Reflecting on 2015: Progress Made and What’s Next in 2016

reflecting on 2015

I have learned that without taking the time to reflect and learn from experiences, you miss out on a huge opportunity for growth, and also a chance to stop and appreciate the positive things that have happened. Here is my year in review, and what I plan for the next year.

Accomplishments/Reflections on 2015:

– Even though things were going well, I felt a bit aimless and without clear direction around 1 year ago

– Like every year, I have made great progress at becoming a better, wiser, more confident person

– Proud of the things I did to intentionally accomplish those things

– Created a more intentional personal brand, and also a stronger business brand (people are formally referring it by acronym, score!)

– Launched a podcast

– Got a ton better at sales, networking, marketing, organization, project management, hiring, management, etc. Got better at pretty much everything business related.

– Learned enough brazillian Juijitsui to be able to tap out purple belts

– Hit 195 lbs (mostly muscle) while increasing bench/squat/deadlift by 30-50%

– Got no’s for like 100 awesome things, such as pitching Seth Godin (and also yes’s to a lot of awesome audacious things too)

– Team grew by 100% (and another 100% soon) and this corresponded with about 150% growth in revenue

In a nutshell, I am happy that I grew a ton (by failing a ton, woo!), and feel like I finally made the formal transition away from a just getting started, “do random things” entrepreneur, to one with a clear plan, direction, and focus, who makes consistent progress.

For 2016….

Business Goals/Metrics:

– Invest in myself least 70k /year (Interestingly, this relates more to asset allocation than to an actual increase in revenue – I tend to live simply and invest 100% in my business, but this year I want to invest a bit more in my personal growth and happiness)

– Fulfilment of client services 100% automated, sales 75% automated

– <20 hours/week of “grinding” work, rest of time on “growth” or “inspired” work

– Grow email list to 10k subscribers

– Work with at least 1-3 “slightly famous” clients on their courses

– Connect (and help if possible, even for free) with at least 3 “legit famous” entrepreneurs. Example, Seth Godin, Russell Brunson, Leo Baboata, etc.


Bucket List Items:

– Learn how to use a DJ table and make my own edm/dubstep remix that I can work to

– Compete in an official arts match (probably MMA or BJJ)

– Apply to speak at TedX in at least 2 locations

– Finally get rid of persistent back/neck pain that I’ve had since 14 (lots of progress but still a ways to go)


Skills/Growth:

– Go one week without complaining or experiencing significant anxiety (I stress about stuff more than I would like)

– Grow to the point I can confidently say I exhibit all of these strengths on at least a semi-regular basis (by practicing the ones I suck at): http://www.reconnect.salvos.org.au/strengthspicture.jpg 

– Become conversationally fluent in Spanish

– Become not terrible at singing – criteria is to not be embarassed to sing in public

– Learn hip hop dancing/b-boying

– Adjust schedule so that I can consistently work out 3 times/week without feeling rushed, stressed, or work out

– 30 minutes meditation daily (never falling off track for more than a week)


Travel/Experiential:

– Visit Colombia, Cuba, and Brasil (there will probably be more but that is the starting list)

– Capoiera and BJJ in Brasil

– Salsa in Colombia and Cuba


Now your turn! What is your #1 biggest lesson learned from the past year? The number one thing you are most excited about for the next year?

The Power of Anti-Modeling

Day 3 of New Writing Habit

The power of anti-modeling

I believe most of you are familiar with the concept of modeling. This is the idea that you choose someone who has accomplished a goal, skill set, lifestyle, etc. that you want to achieve also, and so you study what they do – copying them, in order to copy their results.

Whether many of you actually apply this is another matter, but also a subject for a different post!

But there is an opposite method which I have found actually MORE helpful in my own life than modeling. And through this technique I have accomplished many things I am truly proud of, while avoiding countless pitfalls of many people around me.

That method is called anti-modeling.

The problem with the traditional method of modeling is that it can be really difficult to get access to the people you want to model.

Maybe you can find their autobiography or follow their blog, but in many cases the only access you are able to find is at best several steps removed.

But what is infinitely abundant is the number of anti-models out there.

Think about it:

How many people have accomplished already exactly what you are trying to achieve? A handful, a couple thousand, or maybe even a couple million people depending on how ambitious your goals are.

Now how many people have accomplished something you do NOT want? The answer is everyone else. All 6.99 billion of them.

How does this work in the real world?

It’s easy. Just look at your local garbage-man, that racist guy down the street, that uncle of yours who never amounted to anything, your cousin who dropped out of college and ended up in jail a few times.

Or even the uninspired masses who live day to day with no real sense of purpose.

All you have to do is observe the choices each of these people have made to achieve these outcomes.

Here are some examples that I have personally learned from:

  1. Many of those in business have accomplished great “success” but without a sense of purpose, and this ultimately leads to indulging in short-term pleasures like drugs, constantly getting wasted, or prostitutes.
  2. My mother has a fixed mindset when it comes to learning certain things, and so she is unable to do so. For example, if you say the word “math” to her she stops listening, and so she can never learn anything new about that topic due to her beliefs about it.
  3. My father is volatile and prideful, and the result is he has destroyed many (actually most) of his personal relationships, been to jail a few times for assaulting his girlfriends, and other things that are super uncool.

