over the edge into a ravine.
If you are aware of this situation, then in all likelihood you will be
riddled with fear. Your heartrate will increase, your blood vessels
will dilate, your muscles will contract and you will start breathing
quickly. You’ll sweat and your mind will be all over the place.
But now let’s imagine that you’re in the very same situation but
you believe that you can fly. In that case, you’ll probably sit
happily reading and not worry all too much about your precarious
As you can see here, your belief about the situation and about the
events is what is in control of not just your mood – but your very physiology. And guess which person is more likely to survive this
situation without letting the caravan fall?
Now don’t get this twisted: I am not here to tell you that holding
completely deluded beliefs is the way forward! And nor should
you convince yourself you can fly.
But this is merely a demonstration of the power of the mind and of
your beliefs. Now if you imagine yourself in another more realistic
setting you can see how your beliefs can change the way you
Let’s say you’re standing up on stage and you’re about to give a
speech in front of lots of people.
Some of us don’t believe we can fly.
Some of us think that we’re
going to say the wrong thing, that we’re going to stutter and that
people are going to laugh at us! We thus begin to panic and
guess what? Our blood vessels dilate, our muscles contract and
our heartrate goes up. Our mind begins to race which makes us
more likely to make mistakes and our throat becomes dry and
hoarse. The irony is that the speech is much more likely to go
wrong simply because we’re worried that it might!
And now imagine the same scenario but where you believe it’s
going to other people might think. This kind of calm mindfulness is going to
help you to act as though there isn’t even an audience there!
Again, it is your reaction to the event that is going to keep stress
And it’s not just these acutely stressful situations that can benefit
from mindfulness and calmness either. Imagine for example that
you come home from work and you can’t stop thinking about the
last thing your boss/client/colleague said to you. Then you wonder
if you sent that important last email…
How present are you going to be when you get home? How much
are your family likely to enjoy spending time with you?
Imagine that you are on a great holiday but all you can think about
is whether or not you left the oven on at home. How much do you
think you’ll enjoy the incredible views of mountains going past
Imagine that you’re in the gym and your mind is thinking about the
computer game you were playing last night, or X Factor. Do you
really think that you’re going to be capable of exerting maximum
force in that workout?
Our aim is to help you to take back control over your mind and in
doing this, you’re also going to be taking back control over your
emotions and your feelings.
The end result is that you’re going to be able to become
completely present in any given moment and completely ‘mindful’,
thereby abandoning unhelpful concerns, stressors and emotions.
There’s a school of psychology that can help us to do this called
CBT. CBT stands for ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ and it’s all
about taking control of your thoughts. What’s more, is CBT
actually starts out using a form of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation means that you are meditating in such a
way as to become more aware of your own thoughts and feelings.
In other forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation
– ask the user to try and completely clear their mind, often by
focussing on a single point in space, or perhaps a sound or a
word (this is called a ‘mantra’ and it is why we imagine Buddhist
monks to hum as they meditate!). The difference with mindfulness
is that you aren’t trying to eradicate your thoughts but rather you
are trying to simply ‘watch them’ as they float past you. The idea
is that you are becoming aware of the kinds of things you
normally think but you aren’t engaging with them and you aren’t letting them affect you. The description is often that you should
watch them pass by ‘like clouds in the sky’.
Do this for a while and then write down the content of some of
those thoughts. Look at the things you stress about and worry
about on a regular basis and reflect on them in an objective,
disconnected manner – nonjudgmentally.
The CBT professional would next instruct you to begin breaking
down and analysing those thoughts. Some of these will be things
that you are going to worrying about and stressing about and
which are going to stop you from enjoying yourself in the moment.
You’re going to practice dismissing them but to help, you’re also
going to disassemble them using restructuring techniques.
One example of this is called ‘thought challenging’ which is going
to teach you to challenge the validity of your worries or your
For example, let’s say that you’re worried you didn’t send an
email at work. Thought challenging is going to help you overcome
this. First, you ask yourself if there’s anything you can do about it.
