How I Escaped My Mental Prison: 5 Habits That Changed My Life

September 5, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Man-Up

(photo: @dinoreichmuth)

You will never change your life until you change something you do daily” ~ Mike Murdock

Think about this. You are the product of what you repeatedly do. Each small action is telling of who you are.

Consistent small action over time develops into a habit. Habits can MAKE or BREAK you. This means you need to be aware of everything you do. If you put thought and intent into your actions, you can develop good habits that will put you on the path to success.

I know this is true because I experienced both the good and bad sides of habits.

I used to be weak and pathetic. I was unable to handle stress – with my mind and body working against me. I thought it would magically change one day. That I would wake up and everything would be better. After years of thinking like this, I learned the hard truth. It was not going to change unless I made it change. It took time and effort, but I learned how habits could make or break success. After trial and error, I have developed habits that work best for where I want to go in life.

My misfortune was the result of falling into bad habits. Without consciously being aware, my mind programmed itself to crave poor performance and ill health. My biggest problem was the tunnel vision that came with it. For the longest time, I was not aware of the mental prison I subconsciously built by adopting bad habits.

Below you will find 5 habits that made great change in my life. The results I have gotten in adopting these habits would seem unachievable to my former self.

These 5 habits are:

  1. Consistent Sleep Schedule
  2. Outline Daily Goals
  3. Eliminate Escapism
  4. Dedicate Time to Personal Growth
  5. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Each habit is outlined with a 3 step approach.

  1. Problem: This is how I was living my life. A description of the troubles and pains I experienced without any structure and discipline in my life.
  2. Motivation: This is a general outline of what the habit is and why you should adopt it.
  3. Result: This is a testimonial of how my life changed as a result of adopting the habit.

1. Consistent Sleep Schedule

Problem: In the past, I was an anxious, fidgety mess. I would bite my fingernails, bounce my knees up and down, and was unable to sit still in lectures. My mind was foggy and I never had energy to do anything. Mentally, I was incoherent and dull. Mornings were the most difficult part of the day for me – with falling asleep being the second. Some days I had so little sleep that I started to lose my mind. So much so, that I tried to develop an online persona of being INSANE(What the f*ck!?). That’s right! This was a BIG problem! My lack of sleep was starting to negatively affect my subconscious mind.

Motivation: In order to perform your very best, you need to be well rested. There is no substitute for good rest. You want to aim for 6 hours and 30 minutes to 8 hours of rest every night. This is the general amount of recommended sleep for adults. You may require more, so it is best to experiment. I am no expert on the intricacies of sleep; however I know your mind rests in 90 minute cycles. You want to set your sleep schedule to align with a whole-number of sleep cycles. If you wake up in the middle of a cycle, you will feel very drowsy – making it much more difficult to get out of bed.

Most importantly, you need to be consistent with your bedtime. In time, your mind will adapt to this time. On the first day, you may find it difficult to fall asleep. But, a few weeks from now, you will naturally be tired at bedtime.

Result: My quality of life greatly increased. With enough rest, I had energy to handle so much more. My patience and tolerance grew substantially. Without any thought, I was able to keep still. I no longer dreaded remaining in the same position for 2 hour lectures or 6 to 8 hour work shifts.

Here’s an example of my previous thought process:

I will sleep after one more game of Left 4 Dead. [finishes game] Maybe one more? Yeah, I can skip my morning routine to add in another game and still get 8 hours of sleep.

This type of sleep “schedule” was as consistent as picking a spot on the wall, closing your eyes, and landing a dart on that spot after being spun around before each attempt.

On the contrary, by having a set bedtime, I felt accountable to be ready for bed 30 minutes before sleeping. As a result of a consistent schedule, I had more time to function each day, because sleeping was no longer a guessing game. This improved my time management and allowed for me to accomplish more in a single day.

I chose to go the extra mile. I wake up at 4:30 AM everyday. The mornings are for getting ahead. Waking up early has given me more time to focus on developing myself. Because, after I go to work or school, I am drained of my energy. But, by being awake early in the morning, I am able to focus all my energy on building myself.

