Hedonic Adaptation: the dangers (and joys) of the new normal

Consider this. You are incarcerated.

Suddenly, you go from the comfort of your home and the freedom of your every day, to being confined to a seven-foot cell. Would you care if that was a nine-foot cell instead?
Chances are, you probably wouldn’t see much point in trying to get the “bigger” cell, as it wouldn’t much alleviate the loss of freedom and personal space. And that’s what a study on adaptation suggests, too.

But here’s the interesting twist: as you get adapted to living in the seven-foot cell, two things would happen. Your happiness would increase, along with your perceived value of the larger cell.

This is the power of the new normal.

Adapting both ways

We think of ‘the normal’ as a stable baseline for our level of happiness and fulfilment. A universal, firm concept. But ‘the normal’ is actually very fluid, and very personal.
It adapts to our expectations, as we adapt to our circumstances, in a phenomenon called Hedonic Adaptation.

Normal changes all the time.
Driving may feel normal to you now, but how did it feel the first time you drove?
You are taller now than when you were a small child. Does it feel any less normal?
There was even a time when you considered it normal to let your parents wipe your baby bottom.

Adaptation is a great skill, built right into our DNA.
When circumstances change, our expectations change with us.

But Hedonic Adaptation goes both ways.

In a 1978 psychological study, researchers evaluated the happiness levels of recent lottery winners and recently injured paraplegics, comparing them to those of the general population.
As you guessed, the lottery winners experienced a spike in their happiness levels immediately after their win, whereas the paralised accident victims experienced a dip.
But within (only) two months, both groups had returned very close to the average level of happiness of the control population.

And, when asked about their expectations for the future, and to rate their everyday experiences, both groups reported very close levels of happiness, with the accident victims having a slightly more positive view about the future.


As the two groups adapted to their new circumstances, Hedonic Adaptation kicked in, establishing a “new normal” with updated expectations.

Whether it’s a new flat, a relationship, a higher salary, a new car, moving to a new city, all these things tend to become normal, fast.
Seeking happiness through buying things especially, though intuitive in a consumeristic society, can turn into a trap. As you get used to the short-term rush of buying something exciting, you have to continually raise your game as it gets swallowed by the new normal.
Reaching the same level of happiness requires more and more energy and money.

Hedonic Adaptation can be a blessing, or a curse.

Hedonic wellbeing

Let’s take a step back.
The word hedonism derives from the Greek word for pleasure, hēdonē.
Hedonic wellbeing is focused on maximising pleasure and minimising pain. This is done through increasing positive emotions (like excitement, relief, pride, and of course, happiness), and limiting negative states (such as fear, hate, and sadness).

The issue is that not only these emotions are dependent on fleeting circumstances: we adapt to them until they’re no longer exciting. They become the new normal.
This makes us slaves to a constant game of catching up, like running backwards on an airport’s travelator.

hedonic adaptation

Is there a way to cope with Hedonic Adaptation?

How to use hedonic adaptation to your advantage

Deliberate scarcity

Taking away what you consider normal for a period of time, and adding artificial constraints, is a great way to actually notice it. After the break, the contrast will make the usual feel special again.

For example, I like to sleep on the floor once a month, practice a 60-hour fast every so often, and add constraints periodically. No matter how simple it is, having breakfast after nearly 3 days without food makes that breakfast feel and taste amazing.

Appreciate abundance

I’m a big fan of practising abundance: raising the standard that you ask from yourself is a great way to keep raising your game. It also contrasts negative thoughts and scarcity mindset.

However, I like to be mindful of what I am doing and appreciate that abundance in my life. Which brings me to…

Practice gratitude to keep the focus on small things

Gratitude is a simple practice that can have a massive impact  on your everyday life.
Some of my favourite tools to integrate it into my everyday life are gratitude walks, being present in what I do, and the simple and effective 5 Minute Journal.

Maximise enjoyment

Knowing what makes you happy and fulfilled is key to maximising enjoyment.
It’s easy to follow what other people see as positive, only to find out (or never quite understand) that it’s not really for us. Fulfilment requires self-awareness.
Once you know what make you feel better, go all in and have fun with it, ignoring those activities that only have a marginal effect.

Remove, don’t add

When it comes to buying new things, I love to use a question that I learnt from the wise Mr Money Moustache.
“Will it remove a negative or add a positive?”
Removing a negative, like replacing a painfully slow washing machine with a new, fast one, will have a direct and long-lasting impact on something you already notice daily.
Adding a positive, like buying a new car for no real reason, will create short-lived excitement, and add unpredictable complexities, like the need for a new garage or the fear of damaging it, that will actually result in more negatives.

Fleeting vs long-term

To contrast the traps of Hedonic Adaptation, think long-term.

The notion of eudaimonic well-being has been accompanying the hedonic view for many centuries.
Instead of focusing on subjective and fleeting emotions, eudaemonic well-being derives from experiencing personal growth, facing new challenges, and a sense of purpose and contribution.

Unlike the emotions behind hedonic well-being, these continue over time and build on constant progress, rather than being isolated events. And, unlike spending on things, investing in growth experiences will keep paying back in happiness and skills.

Hedonic Adaptation turns most changes into the new normal.
To turn fleeting happiness into long-lasting fulfilment, train yourself to appreciate the present experience and think long term, beyond yourself.

— Matt

PS: learn how to shortcut your personal growth through other people.

How to plan your week and track time by creating your Week Map

We often struggle to “find time”.
Find the time to exercise. Find the time to read. Find the time to socialise. Find the time to finish an important task.

Balancing your available time can be a challenge.

And yet, whenever we do have a spare hour, or even the whole weekend, too many people treat it like money found in a coat’s pocket. Because it’s unexpected, it gets assigned a value of 0 and spent on whatever next (unnecessary) thing comes along.

To make things worse, available time is often too little, too scattered, or too unpredictable to be used on any meaningful task. So it just gets used on the next default activity.

In the meantime, meaningful activities keep waiting.

So how can you maximise your time to boost your productivity and balance the different areas of your life, all while making everything less stressful?

Enter your Weekly Map.

The Weekly Map is an overall plan for the whole week. It considers your long-term goals, maximises your enjoyment, gives you positive time-constraints, and balances all the different areas of your life, so you can get lots done while looking after yourself.
And, just in case you’re wondering, it also leaves as much time as you desire for last-minute planning.

Let’s jump right into it.

plan the week part 1

Part 1: The forces influencing your week

Before going into creating your weekly strategy, let’s have a quick look at the invisible forces shaping your day when you don’t come prepared. Knowing what’s holding you back will help you better plan your week, and make sure you can improve your performance and maximise your enjoyment every week.

Missing the big picture

Most people plan the next hour, many plan the day.
With such a narrow perspective, it’s hard to be intentional.
No wonder we get stressed over a deadline we could have seen coming, or decide to lie on the sofa even when…we really wanted to go to the gym.

Most people plan the next hour, many people plan the next day, high performers plan the next week. Click To Tweet

If things weren’t complicated enough, we engage a different part of the brain when thinking about the future than we do when thinking about the present: it’s easy to make a lighthearted decision about the future, only to become emotionally stressed when it becomes the present.

Decision fatigue

Willpower has a daily cap. Many studies have shown how our ability to make rational, intentional decisions diminish as the day progresses. No matter whether you’re deciding what breakfast to have, what task to work on next, or whether to say yes or no to friends wanting to meet: the more willpower you use, the less you’ll have left.

At a certain point in the day, you will go to your default choice, or the easiest one to take.
With a plethora of everyday choices, we squander our willpower on things that don’t matter, and have none left for things that are really important.