If not, then what is the good in worrying? In fact, it is more important that you relax and enjoy yourself so that you can be
fresh and well to handle the challenges tomorrow.
Next, you ask how much it really matters. What is the worst case
scenario? Everyone makes mistakes and in all likelihood, your
boss isn’t going to be furious – they’ll be understanding.
Does some small part of you think that you’re going to get fired?
Then just remind yourself that this is incredibly hard for any
business to do legally and it would be worse for them than it
would be for you.
And after all, if your workplace would fire you so readily, would
you really want to be there anyway?
Are you worried that people will be mad at you? You made a
mistake! So what? And since when do you need to be best friends
with your work colleagues?
This is the logical and reasonable reaction to this concern and
once you can learn to deconstruct your worries this way, it will
allow you to simply forget them and go back to enjoying whatever
you’re doing – or remaining calm when you’re under pressure.
HOW TO USE THE BODY SCAN
Generally meditating is one of the most important ways to
promote mindfulness, calm and self-control.
In his book Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss looks at the habits and
routines of the world’s most successful people. What he finds is
that they have a lot of things in common and one of the most
prevalent of these commonalities is that they all meditate!
Everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Tony Robbins, to Elon
Musk describe meditation as being a key tool that helped them
achieve everything they did.
When you meditate, you learn a method to forget your worries
and to simply let your mind ‘be’. More importantly though, you
develop greater concentration and greater focus which prevents
your mind from getting into an anxious mess to begin with!
So how do you begin meditation?
One useful strategy is to start with the body scan technique. To
get started, sit somewhere comfortable with your legs crossed
and your hands on your knees. Keep your back straight, your chin
up and forward and your eyes closed – but make sure you aren’t
in a position where you can fall asleep!
Now you’re going to simply ‘scan’ your body by focusing on each
part one at a time and then making a note of how it feels and
relaxing it. Before that though, you begin with your senses. Listen
carefully to the world around you. You’ll find that there are sounds
that you have completely blocked out until now and you’ll notice
birds tweeting, cars honking, children playing and wind howling.
Feel the temperature of your skin, notice if you’re on a slight
gradient and even look at the light as it dances through your
Okay, now focus on the top of your head and start to take your
attention downward to your cheeks, jaw and then neck and
shoulders. Stop at each point and make a note of how it feels: are
you carrying any tension? Are you feeling any pain? Release
tension in the muscle and then keep moving.
Eventually, you’ll reach the very bottom of your body. At which
point you can begin to concentrate on your breathing for a while.
Breathing should be ‘belly breathing’, which begins with the gut
expanding and then fills the lungs all the way up. Breathing
steadily and rhythmically will slow the heartrate via the
parasympathetic nervous system and put you in an even calmer
state. Finally, bring your attention to just below the navel and hold
it there. This is your center of gravity and concentrating here will
Throughout this process, you might notice your thoughts start to
drift from time to time. If this happens, don’t let it concern you. It is
normal and not the end of the world – just quietly dismiss those
thoughts and then return to the focus.
Finally, repeat the steps in reverse order and bring yourself back
around. That was a body scan meditation!
This is a powerful tool because it is forcing your to direct your
attention and to ignore the outside thoughts. More importantly, it
is engaging you with your own body, physicality and
surroundings. And when you do this, your sensations become
richer and more vivid.
Eventually, if you keep practicing this skill, you should get to the
point where you can begin to become more mindful and more
present at will – even while moving and engaging in other tasks.
That means just taking a moment to actually look at the world
around you. Pausing to see what you can hear. And fixing your
posture. It means not getting so caught up in your own thoughts
that you let life pass you by, or that you live in a constant state of
stress and anxiety.
Once you can do this, then you will find that nothing can stir you
in quiet the same way unless you want it to. You can always just
enjoy being in the moment and forget the past and the future for a
time. You can enjoy living and taste the amazing taste of that chocolate biscuit while that email sits there in your outbox
This is the key to happiness: you can choose to react positively
instead of negatively. You can choose to view things as a
challenge or an amusing hiccup instead of a serious threat. But it
is also the key to unlocking your full potential so you perform
better and achieve more!