I haven’t eaten in three days and just went for a two-hour hike in the mountains followed by a swim in a waterfall.
No, I haven’t been kidnapped and I’m not lost in the jungle.
All of this by choice.
I’m on day three of my five-day fast, where I only drink water with a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt, and juice from a few limes.
I’ve done five-day fasts several times, but for whatever reason this time seems to be the best (for me), meaning that I feel pretty good. The biggest difference compared to previous fasts has been my subtraction of any coffee or tea — now it’s just water.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The first day I started the fast, within 8 hours my mind quieted down and I actually became quite relaxed yet very alert. During dinner time I experienced a mild hunger pain for only about 10 minutes (no doubt due to the typical cycle of ghrelin and leptin), but the desire for food quickly went away and hasn’t come back these 3 days.
Hunger is an illusion.
I’ve been waking up at sunrise and it’s very easy to get out of bed — there’s no brain fog. I slept fine and might have woken up once. I’m drinking water every hour or so and consume about 3 liters+ of water a day, but more if I’m physically active outside. I also have been taking a hot bath every morning followed by a couple of cold showers throughout the day. Today, I might get a massage.
This is how I’m feeling right now: alert, focused, not hungry, very awake, energetic.
One common misconception is that you’ll be hungry — in fact, the opposite is true. Hunger subsided for me after the first day. My body depleted it’s glycogen stores (sugar) and started use my fat as fuel (ketones), a state also known as “ketosis.” Ketones are like super-food for the brain and allows you to function just fine while you’re fasting. That also means no more brain fog or emotional ups and downs of fluctuating blood sugar. I feel pretty clear-headed and like I could write blog posts for hours. Maybe I will.
Another fear is that fasting for several days is somehow bad for you. Again, the opposite is true. Fasting helps lower blood sugar levels, decreases inflammation, lowers your risk of cancer, strengthens your immune system, and has even been used as a technique by diabetics to improve insulin sensitivity. Body builders also use fasting as a technique to build leaner muscles.
In fact, all the myths about fasting — it makes you burn muscle, it results in overeating, deprives the body of nutrients, “it’s starvation” — have been systematically disproven long ago, but somehow people still seem surprised by the practice. It probably doesn’t help that the damn Snickers bar commercial keeps lying to us (snickers bars will not make you less hungry…).
It’s important to note that there is nothing normal about eating 3 times a day, as our culture basically made this up and is now drilled into our heads. Throughout most of human history it was common to have periods of days, weeks or months where access to food was scarce. Not eating for several days was the norm, a way of life. If we had needed food every day, human’s would not have been able to survive and we wold not be here today.
This changed with the agricultural revolution, but many ancient societies like the Greeks understood that there was something physically (and spiritually) beneficial, so they took to voluntary fasting.
Hippocrates (who studied medicine) observed that people that were obese were likely to die faster and recommended a daily 24 hour fast. This was over 2,000 years ago.
Not to mention, almost all religions across time — like Christianity, Islam and Buddhism — have advocated for some kind of fasting. Today, millions of people continue to fast for both religious and physical purification.
For hundreds of years fasting remained relatively obscure in the West apart from religions fasting and small medical circles.
Then, over 100 years ago the author Upton Sinclair, who some of you might know from his seminal book The Jungle, also wrote a lesser known book about fasting called The Fasting Cure.
The book had no religious connotations, but rather documented Upton’s prolonged fasting strategy and his experience overcoming sever stomach issues. The book inspired a wave of thousands of people with various illnesses (ranging from gastrointestinal, cardiac, metabolic all the way to the common cold) to try prolonged fasts (3-50 days), and the majority of people reporting very positive effects. It also sparked medical research on the topic — over a century ago.
What Sinclair didn’t know, though, that modern science has helped to unveil was that it’s not just a good strategy for treating certain ailments, but can also be used as a preventative measure.
Today we know now that:
Fasting “reboots” your immune system, forcing your body to produce new white blood cells. In turn, this can help fight against disease, improve your respiratory function and even boost resistance against the common cold.
Studies on caloric restriction have also directly linked fasting to increasing telomere-length and preventing against senescent cells, essentially helping protect again DNA damage and increasing life expectancy up to 20%.
Living longer, feeling sharper, getting less sick, and reducing impulsive eating all sound pretty good to me. It’s also logically pretty straightforward. If many of our illnesses today come from too much food and poor diets, then simply eliminating food for a period of time would seem to have benefits.
So why hasn’t your doctor recommended fasting to you? Probably because the price of fasting is zero — in fact, you save money. There’s nothing to prescribe and there’s little commercial incentive. Also perhaps because doctors don’t get any real training on nutrition in med school — on average it’s a total of 4 hours, which probably means you might have more up to date information than your doctor in many cases.
We live in a world where people know that exercise is good for you, but don’t exercise. They know sleep is necessary, but don’t get enough sleep. Perhaps there is little hope for fasting to gain adoption since it’s on an “extreme” end of the health/diet spectrum.
On the other hand — fasting is a lot simpler. It’s free, and you don’t need to follow some diet book that is doomed to fail. The barrier is of course a social one, so ultimately it comes down to self education and experimentation, since fasting is a practice we all have access to.
I’d also be excited to see fasting make it’s way into popular culture, or at the very least as a suggested option when visiting a doctor or nutrition specialist. Particularly in light of the obesity epidemic, where half of Americans are obese and 29 million have diabetes, it seems about time for the revival of the world’s oldest diet.
“The best of all medicines are resting and fasting.”
To learn more about fasting, check out the following books and videos.
*That said, I am not a doctor, and everyones health situation is, by definition, different. For example, children and pregnant women shouldn’t fast. I thus encourage everyone to take a smart and thorough approach before experimenting and speak with a health professional before undergoing a prolonged fast.
When I first moved to Tokyo to start my job in corporate recruitment, my salary was approximately $35,000 per year. I began apartment hunting and after being turned down by several nice locations for not being Japanese (unfortunately this still happens), I was lucky to find a few good options. Many people chose to commute 30–40 minutes by train from the city (my office was downtown), and while it takes them longer to get to work, their apartments are reasonably priced and spacious.
I could have found a nice place in the boonies, but I was adamant on living in downtown Shibuya, a thriving central district most famous for the droves of people shuffling across the scramble crossing. I craved to be in the center of the action — bars, clubs, restaurants — and a stone’s throw from the office. It just seemed like a chance I couldn’t pass up as a bachelor in Tokyo.
The standard protocol for getting an apartment is that your rent could be no more than one-third of your monthly salary. In my case, I was making 340,000 yen per month before taxes, which meant that I could spend a maximum of 113,000 yen per month on an apartment. I’m not sure if this was a legally enforceable rule, but it sure came off as rather strict when I spoke to the real-estate agents.
I did some back-of-the-napkin calculations and concluded that I’d be fine to max-out the limit and find an apartment that was 113,000 yen. My reasoning: I’d still have a decent chunk of money for bills, food, going out, and even a bit to save. My rather poor attention to detail, failure to grasp high-school algebra, and unwavering optimism probably blinded me to a couple of simple facts; 1) it’s hard not to spend money in the center of Tokyo and 2) don’t forget that you have to pay taxes, dill weed! Not to mention, I had to borrow money in order to put up 3 months rent to cover the upfront fees (it’s typical in Japan). Ultimately, I found a great bachelor-pad (by Japanese standards) in Shibuya, about 5 minutes from the station. I borrowed some money from my parents, and signed the 2-year rent contract knowing I was barely affording it…and didn’t look back.
The first 3 months of my job were fast-paced, full of trainings and sweaty client meetings in the humid Tokyo summer. I was set off into the wild and was trying hard to prove myself in the corporate jungle. Often times this meant taking out prospective clients out to lunches and dinners; although I could use my credit card, save the receipts and expense these meetings, I still had to pay out of pocket and wasn’t reimbursed until the end of the month. The expenses quickly added up, and on top of my basic living costs, I had very little money at the end of the month. In Japan we’re only paid once a month, not every two weeks like in the US. So you really had to manage your money well.