Now this may seem super judgmental (also might be TMI – apologies about that!). I suppose in some ways it is, but the point is not to make judgments about the person, but to observe causes and effects.

And so from these counterexamples I have learned 1) to always have a purpose instead of just hustle, 2) to have the growth mindset, and 3) the value of zenlike emotional consistency and humility, especially within the context of a relationship.

One example:

There is a common storyline that goes something like: get some kind of “normal” job out of college, get wasted and work a lame job until you are in your late 20’s, get frustrated/disenchanted with life and your work, quit your job to “find yourself” for a year or so, discover your purpose and work you enjoy in a radically different field or lifestyle.

Personally, I wanted to skip to the last part, so I took those who have lived the above as anti-models and did the opposite, going straight to the last step.

Another example:

There is a chain of causality that leads from a woman being enchanted by the idea of “chivalry” which inexorably leads in many cases to the effect of frequently dating “assholes.”

(It would take too long to illustrate here, but if you want to test it just ask any woman who mentions that she likes “chivalrous” men how many times she has dated asshole. The typical answer – a lot.)

The point then, is not that there is anything inherently wrong with being very focused on chivalry, or those who choose a corporate job out of college. But if you want a different outcome, than you can easily take control of the chain of causality which leads to assholes…or feeling like you wasted your early 20’s.

Just do the opposite of everyone who has achieved the opposite of what you want, and you will get what you want.

If you were intrigued by the idea, read more on modeling here: http://www.yourdailylifecoach.com/modeling.html

Watch me make my first attempt at this new writing habit: http://grantweherley.com/create-new-habits/

The Fallacy Of Storytelling – Important for your marketing, your autobiography, and everything in between

Day 5 of New Writing Habit

Lock and load! I have been keeping track of random ideas to write about in Evernote to pull from in the morning.

This prevents the need for innovation on the spot – very helpful!

– – –

“History is written by the victors.” – Walter Benjamin

I’ve studied enough philosophy (and physics, interestingly enough) to understand there there is no meaningful, objective reality. After all, I am colorblind, and that alone causes me to view the world differently than you, not to mention any differences in beliefs, testosterone levels, or portfolio of life experiences.

But most of those examples are passive and uncontrollable shapings of experience…what about doing this intentionally?

Consider the last story you told someone – how you were late for work, or scored a number from that hottie across the bar.

We tend to have the opinion that our stories are “what really happened” but consider the perspective of the listener and how your version of the story entirely shapes their mental experience!

Here is an interesting example:

Say a business prospect rejects your proposal. What is the story you tell yourself and others?

Version 1 (negative): “I am not worthy of their business. I am too inexperienced anyways. I probably screwed up the proposal anyways.”

Version 2 (neutral): “Maybe they realized doing business is not a good fit right now. Oh well, you win some you lose some.”

Version 3 (positive): “Cool! Less work I have to do now. I will have more free time to spend with my family. There’s a reasonable chance they will want to work with me anyways.”

Which of these versions is “right”? The answer: none of them, or all of them.

You probably DID submit an imperfect proposal. You DO win some and lose some. And you WILL have more time to spend on other things.

But consider the emotional qualities of each of these stories, all of which are “true.” You sound like a loser to yourself and others in the first story, and the third sounds like an awesome opportunity!

What does this mean?

You can be INTENTIONAL about the kinds of stories you create in your life. In fact, you are already doing this!

Consider the social pressure to “talk things up.” We happily self-select the prettiest, happiest pictures of ourselves to put up on social media. We brag about that promotion we received even though we secretly worry that we are unqualified and about to be overwhelmed with work.

Maybe that hottie you got that number from was an incredibly mean person…

Here are 3 descriptions:

  • Warm-hearted with secret but intense insecurities
  • Millionaire poker player
  • Quirky and interesting person who is always doing something interesting

 

The secret (you see where this is going don’t you?): these are descriptions of the same person!

The mental picture we paint of each was dramatically different, however. And what if I wanted to describe this person to someone?

I have a friend who is a….[choose a description]

If I wanted to complain – Description 1.

If I wanted to brag – Description 2.

If I wanted to appreciate – Description 3.

Understanding the power and subjective stories can make life feel more like whatever you want it to feel like. You can be the hero of your story, the bad guy, the victim, the wise man. You can characterize yourself and your story however you’d like.

…and in the process control the opinions of others about you and your life.

I am not suggesting that this should be used to manipulate (although it can and does do that) but rather the effect is present regardless, and we might as well understand and take control of this intentionally to live the best life possible.

What is the story you choose?

– – –

Here’s a cool video on Positive Perception: The 5 Minute Motivator

A related blog post by me on overcoming the Top 4 Fears That Control You

Choose Your Beliefs

Day 4 of New Writing Habit

The past week since the last post I have been putting this time towards writing things directly related to certain projects (example: creating worksheets) but somehow this is an entirely different experience.