My mornings are for: going to the gym, writing posts like this, meal prepping, and reading.

This is the thought process that drives my sleeping habit:

Do not devote all your energy to building someone else’s dream. Devote your energy to building YOUR dream.

2. Outline Daily Goals

Problem: When I tried to be productive with my time, I always felt a burden of “how much is enough?”. I was unsure as to how many things I should do in one day or how much time I should devote to each task. This often left me lying in bed unable to sleep because I felt dissatisfied with my efforts.

Motivation: You can only do so much in one day. Without a definite plan, you will likely go through the day either aimlessly or not optimally productive.

Remember: Time is a precious resource. You only get 24 hours in a day. It is in your best interest to make the most of each moment.

Statistically speaking, you are more likely to meet a goal if you write it down. If you want to achieve something every day, you need to outline your day.

Result: At first, I started with college-ruled loose leaf paper. I bulleted tasks such as: gym: leg day, physics homework, 3 meals and 2 snacks(for mass gaining), meet dad for lunch, and so on. After completing a task, I felt an immense amount of satisfaction checking it off the list. Not only did this help me organize my efforts, but it gave me a measurable feeling of accomplishment. With completing a day’s worth of tasks, I would retire to bed without the anxiety of underachieving. Having escaped this anxiety, I felt I had more time to enjoy my life. Where I was previously rushing my workout to get home and do homework, I was now stopping to enjoy a conversation with friends at the gym because I knew I had the time.

As I grew more sophisticated in my outlining, I bought a Bullet Journal. This is a useful tool for determining if a task is worth your time. I use this more for advanced planning. That is: being overwhelmed with tasks and having to determine what is really worth my time. It helps you prioritize tasks. You should totally Google it!

Pro Tip: Outline your day the night before, so you can wake up with your goals for the day already in mind.

3. Eliminate Escapism

Problem: I spent more energy in video games than I did anything else. I would spend entire days playing video games. If I was not gaming, I was watching YouTube videos. The fact of the matter: I was wasting my time. My grades were not too awful; however, these distractions were not helping them. I had little motivation to do anything more than play video games. I actually viewed it as a purpose in life. While I will touch more on this in the motivation section, my video game friendsviewed me as the leader of the group. As such, I felt an obligation to these friends. I saw it as a duty to be the best. This evolved into a cult of personality. My friends viewed me as an unstoppable, infallible force to be reckoned with. They wanted to be just like me, which inflated my ego.

The game I drained countless hours into was Left 4 Dead 2 from 2009.

When asking myself why I was so addicted to this game, I found four answers.

  1. Simulation of Competition: My friends and I would queue up and play against other teams. We played to win. Though the game is almost 10 years old, we took the game VERY seriously. So much so, that we would be very nasty toward new players.
  2. Simulation of Friends: The guys I played with had similar interests to me – something I could not find in real life. We were in similar life situations. The most important detail is: we had mutual music interests. Pink Floyd, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix. We were more interested in depressing music(Pink Floyd).
  3. Simulation of Skills: I was acclaimed to be one of the best players around. I had been playing this game since its release in 2009. I felt that I put so much time into the game, I should not squander my skills by quitting. On the contrary, I had few real world skills. This was one of few places I felt I offered value to someone
  4. Simulation of Adventure: For many, it feels like everything has already been done. The world has been explored and there is not much for one to discover. A man was already to the moon. Just about any useful form of technology has already been invented(and you would need millions, if not billions, to compete in that market). And, there is no more originality in creativity
  5. . Without much more thought, I decided to give up on real-world motivations. I had this interesting video game world that offered me new, exciting experiences for hours on end!

Motivation: Video games KILL your motivation! But, it is not video games alone that do this.

Social media, TV & movies, and drugs & alcohol can all have have the same effects if they are indulged in too often.

These are forms of escapism. They offer the user a substitute for experiences they are lacking in real life.

