LIFE – How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One

How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One

Woman Drinking Using Mug

by James Clear
Read this on JamesClear.com
Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. They jeopardize your health — both mentally and physically. And they waste your time and energy.

So why do we still do them? And most importantly, is there anything you can do about it?

I’ve previously written about the science of how habits start, so now let’s focus on the practice of making changes in the real world. How can you delete your bad behaviors and stick to good ones instead?

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but keep reading and I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to break a bad habit.

What causes bad habits?

Most of your bad habits are caused by two things…

Stress and boredom.

Most of the time, bad habits are simply a way of dealing with stress and boredom. Everything from biting your nails to overspending on a shopping spree to drinking every weekend to wasting time on the internet can be a simple response to stress and boredom. [1]

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach yourself new and healthy ways to deal with stress and boredom, which you can then substitute in place of your bad habits.

Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom that is on the surface is actually caused by deeper issues. These issues can be tough to think about, but if you’re serious about making changes then you have to be honest with yourself.

Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind the bad habit? Is there something deeper — a fear, an event, or a limiting belief — that is causing you to hold on to something that is bad for you?

Recognizing the causes of your bad habits is crucial to overcoming them.

You don’t eliminate a bad habit, you replace it.

All of the habits that you have right now — good or bad — are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.

Sometimes the benefit is biological like it is with smoking or drugs. Sometimes it’s emotional like it is when you stay in a relationship that is bad for you. And in many cases, your bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. For example, biting your nails, pulling your hair, tapping your foot, or clenching your jaw.

These “benefits” or reasons extend to smaller bad habits as well.

For example, opening your email inbox as soon as you turn on your computer might make you feel connected. At the same time looking at all of those emails destroys your productivity, divides your attention, and overwhelms you with stress. But, it prevents you from feeling like you’re “missing out” … and so you do it again.

Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.)

Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.

For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to deal with stress and insert that new behavior instead of having a cigarette.

In other words, bad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason, it’s better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.

How to break a bad habit

Here are some additional ideas for breaking your bad habits and thinking about the process in a new way.

Choose a substitute for your bad habit. You need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: write one sentence for work.) Whatever it is and whatever you’re dealing with, you need to have a plan for what you will do instead of your bad habit.

Cut out as many triggers as possible. If you smoke when you drink, then don’t go to the bar. If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all away. If the first thing you do when you sit on the couch is pick up the TV remote, then hide the remote in a closet in a different room. Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.

Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome.

Join forces with somebody. How often do you try to diet in private? Or maybe you “quit smoking” … but you kept it to yourself? (That way no one will see you fail, right?)

Instead, pair up with someone and quit together. The two of you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a powerful motivator.

Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live.You don’t need to ditch your old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones.

Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, visualize yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success. See yourself building a new identity.

You don’t need to be someone else, you just need to return to the old you. So often we think that to break our bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your bad habits. In fact, it’s very unlikely that you had these bad habits all of your life. You don’t need to quit smoking, you just need to return to being a non–smoker. You don’t need to transform into a healthy person, you just need to return to being healthy. Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit, which means you can most definitely do it again.

Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk. One thing about battling bad habits is that it’s easy to judge yourself for not acting better. Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it’s easy to tell yourself how much you suck. [2]

Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”…

  • “I’m fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”
  • “I’m stupid and nobody respects me, but I’m working to develop a valuable skill.”
  • “I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”

Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.

As my main man Steve Kamb says, “When you screw up, skip a workout, eat bad foods, or sleep in, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. Welcome to the club.”

So rather than beating yourself up over a mistake, plan for it. We all get off track, what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly. For a handful of strategies that can help you bounce back when you make a mistake, read this article.

Where to go from here

If you’re looking for the first step to breaking your bad habits, I’d suggest starting with awareness.

It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make yourself feel guilty or spend your time dreaming about how you wish things were … but these thoughts take you away from what’s actually happening.

Instead, it’s awareness that will show you how to actually make change.

  • When does your bad habit actually happen?
  • How many times do you do it each day?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?

Simply tracking these issues will make you more aware of the behavior and give you dozens of ideas for stopping it.

Here’s a simple way to start: just track how many times per day your bad habit happens. Put a piece of paper in your pocket and a pen. Each time your bad habit happens, mark it down on your paper. At the end of the day, count up all of the tally marks and see what your total is.

In the beginning your goal isn’t to judge yourself or feel guilty about doing something unhealthy or unproductive. The only goal is to be aware of when it happens and how often it happens. Wrap your head around the problem by being aware of it. Then, you can start to implement the ideas in this article and break your bad habit.

Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance. Most people who end up breaking their bad habits try and fail multiple times before they make it work. You might not have success right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have it at all.

Regain the reins of your life

Life Is What Happens When You Are Not on Autopilot

Regain the reins of your life

Does life just happen to you?

A man is riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. He seems to be in a hurry — probably heading to an important place.

“Where are you going?” a man yells at him.

“I don’t know. Ask the horse,” the rider replies.

Sometimes, life feels like a horse we cannot control. We don’t know where we are heading or why. We are just running as this Zen parable captures. Most of us are living on autopilot — the horse holds the reins, not us.

We Are Sleep-Walking

“The inertia of the mind urges it to slide down the easy slope of imagination, rather than to climb the steep slope of introspection.” ― Marcel Proust

Who holds the reins of your life?

Adults make an average of 35,000 decisions a day. We’ve developed an unconscious decision-making system to manage routines. It prevents us from overloading our brains. However, modern life has hijacked our lives — the mechanism that should protect us is creating social disengagement.

When we live on autopilot, it feels like the horse is riding our lives, not us.

Our minds wander around most of the time. 96% of people admit making most decisions on autopilot, according to research — it has become an epidemic.

Autopilot is becoming our default operating mode — we are sleep-walking into our choices.

39% of respondents say they slip into autopilot while relaxing at home. And two-fifths say they’ve forgotten something while operating on that mode.

“People recognize that the choices they are making don’t add up to the life they want to live. We can all do better at living more purposefully. The opposite of autopilot is purposeful living,” explains Dr Mark Williamson.

Much of our lives are wasted by doing things mindlessly. Most people can’t remember what they watched on TV — research shows that binge-watching diminishes memory and perceived comprehension.

We are living on autopilot in the place where we need to pay the most attention: our home. People make decisions — such as what to eat, what to watch on TV, or what to wear — without putting any thinking, the study concludes.

As Professor Renata Salecl says, “We’re forgetting that, when we are at home, the important things are to interact with family and friends, without being constantly distracted.”

There’s another way to ride.

Autopilot Is Not Your Only Option

“The human spirit lives on creativity and dies in conformity and routine.” ― Vilayat Inayat Khan

Living on autopilot disengages us from both our present and future.

One exercise I love facilitating to help people reconnect with their life’s purpose is the future-self meditation.

Participants ‘travel’ to the future to visit themselves 1, 3, 5, and 10 years from now. The goal is to help people visualize their dreams and wishes. Each visit, in a different point in time, helps them visualize the progression but, most importantly, to understand how they overcame their fears and constraints.

To my surprise, most people find it hard to project their future — they are so disconnected from the present that they can’t dream.

Living on autopilot means leaning towards the most comfortable thinking mode. But we have two; we must learn to use both.

Though System 1 and System 2 have been around for quite some time, it was Nobel awardee Professor Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, that turned them mainstream.

System 1 is an automatic, fast, and unconscious way of thinking — it’s our autopilot. This system is autonomous and efficient, though deceiving too. It’s more prone to bias and to make the same mistakes.

System 2 is slow, conscious, and effortful — it requires attention and energy. It’s more reliable and can filter the System 1’s misjudgments.

Our brain is lazy, as I wrote here — that’s why it leans towards System 1. Self-awareness helps us train our mind and avoid living on autopilot. It’s not that one is better than the other — we must learn to use those in a balanced way.

System 1 is ideal for quick decisions, based on little information. When you are driving your car or doing the laundry, you don’t need to overthink. However, you wouldn’t use it to make more significant life choices like choosing a career, which home to buy or whom to marry.

