3 “F” Words to Hack your Willpower | Dave Asprey
Dave: When Vishen came on “Bulletproof Radio,”
my podcast, he set a new record.
There’s been about 300 guests and his record
was for dropping the most f-bombs of any guests
ever, which was kind of cool actually because
I wasn’t expecting that and knowing Vishen,
it’s because he coined some amazing words
like unfuckwithable and brules and all the
other things which are really great ways of
explaining some really complex topics.
What else can I say about Vishen?
Well, I could say lots of things, but one
of the things that I’m gonna do, sort of,
to get even for that is I’m going to drop
a lot of f-words here.
Is that cool?
Dave: The reason I’m gonna do that is that
we’re talking about willpower today.
Willpower is something that I used to make
$6 million when I was 26.
Unfortunately, I lost it when I was 28, which,
by the way, every reporter’s ever written
that always forget the second sentence like,
now, I’ve really been working like everyone
else, but I just had this brief moment of
money when I was young and didn’t know how
to keep it, which is a different skill than
how to make it.
And, I was pushing with every fiber of my
being because I was really, really tired and
I was using my willpower like you wouldn’t
And yeah, I was fat.
In fact, I was so fat that I’m like never
am I gonna allow this happen again.
I’d had three knee surgeries before I was
23 and arthritis on my knees since I was 14
and all sorts of other bad health stuff.
So I was pushing against all of that weight.
But I said, all right, willpower, here we
I worked out six days a week, an hour-and-a-half
I could bench press all of my thin friends
while they ate french fries and I didn’t lose
I cut my calories, cut my fat, I didn’t lose
And it just made me feel like there’s a reason,
I’m weak, it’s a moral failing, all I need
to do is push harder.
So I got really good at looking at willpower.
And you fast forward way too much money and
a lot of time, and I understand a lot more
about willpower and specifically how you can
hack it, because I believe now that the natural
state of things is that they should be easy.
And, there’s something to be said for working
hard, but I’d rather work hard on an easy
problem than work hard because working hard
makes you a good person even though it didn’t
have to be hard.
It’s gonna be hard when it’s actually hard,
not when you made it hard.
So, where does willpower come from?
Willpower’s a biological resource that you
have and there’s all sorts of software thought
patterns and things like that that can increase
You can do a hypnosis with Marisa, you can
do other things that’ll give you changes in
your software, but at the end of the day,
if you don’t have enough basic energy in your
body, you will not have the willpower that
you were meant to have because you can’t make
enough electrons in your brain and in your
heart, in your gut and then the rest of your
Now, most of your willpower gets wasted.
And what I found and what has absolutely changed
my life, allowed me to grow Bulletproof while
I was working full-time as a vice president
at a publicly-traded company, succeeding in
that job with stock options, all that stuff,
I’m like, “I’ll start a little blog on the
side,” and grew it to where it is today.
I did that because I was actively hacking
If you were to, say, sit back, say I want
to design an organism, just an animal and
I want to make it so that it’ll live through
It’ll absolutely survive forever, tens of
thousands, millions of years.
You need really only a few behaviors that
the animal has to have.
And the first thing you might consider would
be run away or kill everything scary.
It’s a really good base operating principle,
Pretty much everything that’s alive today,
including plants, has this wired in.
Plants don’t run away very well, but there’s
a lot of them that’ll kill you.
Just, you know, eat the right ones.
So, okay, that’s a neat one.
That’s our first f-word, fear.
And that translates to a couple of other little
smaller f-words: fight or flight, your fight
or flight response.
That’s a bit of a problem here.
What if, right now, your nervous system thinks
something is a threat?
What’s it doing with your willpower?
It’s wasting it.
Absolutely wasting it.
Now if I was to, you know, walk up like this
and give you a dirty look and almost fall
off the stage, what happens is clinically
I’m a tall, relatively muscular guy.
In fact, “The New York Times” says I’m almost
muscular, my favorite quote of my entire career,
by the way.