Here is how each form of escapism acts as a substitute:

  1. Video Games: Video games offer the player adventure and excitement. The most popular of video games such as Fortnite are enjoyed by groups of friends who compete with other groups of friends. This simulates group-oriented conflict. I believe conflict to be especially important in the bonding of men. They suffer together. They grow together. I believe this is why video games are mostly played by men.
  2. Social Media: Social media offers the user access to all the people they know at a click of a button. This works well for people who want to connect but are uncomfortable to meet in person. They can hide behind the image of their Facebook profile and have discrete conversations with friends. This makes it especially easy for those who are insecure to hide behind ambiguous text and lack of emotional expression in voice and body language which you would get with an in-person conversation.
  3. TV & Movies: TV & Movies are driven through story. While these stories are often fiction, they are written to be emotionally relatable. They give the viewer an emotional experience. These are often emotions that the viewer is lacking in their own lives. For instance, in watching The Wolf of Wall Street, the viewer cannot help but feel the excitement in Jordan Belfort’s claim to wealth and power. This type of lifestyle is especially coveted by young men between the ages of 20 to 35 – the movie’s target audience. Surely, if the viewer were as wealthy and as powerful as Jordan, they would be spending their money on huge parties instead of watching that movie.
  4. Drugs & Alcohol: Substance abuse usually stems from the inability to cope with certain emotions. For instance, alcohol, colloquially known as “liquid courage”, suppresses anxiety, giving the user courage(ignorance of anxiety) they previously did not have. While the user does not forget about their troubles, they no longer feel the negative emotions associated with them.

Result: It was difficult to believe video games were ruining my life. I experienced feelings similar to that of one with stockholm syndrome. I wanted to leave, but at the same time I enjoyed comfort in my virtual captor. Breaking free was painful, but worth it.

When I became aware of why I was addicted, I found my problem easier to fix. I attacked each contributing factor individually.

  1. Competition: I learned to compete with myself(such as developing these 5 habits). This gave me the drive to win over myself. These were real-world victories that made real-world change in my life. There was no longer a virtual abstraction that made my efforts realistically pointless.
  2. Friends: As I developed who I was and what I wanted in life, I naturally began to attract similar minded people with my words and actions. This has turned into a mastermind group of people guiding each other to greater success. It is important to note that there is NO leader. Before, my ego was in love with the idea of being the leader. Video games were so narrow in the skills required to compete, one could master them and be the elite. But, in the real world, there is so much to know and understand, you would be stupid to think you can master it all by yourself. You need high quality friends that not only offer experience and fun, but that also offer you an opportunity to grow.
  3. Skills: Having established a group of friends whom I grow with, I began to specialize in skills that offered them greater value. I have friends who are knowledgeable on fitness, business, and finance. In turn, I found a liking for media and entertainment. I spent about a year consuming as much information as possible on how media is designed and how I can make my own. With this knowledge, I gave my friends insight on how they can market their businesses and themselves.
  4. Adventure: I learned to enjoy the journey of life. I began to enjoy simple trips to the grocery store. A walk through a park. Or, a conversation with friends. Each day became a new adventure full of new people to meet and new things to learn.

4. Dedicate Time to Personal Growth

Problem: Once I eliminated escapist habits, I needed something to fill my time with. Video games were taking 6 to 8 hours of my time each day. This time needed to be repurposed. I wanted to be a better version of myself but I was not sure as to how. Where do I start?

Motivation: Your thoughts are where change begins. You must consistently feed your thoughts new perspectives in order to grow. New perspective is a seed that can be planted in your mind. It germinates in your thoughts and experiences, and blossoms into a greater understanding of yourself.

There are multiple sources of new perspective. Here are what I have found to be most useful:

  1. Books / audiobooks
  2. TED Talks
  3. Podcasts
  4. Conversations (especially with new people)

Result: I believe dedicating time to personal growth was the best thing I could do. I viewed each new idea as a tool to be added to a mental toolkit.

For instance, after learning about habits and how they work in the mind, I have become more aware of how I can maintain good habits.

