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Life Lessons Learned From A Decade Of Failures

Over the past six months, my life has been a blur of breakthroughs, big ideas, and exponential progress. I’ve been experimenting with improvement in all areas of my life — mind, body, spirit, business — and after 10 years of life’s ebbs and flows… things are starting to come together.

When I first started lifting weights, I reached “The Peak Of Mount Stupid” within a year.

Dunning Kreugar Effect

I was obsessed with learning the fundamentals of training and nutrition. I studied people like Layne Norton, Alan Aragon, Eric Helms, and OG fitness influencers like Matt Ogus, Chris Lavado, Chris Jones, Vitruvian Physique, Michael Kory, and Rob Lipsett (who I had the pleasure of doing a podcast with a few months ago).

I became an IIFYM zealot. The only thing that mattered to me was calories and macros. I stuffed my face with frozen burritos, pop tarts, and anything I could get my hands on to hit my carbs, fats, and proteins.

This worked to an extent. I gained quite a bit of muscle and strength. I was repping 275lbs on the bench press in my senior year in high school — but quickly realized that overdosing on Dr. Pepper every night while playing Halo 3 until 3 AM wasn’t going to work. So I started experimenting.

The Optimal (Insert Aspect Of Life Here) Is A Myth

Over the past 2 years, I have tried the vegan, keto, carnivore, low-carb, high-carb, and The Broke College Student diet.

Recently, I became dogmatic about the pseudo-carnivore diet. In a nutshell, you eat mainly organ meats, muscle meats, gelatinous parts of the animal, in-season fruits, eggs, dairy, and a few other things. Heavy emphasis on sourcing the highest quality you can find.

The reason I was so dogmatic is that I was on a spree of elimination. I dropped alcohol, social events, and anything else that took my away from hitting my goal of 185 pounds. I had been trying to hit that weight for 3-4 years and finally got fed up with my lack of progress. (This podcast explains how my 25th birthday sparked this drastic change in mindset).

Now that I have hit that goal, I am feeling myself moving from the “Slope Of Enlightenment” to the “Plateau Of Sustainability.”

Here are my recent realizations:

Balance Is Found Through Cycles Of Intensity

Hustle culture loves to glorify monk mode and intensity. I love a good old monk mode when you feel pulled to go all-in on a lesser purpose — laser-focused deep work, getting a years worth of work done in a month, losing sleep because the ideas won’t stop flowing, and riding the wave of dopamine & intrinsic drive — but sustainability has to be taken into account.

If you stay in a state of intensity or optimization for too long, you hit a point of diminishing returns on quality of life.

When I started optimizing too much, life lost its zest. Things became stressful. Everything outside of my normal routine was seen as a burden. If I didn’t control every little thing about my life, I couldn’t enjoy it for what it is.

Trying to perfect every area of your life makes you hate the imperfections. When you do this, you prevent yourself from enjoying the imperfection that is baked into the human condition.

Nature is perfect. Nature Is. Humans were blessed with thought. But thought overcomplicates and misinterprets nature as imperfect. Society models nature — over-optimizing this is not a way to live.

Going home for the holidays to see my family only made me think about what I could eat, how much money I was spending, and when I would be able to go back home to “get back on it.” I could imagine myself judging their “normie” actions. Not being able to enjoy time with my own family. When I head home later today, I will be making a conscious effort to enjoy my time with them.

However, these states of intensity and optimization are necessary. I wouldn’t have solidified these conclusions in my head without it. All self-improvement stems from awareness. Awareness is found by diving into the unknown. You cannot improve what you are not aware of — you cannot become aware of things you don’t know exist (they exist in the unknown… the uncomfortable… the realm of infinite potential).

When you transition out of these high-intensity states — you operate from a higher baseline on whatever you exponentially improved. Through intensity, you hit walls quickly. You gain 1 year of experience in 1 month. When you hit the metaphorical wall of over-optimization, life offers you a lesson. Are you going to learn from it?

The Fundamentals (And Your Consistency With Them) Are What Matters

Through my cycle of intensity, I have reached a higher baseline. I have better eating habits and my new fundamentals are locked down.

The fundamentals are what you can fall back on when things get too intense (or too lax). They are your system for getting results. They are the ‘levers’ for making progress.

When you feel lost, overwhelmed, or directionless in your pursuit of personal and business development, come back to the fundamentals — write them down.

MY health fundamentals are now:

  • Daily raw liver, bone broth, and muscle meats for a pseudo-nose-to-tail carnivorous diet. Covering most bases in terms of vital nutrients.
  • Fruit, white rice, and tubers to fill carbs.
  • Fermented foods like goat milk kefir
  • My enlightenment elixir has and will remain a staple.
  • Full body training 3x a week
  • Running and sprinting 4x a week
  • Light activity (like hiking) on the weekend
  • Hitting 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
  • Stress and emotional regulation

Now that I am opening myself up to more social events, I am falling back to the 80/20 rule as I mentioned above. If I can stick to this for 80% of the time, it’s safe to say I will continue making exponential progress in health. Alcohol is still eliminated, for now, it caused too much trouble. However, I am having a good time experimenting with micro-dosing psilocybin (zero calories and a world of benefits when it comes to writing).

The thing that gets me is the body of “flexible dieters” that have sustainability in mind. Take it even further and you have someone like Timbahwolf on Instagram who eats like shit and has a better physique than 99% of social influencers.

The Rock eats pancakes. Michael Phelps smokes weed and eats a ton of pizza. What we see on Twitter is what we expose ourselves to. I completely forgot where I came from back in the day and may have attributed my progress poorly.

