Archive for the Minimalism Category

Great Gifts for Minimalists: Meaningful Ideas They’ll Appreciate

Great Gifts for Minimalists: Meaningful Ideas They’ll Appreciate

Great Gifts for MinimalistsNavigating gift-giving around the holidays is often tricky for those with minimalists on their list. After all, how do you find gifts for minimalists when they don’t buy, need, or even want much?

After years of being a minimalist living in a 150 square foot tiny house living, I get asked this question every year. People often tell me they have no idea what to give me (the truth is they don’t need to give gifts at all, but I definitely appreciate the thoughtfulness).

So, I decided to compile a list of the top gifts for minimalists. Hopefully, you’ll find something for every minimalist on your list. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. No matter what you give, chances are they’ll appreciate the sentiment.

And if YOU are the minimalist and don’t know how to help confused family and friends figure out gift-giving this season, send them this post to give them a few great ideas!

Self-Improvement Gifts for Minimalists

Self-Improvement Gifts for Minimalists

Minimalists are often goal-getters. They’re all about self-improvement, and if you love and care about a minimalist, you want to see them succeed. You may need to do a little homework—find out goals the person is working towards. Learning about what is on a person’s bucket list is a great way to get ideas to help them achieve.

Reading and learning materials are always an excellent gift on the path to self-improvement—and it doesn’t need to be limited to ONLY tutorials and self-improvement books, either. After all, what’s a better mental health break than reading or listening to a great book?

If people ask you what you want, you can think of gifts to help achieve your own goals. Here are a few ideas for great self-improvement gifts.

Kindle Paperwhite

kindle as a gift for a minimalistThin, lightweight, and now waterproof, a Kindle is an excellent gift for someone who’s cutting back on clutter. Books on a Kindle are a great way to give someone a great read without taking up more space on the bookshelf. Yes, an electronic reader is often a divisive topic for bibliophiles, so feel out their preference first. If they already own an e-reader, then a book recommendation is a terrific gift.

Audible Subscription

audbile as a giftRight now, an Audible subscription comes with 30 days free, then $14.95/month. I love Audible because it lets me get more “reading” in when I’m driving, commuting, or on a road trip. Making the most of my travel time allows me to work on my goals with a business or self-improvement book, get in fun reading with a fiction book, or learn all about something new.

ryans picks for audible and kindle ebooks

Tiny Houses

tiny house living book

Tiny House Living

by Ryan Mitchell (I might be biased)

a pattern language

A Pattern Language

by Chris Alexander

the minimalist mindset

The Minimalist Mindset

by Danny Dover


children of time

Children of Time

by Adrian Tchaikovsky



by Jeremey Robinson

the passage

The Passage

by Justin Cronin

Business Books

the coaching habit

The Coaching Habit

by Michael Stanier

strengths finder

Strengths Finder 2.0

from Gallup

the 100 dollar startup

The $100 Startup

by Chris Guillebeau

Young Adult

the maze runner

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

city of ember

City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau



by Ally Condie




by Larry Niven

hell divers

Hell Divers

by Nicholas Smith

the martian

The Martian

Andy Weir




by Blake Crouch

orphan x

Orphan X

by Greg Hurwitz

bird box

Bird Box

Josh Malerman

lessons as gifts
If you know your gift recipient is interested in taking lessons, they are a terrific gift. There are many options available through local community organizations and businesses. A few ideas to explore:

  • Dance
  • Musical Instrument
  • Art Classes
  • Cooking
membership gifts
Fitness Classes and Memberships
Fitness classes and memberships are also excellent gifts for minimalists (assuming the person on your list is interested in the fitness area). It always helps to ask or offer up a few ideas they may enjoy and allow them to choose the class or plan that fits their preferences and lifestyle. Fitness ideas include:

  • Finding a unique fitness experience local to their town—yoga, hiking, kayaking, etc.
  • Membership to a local gym
  • Yoga classes
  • Sessions with a personal trainer
  • Standup paddle board
  • Register for a marathon (if they’re into it)

Entertainment Gifts for Minimalists

Entertainment Gifts for Minimalists

With so many subscription services available these days, there are tons of ideas for entertaining gifts for minimalists that are inexpensive and enjoyable. There’s also the option to give the gift of an experience. Tickets or another event experience is my absolute favorite gift to give and receive because it means I get to do something fun with the person I care about. The gift of entertainment could mean dinner out, tickets to an event, or another adventure. I think of what the person likes and often get two tickets. Not only is it an excellent experience, but we experience it together.

subscription gifts for minimalists
Movie, Music & TV Subscription Services

  • Hulu: The first 30 days are free then plans start at $5.99/month
  • Spotify Premium: First three months are free, and then plans start at $9.99/month
  • Disney+: Launching December 2019, plans start at $7/month or $70/year
magazine subscriptions for minimalists
Magazine Subscriptions

Check out digital subscriptions, which are an excellent option for most magazines. Look for a publication fitting their area of interest.

  • For the coffee lover: Drift magazine $52/year – published 2x/year
  • For the avid reader: Ruminate magazine $50/year (subscription directly supports literary writers and visual artists)
  • For women with a minimalist mindset: Real Simple magazine $10/year
tickets to events as gifts
Tickets to Events

  • Local sports events
  • Theater
  • Concert
  • Brewery tours or vineyard tours/wine tastings

hobbies for small spaces

Gifts of Time Ideas

Gifts of Time Ideas

Giving and receiving the gift of someone’s time is so meaningful. What could you do to help someone around the house or do something for them they would appreciate? The bonus of giving the gift of time is you often get to spend more time with your friend or loved one.

babysitting as a gift
Gifts of Time

  • Babysitting
  • Pet sitting
  • Dinner & a movie
  • Game night: bring over a meal and games
  • Helping hands: use your special skill or talent to help weed flower beds, plant vegetables, reupholster chairs, or paint a living room.


consumables as gifts

Next up are items people eat or use up. A perfect example of this is food items. We are all busy, and most of us like food, so making a treat or buying a favorite food is a great gift. Think of difficult-to-make items or gifts that are an indulgence. Here are a few exceptional items I’ve found.

candles as gifts
Health & Beauty Products

foods as gifts
Food Products

  • Wine/beer
  • Baked goods: cakes, cookies, quick breads, candy
  • Jellies, jams, and pickles
  • Homemade Jerky
  • A care package of favorite treats
  • SnackNation Box: $24 for the first box, then $40 month
  • Candy Club Subscription: $30/month (first box is 50% off)
  • Gift cards to local retailers, restaurants, and food trucks
  • Coffee and tea gift cards
  • Membership to the local co-op
  • CSA subscription (community supported agriculture/farm share box with fresh produce each week)
pet products as gifts
Pet Products

  • Rescue Box: $23/month (think Bark Box, but proceeds go to supply food and vaccines to shelter animals)

Practical, Buy Once-in-a-Lifetime Gift Items

Buy Once-in-a-Lifetime Gift Items

I do this a lot, since I don’t need much and I don’t buy much either. So, when there’s something I need to replace or buy new, I hold off and suggest it as a gift when others ask. For example, I’ve needed new shoes for a month or so, but I’m holding off. This way, those who want to give me a gift can do so, and it’s something that I really need to replace a worn-out item.

buy once in a lifetime products

When I do need to purchase something, I get the highest-quality, longest-lasting product possible. For more ideas, check out my post on how to find items you only need to buy once in a lifetime.

rugged mountains bullet journal printables
pendleton blankets

Charity Gifts for Minimalists

Charity Gifts for Minimalists

If you absolutely can’t think of anything to give (or anything you want to receive), consider a charitable donation. Asking friends or family to donate to a cause you’re passionate about is a meaningful option, especially around the holidays. Giving back is something everyone (minimalists and non-minimalists alike) can appreciate!

charitable giving ideas
Charitable Giving Ideas

  • Donation to a favorite charity
  • Sponsor their team for a charity walk
  • Volunteer time with them at a local non-profit (walk dogs, serve meals, sort food at a pantry, etc.)
  • Museum memberships (Check out the North American Reciprocal Museum Association for a membership that allows privileges at a favorite vacation spot, too.)
  • Botanical garden memberships
  • Ecology center memberships (They often offer tours, birdwatching, even canoe rentals.)