The first several months I was constantly strapped for cash, and by the 24th of each month I typically only had a few dollars (a few hundred yen) left in my bank account. Pay day was a thrill. When the money would hit my bank account on the 25th, I would immediately embark on a hedonistic Redbull Vodka-fuelled night at my favorite clubs in Shibuya. It’s not difficult to imagine how this got out of hand quickly.
One month, I had to actually ask my boss for money to pay rent. This was a low point, bottom of the barrel for me. While my boss was understanding and didn’t seem to mind, I felt a huge sense of shame and failure on my part. The shame quickly passed and turned into action. Then and there I promised myself that I’d never borrow money again, get my shit together, and focus on getting out of the vicious money-spending cycle that I had started.
But what to do? I didn’t have a choice to move locations because breaking the rent agreement would cost me two months rent, and moving into a new place would require additional up-front costs. There was no way out. My job, though, had a large incentive-commissions based component. Like most sales jobs, if I achieved my sales target, then I’d be able to rake in a good bonus at the end of each 3-month quarter. My cash-crunched situation and shift in perspective led me to do some actual calculations, and while there was a discretionary component to earning a bonus, I learned that I still had a chance to almost double my salary from 35k to 70k. All I had to do was over-achieve my sales results by 10–20% — easier said than done!
There were a few things I did that changed my trajectory from a money-spending salaryman to money-saving, results-achieving rookie of the year.
I cut down on the booze. Alcohol was costing me upwards of $150 a week. Thursdays and Fridays were spent in a non-productive state of slight tiredness, and I spent most Saturday’s comatose on my couch, occasionally waking up to munch on some left over pizza I had ordered the night before. I cut down on more than half of my drinking, and limited drinking to once a week (instead of the previous 3–4 days). This not only saved me money but it gave me increased energy (duh!) to actually focus on my work.
I got creative. I still had to take out candidates and clients, which required me to spend money. I came up with two solutions. First, whenever I went to meet someone I started inviting more senior consultants and managers — the more senior person always had to pay. Second, I asked our HR to start an upfront-cash system, where they would give consultants a monthly stipend of $200 that they would then record as expenses. This meant I didn’t have to use my own cash or credit card.
I worked on Sundays. Now that I had more energy from not over-drinking, I knew the only way to get ahead and actually make myself eligible for the bonuses was to out-hustle others. Solution: I simply treated Sunday like a workday. I’d go to a cafe and focus. This further gave me time to reflect and plan the week, instead of coming into work and wasting Monday morning trying to figure out what the hell was going on. So when Monday rolled around, I often found that I had already achieved more than half of my weekly targets — and the week hadn’t even started yet! This concept of “front-loading” your week where you complete the most important, high impact tasks first, made the rest of the week unfold a lot smoother.
My new activities quickly turned into habits and these habits turned into tangible results. Within 3–4 months, before I even finished my first year on the job, I was able to close some record sales deals. No doubt part of this was luck — I remember having stayed late in the office once and picked up the phone, which was incoming sales-lead, that later resulted in a huge sale. I was also surrounded by great colleagues and an encouraging boss who motivated me to push forward despite tough times (luck).
These better habits and good results gave me confidence relatively early on in my career that it was possible to make changes quickly, re-adjust my lifestyle, and put in hard work that would lead to big things. I continued this pattern (occasionally falling off the horse but quickly jumping back on), and I believe that these early events led to a strong career afterwards, including several subsequent promotions in my 4 years at the company.
What’s wrong with me?
Some people might be shaking their heads at how obvious and avoidable my mistakes were. I could have simply rented an affordable place, or just planned a bit better. Or perhaps if I had spoken to more people who’d been through my situation, or had a mentor, then some of these initial blunders could have been avoided.
But looking back, I question whether or not I would have achieved the same level of results, had I not found myself in a challenging situation. Had I chosen an affordable apartment, away from the city, it would have likely been morestressful and left me less productive. Why? Because it would take me longer to come to and from work, and I’d probably be more tired. Also I knew that there was a correlation between commute times and depression, so that didn’t help. Sure, perhaps I wouldn’t have worried about money as much, and perhaps my growth in the company would have been less stressful and more ‘steady.’ But the pressure I had from living in an unaffordable apartment led me to reflect on my own mistakes, forced me to create a plan, and provided an opportunity for me to be creative in achieving my goals.
If I had to go back in time, I’d do it again. In fact, after going through this I came to see my accidental-conundrum not as something to be avoided, but rather a fine technique to use when we’re trying to achieve tough goals. The biggest culprits that stop us from reaching our goals, or even starting to move towards our goals, are procrastination and the often-cited excuse of “not enough willpower.” Human behavior is funny. Even if we know that we’ll regret eating that half pound of chocolate, or opting to make $10 now vs. waiting a year for $100 are short-sighted options, we inevitably succumb to “short-term ism.” You can thank millions of years of evolution for that.
Simply grasping human psychology on an intellectual level doesn’t do much, though. In the moment, we can choose to do what feels good, or make “reasonable decisions” (like renting an affordable apartment,” and ignore what might actually influence the future. When we’re comfortable and follow the tried-and-true path, it seems like, well, the right path to be on. This is a classic example of availability bias, which simply means we’re going to choose a plan, option or idea that’s available to us. But you see, when we severely limit our options, we trick our normally very susceptible minds into action. Limit those available options and align them with goals, and you have (at least one) recipe for success.
In business this can mean making up front commitments that you know will be tough to meet, but not giving yourself much leeway for failure — the price being potentially detrimental, whether financially or socially. The saying “under promise and over deliver” applies to certain situations, but if you’re always setting your expectations low, with little incentive otherwise, it’s very easy to fall into doing the minimum amount necessary. We can’t expect others to pressure us into moving towards our goals (although that can be helpful), so it’s up to us to make it happen. Of course, there’s a limit to how much pressure we can take, so it’s first important to understand what that is for us individually.
The Yerkes-Dodson Sweet Spot
There’s a principle in psychology called the Yerkes-Dodson law which holds that stress (and associated arousal) makes a person more productive, but only up to a certain point. If you find a situation extremely tasking and exhausting you’re not likely to function very well. On the other hand, not enoughstress/challenge results in an absence of motivation, and too much stress puts you at risk of cardiovascular and immune problems, anxiety and depression.
If your stress levels are in the optimum range, however, you’re going to be more alert and attentive — “switched on.” You’ll also benefit from enhanced memory function and executive thinking capacities. That’s how I felt when there was shame from borrowing money from my boss and the subsequent pressure to perform at work — motivated to change and work harder. But I didn’t freak out, panic and become extremely anxious. In other words, I hit the Yerkes-Dodson sweet spot.
The question is how/why was I able to remain in that Yerkes-Dodson sweet spot? Well, we all have different levels of optimal stress and there could be any range of factors that influence this. In my situation, along with cutting down on drinking, there were likely a couple of factors:
#1. An authentic environment where I could express myself.One study explored the role of authenticity, and found that employees who were more authentic at work were also more efficient, driven and resilient. I feel that my job fell into this category (for me, personally) as it allowed me to do some things I really enjoyed; namely, I was constantly meeting new people, getting to have real conversations, and I was open with my ignorance on certain topics and valued learning from those more experience then myself. But perhaps if I was working in a toxic environment, or simply in a work culture that didn’t match my intrinsic motivators, then I wouldn’t have been as motivated to work hard. That’s certainly possible, in which case I could have suffered from debilitating anxiety in my cash-crunched situation, and the end of this story wouldn’t have been so pretty.
#2. A growth mindset. The other important factor was perhaps fostering a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset). A relevant study tested participants experienced symptoms of stress/anxiety. Naturally, certain symptoms made it harder for the participants to perform a cognitive task. However, when they were instructed to intentionally interpret their symptoms as signs of excitement (i.e. tricking themselves, in a sense), they were able to overcome the debilitating aspects of the stress and perform the task more effectively. In other words, your outlook on life can determine whether you think something is an exciting task to be a tackled or a stressful/annoying activity to deal with.
When I joined the company I knew that I had a lot to learn. It was my first job, I had only worn a suit once, and I had never properly learned how to use a calendar (I used to write my “to do lists” on my hand). There was so much to learn and I accepted that as a simple fact. It also helped that there were people around me who were successful that I could look up to.
