Hacking your motivation to become a better human being

I do Strategic Planning in Advertising. In the past few months I’ve been specialising in understanding consumer behaviour and motivation to offer better, more relevant solutions for my clients. Understanding how something works allows you to hack its rules to achieve something, as Morpheus states in The Matrix: What you must learn is that these rules are no different that the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others can be broken.

I also have to add that I, like almost one third of adults, cope with depression, my diagnosis specifically points towards dysthymia. I also have very serious personality issues and overall a very ‘shitty’ and cynical attitude towards life. So, to everyone fighting their own personal demons, just know that you are not alone.

I want to share with you a few hacks I have discovered and apply in my daily life with a very high degree of success. I live a healthy life, I’m in shape, eat and sleep correctly, have a very enjoyable and well paid job, along with very fulfilling relationships, so, subjectively, I believe I’m onto something with what I apply in my life. Maybe this hacks can help someone else. This is everything I know, understand and apply about human motivation, it’s going to be a bit long, since there is much to cover, so get yourself comfortable. I just hope you have the motivation to read through it (hahaha, I like to amuse myself).

1. Motivation is a tool

Motivation is treated by some people as some magical entity, as some sort of ‘muse’ (as ancient greeks would call it) that whispers in your ear and magically allows you to push through whatever you need to do. This is utter and absolute bullshit and basically the main reason why most people fail in their goals.

Motivation, as many, many other characteristics in human behaviour, is a tool acquired through the eons by the evolution of our species. Why are we here on earth? for the same reason any other species is here, to perpetuate it’s species, however ‘motivation’ is what makes us humans absolutely unique on this planet. No other species has the motivation to drag giant blocks of rock hundreds of miles to construct a temple to keep a god happy, no other species seeks to explain the nature around it, no other species makes music, creates art or an economic system as complex as the one we’ve developed. Motivation rallies behind every single significant effort our species has made and motivation’s role is to keep us alive, giving us the illusion of meaning, so we can mature, reproduce, take care of our offspring and not die in the process. Motivation is an evolutionary tool to keep us alive.

Why do we need motivation and other species don’t? Other species don’t have something that we have: a developed brain cortex. Our brain cortex has allowed us to achieve some very awesome stuff. It’s the area responsible basically for our ability to reason, from basic maths to very complex probability and statistical calculations (which we use to predict outcomes of our options and choices, and is responsible for convincing us that buying a lottery ticket is a good or bad idea). This ability to reason also brought us many issues, namely existential issues. Ducks don’t wonder why they are here, cats don’t seek for a meaning to their existance, dogs don’t think about finding a job to provide for their pups until they reach maturity. Even Coco the Gorilla doesn’t really understand why we complicate ourselves so much. Therefore, we evolved motivation as a self sustaining mechanism, for us to make sense and endure what is, objectively, a very, very, very shitty reality, surrounded by a galaxy (and a nature) who’s become a very efficient killing machine, and yet, 2 million years later, here we are, wasting our time in Reddit. So motivation, as a tool, works.

So, tip #1. Motivation is not a fleeting feeling, is not an emotion, is not a fucking muse. It’s embedded in your genes, it’s like hunger or sleep, it serves a purpose in keeping you alive.

Now, speaking of hunger or sleep, onto the next point.

2. Your body is a machine

The human body is very, very fucking awesome in how complicated it is. However, objectively, is also very fucking dumb (We’re complicated like that). Here’s the thing, your DNA carries a set of instructions that tells every cell in your body what it will do for the rest of its life (which is not very long, by the way). Your body self heals, self repairs, self cleans and self sustains, all you have to do is keep the resources it needs coming in (air, food, sleep, sex, water, social interactions thanks to that stupid brain cortex, you know stuff you don’t really think about).

What’s really awesome about the body is that it’s the only machine that, the more you use it for something, the better it gets. I know this sounds simple, but I want you to grasp that concept. Humans have not made a single machine that does not start degrading as soon as you start using it. Your body defies all logic and, technically, physics (a machine that gets more efficient the more you use it?). This is mainly because our body’s capability to adapt to any circumstances (also another gift from evolution, thanks ancestors!).

You have heard of all this crazy lifestyle choices. You know about all the freaky diets people commit to, people that don’t sleep, that sleep too much, that eat too much, too little. How is that possible if all humans share the same biology, structure, organs and literally 99.5% of our DNA with each other? This is thanks to your amazing body®’s (I’m trademarking that shit) ability to adapt. You know how to be able to survive by sleeping very little? Well… sleep very little. You know how to be able to survive only on chips and soda? Hint: It involves basing your diet in chips and soda. Your body will adapt to anything, good or bad, because your body has no fucking morality compass to know what is actually good or actually bad, for example Obesity is actually the body doing what it can to make do with the amount of shit you’re feeding it and your lack of activity, granted, it will fuck you up on the long term but, only because you’re not using it correctly. As I said, the body is also very, very dumb. It may shock some people, but your body is unable to make rational choices since… you know… the brain kind of does that and some people choose just not to use that particular organ.

