On July 16, 1926, Donald Mellett was shot in front of his home. The editor of Ohio’s Canton Daily News had picked a fight with the wrong people.
Over the past 18 months, he had exposed multiple issues of corruption among the Canton police, eventually forcing the mayor to suspend the police chief. But the underworld’s ties ran deep. So deep, that three local gangsters and a detective conspired to get rid of him. Of course, the first official investigation turned up nothing. Eventually, an outside, private investigator cleared the case and all culprits were sentenced to life in prison.
And while it barely registers as a sideshow next to one of America’s most publicized crimes in the 1920s, it’s another life that was at stake which is of interest to us today.
Shortly before his death, Mellett had struck a deal with a visiting lecturer. He’d been so impressed with the man’s ideas that they’d decided to publish them come January, when Mellett was to resign from his editor’s duties.
The morning after Mellett’s assassination, the man received an anonymous phone call, telling him he would leave Canton. He could leave on his own within the hour or wait longer and do so in a pine box — but leave he would.
Terrified, the man got into his car and drove for eight hours straight, not resting until he reached his relatives in the remote mountains of West Virginia. There, he went into hiding. Nobody would see him for months.
The name of that man was Napoleon Hill.
Joanna is in her early 30s. She’s tall, blonde, and hyper-competitive. She was a national rower, worked for the FBI, and trained Middle Eastern police forces. At the time she grabs dinner with her friend Kamal in late 2013, she’s already sold two companies, with her third about to go public. He tells the story:
She’s sitting against the wall and I’m facing her. We talk about our lives, things that have really formed us, who we are. Out of the blue, she tells me that, when she was 24, she had a heart attack and she died for seven minutes.
I was like okayyy and so I leaned forward: “I gotta ask: What happened?”
She goes: “I don’t remember.”
She was in a coma afterwards. They brought her out of it and [then] she was in this bubble. She was the Bubble Boy for, like, a month. And Joanna being Joanna she was just working away in the bubble.
But she said what changed there was after that, everything she wanted in her life — like anything — whether it’s love, how she met her husband, her career, whatever she wants to do, it just happens. It comes to her.
So I’m like: “Alright, you know, I don’t wanna have to, uh, die to get that. How do you do it?”
She leans forward and she goes: “You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but…”
“What if this is heaven?”
Ten Days of Dishes
Steven Pressfield published his first successful novel when he was 52 years old. For many decades before, he wasn’t just not writing, but actively avoiding it. In The War of Art, he tells the story of the moment everything changed:
I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away full-time from doing my work.
One night, alone in my $110-a-month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of.
For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away.
I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack.
To my amazement I realized I was whistling.
The Other Self
In the fall of 1927, over one year after his disappearance, Napoleon Hill finally left his relatives’ house. On a clear night, he walked up to the local public school, which sat on a hill overlooking the town. For hours, he paced around the building. There had to be a way out!
After all, he’d long done the hard work of compiling his ‘philosophy of personal achievement,’ a task for which he had interviewed hundreds of people over the past 20 years. Suddenly, he remembered something the man who sent him on this quest — none other than Andrew Carnegie himself — had told him during one of their earliest conversations in 1908:
“Along toward the end of your labor, if you carry it through successfully, you will make a discovery which may be a great surprise to you. You will discover that the cause of success is not something separate and apart from the man; that it is a force so intangible in nature that the majority of men never recognize it; a force which might be properly called the ‘other self.’ Noteworthy is the fact that this ‘other self’ seldom exerts its influence or makes itself known excepting at times of unusual emergency, when men are forced, through adversity and temporary defeat, to change their habits and to think their way out of difficulty.”
Hill’s heart leapt into his throat. This was it. His testing time. His turn to prove that his own ideas worked. He would either see it through or burn the manuscripts. This breakthrough came with a weird, but empowering gesture:
When this thought came to me, I stopped still, drew my feet closely together, saluted (I did not know what or whom), and stood rigidly at attention for several minutes. This seemed, at first, like a foolish thing to do, but while I was standing there another thought came through in the form of an “order” that was as brief and snappy as any ever given by a military commander to a subordinate. The order said, “Tomorrow get into your automobile and drive to Philadelphia, where you will receive aid in publishing your philosophy of achievement.”
For the first time in his life, Napoleon Hill had experienced his ‘other self.’
Joanna is at least 70% sure Kamal will recommend she see a therapist. But she says it anyway:
“What if this is heaven?”
