Part 1: What is Holding You Back?
Imagine what life could be like if you can become your most authentic self. You no longer have to sacrifice your happiness for work, sleep for a social life, or health for money. You can achieve a state of higher purpose whereby everything that you do in your day-to-day connects to your inner artist. The art of living will then be your greatest masterpiece and an inspiration to all.
What is holding you back?
- You live in dichotomies, thinking that life is about sacrifices. Compromising your social life for work; family for a career; and health for money.
- You are caught in the rat race. Feeling like you are trying so hard, yet going nowhere.
- You are caught in the frantic chaos of your own mind. You are trapped in a state of chronic anxiety, depression, and self-loathing — unaware of a way out.
Overall, there’s so much advice offered, and it seems like you’re fucked up in so many ways. It gives you anxiety and dread just thinking of having to “start”. How do you “start” when the expected result you want is “beyond perfection” as outlined by the media, and thus impossible to attain?
You do not suffer alone. We live in a world connected by digital media, yet separated from the self. Our souls bleed as we navigate the storms of humanity without a compass. We have no framework to succeed because we ourselves do not know what true “success” means.
We live in a world that feeds us lies about a dream — an American Dream — that proliferates pain and suffering. Money is a means to an end, but what is the end that you seek?
In the renaissance era (circa 1400 to 1600AD), many lived unhindered to explore the full human potential and discovered the answer for us. The ethos of the renaissance was to embrace a cross-disciplinary exploration to access the highest state of human potential. The most well-known are Leonardo da Vince, who was a celebrated painter, scientist, engineer, and mathematician; and Michelangelo, who was a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Today, we see this in the works of Timothy Ferriss: a businessman, blogger, angel investor, health guru, podcaster, and author; and Ben Greenfield: a performance coach, iron man athlete, motivational speaker, podcaster, author, biohacker, businessman, and hunter. These are two role models that inspire me, but there are many others. Imagine if you could join the ranks of these polymaths.
What makes these artists special is their desire to tap into their fullest expression of self. The pursuit of art is the pursuit to understand the soul. And the expression of art is the expression of life energy itself. To capture the eternal essence of life is to capture the face of God — one that has infinite dimensions and that is therefore indescribable. And thus, the moment it is captured, it is no longer an accurate depiction of the eternal source.
It is this romantic notion of the impossible that fuels the artist. It is what our soul calls for, and it is what many neglected all their lives. The artist does not seek perfection, but rather the journey towards it. It is the “hero’s journey” described by Joseph Campbell that compels the artist forward. It is the journey to love failure, to achieve liberation by embracing suffering, and the never-ending tuning of art in order to describe what is indescribable. You, too, can be an artist in the design of your own life as a personified expression of your true self.
When you tap into your inner renaissance — or in other words, cultivating skills that transcend discourses — you will unleash your fullest potential as a human being. Activate your talents locked hidden away in your left and right brains. It is the symbiotic connection of these halves that will make you whole. Connect your thoughts with your feelings, art with science, logic with intuition, Shiva with Shakti, yin with yang, and your divine masculine with your divine feminine within.
By unifying duality, you will activate your passions and feel a calling towards a higher purpose beyond the self. Living with this higher level of fulfillment is what defines a “good life” — because there is no deeper sense of “happiness” beyond this. This earned “happiness” is not a superficial emotional passing, but rather a profound sense of self-understanding that you are living life to your fullest and that you are on route to achieving your most grandiose desires; while appreciating every step of the way there.
An Incomplete Blueprint
In 1943, Abraham Maslow produced his legendary map of consciousness expansion known as Maslow’s Hierarchy. In his depiction, he describes the focus of human desire as it ascends the pyramid once the lower levels have been satisfied. In his initial depiction, all human desires ends at Self-Actualization — the understanding that the conscious self is beyond just the “ego”; essentially realizing that we are more than our thoughts, and are able to detach ourselves as mere automatons of habits.
However, once the ego is detached from the self, there is a final stage that is the pinnacle of human consciousness evolution — something that Maslow himself realized right before his death.
The final stage of consciousness expansion is “Self-Transcendence”: a state of self-awareness that understands that all life is connected back to the self: the doorway to the collective unconscious and the source of all that is and will ever be.
