Eliminating fear with bio-hacking

TEA junior versus Karate world champion Wayne Otto

I’ve been writing this blog for over 4 years now. When I go back and read the earlier articles, I can see that the writing has evolved over time.

Sure, some things never change…I still find my own jokes funny even if no one else does. But I can see that the writing has changed in one respect: it shows less fear.

As time passed I’ve touched on more controversial subjects…despite the best efforts of The Outrage Brigade to tell The Escape Artist what he can and can’t write.

Financial independence touches on all aspects of life and that includes jobs, relationships, feminism, not being a doormat etc etc. Getting that stuff right will make / save you more than any amount of coupon-clipping or credit card rewards.

The Escape Artist is, at heart, a mild-mannered guy and doesn’t want to create unnecessary controversy. Its just that we’ve been fed such a crock of horseshit about money and how the world works. And very few people seem willing to say it how it is…so if no one else is gonna call out this stuff, then I will.

If you believe that spending = happiness, that modern life has to be super-expensive and that its impossible for working people to accumulate wealth, then you’ll give up.  But once you realise that money can be used for buying more freedom, your life will get better. AND EVERYONE CAN GET BETTER WITH MONEY.

This message seems to have caused a flurry of press interest this week. The Escape Artist was featured in The Times alongside some Serious Journalism on Brexit, Syria etc. Having read it in the newspaper, my Mum now believes that FI might actually be a thing and I might not just be unemployed and making this shit up.


The media does not just report The News, it makes The News. And the coverage in The Times seemed to trigger a mini FIRE storm in the teacup that is the British media.

We then had the Daily Mail article and its comments section. They say you haven’t made it until you’ve got some haters. If that’s true, then it looks like I’m doing pretty well. Thank you to all those Daily Mail readers that took time out of their busy schedules to comment 😉


The Escape Artist was even invited onto the sofa with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning show which is apparently some sort of daytime TV show for people without jobs.

Moving on to financial matters, in recent years I’ve stopped worrying about running out of money. No doubt that’s partly down to a benign stock market with low volatility and positive returns…at least for now (we know that there’s a major market crash coming).

The fact that I’ve been FI for 5 years means that sequence of returns risk is becoming less of an issue as time goes by. That helps. As do some other changes that I’ve made. For example, I’ve got rid of my old habit of compulsively checking my portfolio, a fear based behaviour.

But the bit that I find most interesting of all…and the subject of this week’s article…is the subject of bio-hacking.  Or, to put that in a more down to earth way, how changes in your physical behaviours translate into changes in your emotional state.

If you’ve seen Amy Cuddy’s viral TED talk, you’ll know the idea that something as small as a change in posture can help change your mood.  Cuddy’s idea is that posture influences mood (rather than the other way as traditionally assumed). So the conventional direction of causation is reversed from:

Good mood => smile, good posture etc


Good posture, smile => good mood

Or to put it more accurately, we have 2 way causation where both effects can operate at the same time, reinforcing each other.

This is all fine as far as it goes but let’s be honest…just standing up straight / holding your arms up is only gonna do so much.  If we want results, we need to do more than just that.

Life is a multi-variate game.  What goes into determining our moods? Everything…our relationships, our jobs, the weather, our money worries (or not) and last, and definitely not least, our health.

And when I say health I don’t just mean the absence of illness. I mean your physical fitness, your emotional state, your hormonal balance…your well-being.  In short, your mojo.  This stuff matters…a lot. If you can’t run 5k or cycle 10 miles or do 25 press ups then something has gone very wrong in your life…no matter how much is in your bank account.  If you can’t read an article without puking up a complaint, again something has gone wrong in your life..

In my first year of Financial Independence (what I call the decompression period) the biggest physical change was just getting more sleep.  When I was working, I went for many years on much less than 8 hours of sleep thanks to a mixture of long hours, commuting, children etc. Getting a full nights sleep makes a big difference.

More recently, the biggest physical change for me has been weight training (and Body Combat).

This has changed me physically. What’s surprising is how its changed the way I think and feel, the way I perceive risk in the world.

As I’ve said before, weight training is one of the greatest “hacks” for eliminating depression, anxiety and fear.  When you lift, you stop fretting.

If you are obsessing about stock market risk, you may be looking in the wrong place.  For one thing, there’s no point in worrying about stuff you can’t control. Start with what you can control.

And maybe the underlying cause of your anxiety is bio-chemical? If you’re overweight, stop worrying about the stock market and start changing your diet.  You are what you eat.  That’s not just a slogan.  If you eat junky processed carbs (bread, chips, noodles, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cake etc) you’ll feel like junk.

