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130: Willpower Doesn’t Work with Ben Hardy

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Most people aren’t trying to become ultra-wealthy. They just want to feel safe and to feel some level of freedom from the shackles of the daily grind.

You see, the majority of us have one source of income and it’s usually being paid by someone else. That is not a recipe for stability. No matter what you were told while you were growing up, there is no such thing as a safe job. 

The only reason employees feel job security is because they don’t typically have transparency to the company’s financials. Unfortunately, what you don’t know can hurt you.

To be clear, I am not here to inspire you towards entrepreneurship. In fact, small business owners have their own landmines to avoid and they can actually be even deadlier in the financial sense.

Let me give you an example. One of my best friends started an IT business about 9 years ago and it was going pretty well for him. He kept dumping money back in the business and the company kept growing. He was modest in what he paid himself and his only investment was his company which seemed like a good move at the time.

A couple years ago, he was thinking about selling the company and retiring into public service (he is one of the nicest guys I know).

Had he done that, he would have been all set. He didn’t need much to live on being the simple guy that he is and he isn’t greedy like me. A liquidation event would have set him up well for the rest of his life.

But he didn’t do it. Instead, he kept pouring money into his business and, over the past year or so, his business performance started to decline quickly. Yet, like a faithful captain, he manned his ship even as he saw clear as day that it was heading toward an iceberg. 

He did what many small business owners would do in that situation. He tried to save his business and dumped everything he had into in attempts to salvage it.

But he failed and because he spent his last dollar trying to save a sinking ship, he went down with it. Now he’s 44, broke, and starting over.

In this case, having access to the financials was not a blessing. It was a curse. His employees didn’t know what was going on and when he had to lay them off at least they had socked their money away. He had the curse of knowledge and simply made the wrong choice.

So, as I said, I’m not here to sell you on entrepreneurship. It has its own dangers and is not for the faint of heart. For my friend, this situation was particularly harmful because of one simple concept: single point failure.

You see, as an employee, you get your paycheck and hopefully you invest wisely. Hopefully you are trying to buy other streams of income to become increasingly independent on your day job (aka single point of failure). 

My friend’s small business was his income and his only investment. When it went down, it was disastrous. 

I had a similar experience back in 2012 when the only business I owned had some cash flow problems and my investments were not nearly robust enough to support my family and me. Luckily, I survived and got smarter. That’s why I started my second, third, and 4th business—because I never wanted to be in a position of single point failure again.

Over the past 6-7 years, like clockwork, one of those businesses has had a bad year. But luckily the others kept me flourishing. Furthermore, the money I was making from these businesses was not being used just to expand the business. Most of it was not being used to acquire assets and other streams of income.

I get paid from a lot of different sources today and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable. But to tell you the truth, I never feel safe. That’s part of what keeps me pushing. That’s what keeps me looking for the next opportunity. I joked earlier that I was greedy. But in reality, I’m just afraid.

A lot of people would look at my financials and say I was being paranoid. Maybe I am. But I remember seeing a television clip on billionaire Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and he said the same thing. It is FEAR that keeps him motivated.

I bring these stories up because I think it is critical to assess your own situation. Are you in a position where you could succumb to single point failure? What are you doing about it? The time to change that is now, notwhen things are bad.

For me, it was that understanding that made it possible for me to step out of a seven figure per year income generating small business, hire someone else to do the work and take a huge pay cut until my next business started throwing off money. You can’t will your way into financial stability. It takes a deep reflection on your situation and massive action.

When you set yourself up for massive action, it’s a lot easier. In my case, I wrote a resignation letter to my COO. She thought it was a joke until I literally told her to stop scheduling any more patients for me. I had to physically take myself out of that situation to get my desired outcome. It wasn’t going to happen if I kept doing what I was doing.

My friend Benjamin Hardy said it best: Willpower Doesn’t Work. That is the title of his book and that is what we will be talking about on this week’s Wealth Formula Podcast.

BENJAMIN HARDY is the foster parent of 3 epic kids. He is pursuing his PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Clemson University. His research focuses on the psychological differences of actual entrepreneurs vs. wannabe entrepreneurs. 

His work has been featured at Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Business Insider, New York Observer, Thought Catalog, and others.

Shownotes:

  • Why did Ben Hardy write his book
  • Environment beats Willpower
  • Untrain yourself
  • The ability to change
  • More on Ben Hardy
  • https://www.benjaminhardy.com/

 

Interview transcript:

Buck: Welcome back to the show everyone today my guest on Wealth Formula Podcast is Benjamin Hardy now Ben has been the number one most read writer on Medium.com since late 2015. His work has been read by over 50 million people. That is amazing. He has been featured on Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and many others. He’s he has grown his email list, and this is just remarkable, from zero to nearly 400,000 followers in the past three and a half years with zero paid advertising. So he’s got some decent content I guess. Most recently and one of the things we really want to talk about today, he’s authored the internationally best-selling book Willpower Doesn’t Work. Ben, welcome to Wealth Formula Podcast.

