One of the things I’ve been interested in for ages is the idea that there could theoretically be a perfect system, an ideal means by which a man could live his life. Many of the strange things I’ve done (like going over a month without food and eating only meat for three months) can be attributed to this, as well as the overarching theme of this site. For a long time, I was only theorizing that such a system could be possible, but now that I’ve mastered a few of the basics, I’m convinced that it exists. To that end, I’m going to explore some of the components I think are essential in the defining of this new ideal, as well as discussing one of my crazier plans for the next few years. (This article is more or less a follow-up to “The Birth of the Hero,” so that’s probably worth a read here.
I may catch some flak for this from the more physically-minded elements of the self-improvement community, but I personally believe that the first thing that needs to be solved is the problem of one’s mind. Now, I acknowledge that I’m biased here (as this is what I did, so I’m not going to speak for a different order of sorting things out), but hear me out. Getting your head right is one of the most absolutely difficult things you can do, because it requires you to be brutally honest with yourself, as well as to develop the degree of self-observation required to do it well. I’m not talking about some mindfulness meditation here (I don’t meditate anymore, which I’ll explain in a later article), I’m talking about complete detachment when observing the Self.
Why is this the first priority?
When you learn to observe from the perspective of the Self, you can see the patterns of thought and attachments of the petty ego, as well as the degree to which your perception is shaped by your personality and the other components of the Ego Proper. What this means is that before you start trying to fight your bad habits and delusions, you ensure that the tool that you’re using to fight these with is sharpened and ready to go. By getting your mind straight, you’re exponentially increasing the ease with which you’ll be able to handle everything that comes next.
What comes next?
In the process of getting your mind right, you’re inevitably going to be confronted with your philosophy, whether it’s the one you consciously developed or the belief system you inherited from your family and culture. One of the great dangers here that stops many a would-be seeker is the attachment to tradition and the aversion to questioning the dogmas they’ve been taught. Questioning deeply-held beliefs is a traumatic experience, because they’re so embedded in your concept of self from childhood. However, if you’ve done the work and understand the nature of Self, you can measure these beliefs against the Truths you’ve discovered, and remember this- most people do not have proper knowledge of Self. If you have an answer that conflicts with what you know about the Self, I recommend going with the knowledge of Self rather than someone else’s opinion on the matter.
We’ve gotten Self-knowledge and philosophy out of the way, what’s next?
At this point, you should have discovered something like a purpose, as I believe the purposes of most people are latent and dormant beneath the surface, rather than something discovered on a whim. Emphasis on most people, take that with a grain of salt. If you haven’t gotten something like a purpose or direction yet, make the effort to continue searching your Self. At the same time, it’s now time to start acting in the world. Remember, “enlightenment is found not in the monastery, but the marketplace.” This means that, as fun and engaging as Self-reflection can be, it’s not something you do simply for its own sake (after a certain point).
Depending on how hardcore your approach to mental optimization is, you may have gotten to a point in the first two steps that you realize the difference between inner and outer factors on your conscious experience. I didn’t realize that this was a thing until last year.
I had done Carnivore for three months, then I moved from the rented room I was living in to a studio apt in downtown Reno. Because my apartment has neither a kitchen nor a sink, it’s incredibly hard to cook there. I have to do dishes in the shower. As a result of this fact, as well as the dishevelment that moving creates, I broke carnivore for most of the month of November and December. Most of what I ate came from the variety of restaurants in Reno, and if you’re familiar with carnivore, it’s very hard to eat properly when you eat out. When I did this, I realized the degree to which my diet impacted my mental state.
This was a significant deal for me- what I learned is that I had gotten a hold on the psychological factors to such a degree that I knew that the states of mind produced by breaking carnivore were due to the dietary change, not because of unresolved questions. As I’ve done a number of dietary experiments in my time, I can’t emphasize enough how significant this is, as well as how easy it would be to miss.
This brings me back to why I recommend you deal with the mind and philosophical questions first. If you ended up having a great diet and being in fantastic shape the whole time, you have a much better chance of missing some of the more subtle sources of cognitive dissonance that you find when you’re miserable. However, I’m recognizing as I write this that most people aren’t as obsessive as me, so this is another place for a grain of salt. If you want to be totally self-actualized, you have to figure things out alone. On the other hand, if you can take advice, then perhaps get your diet right first. You’ll have to experiment a bit to see what works for you.
I’d also suggest that some form of fasting, whether extended or intermittent, be introduced into your lifestyle here. Most religions incorporate fasting for a reason- it’s great for your health, your mind, and your capacity for discipline. For more on this, read my series FasterSelf.