Start Small Before You Jump Into Deep Water
All that said, before you purposefully throw yourself into a sticky-situation like I did, you could first try this technique on a smaller scale. You could, for example, set a goal to become healthier. Place a (big) chunk of money as a bet with your friend that you’ll lose X weight by X date, and don’t allow yourself an easy way out. You’ll find that you’ll have to sit down, plan and figure out how in the the hell to accomplish this goal. It could, perhaps, start with creating a solid morning routine.
In my case, after I quit my job and started a drone-services company in Japan, I flat out purchased several drones that I couldn’t really afford. This might go against the lean-startup method, but the capital investment pressured me to start marketing my services quickly and led to a quick turn around in sales. This can be applied on a lower level, too. When I started my ketogenic diet, I purchased 5 kilograms of butter that effectively took up half of the space in my fridge. I have to eat that butter now.
In any case, before embarking on the journey to achieve your goal, whatever it may be, ask yourself a few questions. Am I allowed to express my ideas and be authentic in this situation? If there’s something blocking me, can I change it? Do I get both positive and constructive feedback that helps me realize my strengths? Do I have a support network, are there people who I can look up to and ask for help when necessary? Do I have a plan B and C? What’s the worst that could happen? Could I get wiped out? And do I really want to do this?
You should be happy with your answers, and if you’re not, then there might be too much risk. Keep in mind that if you’re going to put yourself in a stressful environment that you want to overcome, you’ll need to hit the sweet spot. That will be different for everyone and totally depends on your situation. More often than not, though, you’ll discover that taking the first leap into deep water is scary, but when we limit our options and are confronted with a tough-but-not-impossible task, we’re surprisingly good swimmers.
For most of my life I would roll out of bed, jump in the shower, scroll through emails, chug a coffee (or furiously sip, depending on how hot it was) and brush my teeth. Then I would scramble to work in a sweat and arrive 20 minutes early to sift through more ‘urgent’ emails. I’d grab a second coffee on the way to work, upping my jitteriness levels to the point where my voice was shaky. I was living a caffeine-hazed existence on top of a never-ending roller coaster. It was like I was headed in one direction and moving fast, but I wasn’t sure where, nor was I in control. Those were the days!
Today, this sort of routine would be unthinkable to me. It would be like driving out of the parking garage with four flat tires — sure, I could get to where I was going, but it would be a rough ride.
I’m not sure when it was, but one day I simply got tired of being tired, and decided to develop a morning routine to keep my tires properly inflated, so to speak. I went through two years of trial and error to nail down my current routine, and in the process tried everything from writing positive messages on my bathroom mirror to going to bed and waking up at precisely the same time for 2 months in a row. For a while, I stopped eating breakfast; I quit coffee and instead ingested a massive gulp of lemon and salt water; I tried melatonin, huperzine A and various nootropics to give me an ‘edge.’ Some worked, some didn’t.
Eventually, I started to see results. I felt better during the day, slowly progressed towards goals I had set, and felt healthier too. Well, when you create a defined, solid morning routine, you’re developing one of the most important habits one can build. It’s the proverbial ‘keystone habit,’ or the habit — or more precisely, a series of habits — that can lead to other good habits. For example, I found that incorporating even a tiny amount of exercise into my morning motivated me, over time, to be more active, and gradually increasing my running time (and eventually giving me the courage to run a marathon).
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits — practical, emotional, and intellectual — systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” — William James
We know that an employee’s mood when they clock-in at work predicts their interpersonal functioning and performance/productivity throughout the day. Starting the day in a good mood, then, is important for success. And naturally, starting the day with a routine (especially one that incorporates exercise + coffee, which = dopamine) is likely to lead to a positive mood! If marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, then a morning routine is a gateway to more success.
We also have a limited amount of willpower — this has been proven over and over again, like in the experiment where people who forced themselves to eat radishes instead of tempting chocolates subsequently quit faster on unsolvable puzzles than people who had not had to exert self-control over eating. In other words, our cognitive capacities are taxed throughout the day. So, if you have an established routine set out for the morning (and don’t just “go with the flow”), you are able to run on autopilot, thereby preserving your cognitive capacities for later in the day.
Lastly, a routine can further provide a sense of newfound control in your life. Instead of a helpless tadpole floating down the river of life, you undergo a metamorphosis, shaping into a four-legged amphibian that has gained some power of self-direction.
My morning routine has molded and taken many different forms over time — it’s a very different animal than it was two years ago. As I write this, I’ve added in a short yoga practice after my push-ups, as I was inspired by a one week yoga retreat that I attended in the Gili Islands, Indonesia. The whole routine takes me roughly 1.5 hours, not including the gym session every other day.
Here’s how it looks like now:
Sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day (10 pm and 630 am)
100 small jumps, fifty with hands by my side and fifty with hands in the air.
Daily Journal, Gratitudes, and to-do list (2–3 pages), handwritten with a ballpoint
Daily Coffee Mix. (Grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, MCT oil, cacao powder, black medium roast coffee)
Book (mix of fiction and non-fiction, 10–15 minutes)
Hot/cold shower, alternating (10 minutes)
A 1 hour-1.5 workout (running, rowing, kettlebell swings)
Other activities I sometimes include:
Gargle with Pink Himalayan sea salt. This really clears my throat well. Then I drink some sea salt too.
Listen to a podcast instead of reading. I always listen to them at 2x speed.
So, let me break it down in a bit more detail….
#1. Good sleep
I go to bed around 10pm, and wake up at 6 am — I’m definitely more of a lark than I am an owl. Our circadian rhythms, or biological clocks, change over time, which is one reason why teenagers don’t like waking up early, while grandma is already up at 4am watching Fox News. Research shows that the optimal time to go to sleep can depend on your age, sex and about a dozen other factors — and this too changes over time. When I say optimal, I mean that while there are tools you can use to measure your heart rate variability and sleep cycles, etc. I prefer to keep it simple and listen to my body. Optimal can simply be defined as, “when I feel good.” It’s the time when I feel it’s easiest to actually fall asleep, and when I feel most rested in the morning. For me, I feel great when I doze off between 9–11pm and wake up between 5–7am, as per my circadian rhythm as a 27-year old guy.
I use my iPhone to set an alarm, but keep it on Airplane mode and turn of all my notifications for all my apps, so I never see any messages when I wake up. I also use my Amazon Echo to set a second alarm. I try very hard not to look at my phone before I go to bed, for at least an hour beforehand, and keep it in a separate room. The blue light emitted from phones tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, and in fact, every single cell in your body has its own biological clock, where light is the primary synchronizer of our rhythm. So yeah, it’s kind of important. (The phone in the morning is fine though, for this very same reason!) And the other reason I don’t look at my phone is because, if I read a message or article, I’ll end up staring at the ceiling thinking about it, or jumping out of bed to write an email, which is totally unnecessary and further disrupts my sleep.
If air conditioning is available (it usually is) I try and keep the room temperature relatively cool, around 65–68 degrees. This has been shown to help you fall asleep faster, reduce insomnia, and even increase metabolism. This is also the reason I tend to not take a hot shower or bath in the evening, so as not to raise my body temperature; rather I shower in the morning (if I do shower at night, though, I always finish with a cold shower).
I usually read a fiction or nonfiction book for about 20–30 minutes in bed, which helps me wind down and doze off into Lala land. That said, sleep experts recommend against using the bed for anything other than sleep (sex is also permitted because of the post-orgasm physiological calming that happens). This is because people who struggle with insomnia need to train their bodies and minds to associate the bed with feelings of sleepiness, rather than any form of mental stimulation. I can’t help reading though, but the book is usually bit boring, and I try not to pick up anything too exciting, and thus don’t have any trouble.
I try not to eat any big meals at least 3–4 hours before going to bed. Eating a large meal late at night creates more work for our digestive tract, as we have to work harder to process the food. This creates more work for our bodies and brains. But that doesn’t mean I don’t eat anything; I occasionally boil an egg or two and munch down before bedtime (with a pinch of himalayan sea salt). New studies show that small, nutrient-dense meals shortly before bed actually have positive physiological benefits, especially if you exercise regularly. A few reasons I choose egg: 1) Protein before bed decreases post-exercise recovery time. 2) The egg tastes delicious 3) Egg yolks have cholesterol, which in turn boosts testosterone production. This process is expedited during sleep.
