You can get addicted to anything and I managed to do it.
I’m addicted to self-improvement. I spent the last year trying to find something. Trying to find myself. I was missing something.
After months of searching in the deepest realms of my soul, whatever that is, I figured I had been doing too much searching and not enough finding. I got deep. Real deep.
So what did I find?
Have you ever tried retrieving a coin from the back seat of a car? The closer you get, the more your fingers force the cushions to move apart and the coin gets further and further away before falling into another dimension.
That’s exactly what it’s like incessantly searching for yourself like I did.
I found nothing.
I learned to come to terms with myself, rather than finding myself.
There’s been quite the obsession lately with self-improvement, self-discovery, finding your true self, self-awakening, self-whatever. I rode the wave for a perfect 10.
Where did this get me? I learned a valuable lesson. There is no answer. Maybe that’s enlightenment. Coming to terms with the fact there is no answer.
The majority of self-help books be summed up with one sentence. Look in the mirror, there lies the answer to all your questions and your competition.
It also dawned upon me despite this worlds constant need for you to be adaptable to different situations (insert excerpt of any current job listing). A trait that has fallen by the way side is standing firm. Standing firm in your beliefs and not being easily swayed by the flavour of the month. How incredible would it be to be satisfied with vanilla ice-cream instead of six different flavours at once?
Enough soul-searching talk.
What’s the purpose of this article?
Last year, I wrote 23 Things I Learned After 23 Years. Today I turn 24. Everything in last years article still holds true in my life. I’ve decided to create a yearly tradition.
4-year-old me was jealous of my brother’s Bananas in Pyjamas shirt.
You could consider this as an ongoing manifesto. I want to be able to look back over these after a number of years and find out what the trends are.
Some of the points may come across as being directives. You can take them like this if you please but understand, this is more of a note to self than an instruction manual for how to live your life. These are my principles which I’ve decided to publish publicly. And after all, I’m a 24-year-old trying to navigate this maze of life.
I’ve been learning the art of computer programming this year. In light of this, I’ve turned each point into a boolean expression (true or false). I’ve also endeavoured to keep each principle short and to the point. Each of these lessons could be entire posts in themselves.
1 — Nutrient Dense Foods > Calorie Dense Foods
Stick to this rule the majority of the time and it’s hard to go wrong. Food is one of the force multipliers of life. Without the right fuel, how can you expect to function correctly?
2 — Silence + Boredom = Creativity
Don’t devalue the importance of these states. You don’t always have to be doing something. Be okay with doing nothing.
I went on a contemplative walk a couple of months ago. I didn’t take a phone with me. It felt so foreign.
I had an explosion of thoughts running through my head. Voices I hadn’t heard in a long time. I came to a realisation, many of my favorite things in my life have something to do with communicating to others.
This realisation brought me to a standstill in the street. In one moment, I realised where I want the next few years of my life to go. I don’t know if I would’ve had this moment if I hadn’t embraced the silence.
3 — Voluntary Stresses > Involuntary Stresses
Create your own stresses before they manifest in your life in some undesired form.
If you are reading this, chances are you don’t have to avoid a lion pouncing on you today. We live in different times to how we evolved. In the past, we’d constantly have to be on the lookout for surprise attacks, either from animals or other members of the tribe.
There are fewer lions actively walking around the street, but the constant alertness and awareness have stuck around. Essentially, we’re all looking for these stresses which don’t exist.
I call this involuntary stress. Being worried about something that doesn’t actually exist.
My way of dealing with this is to create stress for myself. To use this continual awareness rather than it being spent in areas, not of my choosing. I do this through two methods, voluntary physical stress and voluntary mental stress. In other words, a period of intense exercise and concentrated creativity work/learning every day.
I do other things such as cold showers, extended periods of fasting and the occasional public speaking event but the physical and mental stresses are staples.
By creating voluntary stresses in my life, it helps to reduce the amount of involuntary stress.
4 — Now == Okay or Perfect
Right now is a perfect moment. The now is infinite and all you will ever have is now. It’s also an okay time to start something.
The reason now is both okay and perfect is paradoxical. The now is perfect at the same time there is no perfect moment. It is both okay and perfect.
There will never be a perfect moment to start the book you want to write, the business you’ve been dreaming of or ask the person you’ve been talking to out to dinner but now is okay.
