Tag Archives: Matrix

This is How the Personal Development Industry Failed Us

And this is how to set yourself free.

Right now, your life is perfect.

How do I know? If it wasn’t perfect, you would have already changed it. Every change you want to make comes with its benefits and costs. You look at the benefits and you desire them. But deep down, you are aware of the costs. That’s why you avoid those changes.

Moreover, a lot of the changes you dream of contradict each other.

  • You dream of becoming a huge success in your field. At the same time, you dream of hanging out with your friends and family all the time.
  • You dream of having a meaningful relationship. At the same time, you dream of dating new people all the time.
  • You dream of a lean, strong body, but at the same time, you dream of sitting on the couch all day, eating delicious deserts.
  • You want the freedom and financial rewards of entrepreneurship, but at the same time, you want the security of a job.

I’m sure you have your own versions of these contradictions. Reality is stranger than fiction. I’m sure you have multiple desires that contradict each other.

I’d like to live in a buzzing city like New York. At the same time, I’d like to live in a house in a quiet neighborhood in nature. I’d like to live in a mild climate in Mediterranean where the local language is English, where there is significant economic activity, and beautiful beaches. All of which are contradicting each other.

Let me guarantee you, unless you are hyperrealistic, you have contradicting dreams and desires.

In other words, you are irrational and delusional. So am I.

The contradictions in your mind keep you from achieving your goals. They keep you from making any progress in your life. They keep you from living your dream life. They keep you from actualizing yourself, your full potential.

I beg to differ from Mr. Maslow.

“What one can be, one must be. This need we call self-actualization.” Abraham Maslow

You can’t be all that you can be. I can be a politician, a businessman, a bodybuilder, a professor, a CEO, and the list goes on, but I can’t be all of them. I have to choose one or two. That’s it. Anything more than that is delusional and/or being mediocre on each of them at best. If you want to be exceptional, you need to focus.

You can’t be a family person, a professional athlete, a businessperson, a professor, a rock star, and run for the presidency at the same time. It doesn’t work that way. However, the personal development industry is fooling us that we can. And we buy it. That’s why the tag Self-Improvement has 100K+ followers on Medium and Self-Discipline only 300.

I don’t blame the personal development industry. If you want to sell books, online courses, and seminar tickets, you need to say what people want to hear. People want to hear “you can have it all by sitting on your coach and daydreaming about it.” They want to hear “do what you love and the money will follow.”

I experienced it at first hand. One of my most popular posts is “Doing Nothing is Not Wasting Time.” My self-discipline related posts never make the top ten, even though I make it super-easy to develop self-discipline.

How to Set Yourself Free

This post would be nothing but a piece of rant, if I didn’t provide you with a technique to get rid of your delusions. So, that’s what I’m going to do right now. But beware, this technique isn’t for the faint of heart. It is tough.

It is tough to see all of your dreams shredded to pieces in your own hands, given that you’re honest with yourself.

You won’t be able to complete this exercise in a single sitting. Every session will be full of agony. So, give yourself the time and space to process the emotions that arise from doing this exercise. Don’t rush.

Step 1. Write Down All of Your Dreams and Desires

Write all of them down or as much as you can. Just by writing them down, you’ll see how they are contradicting each other and how it is impossible to realize them all at the same time.

Step 2. Pick One and Tear It Apart

Now, pick one of your dreams and write it down at the top of the page. Now, write down what keeps you from realizing that dream. What is the cost you have to pay? Are there external conditions that can’t be overcome? Write them all down.

If you do the exercise above, you will reach one of two conclusions.

  1. You are capable of realizing this dream but there is a price to pay.
  2. You are not capable of overcoming the external conditions that are in the way of realizing your dream.

If you come up with the second conclusion, kudos to you. You are realistic. No one in the world has the absolute power to bend the reality any way they want. Sometimes, it’s just unrealistic to realize a dream.

I won’t be able to build a buzzing city on a Mediterranean island with significant economic activity, where the local language is English. In other words, I won’t be able to create a new Silicon Valley and New York on a Mediterranean island. That dream is completely unrealistic.

If you came up with the first conclusion, you have a decision to make.

Do you want to pay the price at this moment in your life or not? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Do you want to do whatever it takes or not? If yes, to which extent?

  • What kind of sacrifices are you willing to make?
  • What kind of risks are you willing to take?
  • What is your game plan?

Go ahead and answer the questions above. Does your dream still look realistic? Will you be able to follow up on your game plan, take the necessary risks, and make the necessary sacrifices? Are you willing to accept the complete package?

If your answer is “Yes” to the questions above, more power to you. I encourage you to do it. I’m looking forward for your success story.

Step 3. Let Go of Your Unrealistic Dreams

If your conclusion is that your dream is unrealistic or you aren’t willing to follow up on your game plan at this moment in life, let it go. I know this is hard. Believe me, I have been through this. I know how disappointing it can be, but at the same time, it is liberating.

