There is a great song by Nine Inch Nails that I like. The first verse goes:
“I believe I can see the future
‘Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
Then again, that might have been a dream”
That is how most of us live our adult lives — as zombie-like automatons.
To overcome this you must reintroduce an element of danger into your life. You must learn how to feel alive again.
In this article, we will explore the best options to do that.
Why You Don’t Feel Alive
There was a time when we all felt alive — as children.
There was just you and the world. And your mission was to explore it. For a while, every day was an adventure.
But gradually, over time, we get broken.
We are taught to sit still and listen. Study hard and get good grades. Get a degree and find a good job. Marry and have children of your own.
We turn from wild little adventurers into hollow-eyed automatons. Every life decision is preordained by the social script. Every day looks exactly the same.
What is lost on the way is our ability to take risks.
As children, we were actively seeking out risks. We climbed trees, explored abandoned houses, and tried stunts on our bicycles.
As well-domesticated adults, we shy away from any risk.
There are two reasons for that:
- We have become too afraid to take a risk
- We have become too lazy to take a risk
Usually, it’s a mix of the two.
It follows that if you want to learn how to feel alive again, you must push back against these two. You must overcome the fear they instilled in you. You must conquer your laziness.
To feel alive again, you must take risks.
To be clear, when I’m saying you should take a risk, I don’t mean you should try crack cocaine or go free soloing. Being reckless is not the same as taking calculated risks.
But there needs to be some element of danger, even if it’s just in your head. By overcoming this danger, this perceived threat to you, life will suddenly feel sweeter than before.
That is how risks — they remind us of our mortality. And they make us appreciate that little life we get that much more.
9 Ways To Feel Alive Again
Here are nine activities that will teach you how to feel alive again.
1. Tell the Truth to Others
Most of the time, we don’t speak our mind.
To be seen as agreeable, we put on a show. We smile at somebody’s jokes, even though they are not funny. We remain silent when someone spouts nonsense, even though we know better.
This way, we reduce social friction. But at the same time, we also do violence to ourselves. We hide our true selves — our values, our ideas — from the world.
Do this for long enough and a deadening effect sets in. We go through the motions, but we are not actually involved in what is happening. It’s all an act.
The solution is to start telling the truth, even when it might lead to confrontation.
Tell your mother that you don’t appreciate her endless gossiping.
Tell your partner how you haven’t been enjoying the sex lately.
Tell your boss that his management style could be better.
The trick is to do so calmly. You never want to accuse the other person. You anyway have your part in the problem too. But you also don’t want to keep pretending.
When you stand up for what you believe in, it will pull you back into life. The mask that you were upholding has been dropped. The game has suddenly become interesting again.
It is important to do this gradually. No one can go straight from being an egg-shell stepping people pleaser to a fearless truth-sayer.
Start with 30 minutes a day. Set yourself a timer. During that interval, you must weigh every statement you make to another person. If it doesn’t ring true, it shall not pass your lips.
Slowly expand those 30 minutes into one hour, then two hours, and so on.
If just the idea of doing this gives you the jitters — good! It means you are taking a risk. And that is the prerequisite for feeling alive again.
2. Tell the Truth to Yourself
The more you indulge in delusions about yourself, the more dead you will feel inside.
But the more you destroy these delusions, the more “aliveness” you will experience.
The reason why we create these self-delusions in the first place is that we are trying to protect ourselves.
Due to fear and laziness, we don’t want to confront an uncomfortable truth.
For example, you might be telling yourself that you are so happy in your current relationship. “Things couldn’t be better! We are so in love! The sex is so enjoyable!”
But then, every night, you still watch porn. Gang bangs, BDSM, rough roleplaying.
Do you see the dissonance?
There is something you are missing, an element that you are not getting from your oh-so-perfect relationship. But instead of admitting that, you sweep it under the carpet.
Of course, these self-delusions don’t always concern repressed fantasies. More often than not, they are about certain images we have created of ourselves that don’t correspond with reality.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here are some examples from my life, delusions that I like to indulge in:
- I like to think of myself as highly self-aware. But the truth is, if I was as insightful as I like to pretend, I would have achieved much more in life than I have.