I’ve missed out on many opportunities waiting for the perfect moment. A few weeks ago I tried slam poetry for the first time. I spent the week prior to the event putting off actually writing a poem to recite. I was waiting until I felt the creative juices flowing. I was waiting for the perfect moment. It never came.
It wasn’t until 3 hours before the event did I have something I could practice. I ended up nailing the poem in practice but missing out an entire verse on stage. It wasn’t perfect but it was okay. I’m happy with that.
All of the best stuff happens when we act even if we aren’t completely sure.
5 — Overnight Major Success == 10+ Years of Small Successes
A breaking news story of an overnight success often forgets the thousands of small successes which it was built upon.
Setting out to fly to Mars would’ve been considered impossible a few decades ago. Now Elon Musk and teams of worlds smartest people are working towards not only getting there but living there within the next century.
When I was 15 and overweight, I never would’ve thought one day I would get on stage in nothing but shorts, covered in fake tan and be considered a Men’s Physique athlete. Then I did.
The law of compound interest does not only apply to the financial world. It applies everywhere. Reading a few pages in a book each day may not seem like it helps in the grand scheme of things but a few pages each day eventually leads to a library of knowledge. Actively applying this knowledge over time leads to a life of wisdom.
Don’t neglect the small steps.
6 — Preparing Well + Executing Well == Job Done Well
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln.
If Lincoln would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe, he still has to cut the tree down.
You may have done the best preparation you could possibly do for something. Made sure everything is in the right place and everyone involved has been organised to perfection. You still have to do the task ahead. You still have to cut the tree down.
Most of the time things won’t go to plan, that’s where executing well comes in.
Finding a balance between these two is never easy. Perfect planning does not make up for poor execution and perfectly executing a poor plan does not go down well either.
7 — Voluntary Sleep > Involuntary Sleep
Like food, sleep is another force multiplier of life. There is not one process in the body which isn’t affected in some way by sleep. If you don’t put yourself to sleep voluntarily, your body will take you there itself.
A lack of sleep is nothing to be proud of. You will be everything but your best.
In the past, I’d pride myself on being able to function on the minimal amount of sleep before exams and handing in assignments. Mostly because of my poor planning and poor execution (see no. 6). Often I’d sacrifice sleep to get up early and workout, I was probably doing more harm than good.
One of my goals for 2017 was to average 8 hours of sleep per night. I achieved that early in the year and I’m sticking to it. I was still waking up tired. My sleep quantity was fine, my sleep quality was off.
7–9 hours of sleep is non-negotiable for the majority of the population. You may already be getting this but how’s the quality?
Ways to improve sleep quality:
- No screens 1 hour before bed.
- No caffeine within 6–8 hours of sleeping (caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours).
- Adequate micronutrient intake (magnesium especially, eat your green leafy vegetables).
- No exercise other than love making within 2 hours of sleep.
- Completely dark room. If it emits light, cover it. You shouldn’t be able to see your hand.
- Workout during the day.
- Brief sun-exposure to skin/eyes in the early morning (between 6:30–8:30 a.m. is best, for 15–30 minutes).
8 — Asking > Not Asking
When you want something, ask for it. Whether it be from yourself or from someone else.
The opportunity you’re looking for is more than likely in the form of a question rather than an answer.
9 — Opinion > No Opinion
Have a strong opinion but don’t be strongly attached to it.
Having an opinion shows you know where you stand. Don’t always sit on the fence.
A strong opinion on something also leaves you open to debate with others who have a strong opinion of the opposite. This creates a learning opportunity for all involved. Use this to your advantage.
Too many times I’ve been too easily swayed by what I’ve heard on TV or from some form of authority. I used to treat everything I read in a book as gospel. Not so much anymore.
Take the best opinions from everyone and create your own.
10 — You != Donkey
Buridan’s donkey is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It keeps looking left and right, trying to decide between hay and water. Unable to decide, it eventually falls over and dies of hunger and thirst.
You’re not a donkey. Stop trying to pursue too many different avenues at once.
Make a decision and stick with it (see no. 9).
I’ve wasted far too much time stuck between deciding what I should do, instead of actually doing it. Doing too many different things at once because I can’t decide which is best. Secretly, I think I know which is best, I’m afraid of going all in on it so I fill my time with other things.
