A force multiplier is something that increases effectiveness. The term has military origins — factors like high morale, advanced technology, or brilliant tactics could all be considered force multipliers. The Mongols used horse archery, silk underclothes (to prevent infection from piercing wounds), and a fearsome reputation as force multipliers.
Applied to life in general, what kind of factors function as force multipliers? What areas of life, if improved or optimized, make us more effective in every other life area?
Consume Less Poison and More Nutrients
We all poison ourselves daily — it’s impossible not to. We breathe in pollutants, absorb chemicals from industrially produced products, eat pesticides, inhale airborne pathogens, and so on. To some extent our bodies can handle these minor insults — we have powerful detoxification systems (liver, kidneys, skin, etc.) that get rid of the bad stuff. The standard shouldn’t be purity, but rather poison reduction. Not everyone reacts to every chemical the same way, but the following is a short list of health damaging substances that may take some effort to not consume:
- pesticides (conventionally grown fruits and vegetables)
- E. Coli (factory-farmed meat, produce grown near factory farms)
- cigarette/cigar/pipe smoke, chewing tobacco
- mercury (found in predator fish like tuna, mackerel, sword-fish)
- street drugs (narcotics, psychedelics, opiates)
- pharmaceuticals and OTC drugs (pain-killers, sedatives, mood-enhancers)
- gluten (in wheat, barley, rye, some other grains — can cause immune and digestive problems)
- refined carbohydrates (sugar, corn syrup, white bread/white rice)
- type A casein (cow’s milk — can cause immune problems)
- lactose (in all milk — majority of adults can’t digest)
- lectins (found in legumes, partially removed by soaking/boiling)
- phytic acid (binds with many vitamins and minerals, found in grains and legumes — esp. soy)
- excessive supplementation (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, fatty acids, etc.)
Once again — the idea isn’t purity. It’s noticing the amount that your body can tolerate without negative effects. For some people with some substances, the tolerable amount is zero (like people with celiac disease and gluten).
If you have allergies, asthma, digestive issues, low-energy, depression, brain-fog, smoker’s cough, or are hungover more mornings than not, consider a regimen of poison reduction.
All foods have some nutritious and some toxic elements, and we all have different reactions to food based on genetics, epigenetic expression, age, general health, and what our immune systems are primed to react to.
Personally I have problems (mostly allergies and asthma) with too much gluten, type A casein, peanut lectin, and refined carbs. Turning this around was a massive force multiplier. In addition to cessation of symptoms, added benefits were improved sleep quality, better mood, reduced stress, and overall higher motivation in other life areas.
What about getting enough of the right nutrients? Most people will need to supplement vitamin D, and possibly fish oil and/or cod-liver oil if you don’t eat fatty fish (like salmon). Otherwise eating a variety of whole foods will probably provide all the nutrients you need. I consider a relaxed version of the paleo diet to be optimal for myself — your mileage may vary.
Get Really Fucking Organized (GRFO)
If David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is a system, GRFO is an attitude. When the GRFO state is in effect, there is no “hectic” or “feeling discombobulated.” There is no drifting or aimlessness. Instead, there is a clear sense of purpose, a well-defined knowledge of what needs to get done when, and an open, free-RAM character of consciousness that is ideal for creativity, problem-solving, and spontaneous inspiration.
Achieving the GRFO state requires some overhead — both in creating a personally customized system, and in maintaining it. You might find that an “off-the-shelf” task/goal management like GTD works as is, but most people will need to experiment extensively to create a system is perfectly suited to their own character and life requirements.
For reference only (not prescriptive in any way), my own system includes:
- life purpose statement
- “do before I die” list
- annual goals list
- monthly goals list
- weekly productivity quota
- spreadsheet of repeating tasks (organized by days of the week, beginning/middle/end-of-month, quarterly, and months of the year)
- appointment and non-repeating task management software (iCal)
- 2 email inboxes (web-based for subscriptions, Apple Mail for business and personal)
- 1 phone number/voicemail (mobile), syncs with laptop contact list
- snail mail (home and business)
- weekly and quarterly backup (both on-site and off-site)
- regular “purging” of non-used household items, to reduce clutter
- etc …
David Allen’s Getting Things Done is a great jumping-off point for many people. Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek is also full of great ideas. The idea is to get so fucking organized that you experience a qualitative jump in your quality of consciousness. No accidental loose ends or dropped balls (you might still choose to leave ends loose or drop balls on purpose). Instead of constantly fretting about minor to-do items, your mind is freed to use the entirety of its powers for creating real wealth in your life and in the world (including enjoying life, helping others, solving problems, making things, creating art, etc.).