- I like to think of myself as highly disciplined. But I know several people who are twice if not three times as hard-working as I am. And that is just my immediate circle.
- I like to think that I am driven by certain principles. But oftentimes, as circumstances change, I will backward rationalize the situation to fit with my principles.
To kill these delusions is painful. For the first time, you will be forced to see yourself as you are — the whole insecure, narcissistic mess.
But it will also wake you up.
When you stop curating your inner world, you allow your whole self to be. The productive impulses, the destructive impulses, and everything in between.
Having that range within yourself adds an element of excitement. You are no longer this flat “nice” person. There is light and shadow.
In a sense, you become interesting to yourself again.
Also, it will also skyrocket your productivity.
When you see yourself as you really are, you become much more effective at taking care of things. You learn to understand your own strengths, what you are capable of, as well as your limits.
This is the prerequisite for making real progress in your life, professionally, and in your private life.
To start this process, get outside help. Consider working with a therapist or a coach. Sometimes a critical friend can serve the same function.
The reason is that it’s much easier for an outsider to identify these self-lies. Where you struggle, they will see right through you.
3. Quit Your Job
The number 1 factor why we feel dead inside is our 9 to 5 job.
Every day, you have to …
- … wake up to the sound of your alarm.
- … commute to work.
- … sit in a gray cubicle, doing menial work.
- … suffer your incompetent boss and your gossipy colleagues.
Who wouldn’t turn into a zombie with a life like this?
Make no mistake — as long as you are a corporate drone, you won’t truly feel alive. All the fun new activities won’t make up for the fact that you are essentially a slave.
So, you must quit your job.
There are a couple of options you have.
First, you could turn your passion into your job.
If you always dreamed of becoming a self-published SciFi writer, do that. If you always wanted to be in the adult movie business, start building your OnlyFans account.
Second, you could only work odd jobs.
It is possible to live on well under $1000 a month; I once managed on $700. Move to a smaller apartment or share a place. Move to a cheaper city or a cheaper country. Get rid of your car, take the bike. Cook all of your meals at home.
This allows you to only work the occasional odd job. But for months at a time, you won’t have to do anything. Your days will be wide open.
Third, you could go off-grid.
Maybe you get a plot of land in rural Arizona, build a hut, and grow your own vegetables. Maybe you become a voluntary hobo, stealth camping in public places and getting your food for free by dumpster diving.
It sounds radical, but plenty of people have done it and reported that they were much happier for it. And they certainly didn’t feel dead inside anymore.
Fourth, you could plan for a big exit.
Build out a business with the objective of selling it. SaaS companies and agencies are great for that. Give 5–10 years of your life to the business, then sell it. Invest the earnings in the stock market or real estate and never work again.
There are many more variations to this. The digital nomad lifestyle. The FIRE movement (= Financial Independence, Retire Early). Commune life.
If you are recoiling from the radicalness of these ideas — well, that’s the point. You got yourself a zombie life by always following the trodden path. If you want to feel alive again, you’ll have to start taking risks.
4. Follow Your Passion
We all have something that excites us more than anything else in the world.
Maybe it’s surfing.
Maybe it’s writing science fiction novels.
Maybe it’s playing the drums in a death metal band.
Whatever it is — once you have found your “thing,” you truly become alive. You wake up in the morning brimming with excitement. “Today I get to do my thing again!”
The problem — most of us haven’t found our thing yet. Most of us aren’t even looking.
Here are some strategies to remedy that.
First, assume that your passion is not fundamentally different from what you have been previously interested in. In all likelihood, it has already manifested itself in your past (probably in your childhood), albeit in a slightly disguised form.
For example, you might always have enjoyed playing with Legos, and coming up with designs for different houses. You might always have had a knack for visual thinking. And when you visit a new city, the first thing you check out are the buildings and monuments.
So, surprise — you might be an architect in disguise.
It sounds trivial when I put it like this. But I cannot tell you how many intelligent people I have coached who were completely blind to these things.
That is the trick here. Talk to people — both to people who know you well as well as strangers. Ask them, “What do you think I would enjoy doing more than anything else in the world?”