The point to this is that you get good at what you do often. You play FPSs video games a lot? You’re going to get good at visually recognizing fast moving objects. You like to pick heavy stuff up and then put it back down? You will develop a specific kind of strength and endurance based on how often you do it. You like thinking suicidal thoughts, sleeping all day and feel like shit? Well, your body gets very good at that too. In fact, sometimes he gets exceedingly good, at a degree that it builds a physiological or psychological dependency on the stimulus. Done something for long enough time, you can either live a very fulfilling existence or fuck your life beyond repair, and that’s a fact.

So, let’s recap. Motivation is a tool and your body is a machine that gets good at what you repeatedly do, so… the next step is to repeatedly exercise motivation , right?

Wrong.

3. Motivation is fucking unreliable

Motivation is not an end, it’s a means to an end. Motivation is unreliable, because it’s just a tool of your psyche, but you think you need motivation because you want to achieve something, right? You wanna get in shape or finish your homework, not ‘get motivation to get in shape’ That’s like wishing for a million bucks, you don’t want the money, you want what the money enables you to do. What if you could just have what you want to buy, without doing the monetary transaction? Would money still hold any value to you? Of course not.

So the next step is to repeatedly practice whatever you want to achieve and stop thinking that motivation is what you need. That’s just giving you excuses to fail, which by the way, is the next tip.

4. Embrace failure

Yes, I know, boo fucking hoo, your life sucks. It rains all day over you, your boss hates you and your dog shits on your bed. So fucking what? Accept that failure and shitty things are a reality of life. Stars die, fluffy bunnies get hunted by wolves, good people face some terrible stuff and bad guys sometimes win. Why do we have ‘happiness’ and ‘good’ on such high regard anyway? I blame western religion. Oriental religions like Taoism or Buddhism have a much more ‘balanced’ view on life, hence words like ‘Karma’ being bastardised here. I blame the damn Abrahamic religions and their view on hell and heaven, good vs evil which, honestly is much more efficient on keeping people scared and docile but has really fucked up the way we perceive the world around us.

Embrace failure. “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life” says a quote by fictional character Jean-Luc Picard, and it should be your fucking mantra from now on. You will fail, you will fall of your horse, you are going to want to give up on your goal, bad shit will happen, you will face unforeseen consequences, accept it, embrace it. As long as it doesn’t kill you, you can still live to try another day. Stop pandering to yourself and remember that there are people out there facing much more worse odds than you and still pull through.

Failing is important because it also lets you understand if you really want what you’re striving for. Maybe you want to get good at shooting lasers out of your eyes, maybe failing on the first few tries helps you realize you’re a fucking idiot and maybe you should try something else. Hey, we’ve all done it (OK, maybe just me), don’t beat yourself up for it. Failure is good, as long as you keep the notion that failure = bad is objectively a very stupid concept. (As the whole good vs bad idea. Everything is a mix of everything, ok? There’s always something bad in the good and vice versa).

So, the rest of the time that you are not failing, you are going to want to be achieving something, so lets focus on that.

5. Build the path of less resistance

Read that again. I said BUILD not CHOOSE. So, how to repeatedly do something you want to achieve? There’s a lot of tricks and techniques out there and most of them will work only if they comply with one condition: It needs to be harder for you to fail than it is to get it right. If your method gives you way to easily fail, you will fail… at least faster since… you know, you might fail anyway.

I wake up every single day at 5 am to go train before going to work. Most of the people I meet tell me that “they don’t have what it takes, and that they wish they had my discipline”

I want to smack them in the fucking head every time I hear that.

You don’t think that I don’t want to go back to bed at 5 in the fucking morning? Don’t you think that I rather stay in and gorge on 3 pounds of bacon? Fuck discipline, fuck motivation, you wanna know how I’m able to do it? Because I’m very, very lazy, and odds are that so are you.

Here’s the thing. I know I have to train. My reasons? I wanna look good, because I really, really, really like girls (I accept my role in nature, after all, we are only mammals) and being fit gives the impression you take care of yourself and helps you be more confident (I’m not actually confident, I just give the impression I am) and also, my dad has Cancer, and I’ve seen how that fucks you up. I don’t want that. I know working out does not prevent me from getting some type of Cancer… oh, wait, it does (or at least it gives out statistically better odds). So I KNOW I have to work out, I just explained to you my motivation, but guess what? That motivation might (and have) change(d), my reasons to work out have changed twice or thrice in the last 10 years, but I still know that I have to work out, that the end, everything else is a self-justification to do it.