Embrace the fact that you will not be able to realize your dream, at least for now. It takes a huge weight of your shoulders. More important than that, it releases a huge portion of your mental power that you can deploy on projects that can make a huge difference in your life. It is like releasing your breaks.

If you can’t let go of your unrealistic dream completely, write it down on a piece of paper and put it into a safe place. You can pick it up later in the future, when you are willing to do whatever it takes.

Step 4. Repeat For All of Your Dreams

I know it was hard enough to do this exercise for a single dream, but I want you to repeat it on all of your dreams. At the end, you will be left with one or two dreams, which you have a decent chance of realizing and on which you can focus completely.

Do you want to have a dozen dreams you can’t realize or do you want to have one or two dreams that you can?

Step 5. Practice Letting Go

Letting go is a great book by David Hawkins. I recommend you read it, but it’s not a requirement for this step. The principle is simple.

Every time an unrealistic dream comes up in your mind, let it go. Don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t spend any more time thinking about it, daydreaming about it, fantasizing about it. After a while, those dreams stop popping up in your mind.

As you practice letting go, you have your complete mental capacity to work on projects that you can actually accomplish. Isn’t that great?


The personal development industry and the Western culture tell us that we can accomplish everything that we want and we buy it. That makes us delusional and keeps us from realizing our full potential. Letting go of all the contradicting and unrealistic dreams releases immense amount of mental power.

Letting go is a tough process, but using the released mental power on a few projects that truly matter will make all the change in your life.

The Principle that Explains All Human Behavior

Even the Most Irrational Ones

You need to get this principle to understand human behavior. Not only other people’s behavior, but also your own behavior. Especially, your own behavior.

Sometimes, you might have a difficult time understanding someone’s behavior. Sometimes, you might have a difficult time understanding your own behavior. Not anymore.

All human behavior is motivated by the pain and pleasure principle. We are either running away from pain or running towards pleasure. We are either moving towards rewards or escaping punishment. Human behavior is as simple as that.

Now, you either disagree with me or you think that I’m stating the obvious. In either case, bear with me. For many of us, the pain and pleasure principle is an obvious explanation of human behavior, but it goes deeper than that, but more about that later.

Why Should You Get the Pain and Pleasure Principle?

Getting the pain and pleasure principle helps you understand human behavior. Once you understand human behavior, you understand motivation.

  • What motivates you?
  • What motivates a specific person in your life?
  • What motivates an average person?
  • What motivates a prospect?

The correct answers to the questions above are worth their weight in gold. Once you have the answers to those questions, you can modify the behavior of yourself and others. That ability is a superpower in life, business, and relationships.

The ability to modify the behavior of yourself and others is a superpower in life, business, and relationships.


How do you explain people who go out of their own way to help others without any rewards in return? How do you explain people who intentionally harm themselves? How can you explain these behaviors with rewards and punishment?

Counterargument #1: The Selfless Person

We all know a person or two, who go out of their own way to help people without any rewards in return. Or is that so? What if the biggest reward of charity is internal? The good feelings that one gets? This is what draws many wealthy people to charity without any expectation in return.

Counterargument #2: The Masochist

Somehow, sometime, the masochist associated self-harm with pleasure. Maybe, it is the adrenaline high they are after. In either case, the pain and pleasure principle is in play here. Pleasure is so high that it’s overwhelming the pain.

The Real Use of the Principle

Let’s set the counterarguments aside and focus on how we can use this principle in our own lives. Here’s an example: how did we end up checking our smartphones 150 times a day? Moreover, how can we let go of this self-destructing habit?

How did we end up checking our smartphones 150 times a day?

As we all know, our daily lives can be mundane. Most of us associate boredom with pain. In order to escape the pain of boredom, we run towards the little rewards provided by our smartphones. Nevertheless, this habit is not as innocent as it sounds.

Every time we distract ourselves with our devices, we reduce our ability to maintain our focus for an extended period of time. This habit destroys our cognitive abilities. It makes us dumber.

The smart people who produce our devices and apps make them addictive on purpose. When you check the Facebook newsfeed, you see longer, text only posts shortened and squeezed in between flashy photos and videos.

Deeper Than the Pain and Pleasure Principle

The internet and device addiction can be explained with the pain and pleasure principle. However, in order to form an addiction, we need more than that. A single pain and pleasure cycle is most of the time not enough to form a habit or addiction.

We need multiple repetitions of the pain and pleasure cycle to form a habit or addiction. We need momentum. Forming habits and addictions happen through reinforcement of the same pain and pleasure cycle over and over.

How to Quit an Addiction

Let’s say we want to quit our device checking habit. The motivation behind the device checking habit is to escape the pain of boredom and pleasure of the little rewards. In order to quit that habit, we need to come up with a pain point that is greater than boredom.

We also need to associate not checking the device with a reward that is greater than the ones we get from the device. That way we override the initial pain and pleasure cycle with another cycle that motivates us in the opposite direction.