It’s the magic of the outsider’s perspective. Where you are blind to yourself, they will see right through you.
The second thing that you need to pay attention to is passion phenotypes.
For example, my first love in life was the written word. I spent years of my life locked up in my room reading.
Now, there are different ways to express that deep-rooted love. I could have become an author. I could have become a journalist. I could have become an editor.
Instead, I became a digital content creator, which I enjoy tremendously.
But does that mean that these other options would not have made me happy? No. I think at least some of them would have been similarly good options.
That is what I mean by phenotypes. You might have one passion, but many different options to express that passion. You need to find and compare these options.
Third, it is possible to combine different passions into a new passion.
If you have several things that you are passionate about, instead of pursuing them simultaneously, you can merge them into a new, never-before-seen thing.
You don’t have to be the best at any of these things. But you have to be the best at melting them together. It’s like an elite triathlete who never beat an Olympic swimmer or runner. But they wouldn’t beat the triathlete at their sport either.
On a side note, this is what I am trying to do with this blog. I am taking all my different backgrounds — the reading, the BJJ/MMA thing, the dating coach thing — and combining them into a personal brand that my readers might be interested in engaging with.
Fourth, to find your passion, you need to run tests.
You can’t find your passion by coming up with hypotheses at the drawing board. You need to test these hypotheses.
Go with your best guest and put it into practice for six months. For example, if you think you want to turn your passion for tattoo art into your living, go intern at a good tattoo studio for six months. Afterward, you will have a much better idea if it was just a temporary infatuation or if you are truly passionate about the craft.
Understand that you will rarely get it right the first time. If you are like most people, you’ll probably need five or six of these test runs. That means several years of trying things out before you actually commit to something.
Most people will be too intimidated by this time frame to go through with it. They feel like they are wasting time when everybody around them is already working a “real” job.
But what is so much better about being a good corporate slave for 20 years, only to end up dead on the inside?
“Waste” some time. You will overtake your peers later.
5. Try Something New
When we feel dead inside, it is usually because we are stuck in a certain soul-sucking routine.
To be clear — routines are not per se bad. Indeed, habits are what make or break you.
But you must have conviction. If you believe in your habits and the results you will get from them, then you’ll happily continue doing them. But if you are just going through the motions, it is time to mix things up.
Here are some ideas.
Try a new hobby. Go wakeboarding. Take a calligraphy class. Get your geek on and try live action role-playing.
Eat something you have never eaten before. Enjoying food is one of our primary sensual sensations. Cooking a new meal at home or order a dish that you have never ordered before.
Hang out with a new crowd. Instead of spending your Saturday night at that posh dance club, put on some black and go to a goth club. Go gallery hopping with a bunch of art students. Attend a tantric session with a couple of hippies.
Also, trying something new doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. It could simply be taking a new way to work, checking out a new section at the bookstore, or talking to a new person at the cafeteria.
In fact, I would argue that these little, spontaneous breaks from your routine are much more crucial than some big weekend adventure. It’s these little breaks that provide some much-needed relief, when you need it the most, i.e., during a gray workday.
One of the best ways to spice up your life is traveling.
I am not talking about staying at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun for two weeks. I am talking about long-term travel, aka immersing yourself in a new culture completely.
This will wake you up to different ways of looking at the world. For example, certain things we value in the West will be less than important in Asia or in Africa. Punctuality comes to mind.
Vice versa, these cultures will place much more emphasis on other things, like helping a friend out or showing hospitality.
Also, simply being in a new environment will revitalize you. There will be new sensory data constantly coming your way — different-looking backdrops, different-acting people, different-tasting food. This alone makes you feel highly alive.
Finally, long-term travel will present you with new challenges.
For example, I was once stranded in a sketchy neighborhood in London at 3 a.m. looking for my apartment; my Airbnb host had given me the wrong address and was sound asleep. Fortunately, a Pakistani street vendor took me in and even cooked me dinner until my host finally called me back.
Small (and bigger) adventures like this happen all the time while traveling. And when they do, you’ll be right there in the moment to deal with the challenge. There is no time for feeling dead inside.
7. Start a Martial Art
Another fix for feeling more alive is training in martial arts.
