Your neighbor lives in a great house. He has an awesome significant other. He takes amazing vacations. He has all the (outward) trappings of a killer life.
Shit. He’s more jacked than you.
He regularly exercises.
He blazes through a metric ton of books.
He even has a better golf swing!
What the hell is going on? Why is he better at you in almost every conceivable way? He doesn’t seem to have one flaw!
You can’t find the reason for his success. You’ve known him for years. He comes from an “average” household. He had an “average” life. He even went to an “average” school.
What???? What’s the difference? You go mad trying to figure it out.
This guy is purely a character I pulled out of my ass, but the reality isn’t that far off.
Most of us know “that guy” who seems to have a kind of Midas Touch, making things he comes into contact with turn to gold. What’s his secret?
Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find the answer. It’s a lot closer than you think. So close that, frankly…it IS what you think with.
I’m talking about the most wonderful instrument ever designed – your amazing brain.
Your brain is responsible for delivering you accurate results every time. However it’s been wired, that’s how it will function.
A caveat though…
Some brains are built different from others.
Some brains are built more effectively – with more discipline, care, and of course – practice.
If you want to know why your friend/neighbor/colleague lives a charmed life, you’ll learn it from this article. You’ll also learn:
- What the key factor is in creating a top-shelf life
- Why some people seem to work harder than others but get nowhere
- How to start the process towards rapidly learning skills and habits
If you read to the end of this article and apply it… you’ll be the one who makes everyone wonder why YOU lead a charmed life.
“Play the tape again, Charlie”
Repetition is name of the game when it comes to developing a skill. There’s no way around that.
What is a skill? A skill at its root is a habit executed over and over again to produce tangible results.
What is a habit?
Habit (n) : an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.
The skewed view of habits are that they are “bad”. But if wasn’t for habits, we wouldn’t do anything.
Your habits are responsible for how you interact with the world…
How you interact with people…
your patterns of thinking…
the way you drive your car…
anything you can think of that’s relatively subconscious, habits are responsible.
The bad habits we create are usually as a result of a lack of awareness.
“He makes it look so easy…”
“Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with. Pay attention. Be aware . If we don’t consciously form good ones, we will unconsciously form bad ones.” – Mark Matteson
He does indeed make it look so easy. That’s because it is. To him.
That mythical neighbor I was talking about built up some good habits (whether consciously or unconsciously) that helped him create his success.
Some habits that might have helped him are self-discipline and knowing how to execute on a profitable skill.
Every time you do something…you make it more likely that you’ll do it again. This is especially true in the case of addictive substances like drugs.
Habits are formed in the area of the brain known as the basal ganglia. Once the habit is stored there, you clear up mental RAM to allow other conscious processes to go on without interference.
When you repeat a sequence of events long enough, your brain decides to conserve as much energy as it can and relegate it to a semi-conscious process. Check it out:
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits are reinforced through a loop of cue, routine, and reward.
Cue – It’s 12:00pm
Routine – Your mouth starts watering (lunch time!)
Reward – you are rewarded with a nice reinforcement of dopamine for eating lunch
Myelin. God’s gift (or curse) to the mortal man. This is a fatty substance that surrounds the nerve fibers. This makes the pathway fire faster and more efficiently, allowing instant replay.
Your repetition makes it easier to do more repetitions.
When you see a pro athlete, incredible guitarist, or masterful painter at work, you can say they are “well myelinated”.
Myelin is the component that separates the average from the superior.
This can work in your favor, or it can work against you.
Many times, it is working against you. Myelin is the reason why habits are VERY hard to break over time.
Shout out to Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code for first turning me on to this.
Why some people seem to get ahead
Myelin (or the lack of it) is mostly the real reason why people are where they are in their endeavors.
Because we are all wired differently, some of us may have more myelination in a certain nerve pathway that controls those actions and efforts than others.
Let’s take everyone’s favorite subject – women.
Lots of people don’t like to think of courtship as a skill, but it certainly is.
Some guys have gotten attention from women all their lives, as a result – these circuits are very myelinated. These guys are called “naturals”. They have no problem interacting with women, while some men run home with their tails tucked between their legs. The “naturals” have enough reference experiences to myelinate the “courtship circuit” enabling them to get a good result.
Your neighbor may be better off at talking to women than you are. He knows how to interact with women. How to indicate interest. How to read body language.
You may not. You may have no idea what you’re doing with women. Your previous attempts at attracting women probably fell flat on it’s face.
At this point, you have two options:
- You can quit pursuing women, feeling intimidated by women
- You can continue learning how to attract women
If you choose the first option, you’ll be reinforcing the habit of being intimidated by women. Over time, that habit becomes stronger and stronger and stronger. Very soon, you freeze up talking to women and your natural state is to be intimidated by them.