Here is what I learned:

By giving into a bad habit, your mind releases dopamine which reinforces that action – further ingraining that behavior into the subconscious mind. This makes it more difficult to break the habit. But, by replacing a bad habit with a good one, your brain develops neurological systems that mute it and promote the good habit. While the good habit can grow to be stronger than the bad, it must be maintained through consistent action*, or else the mind will retrogress back to the bad.*

Knowledge such as this has made me more effective in maintaining the 5 habits spoken about in this post.

5. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Problem: This was my biggest problem in high school. Majority of my peers were on a school team. They were strong, fit, and healthy. I was the tall, skinny guy with acne. I felt my scrawny frame paled in comparison to the testosterone pumping physiques of the football players. This is where I began to hate my physical appearance. My voice was too high pitched. My legs were too skinny. And, . . .my hair was just . . . wtf I had no idea how to style it.

Needless to say, I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. The most I had going for me was academics, but even there I felt I was inferior.

I was the designated Math and Science nerd. I always carried my Calculus and Physics books with me and I enjoyed tutoring others during study halls. I genuinely helped others get As. It was an amazing feeling to help others achieve their own successes!

But, the sensation would not last for long because I felt I was failing in my own studies. This was due to competition with another classmate.

In my Calculus class, there was a guy who did not try at all and performed MUCH better than me. While I was at home studying hard for a test, he was goofing off, getting high with his cousin. He put barely any effort in and did better than me. This boiled my blood. But, I did not let it get the best of me. Instead, I started to study with him. Although he was goofing off, he still put an amount of effort in – though minimal as it was. I saw this as an opportunity to learn something new.

But, in the end, I got a B and he got an A. I was devastated. Of what esteem I had, it was destroyed. I would tell myself: “It’s not fair!”.

But, out of this misery, I learned a valuable lesson. I will tell you about it in the result section.

Motivation: You cannot compare yourself to others! Everyone has different experiences, culture, perceptions, perspectives, and so on! It is apples and oranges!

“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20”. You and I, we are in different places in life. There is no universal solution to everyone’s problems. You must look inward to find your solutions. Use this as an opportunity to challenge yourself! Evaluate your current situation and challenge yourself to be better.

It is important to note that there is a difference in learning from others and comparing yourself to them. When dealing with my academic problem, I decided to see what I could learn from the guy in my Calculus class. This proved to be fruitful in the long run.

When you are stuck, maybe you are missing part of the puzzle – something your mind is not aware of. Inspiration helps to solve this problem. Look at those who have succeeded in your area of struggle. Take the time to understand their thought processes and habits.

I guarantee you: your biggest struggle is in your mind.

Result: Before I knew it, my life was completely different.

Physically, I have become an avid gym goer. I do full body workouts 3 times a week. I have done the research and designed a meal plan that suits my hard-gainer body type. In the past ten months, I gained 20 lbs of muscle.

Academically, I have maintained a 4.0 in college. This is something I swore I would maintain without fail. I am in competition with my high school academics. Where I got a 3.98, 0.02 shy of a 4.0, I will get a perfect GPA in a more difficult curriculum.

Reflecting back on studying with the guy in my Calculus class, I learned to work smart not hard. He was able to condense my 8 hours of studying into about 30 minutes of effort by being smart. His biggest crutch was his connections. He was friends with people who took the class the year before. They gave him old tests, which he used to study. The tests had the same exact questions just different numbers! He had such an advantage!

This inspired me to be more social – which rings true to the idea of: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. In college, I found friends who specialized each in particular subjects. For instance, if I needed help with a math problem, I would ask my friend who is a math major. I created a mastermind group for college subjects. This worked best because I understood I cannot be a jack of all trades – something I aspired to be when I compared myself to others.


Much of your misfortune may be linked to a subconscious habit. You could be driving yourself to failure without even knowing!

Your mind develops habits as a result of energy efficiency. A new experience overwhelms your mind with new sensory stimulations. But, as this experience becomes common place, your mind develops shortcuts, requiring less energy to perform the same operations.

This is where discipline comes in. In order to develop a new habit, you must discipline yourself to perform it. It is mentally difficult in the beginning. But, as you do it more and more, your mind adapts. You will be able to perform the same action with a fraction of the effort!

Discipline yourself today, so your mind will discipline you tomorrow.

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