Summary of the main points of my book Breaking out of Homeostasis: The Not-So-Magic Pill of Self-Development.
Learn what it means to break out of homeostasis (BOOH) and how the lifestyle that most people lead is harmful to their brain, body, and ultimately their long-term growth.
Learn why you can’t trust your brain and body as much as you think you can.
Homeostasis is the process by which all the things about you (your brain and body) remain the same.
Homeostasis is embedded deeply into every living being as a mechanism for saving energy. We cannot survive without it. But at the same time it is a major pain in the ass – the biggest obstacle – to realizing our true potential (I know that sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true). Homeostasis is one of the main reasons why people are inherently lazy.
Homeostasis has a lot in common with heuristics in the sense that we humans cannot survive without either one of these evolutionary mechanisms, but at the same time they limit us greatly if we are not aware of to what the extent we actually are affected by them.
In my experience there are very few people that have any idea about this stuff and as a result they live their lives on autopilot to a higher degree than those people those who do know about it.
There are both good and bad things about this autopilot of operating as it saves us a lot of energy, by allowing us to get by with thinking less and doing less.
But we don’t need to save energy… We have it in abundance in modern society, so ultimately homeostasis isn’t very rewarding for an intelligent and ambitious person.
You will not be able to become a remarkable human being if you do not understand and gradually overcome some of these obstacles that are wired into you.
Overcoming those obstacles is the purpose of living a lifestyle that is conducive to breaking out of homeostasis.
The following are the key attributes of living a lifestyle that is conducive to Breaking out of Homeostasis:
To Exert More Energy than You Have to in Today’s Easy Society
This means to put in more effort than your brain or body wants you to. Everything else in this post stems from this first principle and is a sort of variation of this.
Activating your Brain as a Default State
As opposed to wanting to mentally go to sleep like most people.
This means constantly thinking and exercising one’s mind by following goals or doing other things that have to do with activating the brain.
Instead of dumbing yourself down to get comfortable in the short-term you put yourself through things that are challenging and initially painful but end up making you comfortable and happy in the long-term as a result of becoming more intelligent and being able to stay focused on things for a longer amount of time.
The three main ways of activating the brain are that of intense focus, triggering adrenaline, and using drugs. The two first alternatives are to prefer but the third one is still a hell of a lot better than not activating your brain at all.
Using your Brain and Body Instead of Letting it Use you
YOU have a brain and a body, they do not have you.
To think or not to think
To act or not to act
These are choices that go completely unanswered by many.
It’s possible to dumb yourself down and avoid thinking or taking action very easily in modern society and it’s very tempting to do just that as it has become the norm.
Most People Trust their Brains Way too Much
This is one of the main reasons why transformative and lasting change is hard and improbable to most people.
One of the most fundamental truths about human beings is that they unconsciously want to maintain homeostasis and do the things that require the least amount of energy and discomfort.
Because people don’t understand this it means that they have no idea of why they do many of the things they do.
Because they trust their own mental and emotional feedback too much they are unable to change for at least three major reasons:
- Change happens gradually and it takes a while to adapt – The Plateau
- Your prefrontal cortex
- Your brain’s reward system
1. Change Happens Gradually and it Takes a While to Adapt.
It takes a while for homeostasis to shift in the long-term and it takes a while to develop a habit or a new hormonal pattern. This means you almost always MUST overcome an initial inertia where you lack motivation or feel very uncomfortable.
You must persist through this period on a plateau while not trusting in the feedback given to you by your body and brain and act on the beliefthat you have the ability to adapt to the situation.
If you are consistent in forcing yourself through this initial period, things will change soon. Let me illustrate this by two examples:
- Exercising. It is very uncomfortable and painful at first and your body wants to quit due to wanting to maintain homeostasis and remain comfortable, passive, and save energy. But soon you notice that if you up the ante a bit every session you get stronger and your body adapts to it.
- Intermittent fasting. Most people who try IF fail due to not sticking out the initial period on the plateau where your hormonal patterns have to adjust to your new eating schedule. This can take 1-4 weeks. Most people quit the second it feels uncomfortable and go off running to eat a snack like weaklings.
The principles behind the two above examples can be applied to any type of change, and this is explained by…
Whenever you are on the verge of breaking out of homeostasis you will get uncomfortable and your brain will try to trick you in any way it can to make sure you don’t do it.
It will come up with all sorts of fucked up thoughts about how you absolutely should not continue down the path of action that you’re currently headed toward.
This is the brain’s last resort to keep you in homeostasis by means of convincing you through excuses and rationalizations.
The brain is going to tell you all sorts of fucked up things in order to get you to slow down and not break out of homeostasis. It might tell you that everyone will hate you, that you might seriously hurt yourself, or it may get you to freeze up in fear.
If you do not know that this is simply standard procedure for how your brain maintains homeostasis you will definitely react to this, think that it’s true, and stop. But that’s the wrong action because you can’t trust your brain in this situation.
What you’re doing is probably not dangerous at all, but your brain will frame the situation in such a way to get you to stop so that you don’t change, because change requires a ton of energy, and your brain doesn’t want that. It is only concerned with saving energy.
On the flip side, EVEN if you truly understand this, it’s still going to be tough to pull through due to…
2. The Prefrontal Cortex.
Very few people are able to endure this discomfort because their brains are in poor shape from getting influenced by constant information and instant gratification. Their willpower, their ability to stay motivated and focused are all at a low level as a result of not activating their brains enough. This hampers their prefrontal cortex.
Prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is a part of our brain that really sets us apart from other species because it has enabled us to learn things and adapt to circumstances quicker than other animals. The PFC is imperative to willpower, motivation, decision making, and staying focused at a task by sustaining concentration.