So when you plan hour by hour and miss the bigger picture, you’ll fall victim of your depleted willpower and take the easiest choice, rather than the most important or most rewarding activity.

Parkinson’s law

In a 1955 study of the burgeoning bureaucracy within the shrinking British Empire, C Northcote Parkinson noted: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This has since then been dubbed ‘Parkinson’s law‘.

You’ve probably experienced this yourself, suddenly becoming more focused, swift, and productive as a deadline approaches and available time shrinks.

Empirical evidence has been available for decades.
During the first world war, a decision by the British government to cut hours at munitions plants made workers healthier and also more productive.
In more recent times, Sweden has been trying out a six-hour workday, with a variety of companies cutting their working week to improve wellbeing. So far, companies involved have reported improvements in productivity and lower staff turnover.

And yet, when you miss the bigger picture, it’s easy to think you can just expand your current activity into the next hour. And then the next hour again.

Here’s a summary of all the things influencing your week.


Design your own time

In 1527, cartographer Diogo Ribeiro made what is considered the first scientific world map.
The largest empires at the time (Portugal and Spain in particular) developed an increasingly more accurate system of maps to help them define, understand, and navigate their way through the world.

plan week map

Expanding tasks, last minute invitations, underestimating future commitments, other people demanding our time, and then work, family, reading, fitness,…the obstacles along your week are many.

To create a balanced week, draw your own Week Map.
This will help you define, understand, and navigate your way through your time.

Without a map, how will you get to your destination?

The freedom of maps

I know what you’re thinking.

Planning the whole week sounds scary.

And that’s exactly right. It sounds scary.
But it actually takes all the stress away.

Like a world map, it allows you to spot difficulties ahead, and come prepared. And, because it allows you to see the bigger picture, you can see the future consequences of your present choices.

Choices have consequences. Click To Tweet

Plus, we’re not just going to plan the week.
We are going to draw our own map, giving priority to what actually matters to us, regardless of what last-minute commitments look like.

plan the week part 2

Part 2: How to create your Week Map

Reactive vs Proactive

The biggest advantage of having a Week Map is that it allows you to be proactive with how you want to spend your time.

We all spend our 24 hours at the speed of one minute per minute.
The only choice we have is about what to do with those 24 hours.

The reactive approach only looks at one activity at a time: the next activity.
Sometimes it’s a text from a friend asking to go for a drink, other times it’s just the next task on your to-do list, or an email pulling you away from what you had planned for the next hour.
This approach relies on a first come, first served basis, and uses ‘yes’ as the default answer.

The proactive approach looks at the whole picture and makes sure that all the important activities get the priority they deserve. This is all about balance and progress between the different areas of your life, whether it’s work, fitness, family, friends, relaxing, learning, or whatever is important to you.
This approach is based on a priority principle and uses ‘no’ as the default answer.

The quickest way to switch from reactive to proactive approach is to realise that saying ‘yes’ is actually just another way to say ‘no’: Whenever you decide to use your limited time on a certain activity or with a certain person, you are automatically saying no to everything else. Even though it may be more important.

Whenever you say yes, you're actually saying no to everything else. Click To Tweet

Design your Ideal Week

The first step to creating your Week Map is to…design your ideal week.
I first heard about this concept from Michael Hyatt, who uses a simple spreadsheet to plan the week you would live if you could control 100% of what happens. Total game changer.

This is your blank canvas to design your time: what would you do if you had control of all the variables in your week?
Once you create it, you won’t have to touch it ever again (unless you want to experiment or change your weekly rhythm).

I have created a template for you, which includes time tracking (we’ll talk about that below).
Sign up here and I’ll send you a Google Spreadsheet you can copy and use to design your own week and track time.

What to include in your week

Your ideal week should contain everything, from events to tasks you need to get done. In other words, include everything that takes over 15 minutes.

plan your ideal week

Sure, you probably don’t know what specific tasks you’ll have each week, but you can estimate your weekly workload and assign it an appropriate amount of time. For example, I know that I am going to need a certain amount of uninterrupted time to write every week, preferably broken into two chunks.

Putting it in my ideal week, and ultimately in my Week Map, allows me to make sure I always have time to focus and get lost in my own writing.

Sometimes it may take me slightly longer or shorter, and I will adjust (and then learn) accordingly.

Move it to your calendar

Boom. Now that you’ve designed your ideal week, it’s time to bring it all into your calendar and create your first Week Map.

I like to use Fantastical for Mac and iOS: I love the interface and how easy it is to add events and amend existing ones. However, you can do this in any calendar.

Look at your ideal week spreadsheet, and select the activities that repeat every single week. Then add them to your calendar, and set them to repeat every week.

week map calendar

Sometimes, you won’t know exactly what you will do or when it will happen on each specific week: if it’s an important activity, put a placeholder anyway, as it will ensure you don’t accidentally fill that with a reactive decision.

For example, I like to schedule my cooking time, social time, and me time on repeat: even if every week I see different people and do different things on different days, it makes sure I look after the important people in my life (myself included).

Other examples could be…team meetings and client calls: make sure you set a recurring time window in your week (and you communicate that to everyone else involved).

You can then adjust each week on your planning day to create your Week Map.

Should you use different calendars?

I used to use different colour-coded calendars for different things (writing, social time, exercising,…) but I stopped when I realised…they’re all part of my life.
Dividing them into specific calendars I was putting each activity against each other, instead of looking at the big picture.

However, I love to use emojis to connote each kind of activity, and I suggest you do it too, as it will help you understand your day and week at a glance, and learn from how you use your time.

Here are some of my favourites:
💕 = social or me time
🦄 = growth
💬 = coaching
💪 = training
📖 = intentional learning
💌 = replying to readers’ emails
…and a few more.

Don’t create too many, or you won’t be able to categorise how you spend your time at the end of the week.

Week Map time

Every week, set aside some time to plan the week ahead.
I like to do this on Sunday afternoon, but Saturday and Monday work too. Make sure you add this to your calendar, obviously.
This may sound counterintuitive, but investing one hour into mapping your time will pay back many times over as the week unfolds.

During my mapping session, I review my past week (more on this below) and plan out the next 7 days based on my weekly objectives, my ideal week, and how I feel on that particular week.

Here’s what to consider:
1) How you feel: maybe you want to sleep more, maybe you want to be more social or have more me-time than usual. However you feel, make sure you structure your week to include some of it.
2) Your objectives for the week: what do you want to accomplish by the end of the week? What will get you closer to your monthly goals?
3) Your commitments this week: whether it’s a flight to catch, a conference to attend, your mum visiting, or a night at the theatre, every week will be different.
4) What’s in your ideal week: when you start mapping, your calendar will already have lots of recurring events. Some will stay where they are, but others will be moved around to fit each particular week. Just make sure you have a great, balanced and fun week!

The all important rule

Using your calendar to create your Week Map is a powerful tool that allows you to take control of your time and have a balanced week.

As a side benefit, it allows you to rely on your calendar without having to remember whether you’re free or not, and weigh the consequences of saying yes on the spot.
Just open your calendar, and you will be reminded of your priorities and commitments.
This brings an incredible sense of freedom and removes the stress of having to take micro-decisions about your time.


You have to commit 100%.
If you don’t use your calendar for everything, you won’t be able to trust it, and you just get frustrated and give up.

The golden rule is: if it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.

If it's not in the calendar, it doesn't exist. Click To Tweet


plan the week part 3

Part 3: How to track your time to improve every week

The main challenge when it comes to scheduling your time is that sometimes you have to guess, and sometimes…you just don’t know how much time you actually spend on different activities.