System 2 is ideal for handling more complex mental activities, such as logical reasoning, managing interpersonal relationships, learning new things or building habits. It can help you turn off the autopilot.

Take the Reins of Your Life

“If you feel like you don’t fit into the world you inherited it is because you were born to help create a new one.” ― Ross Caligiuri

Your brain has an autopilot mode — it’s called the ‘default mode network.’ This function is perfect for mundane activities such as driving or shopping.

To study this brain network, scientist taught participants how to play a new card game. Brain scans showed how memory regions were activated while participants learned to play the game. Once they familiarized with it, the brain ‘switch-off’ and the autopilot region lit up. Participants started to play better, performing more accurately and quickly.

Your brain autopilot boosts your performance when it comes to repetitive tasks. However, your life is not a card game — to think through a situation, problem or dilemma requires paying attention. Being more mindful is the answer.

But, first, regains the reins of your life.

1. Notice how you ride

Become more aware of your behavior. Are you living on autopilot because you want to or because it just happens? Are you making choices or merely letting your autopilot choose what shows you watch or the food you eat? Write a journal or take notes to increase awareness and challenge your behavior.

Be patient. It takes time to regain the reins of your life.

2. Ride with a purpose

What’s your end destination in life? How do you want to be remembered? As the saying goes, “Choose something worth dying for, and live for it.” Your life’s purpose should guide and inspire your actions. Having a clear destination will help you avoid useless shortcuts.

Keeping your purpose present will bring more intention to your everyday activities.

3. Bring meaning to your routines:

There’s nothing wrong with letting the horse ride freely — the problem is when autopilot becomes your driving system of choice. Habits drive focus and efficiency. However, they must be connected to your life’s purpose and goals.

Don’t let your routines dictate how you live, bring mindfulness to everyday chores.

4. Stop and reflect:

When you squeeze back on the reins, the horse comes to a halt. A pause is more than slowing down — it’s creating space to start paying attention. You can reflect on your life. What do you like? Are you enjoying what you are doing? What’s going on? Are you focused or distracted? Why?

We are prisoners of our busy minds; pausing sets yourself free.

5. Go beyond your comfort zone:

When we live on autopilot, we stop challenging ourselves — you end up bored and repeating yourself. Discomfort is a doorway to personal discovery and growth. Learning happens when you stretch beyond your comfort zone. Test your limits. Try new things.

Build a habit of continually experiencing new things — you don’t need to skydive to feel alive.

6. Make better decisions:

For simple things, follow your gut (System 1). However, if your gut is not certain, think it through. Avoid cognitive biases — challenge the first solution that comes to mind. Remember, your lazy brain will jump into the most comfortable conclusion, not the best one. Lastly, for important decisions, always think them through.

7. Move from FEAR to DARE

Sometimes, choosing to drive on autopilot could be an excuse to not paying attention. When you don’t know what’s wrong, you don’t feel the need to make any changes. FEAR is the acronym for Fighting, Excuses, Avoidance, and Repetition — it’s how resistance manifest. The antidote to FEAR is DARE — Discovery, Autonomy, Reframing, and Experimentation. Here’s how.

Be authentic. Be brave. Dare to change.


Letting life happen to you is easy. But, if your autopilot is always on, you are just existing, not living.

Being on autopilot prevents mundane activities from overloading your brain. However, behaving with intentionality and mindfully lets you enjoy life, not just live it.

Regain the reins of your life — you decide when to drive on autopilot and when not. Not the horse.

LIFE – Habits are the Compound Interest of Self Improvement

“person wearing black-and-white Nike low-top sneaker” by SJ Baren on Unsplash

People struggle to develop and maintain new habits because they make their efforts unsustainable.

  • They work out like crazy for a few days (usually at the beginning of the year), and never go back to the gym.
  • They try to meditate for 30 mins one day and don’t give it another shot until 10 days later
  • They try to build an empire fueled by a burst of inspiration on a random Saturday afternoon.

When people attempt to make a change this way, they overlook the profound power of consistencyWhen it comes to developing and maintaining a new habit, frequency matters more than intensity. If you do something frequently, a compounding effect will start to take place.


Build the Identity of the Person You Want to Become

To build the identity of the person you want to become, ask yourself what the behavior of a person who has the habit you want to develop is?

  • What is the behavior a person who is in shape? They go to the gym consistently
  • What is the behavior of a prolific writer? He or she cracks open a notebook every day.

James Clear refers to this as identity-based habit formation. In An Audience of One, I shared a story James told me on the Unmistakable Creative podcast about one of his readers who lost over 100 lbs. Instead of setting a goal to work out, he set a goal to drive to the gym, and he would only allow himself to stay for 5 minutes. After a certain point, he realized that he might as well work out. If you take the first step towards a habit, the inertia is often enough to carry you to the next one.

Note: I was fortunate to get a sneak peek at James’ New book, Atomic Habits(available for pre-order on Amazon). An interview with him, which will air next wee inspired the idea for this post.


Take Minimum Viable Actions

Sometime last year we launched an online course called Finish What You Start. In the process of developing that course, our copywriter Kingshuk Mukherjee came up with the term minimum viable action. In the same way, a startup can launch a minimum viable product; you can take minimum viable actions to develop a new habit.

  • If you want to develop a writing habit, your minimum viable action could be sitting down at your desk or cracking your notebook open
  • If you want to read more, it could be sitting down in a specific chair with a book in your hands

When you take a minimum viable action, the inertia is often enough to carry you to the next step. You build momentum and the identity of a person who has your desired habit until you become the next best version of yourself.


Raise Your Level of Intensity Gradually

In a recent episode of the Unmistakable Creative, I asked Chris Bailey how people can get better at managing their attention. And he said the following:

If you’re not on a deadline, you’re going to work on something until you feel no resistance to it. Could I write for an hour today? No the thought of it puts me off. What about 45 minutes? Thirty-two? Twenty fifty? Yeah, I can do 15. Then refocus for 15 minutes. You find that resistance level to tame distractions and then over time as you ritualize this idea you block off periods in your calendar to get into this mode. Over time you lower that default level of stimulation the amount of dopamine coursing through your brain because of this novelty bias that’s embedded within us and you become better able to think more deeply about your work.

When something becomes effortless for you, raise the level of intensity. In the same way, you’d never go from lifting 25lbs to 100lbs in one day, you want to increase the level of intensity to the point where you can get there without too much resistance, but it’s still somewhat challenging. To put it more concisely, bend but don’t break.


What if You Miss a Day?

After 7 years and 2 books, I still miss the occasional writing day. Sometimes it’s because I’m in bed with someone (a good reason to miss a writing day). Other times it’s because I’m hungover, and occasionally I need a break. One way to handle this is to reduce the scope but stick to the schedule. Instead of writing a 1000 word, I write 500. Many people quit altogether after they miss one day. But if you make your goal progress instead of perfection, you won’t be so demoralized by missing one day.


Develop a Keystone Habit and Stack More

When you try to change too many habits at once, none of them stick. If you try to become a person who reads every day, writes every morning, goes to the gym 3 times a week, and meditates daily all in the span of a week, none of those habits will stick.

But if you start with one keystone habit, it will create a ripple effect into every other area of your life.

  • One of my first keystone habits was surfing. When I got into the habit of surfing almost every other day, I started drinking less when I went out. I valued being up in the morning because that’s when surf conditions are usually best.
  • After I developed the keystone habit of writing 1000 words a day, what followed was reading every day, and eventually a consistent meditation habit.

The best time to stack a second habit is after you’ve maintained the first one with consistency. If you go through this process of stacking, eventually you’ll find yourself making the impossible possible.


The Compounding Effect of Habits

Every now and then I have a friend who will tell me they want to learn how to surf. I share a story with them that I mentioned in my previous book, Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best.

A few weeks after my first three attempts to surf, I went to happy hour at a bar in La Jolla. The guy sitting next to me had been a long time surfer who gave me a simple piece of advice that made the difference between me quitting and becoming a surfer. He told me to go 50 times because by that point I’d be too invested to quit.