As you see, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean giving someone more “stuff” to clutter up their homes and lives. There are plenty of gifts for minimalists that are useful, meaningful, and even give to the greater good.

Your Turn!

  • What’s your favorite gift to give to others?
  • What’s the most practical gift you’ve ever received?

How To Take A 14 Day Social Media Break – A Practical Guide To Reclaiming Your Time With Social Media Detoxing

How To Take A 14 Day Social Media Break - A Practical Guide To Reclaiming Your Time With Social Media Detoxing

Social Media DetoxIf you’re anything like me, you’ve been falling out of love with social media. That’s what lead me to take a break from social media. For some people, social media stresses them out, but for me I just couldn’t justify spending an average of 2+ hours of screen time on social media every day! That means we spend 6.9 years of our life on social media!

I don’t know about you, but life is too short to be wasting that kind of screen time on something that doesn’t add much value to my life. With this in mind, I decided to take a 14-day social media detox to kick this bad habit.

How To Take A Break From Social Media

How To Take A Break From Social Media

Taking a break from the various platforms can be challenging because we have built a habit around checking them constantly. Add to that, these companies have optimized social media apps to leverage your brain’s pleasure centers, giving you little hits of neurotransmitters that make you feel good.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, and many more all have a small army of neuroscientists and psychologists on staff to make you addicted to their networks. The more you learn about how they reinforce your behavior with their apps, the scarier it gets.

I’ve put together a calendar and worksheet for you to do a 14 day Social Media Detox. Drop your email below and I’ll send it to you right now.

Social Media Break And The Benefits For Your Mental Health

Social Media Break And The Benefits For Your Mental Health

I think most of us reading this post are aware the impact social sites have on our mental health, but new studies have come out to confirm what we all feared to be true. While social media can be useful, we need to make sure we are using it in a way that’s right for us.

Phones along with social media have been studied to show they are a major problem that has been proven to impact our sleep, connections with our partner and even can contribute to anxiety.

For me the biggest benefit was gaining back my time. I spent an average of 2 hours per day of phone screen time, about half that being spent on social media. With the time I gained back, I used it to start going on walks and working out.

75 hard challenge


Challenge yourself and see if you have what it takes!

Another benefit was connecting more with friends. Instead of scrolling on their feeds, I actually picked up my phone and called people. In most cases I’d set times for dinner, to grab coffee, and if they were far away, we’d just catch up.

I also made time to spend with my family, getting to spend time with them was a lot of fun, way better than sitting on a couch at home watching other people’s lives.

How To Break Your Social Media Addiction?

How To Break Your Social Media Addiction

You have to realize this is going to be difficult in the beginning, but after doing my extended break from social media I was surprised how quickly social media faded from my life. Once you get over that initial hump, I found I entered a positive feedback loop, where each time I said “no” I’d feel better and better about it.

To get over that initial hump I tried many things, but one thing really worked for me…

Add Pain To The Process

Add Pain To The Process

This is a hack I learned a long time ago when I wanted to stop drinking sodas. It seems counter intuitive, make things even harder for myself? Stick with me here…

I knew it would be challenging to stop drinking sodas, so at first, I said I could drink sodas with one caveat. I could drink soda; I just couldn’t buy a pack of soda for the house. What I could do is get in my car and drive to the gas station down the road and buy one bottle of soda to drink.

Why did this work? Because I wasn’t denying myself the soda, I just added the pain of having to get in my car and driving to get it. Each time I wanted a soda, I had to weigh the hassle vs. how much I wanted it.

That leads us to how to add pain to the process of social media? The first step is to just delete the apps on your phone. Most of these social sites still have a mobile browser version, but it’s usually terrible and frustrating to use. That’s the beauty of this, you can still have your social media, it’s just a little painful to use.

After a few weeks of no social apps, I added a new rule: no social media on my phone at all, I could only look at it on a desktop computer. Since I’m not on my computer all day this meant I only went to Facebook when I had a purpose. As time went on, Facebook became less and less integral to my life.

Tips On How To Break A Social Media Habit

Tips On How To Break A Social Media Habit

While I found adding pain to the process to be the biggest help, there were some other details I rolled into my social media detox that helped me along the way.

Habit Breaking Tips

  1. Start breaking your habit with your phone, that’s were most people consume the most
  2. Use your phone browser, afterwards delete your history so you have to hand type in the address each time
  3. Set a timer when you do use it, start with 15 minutes, then each week reduce by 5
  4. Use apps to track your usage, most phones or RescueTime will show you how much you really use
  5. Remove shortcuts in your browser, phone, or computer to the sites themselves
  6. After you’re done looking at social media, take time to reflect on its impacts and usefulness
  7. Plug your phone to charge in your kitchen, not your bedroom
  8. Instead of messaging, call the person and have a conversation

How To Replace Social Media During A Social Media Detox

How To Replace Social Media During A Social Media Detox

One other critical factor to this was, if I remove some bad habit, I need to try to replace it with something instead of just an empty space. In fact, to really overcome this, I had to intentionally add in multiple things to fill the void where social media was.

replace social media with booksWe go to social media and our phones when we have a down moment, when we are bored or don’t know what to do. I found myself reaching for my phone a lot when I was waiting on someone to arrive, when I was alone when a friend went to the bathroom, or when I was bored on my couch. Social media is a default pattern we use as a crutch.

I realized I was defaulting to this crutch and not thinking about them at all. And that was the problem, I wasn’t being intentional about my behaviors, which is not how I want to live my life. I want to live intentionally. To combat this, I decided to do a few things to replace social media.

Things To Replace Social Media

  1. Read a book: I bought a few books and placed them near my couch and in my car
  2. Gamify: See how long you can go without looking at your phone
  3. Call a friend: The point of social media, is to be social. Call a friend, don’t text!
  4. Go for a walk: bored? I just got up and went for a walk without my phone
  5. Listen to music: I made playlists, then set the phone out of reach
  6. Go for coffee: just sit and enjoy the coffee and the experience
  7. People watch: make up fun backstories for each person walking by
  8. Start a hobby: I picked up fly tying and boardgames
  9. Declutter: I used the time to instead make my house clean and tidy
  10. Take a class: It could be something fun or to improve your career

How Long Should I Take A Break From Social Media For?

How Long Should I Take A Break From Social Media For

My suggestion is to start with a two-week taper from social media, then after that take time to reflect on things. You really need about 60 days to break a habit, so I’d start with two weeks, then adjust to a new normal pattern for you.

Take this in steps, going cold turkey won’t work too well for most people. I’ve put together a calendar for you to break your social media habit for your first two weeks, plus a worksheet to help reflect on your detox once it’s all over. This will let you easily stop using social media and have a better understanding of negative impacts of social media had in your life.

Social Media Break Images

Social Media Break Images

Let people know you’re stepping away from social media. Making a final post helps communicate you’re taking a break for social media, but it also helps get the word out about the dangers of social networks in general. Below are images you can post on your own social media when you begin your detox. Right click and save the images, I’d appreciate you also sharing a link to this post when you do post so others can learn about how to take a break from social media too!

Get The Word Out! Share This Post To Help Others!