Ben: Glad to be here with you.

Buck: Great! Well listen I want to talk about Willpower Doesn’t Work because a lot of people are talking about this book. I think it’s a very useful mindset type book So to start with this, why did you you write this book? Why did you start thinking about it?

Ben: Yeah absolutely. A few kind of key events in my life led me to really thinking about this subject from a different angle because obviously intuitively as a Western thinker, willpower you know is something that we all aspire towards. It’s something that you know we all would think would we would want more of it. And that’s actually when I was going into my PhD program, I’m in psychology, I specifically wanted to study willpower under Dr. Roy Baumeister who’s kind of the leading psychologist on the subject, but I’ll just kind of share very briefly some events in my life that have led me to thinking differently about it. So I grew up in a really rough, and I talked about this in a really rough situation, parents got divorced, my father went down a really dark path for a long time and like really I couldn’t be in his life, like uh drugs and stuff he’s actually turned his life around in the past few years which has been amazing and we’ve got a great connection now, but he went down a really dark place and I just had basically no stability and as a result fell into a lot of traps, like in high school and stuff and just went down a lot of bad path myself. And I found myself after about a year after high school you know I barely graduated, didn’t have a job, was living and my cousin’s playing like 14 hours of World of Warcraft everyday, you know and just like doing nothing and you know eating Little Caesars Pizza, drinking, like just totally like nowhere. Had no direction and I was extremely unhappy and ultimately I started just running a little bit with my cousin and I started just doing a little bit of exercise just to get myself something to do and I started to think about my life and realizing that like the life I had was not the life I wanted. I ended up serving a two-year humanitarian Church style mission where I just like did a lot of church service, did a lot of just helping people you know just literally focusing on helping people and in that time I read a lot of books. A lot of personal development, a lot of business, a lot of philosophy, a lot of religion. And I started journaling a lot. I filled stacks and stacks of journals just documenting my experiences and I really experienced a huge change during this period of time. When I came back home I was really shocked to find that like everyone back home was still the same, this was after a two-year experience where like I went through a lot of change and I came back home and I felt like everyone was still kind of in the same place. And actually my leader like the kind of like the boss/leader on this mission experience he told me at the end of it, he said you know the worst thing you can do after an experience like this is to go back and be the person you were before. Like because I did change my life. And so I realized that if I had stayed around these same friends you know my high school buddies and stuff like who or they had the same mindset same even language you know what I mean, that I would quickly revert back to the person I was. And so that was one big experience. The more recent one aside from just studying psychology for the last ten years is you know becoming a foster parent of three kids. We became a foster parents about four years ago and what it’s really crazy when you take kids from a really rough environment. Basically these kids were heavily neglected, parents were on drugs, they weren’t going to school. You take kids from basically an environment with no opportunity and you put them in an environment with a lot more opportunity and you watch them change, and I changed as a result. And so those were some of the big experiences that led me into thinking about the power of environment versus the power of like willpower.

Buck: Yeah yeah. Well let’s jump into some of the concepts which I think are, you know obviously we’re not gonna…tough to to cover a whole book, but I mean just some highlights and some larger concepts. One of the things that you talked about in general is that environment beats willpower. Give us an example of that.

Ben: You know, cell phone addiction. You know what I mean caffeine addiction, American obesity. I mean how many examples do you need, depression, depression levels are skyrocketing. You know we live in an exponentially changing world. I think a lot of other people on this podcast you know heavily educated, very successful group of people know that the world is changing so fast with technological acceleration and globalization that the environment.It’s very stimulating. It’s intense and willpower, another definition of willpower, another word for willpower is decision fatigue. Basically it’s the idea that the more decisions you have to make, the less quality they become. And you know we live in a world now with infinite choices decisions and options and so people’s willpower get sapped pretty quick in today’s world. So what we see now is addiction rates and depression and all these things, anxiety just skyrocketing.

Buck: Yeah so I mean one of the things I think you talk about is that every environment has an agenda and the idea I guess would be similar in that you know if you’re trying to get some work done and you’re sitting by your your smartphone with all your social media on there etc., what you’re doing is giving yourself an out, right? You’re giving yourself an option with that environment, you’re giving yourself to the opportunity to just simply tune out, lose focus and you know check Facebook or something like that rather than to continue working, right?