While he didn’t state it explicitly, he understood that every surf session would have a compounding effect. It took more than 15 sessions before I stood up on a wave. Eventually, I worked my way down from the Costco Wavestorm to riding a 6-foot shortboard and found myself surfing at a skill level that seemed impossible when I started. I had a similar experience with snowboarding. After two seasons and close to 30 days on the mountain, I got to a point where I was able to get down a black diamond.

The progress we experience from the compounding effect of any habit isn’t immediately visible. As a result, people give up quickly. They don’t realize that every day the show up they’re building momentum. They are moving closer and closer to a breakthrough or inflection point.


Systems Vs Goals

I’ve said before that having a system is essential increasing your creative output. Having a system allows you to focus on progress instead of perfection and put your energy and effort into what you control. A system also will enable you to experience visible progress, which in turn increase your motivation. In the picture below you’ll see three jars of marbles. Each jar represents a system that’s tied to a specific goal.

  • Jar 1: I put one marble in for each hour I spend doing deep work like reading and writing, and another for each article I publish. It’s the system that is aligned with my goal of growing our email list to 50,000 subscribers.
  • Jar 2: I put one marble into the jar for each sales call I make or email I send to people who might be able to hire me as a speaker or advertise on the Unmistakable Creative. It’s the system that’s aligned with my revenue goal.
  • Jar 3: I put one marble into the jar for each day I go to CrossFit, surf or exercise. It’s the system aligned with my goal to lose the little bit of a gut that I have before my sister’s wedding in February.

It’s my personal adaptation of the paper clip method.


Purpose and Meaning

It’s worth considering why you want to develop some habit. People read articles like this one and think that’s the reason to develop a habit. They treat guidance like gospel and make decisions that aren’t aligned with their essential priorities. There’s nothing that everybody should do, even though there are plenty of people who will tell you there are. (Most of them they also sell products for how to do that thing they say everybody should do). The goal isn’t to live a life that’s just efficient, but rather a life that’s meaningful.

From writing 1000 words a day to learning how to surf, I’ve seen the compounding effect of habits over and over in my life. As I said in An Audience of One, habits are at the building blocks of all creative work and for that matter just about every goal you’d ever want to accomplish.

What To Tell Yourself During A Tough Time.

Image Credit: Dan Evans

We all go through tough times.

A few examples of mine are:

  • Multiple consecutive breakups
  • Walking away from a business that could have made me a lot of money
  • Having my career come to a grinding halt
  • Dealing with mental illness

The list is very long and I’m sure yours is similar. It’s not about the tough times we go through though because they are guaranteed and you already knew that before you clicked this article.

What matters during tough times is what you tell yourself.

This is what I say to myself during tough times — well there’s actually four things I say to myself depending on the tough time I’m facing:


“This will pass”

No event in your life lasts forever. Today may be a really tough day, but that won’t last forever. We delude ourselves at times by saying in our head “I’m always going to be like this.”

“Why does this always happen to me?”

“Here we go again.”

These negative phrases tell our brain that things are never going to get better. When we say these phrases to ourselves enough, we start to believe them. During a difficult period in your life, in that moment, things will suck.

Image Credit: OIVIND HOVLAND/IKON IMAGES/CORBIS

The way to get out of your head is to see the truth: this will pass. In one day, one month, or one year this tough situation will have passed and you’ll be onto the next part of your life.

Nothing lasts forever unless you allow your mind to trap you in the moment and believe a lie which is that this moment won’t pass. It will. You will come out the other side.


“I’ll be stronger having dealt with this situation”

Woman Lying on Blanket Under Man on Her Legs Holding Hands during Golden Hour

When you reframe your tough times into strength building exercises, they take a whole new meaning.

All of a sudden, your current situation that may be wearing you down becomes like reps at the gym. The reps are a struggle and it hurts, but if you keep moving forward, you end up with mental toughness and strength.

“Exchange your tough times for mental toughness”

See this challenging situation for what it is. It’s the chance to come out the other end stronger.

Stack your tough times up like gold medals.

Free stock photo of city, sky, art, landmark

Have you dealt with cancer? Good, then you won’t take your health for granted ever again.

Have you lost a loved one? Then you’ll never take the rest of your family for granted and care for them more than you did before.

Did you lose your job? Amazing! Now you can work somewhere else and discover more of your hidden talents!

Without tough times, you won’t have the strategies you need to deal with the impossible. Your heroes are your heroes because they’ve used their tough times to become stronger.

Failure and rejection are the building blocks to whatever your definition of success is. Tough times make you hungry and that’s a good thing.


“Keep taking baby steps forward”

Tough times can feel like quicksand sometimes.

If you don’t keep moving forward though, you’ll eventually sink into the quicksand. The best thing you can do during the toughest of challenges is take baby steps.

Image Credit: François Coutu

When I battled severe anxiety, I took baby steps such as these:

  • Walked 15 minutes a day
  • Drank an extra glass of water each day to hydrate my body
  • Read one book a month on anxiety
  • Exposed myself to one small fear each day. It started with going two levels in a lift (something I couldn’t do before). Then I’d go three levels the next day and so on.

That last dot point is critical. Overcoming tough times requires you to take baby steps in the form of being uncomfortable. When you’re growing each day, you don’t have time to be too concerned about a particular tough time.

My battle with anxiety eventually led me to flying long distances (another thing I couldn’t do before) and then speaking on stages in front of a lot of people.

As you can see, the first few steps — like going two floors in a lift — are quite small. Then the steps get bigger and bigger until what used to seem impossible becomes a piece of cake.

Take baby steps.


“It only takes one person”

Two Woman Sitting on Bench Near the Table

Tough times often require someone to believe in you. From my experience, you only need one person.

One person to believe in your idea.
One person to love you.
One person who has gone through the same tough times as you.

This one person exists. You have to go out there and find them. That one person for me was a team leader when I was working in a call center. He believed in me enough to take me aside and coach me one on one.

He believed I was going to go on and change the world through personal development. He was right and I did!

Don’t give up. Your one person exists as well.

<<<>>>

These four things are what I tell myself during a tough time. One of these phrases will always be the right one depending on the circumstance.

Believe that there is a way out and you’ll find one. It’s during the tough times that you’ll develop the skills and experience to help others.

Image Credit: The Atlantic

What I’ve learned is that to get through the tough times, one of the best hacks is to focus on helping others. When you’re focusing on how you can serve, your own selfish problems become insignificant.

Seek out people who have even bigger problems than you do and listen to them. See if you can help them.

That’s how you deal with the tough times.

Tell yourself the truth. You deserve to hear it.

LIFE – Laws of Power

My 10 Favourite Laws of Power

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Since the book was first released in 1998, it has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, and has influenced many successful people, from Will Smith to Kanye West, Jay-Z and 50 Cent, who later co-wrote a New York Times’ bestseller with Greene.

It is also the most highly requested book in U.S. prisons, due to the easy to understand synthesis of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and other famous writers key prescriptions for effectively managing power struggles in difficult environments.

Some of the 48 laws do seem contradictory, and others seem a little repetitive, but there are some truly great bits of advice for effectively managing situations where power may play a role. This might be a corporate environment, a difficult but smaller workplace, a large social group, to really anywhere where there is a power imbalance between people or a formal or informal hierarchy.

Here are my 10 favourite laws, including a description of each law from the following website. The parts that I especially like are bolded. Enjoy!

Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control… Powerful people impress by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.

Similar to the Danish proverb that says “deep rivers move with silent majesty, shallow brooks are noisy”, law 4 reminds me to only say things that I believe will be of value. It also helps me to try to stay within my circle of competence, and not give advice on things that I do not know much about.

Law 9: Win through your Actions, Never through Argument

Any momentary triumph you think gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.

A parent who smokes but tells their children not to is unlikely to be successful at persuading their children because “actions speak louder than words”. The better option is to not smoke or quit if you want to set a good example. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude

If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to remind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover something in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasise it… He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.