Right click and then choose “Save Image As” to download a full size image of each:


social media detox facebook


social media detox instagram


social media detox twitter

Social Media Break Quotes For Your Posts

Social Media Break Quotes

In addition to your images, you might want to include a little bit about your break or give some inspiration to others. Here are a few quotes people used for their social medial announcement posts:

Almost Everything Will Work Again If You Unplug It For A Few Minutes, Including You

Less Scrolling, More Living

Temporarily Closed For Spiritual Maintenance

A Million Likes Will Never Be Enough If You Don’t Like Yourself First

Don’t Compare Your Everyday To Everyone Else’s Highlight Reel

Do More Things That Make You Forget To Check Your Phone

Work Hard In Silence. Let Success Be Your Noise

Your Worth Isn’t Found Here, It’s Found Out There, In Living Life

The Best Measure Of Success Is Being Better Than You Were Yesterday

Breaking Your Social Media Habit For Good

Breaking Your Social Media Habit For Good

Kicking the habit of social media is tricky, but it starts with the first step. After you’ve read this post, download the calendar and worksheet to start your first two weeks. These first two weeks are going to be challenging while you spend more time offline and do your social media detox. But in about 14 days, I’ve found most people get over the hump.

Once you’ve completed the first two weeks, take some time to reflect about your detox with the worksheet (also in the download). This will let you collect your thoughts about how social media impacts your happiness, mental health, anxiety and general wellbeing.

After you’ve done the worksheet, set a plan of action for the next 30 days past that point. I suggest limiting your social scrolling to 15 minutes once a week. Then try once every other week. In the end, we don’t have to totally ditch social media, we just want to make sure it doesn’t get in the way of living life.

Good luck with your social media break!

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for taking a social media break?
  • Why are you going to do a social media detox?

Dopamine Detox – Fix Your Brain and Survive Modern Life With a Dopamine Fast

Dopamine Detox – Fix Your Brain and Survive Modern Life With a Dopamine Fast

dopamine detox
Recently I’ve been experimenting with doing dopamine detoxes, sometimes referred to as a dopamine fast. This started a little over a year ago, when I went on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. During that trip I didn’t have a phone, tv or internet. As a result, I was able to see the impact from the absence of technology; it was eye opening.

I was grappling with a difficult time in my life, having sold one of my businesses, I was lacking purpose and direction. I went from leading over 200 people, reveling in the chaos of break-neck growth, to the stillness of a lounge chair on the deck of an ocean liner, left only to contend with my thoughts.

Over the following months, the lack of aim left me spiraling towards a dark place. When I cleared away all the clutter and trappings of modern life, I started to see the impact of social media, phone notifications and the distractions of modern culture. That’s what led me to my journey of dopamine detoxing.

What Is A Dopamine Detox?

what is a dopamine detox

A dopamine detox is a practice where you remove low quality stimuli from your life and replace it with high quality stimuli. This allows us to rid ourselves of cheap fixes in order to build a meaningful and fulfilling life. By doing this we take advantage of the dopaminergic responses in our brains along with a host of other neurotransmitters, to build long lasting, purposeful experiences. Modern life has been optimized to lean on these neurochemicals in a way, I’d argue, that is unhealthy, or at least justifies examination.

The Science Behind A Dopamine Fast

the science behind a dopamine fast

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that a dopamine fast can have a positive impact in your life. Before we get too far though, let’s address the elephant in the room. The brain is a complex thing and while dopamine is part of this, it’s not the only factor that comes into play here. Dopamine is primarily in play with anticipatory pleasure and it could be argued other neurotransmitters play a larger role here. Calling this technique, a “dopamine detox” is a little bit of a misnomer, but not entirely inaccurate either, it’s the phrase most people use, so let’s run with it.

The Dangers of Social Media, Phones, And Modern Life

dangers of social media and modern life

Several years ago, I noticed a sinking uneasiness settling in around what social media, smart phones, the internet and modern life had become. It was a funny thing, because I’ve always been one who loves the internet and all things tech, I run this website after all! At first, I chalked it up to me “getting old” – at the ripe age of 30 at the time – but I was never satisfied with that answer.

That’s when a lot of studies started to come out about how suicide in teen girls jumped 300% because of social media and how phones and social media are leading to a rapid increase in depression and anxiety. The one thing that struck me the most was when Facebook’s VP of User Growth stated “I have tremendous guilt. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” See the video of Chamath Palihapitiya talking about the negative impacts of social media.

The dark foreboding feeling about various elements of modern life was not misattributed. Instead, I realized it was a very real factor of contention. After much searching and collecting my thoughts, I’ve been led to dopamine fasting as my response to the real challenges I face.

The question then becomes, how do we get rid of negative things in our lives that give us those hits of dopamine we’re so easily drawn to? The truth is that it’s really hard. The reason for this of course is because modern technology is perfectly optimized to abuse our dopamine system.

This is the root of low-level anxiety and depression in today’s society and the very reason why these diagnoses are so prevalent. Over the past 20 years we’ve seen depression and anxiety rise dramatically and it’s alarming. Simply put, we built a society that provides cheap and easy hits of dopamine as leverage for commercial profits and the bill for the true cost has come due.

Does A Dopamine Fast Work?

does dopamine detox work

In short, yes. A dopamine detox realigns your mind by trading the pleasure found from shallow sources with pleasure from meaningful ventures that provide lasting contentment. While the neuroscience behind it is complex, the premise is sound: remove toxic elements in your life and edify yourself with positive habits.

How to Do A Dopamine Detox or Dopamine Fast

how to do a dopamine fast

First understand that there is no one “right way” to do this, each approach will be different for different people. This is because we each have our own crosses to bear and what does “it” for one person, might not be right for you.

Every part of modern society, social media, and our phones are optimized to give us the rewarding feeling of dopamine hits, but these are fleeting and surface level.

To make this a bit easier to understand I want to explain this with a conceptual framework I’m calling behavior “loops”. Essentially a behavior loop is a behavior cycle where we experience a trigger, we decide to respond to it with an action, that action triggers a response, and then that action is reinforced. We have “escape loops” and we have “engagement loops”.

Escape Loops: Shortcuts To Happiness That Leave Us Miserable

escape loops

Escape loops are essentially things in our lives that provide us with low value pleasures. They are characterized by a big hit of dopamine, that’s quick, easy and cheap to attain. The “loop” of escapes loops typically breaks down to something like this:

Typical Escape Loop

  • We become bored, anxious, unhappy or lonely – feelings from something unfulfilled in your life
  • These feelings bring with it a low-level stress and our cortisol levels start to rise
  • We feel the urge to resolve this and are faced with a choice: solve the root cause (which is difficult) or seeking an “escape” which is cheap and easy to attain and gives us the highest spike of dopamine
  • Feeling that hit of pleasure for this escapism, we start to rely on it, creating a dependent feedback loop
dopamine escape loop

Escape loops offer a way to side step the root cause of the problem and just skip to feeling good, even if it’s a shallow pleasure. We essentially sacrifice our future well-being by avoiding the real problem all for a cheap dopamine hit. Looking at it in this manner, it’s similar to how drug users operate: feel bad, instead of fixing the issue they seek a high, then come down to only feel worse. At its core, an escape loop is a self-sabotaging behavior.

Some examples would be: When we feel bored, instead of developing hobbies, we pick up our phone. When we feel anxious about a difficult conversation that we need to have with the person we are dating, we ghost them and move on to a new person. If we are miserable at work, instead of seeking a new opportunity, we have a few beers or glasses of wine each night to forget it all. Rather than going on dates to meet someone new, we pull up a website and watch a video to get off. Escape loops are different for each person.