It’s not as creative, and definitely interferes with the habit. No more of that. 30 minutes of consistent blog post writing no matter what.

– – –

Throughout our lives we accumulate beliefs, interpretations, perspectives…

But the problem is that 1) these are all subjective and 2) once beneficial beliefs or lifestyles often become extremely counterproductive, if they were ever useful at all.

I’ve decided to systematically work on shaping my beliefs in an intentional way, rather than having them merely be a reaction to my environment.

It takes only a few minutes of reflection to find internal beliefs that are either clearly negative or extremely outdated. Since beliefs often take years to internalize, even your self-image relates more to your past self than to as you currently are, which is a big problem for anyone who grows rapidly or lives an ever-changing lifestyle.

With minimal organization, here are a list of beliefs that I am trying to intentionally alter/refine/create/remove/etc. Clarifying explanations provided where relevant.

Choosing My Beliefs With Intention

Vulnerability Beliefs

Explanations: I have been listening to a really great audiobook called The Power of Vulnerability and it made me super uncomfortable as I realized I have intensely internalized a desire and tendency to never open up to people, even when it appears I am. I strive to be protected, invulnerable, strong, perfect, etc., and recently I have realized how this makes relationships very difficult. Here are beliefs to offset these tendencies to be less demanding of myself and others, and more emotionally vulnerable.

(It makes me uncomfortable even writing about it! Even writing the words “emotionally vulnerable” makes me feel like I am being weak.)

1. I don’t always have to be “strong” and being “strong” does not mean avoiding or denying my feeling. It is okay to be more open about my fears and anxieties.

2. While growth is essential, everyone is already “enough” as they are, myself included.

3. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for love, and I can only love someone as much as I love myself.

Success And The Good Life Beliefs

Explanation: I don’t see myself as “successful.” I don’t know why. Even though I have achieved so many things, I view the status of “success” and living the “good life” as reserved for some arbitrary point in the future. My best guess is that this arises from an unclear, mirage-like definition of these things which is always out of reach. These beliefs are meant to rectify this.

1. Every day is a beautiful day no matter “success.”

2. I am courageous – I go forward in spite of fear and uncertainty and without hesitation.

3. I believe “success” means being free to grow and spending one hour per day on a project that matters to me.

4. I believe failures of boldness are successes. True failure means failure of inaction or failing to learn and grow from a situation.

5. I believe that the good life means freedom of time (mostly) and location (mostly). More specifically – spending no more than four hours a day on things I don’t want to do to achieve that which I aspire to.

Beliefs About Relationships

Explanation: As an ambitious introvert who has trouble being emotionally vulnerable, it is super easy for me to invest 100% on achieving the unachievable “success” (see above) while ignoring relationships with other people. This is a terrible idea! I like learning from people who are more mature and experienced than myself, and they always emphasize the importance of their relationships above all else. This is something I am trying to learn from and more intentionally prioritize.

1. I believe happiness means loving others genuinely (practice glowing meditation).

2. I believe I can and should pursue deeper connections every day. I do not have to wait.

3. I believe I am loved because I feel love for other people. I am supported because I support other people.

Beliefs About My Purpose

Explanation: No one enjoys existential angst. The problem is often in the definition however. I (like many) have always aspired to “be a great man”, to “change the world”, and to “leave my mark.” Very cliche stuff, and no idea how that would look. So I sat down to define each of these terms because that is the only way to achieve them.

1. I believe significance means I help one person live a better life every day.

2. I believe feeling certainty means knowing I can grow and learn from any situation no matter what!

3. I believe that my form of greatness means having a great, balanced ocean of calm that exudes compassion and great internal strength. I believe cultivating this is one of the best possible uses of my time! I believe that to be great means to be free of ego, as freedom from pride is the most common trait of all great men I wish to emulate.

Beliefs To Nullify Self-Doubt

Explanation: Everyone has self-doubt at times. But I don’t want to wait for it to magically go away.

1. I believe I should be PROUD of myself when I exert my best effort – not just on work but on life and being a good person. I believe it is BULLSHIT to be stressed with things still on my to-do list.

2. I AM on the right path and doing the right thing. No more doubting (cure is goal setting). The dots WILL connect when i look back on my life – there doesn’t always need to be a plan.

Financial Beliefs

Explanation: I attended a financial workshop recently, and realized that my beliefs about money were super f#$^ed up! I grew up in an environment of scarcity – bankruptcy, house foreclosed by the bank, “I don’t know how we are going to buy food this month,” that type of stuff. So I have this deep-seated feeling like I am about to run out. Of everything. I feel anxiety when I think about my finances, as if I was in my parent’s financial situation. None of this is based on reality of course, and it causes me to be overly conservative with my finances, even when it comes to investing in myself or my business.

1. I have an abundance of resources already.

2. Money is easy to create.

3. Money is drawn to me – I am a creator of wealth.

4. Investing in myself or my business is the best possible use of my resources.

– – –

Part of my morning routine is to review these beliefs every morning, as a way of mentally rehearsing them to drive them home!