By the way, I have some good news for anybody that still believes eggs are bad due to cholesterol. Seven of nine studies recently showed that there was no link between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, and two studies showed cholesterol actually improved cardiovascular function. Cholesterol got a bad rap a few years ago, but ’tis no longer. This myth has been busted.
As you can see, having a good morning routine really starts the day before.
Basically, if you can get good sleep, then you’ll likely feel really refreshed in the morning, even if your ‘morning routine’ is just drinking a cup of coffee and reading a few pages of a book. Imagine if you are not well rested, cranky, stressed and/or groggy. It’s going to take a lot of extra cold showers, ashtanga yoga and jumping jacks to get you out of that miserable state. Instead, focus on having a good evening ritual, and the morning ritual will unfold a lot more smoothly.
Daniel Sher, clinical psychologist, had this to add:
“Despite the incredible benefits of a morning routine, someone who is prone to anxiety and insomnia should potentially also allow themselves some slack when it comes to their routine. Especially if/when: a) they don’t get sufficient sleep (in which case perhaps they should shorten or adapt their routine); and b) if the pressure to perform a routine in the morning is making it harder for them to sleep.”
#2. Jump, motherf*cker!
Alexa, turn that alarm off!
I don’t wake up in a “hoorah, hoorah, let’s crush the day, and I have too much testosterone” fashion, at least not all of the time. Sometimes I want to snooze, snuggle or say “fuck it” and go back to sleep. Most of the time, though, I wake up naturally, a couple minutes before the alarm, and feel rather content, especially if I have gone to the gym the day before (I notice my resting heart rate is in the upper 30s, low 40s on these very relaxed days).
When I do wake up, at 6 or 6:30 am, I get out of bed and go into the living room or open space, depending on if I’m traveling at the time. I immediately jump and bounce up 50 times like a wild man. I stole this one from Tony Robbins, who uses a small trampoline. Thanks Tony. Then another 50 times with my hands in the air. This helps clear the fluid and wash out unnecessary metabolic by-products from my lymph nodes, that becomes stagnant when we’re asleep. Your lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system and is responsible for clearing fluids from your body. Ever wake up with puffy eyes? That’s fluid accumulated in your lymph nodes.
It works for me, even though I look like a goofy hand-waving lunatic. This jumping also provides the first psychological indicator that it’s really time to wake up. I am getting my body moving, and my body knows what that means. I take a deep breath after the 100th bounce and feel the first wave of awakeness wash across my body, through my spine and into my head. I’m starting to feel “kind of semi-awake-ish.”
#3. Push-ups — not quite like Arnold, but good enough.
From there, I do 20–30 push-ups followed by a one minute plank. The pushups are medium-paced and deep, usually shoulder-width apart and done on one breath. The plank is to draw awareness to both my arms and legs at the same time. Then I stretch my arms and legs for about 2–3 minutes — this is to prepare for the yoga as well as the meditation, as I’ll be in a relatively still position for 30+ minutes. I don’t really break a sweat, and it’s just to get my blood pumping. My body is working, but my brain is still “loading” and I haven’t logged in. It’s still the very start of my morning boot-up sequence, but I’ve really started to warm up my body with jumps, push ups and stretches, and I’m getting a little bit excited.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive; to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. — Marcus Aurelius
#4. Praising the Egyptian Sun God, Ra
Now it’s time to pay proper respects to the source of all life — the sun god Ra. This short yoga stretch is the bridge connecting my body and mind, before I go into full-fledged meditation. In fact, a lot of yoga is actually used to prepare you for meditation. The yoga moves are slow, methodical, and deliberate, with a particular focus on inhaling and exhaling. It’s pretty basic, as anyone that has ever done yoga will tell you.
As I salute the sun with palms to heart, I let out a final exhale to mark the end of the sequence and feel a tingling sensation through my neck (studies are still unclear whether this is an endorphin release or another chemical, but it feels good).
And we know it’s good for you, too. Gentle yoga has shown to release the chemical in your brain called GABA, which plays a role in suppressing neural activity and thus explains the feeling of calm. Yoga has the capacity to act on the hypothalamus in a way that reduces cortisol levels (stress hormones). This associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, and this finding also explains the mechanism by which yoga can be effective in the treatment of depression.
I salute you, sun.
#5. Headlessness — Aka ‘mindfulness’ meditation
Next, I find a comfortable place to sit. Either the couch, bed, or floor with legs in a cross-legged position, fingertips on my knees in either a classic gyan mudra, hakina mudra, kali mudra, or yoni mudra. When I change my finger positions, I find it gives me a variety of different feelings — one might feel more balancing, and another energizing. I practice a mindfulness meditation or vipassana meditation for at least 30 minutes. It’s one of the most powerful parts of my morning routine. (I recently got a zazen cushion for my birthday, which has been great.)
The science behind meditation is quite promising, and it actually changes the structure of your brain. Namely, a thickening of the prefrontal cortex which is associated with an increased ability to regulate emotion and inhibit behavior and thoughts. All of the above are exceptionally important when it comes to productivity, happiness and mental health. Oh, and we even have brain-scans of monks that have spent their lives meditating that show they are some of the happiest people in the world.
The barriers to starting meditation are pretty low. You don’t have to dive into an initiation rite or go to some fancy ceremony. You can sit in the comfort of your own home, or, if your legs or back hurt, you can lay down. I used to practice for 10 minutes, the past year has been 15, and since my 10-day Vipassana silent retreat, I’ve bumped it up to 30 minutes-1 hour. Sometimes I imagine myself with no head, too….
I started with the Headspace meditation app, which has been absolutely wonderful in developing a good meditation routine. Randomized control trials specifically testing the headspace app have shown it to increase compassion, moderate decrease depression, and, overall, boost mood. It’s a non-religious, user-friendly option, especially for us Westerners.
I don’t always use the app, and simply slip into a quiet state of calm (or sometimes frantic anxiety), depending on the day. My approach varies depending on what I am working on; fostering acceptance, exploring creativity, or calming anxiety to name a few. The main techniques I use are visualization, alternate nasal breathing, noting, counting, and silent chanting (soh-hom). There is no wrong or right technique, and I continue to experiment with different varieties.
#6. Coffee time, baby
Following my meditation session, I get up and put the coffee pot on. I drink organic medium or dark roast coffee approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after waking up. This gives my body enough time to release cortisol, which helps wake me up, and regulates mood. If I were to drink coffee directly after I woke up, say, within the first 15 minutes, the caffeine would replace my natural cortisol release, thereby creating an artificial boost that would foster dependence. Basically, it would screw up my natural ability to wake up.
Coffee increases dopamine and serotonin release so it makes your body and brain literally feel pleasure. The polyphenols in coffee have been shown to improve cardiovascular health. So, it feels really good, and it wakes you up, and it’s good for you.
If something is too good to be true, it usually is. Apart from the yellow teeth, drinking too much coffee has also been shown to increase insulin resistance (overtime insulin resistance can lead to diabetes), increased stress, and a decrease in Vitamin B and iron levels — in certain people. But here is the catch: In moderation and with a healthy lifestyle, these negative effects weren’t there, and actually had largely positive effects. How can this be so? Well, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and the typical American diet, the results are pretty detrimental. I suppose most things in combination with garbage would still be, well, garbage.
With that said, I personally try and keep an active lifestyle, not eat garbage, and stick to two cups of coffee a day. Also, what kind of coffee you drink is important, as instant coffee has higher level of acrylamide, a carcinogen. Here is a list of coffee brands with the lowest levels of acrylamide, so err on the side of caution and grab some Yuba Colombia roast or Starbucks dark roast.
Once the coffee is ready, I pour it into a blender and add two tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter (or ghee, sometimes), a tablespoon of coconut oil, MCT (bulletproof brain octane) oil, and 100% raw cacao powder. This makes it very filling, delicious, and rich. The organic coffee helps reduce my jitters, and the butter and oils provide a more sustained, gradual release of energy throughout the day. Here’s a great video about the benefits of butter coffee. The 2 teaspoons of 100% raw cacao powder gives it a buttery hot chocolate taste. The polyphenols in both chocolate and coffee are good for increasing your overall lifespan, reducing inflammation, fighting cancer cells, supporting stable blood sugar levels, and not to mention increasing alertness. Also this coffee mix means that I am not hungry until like 2pm.