Next, we get to the stage I’m currently at right now- physical fitness. I’m training right now to run a marathon by the end of the year (although hopefully as early as the fall). Originally, I started doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu again (I did two years in my mid teens), but I decided I should get back into good cardiovascular shape first, before I get into the full body workout that BJJ encompasses. Not everyone likes running, and most people have a variety of different aptitudes for types of exercise, so try out several and see what works for you. I’m going to incorporate yoga as soon as I can find a place that offers it and fits my schedule, because flexibility is essential.
One of the things you’ll notice when you get to the point of exercising regularly is that you’re going to start ramping your mood well above baseline. The capacity that we have as people to feel awesome all the time is something that the standard American diet and lifestyle have all but prevented from being realized. It’s really not super hard to do, but our mindset tends towards us thinking that feeling great isn’t normal and that we’re chemically depressed, or whatever tragic state we’ve allowed ourselves to enter. Again, this is why I mention the mind first, because you have to destroy the limiting beliefs and attachment to self-imposed suffering that we’ve come to accept. Once you do that, the rest becomes significantly easier.
Next, once you’ve gotten fitness down, I suggest developing a degree of lethality. This means learning a martial art (BJJ is probably the best, if you’re only going to learn one, as well as something for stand-up fighting) and learning to handle weapons. A lot of people may take offense to the notion that they should be responsible for their own self-defense, but that mainly stems from the illusion of security that our civilized society has provided. A brief glance at history will remind you that peace is the fluke, not the norm. There’s a degree of self-confidence that comes with the capacity to defend oneself and your loved ones that you can’t get anywhere else- for men, this should be an absolute requirement. The ability to safely and effectively handle firearms (and perhaps a knife) is also something that most people should do, because very few people are good enough at martial arts to stop you from shooting them if they try and mug you.
As I haven’t adequately gotten to that stage, I won’t speak more on it, although you should expect some articles on the subject later in the year (as well as some about running the aforementioned marathon, and perhaps longer runs…). I’d also throw in a requirement for financial discipline (you absolutely must read Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover, it will change the way you see money forever, as well as Rich Dad, Poor Dad), although this is something I’m currently working on myself, so again, I won’t speak on it.
Now, stop for a minute and imagine yourself if you could accomplish everything I listed here. You’ve mastered your mind, so you’re no longer slave to self-doubt, insecurity, and destructive tendencies. You’ve developed an actionable personal philosophy, so you have a purpose for everything you do and the ability to plan and execute ethically. You’ve developed a healthy diet, so you’re giving your body the fuel it needs to operate properly in the pursuit of these goals. You’re exercising regularly, so your mind is thinking more clearly, and you have a level of wellness that will promote a long and healthy life of success. You’ve gained the discipline to defend yourself, so you and those you care for don’t need to live in fear. To top it all off, you’re financially free, you have a house of your own and no debt constraining your life.
Sounds good, right? I thought so.
What you fundamentally must understand is that there’s nothing preventing you from doing all of this, except for (you guessed it) your mind. If you don’t believe that this relatively reasonable future is possible, you’ll never do what you have to do to achieve it. None of these requirements are anything particularly impossible- I’m not suggesting you become a world class athlete, an MMA fighter, or a Buddhist sage. No, all of these are nothing more than attainable goals that you can achieve, if you put your mind to it. You just have to decide to do it.
Now for the fun part.
One of the plans I have for the next few years is to actually develop a concrete system to get individuals through these stages. Basically, my plan is to buy a warehouse, build a squad bay for people to live in, a gym for fitness, a classroom or lecture hall to work on the mental aspects, and a communal eating setup so that we can develop good eating habits (which will most definitely approximate a viking longhall, because reasons). There would probably also be something like an office or workspace so that the live-ins could work during the day.
The idea is that we could start to experiment with and model the ideal lifestyle that I believe is possible. If it can be modeled, it can be scaled, and if it can be scaled, we can slowly begin showing the world a better way. I’m something of an exception, as I’m pretty self-motivated and will experiment with things alone, but most people seem to do best with an example to follow and a social mechanism for habit reinforcement, a la “you are the average of the five people you spend time with most.”
Imagine how amazing the world could be if we had a relatively simple way for people to work together, build good habits, and above all that, learn the reasoning behind them in such a way that they could teach others? That’s what we call a force multiplier, a person who has the ability to effect significantly more change than the average man. It’s “Save the World- Master your Self,” but amplified in such a way that we can influence and lead those around them by example.
I’ll leave you with that thought for now. Going forward, I’ll be attempting to do what I always do- try out weird lifestyle choices and let you know what I’ve learned from them. At the time of writing this, I’m six days into a water fast that should go at least 20 days, and I’m testing to see whether running while fasting is a useful strategy. I’m also going to break the fast on steak, rather than fruit and juice, so that’ll be exciting.
Pursue the ideal you, and show the world what you’re capable of!