Examples of Escape Loops

social mediacell phone alertsjunk fooddating appsvideo games

ASk Yourself These Questions

  • How do you sacrifice long term happiness for immediate pleasure?
  • What are the stories and mindsets that lead to self-sabotage?
  • What are you giving up by wasting time on low worth behaviors?
  • What are your go-to escapes?
  • What shortcuts are you taking?

Engagement Loops: Fixing The Core Issues For Long Term Contentment

engagement loops

Engagement Loops are essentially the opposite of escape loops. Instead of seeking quick hits of dopamine, we delay gratification to build a deeper and richer life for ourselves over time. If we don’t make this conscious choice, we fall into the trappings of modern society that have been designed to reward us in ways that are advantageous to those who want to capture our attention for their own benefit.

Engagement behaviors are often the difficult road, the things we know we should do, but don’t really want to do. I know after a long day, the last thing I want to do is leave the comfort zone of my home and hit the gym, meet up with friends or go on a date.

Sometimes the choices seem trivial: order a water or a diet soda at dinner. Our friend is a few minutes late, do we pull out our phone or take a minute to reflect on the day. The truth is, a good life is built on a strong foundation of small positive actions taken over and over again, it is the aggregate of these “trivial” things that actually make a good life. I once heard a top Olympic athlete say he visualized the little actions like laying a single stone, each one building his castle.

Typical Engagement Loop

  • We become bored, anxious, unhappy or lonely – feelings from something unfulfilled in your life
  • These feelings bring with it a low-level stress and our cortisol levels start to rise
  • We feel the urge to resolve it, so we reflect on the root cause and choose to do the difficult work of fixing it
  • After taking positive steps we start to feel better about our decisions, it is positively reinforced over time
dopamine engagement loop diagram

Engagement loops are difficult work that requires dedication and effort, but results in an outcome that is deeply meaningful. Engagement loops build lasting change that leads to a life worth living. After much reflection on this, I believe that engagement loops build fulfillment, answering the greatest question of them all, arguably the most important question: what is the meaning of life? Engagement loops are different for each person.

Examples of Engagement Loops

in-person connectionmeaningful intimacytake time to disconnecteat healthyintentional datingread a book

Ask Yourself These Questions

  • Why am I feeling the way I’m feeling?
  • What are your go to escapes? What does that inform about what needs to be fixed?
  • Where am I abdicating responsibility?
  • Will future me benefit or suffer because of this?
  • What are my goals and what actions move me towards or away from them?

Replacing Escape Loops With Engagement Loops For Dopamine Detoxing

replace escape loops with engagement loops

Think about the challenges you face in life, the shortcomings you have as a person, and the long list of failures in your past. Analyze these symptoms and try to discern what the root causes are, these are the things you need to counter, because they are the things you try to avoid dealing with when you seek an escape loop.

I recommend focusing on one main escape loop at a time, but layering a few positive engagement loops to replace it. The reason for this being they provide a big hit of dopamine over a very short period of time, similar to how our brain reacts to narcotics.

Compare that to something like eating a healthy diet, at first there is not a whole lot of reward, but over a long period you see the benefits. It’s no wonder that getting a lot of “likes” on your latest social post feels better than getting dressed, driving through traffic, and paying $10 for a drink to have a conversation with someone you just met for the first time.; At first, receiving the “likes” feels better but the long term implications tell a different story.

It is for this reason I suggest you replace your worst escape loop with many engagement loops to have any hope of making the change stick. If we layer in these positive forces, their high-quality dopamine hits will overpower the cheap easy thrills of our vices.

Convert Escape Loops to Engagement Loops

dopamine detox escape loops vs engagement loop
dopamine escape loops vs engagement loop

What Are The Dopamine Detox Rules?

what are the dopamine detox rules

There are no hard and fast rules and it depends on how long you plan to detox. While it can be nice to do a deep detox where you totally cut things out, most of this might only be able to do this for a single weekend. I hold the belief that quick fixes fall prey to the same faults that surround our escapes.

24 Hour Dopamine Detox Rules

24-hour dopamine detox rules

Some people like to try a short 24 hour fast, though the impact of this will be minimal, unless followed up with a prolonged detox which strikes the balance of you needing to handle daily life while keeping the big offenders at bay. Here is a general list of rules for a 24-hour dopamine detox:

24-Hr Dopamine Detox Rules

  • No electronics of any kind (phone, tv, computer, video games, etc.)
  • No reading of books, newspapers or magazines
  • No sex or masturbation
  • No talking
  • No food (consult doctor, but drink water)
  • No music, podcasts, tv or movies
  • No Coffee or other stimulants

30 Day Dopamine Fast

30-day dopamine detox fast

Most of us can’t run off to a mountain top and live like a cloistered monk for several months, so we need to take a more measured approach and, if truth be told, this is going to be more effective. seeking a quick fix is an escape loop in and of itself!

Additionally, we need to be able to live and operate in society, we have to be able to contend with the pulls of modernity, so we must struggle to find our paths despite these things. To effectively replace negative loops, we need to slowly reinforce our new positive habits over time.

Start by choosing one of your bigger escape loops that feed your dopaminergic system in a negative way and define 3 engagement loops to replace it. Use the above questions about escape and engagement loops to determine what your particular burden is, think about how this impacts your life, then determine what positive actions should be used to replace it. For Example: if you dread your work, instead of complaining about it and drinking a few too many glasses of wine. Commit to polishing up your resume, set a goal to take an interview per month and when you feel the stress of work, instead of popping a cork, go outside for a walk.

You want to try to choose negative loops and positive loops that have symmetry to them. Understand the root cause of your discontent and dopamine seeking behavior, then develop a related counter to it. We want to train ourselves to recognize when we are reaching for that escape loop behavior and then replace it with one of our engagement loops. This gradually will disincentivize our negative behaviors and build a positive feedback loop for our good ones.

Each person should figure out which escape and engagement loops apply to their lives, because it will be specific to each individual. Here are some general tips I suggest during your 30+ day detox:

30 Day Dopamine Detox Tips

  • Turn off all the badge icons and notifications on your phone, set it to silent
  • Uninstall all social media, dating and work apps from your phone
  • When you’re doing work, close your email screen and turn off notifications
  • Try doing only one task at a time, avoid multi-tasking
  • Make sure you spend time outside each day
  • Try meditating, even if it’s only for a few minutes
  • Be present with your friends, family and romantic partners, put down the phone
  • Consider doing some journaling exercises
  • Drink water each day

Take these as suggestions, each person is going to need something different. Just be honest with yourself and realize that replacing these behaviors requires hard work, self-discipline and effort on your part.

How Long Does It Take To Adjust Dopamine Levels?

how long does it take to adjust dopamine levels

This is a complicated question, but in general it can take an average of 66 days to build a new habit. The brutal thing is that bad habits can take root much faster and it can take a long time to build good ones.

Dopamine levels change from minute to minute as our bodies react to the world around us, as I pointed out above, the title of “dopamine detox” or “dopamine fast” is a bit of a misnomer. We always have dopamine; it’s always reacting and too little or too much can be bad for our health. We shouldn’t really try to control our dopamine levels, just the behaviors we choose to engage with that might act as levers for dopamine.

Great Books To Check Out On This Topic

great books to read about dopamine detox

the molecule of more

The Molecule of More

by Daniel Z. Lieberman & Michael Long

how to break up with your phone

Break Up With Your Phone

by Catherine Price

habits of a happy brain

Habits of a Happy Brain

by Loretta G. Breuning

Your Turn!

  • Have you tried doing a dopamine detox, how did it go?
  • What escape loops are your cutting out for better engagement loops?