Mug in hand, I step outside to get some sun on my face for about 2–3 minutes, which helps boost serotonin production and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sunlight is good. Then back inside for some journaling.
Actually, my cup looks more like this. I painted it the other day. (the cup says “pain is temporary, success is forever,” which is a cheesy yet effective chant I tell myself when I’m pushing hard).
#5. Journal and being thankful for being alive
As I sip indulgently on my delicious brew, I start spewing words on paper in a stream-of-consciousness style. This ranges from 1–3 pages in length. Daily journaling has been one of the most therapeutic and useful tools in my life. It’s helped me overcome nervous breakdowns, plan my life, and better understand my emotions.
I find that it’s important to actually write, rather than use a computer. That’s just me. But, you know, before everyone was dazing mindlessly into their screens, we’d write letters. There is interesting research that suggests that handwriting, specifically in cursive, helps create a more connected flow of thoughts and words in our minds.
When you write, I feel you become more accountable to yourself. In the morning our minds are teaming with worries and hopes and dreams. By putting them down on paper, you can get all of the angels and demons out of your system so that you can move on with the rest of your day and focus on the important stuff.
Or, maybe you realize you’ve been running away from a hard task, and the morning journal lets you write out your feelings.
I use a ballpoint pen and always start and finish the journal in the same format.
Three Gratitudes.I list 3 things I am grateful for. It could be anything from being grateful for having a loving girlfriend, to the way the sun feels shining through the window.
Whatever is on my mind. The bulk of the journal is just putting pen to paper and letting a stream-of-consciousness emerge. I write down what I am feeling, what I’m worried about, what I enjoyed about the previous day, what I would like to do, and what I can do to improve. Other times I’ll just list out ideas I have for blog posts or business ideas. Lots of lists and emotions!
To Do List: Most days I include a list of priority tasks and “nice to haves.” The number of items ranges from 3–10 but usually somewhere in between. For example, today’s to do list is 1) Write something on Quora 2) Gym 3) Read for 2 hours 4) Finish editing blog post 5) Buy nuts and salmon 6) Read friend’s draft of blog post
Shiritori. This means “taking the rear….” in Japanese. It’s not what it sounds like, I promise. Shiritori is a short Japanese word game that I first saw referenced in a TED talk by Shimpei Takahashi, which stuck with me for whatever reason. He uses the technique to come up with new ideas, while I simply use it as a fun ending to my journal. Here’s how you play: write one word down and then continue forming words using the last letter of the previous word. Pickle. Eagle. Estonia. Apples. Sapiens. Serpentine. Elephant. Tupperware. Egregious. Send. Dork. Kitkat. Tandem. Machine. Earth. Heal. Love. Oh, and I always end with the word “love.” Which means I start my day thinking about love…cheesy, I know.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, “Hey this is great and all, but I’m just not a morning person!” Well, that’s ok actually. Check out this study, for instance, called “Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal.” The study basically found that specifically when we are not normally morning people, we’re actually more creative than during our normal/optimal/most awake time. Why is this so? Well, when we’re not 100% awake, our inhibitions are lower and we’re more likely to have random, non-focused thoughts that creep in — thoughts that can ultimately lead us to connect dots and come up with more ‘aha’ moments!
#6. So many books, so little time
I keep my Kindle by my side at all times, and horde digital books religiously — there’s a word for this book-hoarding in Japanese, called “tsundoku.” That’s me. I’ll usually read for about 15–30 minutes in the morning, after my journaling, sometimes longer if my schedule permits. I read a lot of nonfiction, but recently have been reading a lot more fiction. Dan Brown’s book Origin was pretty good. Here are a few other books that I’ve read recently:
The Gift of Fear
The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
How to Change your Mind by Michael Pollen
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything
Coyote America by Dan Flores
Tokyo Vice by Jack Adelstein
The Growth Delusion by David Pilling
So, at this point, the coffee usually hits me and I have to go the bathroom.
Yep, now my day has definitely started! Explosive.
#7. Hot n’ Cold
I hop in the shower and turn on the hot water for 2–3 minutes. I immediately turn the faucet all the way to the left and brace myself for a chilly 1–2 minutes. Then I go back to hot, then back to cold. I repeat this process 4–5 times and always end on cold.
Recent studies have show that the net positive health benefits from taking hot baths/showers are similar to exercise. Participants split into two groups, either cycling for 1 hour or taking a hot bath for 1 hour. This resulted in a similar decrease in blood pressure and blood sugar response (10% decrease) for both groups. This is significant because it is linked to a decrease in type 2 diabetes and improved overall heart health.
Cold exposure has similarly positive effects. Lowering the temperature of our brains causes the reduction in inflammation, which is a key driver of depression. Cold exposure increases the production of a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels– they constrict, or tighten up. This bathes your brain and vital organs with new and fresh blood, detoxifying and bringing nutrition to those areas.
Now, depending on the day, if I go to the gym I’ll take a shower after, not before the gym of course. Otherwise, on my non-gym days, I’ll finish off with the shower and then jump into work mode — writing!
#8. Drowning in sweat
My typical workout at the gym is fairly simple — I do a lot of cardio, HIIT, a mix of bench press, kettlebell swings, pull ups, and pushups. That could be:
A 5–8 kilometer run at moderate/high speed, finishing off the last 2k at full speed.
5 sets of 20 reps — 100 total reps of kettlebell swings (usually a 25 or 28k weight)
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): This could be 6 sprints, as fast as I can possibly run for 300 meters per sprint. This workout takes me like 12–15 minutes total and gets me sweating for the rest of the day. I’m a big fan of HIIT training, as studies have shown that regular high intensity exercise can cut your biological age by 9 years!
The other HIIT training I do is going max power, max speed on the rowing machine (erg). If you haven’t been on a rowing machine before, it’s a killer workout!
I use the Power Plate 3–4 minutes at the end of workouts. This helps reduce pain, increase flexibility, and kind of feels good too.
Fortunately, there’s a sauna at the gym which is always at 40–48 celsius — pretty darn hot. I sit in there for 12 minutes, jump in the cold shower for 3 minutes, back into the sauna for 5–10 minutes, and then back into the cold shower to finish off!
…Well, that’s about it.
My day has officially started, and now I’m ready to crush it.
Interested in developing your own, or boosting your current routine?
Awesome. Here are some tips.
How to Develop Your Own Kick-Ass Morning Routine
A morning routine inevitably requires discipline; this might bring to mind images of an Army drill sergeant screaming at you, and making you leap out of your comfy bed at the break of dawn. That’s understandable. How much good could it really do? What, I have to wake up earlier? Unless you are constantly traveling, it’s likely that you have already fallen into some sort of routine. It’s more about consciously adding or subtracting to your current routine (or developing a completely new one) so that you can get the most out of it. For me, it gives peace of mind, energy and positivity that often radiates throughout the entire day.
What works for me will not necessarily work for others. I can’t stress this enough. People claiming they have the exact recipe for success to your diet, health and wellbeing are deluding themselves. What you decide to include will depend on how much time you have in the morning, your diet, age, sex, life situation, your unique genetic makeup, your micro-biome, the environment you live in that may or may not trigger certain genes, the effects of prescription drugs you’re taking — just to name a few. We have to humbly accept that, because everyone is different, what may be an amazing routine for you is not going to be that great for others. Listen to what your body is telling you, and if something doesn’t feel good, or makes you tired or hurts, then stop.
Personal preference plays a big role, too. Some eat breakfast in the morning, others don’t. Some do yoga, others like running. When I wanted to focus on creative writing daily, I also had to juggle my full-time job, so a crucial part of my morning routine was simply writing for 15–20 minutes. You might have your own project (temporary or not) you are working on, and including it in the morning could be the best time to get it done. This might change in the future, and naturally your routine will evolve. As new research and studies continue to develop, and so does my life situation, my morning routine will likely change with it.
