A Brain Hack for Making Life More Pleasant

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Hey friends,

I’ll be honest – I couldn’t think of anything to write this week, so I decided to browse through the archives of this newsletter to dig up some “older” wisdom. I found something cool I wrote on 21st April 2019.

For context, at the time I was working full-time as a junior doctor in Cambridge (UK). It was 2 years into my YouTube journey – I had around 210,000 subscribers on YouTube, I’d just released this video about my medical adventure in Sudan (man I look so young), and I had, in total, earned around $20k in ad revenue over that 2-year period.

^ This screenshot shows what my YouTube analytics look like on that date. And for context, here’s what the totals look like today, almost 7 years into my YouTube journey.

I share these numbers firstly, because they’re a fun testament to the power of sticking at something for a reasonably long time. And also because it’s fun to look back on the past – and if you were subscribed to this newsletter in 2019, thank you for your long-time support 🙂

Anyway, the piece I wrote in April 2019 was titled: “A brain-hack to make life more pleasant”. Here it is:

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Hey friends,

You know that feeling when you come across something on the Internet and it immediately resonates with you and you think of 100 different applications for it? Well I had that feeling after reading one of Seth Godin’s daily blog posts this week. Here’s what he says:

Deadlines work. They work because they focus the mind and create urgency. They work to get us to file our taxes or finish an assignment. They’re an external lever for the work we have to do.

On the other hand, dessert works too. You don’t need an external force to encourage you to eat dessert after you’ve finished all your vegetables. It’s something you get to do, not something you have to do.

You can build a work life around deadlines. You can procrastinate, pay the late fines and push through the last minute emergencies because you need all of that in order to get to ‘have to’ mode.

Or, you can follow the path of the most productive and happy people you know. By redefining the work you’ve chosen to do as something you get to do.

And yes, I’ll point out that you can even do that with your taxes. It’s something you get to do because you’re successful and lucky enough to live in a civil society.

I’m a big fan of how changing the way we talk about stuff changes the way we think about it. In Medicine, we love to complain about how we have to do these discharge summaries, how we have to go through the tedium of our e-portfolio and getting things signed off. Instead, if we internally (and perhaps externally) rephrased it as get to, perhaps our working lives would become more pleasant.

In general, I wonder to what extent we can hack our own brains into acting as if doing stuff is a privilege rather than a burden.

Replying to emails for instance – I could think of it as “aargh I have to reply to these hundreds of emails from random people around the world #humblebrag”. That wouldn’t be very fun. Instead, I think of it as “I get to offer my thoughts to people around the world who somehow found me on the internet and seem to value my advice about their personal issues, this is awesome”.

Ultimately, I’m doing the same thing – replying to emails. But in one version of the narrative, it’s a chore. In the other, I’m having a great time. And it’s just that seemingly simple switch from have to to get to that makes the difference.

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Wasn’t that a fun trip down memory lane? If you’ve read this far, I’d love to leave you with a question: What was going on in your life in April 2019, and how far have you come along since then? Might be something worth celebrating 😉

Have a great week!

Ali xx

PS: In case you’re interested, these were the “Highlights of the Week” I shared in 2019. They’re just as relevant today:

Get inside the heads of the people who made things in the past and what they were actually like, and then realize that they’re not that different from you. At the time they got started, they were kind of just like you … so there’s nothing stopping any of the rest of us from doing the same thing.

From the chapter featuring Marc Andreessen in Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.

Here’s a related quote from Steve Jobs (1995):

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

📚 Discover something new with Shortform

Shortform is an amazing platform that shares summaries of some of the world’s most popular books. With our increasingly busy lives, it can be really hard to find the time to sit down and read, even when we’re keen to expand our minds. Life-long learning is super important to me, but I don’t spend as much time reading as I would like.

That’s why I love Shortform – I can get all the best insights and new ideas from books on my to-read pile, all in a quick and easy way. Shortform has expert guides and brilliant articles to help you expand your knowledge every day, and their summaries are concise, engaging, and enjoyable.
So, I wanted to share the top 5 books that I’ve read on Shortform which have had the biggest impact on my thinking 👇

☀️ Someday is Today by Matthew Dicks
A totally life changing book. After surviving multiple near-death experiences, Matthew Dicks explains why every moment is precious, and gives you actionable tips to help you achieve the things that truly matter to you.

👩‍💻 Deep Work by Cal Newport
Cal Newport has rediscovered the secret that allowed artists, scientists, and geniuses of the past to do their most important work. Instead of flitting between emails and reports and spreadsheets all day, we need focussed blocks where we give full attention to one task. This book might just help you create something incredible.

🐵 The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters
I recently had Prof Steve on my podcast Deep Dive, and he was a wonderful guest. His book is all about how we need to change our mindsets around logic and emotion – instead of giving in to, or ignoring, the emotional, impulsive ‘chimp’ parts of ourselves, we need to find a way for our chimp brains and human brains to work together. A genuinely fun and insightful read.

😁 Happy by Derren Brown
You may know Derren Brown as the famous magician – but did you know he also writes books about Stoicism? Happy is a guide to living a meaningful and balance life, which shows you how you have the ability to alter your perceptions of the world and live more positively.

✍️ Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
I love this book. It’s what inspired me to first start putting myself out there on the internet. It has truly changed my life – and it could change yours too. Austin explains why it’s so important to share your journey and process with other people, so we can all come together to create great things. I highly recommend.

All of these books are available on Shortform – check out this link to get a free trial and 20% off annual access: shortform.com/sundaysnippets. Happy reading!

Thanks to Shortform for sponsoring this issue of Sunday Snippets 🙏

🎬 My New Videos

🚀 How to Stop Wasting Your Life (Avoid These 5 Things) – This is the second of 3 videos in a series about how to manage your time better when you have a full time job. I feel really passionate about this stuff because being able to manage my time well when I was a full time doctor here in the UK, allowed me to start and grow my YouTube channel and business on the side. So I really hope there’s some useful takeaways for you in here.

How to Manage Your Time – 5 Time Management Skills – This is the final of 3 videos in a series bout getting the most out of life when working full time. I really hope these videos will be helpful x

My Take on Quitting YouTube – There have been lots of YouTubers quitting recently, and I wanted to take a second to talk about why I think that is, and what we can all learn from this. I love being a YouTuber, and I don’t want to quit, so these are also some notes to myself about how to be able to keep going for the long run. I hope you find it useful! Enjoy x

✍️ Quote of the Week

“Enough is elusive because when you reach it, you’re no longer the person that once desired it. Once you occupy an entirely new world, that prior version of yourself is largely inaccessible.”

From The Many Worlds of Enough by Laurence Yeo. Resurfaced using Readwise.

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