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My Story

The day I gave up drinking was the day the Secret Service stormed my living room.

"Stormed" might be too strong a word, since they asked if they could come in first. They were polite about it, two senior agents and a younger guy in his twenties. Maybe I should have said no, but I was still a little buzzed from lunch. It was the Friday before Labor Day, and I had polished off a couple of beers with some co-workers before leaving work early and coming home. I only drank on special occasions, such as weekdays.

At the time, I was running a humor website that was known for doing outrageous stunts to get publicity and promotion. One of my favorite pranks was getting a credit card in a celebrity's name. A celebrity like, say, Barack Obama.

At the time I got the fake credit card with Barack Obama's name, he had not been officially nominated as a candidate for the 2008 Presidential election, but I could see it was likely he'd end up in the Oval Office. So I gleefully wrote up the story of my credit card prank, which brought in loads of traffic to our website. I had been taking bigger and bigger risks with my pranks, trying to outdo myself, and I thought pranking the President was pretty much the pinnacle.

I was right. The day after Obama received the official nomination, the Secret Service were on my doorstep. As they filed in, I led them to the living room, where two of the agents sat on the sofa. I sat on the loveseat. The senior agent stood in front of my fireplace, facing me, his arms folded. None of the movie clichés applied: they were not wearing earpieces or sunglasses. Also, they were in my living room, which I've never seen in a movie.

"You may not realize that the Secret Service not only protects Presidential candidates," explained the agent sitting on my couch, "but we also protect the nation's money supply. So by getting a credit card in Obama's name, you've put yourself in the crosshairs of what we do." He was in his mid- to late-40's, with a receding hairline and dark, penetrating eyes.

"Identity theft carries a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison," added the stocky agent in front of the fireplace, then looked around. "You've got a beautiful house here, a nice family." He paused. "It would be a shame to throw all that away."

I had been in some insane situations, but my heart was pumping alcohol-fueled adrenaline to my brain. Perhaps that explained the thought running through my mind, which was, I will not give them the credit card.

"We'd like the credit card," said the stocky agent, his arms still folded.

My voice was shaking. "I can't do that."

"Yeah? Why not?"

"Technically, the credit card belongs to the credit card company," I replied, citing a little-known legal loophole. "I can't give it to you without their permission."

"We'll call them," said the agent on the couch, dialing the credit card company on his cellphone. Apparently, they had anticipated this.

"One second," I said, and walked to my computer bag, shaky-legged, to get my voice recorder. If I was going to give up my precious credit card, at least I was going to record the conversation, so I could write about it on my website.

"What's that?" demanded the stocky one.

"I need to tell you that I will be recording this conversation," I answered, hitting the Record button.

They looked at each other, and with surprising swiftness rose to leave. "This interview is over," said the stocky one, as they stormed out the door and drove off.

I watched them until they turned the corner, then breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I calmly walked into the bathroom, and puked.



That night was one of the worst of my life. My wife, who had seen the whole thing from a neighbor's house, was furious that I hadn't just handed over the credit card. We were both terrified, having no idea whether the Secret Service would be back later in the night to search the house, or simply haul me off to jail.

"If they come back," she said, "you know what they'll find."

I had grown increasingly dependent on marijuana, relying on it as the source of my creativity and inspiration, even as it had led me to take wilder and wilder risks. Now I had a young family, the Secret Service was on my doorstep, and I wanted to hold onto the weed even more than the credit card.

"I can't get rid of that," I said. "You don't know what you're asking."

"You have to get rid of it," she insisted. "Either the drugs go, or I do."

Did she say that? In my head, she said that. Somehow I had the clarity to see that this was a moment of truth. If I continued with my drinking and drugs, it would ultimately be the end of my marriage, my family, and -- as the Secret Service agent said -- my home.

Inside, I was at war with myself. I wanted so desperately to be free of my addictions, yet I did not have the courage to give up these things I loved so much. I was furious with my wife, American Express, and the U.S. government. They put me in this position of hopelessness and despair. They were responsible!

I was nearly in tears when I finally snapped. "FINE!" I shouted. "If I'm throwing that away, then I'm also throwing away all the liquor!" It was the kind of all-or-nothing thinking that is common with alcoholics, but in this case it saved my life. I furiously grabbed bottles from cabinets, throwing them into boxes and loading them into the car.

That's how I found myself in an alley behind my local supermarket, throwing away a thousand dollars' worth of perfectly good liquor into a dumpster.

I can't explain how difficult this was. It was the Friday night of a long holiday weekend, and while everyone else was starting the partying, all I could think was, I will never have fun again. The thought was so painful that I had to redirect my mind, with great effort, from thinking about the long-term consequences of what I was doing.

I should really be giving this away to someone, my mind would think, as I tossed in champagne from my wedding, bottles of grappa bought in Italy, and French wines I had been saving for a special occasion (like Thursday). The temptation to keep a few bottles to "give to a friend" was overwhelming, but I kept redirecting my mind, just focusing on throwing in the next bottle, and the next bottle, until all that was left was the marijuana.

I got back in the car and drove around town for a while, trying to summon the courage. Think of all the good times we've had with this drug, my mind told me. Think of all the crazy, hilarious ideas it's given us. Think of facing life all alone, without its warm, comforting haze.

I finally pulled into an empty parking lot and gazed at a trashcan. Maybe if I could redirect my mind to the physical movement of throwing away the drugs, I could get through this. No long-term implications, just the muscle movement of tossing the bag into the trash.

One moment at a time, I walked step by step to the trash can. My mind tried to stop me, but I kept redirecting it to the next moment, the next moment, and the next. With an overwhelming pang of sadness and loss, I threw the drugs away, my precious lost to the fires of Mount Doom.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that technique of "redirecting the mind" was my first "mind hack." It was a technique I would use over and over again in the following months, as I struggled to stay sober. Over time, I developed a catalog of these mind hacks, slowly reprogramming my craving for mind-altering drugs with mind-altering mental habits.