As sad as this may appear, most people are self-motivated, and want to do the right thing if it makes them look good. For example, a hybrid car such as a Toyota Prius sells well because it is known as a hybrid car. It screams out “I care about the environment” in a way that the Toyota Camry Hybrid does not, because the hybrid version of the Camry looks almost identical to the regular Camry. The 2014 sales in the US of each car highlights this point:  Prius: 194,000; Toyota Camry Hybrid: 39,500; Toyota Camry (non-hybrid): 428,600. Figure out how what you want will benefit the other person or help them to look good before you ask for a favour, and you are much more likely to get them onboard.

Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous

The world is dangerous and enemies are everywhere – everyone has to protect themselves. A fortress seems the safest. But isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from – it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target. Better to circulate among people, find allies, mingle.

A lot of people that I see try to protect themselves at the cost of a real sense of connection and belonging with others. This law helps by reminding me of the dangers and costs of not opening up to people who are honest and can be trusted.

Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point.You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensiveness every time. 

This reminds me of the quote “jack of all trades; master of none”. If you want to make progress in anything, it is important to prioritise, and put your energy into the activities and thought patterns that are going to give you the best results. Law 23 also helps me to  build upon my strengths rather than worrying too much about my weaknesses.

Law 25: Re-Create Yourself

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you.

I often encourage my clients to clarify their most important values, and to see how these differ from what their family, friends, culture or society may want for them. The idea of working hard and not enjoying life until retirement is not a role that I want to accept, even though this is considered normal in many respects by society. It’s much better to create and live a sustainable life for myself, whatever that may look like. Then it won’t matter if and when I retire, especially if I keep loving what I do for work.

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honours the timid.

Law 28 reminds me to not doubt myself once I have settled on a course of action, and to fully commit myself to it for a set period of time instead of continuing to remain uncertain or indecisive. Once a decision is made, it is much better to give it 100% until the next decision needs to be made. Uncertainty only leads to more stress and anxiety, and less satisfaction in the long run.

Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End

The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work… By planning to the end you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances and you will know when to stop. Gently guide fortune and help determine the future by thinking far ahead.

This reminds me of the benefits of thinking into the future, and clarifying how I would want my life to look. If I had a 50th birthday and someone close to me stood up and spoke about the person I had been for the past 18 years, what would I want to hear them say? Based on my response to this, it is then important to see if my 1-, 5- or 10-year plan is helping me to head in that direction. If not, more planning and some big changes may be required, as long as my plans are also flexible enough to change as I continue to grow with time.

Law 35: Master the Art of Timing

Never be in a hurry – hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time. Always (be) patient, as if you know that everything will come to you eventually. Become a detective of the right moment; sniff out the spirit of the times, the trends that will carry you to power. Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe, and to strike fiercely when it has reached fruition.

Patience is a massively underrated value, especially in today’s society. How often do you see people multitasking, or telling you how busy they are? I know I sometimes do. But slowing things down, and really making sure that my attention is 100% on what is most important in any given moment is a great recipe for long-term happiness and well-being. While it is important to “strike while the iron is hot”, I think it is also important to not be too reactive, and make sure that the decisions you make are really consistent with your values and long-term plans. Knowing how to say no to the wrong things in life is also a crucial element of success.

Law 45: Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once

Everyone understands the need for change in the abstract, but on the day-to-day level people are creatures of habit. Too much innovation is traumatic, and will lead to revolt. If you are new to a position of power, or an outsider trying to build a power base, make a show of respecting the old way of doing things. If change is necessary, make it a gentle improvement on the past.

Trying to change my eating habits has taught me this law better than anything else recently. As soon as I try to be too restrictive, I do rebel against any prescriptions. Long-term sustainable changes are again much better than short-term dramatic changes. The 20-minute walk that you manage to do is also better than the 10km run that you do not, so start small, and try to build up slowly. If you can do this, changes are much more likely to stick.

Curve in the road

If you want to see the remaining 38 laws, please click here or purchase the book. Some of the laws do seem pretty ruthless, but pretending that they don’t exist in power dynamics is much more dangerous than learning how they work.

I also recommend checking out my dealing with toxic people article for more information on how to successfully manage and survive difficult interactions.

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Life – Increase Your Satisfaction and Contentment

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

How to Increase Your Satisfaction and Contentment (upgrade from “worried” to peaceful)

“You can accomplish tremendous things in your remaining years if you will design them before you live them.” -Jim Rohn

I only have 17,374 days left to live.

After calculating the average life span of men from my country, with all available medical history of my genetics, my approximate “last day” is around 17,374 days from now.

Then I’ll die.

This “death clock” idea has become popularized in recent years; some individuals have even placed their countdown on their computer screens, to remind them that life is short. This reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest by the character Prospero: “Every third thought shall be my grave.”

That might be a bit much. But contemplating my eventual demise hasn’t felt like a disturbing, morbid cloak that suffocates me; it’s made me feel bright and spritzy. I feel lighter than ever.

Here’s the first thing I’ve realized:

Most of What We Do Doesn’t Matter

“I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” -Tim Ferriss

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby ($100 million dollars in sales), once described an important lesson he learned riding his bike in Los Angeles:

I lived right on the beach in Santa Monica, where there’s this great bike path that for 25 miles. I’d go onto the bike path and push it — just red-faced huffing, all the way, pushing it as hard as I could, and I’d set my timer. I noticed it was always 43 minutes.

“But then I thought, ‘Why don’t I just chill? For once, I’ll go at half my normal pace.’ I went on the same bike ride, and I noticed that I was standing up, looking around more. I looked into the ocean. I noticed a pelican flying above me. It was purely pleasant. There was no red face, there was no huffing. And when I got back to my usual stopping place, I looked at my watch, and it said 45 minutes. And I thought, ‘There’s no way.’”

“All that huffing and puffing and all that red face was only for an extra 2 minutes. It was basically for nothing.

Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

Most of your frantic commutes through traffic, yelling into your phone, and breathless rushes between appointments are for things that, frankly, don’t really matter.

The truth is, most of what we do in modern society doesn’t truly matter. Not that our lives are pointless; it’s that we rarely create truly beautiful things, or practice our art in its purest, cleanest form.

No — more likely we’re meeting marketing deadlines so we can sell more stuff. Most of us aren’t inventing the cure for Lupus, we’re editing our email to our boss. We’re not hyper-focused on our lover’s opal-colored eyes over dinner, we’re posting another picture of our food.

All this red-faced huffing is basically for nothing. Want to increase your contentment and joy? Be be kinder to yourself. It might sounds silly, but relax more. Giggle at your partner’s sexy nose crinkle when she smells something funky. Try to figure out if there’s any object in the world with precisely the same orange hue as tonight’s sunset.

Eminem had a lyric that always resonated with me: “I bully myself, cause I make me do what I put my mind to,” he snarled. Amen, I’d say with a clenched fist in the car. If I want results, I can’t afford to take breaks.

In the past year, I’ve changed my mind. There’s a season for work-hard-all-day, I get it. I’ve been there. But I can achieve almost my goals and still be kind to myself, and increase my joy and peace instead of running on 100% adrenaline as I imagine my darkest fears coming true.

Most of what we do doesn’t matter. Focus on what does, and stop taking yourself so seriously.

“Busyness” is a Disease That Needs to Be Cured

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” -Tim Krieder

Whenever I talk to an old friend or colleague and ask them how they’ve been, the answer is almost always some form of, “So busy.” “Really busy.” “Crazy-busy.”

As Tim Krieder wrote in his essay “The Busy Trap,” this answer is pretty obviously a boast disguised as a complaint. We like being busy. It makes us feel important, needed. We can’t have an empty life if we’re busy, right?