Mind, Body, Soul
I could set a goal to pump out 200 pushups every morning, and while my chest would grow to prison convict-like proportions, I would be hard-pressed to call this a well-balanced routine. When we say, “I had a good day” it usually implies we’ve achieved something that has given us happiness in three areas in life — mind, body and soul. Not one or two of these, but all three.
For example, mind could be learning something new, doing an intellectually stimulating activity, or doing meaningful work. Body could mean eating well, getting exercise or a daily stretch. Soul could be practicing gratitude, meditation, or simply spending a few minutes in nature under the rays of the sun. In combination, this trio is dynamic. Keep this balance as you craft your routine.
Buddy up with a friend
I’m relatively self-motivated, but to be honest one of the biggest factors for me was actually having a friend to keep me accountable. My good friend Joseph and I would exchange routine ideas and keep each other updated on what was working and what wasn’t, so I felt accountable to really stick things out and compare results. Find a friend to keep you accountable.
The more tools you have in your tool shed, the better
“There is enormous power in nailing your morning routine, but there’s even more power in adapting to it when it doesn’t happen as we’d like. Routine aids us in being our most productive, but change helps us expand past our comfort area; both are positive.” — Terri Schneider
If we become too rigid in a routine, we’ll become stressed if we can’t get it right. One solution I’ve found is simply having an arsenal of different routines. For example, if you simply can’t work out one day, then perhaps a cold shower, or practicing the Wim Hoff technique for 15 minutes is enough to energize you. You might be stressed, but need to stay up late to finish a project. Perhaps fasting for 2 days is actually a better way to focus rather than drinking coffee, which might stress you out more. Or if you have very, very little time during one week because you get over-worked, then simply taking cold baths/cold showers in the morning could be enough to take off a layer of stress.
My point is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to have the same routine every day. The more tools you have, the more versatility you’ll have.
Systems, Not Goals.
Treat your morning routine as a system, not some goal with a specific time-based, measurable outcome. A system is simply an act you do everyday, that will result in benefits down the line. Even if our minds are racing and the morning routine feels pointless, unproductive, or dumb, recognizing this activity is in itself a conscious step forward. You might not see an immediatebenefit, but keep in mind that when you get your day started in a deliberate manner, you’re a step ahead of so many others that let life breeze by.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a thought-provoking Socratic question to ponder or an Einsteinin solution to your problems, every day. Indeed, most days you won’t (but it’s nice to have those moments of progress looking back over time), and hopefully you’ll just be able to inch closer to having a better, more productive and fulfilling day.
As a monk famously said,
“Our mind is like an ocean, waving and storming. There’s no way that we can control the waters — but we can learn how to surf.”
3 Simple Questions to Ask Yourself
How much time do I have? (You might have to wake up a few minutes earlier!). Be realistic about what you can squeeze into one morning, and start small with 3 or so activities in the routine.
Do I have at least one activity that covers mind, body and soul? Make sure to keep a healthy balance.
Can I find a morning-routine buddy to keep me accountable? The more pushy the friend, the better!
I’d love to hear about your routines (or answer any questions), so drop me a message in the comments below or reach out directly at mishayoucandoit at gmail.com!
I owe a lot of my findings and current routine to the amazing research out there being done by people much smarter than myself, and have linked to various books and article below:
**Illustration Credit: All original illustrations created by Victor Queiroz.
I publish a weekly newsletter to 5,000+ readers (and counting!) that you can sign up for here. It includes my newest article with a ‘big idea’ for the week, as well as interesting podcast, article and book recommendations.
I spent four wonderful years at a recruitment agency in Tokyo, mostly working with tech startups and foreign firms entering the Japanese market. My goal was to help companies find the best talent in the job market, to guide those candidates through (often lengthy) interviews, manage expectations, and negotiate offers. It was intense, to say the least, but extremely fulfilling.
Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
#1. Don’t plan too much. Get sh*t done.
Monday morning I would set sales targets for the week with my manager. There was little discussion about how to achieve these results, just that they needed to be done. The targets were straightforward and consisted of making dozens of phone calls, messaging people on LinkedIn, and meeting potential job candidates in person. I often procrastinated to start, and spent too much time crafting the best approach. I realized that spending more than 10 minutes of planning didn’t actually get me closer to my goals — there were simply too many factors outside of my control (like whether or not people would even pick up my call, or be interested in what I had to say!). We often get caught up in planning the future, which is hardly predictable. Usually the best thing we can do is just get started.
“The reason I don’t have a plan is because if i have a plan I’m limited to today’s options” — Sherryl Sandberg
#2. It’s hard to listen when you’re talking all the time.
The biggest problem recruiters have is that they talk too much. I was no exception. In an initial meeting, I would spend the first 15 minutes in a lengthy monologue about the company and myself in hopes of establishing myself as “worthy” in their eyes. This backfired; I often set expectations too high, didn’t get to the point, and failed to gain a deeper understanding of how I could actually help them. I remember when I finally changed my approach in one meeting, I vowed to only speak for 5% of the entire conversation. The result was surprising; I learned a lot from the person, and at the end of the meeting he commented, “Wow, you understand the industry so well!” This struck me as funny, since I hadn’t actually said much.
#3. Life is a lot like poker.
On average I would speak to 50–60 job seekers per week. Out of those, I’d select 10–15 that I felt had the skills to do certain jobs and then present their resumes to hiring managers for review. They’d choose 5 or 6 out of the group to interview, and if all the stars aligned, one of them might get a job offer in a couple of month’s time. Those may seem like pretty low odds, but they’re the average in recruitment industry. There were times were I tried hard to “control” the situation, and would get upset or defensive when things weren’t going my way. But that’s not how the world works. I realized there’s no proven way to meet your sales target every single quarter of the year, no matter how great of a sales person you (think) you are. It’s tough to guarantee certain outcomes especially when you’re trying to influence other people. Eventually, I came to accept that we’re all dealt different cards in life — indeed, life was a lot like poker.
“Life, like poker, has an element of risk. It shouldn’t be avoided. It should be faced.” — Edward Norton
#4. Give the bad news first.
They say recruitment is the business of rejection. We’re either being rejected (getting lots of “no’s” when we are trying to get a new client) or rejecting someone (informing job candidates they didn’t pass the interview). Within a 3-month period, I’d speak to hundreds of people — all with dreams, aspirations and most looking for new jobs — but only a tiny fraction of them would succeed in landing jobs. This was emotionally exhausting, as I often became friends and built relationships with people; to give them the bad news that they had failed a final interview was never fun. Like many, I often hesitated to break the bad news; that is, until someone told me, rather bluntly, to “cut the BS and give me a straight answer.” People don’t like it when you beat around the bush — while it’s painful to hear negative feedback, they’ll respect you more for being upfront.
“Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age.” — Colin Powell.
#5. Ask Questions Early
There were several occasions where it was clear to people that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. One such instance was when a client I was meeting kept talking about “OTE” (on-target earnings). I nodded and pretended to know what he was saying. This was a bad move, though, as he eventually picked up on my lack of understanding. He leaned over, looked at me piercingly and said, “Do you even know what OTE is?” I felt dumb, and had to ask him to clarify. The situation was infinitely worse because I didn’t ask up front, and I could have easily avoided the now awkward embarrassment. People say that you should be a “sponge,” but I think you need to be a bit more active than that. The point is that it’s ok to be the dumbest person in the room, but if you don’t understand something it’s important to ask questions sooner rather than later.
Niall Ferguson is a well-established author and historian that helped popularize the use of “counterfactual thinking” in history. Counterfactual simply refers to re-imaging the outcome of an event — like you’re living in an alternate universe. He might ask a question like “What if the assassination attempt on Hitler was successful, would we have had WWII?” Or “What if John F. Kennedy had lived?” He explores several intriguing questions like these in his classic book Virtual History.
You can apply this to recent events to make for a fun dinner party conversation like, “What if Facebook didn’t exist, would Trump have been elected?” This could lead to a discussion about technology that requires you to analyze the facts and speculate about “what if;” perhaps arriving at the great irony of a liberal Silicon Valley facilitating the election of a conservative leader through a technology they themselves created.