Just as it took some time to really see the transformation of my mind, it took some complicated legal wrangling before I finally gave up Barack Obama's credit card. It seems crazy now that I didn't just hand it over immediately, but it shows how we can become blind to our own insane thought patterns. The agents sitting in my living room were just a symptom of my bad thinking; the real problem ran much deeper.

Now, I'm just incredibly grateful for that experience, because it not only changed my mind, it changed everything. I have come to have incredible respect and gratitude for the Secret Service. Never mind protecting the President: the way I see it, the Secret Service saved me.



Reprogramming My Mind

The first few months of sobriety were unbearable, and so was I. Every day was a roulette wheel of emotion: I could be furious, anxious, sulky, moody, or depressed, often simultaneously. One thought, however, slowly began to sprout a little bud of hope. What if there was a way to reprogram my mind?

Programming is in my blood. One of my earliest memories was my father taking me to visit the computer lab at the university where he worked. In my mind, the college's mainframe computer stood illuminated by a shaft of divine light, with a choir of angelic voices. In reality, it was probably fluorescent light, and the whirr of industrial air conditioning units. But the effect on me was no less profound: somehow, that moment implanted a little seedling of geek into my tender, eight-year-old uterus. Please don't ask me why I had a uterus.

My father approached the resident computer programmer, a heavyset man with a large, walrus-like mustache. "Ronald, this is John," my father introduced me.

"Hey." Ronald looked down at me, tape reels spinning in the background. (I might be mixing up some details of this story with a series of TV commercials for Control Data Institute.) "What can I do for you?"

"Can you create a punch card with John's name on it?" my father asked.

"Sure." Ronald handed me a card, a little larger than an index card, with small rectangular holes punched out. It seemed to glow in my hands, a cryptic piece of alien technology. It was mind-blowing to stand in that computer lab, among those massive, mysterious machines that required a swimming pool of coolant to keep them from overheating. I had the distinct feeling that in here was another world. I lost the punch card, but I'll never lose that memory.

When the cost of your own computer -- your very own computer! -- finally became affordable, I would pore over computer catalogs like earlier generations of kids would fantasize about Red Ryder BB Guns. I drooled over the latest machines with sexy names like "TRS-80" and "TI-99/4A," the pages of my catalogs stuck together with saliva and nerd sweat. I begged, cajoled, and badgered my parents, until they finally bought me the legendary Commodore 64, the computer that changed my life.

They didn't just buy me a computer, they let me keep it in my room. There I began programming with a vengeance. There wasn't much to do in my hometown, so I immersed myself in the secret language of computers, teaching myself the basics: flowcharts, algorithms, variables, loops. I was lucky enough to get in the first programming class taught at my middle school, and by the end of the semester, I was teaching the teachers.

Details are sketchy on when I lost my virginity, but I distinctly remember when I made my first computer hookup. I had just bought a modem for my Commodore 64, and I dialed into a friend's computer -- one of the few people in my town who also had a modem (or who knew what a modem was). At first, there was nothing but a blank screen. I waited, not knowing what to expect. Slowly, the following letters appeared across my screen.

> Can you see this?

With that, the back of my head exploded. Here was my friend, across town, typing into his computer and having it instantly appear in my room. It was one of those transformative moments -- my own version of Samuel Morse's first telegraph message, "What hath God wrought?"

At that moment, I realized THERE WAS A WAY OUT. Growing up in a small town, without much to do, I suddenly understood my modem was a portal into another world. I could communicate with other people, no matter where they were, in a strange digital world, which somehow existed alongside the physical world. But unlike the physical world, the digital world gave me new powers, and the strangest thing was that I had the power to master it.

After college, I landed a job at Ziff-Davis, the world's largest computer magazine publisher, just as the Digital Revolution hit. I remember the first time I sent an email, the first time I saw the Internet, the first time I published a web page. Each time there was a feeling of incomprehensible joy that the world is so much bigger and cooler than I imagined: a feeling that continues to grow and expand to this day.

Because I grew up viewing the world through this lens of world-expanding technology, when it came time to get sober, it seemed natural to view my mind as a kind of computer. It struck me that a lot of the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing were like Adobe products: powerful, but riddled with bugs.

Could I reprogram my mind? Could I hack into the source code and change the way my mind worked? Was there an algorithm for recovery? I began to look for "mind hacks," techniques to identify and reprogram my problem thinking. I scoured textbooks of psychology, neuroscience, and computer science. I immersed myself in the latest research. I collected techniques from the greatest minds in history, from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Nikola Tesla.

My goal was to create a formula, a collection of specific exercises -- things I could do and measure -- that would allow me to debug my problem thinking, then write powerful new code to rocket my life into exciting new orbits. As I practiced these mental exercises, day after day, I found that not only was I staying sober, but my mind was getting better. Like the world-expanding moments I had experienced with technology, my mind itself was expanding, and so was my life.

Seven years later, I come to you with a powerful message of hope. Not only have I become healthy, wealthy, and wise, but I have become friends with my own mind. I am happily married, a successful entrepreneur, surrounded by amazing friends. My life is rich, in every sense of that word, growing richer by the day. I want to share with you what I've found, so that together we can refine and perfect these techniques -- like improving software -- for the next generation of mind hackers.

You're about to learn powerful techniques that can help you accomplish anything you want, whether that's losing weight, overcoming addiction, starting a business, finding love, or building wealth. Your mind holds incredible untapped potential; get ready to learn how to unlock it.

Welcome to mind hacking.