If only we could look at our calendar and see everything we did during the week at a glance…

Track your time as you go

Mapping out your whole week in advance gives you a bird’s eye view of your next seven days, allowing you to prioritise and balance your activities. You can make better decisions without falling victim of the forces influencing your week.

Having your week map adds another great advantage: at the end of the week, you can look back and learn how you actually spend time.

You just have to do one thing: adjust your events as you go.

For example, say that you scheduled a whole afternoon to…write a blogpost (random example).
You factored in 6 hours, but it only took you 4.
At the end of the day (or right there and then), make sure you adjust that event to reflect what actually happened.

calendar planning

In those extra two hours, you might have…read a book or call a friend. Well, make sure you add that in as an event (and categorise it accordingly).

Then, let’s say you decided to move your workout from Wednesday to Thursday in order to see a friend for dinner. Or maybe you just didn’t feel like working out and dropped it.
Cool. Make sure you move or delete the event accordingly.

Your calendar needs to reflect and predict reality.
If you can only trust it 99% of the time, you will end up not trusting it and you will stop using it.

What to track

Now, during your weekly mapping session, look back and keep track of what’s most important to you.

For example, I like to keep track of how much time I spent writing and how much I actually produced.
This showed me that I am becoming a faster (and hopefully better) writer, but also that giving myself less time to write makes me more productive and creative.

Here’s what I track, and what I think you should too.

  • Who I spent time with. 💕
    This has lifted the quality of my life, and keeps doing so.
    Writing down everyone I intentionally saw during the week shows me how socially active I have been, and whether it matched my mood and workload.I then go through the list and ask myself ‘why?’.
    Any answer works here, but they usually range from “I enjoy spending time with them”, to “I helped them do x”, or “they helped me do x”.
    If I don’t have an answer other than “I couldn’t say no”, I know something is not right, as I am taking time away from relationships that are more than a zero-sum game.
    This has given me extra awareness, helped me upgrade my friendships and strengthen the ones I care about the most, since I am able to dedicate them more time and attention.
  • How many times I went to the gym. 💪
    On most weeks, this happens 4 times. Working out supports my energy levels, my health, my sense of progress, and my discipline.
    If it’s less than 4 for more than two weeks in a row, this is a red flag to readjust my priorities and my workload.
  • If I went on my weekly run. 🏃
  • How many hours I spent on my number one business goal. 🦄
    This allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of…my own progress. If I haven’t spent enough time on this category, I look at the rest of my week (and the goal itself) to understand how I can do better and regain momentum the next week.
  • How many hours I spent on language learning. 🗯️
    To put things into perspective, this is usually between 2-3.5 hours, and it’s the result of two daily 10 minute sessions plus a weekly call.
    Compound gains!
  • How many hours I spent on intentional learning. 📖
    This is, how much time I spent on a specific topic I intentionally want to know more about?
  • How many weekly comfort challenges I did.✋
    I currently strive for one or two.

Like mapping your week, tracking your time will take some commitment. If you did your homework and adjusted events during the week, it won’t take long (and you won’t have to guess).
The returns are incredible, as each week you will continue to upgrade your performance and overall happiness.

Learn from the past week to create a better one, each week. Click To Tweet

The week of your dreams

One last time mapping secret.
If you are working towards a major life change, including a new job, a new house, a new city, a new family, a new or growing business, or if you just want to push the reset button…I suggest you create the map of your dreams.

This is the kind of week your current constraints don’t allow you to live on a regular basis (yet), but that you aspire to build and live.

Following the exact same steps as in Part 2, map out the week of your dreams. What will you do once you have made that big change happen?

map your wishweek

This is particularly important if you are working towards a life changing goal: deciding what your weekly life will look like will make it more concrete and give you an extra dose of motivation.
But it will also allow you to start from a blank slate before new commitments and old behaviours shape it out on your behalf.

It will create a clear goal for how you want to be spending your time.

Be the architect

Ok, now you have the principles, the steps, and even the tools to map out your week.

The first step is to move from the reactive approach, in which you always do whatever’s next and struggle to balance everything, to the proactive approach, in which you’re not afraid to say no and you prioritise your activities looking at the medium-long term.

In order to do that, design your static ideal week, and then move it to your calendar to create your week map. Every week, reserve one hour to map the week ahead and look at your previous week, so you can track how you spend your time, and learn how to improve every week.
Finally, you can take it one step forward and create the week of your dreams, in order to have a clear vision of what to aspire to, and start creating change daily.

Now it’s your turn to take action and design your own week, each week.

If you don’t do it, you will be always playing catch up, chasing rainbows wondering why you can’t ‘find’ the time.

Welcome to your best week yet.

— Matt

Now don’t forget to set your monthly goals.

plan your week

Credit card behaviour: make better decisions about the future

How often do you say ‘yes’ to something, only to regret it moments later?

Or eagerly agree to a social event or commit to a conference well in advance, only to become very stressed as the date becomes closer and closer?

Often, we fall victim of the empty calendar: we book unusual events days, weeks, or even months in advance just because our calendar looks empty. In reality, the only reason why the future holds so much free time is that we are too far away to consider the bigger picture, or even factor in our usual, daily commitments.

Sometimes, this phenomenon allows for spontaneity and to commit to a much needed holiday without having to weigh too many pros and cons. And that’s great.
But most often than not, it makes us say ‘yes’ to too many things, and then force us to juggle unnecessary commitments with what really matters.

So why is it that we take future commitments so lightheartedly, only to become emotionally stressed when they become the present?

Thinking about the present vs Thinking about the future

The future is a pretty abstract notion: it only exists as a present experience of our own imagination.

Every time we think about something that is distant in time, space, social link, or certainty, we travel through what’s called psychological distance: the farther away you feel from an object, person, or event, the more abstract it will be.

The #future only exists as a present experience of our own imagination. Click To Tweet

Let’s take planning a holiday as an example.
Booking your flights a year in advance is likely to make you think about abstract notions of relaxation and fun, but the closest your trip gets in time (and space), the more you will focus on concrete details of the present situation, such as how to get a visa, what to pack, where to eat, and a lot more practical decisions.

When it comes to taking a holiday, most of the time it will be worth it (as long as you know what kind of holiday you actually enjoy). But when it comes to more mundane, recurring commitment, the inability to gauge the future complexity of present decisions expose us to a great danger: credit card behaviour.

Decisions on credit

What is credit card behaviour?
It’s any decision carried in the present that will have a negative impact on your future resources.

Let’s talk money.
You might decide to spend more money that you do not currently have, and then pay it back over a few months, with interest. You are deciding to spend now your future resources.

But it doesn’t just happen with money.

Let’s talk sleep.
You might decide to stay up late today because you’re on a (often imaginary) deadline. This means you will be tired and poor-performing tomorrow (risking to fall into the sleepless cycle): it’s a decision to spend now your future resources. And pay with interest.

More examples of credit card behaviour?
Saying yes too easily.
Not taking care of your health.
Not exercising.
Ignoring your relationships (waiting for an imaginary better time).
Settling for an unfulfilling job.
Drinking coffee to ignore your body’s need to recuperate.

And any other decision made at tomorrow’s expense.


Just like credit card debt, sometimes it’s just a temporary resort that comes in handy. And, just like credit card debt, sometimes it’s worth the interest rate.

But, just like credit card debt, when it becomes the norm, things can get out of control.

If you don’t make time for sleep, you’ll have to find more time to balance poor performance.
If you don’t make time for positive relationships, you’ll have to find time to cope with draining relationships or loneliness.
If you don’t make time for health, you’ll have to find time for illness.

So how can we balance our brain’s bias to prefer the present over the future?
(and save our future self from all sorts of debt?)