I use the term “ninja training” because “exercise and meditation” sounds deathly boring.
Ninja would develop jumping skills by planting a corn stalk and jumping over it each day as it grew. If they failed even once they were required to plant a new stalk.
That sounds more fun that riding an exercise bike, doesn’t it? Your personalized exercise and meditation plan should be inspiring and non-tortuous for you. Something with a built-in sense of progress (like daily cornstalk jumps, or doing your age in repetitions of a certain exercise) adds incentive.
The positive effects of strenuous exercise (on the one hand), and meditation practice (on the other) are wide and well-documented. Lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health, enhanced mood, enhanced energy — the list goes on and on. You already know this, right?
The question is, how do we motivate ourselves to exercise and meditate on a regular enough basis to continually experience the benefits of these practices? Habit trumps good intentions, but establishing new habits is difficult if the activity itself is unsustainable (too hard on the body, boring, socially awkward, too expensive, etc.).
For me, short and fun are the keys to daily or near-daily practice. It may be ideal to exercise 30 minutes or more 3 or more times a week (this is a hotly debated topic — less but more strenuous exercise may be just as beneficial). But if you don’t actually do it, you don’t experience the benefits. I find jogging to be boring and uncomfortable. On the other hand I like short, moderately intense 5 minute strength workouts. For you the opposite may be true.
There should also be multiple motivations that support your exercise and meditation plan. For a ninja, the desire to be prepared for stealthy, dangerous missions added motivation. The cornstalk exercise included shame avoidance as a motivation — no self-respecting ninja trainee wants to be jumping over a teensy-weeny newly planted cornstalk.
For me, riding my bike 1) increases fitness, 2) saves gas money, 3) makes parking easier, 4) doesn’t add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, 5) makes me fit in a little better in my North Oakland neighborhood of car-hating hipsters. If one motivation isn’t enough to get me on my bike, the others sometimes make up the difference.
For meditation, I usually manage about 5 minutes in the morning a few times a week (of vipassana, mantra repetitions, or the like). Not enough to achieve a deeper state of consciousness, but enough to clear my mind, dissolve stress, boost energy, and gain focus. Meditation is a massive force multiplier.
Find an exercise and meditative practice that you enjoy — then do it. Don’t worry about what the best practice is — just find one that works for you and do it every day.
Force Multiplication — For What?
In combat there is a clear goal — defeat the enemy. But in life, there is no clear goal. If you want a goal, you need to make one up yourself.
Why bother? What’s wrong with drifting through life without a clear purpose, just taking things as they come and going with the flow? What’s wrong with being less effective? What’s wrong with un-optimizing your life?
The answer is — there’s nothing wrong with that approach. Nothing at all. And that isn’t sarcastic comment on my part. I really mean that.
Personally, I feel happier being energized, hyper-organized, with clear goals, imposing a sense of progress on a universe that is full of randomness.
It’s entirely possible that I’m that way because of some sort of constitutional or character defect. I acknowledge that’s a possibility. Some people may be capable of complete and lasting happiness without becoming more effective, organized, energetic, or whatever.
The danger of not imposing your own agenda on life and maximizing your effectiveness is that your energy and resources will be co-opted by uncaring and even malicious forces — including entropy. Basically, life will kick you around. It’s not that other people are necessarily uncaring — there is plenty of compassion in the world. But relying entirely on the kindness of others is a non-strategy. Not everyone is kind, and not everyone cares about you. The world is full of both saints and sociopaths, and everything in between.
The Fourth Force Multiplier
There is a fourth force multiplier, attitudinal in nature, more powerful than the three mentioned above. I’ll discuss Force Multiplier #4 (and how it relates to happiness) in a later post.