And I guarantee you that every guy in here
is wired so that if I do this, because I’m
taller than you, sorry, we’re all a little
bit ape, your skin got slightly sweatier,
your pupils dilated a little bit and you got
ready to run away, right?
It doesn’t matter if you’re my friends, like
if I do that, it’s gonna hit you.
And, we’re all wired that way and it’s okay,
but that part of us gets way, way out of control.
So, when it’s time to go to sleep, you have
thoughts racing in your mind.
What those are is fear.
Something’s gonna kill me, I need to run away
or I need to be ready to kill it.
And this has all sorts of metabolic effects
but worst of all, it takes away your willpower,
it takes away your ability to do all the things
you are, it takes away your ability to be
who you are.
Here’s how and why it can do this.
Inside your body, there’s a couple of different
systems, but one of them has to be really,
This is that thing going back to we designed
an animal, it can run away or it can kill
Well, it needs to do it without thinking about
You’re wired this way and it’s actually frightening
as all hell.
If you were to say lean against a hot stove,
Do you, “I smell something, I guess I should
move my hand?”
Something moves the hand.
How many of you think it was you who moved
Not…good, good, you’re getting my point
Usually, some someone’s like, “I think so.”
But here’s the point, it wasn’t you.
It was another consciousness in your body,
one that you’re probably not aware of.
In fact, one that you self-identify with and
you think it’s part of you.
In fact, you might feel guilty that that part
of you got afraid or that part of you wanted
to run away or that part of you caused you
to procrastinate, which is coming from that
f-word fear and what’s happening is a speed
I call this in my book the Labrador brain,
but you could call it a meat-operating system,
if you’re more of a computer geek.
This has to be there.
It has to be there so you don’t fall off the
I didn’t go, “I’m about to fall off the stage,
oops, I better lean back.”
Like I felt there was nothing on my foot and
my body thankfully pushed me back.
No thought required, elegant, amazing, sweet
The only problem is it keeps doing stuff because
the hardware hasn’t been programmed that well.
What programmed your hardware?
The environment programmed your hardware,
especially the environment, get this, in the
womb, even; when you were born; and the first
seven years of life did the most; but if you’ve
had some trauma after that, that can program
There are people who are fine, they go into
combat, some of the Bulletproof team are combat
veterans and yeah, they get PTSD because the
environment, watching things blow up around
you, kinda trains the automated meat-operating
system there are things around that might
Get ready to run, get ready to fight.
Those are our only two options, okay?
That’s a big F that frankly is fucking with
There, I used the real f-word.
The second thing that saps your willpower,
this is wasting your life, is the easiest
one to hack, and one where I’ve spent a lot
of time given that I was obese, I’m still
covered in stretch marks from when I was obese.
I don’t know how to hack those, but I’m working
That one is food.
Your second big f-word, you have fear and
you have food.
Now we all just ate, but everyone here has
something they really, really like.
It might be a cherry turnover, a bagel or
a donut, a bowl of candy.
Chocolate chip cookies were mine.
I love chocolate chip cookies, I just actually
don’t crave them anymore.
And, here’s what would happen in Silicon Valley,
this amazing change is happening.
You go into a conference room and there’s
a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
And I’ll tell you my inner dialogue and you
all probably know this because you have the
same inner dialogue and it goes something
like this, “Eat the cookie.”
Then you go, “No.”
And then predictably, it says, “Eat the cookie.”
And you say “No.”
And so on and so forth, and pretty soon, you’re
like, “It’d be really nice if you eat the
cookie, think how good you’ll feel if you
eat the cookie.
Imagine one bite of that cookie.”
In fact, salivary glands, come on, play with
Who controls the salivary glands?
Not you, the other little bastard in there.
It’s pretty soon, “You know, I wasn’t gonna
eat the cookie, but if I just have a bite
of the cookie…”
You don’t negotiate with terrorists, but you
Then you have one bite of the cookie and the
meat-operating system’s like bam, “Species
survival achieved, this creature will not
starve to death,” which is why if you take
a labrador retriever for a walk, it’ll eat
It doesn’t matter if it’s gonna throw up all
over your carpet a little while later, “It’s
I might starve.