Reverse the game

Let’s do a quick recap.

When we imagine the future (or something otherwise distant), we activate parts of the brain associated with cognitive, abstract thinking. As the distance shrinks, the decision becomes present, and concrete, acquiring context, details, and an emotional aspect. This is how many people end up taking on a commitment they regret soon after.

The antidote?
Whenever you are deciding about the future, imagine yourself doing it in the present. By moving the future closer to you, you will be able to give it context and better evaluate the consequences of your decisions.

Planning your time in advance will also help you see the big picture: if you have any future deadlines or recurring commitments, stick them in your calendar. This will give you a clear reminder of the juggling a light “yes” in the present might require in the future.

Lastly, remember that your decision-making abilities tend to worsen later in the day.
Keep this in mind, and “sleep on it” if you’ve had a long day. You’ll thank yourself later.

— Matt


Knowledge vs Experience: how to deal with information overload

According to Google, there were over 129,864,880 published books in 2009.
If you read 2 books a month, it would take you over 5 million years to go through all of them.
Just enough time for you to forget the first few hundreds and start all over again.

Books changed my life and changed who I am. For the better.
Sandwiched between two covers of paper, you can find life changing knowledge, timeless ideas, and captivating stories ready to empower you and enhance your thoughts.

I’m also a big fan of podcasts, videos, and blogs.
If books show a summary of someone’s lifetime work, podcasts and videos allow you to peek into a personal conversation or into someone’s journey, and blogs offer laser focus on a particular issue or skill.

On WordPress alone (the leading blog platform) 80 million new posts are published each month. YouTube gets 300 hours of new video content uploaded every minute.

Books, podcasts, blogs, and videos are a powerful way to upgrade your peer group, hone your skills and learn new ones, and be exposed to possibility.

It’s mind blowing.

But when it would take thousands of generations to go through it all, it can become overwhelming. Really fast.

Information or infotainment?


Infotainment is when you absorb informative content for its entertainment value without doing anything about it. Even the most life changing book or thought provoking article has some infotainment value. (This post included).

The infotainment spectrum is very wide, ranging from the news (unactionable by its very nature), to a step-by-step article that makes you think “Ah! She’s so right.” seconds before you push that thought aside and go back to life as usual.

And that’s fine.

As long as you don’t mask consuming information as a race to better yourself, colouring it with all the pressure and anxieties of being up to speed and constantly catching up with everyone else.

As it often happens, your own chemistry doesn’t help. Like ticking small tasks off a todo list, jumping from one short read to the next trying to keep up releases dopamine in your brain, making you feel good and craving for more.

Learn to recognise the purpose of the information you consume.
If it’s a highbrow way to entertain yourself, treat it as such and just enjoy it.

Information overload

When you use the executive function of the brain on conscious and engaging activities, you are tapping into a finite resource. Information overload uses up our limited willpower, which reduces your ability to take action and make decisions. So the more information you ingest in a day, the less likely you will be to take action on that information. Or just take action at all.

Another reason why content can be so overwhelming, is that it makes you feel like you are taking action, without actually having to take any risk. You feel good, and get to stay in your comfort zone.

Constantly looking for more information is a form of procrastination.
It’s also a way to try to minimise risk and cling to certainty, by absorbing as much information as possible before taking action.

But risk is intrinsic to life. So using information to eliminate it becomes a race without a finish line. And because different authors and broadcaster followed a different path and experience, you may get contradictory information and end up more confused than before.

Don’t get me wrong.
Books, blogs, and podcasts changed my life, and opened doors to possibilities I would have likely never stumbled upon. I am forever grateful.
But opening the door is not enough if you don’t walk inside.

Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.

Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing. Click To Tweet

Knowledge vs Experience

Imagine reading a book on handwriting.
Imagine memorising every single letter and how each stroke is drawn.

Does this make you good at writing longhand? Or even able to?

Most of us learnt how to write by practicing. Someone showed us how to do it (the theory), and then through experience it became automatic. We’re so good, we can apply it to different materials and use different pens. But, though we do have a theoretical understanding of how to write, most of us can only do it with one hand.

Theoretical knowledge usually builds context, exposes you to new ideas, gives you a clear direction and specific examples of what you are learning. It’s a great way to learn from the experience of others, and direct and shortcut your own.

Experience, on the other hand, comes from blending theory with facts, events, and actions. It brings knowledge to a whole new level, making it flexible to problem solving and adaptable to different situations, which makes it more applicable and requiring less cognitive power.

information overload

Theory helps you shortcut experience. Experience gives theory purpose.

Balance Theory with Action

Information doesn’t get it done.
So how can you balance theory with action?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: only absorb as much information as you can action.

The less time you can dedicate to taking action, the more focused you should be in your learning.

knowlede plus action

Align your learning and your goals

It’s too easy to get lost into the next blogpost or the next book popping up in the suggestion box.
If you want to turn knowledge into experience, you need to be intentional and say no.

Theme your learning to support your goals.
Ask: what must I learn in order to achieve that goal or become that person?

What do you need to learn first? Concentrate on one topic, understand it, action it, and then move on once you’ve turned knowledge into experience.

Use a bookmarking service like instapaper to save articles that sound interesting, and then filter through them before you actually read them. Is this relevant to your journey now?

If not, learn to be ok with the feeling of missing out on something.
129 million books, remember?

Learn deep

I get asked a lot why I only write a post every 2 weeks. It’s because I believe in quality over quantity.
On one hand, I don’t want to overwhelm readers (you) with unnecessary content; on the other hand, I want to keep a high standard and write well-researched, thought-provoking posts.

The same principle applies to consuming information.
It’s easy to want to go through a long list of new books, just because it feels good. Explore a lot of different topics, just because they’re interesting.

Learn deep instead. Read more of the same topic or the same author. Read or listen to the same blogs, podcasts, and books again: each time you will have a different takeway. Spaced repetition and examples applied to different situations will make it easier to internalise the knowledge and truly master it in your experience.

It’s not a matter of quantity, it’s a matter of quality.
If you read one book a year and you take ten times the action of someone who reads ten books and takes no action, you are going to be a much greater expert, and a much wiser person.

Think about this.

Would you rather be under a brain surgeon who’s read 100 books or done 100 operations?
Would you rather be in business with someone who’s read 100 books or done 100 deals?
Ideally, I’d say both. But I know which one I don’t want.
So make sure that you theme your learning, and you focus on quality, not quantity.

Mixing knowledge with action, you’ll create solid experience.

You turn now: what’s one action you will take from this post to turn knowledge into experience?
Send me an email and let me know.

— Matt

Upgrade your peer group to shortcut your personal growth

A billionaire into ping pong, an aspiring rockstar, a bottle washer who sleeps on the floor, and a University professor who likes rap walk into a restaurant…

It sounds like the beginning of a (bad) joke.

Have you ever noticed how people tend to hang out with other people from the same background and walk of life?

Sure, you may think. Similar people tend to go to similar schools, have similar occupations, and come from similar backgrounds. Actually, you can argue the opposite: people that go to similar schools, have similar occupations, and come from similar backgrounds tend to become similar people.

Surely in the age of aeroplanes, social media profiles, and cities, it should be easier than ever to mingle and expose yourself to a diverse group of people.

Or is there something getting in the way?

You’re either in or you’re dead

As individuals, we’re highly dependent on the group.
Imagine yourself stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat and no one else to talk about. Chances are, you wouldn’t survive very long. You’ll either go cuckoo or be eaten by a much better predator.

peer pressure

Luckily, modern humans don’t have to worry about that. But we’re still dependent on other people: the architect who planned the building you live in, the hairdresser that gives you an extra dash self-confidence, the teacher looking after your children, the postman delivering your Amazon parcels, and many more: the list is long.
The difference is that we don’t know any of these people. In the past, it was all taken care by your tribe.

