Tag Archives: mental control

Get rid of your self-destruct buttons

One of the most annoying things about life is that it is littered with self-destruct buttons. In many cases, months of good work can be undone in the blink of an eye. When it comes to building a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life, this is a serious problem.

As a simple example, you can maintain a healthy diet for several weeks, but then undo most of this good work in an intense 30 minute snacking binge in front of the TV. The same goes for personal finances. Many people are penny-wise and pound-foolish: painfully stingy with the small stuff, but real suckers for flashy-but-unnecessary big ticket items.

Given how quickly a human being can self-destruct, it is critical to know what your personal self-destruct buttons look like. Once they have been identified, you can start to consciously devise dedicated button-avoidance strategies.

The best way is of course to completely remove that self-destruct button from your life. For example, if you have a constant source of emotional trauma in your life that drives you to regular self-destructive behavior, it may be time to bite the bullet and end whatever relationship, job or activity is causing this trauma.

In most cases though, you will just need to learn how to sidestep your self-destruct buttons. For me, I know that, if I allow myself to plop down in front of YouTube with an unhealthy snack after a challenging day at the office, it’s not going to end well. I therefore go out for a brisk walk whenever I feel this button-pressing urge.

Naturally, everyone’s self-destruct buttons are different and you’ll have to invest some introspection to properly ID yours. Once you know them though, you can avoid them much more effectively. This button-avoidance is critical to ensure that all the good positive work you do every day does not go to waste.

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

Taking mental control to the top level

There is this old saying: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” Earning the title of the busiest person – the person whose time is constantly in high demand – is not easy, especially in the tough economic times we face today. Doing this requires a sustainable shift up in performance as described in the previous section of this mental control category, but even this is not quite enough. The following few posts will therefore discuss the last few details necessary for complete mental control.

OverwhelmIn particular,  two primary “busy person” challenges will be discussed in quite some detail over the following posts: overwork and overwhelm. If not managed well, these two factors can completely ruin potentially great contributions to society by sapping energy, enthusiasm and focus. However, if you manage to set up your working environment in such a way that you can capitalize on the most lucrative opportunities coming your way without burning out or getting lost in a marsh of multitasking, some very cool things can happen.

Making a truly meaningful contribution without falling prey to overwork and overwhelm is very challenging though. It requires a good deal of discipline, some honest prioritizing and regular, but polite use of the word “no”. Most importantly, however, it requires an intelligent micro-environment where a healthy balance and sufficient focus happens automatically. We will build such an environment in this section.

the brainFinally, to put the next few posts in the correct perspective, it can be useful to quickly summarize the mental control philosophy followed in this category of the One in a Billion project. Mental control is about using your limited willpower to set up intelligent micro-environments where the desired behavior happens automatically (basic control), harnessing the brain’s most powerful drivers for good and productive purposes (intermediate control), and taking good care of your brain when you reach that high performance zone (advanced control).

Such a brain can sustain remarkably high performance and creativity almost effortlessly and, frankly speaking, is quite possibly the most valuable thing in the world. If you want to become truly wealthy (in every sense of the word), developing such a brain is the best place to start.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Artificial hell manipulation

OK, this will be the last weird heading for quite some time, I promise.

Let’s briefly recap from a previous post: our brains are hardwired to magnify both the potential pleasure and potential pain from any future event – something I like to call mythical utopias or artificial hells. The resulting instinctive drive towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain has a very powerful influence on our day-to-day actions and is responsible for a large portion of the vast array of long-term problems we face today.

However, if we can manipulate these very strong natural drives to result in day-to-day behavior which will be beneficial in the long-run both to ourselves and to our planet, the future suddenly looks a lot rosier. The previous four posts (1, 2, 3, 4) discussed how this could be done for mythical utopias and this post will strive to attain the same outcome for artificial hells.

So, wfear-of-public-speaking-cartoonhat do you think our most common fears are? Well, this mostly depends on which poll you read, but two fears that often come out on top are the fear of spiders and the fear of public speaking. The really scary long-term trends in our society today – things like resource depletion, climate change, the degenerative disease epidemic and rapidly growing global economic imbalances – are not even on the radar for most people.

For reference, spiders kill less than 10 people per year and public speaking is even more harmless. By comparison, climate change is already killing 100000-500000 people yearly (again depending on who you believe), while cigarettes kill about 5 million. One in ten tobacco-related deaths result from second-hand smoke, implying that, if you’re a non-smoker, your chances of being killed by a spider are 50000 times less than being killed by smoker.

So, why mention these numbers? Well, in short, it is simply meant to demonstrate that our drive away from instant pain is completely screwed up. Yes, it worked very well for the vast majority of human history in order to motivate us to avoid dangerous animals or rejection from the tribe, but in our modern fossil fuel-powered world of material affluence, it has become completely outdated.

OK, so how do we then upgrade our instinctive drive away from instant pain? Well, that is quite simple really. One simply needs to educate oneself about the real threats to our society to the point where any personal actions that will worsen these trends evoke about the same feelings as a big tarantula crawling up your leg.