There’s a catch when replacing the initial pain and pleasure cycle. It takes conscious effort and repetition to replace an unconscious motivation with a conscious motivation. That means you need to consciously repeat yourself the new motivation to replace the old one over and over until the new one becomes a second nature.

How to Handle Slip Backs

You should also expect sliding into conscious incompetence. That is sliding into old habits, even though you made the decision to let go of them. Don’t give up if you find yourself in this situation, move on to conscious competence and stay there until you reach the unconscious competence. In our example, that is the state where you don’t even have the urge to check your device.

The same motivation replacement technique can be used in other areas of life, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy, changing dietary choices. This is why adding horrible pictures of cancer patients on cigarette packs are effective for quitting smoking. People who are see slaughterhouse footages multiple times have a difficult time consuming animal foods.


The pain and pleasure principle, moving towards rewards and avoiding punishments explains all human behavior. In order to quit a bad habit or addiction, the old pain and pleasure cycle can be replaced with a conscious one. This replacement require multiple repetitions over time to be reinforced in our mind.

Today’s post was about how to use the pain and pleasure principle to modify your own behavior. In a follow up post, I’ll discuss using this principle to understand other people and eventually motivating them. Until then here are a few questions for you to think about.

  • Do you have any habits or addictions that you want to quit?
  • What are the rewards, pleasure points, this habit or addiction provides you with?
  • Which punishment or paint point do you run away from with this habit or addiction?
  • Which conscious rewards and pain points can you find to override the unconscious ones?

Once you have the answers to these questions, try reinforcing them through repetition for a month and let me know how this method works for you.

The Psychology of Procrastination

Personal development literature provides us with lots of cookie cutter solutions to our daily challenges. Sometimes, it’s better to develop our own solutions by reflecting on our own psychology. Here’s an analysis that I made on myself. You can do the same analysis on yourself to find out why you procrastinate and how you can overcome procrastination.

What Makes Us Procrastinate?

Why do we procrastinate? If we ask this question to ourselves and come up with honest answers, we can find solutions that are effective for us. For that reason, I want you to ask yourself this question and come up with your own answers. In my case, it’s a combination of the following.

  1. I face a task that is mundane, boring, and repetitive, such as washing the dishes.
  2. I face a task that doesn’t provide any rewards in foreseeable future.
  3. There’s always distraction available to shut down the nagging voices in my head.

The Nagging Voices in My Head

When I’m facing a mundane, boring, repetitive task, the Goliath in my mind starts protesting. “This task costs us time and energy. It doesn’t provide us with any benefits. Why do we do this?” Remember, this part of our brain is not highly evolved. It can’t see far into the future. It can’t see the horror of a few days of dishes accumulating in our kitchen. And this part of our brain is in charge most of the time.

On the other hand, our David, the more evolved part of our brain starts nagging as well. “We have to wash these dishes now. Otherwise, we will face a greater mess down the road. It will cost us more time, more energy, and more psychological pain.”

Now, you have a competition between your David and Goliath. Who’s going to win? Goliath’s strategy is to shut down David through a distracting activity, such as surfing the Internet. David’s strategy is to stay awake and either overpower Goliath through willpower or convince Goliath with a clever argument.

How to Keep David Awake and Strengthen Him

When it comes to our relationship with David, we have two options. We either keep David awake and strengthen him or we put David asleep and weaken him. If we keep David awake and strengthen him, he will be able to overpower Goliath when we face a challenge. If we put him asleep and weaken him, he will be overpowered by Goliath in the face of a challenge.

Both options are self-reinforcing. That means the more we put David asleep, weaken him, and let him loose a battle against Goliath, the weaker David will get. The more we keep David awake, strengthen him, and let him win a battle against Goliath, the stronger David will get. Both options are self-reinforcing cycles.

If you think about it, the solution to our procrastination problem lies in the paragraph above. Can you see it? The solution is to create small challenges to exercise our David to stay awake, to exercise his muscles, and to win small victories over Goliath. As David wins these small victories, he’s going to feel stronger and more confident. We can gradually increase the intensity of the challenges to increase his strength.

“The solution is to create small challenges to exercise our David to stay awake, to exercise his muscles, and to win small victories over Goliath.”

A five minute meditation session is a great place to start small to exercise your David. You can add further exercises that are just sufficient enough to challenge the muscles of David without making him lose a battle against Goliath. As you gradually increase the intensity of these challenges, your David will build enough strength to overpower Goliath, when you face a real challenge.

How to Convince Goliath

Goliath can be a force of nature when working towards our most ambitious goals. However, you need to convince him to work on your cause. You need to come up with arguments that pushes his emotional buttons. Goliath has to see the rewards and pain clearly. You need to show the long term rewards and pain clearly to Goliath, over and over, and convince him of their validity. Otherwise, he will only look in front of himself, see the immediate rewards and pain, and act accordingly.