Eat the food.”
Basic wiring and it’s actually really useful.
If you wanted to take a non-human stupid animal,
pretty much eat until you can’t eat anymore,
and always do that to make sure you survive.
Pretty good operating system principle, so
run away or kill stuff, and eat everything,
We’re all wired that way.
And remember we talked about that hot thing
we touched, the part of you that said, “Eat
the cookie,” and the part of you that convinced
you to eat the cookie against your will, well,
it’s much faster than you.
It’s wired to respond to the environment and
it has something called a fast path in the
Your thinking, the part of you that’s actually
you is the slow path.
If you’re gonna think about something, you
can use your prefrontal cortex.
What’s going on there is a little bit disturbing
because something else interpreted the environment.
It probably changed the way you interpreted
the environment given that it sits between
you and the environment and it’s seriously,
seriously stupid, but seriously fast.
You, on the other hand, are seriously, seriously
smart and notoriously slow.
The speed mismatch is a huge source of willpower
drain because that conversation about the
cookie, eat it, no, eat it, no.
What that did is that made you make a series
of decisions and those decisions are expensive.
We’ve all heard that decisions are a finite
We have a finite amount of willpower.
There’s a great study done in Israel.
If you’re in jail and you want to get out,
just get one of the morning meetings with
the parole board because they’re fresh.
They haven’t made many decisions.
You have a 90% chance of getting out of jail.
You get the last meeting of the day, you have
a 90% chance of staying in jail.
It has nothing to do with what you did or
It has everything to do with how many decisions
the people on the board made.
So, if you’re sitting there and you eat a
breakfast and the breakfast makes you have
food cravings at 10:00 AM and you’ve said,
“I’m not gonna eat any food because I don’t
want to get fat,” then you, eat it, no, one
decision; eat it, no, another decision; eat
it, no, another decision.
Pretty soon, your decision capacity has been
drained for the day and now, you need to make
Should I buy that company?
Should I go to the next A-fest?
I’m guessing that was an easy decision, but
still, it was a decision, right?
That is a major source, I would say at least
a third to a half of where your willpower
goes every single day, if you are not controlling
that part of your biology.
And I did not know, when I was obese, the
difference between a craving and hunger.
And it turns out hunger is a much gentler
thing than a craving, but for most of us,
they’re so intertwined that you just, “I’ll
just have a snack, I’ll just have a snack.”
The snacking thing actually means that you’re
giving in to this terrorist inside of you,
but if you’re using willpower to not give
in to the terrorist, then you’re burning up
all your willpower.
So most of us are sitting around much weaker
than we should be because we’re either giving
into a terrorist or we’re spending all of
our time resisting the terrorist.
That kinda sucks.
There is a way around this.
We’ll get there.
We’re already have two Fs.
We have fear, we have food.
Anyone want to guess the other f-word for
Audience: [inaudible 00:13:52].
Dave: Yeah, you guys laughed because you got
it, it’s fuck.
Remember we wanted the species to survive
Run away from scary stuff, got it, eat everything,
got it, fuck everything.
Okay, we’ve guaranteed species survival.
Now, I’m going to explain a moment that happens
in a person’s mind.
You’re on a hot date, things are getting a
little hotter maybe than you planned and maybe
you didn’t really plan any protection.
Now, a logical person would say, “Well, let’s
just play, but let’s not actually have sex
because, you know, you might get pregnant.”
A little problem there if it’s not what you’re
trying to do.
So, here’s what actually happens.
The little voice that made you eat the cookie,
“If you don’t have sex right now, you’ll die.”
All of us have felt that, except the virgin
in the back over there I’m not pointing at,
This actually happens.
The same voice that said, “The cookie, if
you don’t eat the cookie, you’ll die.
And if you don’t run away from that scary
thing, that’s not actually a threat, you’ll
So what’s sucking up your willpower?