This really is much easier than you might expect, primarily because a large amount of high-quality information about the real threats to our society is available today. Three good videos are attached below this post. Please take the time to view them. Correctly shaping your brain’s perception of instant pain can contribute greatly to automatically shaping your actions towards sustainability – something which not only brings great gains to the planet, but also to yourself.

An excellent documentary about the limits of our finite planet:

A quick documentary on climate change:

An excellent presentation series about the lack of sustainability in our social systems starts here:

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

Mythical utopia manipulation: Shifting up – Part II

do what you love what you doNote: In order to make sense of this weird heading, please check out Part I of this post.

OK then, let’s continue the discussion on how we can tap into the brain’s most fundamental drivers in order to gain the productivity needed to make truly meaningful contributions to society. As discussed in the previous post, this is best achieved by gaining something called a “healthy obsession” – a state where your mind automatically returns time and time again to some important idea that can add great value to society if further developed.

In order to gain access to this magical and extremely productive state, we have to utilize the fact that free creative expression is one of the most direct routes to happiness and fulfillment. And in order to do that, we first have to understand the distinction between creation and labor.

In simple terms, labor is production for the primary purpose of earning a living while creation is production for the primary purpose of personal growth and fulfillment. Labor is typically incentivized by a financial reward such as a salary or a commission, while creation is typically incentivized by the desire to know more, do more and be more.


It is important to clarify right away that you will never be able to develop a healthy obsession about work that qualifies as labor. Indeed, you will only be able to develop a healthy obsession about an idea or problem that you care about very deeply – something that you would be willing to work on for minimum wage if need be. In other words; you have to be willing to trade the happiness to be gained from consumption for the happiness to be gained from free creative expression (which is an excellent trade of course).

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people living in our modern society would choose consumption over free creative expression any day of the week. That is why the vast majority of people are laborers and not creators. But anyone who is willing to make the initial material sacrifices needed to start building a healthy obsession will be rewarded with much happiness and fulfillment and, eventually, also the great financial rewards that must come to anyone who makes a great contribution to society.

einstein-learningSetting up an environment where you are free to start building on your healthy obsession can be practically very challenging and will be discussed in more detail in a future post. For now, however, it is only important to emphasize that a healthy obsession works as a self-strengthening spiral – a number of self-strengthening spirals actually: The more you learn, the more you want to learn. The more knowledge and ideas you have, the more building blocks you have from which to construct new knowledge and ideas. The more skilled you become, the more joyous the process of practicing this skill becomes.  The more value you add to society, the more motivation for further value creation you will receive from others. 

Once these compounding self-strengthening spirals build up a head of steam, there will be no stopping you. But, just like a train, your healthy obsession will probably require quite a lot of time and effort to get going. This process can be quite challenging and will be discussed in more detail in two posts’ time as promised above.

Before we get to that, however, we will look at the other option for mythical utopia manipulation: shifting down – a process with its own set of challenges and rewards.

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

Taking mental control to the next level

So, thus far we have investigated the basics of mental control and we have also had a lengthy discussion on happiness. The full posts are available here, but we will give a brief recap in this post before moving on.

chocolate cravingThe basic idea of mental control is that we should use our very limited supply of willpower only to set up, maintain and transition between intelligent micro-environments where doing the right thing happens automatically and naturally. To give one of countless examples; we can use our limited willpower to ensure that the environment we live in contains only healthy and tasty foods, thereby making healthy eating automatic and natural. As we have all found out; trying to resist that chocolate in the cupboard through pure willpower is futile.

Intelligent micro-environments work primarily by manipulating the brain’s natural drives towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain to achieve beneficial behavior. This is very important because, in the world we live in today (our macro-environment), these natural drives lead to obesity, passivity, bankruptcy and stress, mostly because they continuously drive us to consume as far beyond our means as possible. Living within intelligently designed micro-environments is therefore essential to keep these natural drives in check.

As explained in a previous post, our natural drives towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain are incredibly strong – strong enough to ensure the survival of our species through 200,000 years of ice ages, massive droughts and fierce predators with very primitive technology and none of the conveniences brought to modern society by fossil fuels. It therefore seems like a total waste to keep these powerful drives locked up within intelligent micro-environments for the rest of our lives.

Fish to next levelIndeed, if we can harness the power of these fundamental human drives to result in beneficial instead of destructive behavior, the potential for good becomes almost limitless. This is the basic idea we will explore further in this section of the mental control category.

Achieving this feat will be quite tricky because, in the modern world, both our greatest rewards and our gravest threats are long-term in nature. Achieving anything of lasting value requires many months, if not years, of consistent effort. Similarly, the collection of environmental, economic and societal crises we face today are all long-term, gradual phenomena. And yes, our primitive drive towards instant pleasure and away from instant pain is not equipped to function effectively in such an environment.