Don’t worry about Goliath accepting your arguments. Goliath learns by association. The more you repeat the connection between rewards and the beneficial activities and the connection between the pain and the harmful activities, the more Goliath will make those associations.

You can convince Goliath by making a list of potential rewards and pain points and repeat that list to Goliath over and over. Let’s go over the simple example of taking care of the dishes every day. You can apply the same principle to all the procrastination challenges that you are facing.

“Once our Goliath gets something at an emotional level, he is a force of nature and he will be willing to handle those challenges.”

“If we wash the dishes every day, we will only deal with a small amount of work every day. It will only take us fifteen minutes. We will be enjoying a clean, tidy environment. If we don’t wash the dishes every day, we will have to deal with more work down the road. It will be a pain in the neck to wash those dried up food rests from the dishes. They will require way more effort to clean. Every time we see our kitchen sink, we will be depressed with the amount of work waiting for us.”

Formulating the rewards and pain points as arguments is necessary but not sufficient in itself. We need to repeat these arguments to ourselves over and over until we internalize them at a gut level, until our Goliath gets them at an emotional level. Once our Goliath gets something at an emotional level, he is a force of nature and he will be willing to handle those challenges.

Using Rewards and Pain Points to Overcome Procrastination

Rewarding ourselves for our efforts on a challenge is a great way to reinforce ourselves to keep working on that challenge in the future. If your days and weeks only consist of work and no rewards, you will eventually burn out and give up. Therefore, it’s a good idea to give yourself some rewards as a result of your efforts. Be careful when selecting these rewards. You don’t want to select the rewards that would weaken your David.

Which rewards would you give yourself as a result of your efforts every day, week, month, quarter, and year? Which rewards would you give yourself as a result of specific milestone achievements? Make a list of them and go over that list regularly. At least on a daily basis and whenever you feel like procrastinating.

“If you don’t have any rewards in your life, your life will look like a labor camp.”

The goal is to connect those rewards to your efforts and achievements. So, it doesn’t make sense to give yourself the reward at the end of the day, if you haven’t reached your goals that day. However, at the end of the day or week, enjoy your rewards fully, thinking about your efforts during the day and week.

You have deserved this reward, because you have worked very hard for it throughout the day and week. This reinforces the connection between your efforts and rewards in your mind. Moreover, it will make the possibility of the long term milestone achievement rewards more convincing to yourself.

If you don’t have any rewards in your life, your life will look like a labor camp. You will not be motivated to do anything at all and you will end up procrastinating all the time.

You can double the effects of rewards by working on your pain points as well. Just come up with the pain points in your life that would motivate you to take action towards your goals. The pain points can be about your current life situation as well as about your future. Maybe, not getting a promotion is a current pain point. Maybe, not having sufficient savings for your retirement is a pain point for your future.

Just like the future rewards, write your pain points down next to your rewards and reinforce them in your mind by reading them every day and refer to them every time you feel like procrastinating.

Exploration Questions

Here are a few questions for you to reflect upon.

  • What are the beneficial activities that you’re avoiding?
  • What makes you avoid those activities?
  • How can you make those activities more attractive and exciting?
  • What are the harmful, useless activities that you indulge in?
  • What makes you indulge in those activities?
  • How can you make those activities repulsive?

Write down your answers and read them often to reinforce them in your mind.

The Ultimate Self-Motivation Guide

Our mind consists of two systems, a conscious system and an auto-pilot system. We spend most of our time in our auto-pilot system, which I dub Goliath. Our conscious system is intelligent, but not energy efficient. Therefore, we avoid using this system to the extent possible. I call this system David.

Most of the personal development strategies are based on our conscious system. There’s a problem with that, because we don’t spend most of our time using our conscious system. When we read about these strategies, they make sense to us. A few minutes later, we switch back to the auto-pilot mode and completely forget what we have just read.

“If we want to succeed in life, we need to use the auto-pilot mode of our minds.”

In other words, we need to convince the Goliath in our minds to work towards our life goals, instead of doing whatever he pleases to do.

What Motivates the Goliath in Our Minds?

The Goliath in our mind is motivated by pain and pleasure, in other words by rewards and punishment. When we wake up early, take a shower, dress up, go to work, work for eight hours, and then go to the gym, Goliath perceives this as punishment. Goliath feels pain throughout these activities, because he doesn’t see any rewards or pleasure.

When we sleep the whole morning, eat junk food, play video games the whole day, and hang out the whole evening, our Goliath perceives these activities as pleasure and rewards.

How Can We Motivate Our Goliath to Serve Our Life Goals?

Luckily, there’s a way to motivate our Goliath to serve our life goals and avoid the behaviors that harm us. This method is twofold.

“First, we need to associate harmful behavior with pain and punishment. Second, we need to associate beneficial behavior with pleasure and rewards.”

Suppose that you spend at least an hour a day surfing the Internet and you want to quit that habit. Your Goliath gets pleasure from that activity. We need to overwhelm our Goliath with equally or more intense pain and punishment. I’m not suggesting you to go masochistic and slap yourself every time you waste time. There are more intelligent ways of doing that such as confronting your Goliath with statistics.