So far I have adopted them all at a superficial level, but I find in times of stress, fatigue, or self-doubt my old mental scripts start running automatically.

These things take time.

 But I am excited to see where this will lead 🙂

What are beliefs you have about yourself, your life, or what is possible that are clearly holding you back from living the kind of life you desire, of being the kind of person you know you can be?

– – – – – – – –

– The Incredible TED Talk by Brené Brown – A serious *must watch*: The Power of Vulnerability

– Check out my related post on developing confidence, and not being afraid to be proud of yourself: How To Develop True Confidence

 

The Power of Anti-Modeling

Day 3 of New Writing Habit

Technically this is day 4, but my previous day 3 got deleted! This is also a week later, as I fell off track due to life circumstances. 🙁

But no worries – I am happy to practice the art of getting back on track, which in many ways is more challenging (and more important) than setting an initial habit.

– – –

I believe few of you are new to the concept of modeling. This is the idea that you choose someone who has accomplished a goal, skill set, lifestyle, etc. that you want to achieve also, and so you study what they do – copying them, in order to copy their results.

Whether many of you actually apply this is another matter, but also a subject for a different post!

But there is an opposite method which I have found actually MORE helpful in my own life than modeling. And through this technique I have accomplished many things I am truly proud of, while avoiding countless pitfalls of many people around me.

That method is called anti-modeling.

The problem with the traditional method of modeling is that it can be really difficult to get access to the people you want to model.

Maybe you can find their autobiography or follow their blog, but in many cases the only access you are able to find is at best several steps removed.

But what is infinitely abundant is the number of anti-models out there.

Think about it:

How many people have accomplished already exactly what you are trying to achieve? A handful, a couple thousand, or maybe even a couple million people depending on how ambitious your goals are.

Now how many people have accomplished something you do NOT want? The answer is everyone else. All 6.99 billion of them.

How does this work in the real world?

It’s easy. Just look at your local garbage-man, that racist guy down the street, that uncle of yours who never amounted to anything, your cousin who dropped out of college and ended up in jail a few times.

Or even the uninspired masses who live day to day with no real sense of purpose.

All you have to do is observe the choices each of these people have made to achieve these outcomes.

Here are some examples that I have personally learned from:

1. Many of those in business have accomplished great “success” but without a sense of purpose, and this ultimately leads to indulging in short-term pleasures like drugs, constantly getting wasted, or prostitutes.

2. My mother has a fixed mindset when it comes to learning certain things, and so she is unable to do so. For example, if you say the word “math” to her she stops listening, and so she can never learn anything new about that topic due to her beliefs about it.

3. My father has emotional issues he has never dealt with. And the result is he has destroyed many (actually most) of his personal relationships, been to jail a few times for assaulting his girlfriends, and other things that are super uncool.

Now, this may seem super judgmental. I suppose in some ways it is, but the point is not to make judgments about the person, but to observe causes and effects.

One example:

There is a common storyline that goes something like: get some kind of “normal” job out of college, get wasted and work a lame job until you are in your late 20’s, get frustrated/disenchanted with life and your work, quit your job to “find yourself” for a year or so, discover your purpose and work you enjoy in a radically different field or lifestyle.

Personally, I wanted to skip to the last part, so I took those who have lived the above as anti-models and did the opposite, going straight to the last step.

Another example:

There is a chain of causality that leads from a woman being enchanted by the idea of “chivalry” which inexorably leads in many cases to the effect of frequently dating “assholes.”

(It would take too long to illustrate here the exact reason for this, but if you want to test it just ask any woman who mentions that she likes “chivalrous” men how many times she has dated an asshole. The typical answer – a lot. The short explanation is that “chivalrous” usually equals spending money or being confidently assertive, which means the bad person who buys a lot of flowers will always win out against the shy nice guy.)

The point then, is not that there is anything inherently wrong with choosing men based on “chivalry”, or those who choose a corporate job out of college. But if you want a different outcome, then you can easily take control of the chain of causality which leads to assholes…or feeling like you wasted your 20’s.

Just do the opposite of everyone who has achieved the opposite of what you want, and you will get what you want.

Who would some of your anti-models be? And what have you learned/gained from observing them? Let me know in the comments! I’m super interested to hear and chat about it.

–––

If you were intrigued by the idea, read more on modeling here: http://www.yourdailylifecoach.com/modeling.html

And watch me make my first attempt at this new writing habit: http://grantweherley.com/create-new-habits/

How to Develop True Confidence

Belive You Can and You're Halfway There

Often people perceive me as very “confident.” Over the past two years, I have frequently been on stage in front of large crowds (even once in my underwear), I flew across the globe with $300 in my bank account to start a business, I have chatted with world-famous entrepreneurs, and I’ve even been on television. I put myself out there over and over daily. 

What’s my secret?

It’s surprisingly simple. The truth is that I have no feeling of superiority, nor of confidence, and yet I am confident. What people tend to interpret as confidence (or sometimes arrogance) and what allows me to take risks is not an overwhelming sensation of how I am better than others, or how I will always succeed – the simple secret is: 

I leave my fears at the door.