If you are able to tap into this eternal energy source, you can channel boundless energy and inspiration to fuel the most profound breakthroughs in your life — not for the self, but for the collective good of humanity — which by then will become one of the same.
Maslow describes this as “Peak Experience”: “As [self-transcended individual] gets to be more purely and singly himself he is more able to fuse with the world, with what was formerly not-self, for example, the lovers come closer to forming a unit rather than two people, the I-Thou monism becomes more possible, the creator becomes one with his work being created, the mother feels one with her child.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, later expended on Peak Experience in his legendary work on Flow Psychology, adding: “…success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.”
In order to access this eternal state of being, you must first cover all the foundational pieces of the pyramid. In a world of infinite advice, information, and “next steps”, it is easy to be caught bewildered and left not knowing how to ascend your own pyramid.
Don’t Stress, There is a Way Forward
I’ve struggled with this challenge for half a decade now. I’ve dedicated my life to exploring the “hero’s journey”, a process of experimenting, suffering and living in my “discomfort zone” in order to tap into my fullest potential. I’ve read over 500+ books, travelled to the farthest corners of the world, experienced various “planes of existence”, and received the guidance of mentors who have gone through the journey before me.
With my learnings, I offer you this:
Part 2: The Life Optimization Canvas
Inspired and adapted from the works of Ash Maurya (Author of Running Lean), Alexander Osterwalder (Author of Business Model Generation), Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit), Jon & Missy Butcher (The Creators of Lifebook), and Vishen Lakiana (Founder of Mindvalley), I’ve composed my own Life Optimization Canvas as outlined below:
First Things First
Before I explain how this canvas works, you must first understand the relationships between each category of the layout. The canvas is read left to right, and up to down. And so the priority of each category is also displayed as such. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy or unlocking your 7 Chakra, each category is built on the foundational piece of the category before it. If the prior categories are weak, it will be a fruitless endeavor to advance to develop the proceeding categories as the foundation will crumble.
How Not to Proceed
Don’t skip the order. Here’s why:
Imagine that you are someone that is overweight due to excessive binge-eating with a lackluster career. Although it is possible for you to improve your career goals with poor health, it will be harder to cultivate the internal energy to do so as all your hormones and neurotransmitters are off-balanced due to poor dieting and overall health. This saps your ambition for career growth. You are insecure about your body and lack the self-love to do anything about it. Thus, you have not cultivated the level of self-worth to confidently request a pay raise or a promotion that truly matches your contributions. You should consider improving your health first, as it cripples you from professional success.
Stage 1: Health — The Beginner’s Game
- The very foundation of your life is administered by your body. Health — be it emotional, nutritional, or physical — is the foundational category that can accelerate or decelerate growth in all other categories of your life. Only when you love yourself, can you love the world — and the first step to self-love is to eat the right foods, think the right thoughts, and move the right way in order to cultivate the energy to pursue everything else. When you neglect your health, you neglect every other category of your life.
Stage 2: Education and Character — The Inner Game
These 2 categories come second and third respectively. These two pillars are connected, so I will speak about them together.
- Education should not be confused with institutional learning or receiving a high GPA. Often the best education happens outside of school; through books, friends, mentors, failures, and random yet meaningful encounters, and experience that life throw at you. As you progress through your own education, you will eventually realize that the pursuit of learning is not to acquire more knowledge, but rather to be wise. Learning is paradoxical: at first, you learn the rule, and then, you learn to forget the rules. This is how an artist accesses the muse, a coder his flow, and a leader his charisma. Only by transcending the known, can you obtain true knowledge — one that is unteachable and transferable. Wisdom, in this sense, can only be accessed by those with a strong character.
- Character: is defined by your ability to keep your word and live in the resolve of your deeply held principles. Trust is hard to earn and easy to break, and the journey towards a strong character is a journey to becoming someone trustworthy. Life is chaotic and so are your emotions. You need to refine your internal fire to burn through any obstacles that compel you to “compromise” your deeply held values. Someone with perseverance and a “steel spirit” is someone that can eventually achieve anything. You will realize in this journey that being “rich” has nothing to do with money. A man who won the lottery but lost it in a year is someone with poor character — he is someone who has not “earned” the right to be rich, and has been poor from the start. If you can understand this precept, then you will understand that you can not achieve outer abundance without fortifying your character.