How to Quit Bad Habits

If you’re wasting an hour a day, you’re wasting fifteen days a year. If you add that up, you are wasting a complete year every twenty four years. Do you really want to wake up one day and realize that you have wasted a complete year of your life? Is this really what you want to do? It’s almost like having spent a whole year of your life in a jail cell doing nothing useful. Do you get what kind of a punishment and pain that realization is? What could you do in that year if you were completely free?

“It’s almost like having spent a whole year of your life in a jail cell doing nothing useful. What could you do in that year if you were completely free?”

If you have internet addiction or any other addiction that results in waste of time, memorize the content of the paragraph above. Repeat it to yourself regularly until you associate the time wasting habit with sitting in a jail cell for a year. I know it’s dramatic and that’s why it works.

The same technique works for bad habits like smoking as well. Whenever you feel like smoking, look at one of those horrible images that picture the lungs and other organs harmed by smoking. If you make that association in your mind, soon smoking won’t be that fun.

How to Motivate Yourself to Do What You Know You Should Do

We don’t do what we know we should do, because our Goliath perceives those activities as pain and punishment. We need to associate those activities with pleasure and rewards in order to motivate ourselves to do them. The first step to make that association is to have a direction in our lives.

I want you to come up with a set of life goals that you are excited about. These life goals need to be perceived as rewards by your Goliath. Moreover, you need to associate those life goals with the activities that you need to carry out on a daily basis. In other words, you need to create a perspective in your life.

“Excite your Goliath about the rewards and pleasure he will get at the end of the road.”

Once you have your life goals and your daily activities, you need to reinforce the connection between them every day. That way that connection sinks into a gut level in your psyche. Your Goliath isn’t a quick learner. It takes a lot of repetition until he gets something. That means you need to go over your life goals and how you are going to achieve them every day. This will excite your Goliath about the rewards and pleasure he will get at the end of the road.

Moreover, you can also promise your Goliath rewards for the achievement of intermediate milestones. You can do that even on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You can promise your Goliath a nice movie every weekend, a nice vacation every year, a nice car when you make your first million. Just make sure not to overextend your budget or engage in harmful activities.

How to Proceed

Now that you know how your psychology works, it’s up to you to do the work to motivate yourself.

  • What are the habits and behaviors that you want to quit?
  • Which pain points or punishments are you going to associate with them?
  • What is your direction in life? What are your life goals?
  • What is your perspective in life? How are you going to achieve your life goals?
  • Which actions do you need to incorporate in your routine?
  • Which rewards are you going to give yourself on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis for carrying out those actions?
  • Which rewards are you going to give yourself, when you achieve certain milestones in your life goals?

Answers these questions, read your answers every day, and see your performance skyrocket!

The Biggest Paradox of Mankind

The more I write about personal development, the more I appreciate the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. The paradox explained in this book might as well be the biggest paradox of mankind. It might explain why we are still struggling in our lives as individuals and as societies, nations, and mankind in general.

“Most people would like to think that they are a single, congruent entity. Nothing can be further from truth.”

Daniel Kahneman models our mind as two systems. System 1 is most of the time active, strong, but primitive and prone to irrationality. It is prone to making judgmental errors and make decisions based on biases. However, it’s fast and energy efficient. I like to call System 1, Goliath. We operate on System 1 most of the time, especially when we need to act fast. You can think about System 1 as the auto-pilot mode.

System 2 is intelligent, but most of the time asleep, weak, slow. It requires a lot of energy to operate. I like to call System 2, David.

If someone asks you what two times two is, you can come up with the answer immediately. Your System 1 is good enough to answer that question. But what if I ask you what 54 times 76 is? You need to slow down, think about it, and start making the calculations. In other words, you need to start engaging your System 2.

“There are multiple systems and programs in our minds that are pulling us in different directions all the time.”

Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious when to switch from System 1 to System 2. In some cases, we stay in System 1 instead of switching to System 2, especially when the stakes aren’t that high. When we stay in System 1, we are prone to making logical mistakes. Greater problems ensue from a single initial mistake, because intuitively, we want to stay congruent with our initial decision. Trying to stay consistent is another bias inherent in all of us, which is one of the biases discussed in the book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

It’s a big paradox to many of us that there are separate systems operating in our minds. Most people won’t accept that, another fallacy of System 1. Most people would like to think that they are a single, congruent entity. Nothing can be further from truth. The various systems operating in our minds have evolved in different stages of our collective evolution as species and in different stages of our development as individuals.

“The biggest favor that we can do to ourselves is to figure out the different programs that are operating in our minds, learn to use them consciously, and install new programs that serve our highest goals.”