I made a pact with myself that I will never make a decision or take an action out of fear. Everyone feels fear of course, but we all also have the option of compartmentalizing it, of realizing it for what it is: 

A feeling, not reality. 

There is no such thing as fear in the world. Literally, by definition, it is all in your head, and yet it can become an extremely powerful force if you empower it and fail to recognize it as separate from yourself.

Instead, before every significant life-altering moment, when fear is most likely to rear its ugly head, I reflect on my pact. I feel the fear as a sensation…and then I let it go. This doesn’t mean I no longer feel it, but rather I don’t hold it as part of my perspective. I ask myself “what would I do/say/decide if I felt no fear?” And then I simply do it.

How do you mentally depict the concept of a “confident person”? Likely charismatic and articulate, assertive and maybe even a bit arrogant. In western culture there is a massive emphasis on confident independence. Just look at any movie hero – a charming and attractive character, unyielding in belief and stubbornly relentless in action.

But we’ve gotten it all wrong.

Somehow the word “confidence” has become an elusive trait, reserved for the ulta-successful and almost analogous to a slight sense of arrogance. Why? 

When we think of a confident person performing a confident action, whether that is giving a polarizing political speech or walking up to that dime across the street, what we are amazed by is not any sense of superiority, but rather the lack of limiting belief that person has.

The truth is that anyone willing to admit it would agree that we waste an incredible amount of mental energy inflicting ourselves with self-imposed limitations. And rather than confidence being some rare trait only applicable to politicians, business owners or celebrities, I would argue that confidence is a default trait in all of us.

It is not something to be developed. It is not a positive trait to be added to our neutral selves, but instead the simple removal of sabotaging fears and limiting beliefs. 

It is only the fear of public speaking that prevents most people from giving confident speeches. It is merely the limiting belief that “I am not good enough” or “I will fail. I will embarrass myself” that prevents us from confidently asking him/her out…or confidently asking for a raise…or confidently starting a business.

how to develop true confidence

Most of us think confidence is reserved for someone else. For someone more talented, rich, successful, or good looking.  While competence at something does indeed increase confidence, even this is not a true precursor to confidence. Being skillful makes it easier to ignore limiting beliefs, but just consider the 5-year old performer at that school talent show, who is utterly terrible but adorable in his ignorance of that fact, belting out an energetic (and creatively altered) rendition of Hot Crossed Buns. Alternatively, consider the prevalence of suicide at the most prestigious schools, and among celebrities. Neither skill nor fame correlates with confidence or self worth.

There is only one way to develop true confidence: to eliminate limiting beliefs and to make the DECISION to never make decisions based on fear.

Click here to get my Master Your ADHD Brain ebook for FREE and hack your brain!

[Experiment] Stopping Antidepressants After 10 Years

Antidepressants Depression - break the system

Background:

I have been on some one form of antidepressant (prescription, or herbal or nutritional) for about a decade now. It’s always been something that I’ve had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I think we all agree some people just have some screwy neurochemistry, and the majority of my family has been on some kind of related drug at least at one point in their life, so it’s pretty clear there’s a genetic disposition. On the other hand, there is just something generally unappealing about having to rely on any particular substance, natural or man-made, in order to feel normal (read as not totally miserable). You should just be able to eat healthy, exercise, and “be happy” right??

There is this common positive psychology line of thinking that makes most people who have dealt with genuine depression feel guilty about not being able to make themselves feel good. Like it is our fault or a shortcoming. In fact I’ve had close friends more or less explicitly state this, which ironically, go figure, has a tendency to make one more depressed. In fact, openly talking about these kinds of personal problems is kind of taboo in a way.

That is why I wanted to write this blog post, documenting my experience of stopping all antidepressants and just dealing with what follows. I want to give people the opportunitiy to say “I feel the same way! I’ve been there!” I think that removes a layer of shame. After all, it’s hard not to feel shameful about feeling badly (especially as an American) since everyone is trying so damn hard to seem publicly happy!

My personal reasons for actually wanting to do this experiment are to test whether I’ve worked my way out of depression. Just “making yourself happy” is total BS, at best it’s a temporary fix. However, you can fundamentally change the way your brain and body operate over a long enough timeline – everything from leveraging neuroplasticity to improving your attention span to altering the way your body metabolizes carbohydrates. Meditation, sleep patterns, nutrition, mental habits – all of it matters over a long enough timeline, and each of these I have been working on for years now. It’s time to see if I’ve successfully fixed my brain!

I remember trying 3 times stopping antidepressants.

Trial 1 – Beginning Of High School
Once I ran out of prescription antidepressants by accident and felt uncontrollable fury the next day. Every sensory input was unbearable, every action done by anyone was 100% malicious. The thing is, you know this is a blatantly warped view of the world, but that doesn’t change the feeling that follows unfortunately. Resumed the next day.

Trial 2 – End Of High School
Another time I weaned off them, and successfully stopped taking them for a time. But I have distinct memories of trying not to cry in the middle of a graduation ceremony (no real reason why) and also looking out the window of my college dorm watching people laugh and have fun while I felt terrible inside, unable (even fearful) of going outside to be like them. This ultimately led me after about a year to switch to the herbal antidepressant 5-HTP (griffonia seed extract). It worked extremely well and with less side effects.