When you do sparring in a full-contact martial art, you have no time to feel moody or depressed. It’s either punch the other person in the or get punched (or, depending on your sport, get taken down or submitted).
This will pull you into the moment like nothing else. You don’t even get a say in it. It’s an inbuilt, primal instinct. It works every time.
That’s also the reason why martial arts lend themselves to flow states so easily. All there is is this fight — this attack, this defense. Everything else stops mattering.
When these flow states happen, it’s one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. You are aware of every subtle change by your opponent and each of your movements is a perfectly measured response.
It’s mediation in motion.
Please note that this works best with “alive” martial like boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, or BJJ. Only if there is a real danger of getting hurt will your body catapult you to this high level of awareness.
“Dead” martial arts like karate or Aikido won’t have this effect. As there is no risk, there is also no incentive for your body to alter your consciousness. You just go on.
8. Talk to Strangers
If I could pick only one behavior from this list to make you feel alive again, it would be this one — learn to talk to strangers.
First, it comes with an element of danger. What if you get rejected? And it will happen. A lot.
But that’s a good thing. It will wake you up. It will toughen you up. It will teach you that you can take a risk, fail, and still be okay.
It also presents an interesting challenge. To charm other people, you need to be quick on your feet. You need to read them correctly, and you need to then come up with the right, winning response in an instant.
This requires you to be fully present. It pulls you into the moment. Whatever else is bothering you at the moment — as soon as you open your mouth to talk to a stranger, it’s gone. The spotlight is on, and you must now perform.
But most importantly, talking to strangers, and especially sexually attractive strangers, comes with an unparalleled emotional high. When you finally meet an attractive stranger who reciprocates your advances, it will feel like nothing else. For a day or two, you will be on cloud nine.
To get this habit going, it’s important to start small; otherwise, it will be too intimidating for most people.
Here is a good progression:
- Week 1 & 2: Every time you leave the house, make eye contact with a stranger and smile at them.
- Week 2 & 3: Same as before, but also say “Hi.”
- Week 3 & 4: Walk up to at least one stranger a day and give them a compliment.
- If you are sexually interested, tell the other person, “Hey, I know it’s a bit unusual, but I just noticed you walking by and thought you looked really attractive. Just had to tell you really quick.”
- If you just want to make friends, compliment them on their attire. “Hey man, love these Air Jordans, they look awesome.”
- Week 5 & 6: Ask a follow-up question, to keep the conversation going, e.g., “You don’t sound like you are from around here. If I had to guess, I would say you are from X. Am I right?”
I know less than 3 percent of people reading this will go out and try this. But those few who do will never feel apathetic again. Talk to lots of strangers, and you are in for some crazy adventures.
9. Have an Adventure in Nature
It is almost impossible to feel dead inside if you spend a lot of time in nature. Nature is life.
On the other hand, if you spend little time in nature, you are more likely to feel muted and depressed.
I always noticed this about people who, by profession, have to spend a lot of time outside. Since I grew up in rural Germany, there were lots of these people around. Farmers, hunters, gardeners — I cannot recall any of them ever saying, “I feel dead inside.”
But my friends who work in offices? At some point, each of them felt burned out.
The obvious solution is to switch jobs from an indoor-centric to an outdoor-centric activity. For example, I knew someone who worked for an international IT consultancy, got fed up with it, and became a landscaper. She seemed much happier for it.
If you don’t want to change jobs, you need to at least counterbalance your indoor time with time spent outside.
The most important measure is to walk every day, even if it’s just half an hour. Each day after work, drive to your local park and get 2000–3000 steps in.
Another good option is to do all of your workouts outside, e.g., in your backyard; this works well with a minimalist bodyweight routine as with a yoga or a mobility routine.
If you can, instead of commuting to work, take your bike. During your lunch break, get take-out food and sit somewhere outside on a park bench. If there is a bit of grass, take your shoes off and walk around barefoot for a few minutes.
Plan for at least one outing per weekend. Drive to a forest and start exploring. Go for an extended hike with friends. Do a weekend camping trip.
Every extra minute you spend in nature will revitalize you and get you back in touch with your primal self. It will teach you how to feel alive again.