Kamal’s reaction, however, is just as surprising as her question:
And then she leans back and it was like — you ever see in the movies when
the camera just spans back and things get really slow? And I was like “oh my god!” and I swear there was a homeless man behind her in the window and he kinda like winks at me and “oh my god!” And, for a few moments, I got it.
She’s like: “I died. How can I prove I’m not on the other side? So, because this is heaven, given what heaven is about, I can have, be, and do anything I want.”
And she’s living that.
On another day, in another time, Napoleon Hill would’ve said Joanna is in sync with her other self.
A Harajuku Moment
What Steven Pressfield learned from his lovely evening writing crap and washing dishes is that even if his work would remain a miserable experience for a long time, he’d turn out okay. That his becoming a writer was inevitable.
This moment, this singular incident of first unlocking your other, confident, determined, relentlessly driven if patient self, is called a Harajuku Moment.
In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss’s friend Chad Fowler, who coined the term, tells the story of having his own while fashion shopping in Tokyo. Sitting on a wall in the July heat waiting for friends to return, he complained to a buddy:
“For me, it doesn’t even matter what I wear; I’m not going to look good anyway.” I think he agreed with me. I can’t remember, but that’s not the point. The point was that, as I said those words, they hung in the air like when you say something super-embarrassing in a loud room but happen to catch the one random slice of silence that happens all night long. Everyone looks at you like you’re an idiot. But this time, it was me looking at myself critically. I heard myself say those words and I recognized them not for their content, but for their tone of helplessness.
For the first time in his life, Chad realized he was an incomplete person. A man who always saw himself as “someone with bad health.” And that one moment of piercing clarity was enough to spark a drastic change. Harajuku Moments aren’t just for our bodies, but for all walks of life, according to Tim:
It’s an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have. There is no point in getting started until it happens. No matter how many bullet points and recipes I provide, you will need a Harajuku Moment to fuel the change itself.
In the year following his flash of insight, Fowler lost 70+ pounds. He maintains a good health regimen to this day.
Orders From a Strange Source
For the next two days after his Harajuku Moment, Hill continued to receive “orders” from his “other self,” which he followed to the letter.
As a result, he not only found a publisher for his books but also landed a big, local contract with General Motors to train 15 employees in sales. The money was more than enough to pay for all his expenses, including the expensive hotel his gut had told him to book upon arrival.
Past that point, Hill describes his life in words Joanna might have used too:
From that time right up to this very minute everything I have needed has come to me. Sometimes the arrival of the material things I needed has been a little late, but I can truthfully say that my “other self” has always met me at the crossroads when I have come to them and indicated which path I should follow. The “other self” follows no precedents, recognizes no limitations, and always finds a way to accomplish desired ends! It may meet with temporary defeat, but not with permanent failure. I am as sure of the soundness of this statement as I am of the fact of being engaged in writing these lines.
Lucky for us, Hill didn’t leave it at that.
Not a Miracle Drug
As great as it sounds, so far, all this ‘other self’ talk feels a little esoteric. Magical. Almost too good to be true. While he repeatedly admits he doesn’t quite understand it in its entirety, Hill makes an effort to capture what he knows. In Outwitting The Devil, he describes the “orders” he received:
The instructions were given through the medium of thoughts which presented themselves in my mind with such force that they were readily distinguishable from my ordinary self-created thoughts.
That’s simple. I get that. It’s a powerful gut. A feeling that one course of action is decidedly better, paired with a strong sense of faith that it will work.
We’ve all experienced this. Scientists call it flow. It may have been in sports, a video game, or a great day at work, but, somehow, we strung together a series of gut decisions that just worked and executed them with perfect confidence.
While flow isn’t something we can maintain all the time, Hill suggests our other self is a version of ourselves that can capitalize on it much longer:
You are entitled to know that two entities occupy your body, as in fact two similar entities occupy the body of each living person on earth. One of these entities is motivated by and responds to the impulse of fear. The other is motivated by and responds to the impulse of faith.
Whether you call them ‘entities’ or not, this, too, makes sense. Fear has always been our number one motivator because, for millennia, it had to be. The fear of death is what kept us alive. Nowadays, however, that doesn’t make so much sense. Most of us live in an environment where survival is, mostly, ensured.
But, since so few people do it, acting out of faith and going for what you want often works easier and faster than we’d expect it to. This doesn’t make it a miracle drug or state of enlightenment — just a much better way of doing things, according to Hill:
- You should know that the faith entity performs no miracles, nor does it work in opposition to any of nature’s laws.
- Your ‘other self’ will not do your work for you; it will only guide you intelligently in achieving for yourself the objects of your desires.
