I have a bunch of weird, irrational, and seemingly useless little habits and tricks that greatly improve the quality of my life.
What am I talking about?
I track calories using My Fitness Pal. Sometimes, I will purposefully leave out some of the foods I ate. In general, I’ll be in a calorie deficit for the week, which is what matters. But, looking back on the previous week — having forgotten what I left out — I’ll feel better about the previous week as a whole.
I’m a huge advocate of mental accounting. Money is money regardless of how you store it, but the buckets I place my money in tell me a story about how I’m using my money. I create little arbitrary money rules to help me feel better about my spending habits while trying to improve them at the same time.
I have a bunch of little tricks like this. The goal is always the same — change the story in my mind about how well I’m doing in life.
I’ll explain in depth later, but here’s why it’s important to always pay attention to the story you tell yourself.
What separates humans from the rest of the animals?
Because we have such an elaborate imagination, can tell/remember stories, and are always running on a narrative loop, we’ve been able to build civilizations, societies, technologies, etc while continuing to advance as a species.
Use this to your advantage. Harness the power of imagination by understanding that almost everything is a figment of your imagination. By taking reality less seriously and making your narrative more flexible, you’ll be able to achieve what others can’t because they’re too locked into the idea of reality being concrete.
Understand that, for the most part, many of the things we see as real are totally imaginary, or as Yuval Noah Harari calls them “imagined orders” we agree upon to run societies:
The examples grow more extreme to make this point…
You are the master of your own universe. The extent that imagination, narrative, and perception dictates what you believe to be true and real is at a level you don’t quite grasp.
More and more, I look at my life and try to reshape what reality means to me. Do the same. Use your story.
The narrative fallacy says you picture your life as a story when, in reality, life is random and you have no grand throughline that runs through your life.
The narrative fallacy is a fallacy.
You don’t see your life as random. Nobody does. We’re constantly telling ourselves a story about our lives. So the idea of the narrative fallacy, while cute, doesn’t pass the sniff test of reality. Embrace your “irrational” narrative to the fullest.
Enter the realm of the “woo woo,” the metaphysical, the emanating aura, manifestation, and delusional thinking on your way to success…coupled with a bunch of little practical caveats.
Open yourself up to the mystery of life, embrace ambiguity, become the hero of your story, and try to reshape your reality. At the same time, do this only to a point.
I’ve created the perfect mixture of “woo woo” thinking and practical action.
For the woo woo:
Along with my affirmations, visualization techniques, and meditating on success, I also do the following:
When you have the combination of these mystical sorts of brainwashing techniques and hardcore practical steps, you begin to shape the story of your life and create more references to build your confidence.
That’s why both are important. Too much sitting around waiting to manifest and nothing gets done. Too much grind and hard work without enough mystery and wonder lead to burn out.
Over time, you become more grounded. You’re better able to adapt to what happens in your life. You understand that the frame you use to tell the story matters more than the facts of the story. Eventually, you get to the stage where everything seems like a win, no matter what it is.
I’ve reached the point where I’m getting quite good and reframing everything into a positive.
Let’s take pain, heartbreak, obstacles, and other miscellaneous shit that really knocks you off balance. I’ve reframed pain as a teacher. Pain is here to make me better. Now, that’s only true up to a point, right? Sometimes life can throw you such a curveball that it does flatten you. But, until that moment, the more useful story to tell yourself is that pain helps you grow.
Missed opportunities can lead to better ones. Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future..”
When you realize that many great things in your life are, in part, a result of great things you missed out on, you take on a more flexible attitude.
For example, I could’ve attended an Ivy League school and got a six-figure job right out of college. I was that smart in high school. But I was also a lazy degenerate. I owe much of my current success to that degeneracy. I’m glad I didn’t do things “the right way.”
Had I follow the golden path laid in front of me, I may have gotten “golden handcuffs,” — living in an expensive prison like I see so many corporate people experiencing. Also, I draw from my colored past quite a bit in my writing. I needed to screw up, miss out on major opportunities, and put the pieces back together to do what I’m doing now.
That job you missed out on could mean a better one is around the corner. That relationship that fell apart might mean the true love of your life is waiting in the wings. The setbacks you experience on your path will make you stronger than you would’ve been had everything gone smooth right away. Reframe. Always reframe.
You can’t be where you are today without the exact dots that connect your past. Even if you don’t quite like where you are at this moment, understand you can draw lessons from that you can use in the future. And know that maybe some of the things that happened needed to happen. Maybe you need to be where you are right now, even if you’re not thrilled about it.
Quit using the frame of regret to see the past. Time is never wasted. Everything that happened so for might not have a “reason,” but you can derive meaning from those moments and use them. If Viktor Frankl can find meaning, joy, and success from being in a concentration camp, you can draw something meaningful from your past, no matter what happened.
I started a draft of this article yesterday. I got about a half-hour in and I was in the perfect flow state.
My phone rings. It’s the mother of my child.
“Nyvia split her chin open at daycare. You have to go pick her up and take her to the E.R.”
She’s totally fine! Just a few tiny little stitches. After knowing she was okay, I looked back at what had just happened and laughed. In the middle of writing an article about taking life in strides and seeing life’s “monkey wrenches” as signs, the universe throws a monkey wrench into my day.
And a bunch of positive things came from it:
I took yesterday’s events as a sign from the universe to make me better, teach me a lesson, move me forward, and keep me grounded.
Again, doesn’t matter if that’s “true.” In many ways life is random. But it’s not random to you. And you’ll never see it that way. Might as well use the proper framing to enhance your narrative, don’t you think?
That attitude for life, coupled with this next strategy for work, will tie everything together and make you more powerful, confident, and ready for the next challenge.
So how does this all work in practice?
I’d say to always shift your expectations to fit your needs at the time. Always reframe things to drive your personal legend forward.
In the beginning, this means overly congratulating yourself for the most menial goals. If you’re just starting this new life path thingy, then you want to celebrate the tiniest of wins because you need to create as many reference experiences as possible.
When you encounter challenges and your learning curve is steeper, frame it as a stage of growth. After accomplishing the skills, you’ll know them forever. You’re not struggling with obstacles, you’re growing mental muscles.
Then you reach the point where resting on your laurels isn’t good enough. After you have some success, be harder on yourself and push yourself more, not for your sake, but for the sake of people who can benefit from what you provide.
Because at the end of the day, the ultimate frame to come from is the frame of the provider.
You’re not here to take from the world. You’re here to give. Most people operate with the wrong story. They’re too worried about what they can get, what energy they can suck from the world and other people, how everything is affecting them. And this story is always counterproductive — the needier you are the less you get.
Instead, you are the hero, the center of your universe. You emit energy into the world like the Sun and people revolve around you. Not the other way around. Like the Sun, you give and give and give because you are simply so strong and energetic you have no choice but to do so.
Go back through this post and combine all the little hacks and mental movies I’ve just taught you. They all tie into the idea that your life is under your control. You have power and no one or nothing can take it away from you.
People can take your possessions. They can swat at you and try to tear you down. They can sway you with praise and beguile you with promises.
But ultimately, regardless of whether or not you believe it’s true. Nobody owns your mind but you.