75 Hard Challenge – Rules and Guidance To Crush The Next 75 Days And Leave The Excuses Behind

75 Hard Challenge – Rules and Guidance To Crush The Next 75 Days And Leave The Excuses Behind

75 hard challenge

I’ve made it to the other side. Before 75 Hard, I was struggling to put words to a concept I had been circling on for years. Coming off the sale of a company I built from the ground up, I was utterly aimless, looking for the answers to big questions. The problem was, I was looking for those answers outside of myself, but the 75 Hard Challenge helped me dig deep and find them from within. Here is my journey with the 75 Hard Challenge.

What Is 75 Hard?

what is 75 hard challenge

The 75 Hard Challenge is a program lasting 75 days with a simple set of rules designed to build confidence, self-esteem, and grittiness through a no excuses challenge. The rules focus on self-development in a way that forces you to earn the traits you want to possess. You’ll undertake this 75-day challenge, following the rules carefully, but if you slip up even one day, you have to start all over again.

75 hard tracking sheet

What 75 Hard Isn’t – What most people get wrong

On its face, 75 Hard looks like a fitness challenge, a run of the mill program that will get you into shape. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You may notice the benefits of improved fitness, such as losing weight and gaining strength, but it’s not the main purpose of 75 Hard. The program is all about building the mental fortitude you need to set yourself up for a successful life.

This challenge is entirely mental. You are going to do difficult things because they are difficult, because they build grittiness. You don’t allow excuses to get in the way because they are all bullshit and, in the end, you’re only cheating yourself.

The set of simple rules are designed to challenge you in different ways. Some will be easy; some will be hard. Added up together, the sum of one day at a time for 75 days without compromise,, pushes you to become the person you strive to be.

Why 75 Hard Is Effective

75 hard effectiveness

Like I mentioned, the rules are simple, but the continual execution is the real challenge. Over the past few years I’ve learned the value of doing things that are difficult, because they are difficult in and of themselves.

It’s hard to really articulate why doing what is hard is such a powerful force, why it makes all the difference. I could say that challenging yourself builds character. I might say that if we don’t commit to continual improvement that we cheat ourselves. But all those descriptions feel like a platitude.

At the end of your days – and to some extent the end of 75 hard – you have to look yourself in the eye and take your measure. What will be the honest evaluation of the life you led, will you have reached your full potential or left some of it on the table?

75 Hard Challenge Rules

The rules seem pretty simple but they’re designed to collectively be a challenge. The real trial is starting over at day one if you slip up even once.

75 hard challenge rules

  1. Exercise twice each day for 45 minutes – one must be outdoors.
  2. Drink one gallon of water per day.
  3. Pick a diet and stick to it with absolutely NO CHEAT MEALS and NO ALCOHOL.
  4. Read a minimum of 10 pages every day of a self-development or business book.
  5. Take one progress photo each day.


75 hard tracking sheet

Rule Clarifications

  • Exercise can be anything that meets your fitness goals, the point is to improve each day
  • The workouts can’t be back to back or one long workout, you should have at least 3 hours between them
  • Exercise can be anything that is physical in nature that matches your intentions and seems difficult
  • Exercise does include Yoga and walking if you do it with intention
  • During your exercise, you can include warm ups and stretching as long as you do it with intention
  • There is not specific diet, you choose what’s right for you and stick to it
  • Your diet doesn’t have to count calories or macros unless the progress you want to make dictates it
  • Even if it fits in your diet, all foods should be “clean foods” define what that means before you start, stick to it
  • No “cheat days” or “re-feed days” you must stick to your diet 100%
  • You don’t necessarily have to count calories, but you do need to eat the foods prescribed in your diet
  • Water only counts if it’s just water. Coffee, sports drinks, mixes, shakes etc don’t count towards your water
  • Coffee, diet sodas, teas, protein shakes, and other drinks are okay, but must comply with your diet
  • You need to read your pages from an actual book: podcasts or audiobooks don’t count
  • A day is considered when you wake up to when you go to bed, not just a normal 24 day

In general, there are some areas that you’ll have to make a judgement call on if you find a circumstance that isn’t covered above.  The best advice I can give you is that you define what your standards are.  Consider the intention behind them, think about what progress you want to make.  Write these standards down and if they seem very difficult, then you’ll know you’re on the right track.  Then stick to them without compromise.

Get The Full Details In The 75 Hard Podcast Episodes

75 hard original podcast

75 hard kettlebell workout

Here is the original podcast that started it all with Andy Frisella.

weight training for 75 hard

Here is a follow up podcast episode that clarified some things.

My Journey With 75 Hard

my 75 hard challenge journey

I had happened upon the MFCEO podcast with Andy Frisella near the end of the year, a time when I start to think about my goals for the coming year. I wish I could say it was something more intentional, but I wasn’t feeling energized about the year ahead. As Andy laid out the simple rules to 75 Hard, something clicked in my brain and I said “screw it, I’m going to do it”.

At first, I thought to myself that I’d start at the first of the year, which was a fair way off, but then I caught myself. I was thinking in a way that was exactly what 75 Hard was meant to fix. So again, I said “screw it, I’ll start tomorrow”. Little did I know, the joke was on me.

The First Days Of 75 Hard

ryan hikingThe next day I woke up to do my first workout, which had to be outside, and it was pouring down rain. Not only was it raining, but it was also only 33 degrees, just warm enough to not be snow.. I was totally soaked from the cold rain and damn near froze. Not going to lie, I cursed Andy’s name the entire time, but I didn’t make excuses and I got it done.

I went on doing my workouts, eating my keto diet, reading my books, drinking my water and taking my photos. Starting out, I think the worst was drinking a gallon of water per day. I was peeing every 20 minutes and my stomach felt so full, so often. I had already cut out alcohol and soda and replaced those with water prior to 75 hard, but I never drank this much water. It took me a full week to get used to drinking so much water.

For me the diet was the easiest part, which is probably the opposite for most people. Purely out of preference I don’t drink at all, haven’t for over a decade. I also had started a keto diet almost 2 years ago, so now it was simply a default behavior, not something new.

When Things Got Tough

My next challenge was when life threw me some curveballs and I had to still make it all happen. Remember that if you fail to follow the rules, you have to start back at day one.; There was no way I was going to let that happen.

The first challenge was realizing at 11 pm while I was on a date that I had only completed one of my workouts. Explaining to my date why I needed to go for a walk in the middle of the night was the first time I told anyone I was even doing this. I think mentally I wasn’t publicizing that I was doing the challenge, because if I admitted it to others, I was accountable.

I realized this was just another step in building mental fortitude: being accountable to those around you. Somehow, my date just rolled with the punches and decided to join me, despite the freezing cold temperatures and the fact that it was midnight.

The next challenge occurred while I was on a cruise to the Bahamas. While in the middle of the ocean, the water main broke on the ship and we were without water all day. I had only about 20 ounces of water in my bottle at the time. While the ship offered up free sodas to smooth things over, soda and other drinks don’t count. At 11:30 PM when the water came back on, I sat down with 108 ounces of water before me and started to drink.

Finally, the last major challenge I faced was on a road trip. I had gotten up really early to make it to my destination on time, driving all day. I was sitting in my car the entire time, not able to work out. I got to the hotel after midnight and the very last thing I wanted to do was work out. I seriously considered abandoning it all right then. Despite my brain screaming at me to just go to bed, I got on the treadmill at 1 AM and started running.

In the fog of my exhaustion I realized about 40 minutes in that my next workout had to be outside! I finished my first 45 minutes, read my 10 pages, then walked out the front door of the hotel at 2 AM to do my final workout. It was brutal.

75 hard tracking sheet

75 Hard Workout Options

workout programs for 75 hard challenge

The one thing that I really liked about this challenge was that it wasn’t dogmatic about what diet or workout regime you choose. Since this isn’t a fitness challenge, but a mental toughness challenge, the point isn’t to achieve some fitness ideal. It also meets you wherever you are right now, so you don’t have to worry about having to be a certain fitness level to start. This was great for me, having focused on diet for so long, I had pretty much not worked out for over a year.