When survival is at stake, any tribe cannot allow for too much diversity, as it would increase complexity and lower trust. If you didn’t fit in with the group, you were very likely traded out (just like in high school).

If you’re out, you don’t survive. So the only ones that got to pass their genes down to us were…well, the ones that were great at conforming to the rest of the tribe.

It’s been our specialty for generations.

Wired for peer pressure?

Conforming to the people around you is a phenomenon called Social Adaptation, “the adjustment of individual and group behavior to conform with the prevailing system of norms and values in a given society, class, or social group.”

peer group

We are wired to match our peer group: the brain regulates and stimulates adaptation using a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, lifting your mood, lowering fear and anxiety, and promoting trust and social behaviour. Whenever you engage in social or intimate relationships, you get a feel-good spike of oxytocin to reward you and spur your friendliness.
Oxytocin has a role in long-lasting relationships, and is also released in great quantities at birth, regulating mother-child bonding.

But there’s more.

Studies have shows that Oxytocin makes it easier to empathise with people you identify as similar to you, or part of your social group, and discriminate against other groups.
In a 2013 study, participants were shown images of people from different racial backgrounds expressing pain or showing a neutral expression. The study group was administered oxytocin or a control placebo, and their brain activity was scanned. Those that were given oxytocin showed higher levels of empathy towards pain, but only towards in-group members.
Another study on empathy showed similar results for non-racial related labels, with the areas of the brain associated with pain showing a larger empathic response for people that were seen as part of one’s own group.

Not only we are wired to socially adapt: both our psychology and our biology have evolved for us to conform to our peer group. This means that the people that surround you shape your personality, your beliefs, your ambitions, and your future. As one of my favourite quotes says, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Hang around five smokers, and you’ll be the sixth.
Hang around five fitness freaks, and you’ll be the sixth.

You are who you hang around with.

How to upgrade your peer group

We often believe we are this uber-rational being. That we can fence off external and internal inputs.
In the meantime, we choose to ignore the invisible forces that govern our day, instead of harnessing them to work for us.

The people you surround yourself with determine what kind of ideas, what kind of goals, what kind of life you get exposed to. It also determines your ambition.
So choose your peer group not depending on your past or your present, but thinking about the future.
Thinking about where you want to be. This is the greatest shortcut to your personal development.

Once you do this it’s going to be a lot easier to come across the information, the path, the mindset, and even the hunger that you need to get wherever you want to get.

Here a few ways to pick your tribe.

1. Expose yourself to great ideas and examples

A great way to upgrade your thinking is to select what kind of information you are feeding your mind.
Books, blogs, podcasts, youtube channels, audiobooks, and documentaries are all great ways to soak in the kind of mindset you want to get closer to. They can show you that there are other people with similar (or even bigger) ambitions, and allow you to peek into the thought process of someone who’s several steps ahead of you.
This kind of access to great ideas and inspiration is unparalleled in the history of time. Don’t waste your privilege.
Just make sure that you’re not using “more information” as an excuse not to take action.

2. Multiply positive relationships

Maybe you’re starting from zero, or maybe you just want to meet more interesting people to inspire you.

Either way, there’s only one solution: talk to people.
Where do the kind of people that already are where you want to be in life currently hang?
Maybe it’s an event, maybe it’s an office space. Maybe it’s a coffee shop. Maybe it’s an activity.
Make it a habit to go there and have conversations. Ask for introductions. And then invite them for a chat over coffee. If they say no, onwards. Don’t ask for favours, just have a normal conversation: you’re peers, remember?

Twitter advanced search can be another great way to meet inspiring people in your area, but the danger of it being creepy are pretty high so…just join in a thread and add to it without a hidden agenda, then take it from there.

The absolute best way to meet people that motivate you and push you out of your comfort zone is by asking for an introduction. Of course, you’ll need at least one positive relationship to start, but don’t underestimate this.
I like to organise second degree dinners 2-3 times a year, in which me and another host introduce likeminded people to each other. It’s so much fun and everyone’s a winner, so you don’t even need to know the host that well.
Here’s how it works.

3. Find a mentor or a coach

Having someone to show you a clear path is important when there’s so much information available, it’s easy to do a bit of everything and…end up not doing anything.

Mentoring and coaching are two different things: a mentor tells you what to do their way, whereas a coach gives you the tools you need right now, and then extracts the action plan from you using questions and empathy.
Personally, I’m a big believer in Socratic questioning and just-in-time information (over just-in-case).

There’s a lot of value in both. I just don’t think it possible to have one mentor alone, as their way and their journey will not fit your own. The good news is, you don’t have to. You can pick and choose as many virtual mentors as you like for each area of your life. Understand what makes them successful in your eyes, study their behaviour, follow their suggestions, and then model what worked for them.
Just stick to the same person, and don’t keep bouncing on to the next clickbait. Consistency is key.

4. Take the rubbish out

Ok, now. You can’t just keep adding to what you already do. 24 hours, remember?
Books, blogs, and meaningful relationships take time so make sure you get rid of negative influences first.

First, detox from paralysing and useless information, including gossiping, the news, and anything you consume just because you have to keep up with what most people talk about. Make sure it matches where you want to be, not where you are now.

Next, detox from the people that bring you down. Look at your latest messages and make a list of the 5-10 people you spend the most time with. How many of them push you to do better? How many keep you stuck in your comfort zone?
Get rid of the latter. It’s not mean. It’s just being able to recognise that we’re all on a different journey, and when paths diverge is better for everyone to go separate ways instead of being stuck.
Sometimes it will be your family or work that bring you down. Tough. Find a way to minimise their influence and create a plan to change your situation. Either that, or you’ll stay where you are.

peer group decisions

Selecting the people around you isn’t easy: we all come with a social baggage that was imposed on us before we could even utter our first word. And yet, it’s important to surround yourself with people that will keep you to a high standard, and that are part of your future journey, not the past.

If you wanted to become a better tennis player, you wouldn’t train with beginners (nor people who aren’t into tennis).

The same principle applies to every day life. Find people that keep you growing.

Your turn now: make a list of the 6 people you spend the most time with. Who lifts you up? Who drains you? Who’s missing from the list? You know what to do.

— Matt


Time wealth: 3 questions to upgrade how you spend your time

What would you do if you woke up with $1 million in the bank?

Now what if everyone else had $1 million too, no matter what was in their bank account the previous day?
Would we all be millionaires and print our own cover of Time magazine, or would we measure wealth in a different way?

Let’s imagine a different scenario.
I offer you an imaginary bank account that took care of all your expenses every day, but didn’t allow you to check your balance. Every day you get the same generous (but finite) allowance and, in exchange for it, you can never do paid work for the rest of your life.

Let me be clear: you walk to ATMs, and money keeps coming out. Contactless? Not a problem.
You keep making payments, and money keeps flowing. No need to work or to top it up (you can’t – that was part of our deal).

time v money

The only catch is that you have no way of knowing when it will end, if ever.
And no, you can’t withdraw it all at once and save it up.
You can only spend it.

After a few months, would you get used to it and stop worrying?

How would that affect your generosity?
Would you be careful who you spend your allowance with or just give money away?
Would you stop and enjoy your daily expenses since you can’t accumulate it?

We’re all born millionaires

At around 80 years, the average life expectancy counts 42,048,000 minutes. Sure, some of us will never get there, and others will surpass that number. But not knowing makes it fair. You cannot budget it, save it, or put it under the mattress.