So, the way I do it is, instead of finding excuses to do it, I remove every single excuse I have to NOT do it.

First, I go to bed early so I don’t have the excuse that I didn’t sleep enough (going to bed early is also another habit you can build by choosing the path of less resistance). Second, I only have one ‘Snooze’ on my alarm so I know that I can’t go back to sleep. Third, I wake so fucking early and, when I sleep on my schedule, rest enough that if I end up deciding I don’t feel like training I’m not going to be able to fall asleep again and if I don’t go I’m going to feel very, very stupid. I have my gym clothes ready so I don’t have to scramble for them, I have my routine set up in an app. I have to have ZERO cognitive load to choose whether or not go train, it’s just easier because everything is already laid out for me. It’s actually HARDER for me to stay, it complicates my day. Do I still sleep in some days? Of course, I embrace failure, sometimes I fuck up an entire week, big fucking whoop, you get back on the horse.

Use apps, set up reminders, organize your house, tell your relatives about your goals and just stop sabotaging yourself out of your goals. Don’t want to eat crap? Don’t keep crap in your home, don’t have it accessible. Treat yourself like an alcoholic or a drug-addict. You have made your body dependent of your current lifestyle and your body will cling to it as hard as you can, because IT’S ITS FUCKING JOB to do so. Excuse your body for doing what YOU WANTED (voluntarily or involuntarily) and understand that you’re doing something you haven’t ever made before, and even if you have done it before, you haven’t tried it as many times to do it correctly, or for as long.

Also know that the harder you’ve been at something, the longer it will take to change it, so the longer you have to stick to your fucking guns and the easier and smaller changes you need to do in your life in order to achieve your goal. You’ve been fucking up your sleeping habits since College, why would you think a single day of going to bed “on time” will fix it? How do you think your body will adapt to such a drastic change? A question that coincidentally takes us to the next tip.

6. Progressive overload

“We get it, you work out”, I know some of you may be thinking that, but to be honest, the gym thought me a lot of our body builds habits and what we call “discipline” which is really the force behind the habit, so excuuuuuuuuse me, but I’ll stick to my gym analogies. Progressive overload, in fitness, is the concept of doing small incremental changes to the weight you lift. The physiological reason behind this is that, as I already stated, your body gets incrementally good at what you do repeatedly. You don’t step the first day in the gym and try to lift 200 pounds (…well you can try) however, that muscly dude CAN lift 200 pounds, how does he do it? He’s 99.5% your clone, if he can do it you can do it too. Well, what you don’t realize is that he wasn’t born lifting 200 pounds. One day he was a skinny ass little bitch, just like you, but instead of trying to lift 200 pounds and whining about failing, he began by lifting whatever he could actually lift, maybe 2 or 5 pounds. I began lifting in high school and I kid you not, I couldn’t lift a 10 pound barbell over my head.

Well, building a habit is no different than building muscle. You can TRY and fix your life overnight, but… come on, be serious. I know you’ve tried it and I know that you wouldn’t be reading this if you had succeeded.

Of course I felt bad about beginning to lift less than 5 pounds. Of course I was self conscious, but I kept thinking of how EVERYBODY has to start somewhere, even if they don’t want to admit it because they don’t want to be reminded of when they felt bad and self conscious. Nobody likes to get their ego hurt, and sometimes humans even over compensate by make you feel inadequate, but that is their issue, not yours.

Heed Jake The Dog’s immortal words: sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something.

So, go, suck at doing something and keep doing it until you don’t suck that much at it. Want to build a healthy sleeping habit? Try going to bed an hour earlier, choose the path of less resistance by using a sleep tracking app or something like f.lux for your screens, uninstall Reddit from your phone or set yourself a timer that locks you out of the app, keep screens away from your bed and don’t give yourself leeway to any excuses, learn to meditate or self-hypnosis. Don’t underestimate the power of self-suggestion. It is indeed a very, very, very, very powerful force, don’t be afraid to figuring out how to hack it for your benefit. You know yourself, don’t play dumb.

7. Learn from mistakes

Not YOUR mistakes, learn from the experiences of others. Lemme explain.

There is a psychological bias that states (called the Optimism Bias… so much for technical jargon) that basically makes human beings think that just because shitty stuff happens to someone else, for some reason, if doing that exact same thing, exactly the same way, it will work for them. Ain’t we dumb?

Oh, you should really understand biases, it allows you to be much more critical of your decisions. So far I haven’t heard of a “Bias Bias” so more knowledge can’t be that bad. Remember kids, knowing is half the battle.

