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What is the number 1 cause of lost time, and how can we use our limited time wisely? In this article we will go deep and come out on the other end with a 5 second exercise you can do to save yourself years of wasted time. Coming up.

Looking for the video on the article? Here it is:

Welcome, my name is Nick Redmark, and I’m your effectiveness coach. I’m leading an open minded conversation about making good life decisions. I strive to be rational and intellectually honest. If you want to join this conversation, subscribe!

What is a waste of time? The first thing that comes to mind is when things don’t go the way we want, we are stuck in traffic, the meeting gets canceled. That kind of thing.

But that’s not the real issue. Yes, not getting what we want is painful, and we should be strategic and strive to get better at obtaining what we want. But life is hard and we fail. If you give your best and fail, can that be fairly called a waste of time? I would say no. A tragic life has dignity.But here’s a deeper problem: are your wants aligned with your actual needs?

Most of our life is spent running after something. How often do we pause and wonder: why? Can that thing even give me what I really need? Sometimes, when we achieve our goals, they feel empty, we quickly forget them and then run after the next shiny thing. Psychologists call this the hedonic threadmill. That, ladies and gentlemen, is wasted time.

So here is my definition of wasted time: all the time spent pursuing wants that don’t match our needs.

To avoid wasting time we need to understand the difference between our wants and needs. More often than not, the core problem is that we have external wants but emotional needs. Here are some examples that I’m personally guilty of.

Our emotional need can be a sense of inner inadequacy, and we try to fix that by obsessing over what people think of us, or try to become successful or popular to get other people’s validation.

Our emotional need can be anxiety and we try to fix that by avoiding the things that make us uncomfortable. Examples would be avoiding social gatherings, procrastinating important decisions or getting stuck in analysis paralysis.

Our emotional need can be a sense of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of life, and we try to fix that by never committing to something, say a relationship, a career. We never want to choose. Or alternatively we become perfectionistic and can’t let something go before we completely fixed it.

We spend a lot of our life avoiding, coping, compensating, unaware of the emotional needs that drive our behavior. So, how can we spend our time more wisely? To answer this question we have to understand some things about emotional needs:

  1. We need to realize that our coping strategies won’t fix our emotional needs and often will make them worse
  2. We need to understand that we can never fix those emotional needs completely. They are an ineradicable part of existence. I hate to break it for you, but existence is necessarily inadequate, anxiety-provoking and unsatisfactory. Your expectation that you can eradicate them only multiplies your suffering.
  3. The good news is that we can satisfy a part of our emotional needs by addressing them directly.

There is more to this topic, but soon I’m going to give you the simplest 5-second step you can follow to address your emotional needs. But before that we have to go one step deeper.

In our body there are 2 very important molecules: dopamine and serotonin.

Dopamine is what rewards you when you make progress towards a goal and when you achieve it. It is important that you understand this correctly: it is not the feeling of satisfaction that makes you relax. It is the feeling of excitement that makes you go “more”. Now the important thing to notice is that all this system does is to reinforce your behavior and drive you to action. If you lack motivation, that’s the molecule to look at. After all, it is the molecule that’s behind all kinds addictions. What dopamine doesn’t give you is any guarantee of satisfaction.

Now let’s look at serotonin. Serotonin is exactly what gives you that feeling of satisfaction, of enough, of “aah”, I don’t need anything else, I’m okay like this, right now. As Jordan Peterson describes in the first chapter of 12 Rules for Life, animals that are high in the dominance hierarchy have a high level of serotonin, and they move more slowly and take up more space.

MDMA is a drug that releases all of your serotonin. A year ago, during a quite afternoon at home, I took a dose of MDMA and spent the rest of the day doing normal things. During that experience something became clear as day: that the feeling that you have a problem to solve is completely separate from the feeling that you are threatened by that problem. You can still have problems in life and be motivated to solve them, and at the same time feel zero threat from those problems. They just appear as something that needs to be addressed.

To go back to emotional needs. All the emotional needs we talked about before, of inadequacy, of anxiety, of insufficiency, all of them are are related to low serotonin and independent from your goal-oriented behavior. Peterson’s advice is to start by imitating those dominant animals and opening yourself up, taking up some space, straightening yourself out. And that’s a good candidate for a 5 second exercise, but I believe there is one that goes even deeper.

Before I give you that I’d like to thank my patrons. This video was brought to you by my supporters over at patreon. Did you know that patrons can get up to 4 1h coaching sessions a month with me? You can become a patron now from $1 a month by heading over to

Now back to serotonin. What is the easiest way to increase your serotonin. Here it comes:

Take a deep breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing decreases your cortisol which in turn raises your serotonin levels. It instantly changes your posture and your mindset, calms you down and makes you feel less restless. In moments when you feel the need to achieve god-knows-what to be accepted, when you feel the need to make the perfect choice or the world will fall apart, when you feel that you have to fix something or you won’t feel good about it, stop, take a deep breath. And then ask yourself:

what would my actions in the world look like if they were an expression of an overflowing sense of abundance?

Take a deep breath. Perhaps, if you follow this little step during enough key decisions in your life, it will save you years of wasted time.