The brain and the body form a single organic system.  I know from my time in The Prison Camp that many knowledge workers come to think of their body as no more than a mobility scooter for their brain. Its like they imagine themselves as a computer where all the smart stuff happens in the central processing unit (ie the brain).  As if arms and legs are just peripheral mechanical devices a bit like a printer or a mouse.

But that’s not how the human body works.  We are an integrated whole.  Your body is not just something that moves the brain around. The state of your body has a big influence on how your brain operates, how you feel and how you experience life.

Lawyers seem to be the worst but doctors, accountants, bankers, engineers etc are all guilty of this. They come to think of themselves as purely rational, intellectual creatures. They let their physical fitness slide.  They live off corporate sandwiches and other processed carbs…with caffeine to wind up in the morning and alcohol to wind down in the evening.

And their world slowly closes in on them. There is something about The Prison Camp that wears down people. Many guys become grey men as they get older and I’m not just talking about hair colour. I’m talking about becoming fearful and lacking in mojo.

This is anything but natural. Its NOT an inevitable consequence of ageing. You can be ripped in your 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. You can be brave and take intelligent risks all your life…but you have to get the physical side right.

When I see people anguishing over one of those hand-wringing Guardian articles about the transgender crisis or the fatshaming crisis or the avocado toast crisis, I can’t help thinking that they’d feel much better if they got more sleep and lifted some weights.

Scott Adams has a good summary of this in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Normally when you feel unhappy, you blame your mood on whatever your environment is serving up to you. It’s easy to blame your environment because you can interpret everything as bad news or potentially bad news. Just add pessimism or cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air…

I’m here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet and exercise

No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day. You’d feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible.

Sadly, you don’t make big money from telling people to get some more sleep and get a bike. Which is a shame because exercise is a more effective health intervention over time than any anti-depressant drug.  This is ironic given how many billions of £ / $ / € are spent on anti-depressants.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. But before turning to anti-depressants, its worth experimenting with:

1) Getting more sleep
2) Lifting weights
3) Cutting out alcohol
4) Riding a bike
5) Walking in nature (eg a forest, beach, mountain)
6) Cutting out sugar and all processed carbs
7) Vitamin D supplements (or just get out in the sunshine)
8) Eliminating ALL news and social media
9) Joining a martial arts club
10) Joining a discussion / support group

TL, DR: The state of your body affects how you think and feel. Diet and exercise changes that.

Sceptical? Turn off the TV and try it for yourself!

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  1. In my industry you can often tell how long someone has been in the comlany by how much more weight they have compared to the photo id you wear around your neck (prison camp style).
    I reckon about 1 kg per 18 months on average.
    At least the rations are generous.

  2. Congrats on making it to the mainstream! (and on the haters, I guess?)

    I see a lot of people making that switch. The moment they see FI as a real possiblity, they start to be more concscious about their health. It’s as if we think that money is our big limitation for everything, including being healthy (I have to work long hours, I don’t have time to eat proper food, etc.). Financial independence removes your big excuse so you can’t hide anymore.

  3. Yes, congrats on hitting the mainstream media with your FIRE journey. I was really surprised to see all the negative comments in the DM but the story will hopefully provide a nudge for those who are receptive to the concept.

    1. Negative comments in Daily Wail = You must be doing something right

  4. BuyInTheDip · · Reply

    Great post again TEA. For any FIers that are interested in dieting here is a great diet plan written by a computer engineer (and a bloody good one at that). Goes into the detailed science and psychology of it http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/e4/

  5. Congrats on making it to the mainstream Barney and getting your pic plastered everywhere!

    What happened with this morning – were you on the show?

    1. yes – were you on the show? link or it didn’t happen. 🙂

    2. MZY, Ricky…I said that I was invited to go on the show. Which I was. And let the record show that I said yes!

      But I didn’t say that I ended up going onto the show…it would appear they changed their mind for some reason!

      1. Ah, you never quite made it to the couch. Next time perhaps!

      2. ah mate, what a shame. I’m sure you’ll get another chance.

  6. Spot on as usual Barney, I am in the prison camp at present but hoping to break free soon. Started running again 2 years ago at the age of 53 after a 20 year break, lost 2 stone, saved a load of money by changing my diet, no more snacks on the go, alcohol consumption down and am getting back to the times I achieved 20 years ago. I ran the Edinburgh Marathon in May in 3h 36mins and got my mojo back, have never felt as fit as I do now, mind as well as body. Looking forward to the October meet up (will be my first one) train tickets booked from Norwich, happy to bore sorry enthuse anyone who wants to listen about the physical and mental benefits of running. PS Can someone make sure I get the last train back to Norwich 🙂

  7. Many guys become grey men as they get older and I’m not talking about hair colour. I’m talking about becoming fearful and lacking in mojo.