The various systems in our minds are in constant conflict with each other. While your sexual desires pulls you to a certain direction, your commitment to your life partner pulls you to another direction. While your greed pulls you to a certain direction, your conscience pulls you to another direction. There are multiple systems and programs in our minds that are pulling us in different directions all the time.

While most of the personal development literature tries to engage System 2, we need to engage System 1 and System 2 in order to get the best results in our lives. The biggest favor that we can do to ourselves is to figure out the different programs that are operating in our minds, learn to use them consciously, and install new programs that serve our highest goals. I’m exploring how to do that in my blog posts. If you know any decent resources about this topic, please let me know in the comments.

How to Find Your Direction in Life

There’s no doubt that having a direction in life increases your chances of success and satisfaction in life. I already shared an exercise about how to find your north star by writing your own obituary. It boils down to answering the following question.

“What kind of a life would you like to have lived at the end of your life?”

Today’s exercise is not an alternative to the obituary exercise, but it is complementary. Today, we will go deeper than the obituary exercise. We will cut through the noise of our superficial mind and find the needs and desires of our deep mind. Today’s exercise starts with brainstorming and then it goes into deep reflection mode.

“What would you create in your life, if you had infinite power?”

Ask the question above to yourself and write down your answers. Every time you come up with an answer, answer the following question.

“Then what?”

This is a great follow-up question, because it cuts through the noise of your superficial mind.

Suppose that someone gives the following answers to the questions above.

  • “I want to win the lottery.”
    • Then what?
  • “I will quit my job.”
    • Then what?
  • “I will move to a bigger home.”
    • Then what?
  • “I will travel the world.”
    • Then what?

Discover Your Deepest Desires

If you keep questioning, you will hit a point where you will discover your deepest desires. In the example above, the person might discover that their deepest desires are financial security and adventure. All the other wants were just superficial expressions of their core desires.

“Your superficial wants are just some shallow expressions of your core desires. Once you get that, you can create conscious goals that relate better to your core desires and reality.”

Once the person above becomes aware of their core desires, they can work directly on them instead of dreaming of a windfall. They could work on more realistic strategies to achieve financial security. Moreover, they can include some adventure in their life in a conscious way.

“Can you see how this way of reasoning is more satisfactory compared to dreaming about some unrealistic desires but doing nothing about them?”

I strongly recommend that you do the obituary exercise combined with the technique explained in this post. Once you have determined your core desires, come up with a few life goals that would satisfy those core desires. To keep things simple for your Goliath, don’t exceed ten life goals.

Validate Your Life Goals

If you are not 100% sure about your life goals, you can ask yourself the following questions to validate them.

  • How am I going to feel about these choices at the end of my life?
  • Will I miss anything?
  • Will I have any regrets?

The goal is to come to a point where you have 100% satisfactory answers to these questions. Once you have finished this exercise, write it on a sheet of paper and read it every day, as the first thing in the morning to calibrate your mind towards the accomplishment of your deepest desires.

What’s Next?

Today’s exercise, combined with the obituary exercise was about finding your direction your life. In tomorrow’s exercise, we are going to work on how to make progress towards the accomplishment of your life goals.

How to Update Your Mental Programming

Our mental programming has a great impact on our lives. That is good news and bad news at the same time. It’s bad news because of the following reasons.

  1. Our programming is mostly not our conscious choice.
  2. A significant portion of our programming is not based on facts.
  3. A chunk of our programming is counterproductive.
  4. We aren’t aware of a big part of our programming.

The good news is that we can change our lives by updating our programming. Updating our programming is similar to a software update, but not completely the same. It is sufficient to save a software update once. A mental software update requires either a dramatic event or multiple repetitions to save the new program in our hardware.

In order to update our programming, we need to take two steps.

  1. Become aware of the programs that are neither productive nor fact-based.
  2. Replace them with productive and fact-based programs.

How to Become Aware of Our Programming?

There are multiple ways of becoming aware of our programming. In this post, I will explain three of them.

  1.  Learn what you don’t know you don’t know
  2. Affirmations
  3. Experimentation

Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

A good portion of our programming resides on an unconscious level of our psyche. Some of it is inherited via genetic material. Some of it is internalized or concluded at an unconscious level. You will be amazed if you learned what kind of irrational biases are residing in your psyche and affecting your thoughts and actions.

Sometimes, it’s sufficient to learn about a bias to neutralize its effects on our thoughts and actions. Sometimes, it takes more effort to cancel its effects. In either case, the first step is to become aware of those biases. The best way to do that is to read about them. There are two books that I recommend about this subject, Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman and Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.


An affirmation is a goal stated in a positive sentence, using the first person and present tense. If you don’t want to be overweight anymore, you can formulate your goal as “I am fit.” Affirmations are only useful when they are repeated over and over, spoken or written.

Here’s an effective affirmations exercise from the book Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. You need two sheets of paper and a pen for this exercise. Pick an affirmation and write it repeatedly on the first sheet of paper. As you write your affirmation, your psyche will come up with all kinds of reasons why your affirmation will never be true. For example, you will come up with reasons like the following.

  • I don’t have the time to exercise.
  • My metabolism is slow.
  • Eating is the only way for me to deal with stress.
  • I have a big appetite.
  • My hormones are responsible for my fat storage.

As arguments against your affirmation come up, write them down on the second sheet of paper. As the first sheet of paper is completely filled by your affirmation, your second sheet of paper should include a significant amount of counterarguments. As a result, you become aware of the programs that limit you.


If you feel courageous, you can take direct action instead of writing down your affirmations. If your affirmation is to become good at public speaking, take a public speaking challenge. Just like the writing exercise above, your unconscious programs will come up during the preparation and delivery of your public speech. Write them down as they come up.

How to Replace Your Limiting Programs with Empowering Ones

In some cases, it’s sufficient to become aware of an unproductive program to neutralize its effects. In other cases, it takes more effort than that. Here are three methods to replace your limiting programs.

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Affirmations
  3. Experimentation

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the first step to replace your limiting programs. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is this program fact-based? Or is it fiction?
  • Does this program serve me or does it limit me?
  • Are there examples against this program?
  • Is it possible that the opposite of this program is true?

You can question your limiting programming with further questions that you come up with. For example, you can work on the limiting belief “eating is the only way for me to deal with stress” with the following questions.

  • Is eating really the only way for me to deal with stress?
  • How does eating every time I feel stressed serve me?
  • Which other ways are there to deal with stress that I can use?
  • How can I employ another stress management technique instead of eating?


Once you have determined that a program is neither productive nor fact-based, you can come up with an affirmation to replace it. Using the example above, you can formulate your affirmation as the following. “I use deep breathing as an effective stress management technique.” As you keep repeating this affirmation to yourself and actually using the technique every time you feel stressed, you will effectively replace your counterproductive program with a productive one. You can use this affirmation to do the affirmation exercise in the first part to discover even more counterproductive programs and repeat the cycle to go even deeper.


Imagine, you have a strong belief that you can’t lose those extra ten pounds no matter what you do. Nevertheless, you still have a deep desire to lose those extra ten pounds. In this case, you can treat your replacement belief as a hypothesis and try to prove it with an experiment. If you frame this practice as a scientific experiment, you let go of the intense emotions that might hold you back from accomplishing your goal.

Using the example above, you can come up with a precise experimental design.

  • Hypothesis: I can lose 10 pounds in six months.
  • Conditions
    • Restrict my calories to 1800 / day.
    • One hour cardio three times a week.

Now, all you have to do is to satisfy the conditions of the experiment for the next six months. Think about yourself as a scientist with a notepad and pen, keeping track of the progress as you go through your days.

Write a little report every day. Did you satisfy the conditions of the experiment today? If not, why didn’t you? What happened? At the end of the six months, make an assessment. Did the experiment prove or disprove the hypothesis? If you could not satisfy the conditions, what kept you from satisfying them? How can you formulate your experimental design next time, so that you can take into account the factors that you didn’t take into account the first time?


You can change your life by changing your mental programming. The first step to changing your mental programming is to become aware of your individual programs. You can do that by reading about them, using affirmations, and by taking action. The second step is to replace them with productive programs. You can adopt productive programs through critical thinking, affirmations, and experimentation.

What’s Holding You Back from Realizing Your Most Ambitious Goals?

Most of the time, the obstacles between us and our most ambitious goals aren’t real but fictions of our mind. I know that too well. At a certain moment in my life, I faced two options. I either had to climb a two meter high fence and jump over it, or I had to stay lost in the woods and eventually become breakfast for wild animals. Until I realized that, I wouldn’t even consider that I would be able to climb and jump over that fence.

“Most of the time, the obstacles between us and our wildest dreams aren’t real but fictions of our mind.”

After I climbed the fence and jumped over it, I realized two valuable lessons among others. First, we are way more capable than we believe we are. Second, it’s not the reality that holds us back, but our programming.

What Is Our Programming?

When I’m talking about our programming, I’m not only talking about our conscious thoughts and beliefs. I’m also talking about our unconscious programming. Let’s break this down into its components.

First, we have beliefs that we have accepted consciously. We have come across an idea somewhere and it made sense at that time. We associated a certain weight to that idea and saved it in our mind. Every time we come across a related situation, our psyche uses that belief to guide our thoughts and actions.

Second, we have beliefs that were formed as a result of our experiences. These are the conclusions that we jumped upon, consciously or unconsciously. We saved these conclusions in our minds as beliefs and we haven’t questioned them since then.

Third, we have beliefs that we were indoctrinated with. Most of these beliefs were injected to our psyche when we were a child. They were installed into our mind by our caregivers. Unfortunately, indoctrination didn’t end when we grew up. There are a lot of adults who still let others indoctrinate themselves.

