How do I know a lot of people want to die?
Because Google tells me.
The search phrase that is most likely to take people to my blog is, “I want to die.” The number-two search phrase is “I hope to die.” Number three is “How can I disappear,” which is a little more hopeful than dying but expresses no less similar a sentiment (it’s sort of like saying “How can I kill this life I have and start another”).
My e-mail is slightly more uplifting. The most popular question I get via e-mail is “I’m stuck. How can I move forward in life?” Each of those last people is not quite at the “I want to die” point, but somehow their lives have stalled. The reason they’re stalled is because the axis of the world has changed. We can’t rely on the job, the marriage, the relationship, the house with the white-picket fence, the college degree, the anything external for that matter. Nothing counts. Everything we dreamed for was an illusion.
So people find themselves on the floor. Without “a life,” as they put it.
They obviously have a life. They are breathing. But they don’t know how to choose life for themselves. The masses rely on others to do it for them. They have given up their Life to live a smaller “life,” ruled by others.
I get that. It’s happened to me over and over again.
But this reliance on others has to come to an end. It was always a myth. Everything we hoped for. The society that we were told would be here, waiting for us, is completely gone and is never coming back. You can either take the blue pill (become depressed about an artificial reality that is never going to return) or take the red pill (fully enter the Choose Yourself era and start what I call “Daily Practice”).
What is Daily Practice?
It’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me. Following that practice is the only thing that “unstuck” me, pulled me off the floor, saved my life, and actually propelled me to success.
And since I’ve been writing about it, I’ve seen it with thousands of others who have written me e-mails about it. I’ve collected hundreds of success stories. Those weren’t tweets or e-mails I got over a period of a year. Those were tweets and e-mails I got over a period of the past hour as I wrote this.
I’m not selling anything (well, this book could be in your hands, but if you know someone who can’t afford it, then please let me know and I will send it to them for free). In fact, I encourage people to not believe me. All of the people who are stuck or frustrated or scared or anxious or filled with regret, please try these ideas so you can see for yourself.
This is how we form a better society. First we become better as individuals. You can’t help others if you look in the mirror and hate what you see. And it’s very easy to hate what is there.
We live most of our lives hating the mirror. Heck, I’m pretty gruesome to look at in the morning. It’s a daily challenge!
I went to a talk given by my friend Ramit Sethi who wrote the bestselling book I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Ramit and I have gone to each other’s talks several times and we’ve also done a few videos together. He takes a behavioral psychology approach to personal finance that I think is very unique. It’s not the simple “save an extra $1,000 a month and you will be rich.” In fact, he took a survey of personal finance authors who recommend that people keep budgets, and he found that none of them actually kept budgets themselves.
In his talk he made a point that was near and dear to me. Claudia, my wife, had been trying to get me to floss my teeth. I get lazy and I try it for a few days but then get tired of trying to dig into all the little areas in between my teeth. It’s like a half-hour process, so after a while I stop and then after a few days I give up. When Ramit started talking about flossing, I saw Claudia’s ears practically twitch.
He said the way you get people to floss is to just ask them to floss one tooth. That’s it.
Suddenly, they are “flossing.” Their brains say, “I’m the type of person who likes to floss.”
Maybe after a day or two they start flossing two teeth. “And why stop there?” Ramit said. “After a few weeks, they’re flossing all of their teeth because their brain sees it wasn’t as hard a habit as they thought.”
The Simple Daily Practice is the same. All you really need to do to get off the floor is acknowledge that it’s not your external life that needs to change (you have little control over that), but that external changes flow from the inside.
External changes in your life are like the final ripples of the ocean that lap onto distant shores. A promotion, a raise, a new job offer, a new relationship. These are the final ripples. The ocean is inside you. Becoming aware of that infinite presence doesn’t require meditation in a cave for fifty years. It involves simply being healthy. Healthy not just physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
For now, the Simple Daily Practice means doing ONE thing every day.
Try any one of these things each day:
A) Sleep eight hours.
B) Eat two meals instead of three.
C) No TV.
D) No junk food.
E) No complaining for one whole day.
F) No gossip.
G) Return an e-mail from five years ago.
H) Express thanks to a friend.
I) Watch a funny movie or a stand-up comic.
J) Write down a list of ideas. The ideas can be about anything.
K) Read a spiritual text. Any one that is inspirational to you. The Bible, The Tao te Ching, anything you want.
L) Say to yourself when you wake up, “I’m going to save a life today.” Keep an eye out for that life you can save.
M) Take up a hobby. Don’t say you don’t have time. Learn the piano. Take chess lessons. Do stand-up comedy. Write a novel. Do something that takes you out of your current rhythm.
N) Write down your entire schedule. The schedule you do every day. Cross out one item and don’t do that anymore.
O) Surprise someone.
P) Think of ten people you are grateful for.
Q) Forgive someone. You don’t have to tell them. Just write it down on a piece of paper and burn the paper. It turns out this has the same effect in terms of releasing oxytocin in the brain as actually forgiving them in person.
R) Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
S) I’m going to steal this next one from the 1970s pop psychology book Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No: when you find yourself thinking of that special someone who is causing you grief, think very quietly, “No.” If you think of him and (or?) her again, think loudly, “No!” Again? Whisper, “No!” Again, say it. Louder. Yell it. Louder. And so on.
T) Tell someone every day that you love them.
U) Don’t have sex with someone you don’t love.
V) Shower. Scrub. Clean the toxins off your body.
W) Read a chapter in a biography about someone who is an inspiration to you.
X) Make plans to spend time with a friend.
Y) If you think, “Everything would be better off if I were dead,” then think, “That’s really cool. Now I can do anything I want and I can postpone this thought for a while, maybe even a few months.” Because what does it matter now? The planet might not even be around in a few months. Who knows what could happen with all these solar flares. You know the ones I’m talking about.
Z) Deep breathing. When the vagus nerve is inflamed, your breathing becomes shallower. Your breath becomes quick. It’s fight-or-flight time! You are panicking. Stop it! Breathe deep.
Anyway, this isn’t advice for the one-hundred-thousand-plus people this past year who typed “I want to die” into Google and ended up on my blog. Some of them probably need real help from a therapist or doctor.
But this is what I did when I wanted to die. Every one of these things. At least one item a day. And here I am. I am still alive.
[Ed. Note. James Altucher is a successful entrepreneur, chess master, investor and writer. He has started and run more than 20 companies, and sold several of those businesses for large exits. His latest book, “Choose Yourself!” debuted on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List.]