Get THE NEWEST HACKS

Post image for Productivity and Heroin Addiction – How living in a cave turned me into a blogger

Productivity and Heroin Addiction – How living in a cave turned me into a blogger

01/15/2012

in Make Money, Travel

Journal entry – January 15. 99.5% of people.

“I’ve failed my New Year’s Resolution . I wish I could do better. I just don’t have enough willpower.”

Have you ever set a goal you didn’t achieve? Ever tried a New Year’s Resolution that didn’t stick?

What separates the 0.5% from the 99.5%? What makes some people succeed in building new, sustainable habits—-but almost everyone else fail?

I’m going to reveal to you surprising research about habit change–what influences success, what causes failure, and specifically, what you should do to build a successful new habit.

But first, I’m going to share with you a personal story, where I discovered the power of context on habit change

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

How living in a cave turned me into a blogger

October, 2011. I decided to hike for 28 days into the wilderness with no backpack, no tent, no sleeping bag.

Actually, let’s go back further. Sophomore year, college. I never could get an assignment done on time. I had to request late days often. I would procrastinate on every assignment, leaving me with a required all-night study session on the day before the assignment was due.

I took my advisor’s advice and visited a psychiatry clinic. I was diagnosed with ADHD. Now I had a name for my problem. I had pills. I thought that they would magically make me focus on getting my work done.

Boy was I mistaken.

Instead of focusing on finishing my work, the pills did the opposite: they made me hard-core focus on distractions. Now, I would Skype chat with 8 windows open, wasting my focus on unnecessary tasks.

The pills were making me focus on whatever I was doing. In this case, I was simply focusing on the wrong thing.

Back now to the wilderness. I’d been trying to start my blog for over two years, but I could never get words written on the page. My empty blog sat online, since 2008, just waiting for me to feed it content.

I blamed it on ADHD. I blamed it on being busy.

But in October, 2011, I was in a cave with just a little bit of food, a pen, and a moleskine. No distractions, no facebook, no notifications—just a pen, paper, and a grove of prickly pear cactii.

I woke up on the first day at sunrise when a mouse startled me by walking by my face. I got out of bed, walked outside, drank some water, and sat down by the river with my Moleskine and pen.

The words just flowed. I didn’t have a clock so I can only measure the amount of time I wrote with the sun: I wrote from sunrise till sunset. For 4 days. Almost 3000 words a day, over 1.5 months of blog content in four days.

And now that I’m back in society, with a computer (that allows me to type 10x faster) I barely manage to write 500 words a day.

Why? It’s a function of context.

How heroin addicts in Vietnam and your productivity habits are the same

Everyone knows the horrible effects of heroin addiction. Once someone starts taking heroin, it’s almost impossible to quit—and those who form a recurring habit will likely never quit.

So why didn’t heroin-using Vietnam vets relapse when they returned to the USA?

A study from the Washington School of Medicine concluded that very few heroin-using veteran relapsed when they returned to the USA—and those who did were most likely to have been illicit drug users before ever arriving in Vietnam. These vets weren’t addicted to the chemicals in heroin—they were addicted to the experience of heroin in a specific, situational context.

In the same vein, you think that you are in control of what you do. You think that when you fail, it’s a failure of your willpower.

But the fact is, you don’t even realize the influence your environment has on you. Did you know that obesity spreads through a network of friends? Happiness also spreads throughout a social network. Your situation determines your choices as much, or more, than your own personal choices and willpower.

“So how can I use this to improve my habits?”

You now know that your context influences who you are. So you need to make a choice—are you willing to create systems that will help you achieve your goals, or will you mindlessly try to make things happen that just don’t work?

Here are a few of the best methods for improving your context.