Trial 3 – One Year After College
A couple years later I tried to go all natural again. The next day I felt like I was moving through molasses, and had bouts of extreme anxiety. I remember walking a few blocks from my apartment, shuffling along for the slowest walk I’ve ever walked, making it only a few blocks before turning around and shuffling back inside. Went back on 5htp.

Not a great track record…

But I have grown a lot since then, and am setting myself up to be prepared to handle the waves of disorienting feelings that I know will inevitably come.

The Prep

The plan is no caffeine or stimulatory supplements (including nootropics). My depressive tendencies are of the anxious kind, so I don’t want to exacerbate this, at least not at first. Before starting this I got a good night’s sleep and will exercise the first day of the experiment (to facilitate sleep and stabilize mood).

I’m not going to work too hard, have planned my days to focus heavily on meditating, and have discussed this plan thoroughly with my girlfriend who has volunteered to be there to support me (she’s freaking amazing and I believe this kind of social support is key). I will also make sure to keep a strict diet throughout this period to make sure I am at my best.

The biggest thing is that I’m preparing to set aside some projects to be able to dedicate substantial energy to doing this battle with my mental demons. If this isn’t necessary, fantastic. But I suspect it might be, and I don’t want to have work in the back of my head. Full focus on this will be more effective.

I’ve recently switched to biphasic sleeping, and I suspect this helps with natural serotonin production. I’ve felt so much calmer already.

And finally, I have tryptophan (weaker than 5-htp) that I plan to take situationally if I start having intense withdrawal symptoms that are too intense.

Day 1

I take 5-HTP at night because it helps me sleep. My biggest concern is being able to sleep well, especially during the adjustment period. So I am temporarily taking double doses L-theanine and PS (two other supplements I take for stress/sleep) at night so that I sleep soundly. Just woke up from the first night of this and slept great. Mood feels normal, was surprised to have vivid dreams (5-HTP can cause these so I expected these to stop). I am feeling hopeful that this experiment will actually be quite easy.

I will work out later as one of the strategies to balance my mood and stress levels and encourage sleep tonight. The only other major variable is just keeping the next few days as low-stress as possible. When I move too fast in life that my mood suffers and I find that I am too busy to even think about how I feel!

Tangent: I was just thinking about the depressed period of my life. How slowly I moved, how much time I spent laying around “doing nothing” especially when I contrast that with how I am now. I like the interpretation Dr. Weil has that there is a kind of purpose behind “normal” depressed feelings – to force you to stop and reflect, and it only becomes counterproductive when you constantly get “stuck” in that state. Although, as I reflect back, there are so many things that I have now – motivations, positive habits, certain aspects of my character that have matured unusually quickly – that I would at least partially attribute to sitting around thinking all the time. There’s always a silver lining I suppose.

It’s mid-afternoon and now I’ve officially started experiencing some initial noticeable effects. It’s just a general sense of lethargy, disinterest, and apathy (towards both things and people). I hate these feelings because they influence me in ways which don’t mesh with who I am/want to be. So far it’s actually very subtle but still noticeable. I suspect it will gradually increase in intensity. I just hope I don’t start feeling too apathetic to update this journal!

A really interesting potential realization just popped into my mind. Often times late at night if I am around other people they always tell me that I start to look sad. I always thought I must have a sad face when tired, but I feel that same kind of slump right now that I feel at those times. And I just realized that always happens right before I take my nightly 5-HTP (ie about the time it’s completely worn off from the night before). Something to think about – there is a strong link between sleep and depression. But does this merely mean my mood dips with fatigue, or that my ability to intentionally wind myself and brace myself against depressive tendencies starts to fail?

I think this will be good though. I don’t think my thoughts have fundamentally changed. The negative ones are just more intense, so now the idea is to systematically de-root them as much as possible so they aren’t knocking at the door whether I am on 5-HTP or not. I think the specific plan to do this will reveal itself with time as the experiment progresses.

This experience has renewed my respect for anyone who deals with depression. I’m remembering what it is like to feel this way all the time. I imagine my immature-teenage-kid-self struggling to deal with it, or any other adolescent trying to as well, and I just think wow! If I felt this feeling every day I don’t think I’d handle it all that well even now! There’s this positive psychology idea where you just stop being negative and focus on the positive. Easy right? Just stop being negative! Stop feeling depressed. Look how beautiful it is outside…

But people who are genuinely dispositionally depressed have to manage a slightly more complicated situation. I hate most drug company commercials, but I like one analogy I remember from an antidepressant commercial of a woman talking about having to “wind herself up” to be able to get through life, let alone trying to be positive. You hear this while you watch a wind up toy drooping but struggling to wind itself up to stand up straight, all while it has a pained expression on its face. That’s a perfect analogy for what it feels like. Even the most depressed person can wind themselves up to be happy, sociable and positive temporarily, but this is an entirely different situation than what’s “normal” for most people, and I think this is where it is difficult for a non-depressed person to empathize with a depressed person.

