The Day I (Almost) Ruined My Life — And How it Led to 100,000 Subscribers

I had my first (and only) psychedelic experience in the Dutch countryside in the spring of 2017.

I was going through a transition, having just quit my job with no clear plan about what to do next, and looking for direction.

At this point, I’d heard numerous accounts of people trying psychedelics and having a life-changing experience. Everyone from business leaders (Bill Gates), scientists (Richard Feynman), philosophers (Alan Watts), and comedians (Bill Hicks) had experimented. Steve Jobs described his LSD experience as “one of the most important things in my life”.

The science seemed promising too. Imperial College London recently launched the world’s first Centre for Psychedelic Research, and a 2008 study from John Hopkins found that approximately two thirds of participants reported taking psilocybin as one of the top 5 most meaningful experiences of their life.

On the one hand, I was curious to try them myself, as I thought it might lead to an insight about what step I should take next.

On the other, I was terrified about losing my mind during the trip.

I weighed it up, and decided to take my chances.

Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

Although the experience itself was intense, it was what happened in the days that followed that turned my world upside down.

Panic attacks, intense anxiety, and a “brain fog” that wouldn’t subside.

It felt like the foundations were being ripped out from beneath me as one existential crisis followed the next.

For about 10 days, I found myself in my own personal version of hell.

The worst part? It was my fault that I was there.

Far from finding direction, I feared I had permanently damaged my brain, and I wasn’t sure if things would ever return to normal.

But over time, they did.

Although horrific when it was happening, this experience turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life’s trajectory because it led to uncovering the values that have been a powerful motivational force in my life ever since.

My panic attacks and anxiety gave me first hand experience of just how dark the world can be — depending on our mental state. It showed me that we’re surrounded by countless individuals every day who are living in their own subjective hell on earth.

Before it happened, I knew about mental suffering on an intellectual level.

But afterwards, I knew about it from the inside-out.

I now had deep empathy for those experiencing mental health conditions and became strongly motivated to do what I could to alleviate it — because if I could help at least one person move out of hell, that would be worth doing.

So, helping people to reduce unnecessary suffering from their lives became a value for me.

This was one of my main motivations for setting up The Weekend University – an online education platform which makes the most important ideas in psychology more accessible to the general public. Since 2017, we’ve organised hundreds of conferences, talks, and interviews with world leading psychologists, and made most of the content freely available via our podcast and YouTube Channel.

Over time, this has gradually built a following of 100,000+ subscribers.

Although dark in places, my story illustrates how your life can transform when you become clear on your values and begin living in alignment with them each day.

There are many approaches out there for uncovering your values.

(If you’re not sure what yours are, the 4 exercises in this google doc are a good starting point.)

The problem for most of us isn’t that we don’t know what our values are.

Rather, what we struggle with is living in alignment with them each day.

It’s converting our values into action that’s difficult.

So, this article will introduce three simple strategies for doing this, so that your daily actions are an expression of what matters most to you as a person.

But first let’s clarify exactly what values are and how they differ from goals.

What are Values?

In ACT made simple, Dr Russ Harris defines values as: ‘desired qualities of ongoing action’.

They are how you want to act and be in the world on an ongoing basis.

Values can usually be expressed as verbs and adverbs, such as: ‘giving gratefully’, ‘listening empathically’, and ‘living courageously’.

They are not the same as goals.

Goals are things you strive for and project into the future.

You never actually experience your goals because they are either ahead of you, or already achieved in the past.

Therefore, many goal-driven people (who may appear outwardly successful) are often postponing happiness until they reach their outcome, meaning most of their life is spent in a state of “pre-success failure”, typically characterised by a basic sense of lack or never feeling enough.

Their mindset is similar to that of Bart and Lisa in “The Simpsons”, who on the way to the family holiday destination continuously ask:

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

Values, on the other hand, can only be experienced in the present.

And this helps to explain their motivational power.

Values-oriented people live their lives in such a way that allows them to feel satisfaction and fulfilment every time they act in harmony with what’s most important to them.

And this frees them to experience more happiness, joy, and contentment on a day-to-day basis.

2 Approaches to Climbing a Mountain

“Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” — John Lennon

To illustrate the difference, let’s compare two people who hike to the top of a mountain; one who takes a values-based approach, and the other who is goals-focused.

Before she starts, the values-based hiker knows she values curiosity, adventure, nature, scenery, and meaningful conversations.

As she ascends the mountain, she is curious about the plants and animals she meets along the way, and the history of the people who have lived there previously. She takes breaks to enjoy the incredible views of the valley below and is regularly engaged in meaningful conversations with her fellow hikers.

By the time she reaches the top, she has already had a meaningful, engaging and enriching experience, and has appreciated the journey up there.

The goals-focused hiker has a different experience.

His aim is simply to get to the top as fast as possible, so everything he encounters along the way is seen as an obstacle to that goal.

He doesn’t notice the views, the interesting plants and animals, and doesn’t converse with his fellow hikers.

All he can think about is reaching the top.

Underneath this behaviour is the belief that: “When I get to the top, then I’ll be satisfied.”

So the whole way up is a means to an end; a struggle with a promise of satisfaction at the finish.

When he reaches his destination, he does experience a brief moment of achievement.

But this soon fades, leaving him looking for another mountain to climb, so he can go through the same cycle again.

This example illustrates the benefits of becoming conscious of your values and using them to guide your actions in daily life.

When we know what they are and live in alignment with them, the journey of life becomes rewarding in and of itself.

We learn to enjoy the climb, rather than postponing our satisfaction until we reach the top of the mountain.

Conversely, if we aren’t living in alignment with our values, it’s easy to live in a constant state of “pre-success failure”; feeling a continuous sense of lack, always thinking the grass will be greener on the other side.

3 Habits for Living in Alignment

The busyness of life makes it easy to default to old patterns and get pulled into ways of being that are out of alignment with what truly matters.

Therefore, it’s vital to set up rituals to keep our values top of mind on a daily basis.

There are two methods I’ve found helpful for doing this.

The first is to keep my list of values above my to do list:

This ensures I’m reminded of what matters most as I review the list of things I want to accomplish at the start of each day.

The second is to ask myself a simple question before I begin something important:

“What values do I want to embody as I engage in this?”

For example, presence, service, focus, creativity, patience, enthusiasm, giving my best, etc.

I’ve found that simply bringing them to the forefront of my mind “primes” my brain and has a strong effect on the quality of what I then go on to do.

If I were to condense this into a one sentence mantra, it would be:

“First be, then do.”

Another approach is recommended in “The Pathless Path” by Paul Millerd.

Paul sets up a calendar notification with his values that shows up on his phone every morning.

This gives him a brief glimpse of what’s most important—and in what order—just before he starts his day.

What about you?

How do you ensure that you’re living in alignment with what matters most?

Niall McKeever

Niall McKeever

Writer and Founder of The Weekend University. Passionate about making great ideas more accessible.

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