- Physically you are the same as you have always been; therefore, no one will recognize that any change has taken place in you.
- Your ‘other self’ will remain in charge and continue to direct you as long as you rely upon it. Keep doubt and fear and worry, and all thoughts of limitation, entirely out of your mind.
Again, this all sounds wonderful, but, like Kamal asked Joanna: how do you do it? How do you change a fundamental aspect of how the human brain naturally works? You don’t.
You let your mind do it for you.
The High Agency Person
The very nature of epiphanies is that they’re not controllable. This is, in part, why we have so many different stories for people who’ve gone through the same change. Joanna, Hill, Pressfield, Fowler, they’ve all made a similar shift in mindset. But because it was such an emotional experience, something so hard to label with language, they’ve all used different labels.
And while there’s no way for me to influence when and where you’ll have yours, Harajuku Moment, that is, stories like theirs are our best shot. Because they prime your subconscious to look for the same in your own life.
In our case, when looking for our confident, faith-based self, the stories we seek are those of what George Mack calls ‘high agency:’
High Agency is a sense that the story given to you by other people about what you can/cannot do is just that — a story. And that you have control over the story.
A High Agency person looks to bend reality to their will. They either find a way, or they make a way.
Mack picked up the concept from Eric Weinstein on Tim Ferriss’s podcast:
When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?
Weinstein says that most of us pride ourselves in the fact that we’re “grounded in reality,” when, actually, that’s just a different way of saying we’ve settled for average, boring, and conventional.
Most of us who wind up using these sort of strange high agency hacks to negotiate the world have some kind of traumatic birth. We may flatter ourselves that we’re in touch with reality, but in fact, reality is a second-best strategy. If you’re lucky, your family works pretty well and you never leave social reality. It’s only when something goes wrong that you discover: “Okay, the world doesn’t work in any way the way I was told. Here’s the underlying structure.” And what you then have to realize is if you want this at scale, you’ve got to stop relying on these traumatic births. It’s like you’re waiting to get bit by a spider to become Spiderman.
Sure, you could wait for your life to back you up against the wall. Or, you could expose yourself to lots of high agency stories until one kicks in.
You could learn about Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field…
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: 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.
…Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strange career path from weightlifter to movie star to governor — all in a country whose language he’s terrible at — or Peter Thiel’s unorthodox approaches to investing and business:
How can you achieve your 10-year-goal in 6 months? What great company is nobody starting? What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Ultimately, there’s only so much you can do to unlock your confident self. To find your Harajuku Moment. But, once you’ve had it, you can never go back.
Bigger Than You Think
In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University. He shares a lot of wise aphorisms, but none quite like this one:
You will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart. Because life doesn’t happen to you. It happens for you.
This distinction between life happening for us and to us is the same thing Kamal has noticed in Joanna and all the folks that most inspire him:
For all of them, I’ve noticed one pattern — including her — that whatever happens, it’s never like this is happening to me. They all look at life as if it’s happening for them. They fall down, they lick their wounds, they get up, but it always makes them be better.
And then Kamal says something remarkable: It’s an attitude you can choose.
They’ve internalized this attitude and it is an attitude. All of us who try to live this, none of us are unique in that sense. We’re all humans, right? The same minds walking around with the same dramas and same fears. But that attitude that life happens for them I’ve noticed consistently in all the best people I’ve ever met in my life.
We may not be able to unlock our best parts, like confidence, faith, and flow at will, but we can choose to live with an attitude that attracts them, rather than shut ourselves off from the possibility. Of course, this is one of the first things Carnegie taught Hill too:
Let me call your attention to a great power which is under your control, said Mr. Carnegie. A power greater than poverty, greater than the lack of education, greater than all of your fears and superstitions combined. It is the power to take possession of your own mind and direct it to whatever ends you may desire.
Carnegie was a well-read man. When he was a young boy, a local colonel opened his personal library of some 400 volumes every Saturday night — an opportunity Carnegie always took. It’s not hard to imagine he read a few Stoic texts, which, over 2,000 years ago, already harnessed the same idea: the one thing we control, the only thing, really, is our mind and its perceptions.
I’m no expert on the ‘other self’ and I’ve only ever caught glimpses of it myself. But, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. And so I wish nothing more for you than to find your Harajuku Moment. To see this distinction between faith and fear. To learn to live your life with courage, confidence, and the relentless spirit it takes to get whatever you want. Until then, I wish you the attitude that will help you find all of these things. You’re a lot bigger than you think.