Day 20: Starting From Zero Technique

Today I want to go over a technique that I borrowed from a fantastic book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne. It is called the starting from zero technique, and it is incredibly awesome.

The purpose of this technique is to change your life from where it is now to where you want it to be.

We laid some groundwork for this over the past couple days, because finding your values and writing a mission statement are incredibly helpful steps in getting the most out of this technique.

A lot of times we fall into mental traps when we try to design our ideal lifestyle.

For example, you may think that you are not the type of person who quits his job and starts his own business.

Of course, just because you haven’t done it yet doesn’t mean you aren’t that type of person or that you can’t do it.

The starting from zero technique bypasses mental traps like this and allows you to more clearly see where you want to go in life and how to get there.


1. The first step is to mentally dissociate from your present life.

Imagine yourself free of all debts, responsibilities, work, social commitments, routine, possessions, or family.

In other words, start from zero.

It is important not to think about how you will remove these commitments, but rather just envision yourself without any.

You are starting with a clean slate, and you can freely choose where you want to go from there. There is no one and nothing to restrict you at this point.


2. Ask yourself, “what would I do in this situation?”

Now, with this totally blank slate, what do you do? Where would you live? Who would you want to see? How would you want to make a living? What material possessions would you want? What type of romantic involvements would you like? What would you do that you have been prevented from doing in the past due to your obligations?

Browne gives one important restriction for your dreams: you cannot make someone else be what you want them to be.

Instead of the useless dream that your spouse is suddenly a model, you can dream that you will pursue a spouse that is a model.

This is actually productive. There are no restrictions to prevent you from trying anything you want, but don’t expect others to act in contradiction to their own natures.

The result of this section should be similar to the grand vision you created in Day 18. But instead of just taking your answer from that day, meditate on it some more.

Focus especially on the aspects that are a part of your present life.

If you truly enjoy those parts, include them. But don’t include them because you feel you have to.

Remember, this time, you are starting from zero. And don’t forget to write this all down.


3. What is your present life like?

This step is fairly self-explanatory.

How do you actually spend your time? Where does your money go? Who do you associate with?

List all these activities.


4. Cross off everything in your present life that doesn’t appear in your dream life.

Again, this is self-explanatory.

If you are currently doing something that isn’t a part of your ideal life, you should stop doing it.

Don’t worry about how you will eliminate these things from your life…yet. We’ll get to that.

For now, just acknowledge all the excess things you are doing that are not a part of your ideal lifestyle.


5. What do you need to make your dream life possible?

How much would it cost to achieve your new imagined life?

Estimate the amount of time it will take for you to train to be able to do your ideal profession, the money it will cost to move where you want to live, how much time you would need to devote towards your hobbies, etc.

For right now, don’t worry about how you will actually find the time or acquire the resources necessary for this. Only consider what needs to happen to make it possible.


6. What are your present assets and liabilities?

Now we are looking not at the ideal life but at the current one you are living right now.

Go through all of your assets. What is your income? How much are your house, car, investments, appliances, etc. worth?

Look at your liabilities. How much money do you owe? Do you have family support or leases that you must pay? Be thorough.

In addition to monetary responsibilities, do you have social responsibilities? Do you have children or a spouse?

These types of obligations are tougher to quantify, but there is always some price (in money or time) you can pay to free yourself of them, should you decide they are not a part of your ideal life.

Now you can take your assets minus your liabilities and calculate a kind of net worth.


7. Make changes.

This is the final step!

Sell off or eliminate assets that aren’t a part of your dream life.

Stop doing the activities that are not in your dream life and simply eat up time.

Try to pay off your liabilities using your cash proceeds from selling off assets.

Start financing the parts of your dream life that need money, and start spending your time doing the things you want to do.


It likely will take some time and effort before you have gotten to your ideal life, but it is absolutely doable.

Anything you want in this dream life can be acquired; it is simply a matter of figuring out what you want, what it costs to get it, and then paying that price.

You will probably have a transition period where you will need to take temporary measures (say, a job to finance the things you want) in order to bring about the ideal life.

This is fine, so long as you don’t let it become permanent.

You can also use the starting from zero technique on specific things, like your job or relationships to determine exactly what you want from more specific areas of your life.

This can be very helpful to do on aspects of your present situation that you deemed worthy of keeping in your dream life. It helps you stay honest with yourself about what you want, instead of falling back into mental traps.

Good luck with this technique! It can have life-changing impact, so do it honestly.

Continue on to Day 21: Fear-Setting.

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  1. I like the article generally, but I expect many people would take issue with this particular part:

    “Do you have children or a spouse? These types of obligations are tougher to quantify, but there is always some price (in money or time) you can pay to free yourself of them, should you decide they are not a part of your ideal life.”

    These days, divorce has become more acceptable than some decades ago. Still, how often is it really the best choice? And becoming free of your kids?

    I’d be interested in other reader comments.

  2. Mikey D says:

    I figured that would be somewhat controversial. But I think you pretty much deal with the controversy yourself when you ask “how often is it really the best choice?”

    I would guess that the vast majority of people would not find that to be the best choice. Most people love their children and wouldn’t cut them off without a good reason.

    An example of what I’m talking about here can be taken from the movie Step Brothers, in which single parents are raising 40 year old waste of life children who haven’t left home and don’t have jobs or an intention of finding them. In this case, the child is irresponsible and a burden, whether loved or not. The parent may decide they want to get them out, by paying a price in money or time.


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