Stage 3: Social and Romance — The Outer Game
These 2 categories come fourth and fifth respectively. Like the above, these two pillars are also connected, so I will speak about them in conjunction:
- Social: Be it friends, families, coworkers, or neighbors, we live with the need to connect with others. The feeling of loneliness proliferates in our society more than ever before, and we are challenged to navigate through the sea of noises that distracts us from loving others fully. Happiness only exists when shared, and success is never achieved alone. If you understand these precepts, then you will understand the interdependent nature of humankind and the importance of community. This is a journey of exchanging love, value, and respect with others. The desire to connect with people is natural, and one specific connection trumps all others: intimacy with your romantic partner.
- Romance: Your ideal partner is your energetic counterpart. We live in a world of duality. Irrelevant of your gender orientation or sexual preference, you will always gravitate toward a partner that will balance your energy and allow you to reach your highest potential. Whether you are more masculine or feminine, embody more yin or yang energy, or resonate more with Shiva or Shakti, your ideal partner will harness the energy of that which you do not have. Only in duality, can you reach your highest level of individualized self, so that you can both penetrate the world while also embracing it with love — all while ravaging each other in complete ecstasy, surrender, and divinity. Embracing duality is a process that will connect you with the true essence of your soul and experience the infinite potential of the sacred. As you unlock your full potential, your natural desire is then to harness this energy to achieve your wildest dreams.
Stage 4: Career and Finances — The Achievement Game
These 2 categories come sixth and seventh respectively. I will speak of them together below:
- Career: We are built to work, but the idea of a ‘career’ didn’t exist for the majority of the existence of humankind (not until the early 1800s). However, we as human have always been ‘working’ since the Stoned Age. The idea of work is the atomic unit, also known as our dharma, that progresses our own understanding of human potential. It is our responsibility to first find the type of work that we are put in this world to do; and then to do it every day in devotion and service to those that need us most. Work should be fun, gratifying, and become our daily yoga that unshackles our soul from the grasp of our own ego. We suffer through work, but when perceived well, this suffering can guide us to realize our most authentic selves. We work so that we can be free. If you understand this dichotomy, then you can derive meaning, and thus liberation, from suffering itself.
- Note: Your work is valued by its perceived need by others. Although not perfect, the monetary payoff of your work is still the best indicator of the value that you can produce for society. However, it is important to couple this concept with the understanding that society and humanity often have conflicting interests. Society rewards big pharma for poisoning millions of people in the name of profit; it rewards monoculture farms for wiping out the rainforests that are the lungs of our planet; they promote a form of food consumption that causes autoimmune disorders — collectively causes more deaths than any wars ever fought. As you fortify your foundational life categories, you will naturally aspire towards a “humanity plus” pursuit. The progress of such a career will improve the state of humanity, rather than “humanity minus” pursuits, as aforementioned, which sets us back.
- Finances: As you get paid from this career, you can manage your earned capital effectively to achieve financial freedom. This is a state of living whereby your actions are no longer constricted by the size of your wallet. You have freedom in this state to do virtually anything that you desire, as money is abundant. You can hardly accomplish this by slaving away at a 9–5 job. Rather, you must master the art of using money to make money. Your career will only get you the initial capital to get started, but true financial wealth is created by money, not by your time. As you’ve earned enough so that the lack of money is no longer a concern, your mind is freed up to yearn for something greater.
Stage 5: Spirituality and Community — The Soul’s Game
These 2 categories come eighth and ninth respectively. These are the last two connected pillars, and so I will speak of them together:
- Spirituality: I speak of this beyond dogmatic religion. Initially pure, institutional religion has bastardized the core principles of spirituality and often uses its resources to invoke fear and obtain power from the masses. The category of spirituality is about feeling connected to the eternal source of being that is greater than one’s self. To be at peace with the flow of life and to be able to harness this infinite source of energy is to express love and healing for others. Expanding your consciousness allows love to flow through all that is and ever will be. At this stage, you will know that the next step of your journey is to give back, with all your talent, mind, and heart. You will want to embrace your community in the same way that you’ve embraced your own soul — in pure loving devotion.