Ben: Yeah most people most people are unconscious, well we’re all behaving very unconsciously most of the time, so the goal is to create an environment where you can unconsciously operate at desired levels. But in the case of the cell phone in your room, you know if most people are honest, they’re probably unconsciously triggered to check their phone a lot more than they want, even if they’re just chilling on their computer unconsciously triggered to hop on Facebook or social media or just you know, people are so distracted and they don’t realize it’s because their body has literally become addicted to the neuro chemicals, you know to the whether it be the dopamine or something. And so the you know the physical body is the unconscious mind, that’s one thing a lot of people don’t really realize, they think the unconscious is like a floating essence, but if their physical body and their physical body literally gets addicted to chemicals and that’s why it subconsciously jumps and so you really need to think about it. There’s a really good quote that in a lot of ways I based the book on and it’s from Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. It came from a book called triggers and the quote is, “if we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” And so the idea is, if you want to live your values, if you want to achieve goals, if you want to not have to consciously control your behavior, which is basically the definition of, another definition of willpower it’s just having to consciously control what you’re doing, it’s so much better to make the decision up front to set up your environment so that it resonates with what you’re doing so you don’t have to battle against it, so that you can just unconsciously act in desired ways.

Buck: Yeah. You know you know it’s interesting that you mentioned like addiction for example. And you know what it what is addiction at the end of the day it’s sort of just an extreme version of what our decision-making processes like all day long in a non pathological state, right? I mean you get these little miniature dopamine hits.

Ben: It’s impulsive, though that’s one of the core reasons why it becomes addiction. It’s extreme behavior because it’s impulsive.

Buck: Right, right. But at to a lesser degree in the non pathological end of that spectrum is the use of a phone when you should be you know, I mean I do this all the time right? I mean we have these little triggers and I don’t consider it an addiction necessarily, but it is. It is an addiction, it’s just one that probably doesn’t harm me quite as extensively as you know some some people who have them you know impulsivity that creates drug addictions or you know etc. So let’s talk about some of the other you know some of the strategies that you use to I mean I guess to train Pavlov’s dog, right? I mean how do you untrain some of these problems and divert your attention from of these, if they’ve become a real problem for you? I mean it’s as simple as controlling, through some people obviously who have some significant impulse issues. So you talked a little bit about creating triggers to prevent self-sabotage. What’s that all about?

Ben: Yeah, I mean there’s so many practical strategies obviously, happy to go in to as many of them as you want. The whole idea of creating triggers to prevent and self-sabotage comes from an idea in psychology called Implementation Intentions. Basically the idea is just to have a pre-planned response when you get triggered, like it’s tuned, it’s planning for failure because you know you know that something’s gonna pop up towards a big goal. It’s knowing that you’re not gonna be able to control every situation and so sometimes something’s gonna happen and it’s planning ahead for those situations and knowing what you’re gonna do. So you basically create an if-then scenario. If you know this happens if I get triggered to do this thing then this is going to be my response. And this is how elite endurance athletes go a lot further than most people because you know basically with like big elite endurance events if you do not like pre-planned the conditions in which you’re gonna quit, you’re gonna quit way before you could. I mean you’re gonna quit way before you have to. Like basically what endurance athletes say is like I will not quit unless for example like I lose my eyesight, you know. But if you don’t have a pre-planned response then pretty much the moment you experience some form of resistance you’ll probably cave. And so if you don’t know what you’re gonna do beforehand the situation is probably gonna win in this case, you know?

Buck:  Yeah I’m curious what you know. I know you’re about to complete your psychology PhD and my background includes neurosurgery and neuroscience and things like that. I’m curious if we know what the chemistry or the the physiology in that in that particular strategy would be, right? I mean if you’ve got dopaminergic hits that are creating this impulsivity and and you know are satisfying the impulsivity or whatever, what are you doing effectively to change your body’s chemistry or your brains chemistry when you’re diverting?

Ben: I mean how I look at it as is like the brain is a prediction machine. The whole goal is to predict and so when you do something different you know so a lot of people given that the trigger exists probably means that you know they’ve caved in the past you know what I mean? Buck: Right you know if breaking axons is dead and then getting new pathways of your brain and maybe some alternative pathways and strengthening those instead I think potentially that’s a way to look at it.

Ben: Totally yeah I mean the only way to grow is to change. The only way to change is to change your behavior which creates unpredictability in the brain, you know like you do something uncertain the brain doesn’t what to do.

Buck: Yeah and you know here’s here’s a related interesting thing that I always found interesting when I was in neuro and the idea of neuroplasticity, right? So if you have for example, if you’re right-handed right and you break your arm and you can’t write you know using your right hand for a while. If you look at functional MRIs over time even if you’re an adult the the left-handed part of your brain suddenly starts to light up. So we had this idea in you know traditional neurobiology that there is not a lot of plasticity or you know ability to change for people once they reach adulthood but what we’re finding more and more is that yeah I mean what you really can change your physiology and I think that’s kind of what you’re getting at some of this behavioral stuff.

Ben: Just after that there’s a really good quote from Albert Einstein. He said that the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.

Buck: Right, right, right. Yeah that makes sense. So let’s see, and then in terms of you know fundamentally what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to remove the need for willpower and and that really means just taking decisions away doesn’t it, ultimately, isn’t that effectively what you’re doing?

Ben: It’s two things. It’s actually making decisions and then it’s removing negative options. So one way of looking at willpower, you know, is that it’s a form of internal conflict . Like if if you’re triggered and tempted for example to eat a cookie yet at the same time you’re trying to train for like an event and you’re really trying to get fit, you know, where you’re trying to have a six-pack, there’s a there’s a conflict there, right? Like you’re having so one of the like my favorite quotes is the idea that basically if you’re required to use willpower it means you don’t know what you really want to do. Like you haven’t actually made the decision. Like if you truly make a decision like I’m no longer going to do this, like one of the Greek definitions of decision is to cut off alternative options. And so if you actually truly make a decision, which is something that you know people aren’t very good at these days, a true decision, then the decision’s made. You know you don’t have to have the internal debate. And if willpower is occurring there’s an internal debate. You’re trying to figure out what you want to do. You’re battling, it’s like the kids trying to eat a marshmallow, you know, they haven’t decided. In this case if they’re either going to where they’re not going to, like they’re caught in the middle.

Buck: Like burning the bridge almost.

Ben: 100% yeah, I mean you know nothing happens until after the bridges are burned, you know. So one one component is actually making a decision the other half of that is, and it’s required if it’s a true decision is to create an external environment that facilitates that decision. So that’s where you actually eliminate bad options. There’s a really cool quote I’ll just share. It’s from Jason Fried, he’s the founder of Basecamp, which is a multi-billion dollar company. So this is what Jason Fried said on a Tim Ferriss podcast episode, he said I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much. It’s the idea that like you purposefully, it’s like the idea that good is the enemy of great. If you know what you want, then you want to eliminate negative inputs that are gonna distract you, that are going to dissuade you. Like why why deal with options that are sub par? Just get those out of there so you can focus on what you want.

Buck: I’m just curious in your own life, what are some of the things that you know these strategies help you do that?

Ben: Oh my gosh well I mean so there’s a really simple cool idea. If it’s not, like no more yes. Basically no more yes. It’s either hell yes or no. You know obviously saying no to really good opportunities just being willing to say no like, that’s a hard part about decisions. When you make a decision you have to embrace the fear of missing out, you know? And that’s what a lot of people don’t want to do. One of the things I talk about doesn’t work is an idea called forcing functions. Basically it’s about creating situational factors that force you to do what you want to do. So like one could be, if you want to get better at public speaking, you actually like sign up for a speech, you know? Like you actually sign up, you invest some money, it could be to like hire a coach. You basically put yourself in a position where you you feel like you have to. And then you have a timeline and stuff. So I mean I apply that concept all the time to like get myself to move forward. My foster kids for example which we’ve adopted actually, we adopted all three of them, earlier I mean my whole life in a lot of ways kind of keeps me in check in ways that I want it to, you know, like in order for me to live my values and my goals, I’ve got to be a good husband and father. They expect that. And there’s an idea in psychology which I talked about a lot in the book and it’s called the Pygmalion effect but basically the idea is that the expectations of of your environment, of those around you in a lot of ways determines what you do and where you go. And so I’ve created a situation in our life that kind of keeps me where I want to be in a lot of ways. I have a lot of fluidness, I’ve got a lot of option, there’s a lot of wiggle room, but like yeah I mean my life keeps me where I’m keeps me on path, you know.

Buck: Yeah, yeah. And and you know as an entrepreneur too, and I know you and I are both part of a group with a lot of entrepreneurs in it, this is particularly important, you know kind of philosophy in general. I don’t know if it’s just entrepreneurs, I would say it’s most people in life, but I the the idea of being able to just kind of say no all the time, not all the time but to most things, is critically important. You know actually Dean Graziosi I remember it and off you said it on the show or he said it one other time that I thought was pretty impressive, was that he said saying yes got me to ten million, and then he said saying no got me to 100, which I think is really brilliant, because the reality is that as you start creating success and you know whether that’s in the entrepreneurial world or for our group with, you have a million different opportunities to invest, and I think you have to start you know figuring out what works and really focus on it and saying no is hard, but it really can set you free. But anyway Ben, the book is called Willpower Doesn’t Work and we will put show links to it. It’s getting tremendous rave reviews everywhere. Super excited for you and, where else can we find more of your content? I guess Medium right? I mean medium.com.

Ben: You can just go to BenjaminHardy.com. I actually have a basically a reference page of all my top articles. Yeah I mean I’ve got all sorts of stuff on BenjaminHardy.com. List of favorite quotes, different online programs, so BenjaminHardy.com is kind of place to go.

Buck: Sounds good. And we will definitely add to that gigantic email list. Anyway Ben, thanks again for being on the show and we’ll be right back.