Fourth, we have inherited some of our programming genetically. The programming on this level is not even a belief anymore, because it is not built upon an idea. The programming on the fourth level is completely outside of the realm of our intellect. These programs didn’t enter our psyche via language. They exist on an instinctual level. They are a function of our biology which has been mostly shaped through our genetic material.

The Problem with Our Programming

The problem with our programming is that most of it is not our conscious choice. Most of it is either inherited, internalized, or based on conclusions that we have jumped upon in the past. Some of our programming is useful, because that part of our programming is based on facts. For example, we know that it won’t end well if we touch a hot oven or jump off from a high building. However, some of our programming isn’t based on facts and it is counter-productive.

“Our life is a function of our mental programming. We aren’t aware of a good portion of our programming and a good portion of our programming is neither productive nor based on facts.”

As a result, we have a lot of bugs in our programming. Unfortunately, unlike computer programming, we can’t delete a line of erroneous code and replace it with functional code that easily. Our hardware, our brain, requires more effort and repetition than that to change a belief.


Our life is a function of our mental programming. Our programming is mostly not our conscious choice. We have either inherited, internalized, or accepted our mental programs in the past based on our experience back then. Moreover, a significant portion of our programming is neither productive nor fact-based.

In order to achieve our most ambitious goals, we need to be willing to question and change the parts of our programming that are neither serving us nor fact-based. In order to do that, we need to become aware of those programs and replace them with productive and fact-based ones. I will explain several personal development exercises on how to do that in follow-up posts.

Write Your Own Obituary

“Writing your obituary might as well be the most important thing you do in your life.”

In order to live a truly meaningful life, you need to know where you’re going to. You need to have a direction, a life goal, a north star. The best way to find your north star is to imagine that you’re at the end of your life and work your way backwards.

Imagine, you are lying in your deathbed and you are about to die. What kind of a life would you like to have lived? What would you like to have experienced? What would you be grateful for? What would you regret? If you wish, come up with more questions to ask yourself. Or just come up with answers without any further questions.

“If you censor yourself just because an idea seems impossible or selfish, you will block other ideas that are realistic and unselfish.”

Do not censor yourself. This is all about imagination. If you censor yourself just because an idea seems impossible or selfish, you will block other ideas that are realistic and unselfish. Just imagine the ideal scenario, ask yourself the questions above, and write down your answers. Write down whatever comes up for you. In other words, write your own obituary.

Do not underestimate the deathbed exercise. I came across this exercise in multiple resources, including the personal development classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This exercise is worth working on for hours, over multiple sessions.

Write Your Obituary at Least Once a Year

Make sure you repeat the deathbed exercise at least once a year and compare your answers with previous years’ answers. You will be amazed how much you will evolve. This exercise might as well be the most important thing you do in your whole life. Once you have a direction, a life goal, a north star, you can start from there, and reverse engineer your life. Your north star will guide you in every important decision, while setting goals, cultivating new habits, and virtually in every moment of your life.

Why Do Your Personal Development Efforts Fail and What to Do Instead

We humans assume on an intuitive level that our minds consists of a single, monolithic entity. In reality, there are multiple entities active in our consciousness at different moments. Nobel laureate economist Daniel Kahneman identifies two main systems in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

System 1 is the autopilot state. It’s active all the time. It doesn’t require much energy to maintain. However, it’s not very intelligent. System 2 is the intelligent system. It gets activated when you have an intellectual challenge like making a complex arithmetic calculation. It requires a lot of energy to maintain. Therefore, we spend most of our time in System 1.

David and Goliath in Our Heads

I like to think about the System 1 and 2 as the David and Goliath in our heads. David is intelligent, but at the same time lazy, weak, and sleeping the whole time. He doesn’t want to get bothered, but when he wakes up, he’s very sharp. He comes up with brilliant solutions. Goliath, on the other hand, is extremely active, strong, stays up the whole time, but unfortunately, dumb and prone to irrationality.

The theory of System 1 and 2 has an insane amount of applications in personal development. When I’m talking about creating an environment, identity, and your own Matrix for success, I’m talking about how to consciously target your System 1 for success. In other words, I’m talking about how to use your David to train your Goliath. Remember David is intelligent but lazy and Goliath is dumb but strong and hard-working.

Why Work More on System 1 than System 2

Most of the personal development efforts fail. Why? Because most of the personal development systems try to use David to convince David. David already knows he has to work harder. David already knows he has to exercise more. David already knows he has to watch his caloric intake. And David is asleep most of the time.

The real change happens on the level of System 1. If you can convince your Goliath to act in a certain way that leads to success, you’re set for life.

It’s not David that is active all the time and leads our lives. It’s Goliath that does that. We have to convince Goliath to act in a certain way, not David. David is already on board and despite all of his intelligence, he has limited capacity to influence our life.

How to Get Goliath on Board

I have already written some posts about how to convince Goliath and I’m going to write even more about this subject. Convincing Goliath is the single most effective personal development strategy. You can start with reading the posts linked below. Also check this blog often for new posts and sign up to the newsletter to stay in touch.