- Community: In your final stages of consciousness expansion, you will understand that your idea of self cannot be contained in your body alone. We are all connected, and so it is your duty to serve your community. To serve is to love, and to love is to fulfill your greatest purpose. In this later stage, you will understand and battle through yet another duality: love and fear. You will realize that often seemingly altruistic actions are done out of fear. You will recognize this in yourself as well as in others. Furthermore, you will battle to understand your own intention and progress your service for the world more and more in alignment with love. To be human is to error, and so you will never reach perfection in this journey — yet it is one worth pursuing nonetheless, as loving through service is in itself the goal of this category. This is the most cultivated form of “enjoying life”; yet enjoyment can be derived even before.
Stage 2–5: Quality of Life — The Infinite Game
- All connected categories, from two to nine, should be approached with the tenth category in mind: your Quality of Life. After all, there is no point in progressing if you do not enjoy the journey along the way. Life, when seen as a journey, is much more enjoyable than anticipated as a destination. In this category, you’re tasked to envision the best way to enjoy life; and act daily to live this vision. Whether it is the things that you own or the experiences that you want to have, all have a positive impact on the day-to-day quality of your life. Yes, things alone will not make you happy. However, we are creatures that are affected by our environment. By modifying this environment to maximize life’s enjoyment, you will be in a stronger mindset to grow in all other life categories. Be it living in the principle of feng shui, hygge, minimalism, ikigai, or any other that you’ve prescribed, you must learn to modify your environment with material things and experiences that promote self-love and cultivate your energy within. This will be the fuel that fuels your rocket ship to the final life category destination.
Stage 6: Life Vision — The End Game
- Finally, as you’ve progressed through all other categories, you will realize your higher purpose; the narrative that you wish to weave through your own “hero’s journey” back to the world. As a hero, you’ve ventured into the unknown, slew your inner demons, and obtained the eternal source of life. Now equipped with this learning, how will you use it to serve others? As you’ve journeyed to master yourself, the last step of your journey is to return home and give the gift of your earned wisdom to the world. How will you attempt to make your mark on this world? Remember that you are an artist at heart, and you must now choose your craft to express your truest self. The process of this self-expression thereby becomes your Life Vision, the final and eleventh category. A fully expressed life is earned by realizing your highest calling and using the remainder of your life’s energy to bring this vision to humanity. Tapping into the source of all consciousness as your fuel, you can now harness the incredible passion and energetic potential of your highest self to deliver the gift that you are meant to bestow upon humanity.
As you transcend each life category, desire becomes non-desire. You will eventually reach a point, whereby you can give up your desires in previous categories in order to reach a higher state of consciousness development. The idea is to build up your life in such a way that considers each life category in the order set above, but then learn to dissolve expectations and attachments of past gains as you graduate to the next level of growth. As you move further along to the end categories, you’re naturally inclined to serve the world above yourself. The ego dissolves; you and the world becomes one.
Part 3: Consciousness Engineering
Part 1 gives you an idea of the utopian life that we should strive towards, Part 2 gives you the solution in theory, and in Part 3, we’ll walk about implementation.
We are Defined by our Actions
Ultimately, we are all made up of values, habits, and actions. And reversely, action creates habits, habits create values, and the composite of all our values builds who you are. Your ego-identified persona is in constant flux and change by the day. However, you are not in control of this change, as it is often dictated by environment, people, and societal expectations.
According to the newest research on brain plasticity, you can modify your neuro pathways in the direction that you desire, which means you can change your habit and values, and thus change who you are. The key to this growth process is to command “right action”.
Why Should You Believe What I Tell You?
Truth speaks in-and-of-itself. You do not need to prescribe to what I believe or blindly follow what I tell you. Apply your learnings in your own life and see the results for yourself. Integrate what works and eliminate what doesn’t. Let intuition guide your progress.
Consciousness Engineering 101
What if you were able to reprogram your brain — optimized to achieve each desired outcome in every life category? Imagine each category mentioned above as folders in your brain. And each value, habit, and action that you perform are files in these folders. To truly obtain freedom and self-mastery, you will need to unlock each file and rewrite the code to fit in a way conducive to the desired life that you wish to create for yourself. Today, I am going to give you the key to unlocking your consciousness and each file that makes up who you are.
