Dodge This: How the Matrix Can Help You Take Control of Your Life

Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?

Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

We’ve all seen that amazing scene in the Matrix, where Neo learns how the Matrix works… and when you heard that quote above, you probably said “whoa.”

Believe it or not, our pal Morpheus here is teaching Neo the same lesson you’re going to learn today. By the time I’m done with you, you’re going to accomplish more in one day than you accomplished in all of last week.

I have spent the past few weeks living like Neo, seeing how the Matrix works, and operating at peak efficiency. Instead of dodging bullets and putting out fires, I’m now more in control of life than ever before.

If you feel like your life is in shambles or you want to get healthier and happier but never have the chance to work on it, then today is for you.

It was a rude awakening, but I now feel like Morpheus, which means you get to be Neo.

Instead of learning how to dodge bullets as they’re shot at you, we’re going to stop them from happening in the first place.

Within a few weeks, you’ll be crushing every Agent Smith that stands in your way.

Hacking the Matrix is NOT a Band-Aid

BandAId

When it comes to getting healthier, stronger, happier with work, or more productive with your time, a band-aid is a temporary or fragile solution to a problem without addressing the underlying cause.

Let me give you a few examples:

Let’s say we’re somebody who’s overweight that decides to go on a diet. A temporary solution would be to starve ourselves and run on a treadmill for a few weeks to a month until we can go back to eating like we used to. Once we reach our goal weight and go back to how we used to eat, we’ll put the weight right back on, and have to continually repeat the process.

Let’s say we’re somebody that wants to start exercising. If we have a vacation coming up in a month, and we suddenly start going to five days a week of bootcamps (that we don’t actually enjoy), sure…we might reach our target goal weight in time for the vacation to squeeze into that bathing suit…but two months later we’re right back to square one!

Maybe we struggle with depression and wonder if we’re stuck in the Matrix with our day jobs. We come home exhausted from work and have half a dozen drinks to help us forget the crappy day we had. We stay up too late playing video games – the only part of our life in which we feel like we have control – and then we wake up exhausted to an alarm clock, and chug a pot of coffee to get us through the next day of work.

Every single thing on this list is a temporary band-aid for a serious problem that is not being addressed.

Above, we are seeking temporary solutions to major problems – like somebody trying to follow the rules in a Matrix that doesn’t want the human to wake up. Somebody else is pulling the strings, programming your movements, and you’re stuck simply going through the motions. Trying to use a band-aid when the whole Matrix is set up for you to remain locked in this “prison for your mind” is like trying to hold back the tide.

If we want to start living a leveled-up life, we need to hack the Matrix to fit OUR lives, not try to operate within its stupid rules.

As Morpheus tells us:

“Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.”

THAT’S when the fun starts to happen.

Find the Source Code

Matrix

As we said above, band-aids and patches are temporary, fragile solutions to problems that have a much deeper cause.

If you’re a programmer or coder, you might have been advised by your bosses to “just get the program working again” for a piece of software you just inherited. This requires you to haphazardly patch together a solution that solves the problem, but doesn’t deal with the crux of the issue: the original code was poorly written!

So, you’re going to spend hours upon hours writing temporary hacks and solutions instead of being given the chance to fix the buggy code at its source.

Instead of buying bigger and better band-aids, or creating more elegant hacks and patches to the code, what happens if we clean up the source code instead? By identifying the problem and then implementing a solution that addresses the cause of the problem, we can systematically destroy that end result requiring the band-aid in the first place.

Let’s get even nerdier: think about it like a video game. Normally you only have control over the character, but we want you to have access to the source code as well. If you’ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game or the original Doom, you’re familiar with this: you get to be the Architect behind the game – which enemies go where, if you get double the speed, can levitate, or activate God Mode.

Want to go old school? You’re the Dungeon Master in a D&D game!

Build the game yourself, and force the enemies to adapt to you and how YOU want to play. Pretty freaking awesome huh? It turns out, life is our computer program, and we can design it like an Architect.

On the recommendation of Ramit Sethi, I read a book called Work the System by Sam Carpenter. It might as well have been called “Hack the Matrix.” Although Sam mostly discusses the use of building systems in the workplace for efficiency, I’ve been applying these systems to my very own life. It’s the ultimate argument for “proactive vs reactive.”

So, how do we attack the source of our problems and put band-aids out of business? By finding the source code that sucks and rewriting it, and applying systems to stop problems before they start.

STEP-BY-STEP PROACTIVE ASS-KICKING GAME PLAN:

1) Identify the overarching outcome you want to have for our program. What does the optimal version of your Matrix look like? Are you in shape, waking up without an alarm, going to a job and home by 5pm to see your kids?

2) Identify the decisions that are made or systems that are in place that are keeping you from reaching your desired outcome: If you’re not in shape, identify what is causing the problem (lack of healthy nutrition, not enough exercise, long hours at work, stress at home, etc.).

3) Identify inefficiencies or issues in ONE of those systems. “I want to eat better, but I get lazy and only eat fast food because it’s so convenient.”

4) Fix the problem or the inefficiency that’s the root cause of the problem. Prepare meals in advance on Sunday so “lazy” doesn’t factor in come Wednesday afternoon.

5) Repeat the problem with each inefficiency until the system is running smoothly (aka you have built a new habit or the system runs without your input), then attack the next inefficient system. 

Let me give you a few more examples, along with how I’ve recently changed my life to adapt the Matrix to the existence I’m building.

Be proactive with your health

morningworkout

Let’s take one of the systems that we’re hoping to fix, and attack our nutrition problem. If you are somebody who is overweight and struggles to lose weight, then we have a system that is operating inefficiently. Fortunately for you, because it’s a system, a few small changes to how the program operates can get to the root of the problem.

So, looking at our five steps above, let’s see what we can do.

1) Identify the overarching desired outcome: a clean bill of health from the doctor and a smaller waistline.

2) Identify the decisions that are made or systems that are in place that are causing the issue: although we know not all calories are created equal, we know that eating less is a step in the right direction for weight loss. So we need to identify WHY we are overeating or how we can start to eat less:

  • Do you eat more food when you are bored? Are you eating when you are doing other things (watching movies, sitting at your computer, etc.?
  • Do you eat more food when you are unhappy? It might be time to dig into the cause of that unhappiness, and your relationship with food.
  • Do you opt for junk food or drive-through meals when you are “too busy”?
  • Do you simply not know how to cook healthy food? Maybe you’re afraid of your kitchen and need to prove to yourself you can cook a healthy meal.

3) Identify inefficiencies in that system. We need to educate ourselves on what’s missing or how we can make an adjustment to that system.

NOTE: Just saying “I need to eat less” or “I will try to eat less” is a recipe for disaster. Remember, we are building systems here! If you leave it up to “willpower” or “when I’m inspired” you will NOT make permanent changes. You need to write better code from the start; vague or abstract doesn’t work when you have to dial it down to 1s and 0s.

So, using the example above, let’s put some rules in place to take action.

4) Change the inefficient part of the system:

Eat when you’re bored? Make a rule that you are not allowed to eat when doing another activity. Don’t eat while working. Don’t eat while watching TV. Don’t eat while playing games. This is the part of the system you are changing – otherwise you can eat normally.

Eat fast food when you don’t have time to cook? Pick a handful of healthier fast food options (like a salad bowl from Chipotle) that you restrict yourself to when you find yourself needing to get a quick bite.

5) Track your progress and repeat until you reach the desired outcome. After a month of focusing on your new system, check your results. Is it working? Keep doing it! Then pick another system and attack that with equal vigor. It’s working but not as fast as you’d like? Pick another part of that system and make an additional adjustment.

Put agents Out of Business

agent smith

I can see you reading all of the above, and I can see you saying to yourself, “Steve, I know I need to make changes. I know my “Matrix” is broken. That’s not the problem. I just can’t get myself to do the stuff I need to do. I’m too lazy, too busy, and too good at procrastinating.”

To that I say: these feelings are all merely symptoms of a massively inefficient system! Remember, “F*** motivation! Cultivate discipline.” We need to build ourselves an environment that sets us up to win (Like a Batcave!), and we need to build our lives in a way that we can effortlessly operate at peak efficiency within our program.

I’m reminded of the following quote:

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.” S.Somerset Maugham 

If you’re truly interested in changing your life, the more you can break it down into systems and then get to work on improving those systems, the more long-term success you will have. No “motivation” or superpowers required. Just results.

So enough with accepting the Matrix for what it is and trying to be a dutiful slave within it! Hack the Matrix, and start to build your own rules within it:

1) Stop dieting. This is a band-aid. Make fundamental changes at a deep level.

2) Find exercise that you enjoy. Changing your life at the source code means finding long term sustainable activities, not temporary miserable bouts to lose a few pounds.

3) Build systems at work too – go to work excited and come home proud. Here’s how to become more efficient in the office.

4) Start insanely small. Think big, systems big. But when starting to change, you can only change one line of code at a time. Pick one habit to build, make it incredibly simple and basic, and stick with it for weeks. Five minutes of walking every day for 30 days is more powerful than 2 hours of walking for two weeks and then giving up.

With each system that you change, with each update to the source code in your Matrix, you get one step closer to Neo status.

This is coming from somebody who used to stay up way too late, spend way too much time “being busy,” procrastinating ’til the last minute, and never getting to accomplish the things I wanted to do.

Now? I’ve hacked the code at its source, stopped fires from happening instead of constantly having to put them out, and I’m able to accomplish more than I have ever accomplished in the past. I haven’t quite learned how to fly yet, but the Agents ARE scared.

I want to hear from you and how you plan to hack the Matrix:

What’s ONE problem in your life that you are currently dealing with reactively, and how do you plan on taking a birds eye view of the situation and finding a proactive solution?

I want a concrete example with the NEXT STEP you plan on taking to hack your source code to stop putting out fires and running from agents, and stack the game in your favor.

Be specific. And take action!

Wake up, Neo…

-Steve

###

photo source: Sam: Band Aid, Jonathan: Matrix, stefan tarnell: morning workout

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  • Well done, sir 😉 I really like the simplicity of the process here. The general theme reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with regards to my own goals and productivity: the tendency to band aid.

    In general, my natural bias is to add solutions rather than to remove causes.

    And lately, I’ve been seeing more and more that it’s inefficient and leads to greater stress and confusion, each solution bringing more moving parts to the equation.

    IDing those inefficiencies and working at the root is a habit I’m working to build.

  • Excellent! I was at a leadership event over the weekend and
    the biggest theme I took away was two-fold: (1) focus, and (2) eliminate
    distractions. This has been something I’ve been focusing on already but will
    take it to the next level this year. If we all tracked how we spend every
    minute it would probably make us sick. Hacking the matrix takes awareness, then
    action. Repeat. We’ll never be perfect but we can keep moving towards it!

  • Andy – I agree that simplicity is best. Complexity causes paralyze. Example: our health care system. No body even knows what they pay for anymore because there’s so much going on. We need to break it down, and improve.

  • Zoey Weaver

    I really love the idea of small changes. I’m focusing on making one healthy choice per day with food and one with fitness. For example yesterday my partner and I went to the pool instead of watching a movie on the couch with popcorn! but other days it’s smaller stuff like not having that donut in the lunch room. They are all super small stuff but it just gets me in the habit of thinking about the healthier substitute. Plus if I just tell myself one healthy choice then it doesn’t feel so overwhelming

  • The Marvel Princess

    This is great, and totally appropriate for my life right now. I always have the big goal in mind – “I want to be fit”. I start out well, but pretty soon the motivation wears off, because day by day I’m looking at myself and not seeing the results I want. It feels like the goal is too far away, and I never feel like I’m succeeding, so I give up.
    I am going to start hacking the matrix by setting daily goals. I have recently started rotating interval training with bodyweight training. That way, my goal is: “Get up earlier and exercise today.” It gives me an easy win each day, and if I miss one, that’s okay. I can win again tomorrow. Taking it one day at a time and seeing each step as a success in and of itself will let me enjoy & focus on the new habits I’m making, instead of the far-off goal. Then the goal will be reached as a result of the habits.

  • Karen Tygert

    Change = Results
    Big Change = Big Results
    Permanent Change = Permanent Results.

  • Tinessael

    After every article I keep thinking, “Wow…I just needed to read…exactly that.” So thank you for yet another article, where I could think that 🙂

  • Well said Andy. I’m realizing the same thing. I have struggles with mental health that affect my ability to be consistently financially and emotionally stable.

    When I remove causes and stick with a program I write consistently despite bad days and dips I get better traction that looking for band aids.

  • A huge problem I’ve been having with healthy eating is that I stay at my boyfriend’s 3-4 days a week and his parents eat very unhealthy food. Pretty much everything comes out of a box and consists only of carbs. So I’m tackling it by being more assertive about cooking for the two of us, because I can’t wait 6 months until we move out, and I shouldn’t have to!

  • Richard Cook

    Wow, this hit home:
    “We
    come home exhausted from work and have half a dozen drinks to help us
    forget the crappy day we had. We stay up too late playing video games –
    the only part of our life in which we feel like we have control – and
    then we wake up exhausted to an alarm clock, and chug a pot of coffee to
    get us through the next day of work.”

  • SamB

    This is like the difference between saying “I can’t eat that because I’m on a diet,” and “I don’t eat that, full stop.” Oddly enough, this is also how I approach house-cleaning. My hubbs and I used to constantly fight about what a slob I am. I would go back and forth between beating myself up over the “fact” I couldn’t keep the house clean, and being mad at him for not cleaning it himself.
    But when I sat down and examined WHY it was so hard, I realized I hated being in the kitchen because it was so messy, and I hated eating in the dining room, because it was uncomfortable to sit in our kitchen chairs. And the kitchen was so cluttered because we only had about 2 feet of counter space. I mean, no wonder I only ever ate junk food, and in the living room…
    I built a kitchen island with counter height seating, reupholstered a better chair for the table, and made a rule that there would be no eating in the living room. Voila, clean kitchen/dining room, no willpower required. and that bleeds over into HOW I eat, since I cook for myself now.

  • nielmalan

    I used to have a very good and strong habit of going to the gym over my lunch hour, but among the pressures of work it disappeared. Looking into the Matrix, I discovered that the problem was not one of going to the gym, but leaving the office. So my new routine doesn’t say go to the gym, it says leave the office every day at noon. Be it for a brief walk, an hour at the gym, a stroll with a friend, or some meditation, the rule is to leave the office.

  • SPFboston

    I can’t really say where I plan to start on next but I’ll tell you where I started my last one. I stepped on the scale early 2014 and was horrified at the number I saw. I knew I was drinking too much, eating turbo crap and getting little to no exercise.

    I started with a fitness tracking device. Making sure I hit my 10k steps every single day. After a while, going out for a walk on the beach after dinner was just what I did.

    Then, I cut out most of the alcohol. I still certainly imbibe, but nowhere near the amount I did for the last 2 decades. Next I worked on cooking. Fresh home cooked meals every single day and new soups every Sunday. Cooking and walking became my zen.

    Less than a year later, 41lbs down and I’m leaner than I was all the way back in highschool when I was really active.

    I never thought about it the way you put it until right now. But I did a little at a time until it became GOOD habits before moving onto the next step. Good article.

    I think my next system will be getting strong. I’m lean, but weak. That’s the next one, I’m sure of it.

  • Daniel Halverson

    Cool article. Awesome positioning—the matrix, ha!

    Ok. So I hadn’t been regularly taking my vitamin mineral regiment (it makes me sleep more deeply and feel well rested). So I just took the bag from the pantry and placed it by my bed with a water bottle next to it. Now I’ll get it every night!

    Also, I waste so much time checking FB, IG, email, Snapchat, etc. Then I’ll check them all again in case anything changed in the last 30 seconds.
    This wastes time in the morning, before sleeping and when I get home so I just put my phone and laptop in my car. Haha! Distractions eliminated! I’m already experiencing a bit of withdrawal (Now what do I do?

  • Peter

    This has come at a good time. I’m really unmotivated at work at the moment and am looking for ways to avoid work.

    I’ve opened a notepad document now and am going through the steps. Once you step back and think about the WHY, it’s easy to identify what’s causing the inefficiency. Seeing that is half the battle, I believe. I feel better already. The ‘become more efficient in the office’ link has helped also.

    One other thing I’m trying (to keep my attention on what I need to do) is writing down my schedule for just 2 hours in advance. I don’t want to plan out a whole day cause I know I will never stick to it. Having that reminder right there is good, I think.

    Thanks heaps Steve.

  • Red Foot

    I’d say that the source of my issue is that I feel so weak and tired all the time, that every time something even a little bit bad happens, I fall apart. I have so many things going on right now, that I constantly feel overwhelmed. Sadly, I can’t let go of any of these things (trust me on that one). So I honestly don’t know how to get my strength back. Nothing I’ve tried (rest, exercise, eating right, etc.) seems to work. I start a plan of action, something gets in my way, and I fall apart. I try to be strong of will, but I just don’t have the energy to stick to it. Any pointers?

  • I love the S. Somerset Maugham quote! I agree that one must cultivate discipline and not wait for inspiration to strike.

    I plan to continue improving my kitchen skills so I can whip up tasty and healthy treats regularly.

  • mynty

    As a senior citizen I have been trying to learn how to make my life better. Since I am retired I really have nothing to do and my health is poor. Last year I started to use the local farmer’s market for fresh fruit and veggies and over the course of a year I lost over 30 pounds. However they are harder to get in the winter. I am also somewhat lazy so opening a bag of chips is easier than cooking a potato. And of course I need exercise, but I feel that walking without a definite destination is a waste of time.
    So 6 months ago I started to go to the local senior center 2 to 3 times a week for balanced healthy lunches. I also gained conversation with people my own age and have even started to have a social life playing cards and bingo.
    I also decided that I could solve 2 problems with one idea, walking is one and impulse buying of junk food is the other. I go to my local supermarket early or late (opening or closing times), take a basket to lean on (I have balance problems) and walk pushing the basket up and down every aisle. I must walk nearly a mile this way each day. I don’t buy anything at this time, I just walk and look.
    I hope that as my legs and body get stronger I will be able to slowly start weight training. I am not sure what form it will take, but I read your articles all the time.

  • dane b

    I LOVE this^^^^
    Mynty- you are an inspiration to everyone else on this page. Keep it up. Good for you!

  • I love it! I’m a big fan of the Matrix, so that definitely helped! But my biggest ‘take away’ from your engaging post is that we all try to fix things after they have gone wrong and find patches rather than going to the source of the problem.

    It’s crazy that we spend years trying to find quick solutions to more and more problems caused by other short-term solutions, whereas a more considered and long-term approach would be more more effective.

    I’m documenting my own journey to freedom, success and happiness at http://www.rebootingme.com

    I will definitely be following this blog as I love the no BS, honest approach! Awesome!!

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  • Gregory Foreman

    I want to learn a little bit more about nutrition and consumer shopping behavior could you please take 5 mins to fill out this survey. I would really appreciate it. http://goo.gl/forms/4I8FbG9GuJ

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  • Victoria Clemmons

    How do I rewrite the source code without totally f**king things up and making my health worse?

  • JT

    Such great advice. I have found that when I do exercise that I enjoy it’s a lot easier to get motivated to do it. Therefore I work out more!

  • Mim

    Start small and make smart choices 🙂

  • Lady Senie

    I know I’m late with a reply ot this article, but I just read it today and it inspired me, so I’ll share something I’ve been working on since Monday. I hate burpees.
    I hate them so much that it halfway psyched me out of my exercise
    routine today; just knowing how much the burpees were going to hurt. Today was one of those ‘as many rounds of
    these exercises as you can do in x minutes’ days, so I promised myself 3
    rounds. I found a way to do my burpees
    so that it was (somewhat) in rhythm, and managed 4 sets! I’m sure exercise buffs wouldn’t call what I
    did a burpee, but I’m pretty darn proud that I found a way to get my burpees
    into my routine today. I’ve done this
    exercise routine before – in fact, it’s the exercise routine that introduced me
    to the concept of short burst, full body, high intensity workouts. But I’ve never finished the full 90 days and
    I’m ready to change that.

    In the spirit
    of ‘re-writing the Matrix’ though, I’ve made the routine my own. I’m doing as many of the full exercises
    without substitution exercises as I can, and giving myself mundo recovery days
    instead of going from 0 workouts a week to 6 like normal and burning out in a
    month or less. It’s been working out splendidly so far; I’m not in agony with
    muscle pains that will cost me a week of valuable time recovering from. I’m literally only doing the Monday, Wednesday,
    Friday strength training. In time I plan
    to incorporate the cardio interval runs too, but that doesn’t excite me and I’m
    not ready to get rid of my recovery days yet, so… not yet. I know it’s just one little thing, but I can
    feel myself putting out un-started fires already. It’s only been a week, granted, but I feel so
    much better about my chances of success in this area of my life already!

  • Lady Senie

    Oh, that is a marvelous strategy! Mind if I borrow it? ^_^

  • The Marvel Princess

    Go for it! It’s helped me so much. 🙂

  • owlmon

    exercize and heart ala diet is grand but does nothing to release you from the registered bond collecting annunities held by the federal reserve as a debtor instrument

  • jules

    Really loved this article. And I love Matrix. I have a habit of saying to myself “there is no spoon” every time I need a reminder of the big picture.

  • Fighting and Fit

    Love the comparison to the Matrix. Thanks for the inspiration and tips

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  • Neojni Legifen

    I currently deal with my sleep patterns reactively.

    The inefficiency in my system is that I have a fairly complicated set of evening activities / goals that I want to get accomplished before I let myself get ready for bed and go to sleep.

    Actually, one big problem for me is that I spend a lot of time on my dental hygiene (floss, brush teeth, mouthwash, every night), so I have to work up the motivation to even go through all that before I can go to sleep. But this isn’t something I should change, and it’s actually only just 20 minutes, so I’m pretty efficient at this already.

    I plan to fix this inefficiency by setting a time (10pm) after which I stop trying to finish my goals for the night. The goals are all optional, anyway, but they’re things that I enjoy doing. At 10pm, I will start my bedtime routine and get to sleep by 11pm so that I’m not tired in the morning.

    My hope is that getting enough sleep will help me be more efficient with my evening activities, so maybe I’ll start getting more of them done over time. This whole sleep-time is really the key problem that underlies the issues I’m having in my life right now, from motivation to health and nutrition.

  • Sarah Hargis

    I am going to spend the weekend thinking through and building a workable daily schedule that encompasses everything that I have to and want to get done in a day. I work, have 2 extremely active teenagers, and am going to real estate school. Adding the school kind of threw me into a tailspin and I am still trying to right the aircraft. I digress… I read somewhere that is takes 21 days to build a habit. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it seems like a good jumping off point. So… build the workable schedule over the weekend and then stick to it for 21 days. I’m going to post this same thing on the Facebook group and hopefully find some accountability there.

  • dartarro21

    I am going to get myself together and start interviewing people to find a commuter crash pad I can stay at during the week…my commute is an hour each way, and is cutting down on my sleep and exercise time…today I had a severe road rage incident, and I rarely get road rage. Staying over there a few nights a week will help improve my quality of life (according to a recent study, cutting commute time is the equivalent of adding $40,000 to your salary in quality of life). Totally excited for planning to commence on Elon Musk’s HyperOne bullet train in Colorado 😀