Besides these mind games, you can also use counterfactuals to think and act more positively in everyday life. The ability to imagine alternatives is common to all people and tends to trigger our mind into counterfactual thought particularly in three situations:
When we experience a fail or bad luck (lost the game, failed the test).
When something almost happens aka the Wakeup Call (almost got hit by a car, almost dropped the baby)
When we are surprised by an outcome (if only I had gone the other way I would have missed this traffic).
For example, it’s often noted that the Bronze Medalist is happier than the Silver Medalist. When they get a bronze, they’re thinking “Wow I’m so lucky that I at least got a medal.” But when one gets silver, they think “Darn, I was so close to gold!!” Of course, how happy they are with their situation is simply a matter of their perspective, even though silver is better than bronze.
Upward additive = ‘Things would have been better if I had only done X.’ (unsatisfied silver medalist )
Upward subtractive = ‘Things would have worked out better, if only I hadn’t gone and done X.’
Downward additive = ‘Things could have been worse if I had done X instead of Y.’ (satisfied bronze medalist)
Downward subtractive = ‘Things might have been worse if I hadn’t done X.’
When you don’t win the gold medal (or you get a B instead of an A on your test) and take home the silver, your mind will jump to the upward additive of “If only I would have done x!” That’s ok — you’ve already had the thought. Now you should also consider the downward subtractive…
“Well, if I wouldn’t have nailed that last pole vault, then I would have not gotten silver. Good thing I spent that extra 1 week resting and tried that new protein powder or else I might have gone home with a measly bronze.”
Now you’ve turned your upward additive tendency to be negative into something positive. That’s a good first step. From there maybe you feel better about your silver medal, but it’s easy to just think and not do. Just “thinking” is a huge trap for many of us, for the silver medalist (“ok, so a silver medal isn’t so bad after all”) as well as for the highly skilled master procrastinator (“things could be worse, so I will do it later”), and doesn’t actually help us improve, but just kind of reassures us that things are OK. Therefore the next step is not to ruminate, but to take action.
In order to take action you can ask yourself to imagine “What things could I have avoided doing that might have produced a better outcome?” or “What additional things could I have done that might have produced a better outcome?” Then identify those tasks and take action.
If you almost got hit by a car, then you know to look both ways before crossing the road. If you failed the test, don’t just think about it, find out why and take the actions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. When you’re surprised that you ran into traffic, make a habit to check traffic before leaving for work. If you didn’t get gold, then what do you need to get it next time?
The biggest takeaways here are that first, reframe your counterfactual to something more positive. Second, just thinking about these outcomes is going to do little, rather, attaching an action to your counterfactuals will take them from the realm of neuronal storytelling to tangible change in your life.
You can read more about counterfactuals here, here and the wiki here.
I publish a weekly newsletter to 5,000+ readers (and counting!) that you can sign up for here. It includes my newest article with a ‘big idea’ for the week, as well as interesting podcast, article and book recommendations.
First, a little bit of background into the current real estate market in Japan.
Japan has an over-supply of apartments because of the rapid construction of new apartments, the declining population leaving vacant rooms… and yet moreconstruction of apartments. The vacancy rates for apartments in Tokyo is 30%! Over 5 million properties are up for rent as of last year. This means there are lots of apartments and lots of choices, if you know where to look.
The real estate market is also affected by the current monetary policy in Japan. In order to stimulate the economy through lending of bank loans (so people can buy more stuff/borrow more money and companies can build more stuff), Japan’s central bank charges banks a fee to keep their money, resulting in negative interest rates. This means that banks are losing money by not lending. While it’s easier to get a home loan, this actually causes an inflation in prices and not surprisingly we have talks of a housing bubble.
Now, why does all of this matter to you?
Well, we know that there is an abundance of properties and that real estate agencies are basically dying (losing money) to either sell or rent their properties. This gives you, the buyer/renter, a big advantage.
But as a foreigner coming into Japan, particularly without the language skills, it’s easy to get duped.
One of the biggest costs you will have is the upfront cost for moving into an apartment. Even if you find something reasonable (20–35 square meters) near central Tokyo (shinjuku, shibuya) for, let’s say, 80,000 yen per month, you’ll have to usually pay the following (at minimum).
Key Money: 80,000 yen
One month deposit: 80,000 yen
Agent’s commission: 80,000 yen
Guarantor Fee: 10,000 to 80,000 yen
Lock exchange fee: 10,000 yen
Maintenance and insurance fees: 10,000 yen
Total: 260,000-330,000 yen, up front in cash
There is rarely a way to completely avoid all of the fees — things like insurance are pretty important and you can’t just have them waived (nor would you want to!). However, there is a trend among certain real estate agencies moving away from charging key money and 1 month deposits.
You can save money or have most of the big fees waived (key money and deposit), essentially bringing you down to 50,000 yen or so in up front costs. That’s significant. It could be the difference between living out in the boonies for a year vs. in a nicer apartment near the city.
How do we find these properties? All we have to do is ask. Most people assume they have to pay whats on the paper, but with some basic negotiation, we can get pretty far.
To try this out, I sent an email to 3 real estate agencies asking them about properties without the above-mentioned upfront costs. Within 24 hours two of them told me they didn’t have anything at the moment — bummer. But one of them got back to me saying they have some properties. Here’s an email exchange with that real estate agency I had.
M: Hello, I’m moving to Tokyo this September and looking for an apartment. My criteria: 1 bedroom, within a 45 minute train ride from Shinjuku station, no upfront costs, and up to 80,000 yen per month rent.
Real estate agent: We have properties that meet your criteria. No key money and deposit is possible, but there won’t be a huge amount of options. The lowest guarantor fee is 30% rent of house.
M: Sounds great!
Not bad. A 24,000 yen guarantor fee on top of maintenance/insurance/commissions fees will put me to something like 50,000-100,000 yen for upfront costs — a heck of a lot less than 300,000! Perhaps I won’t get the snazziest apartment (“not a huge amount of options”), but hey, we’re staying flexible here right?
Here’s a picture below of one of the apartments they suggested (as you can see, no reikin/shikikin 礼金、敷金).
Now when someone says “you need at least 2-3k USD to move into an apartment in Japan,” you can approach it all with a dose of healthy skepticism.
Lastly, keep in mind that good apartments will go fast and often it’s just a matter of timing. Be patient and if possible work with 2 or 3 real estate agencies to compare prices, and don’t settle for the first price they give you. Good luck!
I publish a weekly newsletter to 5,000+ readers (and counting!) that you can sign up for here. It includes my newest article with a ‘big idea’ for the week, as well as interesting podcast, article and book recommendations.
Airbnb Experiences recently launched in Japan which allows hosts to create experiences, or activities that they can share as a tour guide for travelers visiting their city or town. It provides a great opportunity to make some side money while having a bit of fun doing what you enjoy. For now it’s available only in Osaka and Tokyo but expanding to other cities quickly and ripe for early adopters.
There’s a booming multi-billion dollar tourism market in Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s push to attract more foreigners before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has stimulated the industry to new heights. He wants to bring in 40 million tourists by 2020 which is quite an audacious goal, but progress thus far has been impressive. The number of inbound tourists has tripled in the past 5 years. In July 2017 alone there were something like 2.6 million people who visited Japan. Numbers are going up. More than half of these come from Asian travelers — China, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The remaining half come from English speaking countries like the UK, US, Australia, Canada, and German.
There are several initiatives the government is pushing to make inbound travel easier. For example, they are subsidizing airlines to make it cheaper to travel. I saw a flight from LA to Nagoya for something like $400 round trip. That’s pretty darn cheap. Other initiatives are around building infrastructure and outbound marketing led by Japanese tourist agencies.
Airbnb Experiences has come at the right time.
What is Airbnb Experiences?
Airbnb Experiences allows you to host unique activities in your local city or town for travelers passing through.
The business makes sense as a logical addition to the existing home-sharing business. When travelers come to Tokyo and are staying in someone’s apartment, they want to see the local sights. The host is not always able to take them around the city and play ‘tour guide.’ Travelers get stressed trying to plan everything themselves.
Airbnb Experiences allows you to take people on a special tour to show them something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. This is a key point to the value proposition — it has to be “unique” and you have to be “qualified” in the activity.