If you feel ok most of the time, of course you can just “think positive” to keep yourself from getting too upset, curtailing negative thoughts, etc. because fundamentally you are preventing yourself from getting depressed, as opposed to actually starting from the set point of being depressed and having to constantly wind yourself up to be at least neutral. In fact that’s one of the most interesting observations about how I feel now, is that everything seems so daunting and like such a huge effort. Summoning the words to talk to people, getting out the door, going to get food, brushing my teeth… Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. But it’s a strong feeling that physically feels like a heavy weight, and so it is difficult not to let it slow you down, compelling you to avoid what feel to be monumental tasks.

Ultimately it’s not about thinking positively. That’s not the point.  While that’s important, it’s the happiness set point that makes the sustainable difference, but that’s difficult to change. The only thing I know of that has been shown to do this is years of certain kinds of meditation and dramatic lifestyle changes. But that’s the challenge, and I hope maybe this experiment will reveal some insights. I’m still hoping that after this initial adjustment period I will find that I’ve worked on my happiness set point enough so that it’s tenable against depressive tendencies.

Key insight #1 – Feelings Are Not You!

I feel the depressive feelings, but I’m keeping myself from getting too wrapped up in them. I approach this in a mindfulness meditation kind of way. This is in stark contrast to in the past when I associated it with my identity (as in “I am depressed” versus “I feel depressed”). Maintaining this perspective is invaluable.

Day #2

Felt really terrible in the morning, and it seemed to be tied to taking ALCAR. It is a nootropic which I wasn’t supposed to take (oops). It’s not super stimulating so I thought it would be fine. I will drop this tomorrow. Definitely seemed to intensify the black cloud feeling after taking it. And I became super irritable and sensitive (but 100% did not act on it in any way which I was proud of). It was like being hungover – senses were intensified to the point of being too much to handle, slightly inconvenient aspects of life all of the sudden seemed to loom large and insurmountable, making me feel angry for what I knew were completely irrational and arbitrary  reasons. The past few years of different meditative exercises gave me the ability to at least change the perspective, despite being unable to rid myself of the feeling, to understand that this was an unfortunate subjective experience that I shouldn’t react to it. I viewed the negative feelings and sensations somewhat similarly to stubbing a toe – you say “ouch” and you move on with your day while the pain gradually fades on it’s own.

I keep noticing how feelings are deeply amplified, even in my dreams. Sometimes good feelings, but more noticeably the bad. I think I am starting to see potential for actually being happier off 5 htp. It’s like it shifts your mood up, or maybe is the emotional equivalent of Ibuprofen, dulling mental pain, but a side effect is the narrowing of emotional experience. I suspect in a way it might have been preventing me from fully experiencing certain positive moments in my life.

The experience of intensified negative emotions was hard to manage at times but I’m eternally grateful for my girlfriend who has been insanely helpful. We would talk about things, and when a topic that hits a nerve came up, it would strike so deep, and in a way that I wasn’t always prepared for. But having her there with her infinite compassion and patience made it a productive rather than an embarrassing or dark moment.

I think this might already be one of the biggest takeaways:

Key Insight #2 – Social Support is Everything

Depression helping depressed friend

I don’t think you can fully handle depressive tendencies by yourself, and it takes someone special to help you with it. You have to trust them fully (a surprisingly rare situation). Find that person at all costs and ask for their help.

There’s all kinds of mental BS that can cause unhappiness, and unfortunately the triggers are usually buried too deep to productively deal with inside oneself, especially if they happened during one’s formative years. They are built into your experience of the world in a way that is almost imperceptible to you unless pointed out by another. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity now, and I know how much easier this has been because of her.

Throughout the rest of second day there was a fairly wide oscillation of my mood that was completely independent of my surroundings. One of the arbitrary low points happened by an insanely beautiful lake with my girlfriend. An amazing moment, and yet I was unable to feel appreciation for it, despite much concerted effort to do so. I could intellectually acknowledge the reasons why it was a great experience, but I couldn’t actually feel it. The best I could do was 1) not spread the negativity, 2) keep it in mind that this feeling/sensation should be kept separate from my self-identity, and 3) understand that it was just a temporary, passing low point that would soon lead to a high point. And it did!

Key Insight #3 – Feelings Are Temporary

After failing to actually be able to alter my mood, I just accepted it and didn’t let it affect me. More importantly, I reflected on how both positive and negative emotions are always temporary, so the feeling would pass. This is also the technique I used to remove my (formerly extremely intense) fear of public speaking – viewing anxiety as a temporary and physical experience rather than one associated with me or my actions. Sometimes I still feel anxious, but I barely even notice it, spending about 5 seconds thinking about it, just like I spend 5 seconds thinking about that stubbed toe before moving my awareness to more important things.

Day #3

Skipping ALCAR definitely helped. Not sure if that means I’ll have to permanently stop using nootropics, but for now they are a no-go! Surprisingly, some experiments with caffeine don’t seem to cause any problems with mood. So many of my assumptions about this experience are proving to be incorrect (which makes it a great learning experience!)