We all have 24 hours each day, and we must spend them.

The amount of time isn’t a variable: time wealth depends not on quantity, but on the quality of how that time is spent.

Time is the only truly non-renewable resource.
And yet, too often we let our focus become so narrow, we compromise on the quality of our time.
We often try to do more, cram in more things, see more people, do more tasks, watch more TV, go to the gym more often.

Yet, you can’t fabricate more time.

Like our imaginary bank account, you can only spend your fixed daily allowance, and cannot save or top it up.

That’s when the busy trap happens. We say yes to activities we don’t want to do, and over time they accumulate and take over. No one’s ever said “I’m too busy going to the cinema” or “I’m too busy learning something I’m passionate about”. Being busy it’s an acknowledgment you’ve lost control of how you spend your time.

Subtract your way to what matters

To avoid the busy trap, start tidying up how you spend your time by subtracting.

What are the 3 recurrent activities that you dislike the most?
It could be a particular task at work, or a “friend” that makes you feel drained every time you see them.
Whatever it is, eliminate (or outsource) these activities as soon as possible.

What are the 3 recurrent activities that don’t add any value to your life?
These are usually things you do “because you have to” but are not really passionate about.
You may not like to admit it, but they’re a total energy drainer. Eliminate.

What are the 3 recurrent activities that bring you the most joy?
Once you get clarity on these, do more of them. Whether it’s dedicating more time to something you’re passionate about, finding new friendships, or just being more mindful and present in the moment, make sure you maximise the time spent on them.
Prioritise these in your calendar and get rid of time drainers, and you will have the energy and time to work on what matters to you.

Once you’ve filtered your time spending through this, make it regular practice to review your week and spot what you enjoyed the most and made you time wealthy. Look back and answer: what brought you the most joy in the past seven days?

Send me an email and let me know your answer.

— Matt


Limiting beliefs: the science behind thoughts that hold you back

Are your beliefs deciding the way you experience your daily life?

I can’t find a job because immigrants are stealing every single one.
I can’t find a job, but if other people are succeeding, I can too if I change my approach.

My friends make me feel uncomfortable all the time. That’s why I can’t show my true self too much.
My friends make me feel uncomfortable all the time. That’s why I met new people that are more similar to me.

My first business was a total disaster. That’s why I would never start a business again.
My first business was a total disaster. That’s why next time I won’t repeat the same mistakes.

Work is very stressful. That’s why I don’t have time to look after myself.
Work is very stressful. That’s why I am reassessing my priorities and making sure I look after myself.

Which of these is true?

The same situation and outlook can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways.
Two different people may look at the same event, and come to different conclusions.
Actually, the same person at a different point in time may look back and realise how “foolish” their original reaction to circumstances was.

But the situation hasn’t changed, only the interpretation.

How is this possible?

Turning senses into experiences

To put it simply, we never actually experience the external world.

First, we perceive the world through our five senses.
Hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste, work around the clock gathering information in real time. You may only pay attention to your sense of taste 3 times a day, but it’s actually on all the time.


This creates an overwhelming amount of information: each sense can have an incredible degree of complexity. For example, think of every time you’re walking around a busy city centre street: the number of different smells, sounds, and visual stimuli is as 3D as it can get. We just ignore what’s irrelevant to us at the time.

What makes it through?

This brings us to the first level of selection: the Reticular Activating System.
The RAS sits at the bottom of your brain, linking it to your nervous system, and filtering which bits of information make it through to mission control and which don’t. It decides what goes to your conscious mind and what doesn’t.
Think of it as the maître d’ of the conscious brain. Or the bouncer, if you prefer.
This is why you can have a conversation in a busy room without being (too) distracted by every other chat going on around you, but you can still distinctly hear your own name when someone calls you from the other side of the room.
The maître d’ knows that your name is a relevant piece of information, while the conversation going on next to you about farming bees in the city is totally irrelevant and doesn’t deserve your attention.

This is somehow shocking to grasp: we think we always deal with complete information, but we never do. The brain is constantly trying to save energy and minimise its need for resources.

The average human brain makes up 5% of the person’s weight, but requires 25% of the total calorie spend. It had to evolve to be complex enough to outsmart other animals that were far better predators and athletes, but remain small enough to survive, be carried around, and allow safe(ish) births.

But there’s more.

Real-time Photoshop

Once information has been perceived, filtered by the nervous system, and passed on, it’s finally time for the brain to do its bit: make sense of it.
Perception becomes experience once we apply our own system of beliefs and past experiences to make sure we can interpret that information in a coherent and safe way. Having to reinterpet everything from scratch would be an awful waste of resources, so generalisations, labels, and approximations are all game.
We shape each new experience to make sure it fits the mental jigsaw puzzle we’ve been working on for many years.

This is another great way for the brain to reduce the need for resources: it’s more efficient to protect your current system of belief and warp a single experience, than to overhaul the whole system to protect a single perceptual experience.

Senses don’t shape our reality: our beliefs do.

Since information gets filtered, chopped, and changed before it’s processed, the filter has more impact on our experience of the world than our perception does.


Imagine you were bedridden for a month, only able to experience the world through your computer. Now, imagine your browser had a filter set to show you only crimes committed by people with ginger hair. At the end of the month, you’d probably never listen to Ed Sheeran again, and any film starring Amy Adams would suddenly turn into a horror movie.

The information available hasn’t changed, only the filter has.

Belief or action: which comes first?

If this sounds scary, it doesn’t have to be: you’ve managed so far.
But being aware of the photoshopping going on in your head can help you flip the negative scripts going on in your head and spot opportunity.

We think of change as hard work, patience, and a lot of time.
But change happens in a moment. It happens in that moment when something clicks in your head and your beliefs shift from limitation to possibility: only then can we use the power of consistent action to translate our belief into our everyday life.

If you believe you won’t find a job, your actions will reflect your belief.
You will filter out opportunities around you in order to protect your belief.

If you believe you don’t deserve better friends, your actions will reflect your belief.
You will find evidence to rationalise and protect your belief.

If you believe work has to have the priority over your health, your actions will reflect your belief.
You will not question your time management and keep protecting your belief.

Change your limiting beliefs, and change will follow. In a moment.

Over to your now. What’s something you used to believe that you no longer think to be true?
Send me an email, and let me know.

– Matt



How to stop negative thoughts from taking over your future

The other day I was walking into town while listening to a great audiobook (it’s called Sapiens) and I was feeling incredible. I could feel the cold crisp air invigorating my lungs, while I observed people rushing by, and leaves dancing around.

Then something happened. The narrator said something funny, and it made me smile.

Suddenly, two people walking in the opposite direction gave me a strange look, as if to say “what are you so happy about?”

I didn’t care, so I kept enjoying my positive state. But I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation. Or maybe someone even asked you “what are you so happy about?”.

Isn’t it odd that we have to justify our own happiness, but we rarely question negative states? If someone’s frowning and immerse in negative thoughts, it’s “all good”, but if someone’s smiling, they must be a bit weird.

A brain that doesn’t help

It doesn’t help that we are wired to be much better at spotting negative things.

The human brain evolved over time, and though some areas are 10,000 years old, others have been passed on for the last 4 million years. It’s great at keeping you alive, but it’s not so great at making you happy.

The brain is constantly scanning the environment around you, looking for potential danger.
Technically, this happens in the Reticular Activating System, the filter that decides what information gets passed from the nervous system to the brain.
Potential dangers and recurrent thoughts are usually what gets through.

Negativity has priority access to our attention.

negativity and the brain

It doesn’t end here.

Research has shown that negative emotions narrow your mind, focusing your thoughts on the problem.
When you’re chased by a sabertooth tiger, that’s very useful. Your mind is one-pointed towards running for your life. Survival is the main and only objective.
But when you’re chased by daily fears, recurring thoughts, or gloomy headlines about the possible and imaginary outcomes of the Trump presidency, running for your life won’t help. And surviving isn’t a good enough daily objective.

This creates a vicious circle, where negativity breeds more negativity, your mind can only think about the problem, and your thoughts become so focused that you stop noticing the positives around you.

The negativity bias: negative thoughts stick

There’s more.

One of the main cognitive biases that skew our rational judgement of what we observe, is known as the negativity bias. This manifests in the greater effect that unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or experiences have on our psychological state compared to more positive or neutral ones. Studies have shown that, though positive emotions appear more frequently throughout the day, we tend to recall negative emotions more when thinking back.

negative thoughts vs positive thoughts

How many times have you let a small negative experience take over your whole day? I know I have.

We tend to expect positive behaviour and to get used to positive experiences, so when something negative happens, it sticks.

But it’s not all bad news. I have some positivity for you.

The long term effects of positive thoughts

Positive thoughts are associated with lower stress, better mood levels, and lower risk of inflammation and illness.
In a study from 2003, researchers split a group in two: one half was ask to write about a control topic, the other half to write about intensely positive experiences for three consecutive days.
90 days later, the group that wrote about positive experiences reported enhanced mood levels and far fewer health centre visits related to illnesses. After only 3 days of writing down positive experiences!

Here’s the paradox: positive thoughts enable you to get out of a negative situation, and create more positivity.

As negative thoughts and experiences activate the amygdala, the ancient part of the brain responsible for survival and automated behaviour (like driving), you forget about the future.
The fight-or-flight system doesn’t handle abstract thinking very well, as it’s made to concentrate on the now and then.

Positive thoughts broaden your focus, and allow the prefrontal cortex to kick in and imagine things that don’t exist yet. Like the future. You can make a plan. You can take action. You can create more positivity.

how to stop negative thoughtsJust like negativity creates a vicious circle, positivity creates a virtuous one.

So, where do we start?

How to increase positivity to stop negative thoughts

To increase positivity in your life and kickstart the virtuous cycle, you can increase exposure to positive experiences, and then cultivate appreciation. This will multiply the impact of positivity, and even transform existing experiences you’re overlooking into positive ones.
Appreciation trains your mind to notice what goes right, and not just what goes wrong.

Schedule in happy activities

We don’t even question scheduling another meeting into our morning. Or adding an extra chore to our to-do list. But when it comes to adding value to our energy and mood levels, we tend to leave things to the last minute. (This is why I suggest using the morning to invest in yourself).

Don’t feel guilty about scheduling time to experiment and play: wether it’s experiencing something new, doing a physical activity, or anything else that allows you to smile and experience a positive state of mind, make sure you make time for it.

Use your body to condition your mind

Your body follows your psychological state. As you become tense, you use different (more) facial muscles, your chest and shoulders become tense, and your breathing moves to your chest and becomes more shallow. Change your physiology, and your psychology will follow.

The easiest way to do this is to use breathing techniques. Take a deep breath in your belly for 5 seconds. Then hold it in for 5 seconds. Then breath out for 5 seconds. Enjoy the air flowing in and out of your lungs. Hold it out for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Distance yourself from negative thoughts

Distancing yourself from negative thoughts and situations allow you to engage the prefrontal cortex, and start some longer-term problem solving, while opening your mind to opportunities around you.
To distance yourself, observe your negative situation as an external third party. This will give you a new perspective, but also put enough distance between you and your thoughts to allow you to take action.
You can also move your thoughts in time: by creating imagined temporal distance, you buy yourself enough space to rationally plan and start to create change.

Check what your brain eats

Our thoughts are the result of what we expose ourselves to. The people you surround yourself with, the feeds you follow on social media, the outlets you read, and the programmes you watch, all determine what your thoughts will be tomorrow. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can deflect the negative stimuli in your day: your willpower is way too limited for that to be true, and our tribal nature makes us fit in, whether we want it or not.
Cut out people that drain you, irrelevant information that brings negativity to your day, and activities that bring you down.

Increase appreciation

To increase appreciation, all you have to do is train yourself to notice what’s going right.
Making meditation a daily habit is a great start to increasing your awareness of the present moment. You learn to observe the many amazing daily moments to counterbalance the few negatives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is also a great way to plan your day in the morning and then look back and notice what was good in the evening, instead of lingering on the few things that didn’t quite go as planned.
I like to use the 5 Minute Journal right after waking up and just before bed. Here’s the full review of my experience with the paper journal and the app.

Your duty to share positivity

One of the most powerful ways to increase your own positivity, is to help others.
Research has shown multiple times the positive impact that helping others has on the wellbeing, mood, and stress levels of the person providing support to someone else.
A recent study from Harvard Medical School has shown that volunteering monthly can boost your happiness to levels comparable to those found in people going from a $20,000 to a $75,000 annual income. Helping others can make you rich.

In a world where headlines use fear to sell clicks, while many of us go on social media to vent about what’s going wrong in their day, it is our duty to share the positives and show others that we can learn to notice what’s going right. We can all be lucky, we just need to be shown where to look.

We can all be lucky, we just need to be shown where to look. Click To Tweet

Your turn to notice: what is the best thing that happened in the last 7 days?
Click here to send me an email and share it with me!

— Matt



Can you die from not getting enough sleep?

Is it possible to die from lack of sleep?


Just like drowning isn’t caused by water, but by the consequent lack of oxygen, chronic tiredness won’t kill you. But the consequences of not getting enough sleep are very serious, and span across performance, happiness, and health.

In 2014, a 25 year old football fan was watching the football World Cup from home. You know, when the Netherlands beat Brazil 5-1. He was found dead in his armchair the next morning. Cause of death: sleep deprivation.
The man had stayed up for 48 hours in a row in order to watch the games from a different time zone, until he suffered a stroke, which the doctors linked to severe lack of sleep.

Why we hate sleep so much

Sleep deprivation has terrible consequences: it increases inflammation in the body, saps your memory capabilities, slows your reaction time, reduces your creativity, and can even affect your vision. And all of this is just related to performance.

Lack of sleep also affects your overall health, increasing the risk for cardiovascular diseases (like a stroke), mental health, obesity, and even cancer.

not enough sleep consequencesWhere to find happiness and performance.

Being tired vs being drunk

A study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney compared the effects of not getting enough rest with those of drinking alcohol. The research looked at various performance parameters such as reaction time, memory capacity, hand-eye coordination, task speed and execution. After 17 hours of being active without sleep, subjects’ performance level was comparable to that of someone with a 0.05% alcohol concentration in their blood or above. That’s the legal limit for drink driving in the US, by the way.
After 20 hours or more without sleep, performance lowered to levels equivalent to an alcohol concentration of 0.1%.

Results show that impairments in performance which have been judged as the legal limit for driving safely may start to occur as early as 17 hours after waking and around 18 hours on average after waking.

You wouldn’t be too proud to go to work a little drunk every day. Or to tell your family and friends you haven’t been sober around them in weeks. And yet, “busy” work culture celebrates lack of sleep like a badge of honour.

It’s the curse of knowledge workers: because your output isn’t easily measurable nor predictable, the focus shifts to making your work rituals as blatant as possible. Celebrating lack of sleep is the equivalent of theatrically shuffling papers all day and then claiming you’re “too busy”. Ok, but what value have you actually created?

In the meantime, 30% of the US population is subject to sleep deprivation.

What actually is sleep deprivation?

Because it sounds like such a grave term, it’s quite easy to distance ourselves from the concept of sleep deprivation. I don’t want this post to help you make that mistake and underestimate the problem.

Sleep deprivation is simply the condition of being affected by lack of sleep or sleeping at the wrong time of day. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re sleep deprived. Case closed.

This means that if you don’t get enough rest, you are living with one hand tied behind your back, shrinking your performance levels, and increasing your health risks.

If you’re thinking “but I’m special, I don’t have time to sleep”.
Remember that billionaire investors would out-sleep you in order to out-negotiate you.
Sleep can be a powerful weapon, allowing you to make the most of your awake time. And because not many people cultivate it, it can give you a strong edge against the competition.

Because most people fall into the sleepless warp.

The sleepless warp

Here’s how the warp works:

  1. Pull an all-nighter and tell yourself it’s a one off.
  2. The next day, your productivity drops due to lack of sleep.
  3. Extend your workday into the evening once again, because it was impossible to fit everything during day time.
  4. Procrastinate and waste time deciding whether to go to bed again.
  5. Go to bed eventually.
  6. Wake up and start again from point 2.

As you get less sleep, your productivity plummets, requiring more time per tasks, which in turn leaves less time for sleep, creating a vicious, self-feeding circle.

sleep deprivation

It’s very difficult to get out of the sleepless warp, because your lack of rest has made your mood negative, increased anxiety, and brought poor judgement due to decision fatigue. If this wasn’t enough, there’s a certain social stigma attached to sleep. Few people will understand why it’s a good idea to catch up with your sleep levels and then do quality work afterwards. But that’s just one more reason to do it, and out-sleep everyone else.

As you get less sleep, your productivity plummets, leaving less time for sleep. Click To Tweet

How to get more sleep?

The first step to getting more sleep is acknowledging its importance. Sleep is key to a healthy, happy, and productive life. This will help you bump sleep up your priority list.
Then, create a sleep time and a morning routine and stick to it. Simply work backwards from your wake up time to make sure you get 7-8 hours (you know how much you need!). Let me repeat this. Stick to it.

If you need some extra sleep, that’s ok. Remember, you’ll reap the (many) benefits tomorrow.
Here’s what I did last Monday.enough sleep

Your go now: when was the last time you caught up on sleep?
Send me an email and brag about the benefits of sleep and how it made you feel.

— Matt


inbox management

Decision fatigue: why making good choices is a matter of timing

What do a billionaire and a couple queuing up at the supermarket have in common?

They understand that our ability to make decisions is limited. Very limited.

I was waiting in line for the till. I needed basil. A couple standing in front of me, and then it would be my turn. Next to them, some thoughtfully positioned discounted coffee. She grabs two. Looks at him. “Which one do we get?” He looks at the coffee. He doesn’t care. He looks again. She holds the two bags of coffee in the air. “That one”. Great.

Now, this may be a very normal exchange. But if you pay attention throughout your day, you’ll see a pattern: most people do not like to take decisions.
Decisions are risky: if you decide, you take responsibility.
Decisions can be impolite: it’s a fine line between leadership and bossy behaviour.

Decisions are also limited. This is a phenomenon called decision fatigue.
Essentially, our ability to choose rationally deteriorates as the day progresses. This means that, as the day goes by, you become increasingly likely to make bad or rash decisions.

Choice fatigue and billionaires

In a world of choice, this is a real and constant problem.

The average supermarket stocks 42,214 items at any one time.
I checked my shop, it had 41 varieties of toothpaste. We only have 32 teeth.
Netflix? In 2014 it had 6,494 movies and 1,609 TV shows.
Food? If you live in a city, chances are you have a lot of choice around you. Sometimes there’s so much choice, you just go for “the usual”.

making-daily-choicesDaily choices.

This abundance of options means that we need to make decisions all the time.
The problem is, not all choices are created equal.

If you use your daily decisions on toothpaste and salad dressings, you may have a hard time taking more important decisions. You’ll be more likely to feel paralysed, to procrastinate, or to make a rushed choice.

This is why Mark Zuckerberg’s wardrobe looks so bland: he knows that menial morning decisions will impact his ability to make fundamental decisions later in the day.

Willpower and prison sentences

Decision fatigue is actually a manifestation of will fatigue: our daily willpower is limited.
Like a muscle, self-control weakens with each extra rep, until it’s too tired to do another one. At that point, our willpower lets go, and we tend to fall back on our default setting or the easiest option.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn is known to use this to his advantage: he schedules his negotiations for the early evening. By then, most people have gone through the whole day, having but a drop of willpower left. Except, Carl Icahn will sleep until 4pm, and then join the negotiation at 6pm just after reaching his peak mental ability. Easy.

Still don’t believe me?

A research study from Columbia University examined 1,112 parole rulings assigned to 8 judges over a 10-month period. Judges are under a lot of pressure, as they have to hear arguments and take a decision on 14 to 35 parole requests a day with only two breaks in between to rest: a morning snack and a late lunch.
The impact of this relentless schedule is striking: chances of being granted parole peak at 65% at the start of the day and right after each break, and plunge to practically 0% at the end of each shift.


Here’s what eats away at your willpower: Implementing new behaviours, Filtering distractions, Making decisions, Resisting temptation, Suppressing emotion, Suppressing impulses, Taking tests, Trying to impress others, Dealing with fear, Doing something you don’t enjoy, Selecting long-term over short-term rewards.

With a plethora of everyday choices, we squander our willpower on things that don’t matter, and have none left for things that are really important.

What you can do about it

Good news. Now that you know that willpower fatigue is a thing, you don’t have to be a victim of it. Here are a few strategies you can use to use your limited resources throughout the day.

Take naps

Like Carl Icahn, you can take a nap to break your day in two and reset your cognitive levels. You’ll be sleeping like a billionaire.

Move around

Willpower is the exertion of self-control, so let go for a while. Go for a run, dance in the kitchen, do something fun, immediately rewarding, and that involves moving around. The point is to let go of all the control.

Do things that motivate you

Research experiments have shown that strong incentives allow you to keep exerting self control even if you feel exhausted. Essentially, depending on whether your actions are aligned with your goals and mindset, you will feel either invigorated or exhausted by your efforts.

Minimise choice

Just like Mark Zuckerberg, you can decide to cut your options so you can minimise the amount of decisions you have to take daily. Getting rid of objects is a great way to start, as well as planning your meals in advance or sticking to a diet. Routines and habits are another great way to make sure that there is no choice involved, and you let the automation do the work. This is why I like to go to the gym at the same time every day.

Move important things early in the day

Timing is everything. If you want to make the most out of your day, make sure to put your priority first, when making good choices is easier. This is why the morning is the best time to invest in yourself.

Setup your environment

As our willpower slowly leaks away throughout the day, we become more prone to bad decisions. TV binging and doughnuts tend to happen at night rather than first thing in the morning. So does impulse online shopping. Get rid of temptations and make sure that your environment supports your positive behaviour, even when will fatigue kicks in.

Advance your decisions

Choose your outfit the evening before. Get your running gear at the bottom of your bed before going to sleep. This way, you can move menial decisions to the end of the day, and save tomorrow’s full tank for what really makes a difference.

Train your willpower

Once our self-control has depleted, we tend to go for our default setting. So make sure your default setting isn’t a negative one. For example, I never take the lift unless it’s over 5 floors.
You can also train your willpower incrementally, and by exposing yourself to inspiring models that support you and show you the next level.

Over to you now: what’s one thing you can do from today to protect your willpower?
Send me an email and let me know!

— Matt

set the right goals