From my reflection: the biggest impact on my mental clarity, skin, and energy levels is from not overeating, being lean, having a purpose, stress regulation, training, and movement. NOT necessarily the ultra-high-quality high-fat diet that many are promoting. Most people stop overeating, start moving, stay consistent, and lockdown some other principles — THEN they go on to say it was some magic like eating raw liver or going keto. It seems like the cause and effect that people talk about in the health industry are misidentified — or polarized to promote a product.

I am not saying this to sway your opinion. I’m saying this so you approach life critically. With an open mind. Not limiting what could lead to enjoyment because you limit your awareness and knowledge of all areas of one given field. I value critical thinking and nuance — I will be heading in that direction more instead of being so dogmatic about a specific way of eating.

Am I going to start gorging on junk food? No. I will test and experiment as you should. From this new baseline and level of awareness, I will be able to accurately see the short-term effects on my body.

When traveling, you bet your ass I’m not missing out on commonly demonized foods like pasta, bread, and other carb sources. I’ll probably post some pictures on Insta of all the BBQ I’ll be eating in Texas next week. These are demonized by some researchers and glorified by others.

If you want to break out of whatever health ideology or religion you have subscribed to, I’ve started listening to this older Joe Rogan podcast with Layne Norton and Dom D’Agostino (they debate about flexible dieting and keto).

This is the beauty of these “Cycles Of Intensity.” My health philosophy is an amalgamation of the experience I’ve gained throughout my 10 years of improving it. It is backed by research and experience from all sides. This is powerful and is the same for other pillars of my life.

This does not eliminate the merit of a disciplined lifestyle. This IS a disciplined lifestyle. This “balanced” lifestyle is harder to pull off than eliminating things entirely — but with a higher potential reward. This is why intensity is needed to find balance. I spun my wheels for multiple years because I was afraid to go all in. I was afraid to learn the lessons that life had waiting for me in the unknown.

This is very different — yet very similar — compared to my previous diet. I got to this point through conscious experimentation.

Life Is A Series Of Science Experiments

I have been speaking in terms of health here… but this applies to all areas of life.

Every single topic can be argued and researched to the end of the Earth. If I want to be dogmatic about holistic health, I can find research and compelling arguments backing that. There is no fun in that though. The fun comes from being open-minded, holding things in the realm of possibility, questioning everything, and solidifying a nuanced perspective through direct experience.

Life is about experimentation. Learning what you like and don’t like. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. Slowly making small upgrades in the traits, skills, and wisdom that your character holds. These small boosts in experience and upgrades lead to massive results in the game of life (sometimes you don’t even notice them until you reflect on your progress).

For me, I switched majors in college 6 times before I came across coding. That led to a dopamine-fueled extravaganza of learning to code. That led to experimenting with freelancing and other online business models. That led to starting Modern Mastery. The progress has been immense.

If you have no idea what to pursue — your life’s work, your purpose, your passions — you must start experimenting. You need to throw shit at a wall and see what sticks. You need to try enough things until you experience that intrinsic drive that pulls you into a high-intensity state. This happens thanks to dopamine. Dopamine separates signal from noise. Dopamine tells you that you are doing something right (beware: cheap dopamine).

How do you start experimenting? You treat all areas of your life as a science project.

The Scientific Method

Your body is a project. Your health is a project. Your relationships are a project. Your business is a project. All of these have more projects embedded in them. The “Project Mindset” is powerful. My roommate has started thinking of his body as a project. This simple act made him track his improvements, lose 80 pounds, and be mindful of how he “works” on this project.

Projects imply a desired outcome (improvement), steps to completion (goals and metrics), and actions that will move you closer to completion (priorities).

Experiments imply risks that you need to take into account, intention, testing, and iteration. This means that you have to see an experiment through. You can’t quit before things start to get good.

They also imply failure. Not all experiments are successful. When you think of this as a project, it is easier to detach from the outcome. You see failure as a chance to iterate and improve. Failure is feedback on what to improve. Looping back to awareness — you cannot improve what you are not aware of.

You need to come into your experiments with an open and curious mind. This will give room for questioning. Curiosity is fueled by questions. Question: What would life look like if I tried this thing I’ve never tried before?

You will naturally feel the pull to dive into the unknown. If you don’t, keep asking questions until you feel energized. That is your call to adventure. A call to become an explorer of the unknown. A call to start actualizing your potential.

The Meaning Of Life Is To Pass Down Your Experiences

Experiments = experience.

Experimentation is how you find what works for you. Experimentation is how you form your personal health, wealth, and relationships philosophy — allowing you to pass down your lessons and make money doing so (this is arguably the meaning of life per ancient and modern teachers, self-transcendence).

Experimentation is how you form your life philosophy. An operating manual that keeps you on the enjoyable, sustainable, and fulfilling path.

Since we talk a lot about business here — this ties in perfectly. Business — in our case online business — is your vessel for pursuing your life’s work. Your life’s work consists of pursuing your interests (experiments), becoming a niche of one (understanding how to market, sell, and distribute), and packaging up your experiences in a way that the end-user can digest and implement. Money is a byproduct of your irreplaceable value.

If you enjoyed this blog post — you can get early access to all of them by subscribing to The Mastery Letter.

Who Is Dan Koe?

I am a writer & brand advisor for 7-8 figure creators, influencers, and social media brands. I am obsessed with dissecting human potential, lifestyle design, and one-person businesses.

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