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How to Lose 23 Lbs in 28 Days (hint: it requires radical system-hacking)

05/07/2012

in Exercise, Productivity

On September 25, 2011, I weighed in at 185 Lbs.

28 days later, on October 22, I checked the scales. 162 lbs.

I didn’t count calories. I didn’t have to use willpower, go to the gym, take magic weightloss drugs.

Nope. My method was much simpler: I moved into the desert and tried to survive.

Radical Goal setting and the Importance of Systems

One question I get asked often is: ‘What exactly does Hack The System’ mean? God, that’s a loaded question.

Hack the System has a lot of meanings. Partly, it’s about looking for inconsistencies in systems to take advantage of them (for example, free airline tickets or free office space). But another meaning is much deeper to me.

I believe that, for lifestyle design, you must design systems that aid you in achieving your goals. What is a system? It’s an automatic, self-perpetuating contextual set of instructions that induce success. Rather than relying on willpower to achieve our goals, we will try to build an environment that produces our goals, naturally.

For example, say that you set a goal to write 1000 words a day. With any behavior change, you must make the action automatic. Automatic means, creating a new habit.

What is the secret to getting more done? Make it automatic.

Many people will set this resolution, then do it for one day, maybe another—but eventually something will come up, and they will miss a day, and then another, and then give up all together.

Instead, what if we built a system to produce this habit?

We might start off by setting an alarm on our phone with the label ‘wake up and write’ that goes off automatically.

Then, we’ll sleep with the journal and pen right next to our bed.

Then, we require ourselves to write one sentence before we get out of bed.

Then, we hire a virtual assistant to call us in the morning and ask us how much we’ve written. The assistant won’t get off the phone until we are in the process of writing. Of course, we’ve prepaid for a full month and the calls won’t stop coming.

Then, we find a group of other people doing the same goal—and get an individual buddy who checks in on us, and we check in on them.

Then, we install an app on our computer that requires us to say ‘Yes, I have written 1000 words’ before we can use it.

Then, we publish our 1000 words to a Web site, so others can see our results.

Do you see the system in this process? We change our environment so that it requires almost no effort to succeed.

Into the Wild—with no sleeping bag, no backpack, no tent

When I boarded a plane on September, I had no idea what to expect. I had booked a 28-day Primitive Skills course with Boulder Outdoor Survival School, and was told to show up to a tiny town in Utah. We were told what supplies to bring—basically a tiny amount of clothing, a blanket, a poncho, a water bottle, some cord, and not much more. No technology whatsoever besides a camera. This means no flashlight, no matches, nothing.

The instructors began to explain the phases of our month long journey. “We’ll start off on Impact phase, followed by a week of hiking and practicing skills, followed by a camping phase, etc. etc.’

So I raised my hand. ‘You said that we start with Impact phase. What is that?’

“Oh–you’re going to go four days with no food, no blanket, nothing—just a small cloth and your water bottle”

“What?”

“You’ll see.”

Hiking during the Impact Stage

And so we set off on Impact Phase. I went four days with no food at all, save an almond that I found on the side of a dirt path.

Over the next 28 days, we ate a maximum of maybe 1,500 calories, averaging probably 1100 to 1200. In the meanwhile, we hiked an average of 12-15 miles a day.

Using conservative numbers, let’s look at how much fat I likely would burn, given this situation.

If we assume that I burn 2500 as my Basal Metabolic Rate, and then add 12 miles at 100 calories a mile, I would have burned 103,600 calories in a month.

BMR2500 calories/day * 28 days = 70,000 calories BMR burned
+ 12 miles/day * 100 calories/mile * 28 days = 33600
70,000+33,600 = 103600

If I ate 1500 calories a day, I would have eaten a total of 42,000 calories

1500 calories/day * 28 days = 42,000 calories.

So, in total, I burned (103,600 – 42,000) = 61,600 calories. At 3500 calories per pound, that is 17.6 lbs of fat lost.

In reality, we were hiking at huge elevations, with a lot of uphill movement, so losing 23 lbs is more than reasonable.

And the best news? It’s been over six months since the course finished. I’ve kept most of the weight off—I’m back at about 172 now. And I’ve gained a lot of muscle since the course.

Creating Massive Results by Building Radical Systems

So when you see the BOSS course as a means to losing weight, you see it as a system that makes failure impossible.

Radical systems are the key to learning any skill or achieving any goal in the fastest amount of time. If you really want to do something, why not go all in–and just actually fucking do it?

For example, language learning

One common goal is to learn a new language. Besides my native English, I speak 4 other languages (Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese), and I learned them all in the last four years.

Yet, while traveling, I meet so many people who have been in Spanish speaking countries for almost a year, and can still barely order food at a restaurant. Often, these same people have spent time at language schools or in classes, and they always lament not learning.

The fact is obvious, though—these travelers have never really sat down and focused on achieving a goal. They offhandedly say that they want to learn a language, but they never sit down and actually design a system that produces results.

Instead, when I travel for language learning, I follow a specific process. I take four hours of private tutoring a day. I live with a host family—one that doesn’t speak English if possible—and I make an effort to spend at least one meal / day with them. I make local friends–again, ones that don’t speak English if possible. I begin thinking in the language, and when I don’t know the word, I write it down and add it to my flash card database, practicing every day.

In short—I build an all encompassing system of language learning. When I am studying a language, my identity changes. I am no longer Maneesh, traveling blogging weird Indian kid. I’m Maneesh, that guy who is studying German. And all of my decisions emanate from that new identity.

How to Build Your Own Radical System

How can you design a radical system? Let’s look at some basic steps to get you started.