However, armed with a large amount of shared human experience and a good understanding of what makes us happy, it suddenly becomes possible to manipulate our fundamental human drives to direct our actions towards massive long-term gain and away from massive long-term loss.

The next post will start by discussing how we can manipulate our drive towards instant pleasure to result in massive long-term gains. Stay tuned.

Filed under: Mental control – Intermediate control

Happiness and mental control

yoda controlThe idea of mental control – mental self-discipline – might not sound like a lot of fun. At first glance, it could therefore be difficult to marry the ideas of mental control and happiness. However, the whole idea of this blog is building a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life. And yes, all of these aspects, happiness included, require good and consistent mental control.

We have already covered the basics of mental control: the fact that the role of willpower is only to set up and transition between environments within which doing the right thing becomes automatic and natural. This philosophy applies just as well to happiness as to health, personal finances and sustainable living.

Setting up and maintaining environments within which the fundamental requirements of happiness (vibrant health, nourishing personal relationships and free creative expression) are automatically and naturally taken care of will require quite a bit of mental control. Indeed, like it is with many other things, the world we live in today tends to naturally encourage poor health, set up superficial relationships and prioritize consumption over creation.

Building some intelligent micro-environments within which good nutrition and fitness happen automatically has already been discussed in the first category of the One in a Billion action plan. As regularly discussed in that category, this micro-environment is essential simply because the macro-environment we live in today with all of its unhealthy convenience foods, sedentary jobs and sedentary leisure activities is highly conducive to obesity and passivity.

The same is true for personal relationships and creative expression, both of which will be further discussed in this category of the action plan. Again, when left to itself in the modern world, personal relationships and opportunities for free creative expression will be gradually eroded.  

Although it is still a hotly debated topic, the effect of the social media revolution on personal relationships has not always been very positive. Interpersonal communication is becoming increasingly superficial and people are failing to tap into the natural joy coming from good old face-to-face communication.


Longer term trends include the fact that many people no longer know their neighbors, people don’t invite others into their homes as readily, asocial leisure activities (watching TV, gaming, internet surfing etc.) are on the rise, marriage rates are down and divorce rates are up, and shallow alcohol-induced sexual relationships have become the norm. We simply no longer need each other as much as we used to and this is costing us a lot of natural joy and life satisfaction.

AP-WORKER-SURVEY-010410As for creative expression, job satisfaction has been falling and the living-for-the-weekend (wishing away 71% of life) culture is as strong as ever. Work is often of low quality due to a lack of interest and many people feel trapped in dead-end jobs by the high debts incurred through their high-maintenance consumptive lifestyles.

In general, the world we live in today promises us over and over again that we can gain happiness through increased consumption. This is total BS. The only things brought by increased consumption are obesity, debt and environmental degradation. It’s about time that we develop the mental control required to build an environment that will actually make us happy and, as an added bonus, help to save the world. This will be the central objective of the remainder of this category.

Filed under: Mental control – Happiness

Mental control: The third cornerstone

So, finally we arrive at the third and final cornerstone of our apparently triangle shaped sustainable living fortress: mental control. The first two cornerstones; health and personal finances, were mostly based in hard science and economics which makes them quite straightforward to discuss, but this third cornerstone is based on much more abstract psychology, thus making it much harder to pin down.

By “mental control” I mean taking control of this amazing biological computer between your ears. This is very important simply because this biological computer controls all of your actions and your actions are solely responsible for shaping your destiny. Unfortunately, if you look around the world today, it is quite clear that the vast majority of people have no idea how to control this set of 100 billion neurons directly responsible for shaping their lives.

Let’s look at some examples:

Everyone knows that healthy diet and exercise will lead to good health and a slim and attractive body, but yet more than half of the adult population in the developed world is overweight and this trend is still rising rapidly.

Everyone knows that you can become financially secure by simply consistently spending less money than you earn and making use of the power of compounding, but yet the developed world today is one big debt crisis.

Most people are at least aware of the grave environmental problems bearing down on us, but yet the vast majority of people have never even calculated their carbon or ecological footprints.

The standard of living of those lucky enough to be born into the top 10-20% of the global population has risen tremendously over the past decade, but yet we are much more stressed and depressed and no happier than we were before.

Clearly something is very wrong with this picture. We know exactly how to attain vibrant health and financial security, but we just don’t follow through. We are aware of the biggest threat to our standard of living in the history of mankind, but we just don’t do anything about it. And we have lived through a time of unprecedented increases in material affluence without seeing any meaningful gains in true quality of life. How can this happen?

These are the issues we will tackle in this section. Indeed, you can know all the theory about health and personal finances discussed in the previous two sections and you can fully understand the multifaceted sustainability crisis bearing down on us, but if you cannot get yourself to act on this information it is completely and utterly useless. So, if I can summarize the goal of this section of the One in a Billion project it will be this: getting people to actually act on the guidelines for building a happy, healthy, wealthy and sustainable life.

As Mark Twain said: “Actions speak loader than words, but not nearly as often.” Let’s get our actions to be a bit more talkative…

Filed under: Mental Control