You’ll never completely housebreak yourself. That’s fine.
Something will always bug you — or someone will. Sometimes, the someones and somethings of the world gang up. You have to keep your shit together, or at least make an effort.
Maturity doesn’t just happen. We have to keep ourselves in check. If we’re not careful, we can morph back into our primate ancestors.
We always imagine some future self that won’t ever get pissed off — that’ll always go to bed on time, always brush our teeth, always enjoy mind-blowing sex with our spouse on Tuesday night.
And yet, Stephen Hawking begs to differ:
We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.
He follows up with something important, the thing makes us just different enough from our distant relatives:
But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.
We’re still animals. We grunt. Get upset. Fight over turf. Just watch a video of chimps and think about your day. None of us act as mature as we claim. We act like apes. But we can understand the universe, and ourselves.
That’s something, at least.
What is the 4 percent rule?
The 4 percent rule is a little something I whipped up myself. It doesn’t come out of a best-selling book — or an interview with Warren Buffet. But please stay. Hear me out. We share 96 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees. That should matter to you because…
Chimpanzees shredded a man over birthday cake.
The chimps executed a coordinated attack on their primary keeper, out of sheer jealousy. One of the chimps got cake, and the others didn’t. No other reason. Just that simple. How else are we like chimps?
- We act out of impulse
- We let emotions take over
- We jerk off a lot
- We use tools (even stone ones)
- We get preoccupied with payback
- We always want more — of pretty much everything
- We prioritize wealth and status
- We work in groups sometimes
- We fall prey to our own vanity
- But we also underestimate ourselves
- We pass knowledge down to our children
- We love things that are bad for us
All of this comes with our 96 percent, the good and the bad. We’ll never ditch it — not completely. Thinking we can is just arrogant.
Think about what goes on in your head when something happens that you don’t like. Part of you will always feel the slightest impulse to grab a tree branch and start swinging.
And yet, we’re 4 percent different. That 4 percent contains all of our higher reasoning and social skills. It contains our ability to calm down and think through obstacles. Learn how to use it.
96 percent of you is a child
A chimpanzee possesses the intellectual and moral reasoning of a six-year-old. Many of us know adults who devolve into their 6-year-old selves. Why? Because it’s so easy.
We’re wired to.
96 percent of a person will always want to throw a tantrum, especially when we feel justified. Twice last week, I almost did.
Oh, and also once this morning…
Not throwing a tantrum will always call for more restraint than you think it should. It will always feel hard. It can always wear you out. So ease up on yourself. That 4 percent does a lot of work.
It gets stretched thin.
Sometimes, it can’t stop you from doing something stupid.
Empower your 4 percent
We can nurture our 4 percent — the part that actually helps us get what we want, despite everything standing in our way.
We can strengthen our better self, hone it, so that we minimize the amount of self-sabotage done. You know, those times when we make a bad situation even worse, when we could’ve actually slugged through a tough day and gotten what we wanted.
- 4 percent of you knows the right decision to make
- 4 percent of you knows there’s probably an easy solution
- 4 percent of you knows you’re overthinking
- 4 percent of you knows how to delay gratification
- 4 percent of you knows how to calm down and strategize
- 4 percent of you knows how to learn new skills
- 4 percent of you knows to question your gut
- 4 percent of you knows to shut up and listen
- 4 percent of you knows it’s not that bad
In other words, 4 percent of you already knows how to get the birthday cake, without ever having to kill anyone.
It just gets drowned out.
We don’t listen to it. Because 96 percent of us really wants to grab the tree branch and start flinging our feces. It likes doing that.
Here’s some starter ideas on how to rediscover and harness your better self, how to practice what I’m calling the 4 percent rule — embracing your higher nature to get what’s best for you.
Remember what you really want
There’s no future version of you or me that always knows just what to do, or what matters most. We think we know what’ll make us happy or fulfilled. We’re so smug about it sometimes.
We say shit like, “I’m the kind of person who goes after what they want, and doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Uh huh. Please, continue…
The truth? We don’t know — not always. Even worse, we forget all the time. We let the most trivial things get in our way.
Why do we forget what we want?
Sometimes, we get in our own way. We mix up things like happiness, success, purpose, and fulfillment.
We chase material goals like money and stats.
Not that money’s bad. But I’ve noticed something — pursuing it to the exclusion of everything else tends to blow you further off course. It’s a weird paradox: if you want to make a lot of money, or achieve a lot of status, you have to stop trying and just get really good at something.
If you want to make a lot of money, or achieve a lot of status, you have to stop trying and just get really good at something.
We trick ourselves into thinking little things matter more than they do. Every week, something happens with the potential to throw us off our game. We lose focus, start chasing the low hanging fruit.
Why? Because it’s within reach. After all, we’re still primates.
Having something (anything) makes us feel safe — productive. This cycle never ends. But you can shorten it.
You can refocus on your purpose
When you feel like crap, sit down and take stock. Remind yourself what the hell you’re trying to get out of your time.
Here are some simple, beautiful questions that I ask myself every day, especially the ones that don’t go according to plan:
- What’s the most important thing you have to get done today?
- What’s the most important thing you want to get done?
- Why do you want/need to do these things?
- What’s stopping you?
- What can you do about that?
- Where does today fall into the bigger scheme?
The distractions and inconveniences — including people — tend to fall away when you make yourself remember the important stuff. If something irritates you, but it doesn’t matter, then you’ll ignore it. You’ll return to what does matter, which probably isn’t some snarky email.
Stop getting upset over birthday cake
You can change some realities, but not every single one of them. The best of us still sink endless hours into complaining, bickering, or just brooding. You’ll never reach a point where you stop that completely.
Unless you’re Jesus. In which case, welcome back.
If you’re not divine, here’s how I tend to talk myself through difficulties and frustrations — including ones caused by people. Sometimes I call a trusted friend and we do it together:
- What’s actually bothering you?
- Are you justified in feeling this way?
- If you are, can you confront said person or thing directly?
- Is there an indirect way to handle the problem?
- Will this matter as much to you in five days?
- What about in five weeks, or five months?
Something small like birthday cake hardly ever matters in five weeks. And yet, people torch their careers over it all the time. We start fights with friends and loved ones over some sugary dessert.
We get fixated on the cake, and not what the cake represents — something we probably could’ve gotten an easier way.
The trick is catching yourself before you’ve blown up your life over cake. There’s always something better you can do besides stew in your negativity, attack someone, or give up before the game’s over. That doesn’t mean the negativity goes away forever.
The more you ignore your 96 percent, thinking you’ve somehow tamed it, the more damage it can do.
Part of you is wild. Always will be.
As for myself, my day began with only the dimmest hope of getting anything I wanted. But I leveraged my 4 percent, and wound up with a pretty decent cake — if I don’t say so. Didn’t even have to murder anyone. So can you. Be wild. But also, go get some of that delicious cake.