Actually, we can. Busyness consumes your remaining days and years, leaving you with nothing but the sinking feeling that it’s all going by too fast. It’s busyness that makes us think, “Wasn’t my daughter just learning to talk yesterday?” at her 10-year birthday party. It’s busyness that makes you dread your own 40th birthday party.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Often times, we’re busy to avoid the very thing we most need to do. If I’m caught up in email replies, I have a small reprieve from the anxiety about an upcoming meeting with an intimidating person. Same goes for checking my bank account that I know needs looking at or having a hard conversation with my wife.

Busyness is not a badge of honor (though most people treat it like one). It’s not proof you’re important; it’s proof you’re lazy. Busyness is a type of laziness; it means you didn’t set boundaries for your time and couldn’t say “no” when you should’ve.

Busyness is a disease. It distracts you from what’s really important and gives you an excuse to avoid the real work.

The most successful performers in the world aren’t “busy,” they’re focused. The busy person performs many tasks with minimal results; the focused person performs few tasks with incredible results.

When I was teaching English in South Korea with my wife, I had made the commitment to focus solely on my writing. Once I did, I was assailed by a sudden influx of (lucrative) opportunities — private tutoring, basketball coaching, freelance gigs, drumming at a local church, etc. I could’ve become “very busy” very quickly.

But I said no to all of them. I committed to my writing. By the end of the year, I had started a viable personal business making thousands of dollars, seeing tens of thousands of subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views.

This is the result of being focused.

Busyness is simply a type of laziness. If you do not set boundaries for your time, the endless stream of requests and chores to do will own you.

Design Your Environment or Become a Victim of It

“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” -Marshall Goldsmith

Even the most effective, elite performers in the world have a hard time doing what they need to do if they’re in a bad environment.

Our environment enables (or disables) you to do what you’re trying to do. It’s practically impossible to be disciplined and consistent in an environment that actively encourages you not to.

This was another huge lesson I learned after moving to South Korea. Back in California, I had gotten nowhere with my writing. I was fat, lazy, bored, and instead of staying home writing, my wife and I were growing our beer bellys and breweries and burger joints. There was always something to do (besides work).

In Korea, there were no craft beer bars. We weren’t invited out to dinner and drinks anymore. It was school during the day and chicken breast with bell peppers at night.

The environment enabled massive growth for my writing. I started posting every day, and in a 6 month period, I gained 20,000+ new email subscribers. My writing quality increased mightily. I started selling an online course that made me thousands of dollars. I launched another one making me thousands more.

In the words of national best-selling author and financial guru Dave Ramsey:

“I had to quit telling myself that I had innate discipline and fabulous natural self-control. That is a lie. I have to put systems and programs in place that make me do smart things.”

I’m not a paragon of grit and discipline; even if I was, it would help only minimally. Even the most talented and disciplined people in the world have a hard time following their own advice.

That’s why your environment is so important. It enables even the most inexperienced amateur to achieve consistency and enormous, never-before-seen results.

You don’t need to travel overseas to enter a better environment. But you do need to change your current one if you want more satisfaction and less worry.

In Conclusion

I suppose it’s possible that I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting I hadn’t written more, didn’t wake up early enough, or worked harder and made more money.

But I think what I’ll really wish is that I played just one more round of Halo Reach with Drew, played one more pick-up basketball game with Jeff and Grant, one last belly-laugh with Rebecca.

Life is too short to be busy.

“The largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.” Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Life – Right Way to Restore a Relationship

The Right Way to Restore a Relationship (lessons from 15 years of burning bridges)

I’ve burned a lot of bridges.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve burned a lot of bridges.

I’ve done a lot of hurtful things, said hurtful stuff, and was a complete asshole to many people I loved, who loved me back and deserved better. I have to live with that for the rest of my life.

At times, I still marvel at how stupid I was. How conceited and profoundly self-absorbed I was. And how I didn’t even see it.

But in the process, I’ve learned how to restore those relationships (some of them, at least. Some people still won’t talk to me).

Years of a severe pornography addiction left me frozen as an immature, whiny brat who would never take responsibility for his actions. It took 5 years of gut-wrenching therapy and brutally honest sponsors in 12-step programs to learn how to truly apologize and restore relationships I broke.

That’s what this post is about: how to restore broken relationships that were broken by you.

Because whether I like it or not, I have major experience with that.

It’s Your Fault. Shut Up and Admit It.

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” -Harriet Beecher Stowe

When my wife and I were in premarital counseling, our counselor gave us a piece of advice that would end up changing our lives:

Always make the first move.

The meaning is simple: if you can help the relationship, then do it. Don’t wait for the other person to act (even if you want them to).

A lot of people have shallow, even ruined relationships. This is because most people always wait for the other person to “make the first move;” say hello, organize a hangout, or apologize. This is a pride thing; it’s a weakness, and it destroys relationships.

If you want to restore a broken relationship into an incredible one…make the first move.

Photo by Joshua Sazon on Unsplash

I can’t forget a certain day in 3rd grade. It was during recess.

There was this girl Sandra in my class. She was nice. Both of us were trying to grab one of the few soccer balls from the ball barrel, and I remember accidentally tripping her as I grabbed one.

She fell on the floor. Angry tears welled up in her eyes. I can still remember the look of shock and humiliation on her face.

I should’ve said I was sorry.

I should’ve helped her up. I probably should’ve given her the ball, too.

But I didn’t. I just ran off, leaving her on the floor.

After recess, Mrs. Salinas pulled me and Sandra outside.

Anthony, did you push Sandra onto the floor at recess?” she demanded in disbelief.

I denied it. It wasn’t my fault, I reasoned. It was an “accident.” I didn’t meanto! I wasn’t willing to take responsibility.

Mrs. Salinas forced me to apologize.

Sandra never talked to me again.

Here’s a lesson that took several dozen times to finally stick:

If you did something wrong, shut up and admit it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame someone else. Even if it was an accident — even if you didn’t mean to — that doesn’t matter. If you want to restore a broken relationships, be the first to own what you did.

Otherwise, your relationships will always be strained and mediocre.

The Most Important Lesson About Relationships I Learned From a 12-Step Program

The day after I quit my corporate job before I left to teach English overseas, I published an article that would eventually destroy every relationship I had with all my old colleagues.

It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. Frankly, it still haunts me sometimes, because many people are still hurt by what I said. Some people still aren’t willing to speak to me.

Basically, I wrote an article condemning 9–5 jobs and essentially called all my old coworkers a bunch of cowards for wasting their life in corporate America. In efforts to be “gritty” and authentic, I was actually just an asshole.

I wouldn’t find out until months later that my entire department read it (what did I think would happen?). I naively emailed my old boss one day from overseas saying hello. I was shocked at her scathing response, informing me neither her nor anyone else wanted anything to do with me, and how much I had hurt them with my words.

There is only one response you can make in this situation. And this still doesn’t guarantee anything.

Make amends.

Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash

I’d never used that phrase until I got into recovery and counseling. Essentially, making amends is a way to take ownership for wrong you’ve done in hopes of reconciliation.

Making amends has a few parts:

1. Write down exactly what you did wrong, and to whom

2. Write down why it was wrong (be specific)

3. Take complete ownership for the hurt you caused

4. Tell the hurt person everything you wrote down in a sincere apology (if appropriate)

The only way I was ever going to hope to restore anything with my old coworkers was to make individual, direct amends with anyone still willing to listen (some still aren’t).

So that’s what I did. I told my boss how awful my article was, and why (it was demeaning, hurtful, and profoundly ungrateful). I didn’t make any excuses — I owned the entire screwup.

Miraculously, months later she ended up forgiving me.

Of course, things can never go back to the way they were. There’s still a divide of hurt that probably won’t ever go away.

When you hurt someone like this, you have to “take care of your side of the street.” Do everything you can to make things right.

Making Amends is the Single Best Way to Restore a Broken Relationship

I’ve gone through the process of making amends more times than I can remember:

  • To my childhood friends for gossiping about them
  • To my old writing hero for accidental plagiarizing their work
  • To my best friend for not giving him credit for his ideas
  • To my old girlfriend for liking another girl while I was still dating her
  • To my cousin for constantly ditching him for my friends

I could write dozens more. Goes to show all the hurt I’ve caused, even if it was unintentional.