Today it seems there is no obvious black cloud, and I’ve had super positive interactions while meeting new people – something that typically requires a lot of energy for me. It feels like there is still some lethargy and a lack of motivation however, and despite 2 strong coffees I feel like I could take a nap (so unusual for me, as I am relatively sensitive to caffeine and struggle with insomnia). But it is not a depressed lethargy, and still seems less intense than before. Although this begs the question of whether I am adjusting to this experiment biologically or psychologically.

My girlfriend left to travel for a week today, so I won’t have quite as much direct support now. But I feel good about being able to handle it from here. I am so thankful she was here the first 2.5 days, but now I know what I am dealing with and it seems the most consistent obstacle is that I feel the content urge to take a nap and will be more lazy for the time being.

Days #4 and Beyond

Certain aspects of daily life feel qualitatively different. It’s hard to describe, but some things have changed about the way I feel about things or the way I approach situations. It really brings up interesting philosophical questions about identity. Maybe for years you are a “compassionate person” partially because you are on antidepressants, then you stop and you are short-tempered and apathetic. Is the latter the “real” you? I suppose it relates to the subjective nature of all statements, because maybe it’s both. Maybe in reality you are “compassionate when happy but apathetic when depressed”. Actually this paragraph is a perfect illustration of my initial point. I am normally very concise and efficient, but I keep finding myself on long, spacey philosophical tangents. No idea why, just hoping that none of these changes involve me getting substantially worse at things (like writing). Do let me know if this is terribly written please!

It seems going forward there is no more constant black cloud to deal with. First time in 10 years that one wasn’t held at bay by antidepressants. I do know that I am still more emotionally vulnerable – I can clearly tell that I will have more difficulty handling emotionally challenging situations. All part of the experience of continuing growth and adjustment.

Summary

Recap of Key Insights from this experiment:

  1. Feelings are not you (but rather you experience your feelings)
  2. Social support is everything in life
  3. Feelings are always temporary (good and bad)

To those who are depressed or on antidepressants – the biggest takeaway I hope you get from this is: it is not a permanent state of existence! You can fix the underlying tendencies over time. This is NOT something you can do instantly, but something to continually work on and improve and then one day you wake up and find you are actually happy, and in a way that is not dependent on external circumstances. Antidepressants are great for making depression more manageable, but it really doesn’t fix the underlying problem. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to what does, but I can tell you it can be done. If you don’t believe me, start doing a bit of reading about Matthieu Ricard to see how your happiness set point can change over time. Becoming a monk may not be your dream solution, but the point is that it shows what is possible.

To those who have never experienced long-term pervasive genuine depression (and I don’t mean your grandma died and you were sad) – hopefully this has given you some insight into what the experience is like. Please try to be empathetic to people who are struggling with these types of situations. Some people who know me are reading this right now and thinking “What?! No way! He seems happy! I had no idea he has spent half his life wrestling with anxiety and depression”. Similarly, people oftentimes are convinced I am an extrovert. Each time I laugh and try to explain that not only am I definitely an introvert, being in crowds used to make me feel extremely anxious and uncomfortable. Now I regularly get in front of audiences to run interviews, webinars, do live dance performances, or teach classes. But that’s one of the purposes of life I think – to face obstacles, overcome them, and then be stronger for it.

The truth is, it’s hard to know or understand the kinds of challenges other people have, but it is always meaningful to them when you are empathetic. The understanding and compassion shown by my girlfriend over the past several days was indescribably helpful, whereas comments in the past from loved ones (who have never dealt with genuine depression) essentially saying to “get over it” is incredibly hurtful. When you meet someone and they seem harsh, aloof, uninterested, cold, lazy, quiet, stupid, or judgmental, most people will assume that is just an unpleasant person. But do you know that person’s life story? Do you know what is going on inside of them?

Here’s to all of us taking a moment to not make assumptions, but as a rule give compassion  towards others. Try to to empathize, to understand where they are coming from, despite that first instinct to judge.

The Top 4 Fears and How They Control You

Warning – this will make you uncomfortable, at least I hope it does, because I’m calling you out (and myself, and everyone else). It’s a truth and a reminder that we all need from time to time…

You see there is a secret Boogeyman that has been following you around your entire life, hiding in the dark, and you are afraid of him. No really, you are. He resides in your head, and whispers your insecurities quietly in your ear, precisely at the moments when you most need the confidence to take bold action.

Depositphotos_9134055_s Read more

Willpower is Overrated

Humans are awesome, but we are also terribly flawed creatures in countless ways. And there is one particular thing which, while it directly correlates with success and personal, emotional, and career achievement, we universally suck at!

Willpower, and it’s overrated.

willpower in wood type

It is well-documented that Willpower fluctuates wildly with energy levels, mood, blood sugar, and even what time of day it is – think about it, crimes and violence always tend to happen late at night, right? Even the most respected, professional individuals cannot rely on their willpower at all times. It’s just not possible. It gets depleted too easily. It is too unreliable.

Fortunately there is a simple framework shift that can prevent this from ever being a problem. Read more