A Proven Key to Turning Your Life Around

When your life is in a mess, what is the key to turning it around?

I thought about it when I read the story of Jon Shafer. Shafer is the lead designer of Civilization V, a video game that was released in 2010. The game was a huge success. But after the game was released, he decided to quit and start his own company. He started working on a game called At the Gates.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for him. He was diagnosed with adult ADHD that made it difficult for him to focus. He relied on medication for it but found himself needing a higher and higher dose. After working on the game for years, it was still far from finished.

Worse, he fell into depression. He decided to isolate himself from others. It went to a downward spiral from there. At one point, he felt he had nothing left. He had hit rock bottom.

Long story short, he eventually improved his situation. He made progress little by little. He regained his productivity and was able to finish the game after seven years.

What was it that turned his life around? What was the key?

As it turns out, the key is discipline.

Here is how he put it:

I knew that rebuilding my discipline was going to be the only way to truly dig myself out of this hole, and so I resolved to challenge myself, if only in the smallest ways…

I started with small things. I started waking up at a more regular time. I started spending a lot of my free time walking around and exploring the city…

These may seem simple, but doing them eventually changed his life. It matches what The Power of Habit called a keystone habit. A keystone habit is a positive habit that becomes the starting point of turning your life around. The habit could be simple, but the fact that you have started something positive in your life builds momentum. It’s contagious. It eventually spreads to other parts of your life.

If you want to change your life, don’t think about something complex. Instead, think about a simple positive action that you can do consistently. Being consistent is the key here. That’s why it’s better to start with something simple.

When you have built the discipline in one part of your life, it will spread to other parts of your life. The small win leads to bigger wins. Then one day you will notice that your life has changed.

Related Book Summary: The Power of Habit


  1. I think it’s a great write up. The life of Jon Shafer in this story is similar to mine in some ways> And how i wish i could walk out of it in such a less complex way as he did. Thank you Donald for bringing it up.

  2. Taking that first step at doing something different is always difficult, but it’s true that once you start rolling it’s almost impossible to stop.

  3. Very motivational article. I agree with this “If you want to change your life, don’t think about something complex. Instead, think about a simple positive action that you can do consistently.” No matter how bad is your situation there is always positive things you can do.

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