But miraculously, I’ve restored many of these relationships, through making amends.

Making amends is the single best way to restore broken relationships. It’s one of the most mature, adult actions you can possibly take.

I know I’m going to hurt people down the road, however unintentional. I’m not perfect.

But I can always make proper amends: realize what I did, why it was wrong, and communicate how sorry I am.

In Conclusion

“We can never flee the misery that is within us.” -Arthur Golden

The simple truth is, most people won’t have great relationships.

When my wife and I were in premarital counseling, our counselor gave us a piece of advice that would end up changing our lives:

Always make the first move.

The meaning is simple: if you can help the relationship, then do it. Don’t wait for the other person to act (even if you don’t want to).

Many people have several strained, even broken relationships with family and friends. This is because most people always wait for the other person to “make the first move;” say hello, organize a hangout, or apologize.

If you want to restore a relationship and experience a deep, meaningful bond with that person, make the first move — even if it should be them. Be the first to:

  • Initiate the conversation
  • Send the first text
  • Say you miss them
  • Say you love them
  • Apologize and ask for forgiveness
  • Organize a hangout
  • Compliment them
  • Thank them
  • Tell them you appreciate what they did

There’s no reason to not restore a broken relationship if it’s in your power to do so.

Things You Can Do to Change Your Life

7 Easy Things You Can Do to Change Your Life in 2 Months

Making big changes in your life isn’t about moving across the country, or storming into your office and quitting your job.

Big changes are the result of small tweaks.

Whether your goal is to finish a project, change your friend group, make more time for passion projects, or improve upon a bad habit, here are 7 easy things you can do to change your life in the next 2 months:

1. You said you wanted to explore more of the city.

You’ve been saying that you want to go to more new places, to see things you haven’t seen before — so why don’t you do it?

This week, pick a different part of town, a new coffee shop, a museum, a restaurant, and go there. Put it on the calendar. Invite a friend. Make it happen.

2. You said you wanted to finish that big project.

Well, you can’t finish a big project until you finish a small project.

When was the last time you started and finished something in a weekend, or even a day? This week, pick one small thing you can finish and then finish it.

Then, next week, pick a slightly larger project (but not too much larger). Finish that.

Before you know it, you’ll be finishing big projects left and right.

3. You said you wanted to go to the gym more.

Ok, so when? When are you going to go?

“I’m going to go, I swear,” isn’t an answer anymore.

Tomorrow, don’t just make that loose promise to yourself that you’ll get there. Set a time and block off everything else. Then, before you go to bed, set what time you’re going to go to the gym again the next day, and the next day.

It’s just a habit. That’s all.

4. You said you wanted to eat healthier.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Is there healthy food in your fridge? Do you already know what you want to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

People eat unhealthfully, and live unhealthy lives, primarily out of a bad habit of failing to prepare. But if you had healthy food around, and if it was more of an option, chances are you’d probably eat better.

That’s pretty easy to solve for, isn’t it?

5. You said you wanted to stop scrolling through Instagram so often.

Well, is the app on the home screen of your smartphone?

That sort of easy access makes it difficult to break a bad habit.

Instead, move it to the last page. Maybe even delete it altogether. If you want to break a bad habit, you have to break your relationship to the activity — not forever, but for the time being.

6. You said you wanted to surround yourself with more positive people.

Ok, so what are you doing back at that dumpy bar with those same five friends you know aren’t going anywhere in life?

“You are a reflection of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I’m all for having friends with all sorts of different interests and backgrounds and aspirations. But if you have a goal, and if you want to improve something about yourself, and the people you’re always with make that process more difficult, then you need to reassess.

So, the next time they invite you out, say “No.”

Instead, give that other friend of yours a call. Maybe you two have never hung out. Cool, then dive in. Go grab a coffee. Change the dynamic and see where things go.

7. You said you wanted to work on yourself.

Let me guess: Netflix before bed?

Look, there is nothing wrong with watching a little TV every now and then. But working on yourself is, well, it’s work. And if you don’t prioritize things like self-reflection, journaling, meditation, etc., then you’re never going to grow into the person you know you’re capable of becoming.

Self-development is a practice. You can’t think about it like this big mountain you’re one day going to wake up having conquered. It doesn’t work like that.

Instead, focus on what you can do today that will quiet your mind down and allow you to really sit with yourself.

Before you go to bed, write a page in your journal.

You’ll be amazed at what you find out about yourself.

This article originally appeared on Inc. Magazine.

Travel – Do You Really Love To Travel

I Don’t Really Love To Travel

But not because of the usual reasons

I’m in France right now. Not Paris, but rather a few hours due west, where land meets water; where the ocean licks salt along the mossy rocks and the gray air smells like the sea.

We landed on Saturday, and it’s been lovely. We’ve had a few crêpes, somefrites and fruits, and more than our fair share of pain au chocolat, though for the most part it’s been bière de Bretagne, baguettes, brown-bagged blocks of cheese, and the best butter I’ve ever had in my life — Jean Yves Bordier lives up to his acclaim, and we indulged in his life’s work by shamelessly hacking little pats with the tiny metal coffee spoons in our hotel room, as this was all we had when the moment of need came upon us. We had oysters along the ocean, chucking the shells into piles on the beach as we watched the jade green tide pull itself in, and we walked hand in hand until darkness, which we were surprised to find out isn’t until nearly midnight this time of year.

Again, as I said, it’s been lovely. And yet even as I’m here I’m also not here, because the whole thing feels sort of silly — sort of over-indulgent; an escape to nowhere, with nothing, where all of this exists for real for the people who are here, but exists only in experience for us, a sort of fantasy moment where we both are and yet are not, half of us taking from it what we want because the other half of us knows we don’t actually belong. This is not our real life. This is fabrication — perhaps not for those living here, but certainly for us.

When it comes to travel, there are a few types of people

  • Those who hate to travel
  • Those who like (or love) to travel
  • Those who have to travel
  • And then there are those who simply don’t get much out of travel; who don’t feel compelled to do it and, once they do, don’t “do it well”

My particular affliction is in the last category — and we’ll get to that. But first, let’s cover our bases:

People who hate traveling

We already know most of the reasons, but most commonly, they are people who simply prefer what’s familiar (“normal”) or comfortable. They just want customs and culture and language and food that doesn’t differ from their own. (That, or maybe they hate the logistics part of travel — the planes, the currency exchange, finding someone to water their gardenias, whatever.)

If you were looking for any of these reasons, I’m sorry to report, but this post is not that post. And these reasons are not my reasons.

I don’t hate to travel. I’ll hack my way through a language barrier, learning some basic phrases and hobbling them together, hoping not to butcher them so much that they aren’t still passable. I don’t mind when things don’t go according to “the plan” — I don’t even mind not having a plan at all. I do fine with jet lag and can make great use of a layover. I’ll happily eat the local specialty — I’ll even drink the water and — knock on wood — haven’t gotten sick so far.

My reason for “not traveling well” is something else entirely — and I’m sure there are others out there who experience my particular affliction. We’ll get to that.

People who love traveling

Most commonly, people in this group are well-adjusted individuals who are fully functional members of society, working and living in more or less “normal” ways. They enjoy taking a few vacations a year (sometimes international if it can be afforded), equal parts relaxing or fun or in the interest of seeing or doing “something new” or, in the very least, the sort of “something” we’re supposed to see.

As Jenna Woginrich wrote,

“Good, self-actualized people travel. If they don’t, they want to.”

They like new experiences — on occasion. They like to mix it up with travel a few times a year, see something outside their normal routine. Meaning: they build their lives to support their travel, not the other way around…

People who MUST travel

Those who live and breathe for “new experiences.” Not just “travel” but “everything” and “everyone” “everywhere,” who wither or rage or come altogether undone if “tethered” in any way. People for whom travel and movement and change and experience is a lifeblood — the sort of thing that’s as non-negotiable as breathing or thinking. They’re the people who would liveon the road or out of a backpack if they could, who would hop from spot to spot periodically. (And, often, the people who really do.)