Getting Started with the Canvas
The Life Optimization Canvas will be the framework (think of it as the filing cabinet) for you to plot out all of your deeply held values, habits, and actions that you do daily in each category of your life. Once you have plotted all the files in writing, this should essentially become a blueprint that summarizes who you are.
- Live Optimization Canvas: You can start with a 1-page summary of your current self and start defining who you want to be.
- Life Optimization Playbook: As you progress, your canvas will naturally expand as you better define aspects of your full-authentic self. As sections expand, they may take pages of their own. As you further define your true self, you will eventually design an entire playbook that encodes all “right actions” in every life category. Be creative in how you structure this. As you progress, this playbook may become 100s of pages long (as mine is).
When someone reviews this document, they should have an accurate telling of roughly who you are as a person. If you died, someone with your playbook can hypothetically pick up in your life from where you left off. Developing this playbook alone will help you develop a clearer sense of self and also realize which categories you should improve first. Remember to add both the good and the bad, but do so in a non-critical and nonjudgmental way. Trust in the science of brain plasticity, which dictates that you are changeable. Take control of your own destiny by overriding external stimuli with the “right action” that can change your life trajectory towards becoming your best self.
As you go through these exercises, you will gain a clearer understanding of which category you will need to work on first. Pick 1–3 categories that you wish to progress in for the next coming months. Remember to consider the correlations as described in the “Part 2: Life Optimization Canvas” section. For example, if you want to improve finances, first start by improving your career, and health, if they are in a poor state. If you are looking for a romantic partner, first perhaps consider improving your education, character, and social life if they are lackluster.
Using the Canvas
Now that you’ve picked your area of focus, cross out all the negative values and habits that you have and replace them with positive ones. Remember to keep it as simple as possible and that “less is more, and more is always better”. Do not overwhelm yourself with too many modifications at first. Start with something that you can easily achieve in 2–3 months without being overly ambitious.
When defining habits, remember to apply S.M.A.R.T. Goals principles — but you can disregard the “T” for now, as I will cover that in the next section.
- Current financial value: ‘money is scarce’ → Desired Financial Value:: “Money is abundant, and I can become a money magnet by setting the right intentions and honing my craft as a (insert profession).”
- Current Health Habit: I binge-eat junk food when depressed → Desired Health Habit: I do 10 push-ups and jump into a cold shower when depressed
- Current Character Habit: I never do what I say I would do → Desired Character Habit: I am a person of my word. I do what I say, otherwise, I would not make such promises.
Setting a Cadence
A cadence is a time frame that you hope to reconvene on to access your results and identify more habits to modify or add new ones altogether to adopt. It takes 90 days to adopt a newly formed habit. The minimal time required to form a strong enough neural pathway to actually keep a habit while you’re on mental “autopilot”. And so, I approach my Life Optimization Playbook revision cadences in 90-day sprints — essentially doing a formal review of my playbook every quarter 4 times a year with one major revision at the start of the new year.
Ensuring you Keep your Word
3 months is a long time and soon after modifying your playbook, you will not remember what you’ve put down. Thus, I propose 2 methods to keep track of your commitments on a daily basis:
- The Daily Habit Tracker: I use this tool to track whether I’ve done my daily habits. Remember that you may be able to do all the habits on a PERFECT day, but such days rarely exist. We live with constant noise and distraction, so set a reasonable goal for yourself that you can achieve 70% of every day. You also do not need to fill out this habit tracker daily for this to work (although extra kudos to you if you do!). Simply filling this tracker 5 times a week provides the right mental reminder to keep the habits that you are working on “top-of-mind”. Building the habit to fill out your habit tracker is the ONLY habit that you ever need to consciously work to adopt, I promise you. All other habits can then be plugged in here, and you will subconsciously keep yourself on track, as no one likes reporting lackluster progress day after day.
- *Note: I’ve previously used Notion to track 20+ daily habits and how each habit impacted over 30+ performance metrics (ie: energy, mental clarity, productivity, mood, ability to enter Flow State, etc). After internalizing the learnings, I’ve now simplified the approach by now recording only a few habits on an IOS app called “Habit Tracker”. Although laborious, tracking so many habits in the past helped me understand which worked and which didn’t. Everyone is unique, and I encourage you to also self-experiment.