You start where you are and just get it done. Most days I either did weights and then a walk for my second workout or went for a run, then my second workout was a walk. The only rules are they need to be at least 45 minutes each and one of them has to be outside, no matter what.

Workout Programs

Darebee – HIIT Workout Program

I like Darebee’s approach because it’s pretty straight forward and the resources are free. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a very effective approach for those who want to get in and out of the gym.

Strong Lifts 5×5

This is another very popular one that doesn’t have a lot of frills and is free. I like this one because it keeps it pretty simple, but he also includes tutorials with each of the recommendations, so it’s good if you’re just starting out.

reddit bodyweightfitness
Reddit’s Bodyweight Workout

Don’t have a gym, don’t have weights, now you don’t have excuses. Here is a program that you can do with just body weight. It’s from sub-reddit r/bodyweightfitness and is free.

p90-x program

A classic, but also a pretty practical at home workout set. They include a diet program too, if you want it. Not free, but you can get it for $139 online from various retailers.

75 Hard Diet Options

diet options for 75 hard

Much like the workout portion, you can choose any diet you like, which is great because you can choose something that works for you and your goals. The important notes here are that you have to stick to it rigidly, you can’t do any cheat days and you can’t drink any alcohol regardless of what program you do.

Andy made the point in his talk that you don’t have to count calories, but you need to stick to the prescription of the diet you choose. Simply tracking what you eat has been shown to reduce your calorie intake by 20-30%.

75 hard tracking sheet

Diet Options

ketogenic diet

Keto is a low carb, medium protein and high fat diet that focuses on mitigating insulin swings in your body. Personally, I do the Keto diet and have found it to not only to help me lose weight, but it also suits my eating preferences naturally. I’ve never been a big drinker, I don’t crave pasta or sweets like some people do, and I already ate many of the common keto foods before I even started.

I was looking to slim down, but also manage my insulin swings to keep up my energy. I’ve always been one to have big dips after lunch and it was cutting into my effectiveness. After doing keto for almost 2 years at this point, my blood tests are showing that keto is dramatically improving all my numbers across the board. I’ve almost stopped snoring, lost a ton of weight, my energy is up, and I enjoy what I eat.

whole 30 diet
Whole 30

Whole 30 focuses on eating foods that aren’t made up of a lot of ingredients. The idea is to eat clean whole foods that you can recognize. The basic rules are no added sugars, no alcohol, no grains or legumes, no dairy, etc. You aren’t supposed to weigh yourself for the 30 days either, just focus on eating clean and healthy.

dash diet program
Dash Diet – Counting Calories

This is another common one that really centers around eating healthier and counting calories. This diet has come under some scrutiny in recent years, but eating healthier and watching calories are never a bad thing.

75 Hard Challenge Book Ideas

75 hard challenge book ideas

Here are some book ideas for your challenge, the first three were the ones I read during my time. These books were in addition to the other books I read for fun. Each month I read about 5 books, so reading wasn’t a big deal for me. While I read I used these book darts to quickly mark things that I wanted to refer back to.

Book Ideas

the last safe investment

The Last Safe Investment

by Bryan Franklin

the coaching habit

The Coaching Habit

by Michael Staniar

radical candor

Radical Candor

by Kim Scott

big magic

Big Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

the e myth revisited

The E-Myth Revisited

by Michael Gerber



by Gino Wickman

six thinking hats

Six Thinking Hats

by Edward de Bono

the 100 dollar startup

The $100 Startup

by Chris Guillebeau

leaders eat last

Leaders Eat Last

by Simon Sinek

75 Hard Results

my 75 hard results

For me I saw a decent drop in weight because I ate mostly the same while increasing the number of calories burned, my photos showed me lean out some, but I think the real surprise for me was in my heart rate. My heart rate has dropped by about 20ish bpm in my resting state and my recovery rate improved dramatically.

What used to be my resting rate, I could now achieve roughly the same BPM while doing a casual walk. I also dramatically upped my endurance while running. When I started, I hadn’t worked out in a very long time, I could jog around 4.5 miles per hour for about 10 minutes. Near the end of my 75 days, I was running at 6 miles per hour for 20 minutes AND my heart rate would almost fully recover in under 2 minutes.

Tip: To keep myself honest and not take it easy on my workouts, I made a rule near the start of 75 days: I had to one up whoever was on the treadmill next to me. I’d glance at their incline and speed, beat it, then push to run longer than they did. Obviously I couldn’t always keep up, but it pushed me. I don’t think most of them noticed… except one guy, I ran circles around him.

I had hoped to make more progress with my weight lifting, but about 20 days into it I hurt some of the ligaments in my elbow that required me to take it easy while it healed. That’s when I shifted focus to running, which let me still move forward.

Other People’s Results With The 75 Hard Challenge

I’m certainly not alone in this journey, here are a few before and afters that people have posted.

before and after 75 hard
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be a Bud Light girl forever. But water ( sometimes with flavor) is my only drink (besides coffee) these days. . . Here’s a little behind the scenes on how these 2 women, although both me, are no where near similar. . . Top: December 2018 Unhappy. Trying to mask my anxiety & depression with food & alcohol. Full of self pity. Not taking responsibility for why my life was sucky. Was a miserable bitch to everyone around me. . . Bottom: February 1, 2020 Genuinely happy. Controlling my anxiety & depression with exercise & healthy foods. Have taken control of my life & realized I was the reason my life was sucky. Spread positivity & smile as much as possible. I’d say I’m a freaking joy to be around these days!

follow @_cortney_brown_

no excuses 75 hard challenge
If you’re postponing #75HARD for after #Thanksgiving DINNER or after the holidays or after the 1st of the year, I have a message for you. YOU DON’T REALLY NEED CHANGE! If you’re not even ready to jump in right a way in the inception state and get excited to start RIGHT F****** NOW, it wouldn’t work … you will quit. You are still MENTALY SOFT. The MOST important part about this challenge is commitment. Commitment to yourself , that you will not give up on yourself , that you care about yourself to “have yourself’s back” and love yourself enough to show up for YOU!

follow @professionalproblemsolver

75 hard complete
#75HARD COMPLETE!! * So Friday, September 6 at midnight my 75 days were up. I started this journey back up after failing back in February on the first attempt. * What you see in these two pictures are a physical change but what you can’t see is the mental change that took place during these 75 days. * I was the type of individual who would care what people thought. * Who wouldn’t get out of their bubble because of some dumb reasoning in my head. * Who would procrastinate and say “I’ll just do that tomorrow.” * Who thought they were too busy to start something extra to better themselves.

follow @nickmay121

75 hard routine
I am willing to… Get up early and do my morning routine. Go outside no matter the weather and do a 45 min workout. Pass on the chips or fast food and eat a macro balanced diet and track every bite. Work my 8 hours then come home and do another 45 min workout instead of watching tv. Drink a gallon of water. No alcohol. Enrich my mind with daily reading, podcasts and audible books. Visualize my future life. Take a 5 min cold shower. Write down a gratitude list and 10 dreams as if they have happened. It starts with that question. What are you willing to do to get all the things you say you want?

follow @denaespinosa47

When John told me about this challenge he wanted to do I told him it sounded ridiculous. Stupid. Unrealistic. Then after a couple of days of him not changing his mind on it, I decided I might as well do it with him. I started out with the plan of doing 30 days or so, then quitting if it got too hard. And here I am, 75 days later. The truth is- it did get hard. But we stuck it out together. I’m glad it’s over. But it was worth every one of those 75 days. Before: 176 lbs, 21.4% body fat After: 154 lbs, 13.5% body fat #75hard #75HardChallenge

follow @marquileland

Want To Try The 75 Hard Challenge?