The first group of people travels fine. The second group, ironically enough, does not. Not deep down.

Because, as Annika Ziehen wrote, the other side of wanting “everything” and to go “everywhere” also means “always wanting more:”

“You would think that I couldn’t dislike something that makes me so unbelievably happy, gives me butterflies like no guy ever has, and turns me into a better version of myself with each step I take out into the world. But I do.

Oh, how I wish I could have been content with what I had when I was little, alas I wasn’t… Now I have the daily dilemma of wanting more. More to see, to explore, more new, more same same but different, less ordinary and more ordinary away from home. I hate it, but I can’t help it.

My mind doesn’t stand still and quite frankly it is exhausting. I dream of Bangkok when I’m in Cape Town and wish I was in Marrakech, oh no, rather Essaouira when in Florence. I get a plate of Pad Thai and I want Japanese, I find a great Mexican restaurant at home and wish I was back in New York for Venezuelan arepas. It’s not about the grass always being greener elsewhere, I don’t care for the grass, but it is about the sky being bluer, the horizon wider, and the smells more exotic.”

It is, effectively, a broader and deeper “fear of missing out” — a yearning for endless times and places when we can only have one at once, and the heartbreak at this shorthanded reconciliation that never leaves us with enough. They hunger in their own way.

People who just don’t get much out of traveling

This one. This is me.

I’m not really sure how to describe it, other than: it feels… empty.

And I say this not as a cynic or elitist, but rather softly and a little sad, like the slow lapping of a calm tide against a weathered wall.

And the whole reason I included the previous type of traveler — the person who lives and breathes new experiences to the point of wanting “everything” and finding themselves heartbroken at never quite having it — is to point out: this is simply the opposite. Equally sad, just in the other direction.

Where one heart aches over wanting “everything,” another aches over wanting “nothing.”

Tout. Rien.

La même chose, mais différente.

Travel often feels a bit empty

Far from an achievement or enlightenment, it’s often more indulgent and fun — and, sure, perhaps you learn a thing or two and become a little less narrow-minded. But money aside, it is truly one of the easiest things in the world to do — you simply make it a priority, book the tickets, and go. And then, you’re just kind of… there.

We sweep into these places as though they’re check-boxes, as though the answer to our lives will be found in the bottom of un café au lait in France, the fish markets of Thailand, or anywhere in between. As though spending 2 nights and 3 days anywhere will mean anything to us other than coming back to report: it was lovely.

And it is.

But also: what difference does it all make?

Every time I travel, I can’t help but think “but what is the point of this?”

like cultures — and I like new experience. As I said. I’ll “play the game” when I travel, eating the local foods and drinking the local drinks and speaking, best I can, in the local language. And I enjoy this, but I don’t really get it — not in the way that it’s sold. I know that travel is supposed to be life-changing and perspective-broadening but, over the course of just a few days, frankly, I don’t think it really can be. (Unless, of course, our “perspective” is regarding “the best cheese we’ve ever had;” our “broadening” of it dependent on — and always locked away in — our mental categorization after the fact.)

But other than that, I’m not sure I get it. And if what you’re looking for is “something new” or even open-mindedness, it can be done much more cheaply and closer to home.

And I like relaxation, too — sure — but, similarly, you can do so without using a passport.

And so it leaves me with these questions of “why though?” Is it truly to check boxes? I have a hard time believing it isn’t. Is it the satisfaction of just knowing we can? Sure — there’s no shame in that. Or maybe most people don’t look to travel for any of this. I have a hard time believing that, but even if it is true, I have an even harder time doing it myself.

At the end of the day, I often find myself traveling only to wonder, “why am I here? What am I doing?” I usually think to myself that “I’d rather be working,” but I often slip so far away that it’s not the literal “work” so much as it is the theoretical idea of work, because “work” — and at least producing something of value for others — has therefore more value and meaning for me then… whatever it is I’m doing here, while traveling.

As Jenna Woginrich, a woman who runs a homestead on a hillside and goes hunting by horseback with her hawks, wrote regarding travel,

“I see these pictures and feel no sense of envy or desire. I always saw travel as something anyone can do with enough money, time, and the wits to book a flight. By its nature travel is flirting. There is no commitment to the destination, only pleasure.

I don’t want to work a job I tolerate just to afford two weeks of entertained distraction from the previous fifty… I chose commitment over flirtation.”

I feel ya on that, sister.

I know that I struggle with this. I know that, as a person, I am wont to reject a good many real and tangible things as “meaningless;” I’m working on appreciation. But I also think you can “gain appreciation” without traveling halfway around the world.

If not travel, then what?

This is my question — the big one that weighs on me. I want meaning in the way other people want “new experiences” or “self expression” or anything else that drives us and makes us human.

What has meaning? And how to balance “meaningful” with… well, everything else.

If travel has no meaning and “meaning” is what I want, then what does? The answer, of course, is exceedingly simple: good relationships, good work, and a good attitude (all of which (and especially the last) are incredibly nebulous, but okay.)

And as Jenna Woginrich wrote,

“The truth is you can’t buy enlightenment from a travel agent or harvest it from vegetables in your own backyard. We grow slowly over time. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an Ashram or Akron ― becoming a better person is putting in the work of getting older. For some it’s raising babies. For others it’s taking up politics, art, athletic endeavor or public service. Finding what you want out of life and working to keep it is the trick, without being sold any fantasy as salvation. You can’t speed up life lessons by changing your coordinates or refusing to chart them in the first place. But you can feel happiness if you learn how to eventually read your own damn compass.”

And, until then, there are always the simple life pleasures to enjoy —a little more bière and butter, s’il vous plaît.

The Real Key to Success


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We need to understand how we can present ourselves to the best advantage and to know what role the ego plays in our life. Your unknown is God, and the self is otherwise considered to be the known. But when you want to know what you have yourself, do you really know your self? Do you want to know your self? Have you worked to know your self? My self is very important to me. Yet this is the only thing which I ignore in my life. I want to be known as a doctor, as an attorney, or I want to be known as a business manager. Because I have never worked on my self. I have never introduced my self. I have never cared to represent my self. I do not identify with my self. I do not proportionately appropriate my self. I do not proportionately understand and distribute my self.  And still, I want to be very successful, myself.

I’ll tell you the mystery of life: life is not a mystery at all. It is a simple mastery of the Self. For example, if a problem comes to me, then I look at that problem with these guidelines: I have to work through this problem, I don’t have to confront it. I have to solve it. Then I ask myself – how will I solve it as the Siri Singh Sahib? How will I solve it as Yogi Bhajan? How will I solve it as Har­bhajan Singh? From which area has the problem come from? If it is a problem of Dharma, I don’t have to care whether I benefit or I lose. I have to solve that problem as the Siri Singh Sahib.

If it is a problem in the emo­tional or mental realms, I have to solve it as Yogi Bhajan. I don’t have to solve it with Dharma. Dharma is a path of the human. Those with emotional or mental problems are not yet human. A person does not know what the path is. I have to make a person human and then deal with the human. Therefore I have to deal with it as Yogi Bhajan.

If someone has a relationship with me as a father, then I am Harbhajan Singh. But, I am using the same ego to solve these different kinds of problems.

The other alternative is that a problem comes to you and you con­front it. The moment you confront the problem, either you win or you lose. That is called self-destruction. You don’t need to confront anything. It is not worthwhile, because every­thing moves. The problem will move. (You won’t move because your ego gets hung up.) But you can’t solve a problem by confronting the problem. Then it becomes a hassle and the neighbors will know about it and people will hear about it.

realkey1 (1)What is the secret of success? OPI OPM: Other People’s Intelligence and Other People’s Money. Your own intelligence cannot solve every problem. Your own intelligence is how you employ and successfully deploy the environment, the sur­roundings. That is OPI. Employ and deploy the surroundings. When you employ the surroundings, don’t involve yourself in it. Because it is not you in the problem, rather it is your interest in the problem. You should see that you get the high­est rate of interest, but it is not you.