    Man, so true. I’m FI and part time now at my “prison camp” and when I look at some of the guys who are younger than me, they’re train wrecks. Fat, grey, waddling down the hall. Can’t walk up a flight of stairs without sweating profusely.

    And when they find out I’m actually older than they are they’re left in a state of disbelief. “You’re HOW old?”

    I simply joke with them and tell them it’s because I drink good beer and use sunscreen. They don’t need to know that I run and cycle 150 miles a week religiously because then they’ll just either hate me or think I’m crazy. Sad but true.

    1. Wow, are sure we don’t work at the same place, I was walking down the road with a fellow prison mate, someone I know saw us and thought he was my dad, he’s 5 years younger than me!! Getting into FIRE and fitness certainly seem to go together. Perhaps the next meet up should be for a run or a bike ride lol.

  8. Julie Calvert · · Reply

    Great to see you’ve reached celebrity status!

  9. Don’t leave us hanging fella – what happened on the This Morning piece???!!!

  10. Yeah….. we’re gonna need to see that “This Morning” piece…..

    1. Jay, Anita…see my answer to Ricky above!

      1. What a real shame. I’ve have loved to have seen you sat there, on national live TV, able to put across your (our) case without having to go through a message-distorting journo. I suspect it’s just a matter of time before it happens, and you’ll do a great job of it, I’m sure, all power to you!

        We’re off to Paris for a few days after next weekend’s Nottingham half marathon, then a couple more weeks in France, then a week in Cornwall with mates, then Scotland for a couple of weeks, back home for Xmas and NYE then, if we fancy, 2 or 3 months in Sri Lanka to avoid the British winter. We’re about to publish another book, and I’m booked onto the Zermatt 2019 ultra marathon in July, so busy getting in shape for 29 miles uphill for charity. Deprived we are, living like paupers, sat about watching daytime TV, wasting away waiting for death etc etc. 🙂

        Take it easy fella, love to your family, Jay

  11. Brian Davis, SparkRental · · Reply

    Exercise is my wonder drug. It’s the closest thing there is to a panacea.
    Did you ever read Presence by Amy Cuddy? Great follow up to her TED Talk, a quick but actionable read. Includes some fascinating research on bio-psycho feedback loops.

    1. Not yet, but thank you for the recommendation

  12. arcyallen · · Reply

    TEA, congrats on stopping giving a shit about dumb things people say. I’m currently in a semi-argument on Facebook about whether or not people can control if they’re overweight. I. Can’t. Believe. The arguments I’m hearing! I’m sure I’d be healthier if I just walked away…

    Meantime in the FIRE community, we’re all pretty comfortable in our “belief” that we are what we are because we did what we did. Zealots, we are.

    If I’m not in control of myself, who the hell is?

    1. TEA has a great joke about people being wrong on the internet he posts sometimes.

  13. Hi Barney, I want to say thank you for giving me the kick in the arse I needed to take exercising more seriously. I’ve been enjoying it, but more importantly, my perspective is much more positive towards it.

    I don’t want to be negative, but I’d be wary about Amy Cuddy’s research. She’s not been able to replicate that power poses affect your biochemistry. The jury is still out on whether it improves self-perceptions of power. That all said, the way she was treated by lots of ‘academia’ was disgraceful.

    None of that detracts from your points though, which are, as ever, on point (especially mobility scooters for the brain – close to home).

    Thanks again.

    1. Cheers YFG…I agree that power poses are not enough…you’ve gotta lift / cycle / run

  14. What a great read that hit lots of nails on the head. I would love to come to the meet-up but prior arrangements have got in the way. Hopefully next time. I’m not in the FIRE club yet but thanks to a generous transfer value (breaking the lifetime allowance) on my DB pension from my 16 years at a high-street bank I am about to pull the trigger and give up “proper” work. I am writing this in Banff in the Canadian Rockies, returning to work on Monday… If I resign on the day I get back my 3 months’ notice takes me to my 55th birthday and Christmas. Perfect timing! Getting fitter is on the list of things to focus on.

