How Less Free Will Helps You Achieve More
When creating your own environment, assume you have total free will to design it. When it comes to living in it, assume you have no free will at all.
I learned this through David Perell—a great writer and coach. I didn’t get it at first. What does it mean?
Most people find it impossible to be 100% self-determined all the time. Or even close to 100%. What works remarkably well to ameliorate that is to find (or create) an environment that naturally guides us to accomplish the work we need to do. In a way, being in sync with our surroundings.
In other words: put yourself in an environment that gives you the best opportunity to do great work consistently—knowing you have the free will to choose this environment. Then, when the time comes to show up and get things done, allow the space to remove all sense of free will to help push you to achieve something without distraction.
Treat it as if you have no choice but to work hard.
Libraries are some of the best examples. Inside, it’s inherently taboo to talk loudly and socialise. It’s effectively ‘you time’. You are asked to be silent and make use of the space—read and learn—or you will leave.
Keeping a health theme: many people lost their love for working out during the pandemic. Before, gyms and health clubs were doing better than ever. Let’s say being in a beautiful, high-energy gym where you’re surrounded by positive and committed people, was keeping you going. Gyms closing forced you to work out at home—or somewhere more private. Within months, your workout rate plunged off a cliff.
We began to dread the daily workout. Even a short walk was a chore. No matter how much you pushed, there was always a disconnect between mind and body. No matter how much you wanted to be fit, your body couldn’t find the energy.
To remedy this, you then find somewhere that makes it astonishingly easy to want to work out. Somewhere intense. It could be training with a passionate fitness freak, in a private studio, or doing a different sport. Here’s what David Perell did: “I found the most intense gym in town. It was a converted warehouse with squat racks, more machines than I knew what to do with, and larger-than-life photos of bodybuilders on the walls. Everybody I saw was committed to sculpting their bodies into a beautiful shape. The energy I saw was intoxicating. In my life, I’ve never seen a higher percentage of people sweating at the gym. Without realising it, I rediscovered a love for working out that I lost during the pandemic.”
He found the perfect environment. One that removes all sense of free will, as if you will become some lazy bum who just copies everyone else. Good. Without free will, the constraints guide you to do all the only thing you can do there—exercise. For David, it helped him fall back in love with it.
Constraints can help us lean into nature instead of fighting it. It can make you feel like this is where you should’ve been all along—as if to not be there would feel incongruous. I had a similar problem. To make exercise easier to want to do during the pandemic, I often kept my yoga mat unrolled on my bedroom floor—sat right next to my bed. My weights and resistance bands were next to it, easily accessible, so I could grab them whenever I want. So that every morning, I’d lay my feet on the mat first thing in the morning and feel inclined to get started with stretching or a core workout.
I didn’t have as much of a problem with exercise as I did with work. Usually, when I’m determined to do something, I don’t stop, regardless of obstacles. This was the case for writing. When I started writing last year, I was almost obsessed with it. I built a fabulous determination to write, no matter where I was (on the floor, on a horrible desk, in the shivering cold, wherever). But after a while, it became harder to keep going. My body started to ache from my desk, I was mentally and physically drained from being all over the place, and I subsequently slowed down for a few months. I escaped my slump when I forced myself to create an environment that would make writing ridiculously easy to do; I started doing most of my work in the quietest room (my bedroom), I changed desks, added a monitor, used noise-cancelling headphones, and I switch between sitting on a swivel chair and a swiss ball to work my core. Two other things helped: I work pretty well on my own—so I make it easier to do so—and the family in my house all work at the same time. I wake up, and, naturally, I’m going to copy everyone else. So I do. I act how my surroundings show, and that made a massive difference for me.
To make your goals easier to accomplish, align yourself with your environment.
Find where you work best, and remove all sense of free will to do anything but the work there. You’ll be thanking yourself months down the line.
What I’ve Learned This Week
The Wind and the Current
There’s no epiphany quite like knowing an idea will become a permanent part of your worldview when you read it. This concept by Seth Godin is one I had the pleasure of realising over the past year. He wrote: “The wind gets all the attention. The wind howls and the wind gusts… But the wind is light. The current, on the other hand is persistent and heavy. On a river, it’s the current that will move the canoe far more than the wind ever will. But the wind distracts us.” Most people share similar winds but very different currents.
99.9% of breaking news
The latest on social media
Deepening relationships with yourself, family, and close friends
Expanding knowledge by travelling, studying and exploring
Improving your work
Improving the efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency of your habits
Are You Doing the Right Things?
In aviation, you miss your destination by one mile every 60 miles you fly for every degree you fly off-course. It sounds small, yes. But commercial airliners fly at 300-600 miles an hour—so you can find yourself way out sooner than you think. The same goes for our life choices; too much of the wrong thing can make it harder to see where we once were. Most productivity advice fails to teach us that efficiency is the wrong thing to focus on first. I’d go as far as to say it’s irrelevant in the beginning. It’s not all about getting things done faster; it’s about doing the right things first of all and doing them effectively. Moving slower in the right direction is far better than moving quickly in the wrong one. If you keep working on the wrong thing, it doesn’t matter how good your solutions are; you’ll have nothing but good solutions for the wrong problem. And you’ll be running in a circle.
Overcoming Beginners Pain
Everyone we looked up to was a beginner. Yet, people have this strange tendency to judge beginners with the standards of an expert. Writing for a blog that nobody reads is weird, but writing for one with tens of thousands of readers is astonishing and inspiring. Why do we shame beginners and take it upon ourselves to feel worse when we are one? It’s okay to be a beginner. Great even. Since you avoid close-mindedness by force—if you stick with it for long enough, the time has never been better to be a beginner.
What’s on My Mind
Social media can be fantastic. But to make it that way, we should think about why and how we use them. Not what we use. I love this idea by Janis Ozolins.
“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
“I used to think peace comes at a certain point in your life when you reach a certain age — or when you have everything you could want. But I say it’s a want because we have to accept that we have everything we need to be happy and at peace, despite what we might think. It’s just hard to accept it.”
“Positive judgements don’t cancel out negative judgements, because the problem is with judgement itself.”
— Alfie Kohn
Favourite Things This Week
Italy wins Gold - For the first time in 61 years, Italy takes Gold (and the World Record) at the Olympic Team Pursuit. They rode at an average speed of 65kph (40mph). Not bad when you ride centimetres from your teammate and have no brakes.
Blog - The rise of fake scientists by Anne-Laure Le Cunff
Have a great week.