I’m going 21 days without food, to show that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things by harnessing the power of the mind. As I lay out in my new book Mind Hacking, you can reprogram your brain to achieve things you never thought possible. And based on the feedback, most people believe going 21 days, drinking only water, is impossible.
When I was in college, I was interested in altered states of consciousness (who wasn’t?), so I undertook a similar experiment to see how long I could go without food. By the second day, I was weak and dizzy. The third day, I was nearly comatose. The fourth day, I spent the entire day poring over cookbooks. The fifth day, I cracked.
So today, having completed the first week of my three-week journey, I can say that I have already bested my personal record. Incredibly, I feel good. I’ve had a demanding week with a huge book launch and a huge software launch, and yet I’ve had no huge lunch. I’ve had no lunch at all. And I’ve performed at my best.
While I’m not done yet, here are a few of the “mind hacks,” or mental techniques, that have helped me make it through a solid week without solid food.
Mind Hack: Have a Goal
My college experiment suffered from one major flaw: I just said I’d go “as long as I could.” That gave me the excuse to quit at any time. Setting a definite and ambitious goal of 21 days changed everything.
Who’s going to sell more: the sales manager who tells his team, “Sell as much as you can” or the one who says, “Sell $20 million this quarter”? Who’s going to lose more weight: the woman who says, “I need to slim down” or the one who says, “I want to weigh 140 pounds”?
Too often we go through life with a vague, floaty ambition to improve in some way, or lose some bad habit. Until we tie that into specific, concrete, measurable goals, how will we know if we’re there?
There is a great deal of psychological research that confirms the obvious: without setting goals, we won’t ever achieve them.
Mind Hack: Feed the Positive, Starve the Negative
That was the most common response I got when I embarked on my 21-day mind hacking experiment. The second most common: “Please don’t die.”
Now, that’s a scary thought: I might die from this. Several times, I almost called it off before I began, just because I heard the fear in other people’s voices.
In business school, we learned about something called FUD, which stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, the triple-headed hydra which paralyzes many executives. They are terrifying, especially if you feed them.
I might die is a little seed of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It’s a little baby hydra. Think of your own FUD equivalent: This business will not succeed. I am going to get laid off. My life is a mess. The more you feed and water those thoughts, the larger the hydra grows, until you find yourself cowering behind your shield, trying to lop off those heads with your +3 Sword of Magick.
That thought — I might die — was pretty worrisome, so I did the research. I consulted my physician. And then, when I was convinced logically that I would not die, I began a new thought loop: I will not only live, but I will grow stronger from this experience.
That’s the thought I’ve been patiently nurturing and watering: I will grow stronger from this experience. Again and again I repeat that, whenever I feel the hunger pangs, whenever I feel the urge to eat, whenever I feel like giving up. And so far, it is true: I am growing stronger.
You can find your own positive equivalent, the one that moves you toward your goals, and repeat it like a broken record. (Records were a form of recorded audio media popular from 1900–1970, and again from 2015 to the present.)
Mind Hack: Percent Complete Bar
Years ago, I trained for a marathon. I learned a lot of mind hacks from that experience, since 80% of marathon training, I am convinced, is mental. Training the body is easy; the hard part is teaching your brain that you can do it.
My friend Jim Hodgson has done an Ironman, and climbed two of the world’s Seven Summits [check out his very funny travelogue here.] I asked him how much of the training is mental, as opposed to physical, and he said, “Almost all of it.”
One of the mind hacks I learned while marathon training was never to focus on how far you have to go. If you’re seven miles into it, panting, thirsty, cramping, and you start thinking that you have fourteen miles to go, it drains you of energy. You’ll never make it.
If, however, you think, “Look at that! Seven miles conquered!” it feels pretty good. You can continue that technique all the way to the end, being proud of what you’ve accomplished, rather than focusing on the torture ahead.
You might be trying to build a business, and discouraged at the seemingly insurmountable tasks ahead of you. You might be trying to change your life, and frustrated that you seem to be making no progress. But if you look back, thinking of everything you’ve surmounted to get you here, it can charge you up. It’s motivating.
I call this the “percent complete bar” mind hack, like we see every day on our gadgets and software. It’s simply looking at what percentage of your goal is now complete, celebrating that you’ve made it that far, then taking another step forward.
I can’t tell you how many days I have left, because I’m not focusing on that number, but it’s something like 21 minus 7. Many things could happen. I may be eating these words. But rest assured, that’s the only thing I’ll be eating in the near future.
Sir John Hargrave is the author of Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days, now available worldwide.