  15. I’ve been reading those articles (and particularly the comments) with much amusement and not a little eye-rolling. Other than a few comments on the Telegraph article, the majority (and indeed the articles themselves) seem to have been overwhelmingly negative. Most, interestingly enough, have been about the irredeemable damage done to kids by not having the latest gadgets, expensive holidays and every whim satisfied immediately by their adoring parents. Goodness, how awful – how DID previous generations survive with no phones and only a week at Butlin’s to look forward to?

    Indeed, such comments seem to bear out what a number of early FIRE proponents have said many times – very, very few people have the mindset for FIRE. Indeed, the majority seem to be actively outraged at the very notion. I was also struck by how many people seem to have read (or at least understood) NOTHING about how the money is invested, denouncing all interest rates quoted in the articles as fantasy because cash ISAs and ordinary bank accounts don’t return the same. This level of financial illiteracy goes a long way to explaining the levels of debt in the UK, and the fact that the majority see themselves as working till they drop (or at state pension age, which at the rate it’s going might end up being the same thing!). But then, someone has to buy those gadgets and keep the stock market going – we can’t have everyone being FIRE!

  16. FI Warrior · · Reply

    ‘I still find my own jokes funny even if no one else does’ Hahaha, my family have given me grief about this all through my life and I can still only be contacted about it @ http://www.doangivafk.com.

    My particular favourite still, with the various doubters, is listening patiently to some expert boor explaining slowly how and why FI/RE is not possible.

    A lot of people have had a hard life through no fault of their own and I’m genuinely sorry for them, but you see so many others bleating about their situation, while surrounded by a small flock of kids for example. This is while according to the circumstances they’ve just described, they clearly can’t afford even one; but god forbid they should recognise their own responsibility for that. Often it’s not down to fecklessness either, given that the path they’ve chosen (albeit maybe subconsiously) is actually more painful, so some other psychological issue must be in play there.

  17. FI Warrior · · Reply

    @TEA, Update: Well, it’s not just my little opinion, a million of your indignant fellow-citizens jostled in the peanut gallery section over at The Daily Bigot to expose your claims as too good to be true. (my generously polite interpretation of the reactions)

    Even if you were a sensitive sort, it’s hard to take the vitriol seriously when said armchair experts can’t even cope with rudimentary spelling and grammar. Irony too seems to escape them, given they supposedly have no time to waste because they work so hard just to cover bills, yet can put in quite a bit of effort commenting on a tabloid article.

    All-in-all quite a reassurance that even just the FI aspect wont go mainstream any time soon; I wouldn’t want the attention of the Treasury focusing generally on investments, BTL was taken out that way. A particularly amusing complaint against you, repeatedly, was ”Wot, no treats for t’kids?” as a sort of proof of evil intent. When I grew up, ‘treats’ were earned and I don’t feel hard done by, it taught independence and resilience, priceless lifeskills and no obesity as an added bonus.

    1. Hi FI warrior….apparently there’s a line in the 1982 classic horror film “Poltergeist” that goes something like: “Don’t go into the light, don’t look at the light”….

      …well, that’s my policy with online newspaper comments 🙂

      1. FI Warrior · · Reply

        I know it’s an insult to intelligence to read general comments where anyone can come and have a go if they think they’re thick enough, but Sunday morning, coffee, waking up, it’s just so funny it sets your mood to ‘wry smile’ for the day. So please forgive my indulgence and while I’m on a roll here, I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘an accountant’ being somehow used abusively like that before, which also made me laugh; maybe even dweeby scientists have hope of being cast as an anti-hero 🙂

        1. Dude…I can literally kill a man stone dead with my bic biro and casio calculator…just like that

  18. FI Warrior · · Reply

    Pffft, that’s nothing, picture the scene: seminar presentation in a dismal grey soviet-brutalist-style educational architectural monstrosity, another anonymous lecture theater, slide after slide of inane information. No natural light, let alone fresh air, consistent monotone devoid of charisma, wearing them all down in the audience, most only present because they were trapped by the doors closing before they could get away with the free but tasteless baguettes the room was baited with. You watch the light steadily fading in their eyes as they lose hope, reduced to following the red dot of your pointer, an interpretative dance of pendantry across the wall. This is the moment, the spring in their necks goes as they try to stay upright, desperately feigning being awake, in their little meeting-room chairs, but they are powerless to resist, because you are The Narcoleptor and you have worn them down, slowly their eyes glaze over, it is finished.

  19. Very interesting as always. I’m just curious: how far did you cut back on alcohol following your succesful one month alcohol-free experiment? Do you still allow yourself a drink?

    1. Does The Pope wear a pointy hat?….Yes!

  20. […] of articles about the FIRE movement in the news this week! TheEscapeArtist was featured in The Times, which seemed to kick it all […]

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