The unhealthiest phase of my life was between the ages of 20 and 25. I smoked a pack a day, ate terrible food most of the time, went to bed after midnight every night and got up just in time to shit and shave for work. Yes, I was that guy – the last one to stumble in the office door.
As a result, I packed on a ton of weight, lost any shred of cardio fitness that I had, and developed insomnia.
As above, so below.
I still kicked ass at my job, although it isn’t a good look to arrive at the office every day an hour after everyone else, looking like you were on the receiving end of a mugging. Maybe I could be CEO if I had integrated better habits earlier – who knows?
Of course, I haven’t fixed it all yet. When you screw your body up through years of bad habits, it isn’t going to be fixed overnight. It’s a process of replacing old, bad habits with new, beneficial ones. It is the experience of this process I am sharing with you in this post.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
The size of the decision doesn’t matter
We all know that where we are today is a result of all of the decisions that we have made up until this point.
People hate taking responsibility for their own situations, so many instinctively recoil from this concept. After all, it is much easier to blame other people, circumstances, luck, absence of luck, the government, or the tarot reading that you paid too much for in 1997 for your personal situation. Anything but yourself, because you helicopter-parent your infantilized ego to avoid it being hurt.
But it’s easy to see this concept is true with one-off decisions.
“I decided to go to law school for 6 years, and therefore, I am now a lawyer.”
“I decided to go to that party and met that girl and now I am married.”
“I decided not to sell my house 2 years ago, and now it’s tripled in value.”
Of course, these things matter, but the decisions that you make on a day-to-day basis matter just as much, if not more, than the one-off decisions.
If you were to make a conscious decision to walk every day, you would be in much better health than if you sat in front of the TV. This is just common sense.
Sure, there isn’t much you can do if you contract influenza because the stranger next to you sneezes on a train. That’s just bad luck. But if you can take control of the things that are within your realm of influence, you will insure yourself massively against chance.
Luck is such an insignificant part of where you are today, and it is always overestimated. It is so much easier to say that the reason you work the McDonalds drive thru while your brother is a big-time lawyer is because he happened to be offered a scholarship that you weren’t.
“He was just in the right place at the right time.”
That’s the easy answer, but it’s an excuse. Not to say that a scholarship wouldn’t be a massive help, but it is unlikely to be the only, or even the primary reason that your lives 10 years on are so different.
These whims of fortune affect your life to an extent, but what matters far more is the attrition over time. I’ve spoken before about the power of compound interest in economics. The idea of compounding gains doesn’t just apply to your wallet though – the small decisions that you make each day contribute to your overall situation in the future.
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Whether you have a milkshake or a glass of water may not seem like much today. And it isn’t – if you add up the calories in a milkshake and convert them to pounds, and then figure out how much weight it will make you gain through fat, the number is negligible.
But if you have a milkshake every day, those calories compound, just like interest. What was a small number as a one-off occurrence becomes a significant number when multiplied by 365 days in a year, or 2190 days if you do something like that for 6 years.
That’s a habit. A small ritual that you consistently repeat has a greater impact than a grand act that you pull off in the short term. Don’t believe me? Try following a -500 calorie diet for a month vs just not eating for 3 days and see which nets a better result. Actually, don’t do that in case you collapse and decide to sue me. Trust me, the former is going to be the winner.
The best part is you don’t even need motivation. Just start doing the thing, without thinking. In fact, thinking can be your biggest obstacle, as you will begin to rationalize why you don’t need to make the change today.
Where you would usually grab a milkshake, have a bottle of water. It won’t be fun in the beginning, but before the end of the week, you should be starting to settle into your new habit. Then you can replace the water with a certified-organic kale and vegan sawdust shake…
…or just stick with water like a normal person.
If you can just commit to 3 days and achieve it, you can then commit to 3 weeks and achieve it, then commit to 3 months. This is a method that Elliott Hulse shares that works really well. By the time you have made it to day 3 of replacing your bad habit with a better one, you will be ready to commit to 3 weeks. Once you have done 3 weeks, 3 months seem achievable and it is easier to commit to. Once you have been in your new habit for 3 months, you will be a different person, and are unlikely to even crave the old habit.
I’ve used this approach effectively to quit smoking – one of the strongest physical and psychological substance dependencies that there is, by replacing it with vaping. I then replaced my high-nicotine juice with medium-nicotine juice, and then low. The stuff that I vape now is almost nicotine-free.
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Now, if I had switched straight from smoking a pack a day to vaping really low-nic juice, I would have given up and switched back to smoking before the week was out. The change would have been too drastic to prevent a relapse to cancer sticks. But taking small, incremental steps that I didn’t even need to think about made a huge change over time very achievable.
Look at yourself honestly and see what you can improve today, and do it!