- Daily Affirmation Journal: I use this tool to keep my developing values “top-of-mind” and ultimately internalize them. This exercise takes 10 minutes at the beginning of every morning (or even once a week) where I write down all the values that I am working on integrating and repeat it back to myself. Some people find it helpful to do this while also looking at their mirror reflection and saying it out-loud. Whatever you need to do to just “think” about your intended new values. Remember that the more you think about something, the more it will be embedded into your subconscious wiring — whether it is good or bad thoughts. Every time you think a thought, you are deepening the trench for the flow of future similar thoughts to run through.
The Psychology of Habit Formation
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, breaks down the science behind habit formation. For each habit, there is a cue, routine, and reward. For example, when someone feels anxious (cue), they consume junk food (routine), and they then receive a spike of dopamine in the bloodstream which gives them a euphoric feeling (the reward). By understanding the cue and reward system, you can replace the routine with something more productive that may produce a similar reward. Oftentimes, we approach habits with the desire to eliminate them altogether. However, as you can see in Duhigg’s depiction, by ignoring the “cue”, the desire for the “reward” will only grow more intense until this desire eventually overrides your capacity for self-control. You will then revert to your former habits. In this process, once your energy for “self-control” is depleted, you will release any other urges that you’ve been trying to “hold off”, thereby reversing all the progress that you’ve made and further strengthening your dependency on the bad habits.
Thus, in the Life Optimization Canvas, I do not promote “habit elimination”, but rather “habit replacement”. Friends often ask me how I am so disciplined in my pursuits. Whether it is waking up at 5:30 am daily, refusing to eat unhealthy foods, or the way I approach routine workouts. Here’s my little secret: when I approach habit formation, I see myself as the laziest procrastinator that I know. I imagine myself in a state of having no “self-control energy” and create expectations and systems in place to enable even my lowest myself to succeed.
One way to do this is to replace the routine with something more productive that can stimulate similar neurochemical reward pathways. For example, I used to have a cue to binge-watch TV shows whenever I was mentally stressed. The cue is mental exhaustion and the reward is hits of “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine released through the process of passively show binging. Obviously, I can not get rid of the cue, so now I’ve replaced the routine with going out for a brief walk or making sweet love to my punching bag. What’s important is not to mentally block yourself from the negative routine. If you keep thinking “don’t watch Netflix dramas’’ then eventually you will cave into your desire. So instead, I say to myself “I can watch Netflix right now, but I don’t want to, I choose to work out first”. You can empower yourself with a new mindset. Simply inserting a “break” between the cue (stress from overwork) and my old habit (watching Netflix), with a more productive action (working out), then I give myself permission to watch Netflix after 30 push-ups. Most of the time, I do not have the desire to binge-watch a show afterward because I already feel so great post-workout (do you ever regret working out after the fact?). I do not feel stressed after a brief workout, and therefore no longer have the cue that triggered my initial desire.
Another way to assist in breaking a bad habit is to simply make it harder for yourself to access the habit. Do you ever see an alcoholic leaving wine everywhere at home? No, because that’s easy access. If you’re addicted to Netflix, try switching the battery in your remote control upside down and hiding it in a locked box in your basement. Now, whenever you want to turn on the TV to fulfill your suppressed desire to be a couch potato, you have to go downstairs, find the key to the locked box, unlock the box, take the remote out, switch the battery of the remote to realign the circuitry, and bring this remote upstairs. After a few times running up and down, you will feel rather silly. To add, perhaps make this an activity that you must do in order to watch another show. Eventually, you will realize how ridiculous you are being and pursue a more productive hobby.
A Note on “Passion” and Why you Shouldn’t Look for it
The most useless life advice is the common cliché to “find your passion”. As you can see in my depiction in the sequential life categories, you must journey into the abyss, lose yourself to circumstance, and progress through mastering all prior categories of your life before you unlock your Life Vision — your ultimate passion. Some people may luck out and find it by chance, but you are not one of them. You must not operate under the assumption that you are holding out for “luck”. Climb the life category hierarchy: work towards abundance, work towards love, and work towards unity so that one day, your passion will be revealed to you — through “right action”.