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.
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”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.