For example, if you are a wine connoisseur, you can take people on a tour of 3 of your favorite wine bars. And you get paid for it. There are of course quality standards that Airbnb upholds, so you have to provide an experience that’s worth the money. Ultimately users will give you ratings that will determine your success and likelihood of future bookings on the platform.
Like their home sharing business, there are hosts and guests. You host the activity or “experience” and the guest books it online. The platform works pretty similarly. There is a rating system and Airbnb takes an 8% cut from bookings. The good thing is that it operates separately from the sharing business, so you don’t need to have been a previous host on Airbnb. You can just go sign up on their website and create a profile.
Airbnb Experiences is new globally and just getting started in Japan. There are only a few dozen or so listings in Tokyo so far, so it’s a great time to start an experience. You could easily do one experience a week and earn 15,000-30,000 yen+ in side income for a day’s work. Not bad. Let’s run through the process.
Airbnb makes it very easy for hosts to sign up. They provide lots of guides, tutorials and examples that you can use to create your tour. You don’t need any particular artistic flare to do this. Here is the link to get started.
Follow the step-by-step instructions on the left hand side. It should take you about 30 minutes or so to create.
A few tips on this:
The ‘about you’ page should feature a bio about why you are qualified to do the tour and what inspires you about your activity. If you are doing a ‘wine tour’ then you should mention you favorite wine and the story of how you fell in love (with wine). You get the gist.
The “where we’ll meet” is not the final destination, it’s where you are actually going to pick up the guests. Pick a place that is central and easy to find like Hachiko.
Consider the group size carefully. Would you be able to accommodate a larger group of people? Would you have to change anything about the experience or would it detract from its intimacy? An experience with 10 people might be a little bit too much. Aim for 1-6.
The Approval Process
The approval process takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks after creating your experiences page online. It is manually checked by the Airbnb staff in Japan. You can speed this up by providing really high quality photos of your experiences.
There are three main points for you to consider that will determine whether or not you are “selected.” I imagine as more people get on the platform these become more and more important. Eventually the competition will increase and it will likely become more difficult to get approved.
#1 Establishing credibility. How and why are you qualified to run this tour? This doesn’t mean you have to run a business related to your activity, it can just be a hobby you are really fond of. For example, perhaps you are a die hard sushi fan. Or you know all of the hidden spots in Tokyo to find vintage clothes. Whatever it is, make it very clear in your title and profile.
#2 A coherent tour with a cherry on top. There has to be a clear schedule and mapped out hour-by-hour. Seriously, treat this like you are a professional tour guide and plan it out on a precise schedule. Make sure to have a plan B and plan C. The “cherry on top” refers to something “special” about your tour that you can impart to your guests. Some people will print out a photo they took or give them a local gift that they can keep to remember the experience. You are going the extra mile here.
#3 Uniqueness of your tour. Are there tons of other people doing this? If so, it’s unlikely to be approved. There has to be one unique aspect to your tour that no one else is doing. Alternatively, you could take an existing tour and put a new spin on it. For example, there are tons of different locations where you can do yoga and there are different types of yoga. In this case, you could use location and style as the differentiator.
Choosing an Experience
I freelance as a drone pilot in Japan so this was relatively easy for me to come up with. There was no “drone experience” in Tokyo so I made the first one. My proposal tour was to go out and fly drones near Okutama and eat lunch at a near by cafe. No one else was doing it so the approval process was surprisingly easy, but it still took 3 weeks before I could start the tour.
Ask yourself: What do I like and what would I show my friends if they were visiting? That should give you a clue.
Often times we get so accustomed to our environment we lose touch with the wackiness that exists in Japan. What did you find most interesting or amusing when you first got to Japan? I personally enjoyed going to funky bars like “Kagaya’s” in Shinbashi. I also enjoyed lounging and people-watching at hipster cafes that my Japanese friends would recommend.
Don’t worry too much about whether or not the experience is going to be the best in the world. If you enjoy it, I am sure there some people out there who will really like it too.
Here are ten ideas to get you started:
Book nerd. If you know all of the English book shops in Tokyo, you could do a book tour.
History buff. How about a history-themed tour based on a certain era of Japan (fun fact: the Amazon Tokyo headquarters used to be a prison and execution grounds for criminals 200 years ago).
Architecture lover. Show people your favorite 5 buildings in Japan and explain the architects who made them possible.
Coffee fanatic. Take guests around to 5 different cafes to try the best coffees. Like the butter coffee shop in Yoyogi.
Karaoke: Yes you can make this into an experience. Go show guests how to have a proper night out screaming their lungs out.
Social impact. If you have a cause that you are supporting in Japan, whether that’s tsunami relief, homelessness, or whatever it may be, consider doing an educational tour to share some of these issues with your guests.
Yoga. Go to Yoyogi park and do any sport or exercise you do regularly. You can teach others.
Music. There are tons of cool hidden jazz bars and record shops in Tokyo. Go record-hunting.
Fashion expert. Fashion is one of the main reasons a lot of Asian tourists come here. Take them shoe shopping at your favorite spots.
Flee Market Guru: There are tons of great flee markets in Tokyo. Pick one and make it a morning tour. Show them how to negotiate in Japanese.
You can scour around for tours in other cities that are more developed like New York or Sydney. Many of them are not being done yet in Tokyo so take inspiration from them and mold them to your own style!
Lastly, make your tours simple with an over-arching theme. Including too many activities within one experience will make it less likely that guests will book. For example if you are doing a bicycle tour, don’t mix it with bungee jumping, sake, onsens and eating at the best chocolate shop in Tokyo. If they want to do those things, they will do them separately.
The standard rule of thumb is that when you are first starting your experience you should price it relatively low. You want to encourage people to sign up for your experience so that they can leave reviews. Once it gains popularity and you get bookings over several weeks, then you can adjust and increase the price. You can change the price any time.
Most hosts will pay for the expenses during the tour. In fact, guests expect this. Make sure to factor this into your tour price! This is to encourage a smooth and stress-free experience for the guests. Plus you don’t want to spend time coordinating money and getting change, buying tickets, etc. Just do it all yourself and factor it into the price you charge for the tour. In your description of the tour you can include “I will provide…” and list out what the guests will be getting.
Extra Tips for Success
#1. Always have a plan B and plan C. You can expect that guests are going to be late or that you will miss the scheduled bus or train. Also what if that restaurant you were going to is shut down? Whatever it may be, make sure to have a contingency plan.
#2. Share your trip. If you want to get more people to book your experience then as soon as it’s published, blast it out all over social media — instagram, facebook, twitter and so on. Airbnb is a good platform but it won’t necessarily get bookings. You have to put some effort into gaining users.
#3. Host cancellation. The guests will be pretty upset if you suddenly change or cancel the tour within a couple of days of putting it online. Airbnb will penalize you (just a warning) and if you do it a couple of times then they might suspend your account temporarily. However, if there are situations that are outside of your control, like the weather or catching a bad cold, then just give Airbnb notice ahead of time and they’ll understand.
#4 Guest cancellation. If guests cancel within 24 hours of your tour then you will still be given the full 100% of the commissions.
#5 Welcome chat. When someone books your tour you should give an extra welcoming touch using Airbnb’s messenger service. Share a bit of omotenashiand tell them you’re excited to have them on the tour
#6 Send a reminder to the guests. Within 24 hours of your tour send them a friendly note explaining the meet up location and your contact information.
#7 Magical moments. Airbnb really encourages you to include some sort of gift as part of your experience. Something that is memorable, whether it’s a physical gift or a “surprise” part of the tour. Not something that deviates from the tour, but just that extra touch of
#8 Ask for reviews. Whenever you finish your tour immediately ask guests to leave a review. The faster they do this the sooner it’s online, and the sooner other people can see them and can book your experience.
#9 Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Airbnb will talk you directly to help create your tour, so ask them how to make your experience more interesting. Also ask the guests after the experience for their private feedback.
Good luck and happy hosting!
I publish a weekly newsletter to 5,000+ readers (and counting!) that you can sign up for here. It includes my newest article with a ‘big idea’ for the week, as well as interesting podcast, article and book recommendations.