Done? Ok. So, I was talking about learning from others. Here’s the thing, guys: We have THE FUCKING INTERNET at our reach. You can literally research about ANY subject you can think of. Research what successful people have done, but specially research for what they have done WRONG and DON’T DO THE FUCKIN SAME THING.

Don’t listen to fat people for advice about losing weight. Don’t listen to poor people for advice on how to get rich. Just because it sounds good to you, just because it confirms a certain belief doesn’t make it right (That’s a bias). Want to sleep right? Understanding how the sleep cycle works can get you a long way. Want to get in shape? Understanding how metabolism and muscle growth works helps. Want to become an awesome lightsaber jouster, there are forums and communities for that. Ask for advice, listen to everybody else’s mistakes and treat that experience as your own, find flaws on their methodology and question fucking everything you don’t understand. Don’t think of this as extra work, think of this as being smart, because you, like me, are lazy. So put the effort of find the easy way to do it.

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” -Bill Gates

8. Have heroes

You need role models, guys. Just remember that your heroes are humans, like you, and fuck up, but still they must have excelled at something to be your hero, right? So use that as inspiration (not as motivation, mind you. Having a hero does not make you get off your ass).

Wanna know who my heroes are? Steve Jobs, Vegeta and Tyler Durden. I’m dead freaking serious. I have high regard for successful people that have worked their asses off, like The Rock, Chris Pratt, Schwarzenegger and even Buddha as a historical figure (he was a pretty cool dude, I find it amusing that he was a rich, handsome kid, feeling stressed and tired of the world like 4 thousand years ago. I mean, WTF, what are you stressed about? sheep?) among many others but those are not Heroes. I mean, none of them have said something as badass as this:

All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not. -Tyler Durden

Fuck YES! I want that! I want to BE the embodiment of that phrase! What’s stopping me from being who I WANT to be? Other than myself? I want to be free! Free sounds awesome! That’s a Hero, someone you want to BE, someone you wish you were. He or she doesn’t need to be perfect, you are still you, but heroes are really importante because humans have a very hard time imagining things that we haven’t seen before so you NEED a reference for who you want to be or achieve. It’s the idea behind the concept that everything is a remix, and well… You are a remix of everything that you want to be.

Everything is a copy of a transformation of a combination of a copy of a transformation of a combination.

“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable.” -Henry Ford

You have the advantage of trying AFTER your heroes, heroes or “inspirators” (that’s a word?) have already suceded and therefore also failed, so use that knowledge for your advantage and do what they do right and at least make different mistakes, since the ones they did you know the outcome of. You might invent 1 thousand new ways to fuck up at something, but at least they are NEW. Don’t repeat others mistakes. Treat their mistakes as yours and don’t do exactly the same thing they did expecting a different outcome.

“You have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.” — Trinity, The Matrix

9. Willpower is a limited resource

This is an unproven psychological theory that states that physiologically, willpower is a limited resource in your brain, maybe even tied to a specific neurotransmitter that you actually run out of. Like many other psychological theories this one might be wrong, but you should still pretend is true (self-suggestion, really, try it. If it can convince people that God talks to them, it will help you get off bed).

This tip ties itself with the one about the path of least resistance, and the way it works is that you should only use willpower for when you actually need to make a difficult choice. Really difficult choices, like choosing whether or not you want to keep your shitty job or convincing yourself to talk to your crush, or having to choose what to have for dinner when your crush just says “whatever”, not petty stuff like choosing what to have for breakfast, what to wear today or which route take to your afore mentioned shitty job. All those meaningless choices don’t need willpower, and if they do, you’re doing it wrong.

You should be saving your willpower for those super hard habits you need to change to improve your life, because even with everything laid out for you to choose the path of least resistance, you will STILL need willpower more often than not, specially for drastic changes that need long time and, well… strong will.

Take some time to plan your choices ahead of time. Don’t want to waste time choosing what to have for breakfast? Make a shopping list for one or two things and just buy that, just have that at home. I either eat a three egg mushroom omelet or oatmeal with mixed berries. I don’t have money to buy anything else (because I already used it to pay debt or because I moved it to an account that makes it a bit more complicated for me to spend it). Mark Zuckerberg (and apparently Obama) wears the same outfit every day because he has much more important things to worry about (Now, if you have a job where your image is important, you SHOULD put some thought to your outfit, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution… eh? eh? You don’t like puns?). I use apps like Waze, Eat This Much, Sleep Like Android or Jefit to manage those mind numbing decisions so I can focus on the important stuff, because I value my Willpower, and I know I need it not to slap my sometimes very, very dumb clients at work.

So, there you have it. Absolutely everything I know about human motivation and motivation-oriented behaviour in 9 simple bullet points. Hopefully it might help you develop your own theories or understanding of why you do things and what works for you.