  1. Make better friends- You MUST associate yourself with people who help you achieve your goals. Everyone has had a depressed friend or family member, who makes you more depressed the more time you spend with them.You are the average of your five closest friends. So make sure that the people you associate with are helping you get closer to your goals, rather than pushing you away from them.
  2. Automate systems to increase productive time – It’s easy to say you ‘should save more money.’ But it’s much, much harder to force yourself to send money to your savings account every month. Why not automate it, so that your bank account automatically deposits money in your savings account/IRA every month?Some other systems that I’ve created – Hiring a virtual assistant to call me and remind me to do my tasks. Hiring others to do my work for me, so I can focus on specializing on important tasks. Hiring a personal trainer to force me to go to the gym.
  3. Work on projects/goal with a partner – Life isn’t a solitary thing. The best businesses have cofounders, and if you are working alone, you are fighting a losing battle. In anything, it’s better to have a partner.
  4. Use 30 day habits, and Tiny Habit mechanisms, to make new habits stick – My old professor from Stanford, B.J. Fogg, runs the Captology Lab, which researches behavior change using digital tech. He now runs a program called TinyHabits—a method to develop any new habit. Any new habit takes three steps:
    1) Make it tiny – Any habit must be incredibly small. Floss one tooth. Walk for 3 minutes. nothing more. Once you get started, it’s easy to continue—so just make yourself start
    2) Find a spot – Your new habit must go somewhere in your existing routine. Trigger it by forcing yourself to do something right after finishing something else. After brushing, floss one tooth. After lunch, walk for three minutes. Etc. This is called ‘anchoring’
    3) Train the cycle – If it’s a very small habit (i.e. you followed step 1), then you simply need to start executing to make it automatic. If you are finding this too difficult, go back to step one and make the habit simpler.

You are basically training your body to associate the existing habit (the anchor) with a new habit. Thus, continuously do the small habit, until it becomes natural. Then you can try running more, or flossing your whole mouth.

Read this article by BJ Fogg for a more in-depth explanation.

To hack a better life, you need to build good habits. Follow the steps above, and build an awesome life.

{ 22 comments… }

Juliet February 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Maneesh, you are such an elegant, yet down-to earth writer. Love your content as well as your style. Very inspirational stuff here and now I’m curious about your time in the wilderness. Looking forward to reading more of your work ~

Reply

Austin July 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I can totally relate! When I’m at home sitting at my desk I can struggle to get started working on a new post… Put me on an airplane and I can write from the time the flight attendants let me use my laptop until they make me put it away. It’s probably the lack of distractions online (news, YouTube, Hack the System, Facebook, etc…) it maybe it’s the change in environment. Who knows for sure?

I flew to Hawaii not too long ago and durng the flight I wrote 7 full length, detailed posts for one I my niche sites. We post 3-4 times per month so on one flight I wrote 2 months worth of content.

What I think I’m trying to say here is I need to fly more often but only on the planes that don’t have wifi!

Reply

maneesh July 28, 2012 at 7:23 am

Well, look–the similarity is the lack of internet—not the flying. Maybe you need to use freedom (getfreedom.com) or just unplug your wifi router?

Reply

Chris July 19, 2012 at 1:53 am

Awesome, I’ve done my best writing on the trail on BOSS courses (I’ve done three) as well. On the 28 day course I wrote a minimum of four pages a day. I had over 150 pages of stuff at the end.

Same on the Hunter Gatherer, here’s a bit of it polished-up and published: http://www.theexpeditioner.com/2012/07/15/into-the-utah-desert-14-days-with-only-the-clothes-on-my-back/

And as far as habits, I always find the best way for me to change my behavior is to make a radical change of environment. Travel somewhere far-out. Rent a hotel room and bring the work I need to do there–unplugging all other distractions. Or wander off in the wilderness, either just to hike, or a self-imposed solo/vision quest. Cheers, Chris

Reply

Alex July 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I love this article Maneesh. I’ve been struggling with my focus recently (it’s taken way long than I want to finish/start my portfolio), and I was about to blame it on ADHD or lack of willpower. Getting an accountability partner has been a HUGE benefit for me. I’m going to try the tiny habits steps tomorrow. Thanks!

Reply

Sergio Felix April 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Hey Maneesh,

Loved all the tips for breaking/creating a habit man but this resonated with me the most: “You are the average of your five closest friends.”

Such a shocker because I don’t have very successful friends offline, I may have to check up on that.

I also liked the part on starting a habit by doing it very small.

I’m currently doing a 30-day experiment about taking cold showers (something I hate) and even though the cold showers still suck, it’s not that hard for me to jump-in anymore.

I’m not even on day 10 yet so I think I may actually going to get something huge out of this (my days are incredibly more productive).

Thanks for such a rocking article man, take care!

Sergio

Reply

Jessica March 9, 2012 at 3:53 am

I read one of Ramit’s posts once about “just floss one tooth.” I thought he and BJ were crazy. Everyone knows they need to floss their teeth! In fact, I had two or three things of floss sitting right by my toothbrush all the time – yet I never used them. I would let them sit by the toothbrush, only taking them out for the week or so right after going to the dentist. So following BJ and Ramit’s advice, I decided to floss one tooth. But after flossing that one tooth, I thought it was ridiculous and flossed them all. Which I have done nearly every day since! It’s been about three months since I read the post. What my dentist couldn’t get me to do for years, Ramit and BJ got me to do in just a day. Amazing how tiny habits really do work!

