Find the strength to follow self-help advice – moving against your inner monkey

posted in: How to human | 0

Guest post from (Wisdomination’s note: you’ll notice some “doctrinal differences” between this guest post and my correct way of seeing things. Indulge the heretic, and check out his blog.)

The internet is full of useful advice. Want to lose weight? Eat less, move more. Want to meet girls? Get out more and talk to them. Want to stop procrastinating? Power through the initial obstacles, get started and you’ll be ok. Want to develop a habit for life? Keep doing what you’re doing for 100 days and you’re set!

There’s only one tiny problem. Nothing, really. Not even worth mentioning. A detail.

No-one tells you how you’re supposed to make yourself actually do all those things.

I mean, sure, they try. Only most of the time the advice doesn’t quite work. Otherwise you would quit reading self help blogs and start doing something better. Like all the things I mentioned above.

You see where I’m getting at. Yes, I will tell you today how to make yourself do anything you decide to do. It will take some time – but once you know how there will be no stopping you!

Let’s start from the basics.

You may think that you know who you are and what you want. You are a whole person, with thoughts and desires. You know what’s good for you. You are rational.


Tim Urban / Wait But Why

You know the secret to success is to be yourself and pursue what you want. And then you will be successful.

Right? Wrong!

You are actually not one person, but two.

You are a rational human being with thoughts, intentions and plans.

And at the same time you are a primate who is driven by emotions, reflexes, habits and instincts. Only you don’t know that.

Tim Urban / Wait But Why

Our monkey brain makes us want to sleep, eat, have sex and be entertained.

Your rational self is, well, rational. So it’s not that different from other rational selves. It wants you to do sensible things, plan ahead, rest in time, be successful. The normal stuff.

Your monkey self, however, is a lottery.

If you are lucky, your monkey will be excited by some things that happen to be good for you.

If you are like 90% of the people, your monkey will make you miss deadlines, binge watch TV, eat too much and be late.

And if you are really unlucky, your monkey will make you think that your only purpose in life is to care for it. In which case you become an addict and ask tourists for money. Brrr…

This is one of the problems with self help advice. You may be getting it from a person whose monkey is very different to yours. We look up to success, and want to take advice from successful people. So we watch motivational stories about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Question is, how come I can’t do those things?

Some people are wired for success. Unfortunately, that’s not very common. The way things are looking, many more people seem to be wired for failure.

Ever wondered why mental illness makes people miserable? After all, if the illness is a departure from your average guy, wouldn’t it be logical that it can go either way? Then you could become mentally ill and be happy, cheerful and hardworking. Not moody and depressed. The answer is that such people most likely do exist. Only they are not seeing a doctor to complain that they are optimistic, hardworking and always motivated. No, they write advice on the internet telling poor schmucks like the rest of us to follow our dreams and passion…

So what’s the answer?

How do I make myself do things I constantly decide do, but never follow through with? Like study? Write the overdue report for work? Go to the gym? Take the stairs instead of the elevator?

Some techniques out there try to make our monkey work together with our rational brain. Eat naked in front of the mirror, for example. Monkey brain is visual and emotional. Explaining things to it doesn’t help. You need to shock it. A great example of this approach are those awful disease pictures on packs of cigarettes. I heard stories of smokers now picking and choosing which picture to get. ‘Cancer’s OK, just don’t give me impotence!’. Monkey brain does not worry about the future that much. Tomorrow does not exist. Monkey must eat and fuck today so that the monkey genes get passed on. So one way to fool the monkey is to commit yourself today, while the monkey is not watching. And then corner the monkey tomorrow. You have written in your blog that you are going to start exercising. You told all your friends. You went to sleep in your jogging outfit. Even with your running shoes on. What else left to do but to run?

And all this works… to a point.

The catalogue of tricks to keep the monkey at bay is growing. You try to keep all these tricks in mind, but it’s quickly becoming impossible. In the end, you get excited about a new trick, play around with it for a while until it stops working and move on to the next one. It’s easily possible to start moving in circles, coming back to the same tricks months or years later.

You engage in a daily battle that’s like trying to navigate a yacht in changing wind. Sure, if you have a sail and know how to use it, you will get much further than those who either drift or crash their boats. But would it not be nice to get an engine instead?

Well, let’s get an engine right now.

The answer is to… move against your monkey.

Simple but powerful.

Do not play games with it. Stop priming yourself. Quit imagining yourself with a sixpack. Do not repeat a mantra in front of the mirror.

Do not make peace with your monkey. If it’s resisting you, that means you are doing something right.

Don’t do soul searching each time you should do the right thing. Don’t reason with the monkey. Walk against it.

The good thing is, monkey can’t persist. After all, it works both ways. Monkey will stop you from starting a project, but also panic one day before the deadline. Monkey does want you to be happy and successful. It just has weird and unhelpful ways of trying to get you there.

Once you start challenging your monkey, things will get a lot easier.

Another great thing about resisting your monkey – you will notice that all your weaknesses are interconnected. That’s because the same monkey is making you eat more than you should, stay up late to watch a movie and play games instead of doing work. But the good news is that once you resist the monkey in one area, it gets weaker in all of them! Going up the stairs instead of taking the elevator is going to help you stay away from the cake you shouldn’t be eating. Going to bed on time will make it easier to start with a project you’ve been putting off for ages. Doing the right thing becomes easier because there’s no more ‘this once’. Your efforts are now part of the bigger picture.

After a while you will even start looking for the monkey by yourself! Like going through a messy drawer – something you would not think of doing before. Because you know that this isolated incident will make you stronger in the long term.

Challenging the monkey becomes fun. Who would have thought of that?

Word of caution. Monkey can disguise itself as your rational brain.

People tend to rationalize their instinctive/emotional decisions.

I heard a great joke lately:

“I went into therapy to face my demons. After one year of therapy my demons are super educated and give me good reasons why they should stay exactly where they are”.

When you argue with the monkey, you don’t even know it’s there. You think you are coming up with all these rational arguments by yourself. Some of the arguments monkey uses are standard. But not all. Your brain is very creative when monkey drives it, so it can surprise you! And since both your rational mind and your inner monkey have access to your intelligence, being smart is no help. Quite the contrary.

An example of monkey reasoning taken to extreme is addiction. Addicts explaining why they can’t/won’t go clean are some of the most creative people in the world.

Some of the usual monkey excuses:

‘I can’t do it if it doesn’t feel right. I have to stay true to myself.’

‘I need to wait till I am at peace with myself’ (and, of course, that moment likely will never come… Or you may shock the monkey for a short time but then the shock effect will wear out and you will be right where you were).

‘I need to make sure I research everything well before I start things.’

So you buy all the latest running gear, research forums, become a jogging expert… but never actually run.

‘The moment’s not right because (I need to wash the dishes first… I haven’t spoken to my friend in ages… I need to get through the hard times first… I need to get into the right mood by playing my favourite videogame – ups, look at the time – will start fresh in the morning…)’

So if your brain is messing with you and doing your monkey’s bidding, do one very simple thing.

Flip a coin.

Or, which is even better, use

If you do this every time you are stuck with yourself, at least in 50% of the cases you will do the right thing.

And once you start doing the right thing, it will be easier to keep doing it. Monkey won’t put up such a fight and your brain won’t put you in a thinking hell.

Leaving you free to do whatever your rational brain wants you to do. Lose weight, meet girls, become a billionaire. You name it.

So now that you are on the road to stardom, celebrate by buying Z a beer! Soon you won’t know what to do with your money anyway 😉