Well, you want to eat everything, you want
to hump every leg you come across, if you’re
the labrador, and you’re scared when you shouldn’t
What that means is that your challenge to
turn up your willpower is to control that
labrador in your head.
And there’s a word that really resonates with
me and it’s one that’s been idolized and fetishized
in the U.S. or just in the western world even.
And it’s struggle, like it’s good to struggle.
And my picture of struggling looks like this.
How many of you have ever seen a puppy go
for a walk?
I’m guessing many of you, I don’t know how
many people have dogs these days.
But if you watch someone with a new dog go
for a walk, it’s something like this.
You hold the leash and you pull the dog along
and it fights you and it lays on its back
and it like pees on itself.
And it does all the things young dogs do,
but it struggles and it fights.
And if you’re like most of us, at a certain
point, you get the dog to a certain stage
where it usually doesn’t pee on the rug and
only sometimes eats the cookies that you left
on the counter and it does other dog-like
things but it’s within tolerances.
But, other times, something amazing will happen.
You’ll see someone walking with a dog and
they stop, the dog stops.
They turn the dog turns.
In fact, the dog might even be a service dog
or a police dog or any of the other extremely
well-trained dogs where it doesn’t take any
effort because the dog is attuned to its master.
You have a labrador in your head and your
job is to train that labrador to behave like
a service dog instead of to struggle all the
The other thing that is most important for
you to have the most willpower and for you
to do the most good in the world that you
wanna do is you need to right now understand
that that labrador in your head is there for
It is there to keep your meat alive, whether
or not you’re in there, and that it is not
So, if you’re feeling guilty about the fact
that you really wanted to have sex in that
really bizarre way over there, dude, that’s
You may want to like let your dog go play,
that’s all fine.
However, for you to internalize that and then
feel guilty about the things the dog does,
you eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s, yeah,
there’s a reason for that.
It might be emotional.
It’s not because you’re a bad person.
It’s not a moral failing.
It’s not because you’re weak, which is what
we’re universally taught.
It’s because another consciousness that resides
inside your meat that is faster than you and
infinitely dumber than you convinced you to
Your challenge is to simply grow discernment
so that you can figure out what’s the labrador
and what’s you.
And when you learn how to do that, then you
realize, “Okay, I’ve now changed my software,
I’m now in charge.”
And then it comes time to doing the biological
upgrades that I’m gonna talk about in the
next 20-minute talk because those biological
upgrades give you more energy so that you
can do more.
One of the mistakes that you can make though
is to pour on a lot more energy without having
this precious understanding of what’s going
on inside your meat-operating system.
Because if you pour on a lot more energy,
yet you’re still struggling all the time,
you’re gonna waste most of the energy on struggling,
you’re gonna eat a lot more cookies, you’re
gonna hump a lot more legs, and you’re gonna
run away from things even faster, but you’re
not gonna do what you wanted to do.
That said, if you want to train the dog, you
better feed it well, because anyone who’s
tried to train a hungry dog or a hungry child
knows it’s not possible.
They really won’t listen.
They’ll do it for treats for a little while
and after that, it’s game over.
So, start managing your behaviors, your automated
species survival behaviors as if they’re trainable
and as if they’re not your conscious behaviors.
What you are doing, and this has been proven
in psychological research, is that you’re
reacting to the people around you, to the
environment around you, and then your conscious
brain tells you a story about why you logically
What really happened, your body did what it
was gonna do, you felt what you were gonna
feel, You felt that and then you decided why
you felt that but the story is a lie.
And, when I do the 40 Years of Zen neurofeedback
programming, I learned that.
Because when you have a lie detector on yourself
for 10 weeks, every story I’ve ever told myself
that’s a lie, well, a lie detector tells you
You’re like, “Damn, I really liked that story,”
but that’s not actually how it was.
So what you just got is a very fast discussion
of what happens inside your body.
The biggest leak of willpower is applying
your precious effort to things that are automated
and urges from an untrained animal that’s
thrashing around inside your body.
So it’s all about training, and then it’s
about upgrading, which is where we’re gonna