Building a Radical System

Step 1 – Set a goal: What do you want to do / learn?

Step 2 – Recreate your identity: You need to phrase yourself as ‘the kind of person who does this thing.’ Write it in a sentence: “[Your Name] is the kind of person who does xyz.”

Step 3 – How can you implement a system that forces you to work? Can you pay for monthly classes/a private tutor or trainer who will force you to develop your habit? What kind of support group can you build to help you make it happen?

Step 4 – Post your first 3 steps in the comments. Email me at maneesh@maneeshsethi.com if you don’t want it public.

Step 5 – Make the leap. Hire your personal tutor/trainer. Set up an accountability system that will make you lose money if you don’t succeed.

Don’t forget to post your game plan in the comments.

If you feel uneasy or unhappy about any goal in your life, there is only one person who can fix it: you. And there is only one way to do it: by doing SOMETHING. Don’t live in mediocre comfort. Make a radical change.

{ 22 comments… }

CC March 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I do not know my BF% but my BMI is 18.2, technically underweight (always have been since I had been a child), so I don’t desire to get rid of body fat. Besides utilizing the dip machine what else can I do that doesn’t demand laying on my back?

Reply

Advocare v100 January 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I would say that everyone who takes vitamins needs to do so at their own risk because they are not for everyone.

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[premature ejaculation treatment|how to cure premature ejaculation|how to control premature ejaculation|cure premature ejaculation|premature ejacluation exercises] June 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Great share it is definitely. I have been seeking for this information.

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Jen Ryder January 29, 2013 at 6:10 am

Thanks for the inspiration and extremely useful advice on building a radical system to make a radical change. I’m going to create processes now to turn my goals into a reality and live the life I want. You, sir, are radical!

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Erik Lindegren October 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Waw, really good results man! Whats your goal now?

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maneesh October 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

10% body fat!

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Ann July 17, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Brilliant. Out of the box. Thank you.

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Josh @ Live Well Simply June 28, 2012 at 6:49 am

Your tips for language learning are priceless. And I love the radical ways you advocate using to create pretty much any habit, whether that’s language learning or weight loss or anything else for that matter.

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maneesh June 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

thanks :)

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Joh May 16, 2012 at 8:55 am

Congratulations on your accomplishment, and new healthy lifestyle. I did the same with weight and time profiles just like yours, and I believe anyone can. It really just requires one to stop eating stupid crap

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Abdoom May 10, 2012 at 3:02 am

Interested in seeing your progress on Clay’s program. Keep us posted.

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Tim Lombardo May 8, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Awesome post Maneesh. Love the way you’ve described this process. I’ve found success by viewing goals as emergent and focusing on reducing friction. Very much aligned with your awesome statement:
“Rather than relying on willpower to achieve our goals, we will try to build an environment that produces our goals, naturally.”

My goal: lose 20lbs of fat by July 1
Tim is definitely the kind if person that eats a paleo diet.
My support group for this is a group of people that I can bring together as a paleo mastermind. As the leader of the group I will be in the position which I find the most success; I feel most accountable when leading others.

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Joe May 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Hi Maneesh,

Amazing post.I am currently travelling in South America and I am currently falling into the non-achieving language learners bracket.

Regarding your language learning system, I was hoping to understand:
1) Do you focus on this as your one and only project for the period of the “goal” – eliminating other projects, blogs etc. for the time being
2)Do you ignore all native language inputs?

Thanks a million in advance.

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maneesh May 9, 2012 at 3:41 am

It’s not my “one-and-only” project, but it is a good 4-6 hours a day. Most of that time is just talking to natives—something I would do anyway.

2) I try to ignore as much as possible, but you can only do so much. I’ve done weeks/months where I only speak a language though, and those helped a lot.

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Annika May 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Annika is the kind of person that understands the in’s & out’s of nutrition and fitness and can help other’s achieve their health goals. –
I’m currently learning biology & chemistry thanks to KhanAcademy.com and have scheduled regular tests to check my knowledge. I have the nutrition side pretty much sorted, so at the same time I read about & train others to exercise – having people looking to me for advice is THE best way I could have forced myself to learn more. And I love it! Next step – paid personal training & consulting! :)
Btw Maneesh, I saw you’re setting up a group for pe0ple dedicated to losing weight & getting fit. Would be happy to offer my knowledge and experience in nutrition & exercise to that group – answering questions & how-to’s etc. Depending on what you have in mind of course – let me know what you think!

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Chris May 7, 2012 at 6:24 am

In Korea and need to be very good in Korean ASAP for work.

I’m intensely memorizing verbs and words, trying to put them together properly, and then asking natives to correct me. This seems a lot more effective to me than following a book for beginners.

I guess I was just trying to gain incite into how to get better more quickly.

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Cole November 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Hey Chris,

Just taught in Korea for a year. If you’re still in Korea, and need any help, let me know.

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Chris May 7, 2012 at 6:14 am

Curious… when you do the 4 hours per day of private tutoring. Do you trust the tutor to choose the material, or do you choose specific material yourself and ask them to teach you it?

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maneesh May 7, 2012 at 6:16 am

I throw away the tutor’s material and just start talking. And ask questions (after 4 languages you know the right questions to ask). I’ve actually filmed a video about exactly this, that will be online in about a month. If you have any specific questions, please ask.

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Chris May 7, 2012 at 6:08 am

Balla.

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Vic Magary May 7, 2012 at 6:03 am

Survival School sounds bad ass! And thanks for providing an example based on experience that shows the often touted “2000 calories per day” is often not necessary (and dare I say, often not ideal).

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maneesh May 7, 2012 at 6:05 am

Hacking the System is all about results, not about ideology. :)

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