If you choose the second one, you’ll learn that rejection isn’t that bad. Yeah, you’ll get rejected plenty of times – but you’ll also be doing what is called “deliberate practice”. You’ll be getting better and better as the days and months go on. Very soon, you’ll get that woman you have your eyes on.
Let’s forget about attraction though. Let’s think of something that can be quantified, something like “focus”.
In order to produce amazing results in an skill or undertaking, you need focus (durrrr, right).
But what if you CAN’T focus?
This is because the neural pathways that are dedicated towards “focus” haven’t been developed or myelinated.
You need to use the habit loop.
If you decide you want to learn how to focus better, you have to “progressively overload” your work load dedicated towards focus.
Cue – It’s time for you to get to work on a project you’ve been putting off
Routine – You feel pretty tired. You want to go sleep on the couch. Here is where you intercept the routine. You take that cue for “sleep” and use it for “work”. You work on the project for five minutes.
Reward – You decide to go sleep on the couch. You get a nice reward.
You repeat this the next day. You then hang it up after ten. The day afterwards, you do 15 (or 20!). Pretty soon, you’re doing an hour of focused work without any interruptions.
Do you know how much you can get done in an hour of focused activity?
As you can guess, the person who has learned how to cultivate focus will be more valuable to his employer. Another name for this is “deep work”. This is opposed to “shallow work” which is something virtually anyone with a working brain can do.
The deciding factor
You would think that the person who comes out on top with all the glory and the amazing skills is the person who has been favored since birth.
He’s had things eaaaaaaaaasy. Good schooling. Upper-middle class parents. Connections. Everything has been given to him. He’s never had to work a day in his life. Sounds like a great life, right?
You couldn’t be more wrong.
Sure, some of the guys from the first group may gain a temporary advantage…but they soon become disillusioned with life and luxurious excess. I’d know because I went to high school and college with a lot of these guys. These guys were breaking down and falling apart and we hadn’t even started life yet.
I’d rather put my money on the guy who had to develop nerve, grit, and pluck to just get by. This is the guy who will win out in the end.
He has likely had to develop focus, resilience, self-discipline. He would have myelinated those circuits that make him mentally tough. As a result, he only gets that way over time.
This will make the second guy more efficient and better overall at his work, making him more valuable, and as a result more well compensated.
This is why your neighbor lives in a great house.
This is why he has an awesome significant other. This is why he takes amazing vacations. This is why he has all the (outward) trappings of a killer life. This is why you hit snooze when the alarm clock sounds and he goes to the gym to smash weights.
His myelination and creation of new neural circuitry made all the difference.
Hijacking the habit loop
But you don’t have to take having a sub-par life. You can have the success and rewards out of life you desire if you’re willing to work for them.
It will not be easy. You will have to sacrifice much. But you’ll gain so much more. If you develop incredible levels of self-discipline and focus, the rewards are tremendous. But it starts with you.
1. Decide exactly what habit you want to change or develop
What exactly is it that you want to change? What are the consequences of changing? Of staying the same?
2. What sparks the cravings?
This is the routine portion. You’ll be tweaking this to get results. How can you use that craving to signal something else? If you brain is telling you – “procrastinate”, how can you use your conscious mind to not give into that craving?
Most cravings disappear in about 10-15 minutes. After those 10-15 minutes, ask yourself – “am I really still craving this?”
You need to use willpower to subvert this.
3. Keep doing it until it becomes an unconscious activity
You will get better as time progresses. Soon, the habit will be taken over by the basal ganglia and it will become another part of something you just “do”.
Willpower originates from your prefrontal cortex and it’s something you have to exercise every time you decide to do an action. Any action that is not a habit, you must use willpower for it.
It doesn’t matter what it is. Whether deciding to eat the hamburger or the salad or deciding what to wear – every action takes willpower. That’s fine but you need to realize that you have a certain amount of it every day. Every decision you make will drain your ability to make better decisions in the future. This is also known as “decision fatigue“.
This is why it’s so much easier to be disciplined and on point at the beginning of the day rather than at the end.
This is why it’s recommended to front-load things you want to build a habit for at the beginning of the day, when your willpower is strong.
4. Keep getting better and better at it
This is optional but highly recommended. You can decide to push yourself further than before in your habits through deliberate practice. You can increase your habits to insane levels.
You need to track your progress. You need to get better each day. This is easier said than done but the rewards are tremendous. The book Peak provides an interesting glimpse at this.
Let me know in the comments – what habits are you going to start or stop in the coming days, weeks, and months?