I want to be a creative. More specifically, a storyteller. So what did I do? The only logical thing and I started a podcast, I started a YouTube channel, I started a whole bunch of online courses. I still can’t decide which avenue to follow.
I’m being a donkey.
Don’t be a donkey.
11 — Riches = Bringing Value to Others + Value to Yourself
Create value for others and yourself and you will eventually become rich. This won’t always scale proportionately in terms of material or intrinsic worth.
Acquiring material riches is a sign you have brought value to others in some way. Being rich also allows you to create further value to others.
Bringing value to others and yourself won’t always result in material riches. For example, donating blood. When I donate blood I feel a heightened sense of self-worth. It’s a stroke to my ego knowing I’m doing something good for the world. By bringing value to myself and value to others, I feel rich. However, I don’t get any kind of material return for this action.
12 — Shared Work > Hidden Work
Work that remains hidden is of value to no one other than the creator.
This is not to say everything has to be out there in the open. There is such a thing for creating for the sake of creating. The creative can argue their work was for nothing except their own joy. But joy is best experienced when it is shared.
I write every day. The majority of my work is hidden. I still deal with imposter syndrome. Afraid of what the world will think if I decided to expose a little more of myself. Who am I to be having these thoughts and writing them down?
Every time I’ve gotten past this fear, I’ve discovered a better version of myself. I’ve stepped past the need to be accepted.
The need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.
Share your work.
13 — Worst Critic == You
The main philosophy of most self-improvement coaches/books/courses is to hold up a mirror in front of you.
The underlying lesson is we are all own our worst critics. We give ourselves a hard time for events which have not even occurred yet. For actions, we have yet to commit. For words, we have yet to say.
When I look at something I’ve done, I’m the first to shoot holes in it. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it can lead to improvement. But it can get out of control, leading to a self-imposed limitation.
Stop being so harsh on yourself.
14 — (Environment + People) * Time Spent == You
Have you heard of the five chimps rule? Essentially it states you’re an average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think about it.
This rule includes not only people but the five environments you frequent, the five actions you constantly repeat, the five books you read most often, the five news feeds you pay the most attention to. Humans are vulnerable. We are mailable and adaptable.
Be careful where you spend your time and who you spend it with, it will change you.
15 — People Who Care = 0
A great way to remain invisible to worry incessantly about the opinions of others.
Ultimately, no one is more concerned with how you live your life than you.
What will they think of me? should be replaced with What will I think of me?.
More often than not, they do not care in the least that you’ve decided to take up singing or start a business or move to Iceland.
I realised this when I got up on stage and competed in a Men’s Physique competition in 2015. The audience wasn’t worried about me. They came to see a great show. They came to see some ideal constructs of the male body. Why was I then so worried about how they would perceive me? I should’ve used the energy to put on a better show.
I should’ve referred to 13.
16 — Perfectionism = 0
Not putting something into the world unless it’s perfect will net zero results.
There is no such thing as perfect. If everyone waited until their work was perfect, nothing would exist.
I’ve held myself back by waiting for the perfect moment to do something. Waiting for the perfect moment to write a poem to recite. I would tell myself, I’ll know when the moment is right. I’ll know when the time is right to sit down and write this poem. The truth is, you will never know.
Ship when you can, don’t wait for the perfect moment, it doesn’t exist.
17 — Everyone == Contradiction
Everyone is going to contradict themselves at some point. Including you.
Consistency is powerful but it can be taken to the extreme sometimes.
Say someone calls you and after brief introductions the caller asks a question,
How likely are you to donate to X charity?
Being the noble person you are, you reply,
Very likely, I’m a very charitable person.
The call is ended and two weeks later you receive another call. This time is from a representative from charity X.
Hello sir, I’m hearing collecting for charity X, would you consider donating?
Now the consistency bias arrives. Two weeks ago, you stated you would be very likely to donate to charity X, now they’re calling you asking for donations. Realistically, you don’t want to donate to charity X but how likely are you to keep your word? Suddenly you’re doing something you don’t really be wanting to do because you want to remain consistent.
I’ve been the person in the example before. I didn’t want to go back on my word, I didn’t want to be a contradiction.
The question is, do you tell the truth in the first call or do you be consistent with your word in the second?
I’d prefer to tell the truth in the first call to prevent a second call from occurring but things don’t always go to plan.