It is nearly impossible to become a highly capable person without exercising it somehow. Sadly, very few people in our society have any idea of this and as a result they don’t practice it much.
Many people do things that are harmful to the PFC – multitasking and constantly checking social media are prime example because both diminish your focus and lower your ability to concentrate in the long-term. They also fuck up your brain’s reward system, which I’ll get into in the next section.
Without focus, willpower, and motivation – how are you going to get anything done?
There are two major reasons why the prefrontal cortex is incredibly important to practice:
- First of all, fundamentally speaking EVERYTHING significant ever accomplished by human beings have stemmed from focusing on a task for a long period of time. Einstein didn’t exactly come up with his theory of relativity in the course of a day. If he hadn’t been able to focus on thinking about it consistently every day for a very long period of time he probably wouldn’t have conceived of it and we wouldn’t know who he is.
- Secondly, any value you are able to create for yourself or others stems from learning things and adapting to circumstances. A company that cannot adapt to the trends of the market is going to perish quickly. A person who cannot learn the things he/she needs to learn to perform in order to accomplish his/her goals is going to become unhappy.
Without exercising your prefrontal cortex you’ll become a less competent person and as a result you will have a harder time in life, it’s really as simple as that.
3. Brain’s Reward System
The brain’s reward system plays a major part in determining the actions that you take on a daily basis.
You do the things that make you feel good – things that flood your body with stimulating neurotransmitters and hormones – and you avoid the things that make you feel bored or uncomfortable.
Boredom can be defined as being in a state of deficiency in terms of these stimulating hormones and neurotransmitters, where dopamine is the most prominent neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.
As soon as you encounter a new experience your brain’s reward system is going to determine how this thing made you feel. Depending on whether you felt good or not your brain will want to either reproduce the same experience, or it will try to avoid it.
What do you think it does to your brain’s reward system when you pursue instant gratification and multitasking?
It floods your system with E.G dopamine and makes you feel good. Your brain quickly realizes:
“Oh, I can feel good and stimulated by doing XYZ, and it was REALLY EASY too. From now on I am only going to do XYZ because that is going to make me happy!”
But you cannot entirely trust your brain’s reward system to find out what is going to make you happy and competent in modern times because our society is so different from when we were cave men.
When we were cave men the brain’s reward system was probably a really good indicator for our survival. The things that made us feel good – for example sex and food – were really important for our survival and these things were usually scarce so it made sense to focus on getting them.
And it made sense to conserve energy too.
In modern society this is not the case. There are many, many examples of this, some major ones are:
- An abundance of food, especially unhealthy processed food that stimulate you in the short-term but make you feel bad in the long-term as a result of harming your brain and body.
- Sugar. Sugar feels great to consume as it gets you stimulated instantly, but it is immensely unhealthy. There is probably no single “substance” in the world that does more overall damage to society than sugar. Cave men did not come across much sugar at all. According to Mark Hyman human beings evolved eating no more than a few spoonfuls of sugar per year – equivalent to 1-2 cans of coke – and that came from eating berries. Imagine what it does to your brain’s reward system to eat more sugar than that every day, which is what most people do.
- Porn. You can sit by your computer and get huge amounts of dopamine by masturbating to ten different women without having to put in the work to become worthy of such a woman in real life.
- Multitasking. Porn is really the most powerful example of multitasking because by watching a new video before finishing the last one you get a lot more stimulated. Checking your phone, Facebook, and email for notifications while you watch TV is another powerful example of multitasking.
Ultimately, these things raise your threshold for stimulation and you will soon feel bored if you don’t do it constantly. This lowers your ability to focus and sustain your concentration on one task at a time and as a result your prefrontal cortex gets weaker.
This becomes a negative spiral that makes you weaker and weaker until you become a complete loser who is completely run by his brain as it wants to maintain homeostasis.
The only way to break this pathetic cycle of addiction is to rewire your brain’s reward system to get addicted to the things that are good for you in the long-term and find ways of activating your brain so that you are producing these positive hormones and neurotransmitters without having to become a pathetic fiend to instant gratification and multitasking.
With a shitty reward system you’re not be able to accomplish anything significant because you’re not going to draw any enjoyment from the hard work required to produce something of real value.
The end result of this logic is still the same as most other philosophies of self-development and success:
Put in the effort, challenge yourself, follow your goal and you will live long and prosper
But the reasoning is different.
By learning this you will see how it all connects in a feedback loop that is either positive for you or negative. Things stay the same by means of homeostasis and it’s very hard to change this if you don’t understand the power your brain and body have over you.
You will not get the motivation, courage, energy and willpower to break out of homeostasis consistently unless you believe in the validity of the theory behind it. It’s too uncomfortable.
In this case you might say that unless you know the WHY then you will not give a shit about the what or the how.
You must have a reason for doing the things you do or you will not do them at the end of the day. There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel to chase after when things are miserable in the present, which they definitely are on the plateau.
But ultimately, it’s worth it.
It’s worth it not being a confused weakling who reacts to his brain and body at any whim of wanting to maintain homeostasis.
It’s worth it to avoid being unconsciously influenced by bullshit things.
It’s worth it to activate the brain and become focused; to produce positive neurotransmitters and hormones in your body without having to get it from outside sources of instant gratification.
It’s worth being strong, capable, self-reliant, and happy.
Check out the book here. It’s free.
[Note 2014/01/07: I have now opened up the comment section on the book page above as per requested from a few people. Feel free to post a review or a comment there if you feel that comment would be inappropriate or too long to write for this particular post]
[Note 2014/06/30: The book is not available for download anymore. I am in the process of rewriting it. It is going to get a lot better!]