[Editor's note: This is a guest post by Alan VanToai of SimpleCrew.]
If you’re thinking about developing a new habit, starting something new, or making a lifestyle change, of course you want to consider the big picture. It’s important to have a long-term vision, but it can be easy to get lost in it. Whether you’re looking to start a new business, learn a new skill, begin a new diet, start exercising, or whatever, it’s easy to look at the long haul ahead and get caught up in it. Analysis paralysis sets in, and taking the first step can be a challenge.
When this happens, consider finding yourself a gateway drug.
A gateway drug is a simple entry point. Something easy and digestible, that serves as your introduction into the new habit, lifestyle, or skill. If you think about some of your favorite talents, skill, or lifestyle choices that you have, you might be able to trace it back to some catalyst that sparked it all for you. That would be your gateway drug.
Here are some examples of those lifestyle changes in my life, and the gateway drugs that introduced me to them.
Entrepreneurship: Rich Dad, Poor Dad & The 4-Hour Workweek
Beginning my senior year at college, I wasn’t positive what I wanted to do with my life. I’d studied marketing and liked how it combined business with creativity, but considering a lifetime in a corporate marketing department or advertising agency just didn’t fell right to me. Throughout college I’d entertained an interest in the music industry, but the more I learned about the industry, the less enticing those opportunities seemed.
Fast forward three years to today: I am not a success story, yet, but I’ve got fantastic traction on a strong path of entrepreneurship. What brought me here and what will take me the rest of the way is a mindset, first sparked by the alternative ideas presented in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and the 4-Hour Workweek.
Towards the middle of my senior year, I stumbled across these books, and they opened my eyes to an alternative reality. A reality where working as an employee wasn’t the only option. In fact, it was the least of the options. They opened my mind to the possibility and reality of entrepreneurship as a life path.
Looking back, there’s plenty I’ve discarded when I re-read RDPD & 4HWW. But since reading them, I opened up to a world of other books, blogs, podcasts, and actions that have helped shape my entrepreneurial character.
Diet and Exercise: Steve Kamb’s “An Introduction To Paleo”
This one’s more recent. In July, I weighed in at 180lbs. Being 5′ 6″, I was overweight, and knew I could do better. I wasn’t adhering to any particular diet, and I wasn’t exercising. But just like anyone else, I didn’t know where or how to start. Analysis paralysis and lack of conviction kept me from acting, and I didn’t like the path I was on.
Today, just 6 months later, I’m eating healthy and working out regularly. I feel great, I’ve lost 15 pounds, and though I still have a long way to go, I appreciate the momentum and mindset that are guiding me on another a well defined path.
It started with Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness’ “An Introduction to Paleo“. It’s a blog post that takes about 15 minutes to read, introducing the Paleo diet (or lifestyle), in a way that’s easy to understand, and easy to implement.
I followed Steve’s challenge to try it for 30 days, and when the scale started to ease after those few weeks, I had enough traction and morale to keep going. I started learning more about the diet, and incorporating small workouts into my week. Nothing major – just running and bodyweight exercises. But the early success breeds motivation and the cycle continues. And it’s traceable back to one short blog post.
One last one…
For me, meditation has been one of those things that for months you know you want to do and should do, but you just kept putting it off because of inertia, laziness, or just not knowing where to start (a quick Amazon search for “Meditation” in Books yields one 68,000 results! yikes!)
Over the course of several months, I’d regularly happen upon blog posts and articles extolling the benefits of meditation, and I felt intuitively that it was something I wanted to practice in my daily routine. There was just never an intuitive way to jump in.
Enter the gateway drug. This one, like the best gateway drugs, I stumbled across completely accidentally and randomly.
Since beginning regular workouts, I’ve been experimenting with different routines and circuits. For my core workout, I’d experimented with 8 minute abs, and one day last week when searching for the video, I stumbled across a book: “8 Minute Meditation“.
I looked up the reviews on Amazon and they were stellar, singing praises for finally, a meditation book for normal people.
That’s important, because I’d tried to read meditation books before. Works by Ram Dass and Eckart Tolle always escaped me. They were a little too dense, and a little to airy of me. I always had trouble deciphering their sanskrit messages.
But 8 Minute Meditation did it for me. In a way that I understood, the book laid out a simple, short introduction to meditation, and sent me on a path towards a simple goal: 8 minutes of meditation a day.
On the weeks leading up to my stumbling upon 8 Minute Meditation, I’d fallen into an irregular sleeping pattern. I’d gotten back from 2 weeks on the west coast and my sleeping schedule hadn’t corrected, so I was going to sleep at 2am and waking up at 10 or 10:30am. After my morning shower, brushing, and changing, I was getting to work at 11:00am. It felt terrible, but I was struggling with getting to sleep before 2am regardless.
The first night I tried 8 Minute Meditation, I read the first section in 45 minutes (it’s tiny), and then jumped into my first 8 minute practice at around 11:30pm. For 8 minutes, in a comfortable upright sitting position in a chair, I did my best to focus my mind on the inflows and outflows of my breath (or “the” breath as the book suggests). When my mind would wander, as the book promised it would, I wasn’t to lose patience. Instead, I was to recognize the wandering, accept it, and do my best to return my focus and mind to the breath.
That night I fell asleep like a baby at 11:50pm. I woke up before my alarm with the sun at 6:50am feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
It was the most tangible return I could ever imagine from meditation, something I’d tried before but failed to gain any traction in. I believed in it. And I still do.
It might have been a fluke even, but it worked for me. If meditation is something you’ve been curious about in your life, I highly recommend picking up a copy of 8 Minute Meditation and checking it out for yourself.
Find Your Gateway Drug
Similar to how Tim Ferriss likes to dig in and learn how to learn (a process he called “meta-learning”), I’ve found that finding my gateway drug is an incredible potent way to introduce new habits and lifestyle choices into my daily routine.
Just like any real “drug” in the classic sense, you’ll experience the added benefit of placebo effect. If you believe this process works as you go on your search for your gateway drug, it’s all the more likely to work. Your psychology will amplify the potential affect of your gateway drug if you believe it’s going to work.
So consider it. If you have any lifestyle changes that you know would benefit your life, but that you haven’t been able to find traction with yet, maybe you just need the right entry point. Go and find your gateway drug.
This is a guest post from Alan VanToai. Alan is a co-founder of SimpleCrew, a mobile photo app for businesses. In this post, Alan shares a practice that has helped him hack his lifestyle and habits in entrepreneurship, diet & exercise, meditation, and more.