It’s okay to contradict yourself in situations where the outcome will be different to what you first intended. We live in a society riddled with change and consistency are expected to occur at the same time. Sometimes consistency lands us in undesired scenarios.
Stand firm on your principles but don’t get caught out trying to be consistent.
18 — Work == Life
Work is life and life is work.
I’ve never really understood the work-life balance concept. Is there supposed to be a moment after finishing work and getting home when you start living? If I’m not mistaken, you’re alive while you’re working.
Your work sucks? Well, life also sucks sometimes.
If your work requires you to spend time away from it in order to feel ‘alive’. Consider another line of work. I’m not saying it’s time to quit your job and become a surfing instructor in Hawaii either.
Realising you’re trading a portion of your life for the work you’re doing puts things into perspective.
19 — Circumlocution != Better
Actions > few words > silence > more words than necessary.
20 — Rushing = Unnecessary
I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever seen someone happy in a rush. Don’t rush so much.
Rushing is really a metaphor for unrealistic desires.
I used to say “traffic is the only thing that gets me mad.” This was until I discovered it was because I was in a rush. Sitting in traffic expecting to get somewhere faster than possible. An unrealistic desire.
Match your needs with realistic wants and you’ll save a whole bunch of rushing.
This point could be considered a conflict with number 4, refer to 17.
21 — Change == Constant
The only constant is change. Everything is temporary.
I’ve recently started viewing everything as on loan. Rather than having ownership over anything or anyone, it’s on loan. Looking at things in this way and understanding they could vanish at any time makes me appreciate them more.
Evolution is what got us here and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon. Better to work with the greatest force in the universe rather than against it.
22 — (Little Goals + Consistency) * Time + Luck = Big Goals
16-year-old me would’ve never believed 23-year-old me would have abs and be able to do pull-ups whenever he wanted. I remember seeing posters of elite bodybuilders and male fitness models and think there had to be some way they were cheating to look like that.
Then I discovered the secret. The key to everything. The simple little equation above. The beautiful thing is you can control three out of the four variables. And most of the time, you create your own luck by paying attention to the first three.
Want to run a marathon? Start by running 100m every day for a week. Double it every week and after nine weeks, you’ll be running the equivalent of a marathon every day. Of course, things may not play out this simple but the formula holds true.
This point is essentially the same as number 5 but the underlying principle is so valuable, I felt it should be mentioned twice.
23 — Play + 1 == Happiness
When did everything become so serious? Play more, it’ll benefit you in more ways than one.
I was 10-years-old when I was introduced to RuneScape. I’ve loved it ever since. I would wake up at 5 a.m. before school to play it for a few hours only to come home and play it until I got tired.
I got good at it. Really good. I bonded over it with my brothers and developed some of my most valued relationships through it.
I could play for 18 hours a day without hesitation. I loved it.
I’ve stopped playing completely about half a dozen times over the past decade but I always seem to come back to it. I used to think it was a waste of time but now I see it as the opposite.
Without play we become drones. Humans weren’t meant to be drones. We’re building drones now so they can be drones and not us.
Playing RuneScape allowed me to enter a virtual world where nothing else mattered. It was me and the universe I could dream up.
It doesn’t have to be a computer game either, it could be dancing, running, throwing a ball against a wall or reading a novel. Anything where it’s you and your thoughts.
Play time is not wasted time.
Find your RuneScape, play some more.
24 — True or False
Don’t take anything as truth because someone said so. Always ask yourself, is this true?
Trying something out for months even years on end trying to make it truth is an exhausting way to spend your time. Why not start with it?
Before you cement newly learned knowledge into wisdom, ask yourself, is it true? Some learnings require to be trialed before the question can be answered but many don’t require the try before you buy period.
How many times have you been led blindly into the forest because you failed to read the sign at the fork in the road?
Stand firm with your beliefs, you don’t always have to board the hype train if it isn’t going to your station.
This list could be extended but I think 24 is fitting for the occasion.
Remember, these are my principles. I’ve been building them up over the past 24 years but they have only come into realisation within the past few years. Before you consider adopting them or arguing them, please refer to number 24.
Let’s see what makes it through to next year.
P.S. If there’s something you think I’ve missed or I could improve upon, I’d love to hear about it.
P.P.S. My RuneScape username is 0__Crazy__0 (zeroes and two spaces) if you want to play together.