Once I was asked if I wanted to have a certain inspector working under me or not. I questioned why I was being given an additional in­spector. I was told that nobody wanted to have him working under them. I agreed that I would take him, but I asked that inspector why the other officers did not want to have him working under them. He told me that other officers were threatened be­cause he was so sharp and efficient that they felt that their own jobs might be taken over by him. I decided to take him. I just outlined to him my area of responsi­bility. I told him that I would give him a specific area of my duty and he could take total charge of that area and do whatever he wanted to do with it. I can tell you that I never bothered with that work at all, and he came out perfect. Because he was very intelligent, very righteous, very honest and very sincere. You may get a good worker but it is rare to get a sincere worker.

Another example I want to share with you. I had a pesonal servant named Ramu. His job was just to serve me and personally attend to me. One day while I was eating with my friends he just came and picked up my plate. Then he brought me some other kind of food and served me. I understood his habits, but after a while I just called him to explain to these people why he made me eat something different? He said:

“Baba, you are not to eat this food because yesterday you worked very hard and this food is very delicious and you would definitely overeat. You are to go on duty in half an hour and you won’t be in a position to digest it, therefore, I am sorry, I couldn’t give you that food.” I said, “But, you never gave it to me, someone else gave it to me!” He added, “Another person is another person. I am responsible for what you eat.”

Now, as Americans you cannot tol­erate this kind of situation. Whereas, I have been trained that when we give somebody a duty or a responsi­bility and we find that person is loyal and honest, we totally do not inter­fere with that person. That is the way to use other people’s intelli­gence. But if you insist on playing it according to your ego, then you’ll be stabbed in the back. It doesn’t matter who you are. Because there is no security for that person. When he gives all of his intelligence to you, puts all of his loyalty at stake, is will­ing to devote himself to you and you still have the ego to limit him, that means that you can turn him upside down right in the middle of his work.

No human mind can tolerate this. The way you Westerners have been trained, you have learned to achieve something, but you can never maintain that thing. You can learn to maintain the same situation with a simple attitude. You can discuss with your ego and then begin to consider when this person is giving you trouble or when this staff is giv­ing you trouble. How can you use them trouble-free? That is what your ego is for. Whereas those who live by a hire and fire policy, they always get fired in the end.

realkey3The mind can go through a lot of changes. And the last and worst of all changes is when you deny your teacher the privilege to poke you. It is the worst of all because when your ego is inflated like an elephant, you need that needle in you. When you throw it away, you go astray and when an elephant goes astray it meets death

You should keep your ego to serve you. You should use your ego and direct it to just behave as if it is a servant. Ego is the biggest disease! But it also has the solution in it. In India, it is a common practice to take mercury (which is known to be a deadly poison if you take it raw into your system) and in the science of Ayurvedic medicine, to use it in al­most 80% to 90% of the cures. It is very effective, and very well recog­nized. In this way, poison becomes the cure. In the same way, you can go out and burn your skin in the sun and you can have skin cancer, or you can tan yourself and look healthy. How you use your ego is a technol­ogy. When you start living in your ego, then you will not grow.

I was reading the life of a person who started his professional life with one thousand dollars. He was a sur­geon and today he is a person worth forty million dollars. He was asked how he became so successful, and he said that he believed in benefit sharing. He would offer his employ­ees the opportunity to work out a situation for him and whatever in­come that would bring, he would offer to give them one-third of it. He never signed any contract because his people knew his word was a con­tract. The result was that he gave one-third but they gave it to him totally. He earned 66% more!

How rich you are has to be considered from the expense point of view. Richness is not considered from the income point of view. If your monthly expense is a thousand dollars but my expense is fifteen thousand dollars, you are fourteen thousand dollars richer than me. An economic fool is a person who measures his richness from income. An economic wise man, or economic wizard is one who measures his rich­ness from expenses. That is what rich people do. They go on a fixed income expense and then they kill them­selves. They become victims of heart attacks and no doctor can cure them. Because what should they do, if they have to maintain a standard of thirty thousand per month?

realkey4I know of one organization where for the last nine years it has made three hundred to four hundred mil­lion dollars in a year. Their bud­get was fixed at seven hundred mil­lion a year. Then for the last two years, they were making only two hundred million a year. So there is a budget difference of five hundred million a year and they do not know what to do. They are selling their equipment, they are selling their land, selling this, selling that and they’re in bad shape. One of their employees who is my student called me and asked me how to man­age himself. I told him that it is very simple. If I make ten cents, I spend one. If I make one dollar, I spend ten cents. When I have ten dollars in my pocket, I only know that I have a dollar. I consider the other nine dol­lars as OPM, Other People’s Money. Out of every ten dollars, one dollar is mine, and nine dollars are to main­tain what is mine. For every one dol­lar you require nine dollar to main­tain the grace of one dollar. Do you know this law of economic expansion?

If you represent yourself with the image that you are ten dollars rich, somebody will ask to use it for one hour, and you’ll give it, and then you’ll stand at a bus stand and the driver will not let you on because you don’t have a penny. It’s called “showing off.”

In India, in economics we call it “balloon-talk”. Balloon talk is a con­versation where you present your account multiplied or exact. Even suppose you speak the truth, that you earn fifty thousand dollars a year. The fact is that you don’t make fifty thousand dollar a year, because in America, if you make one hundred thousand in California, you earn ex­actly thirty-nine thousand. Exactly.

realkey5Now you can wangle it, you can multiply it, you can play around, but when you’re dead, your estate will be found in the estate shop on Beverly Blvd. Why does that happen? Because the children are asked to pay the Estate Tax, and they don’t have it. So, they sell the estate and get rid of it. Or, they make a founda­tion. Paul Getty’s family cannot take a statue from his estate. You can in­vest in your self, or you can invest in your name. Paul Getty would have been very fine, if he had in­vested and made his own body a museum where at least he would have gone running on the beach once a week.

Just decide. Sit down and ask your self what you want to be. Do you want to be a healer? If you want to be a healer, let God heal through you. If you want to be a dealer, then go on, pushing this, pushing that, trying this button, trying that button. Every profession has buttons.

Your presentation, your art of presentation, your secret of presen­tation, lies in one fact: you must not confront the energy, you must circu­late the energy. What is God? Every­thing is circulated. Earth revolves. It revolves on its axis. The whole galaxy, the other stars, the sun moves around other suns. It’s far out and it’s nothing but movement! It keeps going! And your success is, keep going! Don’t stop anywhere, for any reason. Don’t say good-bye. The only good thing is to don’t say “good­bye.” Just say “bye.” Perhaps some­day you’ll need that person. Because what will keep the energy going? It is the movement of your thought form, and the movement of your mind and thought and the move­ment of your solving the problems, and your movement penetrating through the problem. How can you do it? If you know that you HAVE to do it.

Anything and everything, logical­ly, psychologically, socially, commo­tionally, emotionally, personally, collectively, individually, is nothing but you completing the circuit.

realkey6What is required to be learned by you is the Self. Because the Self is the solution of your environment. It’s the hub. It is the axle. It is everything. The fact is that you have to understand that you can’t fall in love with a girl, you can’t fall for anything, before knowing yourself, and knowing what you are fall­ing for! If you do not know how to swim, yourself, and you jump in eighteen feet of water, you will drown. But if you get into four feet of water and you are two feet above the water, you can make it. To become commotional, emo­tional, get into turmoil, and not care for things, not to listen to advice, and not to wait for truth, though it is bitter and it hurts, is to cause a problem. Multiple prob­lems are like multiple sclerosis. There’s no solution for it.

The law of diminishing return is that you can handle X amount of problems. There’s a relationship between play and work. Work and play have a relationship which is propor­tionate. For X amount of work, you need X amount of play. For X amount of play, you need X amount of work. If they are out of balance, then you are out of balance and you’ll never be a successful person.

Please remember that without Self consciousness you cannot properly present yourself. And without Self knowledge you cannot have Self consciousness.

Copyright The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan