Want to Crush Your Inner Demons? Use the Skywalker Strategy!

Lego Luke

In most fantasy or sci-fi movies, there’s a big epic battle between the forces of good and evil.

However, before that battle can happen, an even more important battle must take place: between the ears of the protagonist. Oftentimes our hero or heroine has an inner demon to slay before he or she can go slay the dragon/save the princess/galaxy/world.

There’s probably no more famous nerdy example than Luke Skywalker in the Cave on Dagobah:

A few other great examples:

Often life is no different: getting healthy, like most other things in our life, is more about fighting our inner battles than anything else – that voice that tells us to eat bad food, drink and smoke, avoid confrontation, or skip our workout. Even when we WANT to do something like asking someone to go on a date, we must overcome the fear of rejection and that internal voice of insecurity.

Last week on Nerd Fitness, we featured one of my favorite success stories ever. Maya lost over 70 pounds and went from “not good enough” to practicing aerialist. She said something I will never forget:

“I’m much more positive now, and much more likely to take an optimistic outlook on things. I still struggle sometimes with my inner demons – who doesn’t? – but I’m better equipped to fight them now.”

Today we’re going to win some inner battles to kick some ass on the outside as a result.

Step 1: Identify the battle first


First and foremost, it’s tough to fight an inner battle before we know what we’re up against. It’d be like trying to fight the smoke monster in the show Lost, or swinging at a cloud. Put a face on that demon, give it name, and know your enemy.

As Sun Tzu said:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

So, what the heck is it? Often we seek to treat the symptom of a problem without getting to the root of the problem, which is usually this inner demon we are trying to slay. This is like trying to patch faulty code instead of hacking it at the source.

Until we identify the demon, we might struggle to make consistent progress on our goals, consistently backsliding and berating ourselves for sucking. Or worse, spending our days thinking back on what might have been, rather than finding out what could be.

  • Struggling with a food addiction or a sugar addiction?
  • Addicted to caffeine?
  • Drink too much?
  • Maybe it’s unhappiness!
  • What about a fear of inadequacy or rejection?

In each of the situations above, it’s important for us to take the time to dig deep – go into our Dagobah cave – and put a face on the demon holding you back. This part can suck – it requires 100% honesty with yourself and owning up to what’s really at the root of the issue.

Step 2: Stay Away Until You’re Ready

Level Up

It’s no secret that I love role-playing games as metaphors for life.

The tagline for Nerd Fitness is “level up your life,” and I love thinking about these games and how we can apply their lessons to living better lives outside of fantasy land.

Imagine you are a Level 1 noob in a new game, and you stumble across a Level 10 Orc Chief. You pull a Leroy Jenkins and run screaming at him and attack. Unsurprisingly, he absolutely demolishes you.

You are then faced with two options:

  • Continue to charge the chief, getting your ass kicked every time, and then tell yourself “I’m not good enough” and mope.
  • Recognize the fact that the chief is a Level 10 and you’re a Level 1, so maybe you should find a different path and come back when you are better equipped to handle him.

Unless you are a masochist, you’re probably going to go with option 2. Doing all of these things will give you a chance to level up and prepare yourself. Build some momentum, level up, get better armor, and THEN come back.

When you return at Level 15, that once-menacing Orc Chief is now a peon that you can destroy with two clicks of the mouse. It’s not that he’s any less strong than he was when he started, it’s just that you’re much better prepared to battle him.

Why do we do things the hard way when it comes to life, but the easy way when it comes to video games?

  • If you struggle with drinking too much, then continuing to put yourself in bars where everybody binge drinks is a recipe for disaster.
  • If you struggle with portion control, going to an all-you-can-eat buffet is asking for trouble.
  • If you struggle with fast food, driving past a row of fast food joints every single day is a hopeless endeavor.
  • If you can’t get yourself to eat just one piece of candy, then putting yourself within arm’s length of more than one is a terrible idea!

My thoughts on Weight Watchers can be found here, but man they really nailed their latest ad campaign:

So, stop facing the Level 10 Orc Chief before you are ready! Go explore a different part of the world and level yourself to Level 15 before you consider putting yourself back in a fight with him.

  • Get all of the junk food out of your house until you’re better equipped to handle it.
  • Drive a different path to work so that you don’t drive past Burger King and Taco Bell and McDonald’s twice daily.
  • Take a month off from going out to bars and get your life in order before inserting yourself back into that environment.

While you’re avoiding the Orc Chief, you can set out to fight increasingly difficult bad guys to level up your character and become better prepared for the inner battle. Maybe you are afraid of public speaking, or you’re afraid of talking to a stranger you’re attracted to. You don’t jump straight to speaking at TED conferences or asking out Scarlett Johansson. You take baby steps and slowly level up:

  • Speaking: start by giving a talk to your friends. Then on a street corner. Then volunteer to talk at a local school or shriner’s club.
  • Asking out somebody you’re attracted to: Start by talking to people you’re not romantically interested in, or people you find easy to talk to. For me, this might look like: dudes, married women, old folks, kids. Get comfortable with having conversations. Then offer up a drive-by compliment. Then build up to asking somebody out.

Just like with all of the examples above, that inner battle you’re facing never goes away completely, it just becomes easier due to the fact that you are now leveled up. Thanks Einstein!

Step 3: Study the pattern of the boss and memorize it


Ever played Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!!?

I remember playing this as a kid and really struggling to defeat Bald Bull – every time I got close to defeating him, he would run back and then charge me and knock me out with one punch.

This went on for WEEKS until I learned that you could send a properly timed punch right into his face and it would knock him out cold:

After, that…the fight became a breeze. And this pattern continued for each fighter after that. Initially impossible, each battle would result in my TKO. However, after dozens and dozens of attempts I would learn the opponents triggers, mannerisms, and tells before certain types of punches.

Again, it wasn’t because these guys got any easier…it was because I got better at pattern recognition and had the perfect counter punch for each situation. How can we apply this to our inner demon fight?

Prepare as much as you can ahead of time, and have a plan in place for every time that inner demon comes out to fight! If you are struggling with smoking or eating unhealthy foods, think about the triggers that cause your brain to crave these things:

  • Do you smoke when you are nervous or anxious? When you drink?
  • Do you eat when you are bored or unhappy?
  • Do you chug a six-pack of Mountain Dew in the afternoon to stay awake at work?

Your demon has a face, and now you’re properly leveled to fight him. You still need to study his patterns and prepare yourself to fight him each and every time. He won’t get any less strong, but you’ll be better equipped to go through his patterns and counter attack and crush him.

Here’s an example:

I know that at work in the afternoon I go eat snacks and get a 20 oz soda because I’m tired and bored, not because I’m hungry. Therefore, when this feeling kicks in, I will follow the pattern of victory:

  • I will walk around the office to wake up, while drinking a black coffee.
  • I will eat an apple and stay away from Fran, who keeps a bucket of candy on her desk.
  • I will emerge victorious.

What inner demon are you fighting?


There’s a common theme running through each of the sections and paragraphs above:

Non-judgmental analysis and adaptation.

When you come across a Level 10 Orc Chief, you might lose a few times before retreating and realizing you need a different game plan. You then go find a new path around him, or you don’t come back to fight him until you’re properly equipped to battle.

Heck, maybe you come back with two friends who can help you win – we have a community of rebels looking to group up to help you win your battle.

None of the above is possible without that first initial defeat: “okay I have an inner demon that is beating me.” However, the second step is more crucial: “I need to change my strategy or I’m going to keep losing.”

If you are struggling with an inner demon, it doesn’t make you weak or a bad person. People die in video games all the time; it’s part of the game. The satisfaction in the game is learning the patterns or leveling up high enough to deliver that finishing blow.

I want to hear from you:

What is an inner demon you are currently battling? And what are some concrete steps you can take IMMEDIATELY to help defeat it more often?

If you’ve successfully quit smoking, or overcome a fear of rejection, or finally got the courage to try something you’ve always held back on, please share your story. I know about 260,000 people who would love to hear your story and learn from you!

Because I like giving away stuff, we’ll randomly give away a Nerd Fitness shirt to a rebel who leaves a comment before Wednesday April 29th at 11:59 PM.

Ready player one…FIGHT!


PS: In case you missed Monday’s announcement, we have less than 30 of 300 spots left for Camp Nerd Fitness this fall! Check out CampNerdFitness.com to see our first group of announced speakers – hope you can join us 🙂


photo source: artnoose: Level up, alan: Jedi, phobus: bowser

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148 thoughts on “Want to Crush Your Inner Demons? Use the Skywalker Strategy!

  1. I’ve just come across this site and love it instantly 🙂 trying to think of my demons and ultimate nemesis is difficult as I’m pretty sure they are morphing all the time and hide behind others. I get bored quite a lot, I live in a household of 3 couples and just me on my tod so an amount of depression creeps in too. Just leads to lack of motivation and giving up. Keep telling myself if I wana look like Black Widow in her leathers I need to crack my bad eating but somehow at the end of every day I just feel like the hulk again.
    It’s a work in progress.. 🙂 staying strong

  2. GREAT article. As for my battles, one of them has been smoking. I had quit for two years, then started again (stupid me!) I wanted to quit again, knew I had to quit, but it wasn’t quite as easy this time as it was last time. So instead of constantly beating myself up, I went with a “healthier” option – vaping. I get the nicotine, but not all the other junk. I consider it a step between quitting. I can wean myself off the nicotine by reducing it in the juice I use, and eventually stop all together. Its a different path to get to the same destination eventually.

  3. My inner demon is re-gaining mindfulness and Being Here Now, engaging my peaceful warrior self in everyday life.
    My other inner demon used to be feeling bad when I had to say no to treats or when asked to do something when I needed the time to take care of myself; but when I re-taught myself that I cannot take care of others unless I take care of myself first that started to change, then the realization that I am only responsible for my own actions and reactions and not those of anybody else crept in. It’s a marvelous journey!

  4. My demon is the belief that I would never be good enough, that I can never achieve anything. I often start things and quit after sometime. Just the thought of trying to achieve something starts the voice in my head telling me that I can’t do it, that I will not be good enough, that I will fail.

    I think what I need is back up, a friend who can help me keep myself on track with this. So my next step should be finding a partner in my battle.

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  6. Okay I am just now reading my emails lol. I am going to comment anyway. My inner demon is loneliness, confidence, and addiction. You probably think I mean addiction in the way most people do. No way, my addiction is EQ2 and laziness by being on the computer even if I am bored of it. I have begun to change that and as a result I lost my ex-fiancé. He was the physical body of my demons. I had to really level up to get away and avoid that boss fight. I eventually got him out of my life and brought back in the coolest and best tank I ever knew. He always encouraged me to level up and to get better at the person I wanted to be. He helped me to beat that boss by helping me to level and get better gear. Then we fought together and conquered the ex and I am so much better for it.

  7. I’m a little late to the party, but still wanted to leave a comment. My little inner demon is that I can’t start my own blog and online business because I don’t have the know-how and that I can’t ever get back into shape. I’m working on the first one through educating myself on all thing ecommerce. The second thing still needs to be addressed.

  8. I used to dance ballet for many years and being a perfectionist I always have beaten myself up if my body was not perfect or thin enough. It earned me various eating disorders. I’m constantly struggling with either being on a very strict diet or letting go completely and overeating. I tried low carb high fat diet for one month, but very obviously I did everything wrong because I ate tons of dairy and nuts and my weight plummeted leaving me feel miserable. I went off that “diet” and started eating carbs again, only now I can’t really seem to stop. I feel even more miserable because I don’t fit into any of my jeans or dresses, I weighted 56 kg a month ago and now it’s 63 kg, which is a lot for a 163 cm tall girl. And it’s not muscle I gained. Clearly these demons are beating me and I don’t know how to fight them back. I’m scared of hunger because it’s hard to stop eating once I start, especially in the evening. So I overeat in the evenings when I’m home alone after work. And in the mornings I’m not hungry, so I often skip breakfast.

    I really like this blog and the way Steve is writing. I hope I will find a way to become stronger and change something for the better.

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