Stop Looking For a Magic Bullet For Your Goals

Have you heard of the term “magic bullet”? It refers to a powerful and easy solution to a difficult problem, i.e. that secret sauce. You see it in marketing claims:

  • “Earn $10,000/month with just X hours of work!”
  • “See how I gained XXXX subscribers in just X weeks!”
  • “Lose Xkg in 4 weeks!”

Yet, do magic bullets exist? Are there really easy solutions to our goals and pains? Not quite, and I’ll explain why.

Online Business

Let’s look at some common claims by gurus who run courses on how to start an online business:

  • “Look at how I made $XXXX by sending one email
  • “Build your 6-figure online business with just X hours of work per week”
  • “This ONE secret method helped me gain 20,000 visitors in ONE week
  • “Look at how I’m earning $XXXX while touring Thailand

While these gurus seem to suggest that it’s possible to achieve their results with a few easy steps, the reality is that it’s not true. Here’s why:

  1. “Look at how I made $XXXX by sending one email” — Earning money online is not from sending one email, but from the years that you spend building your audience and developing a relationship with them. When you have no audience, you have no sales to speak of. Even if you have an audience, it doesn’t mean that these people will believe what you say or buy from you. You need to build trust which takes time, and you need to show that you have expertise in what you’re teaching.
  2. “Build your 6-figure online business with just X hours of work per week” — How many people actually succeed online? Very few. 9 out of 10 startups fail[1], and this number is even higher for blogs. A survey of 1,000 bloggers revealed that 81% don’t even make $100 from blogging.[2] According to the survey, only 2% spend less than 2 hours a day blogging while making more than $150K a year. Having been in the industry for over 10 years, I can tell you that the actual figure is more like 0.01% today as the market is extremely saturated. Out of those who “succeed” in the sense of earning massive wealth, many simply make money from selling products on how to make money online. Meaning, getting rich by selling the idea of getting rich.
  3. “This ONE secret method helped me gain 20,000 visitors in ONE week” — It’s one thing to get traffic spikes. It’s another to get high traffic that sustains. Years of building an online platform has taught me that traffic spikes mean nothing when they don’t sustain. Incidentally, many of these blog sites that boast about their traffic growth never show the same stats 1, 3, or 12 months down the road.
  4. “Look at how I’m earning $XXXX while touring Thailand” — See my reply to #2. Interestingly, the people boasting about living the free and high life are usually trying to sell you some three-to-four figure course on how to achieve financial freedom by starting your online business. As I shared in #2, only a tiny percentage of folks ever achieve this outcome and many of these folks get rich by selling the idea of getting rich, which itself is like a ponzi scheme (only those at the top will walk away rich).

There’s also the question of whether the people in question have really achieved these results, or continue to achieve such results. Because the industry is unregulated, effectively anyone can make any sort of claims they want, and get away with it, while creating the illusion of success (which then drives sales and gets them more business).

Slimming, Weight Loss

In the slimming industry, magic bullet claims are common as well. In Singapore, you often see slimming ads everywhere. Some are even endorsed by celebrities, suggesting great credibility.

Yet, how many of these claims are true? I can’t speak for all of them, but when you look deeper, it’s clear that many of these claims are problematic.

Firstly, even though these slimming companies try to sell their machine therapy/treatments, their “treatments” inevitably require you to go on a very strict diet like not eating after Xpm, cutting out carbs, avoiding X and Y food, and so on. While it’s naive to think that weight loss can happen without addressing your diet, what role does their supposedly patented services (machine-aided therapy or whatever) actually play in the actual weight loss, beyond aesthetic firming? How much of the weight lost is really due to the treatment and how much is due to diet? You decide.

Secondly, a large weight loss in a very short amount of time is usually driven by water loss, not fat loss. The best example is when I did my 21-day fast in 2011: I didn’t eat anything for 21 days, yet my weight loss wasn’t the same throughout this period. Guess when I lost the most weight? If you say the first few days, you are right.

Graph: Fasting Weight Loss

During the first 5 days, I lost the most weight which is 4.8 kg (10.6 lbs). For the 2+ weeks after that, I lost my weight at a constant rate of 0.2–0.3kg (4.4–6.6lbs) a day, in line with my calorie deficit. My fast ended on Day 21. Read: My Fasting Series

Why such a large loss at first? That’s because my body was using my glycogen (stored food reserves) due to my calorie deficit, and consequently the water bonded to it. Every unit of glycogen is bonded to 3-4 units of water. If you have 1 kg of glycogen, you automatically lose 3-4 kg of water with that.[3] That’s 4-5kg of weight lost in total, which is huge. That’s why rapid losses at the beginning of any weight loss effort is very normal — it happens to everyone, and there’s nothing “magical” about that.

Thirdly and very importantly, most slimming treatments do not tackle the emotional reasons of weight gain. Reasons like emotional eating, poor stress coping mechanisms, and unresolved issues manifesting as excess physical weight. As a result, even when one does lose weight on these programs, many put it back on later, and in spades.

Suddenly, it’s clear that it’s not about how fast one loses weight, but how one loses and keeps it off. Without tackling the root causes, one can go through yo-go weight loss all their life and not get anywhere with their efforts.

Beauty Industry

Last but not least, let’s look at the beauty industry. An industry where flawless transformations and fast effects of skin care and hair care products are the norm, where flawless displays of beauty are everywhere.

But how much of this is true? First, there’s a big question of whether we should even pursue the beauty standards pushed onto us by the beauty industry and whether these standards reflect the true nature of beauty. (Answer: They don’t. Read: The Beauty of Self)

Secondly, what you see in ads is always touched up, including food advertisements. I shared the Dove Evolution commercial before which reveals the heavy makeup and retouching that happen for many beauty commercials today. No doubt beauty products have some benefits like making your hair smoother and hydrating your skin, but do they actually achieve the kind of effect seen in ads? You decide.

Once I interviewed an aesthetics doctor for my YouTube channel (the interview was unfortunately not published due to audio issues), who told me that many beauty clinics photoshop their before/after pictures to make their treatments seem impressive. An aesthetics doctor is someone who does aesthetics treatments like botox, fillers, and liposuction. Photoshopping of such treatment pics is clearly unethical. Because of that, he gets patients who have unrealistic expectations, wanting results that aren’t possible from the treatment alone. For sales-hungry doctors, they don’t care — they just take the patient’s money and do the treatment, and let him/her deal with the consequences later on.

This Yahoo! article shares some horror stories surrounding the beauty industry in Singapore which I recommend you check out. These can happen to you too if the beauty industry is unregulated in your country.


So what does it mean?

I believe in the 80/20 way, which is to focus on 20% high-impact actions to achieve maximum results in the shortest time. I apply the 80/20 principle in my life. I analyze and adopt strategies to grow my business effectively. I focus on relationships that give me the most emotional reward: my family, best friends, and you. I adopt eating habits that gives me the most health rewards: including drinking water or fresh juices over soda or sugared drinks, cutting down fried/oily foods, and eating a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet.

But magic bullets, which are easy ways out of a difficult problem or easy tickets to success, really don’t exist. At the end of the day you still need to put in the hard work and time to achieve your desired results. Until you do, change can never happen.

I find that when someone is looking for a magic bullet, especially with much urgency, it’s because they are at their wits’ end. That happens because they’ve tried whatever they could to achieve a goal but failed anyway.

If so, it helps to understand what’s going on. Why are you looking for a magic bullet? What went wrong? Why are you in such an urgent need to achieve this goal? Doing so will usually reveal fundamentals that aren’t there and a misplaced need to achieve the goal. For example:

  • Someone who is desperate to lose massive weight right away — the real issue could be lack of self-love and intense self-hate for her body.
  • Someone who wants to make big bucks right away with his new online business — the real issue could be a lack of financial planning and fear about his future.
  • Someone who wants to make a lot of money quickly, despite being in heavy debt — the real issue could be poor financial habits and an attachment to material wealth as a basis of self-worth.

In such cases, the real way forward is to address the root issues — not to distract yourself with magic bullets. For example, to work on loving yourself and having a positive body image rather than try to lose weight quickly through fasting or unhealthy slimming treatments. To plan and map out your finances, along with your future, rather than jump headfirst into starting a business and expecting quick success. To address negative money beliefs and build good money habits rather than take fluffy financial courses to earn quick money.

Real results and change take time. Just like nurturing a great relationship or cultivating a friendship, it takes time to find your way around a goal and achieve success.

And it’s okay. It’s okay to be slow. It’s okay to take your time with things. It’s okay to fall behind the curve sometimes. Rather than rush, subject yourself to obscene standards, and pursue certain results at the expense of everything, I rather you take your time to figure things out and work on being the best you, at your own pace and time, while not being complacent about things. There’s little sense in pushing for artificially forced results with little regard of the big picture, not unlike stretching a plant with your bare hands so that it can grow taller faster. It’s counteractive, self-damaging, and unproductive.

The faster you stop looking for a magic bullet to your goals, the faster you can be on your way to being your best you and live your highest life.

On the surface, it may look like you are taking a detour. Why slow down when you want to move fast, super fast? But trust me, what you are doing is in fact the fastest path to achieve your goals.

My articles will help. I’ve grouped my articles into key categories, so browse the section relevant to you now: be it improving your productivity, pursuing your passion, finding love, or something else.

By the way, the internet today is rife with ads and courses claiming to help you get rich, earn passive income, start an online business, lose weight, and [insert some magical goal]. Practice discernment. Most of these courses do little to help you succeed, and often end up leading you in circles. With online business courses, online success is much harder than it looks, and many trainers get rich from creating an illusion of success and teaching people how to get rich or start a business. I share more here: 5 Harsh Truths About Blogging (And 6 Tips to Start an Online Business) [Podcast] and Never Work Again Seminar (review).

The next time someone tries to pitch a magic bullet claim to you, remember: you know better than to jump onto it. Work on the fundamentals, and you will get to your goal in time. And this is, in reality, the fastest way to get to where you want.