Ask yourself this: at the end of the 75 days, will you feel that you’re better or worse for doing it? We all know the right answer, but we don’t match our behavior with what we know to be true. Don’t wait to start, start tomorrow.

75 hard tracking sheet

Your Turn!

  • Have you tried 75 hard, what was your biggest challenge?
  • What excuses are you making?

Personal Goal Setting: Powerful Strategies to Achieve More in Life

Personal Goal Setting: Powerful Strategies to Achieve More in Life

personal goal settingPersonal goal setting is one of those things that we all know we probably should do, but just never really get around to doing. It can be easy to go with the flow (sometimes that’s a good thing) but lack of direction often is the difference between living a mediocre life or living your best life. I, for one, want to set personal goals to make sure I live in the way that’s best for me. Here’s how to make the most out of life by setting personal goals.

Why Personal Goal Setting Is Important

Why Personal Goal Setting Is Important

Let’s be honest with ourselves, building the life we dream of doesn’t happen by accident. By the same token, it’s surprising how adding even a little intention to our lives can have such a huge impact on our happiness and success. What’s more, if we don’t set priorities in our lives, there are plenty of other people and companies that are happy to set them for us, only to their benefit, not ours.

personal goal settingI’ve found that setting goals does two main things for us: it gives us something to aim for and it gives us a guide to weigh decisions in order to keep moving forward. These two things are vitally important to a life worth living because they provide a purpose for our lives; purpose is what gets us up in the morning and it’s what carries us when times get tough.

When I think about the best times in my life, I consider them to be so great because I had purpose. The darker times in life were characterized by an aimless state of wandering. Leveraging goal setting, I was able to claw my way out of those dark spots to a brighter place.

That’s why personal goal setting is important: it gives you aim, it gives you guidance and it gives you a purpose that carries you through the good and bad times.

How To Set Personal Goals

How To Set Personal Goals

There are three parts to setting personal goals: identifying what you want to achieve, building a system to attain that goal, and finally, articulating what you’re willing to sacrifice or endure in order to achieve it. Despite the nuances within each part, I’ll be honest here and say the biggest challenge is you getting out of your own way.

When you’re setting new goals and executing them, you’re building new habits, which is incredibly difficult to do. I’ve written a good bit about this topic, so make sure you check out this post.

tools for building good habits




Identifying What You Want Out Of Life

Identifying What You Want Out Of Life

Obviously, the first step is to know where we are going, which can be easier said than done sometimes. There have been times when I knew exactly what I was going to do next, then other times I struggled for years to figure out my next step. I wanted to take some time here to dig in, because I’ve found advice out there to be thin when it comes to not knowing what you should do.

indentifying what you want out of lifeThe trick with a goal is finding that sweet spot between something that is difficult to achieve and something that lights a fire within you. The key component to a satisfying victory is proportionate to the amount of struggle: the more struggle, the greater the feeling of satisfaction. Too much struggle and your goal will take forever to achieve or it isn’t realistic.

Without struggle, wins around goals can feel cheap and hollow. If I map the greatest things I have done in life, they correlate heavily with the amount of struggle that occurred with it. I don’t believe this is by accident.

Along with the perfect amount of struggle, the goal needs to stir something inside you. I’ve had goals like earn six figures, live in another country, be featured in the NY Times, but they all left me feeling blasé. I was able to get hired pretty easily for that six figures, bought a ticket to Croatia with money I already had and realized being in the NYT didn’t change my life.

Compare that to my goal of writing a book and seeing it published on the shelf in a Barnes & Noble. After writing a blog for 7 years, I attracted a publisher who offered me a contract. I then spent 6 months writing every day, and editing the manuscript for 3 months after that. The feeling when I walked into my local Barnes & Nobles and saw my book on the shelf for sale was one of the top moments of my life.

When it comes to determining our goals, we fall into three main buckets:

When We Think We Know What Our Goal Should Be

When We Think We Know What Our Goal Should Be

When I was young, I was very money driven. I thought a large income, a big house, nice clothes and fancy things would lead me to happiness. When the 2009 recession hit, I realized through prolonged introspection that what I thought I wanted, was actually a narrative I adopted out of default.

american dream houseGo to school, get a good job, land a successful career, find a wife, settle down in a nice house and drive a red car. Some call it the American Dream, but I never stopped to think if it was right for me.

When you think you have landed on a larger life goal, spend some time picking it apart. Play devil’s advocate, think about what the daily realities would be like and maybe see if you could test out what it would be like in some way.

Me defaulting to the normal path of life was bought and sold to me by society at large. For some, a perfectly fine path, but one that I never stopped and asked: “is this what I want?” When I finally did get around to asking that question. I soon realized this clear-cut route really meant in a day to day reality, and it was not for me. I thought I knew what I wanted; boy was I wrong.

When We Don’t Know What We Want

When We Don’t Know What We Want

There have been a few times in my life when I just didn’t know what to do. I was floating along, “successful” by most people’s standards, but I wasn’t particularly happy. I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out what I wanted, but any idea that came to me kept falling flat. I struggled with it immensely in my early 30’s and the lack of purpose was a major negative force in my life.

I spent a solid year doing thought experiments, brainstorming ideas, testing a few of them, and reading a lot of advice, only to come up empty. Sometimes people say they don’t know what to do because they haven’t honestly put effort into it, but this was not the case. I spent a sizeable amount of time making concerted efforts.

I was so clueless about what I wanted. So, in a mild act of desperation, I decided to set aside my goals and focused on making myself better. I had no reason to think this would solve anything. My rationale for all of this was telling myself that I might as well work on myself, so by the time I do figure out what I want, I’ll be at my best to do whatever it is.

75 hard challenge




I started with my diet, losing 90 pounds. I worked in some moderate exercise and started walking each day, then running a few times a week. Finally, I spent time alone with my thoughts on long walks through the woods, sorting through feelings and my mental state.

I’m not necessarily saying to do this exact thing if you don’t know what you want to do in life. Instead, think about what the proxy would be for you and pursue that. It is quite possible that what I did will work for you too.

I think the big part is to just do something that is going to make your life better in any dimension. It’s a mix of improving your life and gaining forward momentum. Basically, you’ll get out of your rut and since you’re focusing on yourself, it’s a way forward. I think the motion in any direction is important.

The beauty of this approach is if it doesn’t work for you, the worst outcome that can happen is that you’re better than you were. If nothing else, you’ll be wiser, healthier, and most importantly, moving in a direction.

After about a year and a half of focusing on my diet and health I also found I slept better, got dates easier, my neck pain went away and my mood lifted. In the end it was all worth it if for nothing else than that!

are you living a level 10 life

Then something funny happened, I started having clearer thoughts around what I wanted for my future. I saw possibilities and was excited by them. I could tell I was onto something. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it was like following a rope and knowing you were getting to the end where the prize was.

Then one day clarity hit me like a lightning bolt, I knew where I was going.

When You Know Your Goals

When You Know Your Goals

Having an aim in life is super important, to my earlier point, having a purpose is what breeds a good life filled with happiness, contentment and interest. The only thing you want to be cautious of is false positives, meaning when you think you know what you want, but realize later you pursued the wrong goal.

Take time to really think through the life you want to build, what are the realities of living like that? Too often we idealize things. Make sure you’re willing to put up with the downsides, because every way of life has them.

when you know your goalsAn important step to this is we often think about how it will feel when things go right: the sun is shining, money in the bank, the car works, we’re healthy and we don’t have a worry in the world. But also think through what the worst day of that new life would be like: you lost your job, the economy dipped, you break up with your significant other, you’ve been sick for a week and the chores are piling up. What would those days feel like? Would you still want that life?

Another important thing to do is to understand how you arrived at this goal in the first place. Analyze the sources where the motivations or ideas for these goals come from. Was it a nostalgic memory from your past, was it something you coveted in your neighbors or friends, or was it a status symbol that might end up empty for us?

Understanding the drive behind a goal is important to make sure it comes from a good place. Always be cautious, examine your own thoughts around your goals, and check to make sure they’re right for you.

Building Systems To Achieve Goals

Building Systems To Achieve Goals

A key component to goal setting is not only figuring out what you want to set as your personal goal, but what you’re actually going to do daily in order to reach that goal. Training yourself to think this way is critical and will get you far in life because there are many goals that are complex, very ambitious and can take years to reach.

A system is a consistent set of actions that you perform daily, which will eventually accumulate in a way that reaches your goal. Examples would be:

  • Your goal is to write a book: your system is to write 500 words each day
  • Your goal is to lose 30 pounds: your system is to track calories for all your meals
  • Your goal is no debt: your system is to reduce spending and pay down your debt

This does a few things for you. First, it breaks down a goal into smaller parts so you can just focus on what is right in front of you: what do you need to do today?

build systemsIt also helps motivate you on long-term goals where the finish line may be very far off. You can draw satisfaction from a job well done today and the knowledge that it’s building towards something.

Finally, a system is repeatable, which means you can get more efficient with it. When you do something over and over again, day in and day out, you naturally get better at it. This means you might discover ways to achieve the same thing in less time, cutting down the time to achieve that goal.

You may realize that some things you were doing each day were bringing the impact you thought they would so you can adapt to having more meaningful results. If all else fails, you’ll get really good at what you do each day and you can “brute force” your way to a goal.

Systems are powerful and I’ve learned they are what separates successful people from less successful people. Successful people have a system or process for achieving their goals and they seek them relentlessly.

Below are some details about building systems that can help make sure you hone in on the right steps to achieve your goals through daily system actions.

Question Everything

Question Everything

I have talked about how just through some simple questions I was able to free up half of my time in a new job, which equates to about 30 hours a week. In challenging my assumptions around email, I took my email inbox that received 700 emails a day of real and actionable emails, not spam/newsletters, down to 40 emails a week! It also allowed me to question my housing, where I replaced my rent of $1,500 down to $15 (not a typo) a month.

simple office and work life

This willingness has proven very valuable. The ability to take a step back and question things objectively has saved me a ton of time, money and stress. In short, we need to question everything and challenge our assumptions.

Build A List Of Options

Build A List Of Options

Start by making a list of five distinctly different ways you could achieve this goal. The first option you write down will most likely be your personal favorite, your second option will be a good alternative. When you get to your last three options, you’ll have to start getting creative. You want these to be totally different from your other options, not just a slight variation.

bullet journaling




Don’t be afraid to ask other people how they would achieve the same goal. Don’t be afraid to press them for alternative options as well. It’s options four and five that often reveal some insights, opening you up to a better way or new way of thinking about your challenge ahead.

This process does a few things. First it allows you to potentially come up with a better path forward, forcing creative solutions sometimes gets you to think outside the box. It also provides fall back options if your first approach fails, saving you valuable time after a possible failure.

Take the time to write these down and brainstorm ideas, don’t be afraid to get really crazy.

Break Down Your Goals

Break Down Your Goals

Many goals are multi-faceted, complex or require many actions. It can be daunting at times to keep going or to know where to even start. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is to break down the goal into smaller steps.

You can approach this in two different ways: break goals down to what you need to do today or break down goals to a point that it seems easily achievable.

My preference is to break down goals into a daily to do list. Sometimes it’s easy, for example, “I want to earn an extra $5,000 this year.” You take $5,000 and divide by 365. What’s nice about this is instead of feeling overwhelmed by the thought of earning an extra five grand, you can set that feeling aside and realize today you only have to figure out how to earn only $15.

break down your goalsOther goals are a bit more complicated: For example, building my tiny house. To do this, I outlined all the steps I needed to do in order to build the house: determine a design, draw the plans, purchase the trailer, learn to use tools, etc. I then grouped them into what seemed like easy to do chunks.

If there is a section that is still too big, I looked for ways to break it down further: instead of “buy a trailer” I’ll first make a list of people I want to call to get prices. After that, I’ll call those people, compare prices, go see the trailer, make a decision, then finally purchase. That one item was broken down into six smaller steps that seemed easier on their own.

The other way for you to break down ambitious goals that seem daunting, is to break them down into approachable portions. The key here is to figure out the actions that are so simple, small or easy that you think you can manage it. For some people these actions may be bigger or smaller, the point is you figure out the thing you can manage to do.

Break it down into small pieces and then set a plan to get you from where you are today to where you want to be, one small step at a time.

Own The Pain Of Achievement

Own The Pain Of Achievement

Most guidance fails because it doesn’t include what you’re willing to endure in order to make the dream a reality. l Goal setting advice focuses on making SMART goals, dream boards, motivation etc. but doesn’t spend any time recognizing the pain required to achieve a goal.

We need to define what we are willing to undergo in order to achieve our goal. Inherent in our pursuit of our goal, we are going to have to give certain things up, say no to a few things, get up when we just want to be lazy, and keep pushing when everything seems to be against us.

Goal Setting is Easy, Achieving Goals is Painful

The space between where we are today and where we want to be in the future is filled with hard work and sacrifice. It’s going to be painful in some manner, so let’s adopt a mindset now that will set the stage for the daily actions of our systems.

Define The Pain We Are Willing To Endure

Define The Pain We Are Willing To Endure

Understanding what pain we are willing to go through is critical to this process. There are certain things we understand are more valuable in reaching our goals. Therefore, we are more willing to ride out the disadvantages because we realize they are necessary for success. Contrary to this, there are some things we come to recognize we are not willing to do.

This saves us time, but also attributes the lack of change to the proper source: ourselves. It allows the proper internal dialogue of “I want this in my life, but if I’m not willing to take the actions to make it happen, then I won’t have earned it.” It’s a hard pill to swallow and sometimes, just maybe, it’s this realization that makes us stubborn enough to preserve through those sacrifices.

Make sure you are setting your goals, but then make sure you outline exactly what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen.

Prepare For Failure

Prepare For Failure

There are times when we miss the mark and the critical part of failure is training ourselves to have the right response. Failure is an opportunity to start again wiser, but we should also own our faults and mistakes no matter the circumstances.

Another key to success is what is called failing forward. While we want to make sure we don’t have any catastrophic failures, learning to embrace small failures and learn from them is a valuable skill.

go for it

Be The One

Who Goes For It!

In my time working as an entrepreneur, I’ve found that failing provides useful data. I’ve often found I needed to fail in small ways (numerous times) so I could figure out what will work. Realizing this, the trick has been to reduce the time and cost between failures. By shortening the intervals between failures, I can get to a successful place more quickly.

In my personal life, I’ve found that failures often taught me more about myself than any other time. You go through a rough breakup; you learn a lot about what you do and don’t want in your next partner. You made a poor money decision, you are smarter the next time round. You let your house get really messy, spending hours cleaning it, so you start to clean a little each day instead.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

Failure is traditionally seen as a bad thing and there are times when the shame and pain of such failure is necessary to reinforce good behaviors. In my opinion, failure also needs to be seen as a place of growth and learning.

Putting It All Together

Putting It All Together

Now that we’ve figured out what we want, it’s time to build a system to achieve our goals and get clear on what we’re willing to withstand.

Take time to get clear on what you truly want and examine the motivation behind it. Understand that you need to put in the work to make this happen. Finally, break your goals down into small daily actions that will allow you to make progress towards each day.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for setting goals?
  • What goals are you going to work on this year?


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