Reply

maneesh March 12, 2012 at 7:10 am

Exactly :) Good job!

Reply

Rose March 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hi maneesh,

I was wondering where I can find friends that are higly successful

Reply

maneesh March 7, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I’m publishing an article about networking soon, but ill send you the rough draft via email now. Enjoy.

Reply

Elizabeth February 29, 2012 at 6:34 am

This is a great post. I have definitely found this tip to be true: Work on projects/goal with a partner.
And I’d modify that to be someone who you don’t currently live with (for especially difficult projects – like daily exercise). Too easily can you talk each other out of something.

Reply

maneesh February 29, 2012 at 6:42 am

Seriously true. It’s too bad that technology has made us connect more, but also more distant.

Reply

sambo February 18, 2012 at 8:13 pm

inspiring

Reply

Liz January 23, 2012 at 10:31 am

Awesome post!!! Inspired and motivated to get some work done today. By the way, have you read the book ‘The Slight Edge?” Totally falls in line with the idea of taking one simple step towards success. So easy to do, yet also so easy NOT to do!

Reply

maneesh January 23, 2012 at 10:34 am

Thanks :) Haven’t read The Slight Edge, but I will check it out! Thanks for reading!

Reply

Nui January 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Good one, Maneesh! I have that problem now! Can’t focus, always do so many things at the same time, so I end up finish nothing! *sigh*

Reply

maneesh January 22, 2012 at 10:45 am

Yep Nui, it’s always a problem….took me years to break it.

Reply

Ivan February 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

You’ve gone through a lot of effort researching and writing this article. I share your viewpoints on this topic and appreciate your interesting thoughts.

Reply

Matthew Benevento January 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Great post, Maneesh. I always think about this when I go off somewhere on a trip, sans cell phone and laptop. All of a sudden I can’t stop writing- there’s just a sudden gush of everything that my brain has wanted to dump and finally has alone time with me, without distraction. It’s to the point where forcing myself to go on mini-vacations is hugely +EV.

A great way to remove yourself ever-so-briefly from this context WITHOUT having to cut yourself of is just to, as Eckhart Tolle suggests, create a tiny gap in your thoughts. I had really good results using’s BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits steps to link some of one of my clients’ behavior to do this: whenever he sits down in his car or on a bus or a number of other activities, he takes a deep breath. If he’s able to go beyond that for a few minutes to create a gap, or even go into light meditation- awesome, but the initial breathe is all that’s required to get the ball rolling. He was super ecstatic about what we were able to do with that and now he’s forming more productive habits all the time- but what was he going to do, really? Come back and tell me he didn’t have time to take a deep breath?

Reply

maneesh January 22, 2012 at 10:45 am

So true. It’s like the old story about the tree cutter, working all day sawing a tree. His friend says “Hey, your saw is looking dull…you should take some time to sharpen it, you’ll be done much faster.” The tree cutter says, “Sharpen my saw? I don’t have time to sharpen my saw, I am too busy cutting down this tree!”

It’s the P v. P/C (Production vs production capacity) situation that Stephen Covey talks about…you need to take a break to reinvigorate yourself.

Reply

Dilanka Wettewa January 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm

This is pretty fucking great Maneesh. Loved it. I didn’t know you had a ADHD problem – on a related note: I am personally afraid of getting advice from “experts” about my insane ways of multi-tasking, just in case they give me the same advice of visiting a psychiatric clinic and getting a bit pill happy. I hate pills, mainly because I know a significant amount of people who unnecessarily use them as a scapegoat for much deeper problems.

I can also relate to 4.1 and 4.2. I took Steve Pavlina’s advice a while ago and decided to wake up at 5:00am daily to do some positive multi-tasking: hit the gym and listen to audiobooks. First week is painful, then it becomes a cake walk.

Admittedly, the most difficult habits to form involve deep fears (ie: rejection, death etc.) and can take years to learn to deal with for most people (unless one has come across certain traumatic and/or enlightening experience(s) that short circuited the process) and ironically enough, provides the most mental clarity.

Thanks Maneesh.
Dilanka

Reply

maneesh January 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

As always, thanks for the amazing comment Dilanka

Reply

Leave a Comment

Leave

  • A COMMENT
  • { 3 trackbacks }

    Previous post:

    Next post: