The Power of Less: Changing Behavior with Leo Babauta

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Simple is beautiful (Photo: Razzziel)

To learn a skill, I often look — not for the best in the world — but for people who’ve made the greatest progress in the shortest period of time.

Thus, to gain muscle mass, for example, I would rather examine the training and diet log of someone who went from 145 – 185 lbs. in 1-2 months rather than consult with a 300-lb. professional who has been 300 lbs. for a decade. This also relates to the “explicit vs. implicit” (preach vs. practice) issues many top performers face when they can’t articulate an unconscious competence. I faced this when I asked lifelong swimmers for technical advice.

Leo Babauta has been a incredible model for me in the world of blogging.

His blog, Zen Habits, went from 1 reader — his wife — to being one of the Technorati top-100 blogs in the world in less than 12 months. Leo, who lives in Guam (how cool is that?), has built his audience by deconstructing his offline behavior as much as his online behavior…

In the last two years, he has:

- Quit smoking (on Nov. 18, 2005).
– Lost 40 pounds.
– Gone from a non-runner to completing several marathons and triathlons.
– Become a vegetarian.
– Tripled his income.
– Written a novel and a non-fiction book.
– Eliminated his debt.

Oh, and those children people like to use as justifications for inaction? No more excuses. Leo has six kids.

To illustrate a few of Leo’s principles for changing behavior, I am pleased to offer several exclusive excerpts from Leo’s new book, The Power of Less.

It is a fast read and a good reminder that — in a world where people tend to focus on the latest Firefox extensions and gizmos — simple basic habits are the force multiplier, not new applications. I added bolding to some parts I think are particularly important, as well as bracketed text [ ] for my comments.

The Power of Less

From Chapter 5: Create New Habits and The Power of Less Challenge

The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by applying the Power of Less: focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time, so that you’ll be able to focus all your energy on creating that one habit.

The tool that you’ll use to form each habit is an extremely powerful one: the Power of Less Challenge, a 30-day challenge that has proven very effective in forming habits for thousands of readers of my Zen Habits blog.

Here’s how it works:

1. Select one habit for the Challenge. Only one habit per month. You can choose any habit — whatever you think will have the biggest impact on your life.

[Tim: This is also supported by research done by BJ Fogg of Stanford University. Want to teach 60-year olds to use an SMS program to help them quit smoking? It won't work. Those are two new behaviors. Choose one behavioral modification at a time.]

2. Write down your plan. You will need to specifically state what your goal will be each day, when you’ll do it, what your “trigger” will be (the event that will immediately precede the habit that’s already a part of your routine — such as exercising right after you brush your teeth), who you will report to (see below).

3. Post your goal publicly. Tell as many people as possible that you are trying to form your new habit. I suggest an online forum, but you could email it to coworkers and family and friends or otherwise get the word out to a large group.

4. Report on your progress daily. Each day, tell the same group of people whether or not you succeeded at your goal.

The Rules

There are only a few rules you need to follow to make this Challenge a success. If you follow these rules, it would be hard for you not to form a new habit by the end of the 30 days.

* Do only one habit at a time. Do not break this rule, because I assure you that if you do multiple habits at once, you will be much less likely to succeed. Trust me — I’ve tried both ways many times, and in my experience there is 100% failure for forming multiple habits at once, and a 50-80% success if you do just one habit at a time — depending on whether you follow the rest of these rules.

* Choose an easy goal. Don’t decide to do something really hard, at least for now. Later, when you’re good at habit changes, you can choose something harder. But for now, do something you know you can do every day. In fact, choose something easier than you think you can do every day. If you think you can exercise for 30 minutes a day, choose 10 minutes — making it super easy is one of the surest ways to ensure you’ll succeed.

* Choose something measurable. You should be able to say, definitively, whether you were successful or not today. If you choose exercise, set a number of minutes or something similar (20 minutes of exercise daily, for example). Whatever your goal, have a measurement.

* Be consistent. You want to do your habit change at the same time every day, if possible. If you’re going to exercise, do it at 7 a.m. (or 6 p.m.) every day, for example. This makes it more likely to become a habit.

* Report daily. You could check in every 2 or 3 days, but you’ll be more likely to succeed if you report daily. This has been proven over and over again in the Challenges.

* Keep a positive attitude! Expect setbacks now and then, but just note them and move on. No embarrassment in this challenge.

12 Key Habits to Start With

You can choose any habits in this book that you think will help you most, at work and in the rest of your life. But if I had to recommend 12 habits to start with (one each month for a year), these are the 12 I think could make the most difference in the lives of the average person (more on each habit in later chapters):

1. Set your 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks) each morning.
2. Single-task. When you work on a task, don’t switch to other tasks.
3. Process your inbox to empty.
4. Check email just twice a day.
5. Exercise 5-10 minutes a day.
6. Work while disconnected, with no distractions.
7. Follow a morning routine.
8. Eat more fruits and veggies every day.
[Tim: Here is the "slow-carb" breakfast I use to start my morning routine]
9. Keep your desk decluttered.
10. Say no to commitments and requests that aren’t on your Short List (See Chapter 16, on the Simple Life).
11. Declutter your house for 15 minutes a day.
12. Stick to a 5-sentence limit for emails.

On Starting Small

Tim: Leo advocates, as I do, that you use smaller behavioral changes as a lever for major behavioral changes. In other words, start smart to seed the right habit before you aim to maximize output. In the beginning the habit is more important than the result.

Here are four good examples of “downsizing” behavioral changes, taken from pg. 42 of The Power of Less:

* Exercise: Start with 5-10 minutes a day, instead of 30.
* Waking early: Start by waking 15 minutes earlier, instead of an hour or two.
* Productivity: Start by trying to focus on the task at hand for 5-10 minutes at a time.
* Decluttering: Start with just one drawer, instead of trying to declutter your entire office or home.

Here are a few other segments I highlighted in my own notes for The Power of Less:

p. 51 Focusing on completion vs. organizing and filing
p. 62 Don’t schedule appointments (Tim: much like Arnold Schwarzenegger)
p. 80 “What’s the worst that will happen if I delete this?”
p. 99 Reducing commitments
p. 119 Decluttering the desk
p. 128 Designate a home for everything:

Designate a home for everything, and be fanatic. When you find stuff on flat surfaces, or draping over a chair, it might be because you don’t have a designated spot for that kind of thing. If you don’t, designate a spot for it immediately. If stuff doesn’t have a home in your home, you need to get rid of it, or it will forever wander around the house.

Remember: productivity shouldn’t be complicated.

Putting a good tool on top of a bad habit (process) just multiplies garbage outputs. Forget the latest and greatest technologies and go back to basics. Routines and rules, not gizmos and tools.

Posted on: January 7, 2009.

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172 comments on “The Power of Less: Changing Behavior with Leo Babauta

  1. I’m living by one rule: Simplify!

    Over the past 12 months I have implemented many of the hints and points above with some interesting and fantastic results.

    It’s surprisingly not difficult, and over time, testing and playing with changes to routines to improve performance (and results) has become an enjoyable challenge.

    Like

  2. Hey Tim,

    Great post!

    I’ve been buried under a personal to-do list for a long time, and only recently after applying tips from 4HWW (80/20 principle, Parkinson’s law, etc.) have I been able to nearly clear the whole thing out! A lot of Leo’s tips seem to echo much of your own advice, and I look forward to experimenting with them.

    Regarding 4HWW, I’ve actually just rounded the corner to the muse selection stage–and I had a quick question for you:

    Though you caution against selling ingestibles (citing the resultant customer service burden), how much of BrainQUICKEN’s bottom-line (and therefore your ability to design your ideal lifestyle) comes from the fact that ingestibles lend themselves to repeat-orders and lifelong customers?

    It seems that information products, though attractive for reasons you’ve mentioned, don’t possess this feature. Subscription-based information products would, but of course then you’ve shackled the expert (presumably yourself) with the burden of regularly generating content.

    It seems to me that the recurring-order nature of ingestibles is more attractive than the simplicity-of-production nature of information products. How would you weigh in on this comparison?

    Thank you for your response, your book, your blog, your videos, your show (I hope it gets picked up!), and anything else I’ve forgotten to mention. =)

    All the best in 2009 and beyond,
    Isaac

    Like

  3. Leo is a great inspiration to bloggers and life designers. Following yours and his blogs (and books) is a great way to get great information for inspiration sources that you know is tried and tested.

    I think Leo’s best tip is to just change one thing at a time, it helps maintain focus. Increasingly we are under the pressure to do more, and get to places quicker when in reality we need to prioritize and take the correct small steps to get us to where we are aiming.

    Re: “in a world where people tend to focus on the latest Firefox extensions and gizmos”…Oooops…guilty, but I’m working on it.

    Like

  4. sounds interesting. i have just started reading a self-discipline book by Theodore Bryant. it look promising so far. have you read it and have any comments?

    Like

  5. I’m just eating this stuff up.. I’ve started my transformation towards 4HW and these tips are just the kinda stuff that makes you feel so great – cause I’m already doing them and thing alike.

    One thing I really do recommend that I’ve learned thus far:
    Make absolute and explicit decitions – this save you from many things you could do to dropping your self to W4W…

    But what I wanna ask TIm is: When have you if ever – rethinked the rules of the 4HWW doctorine?

    Like

  6. I had discovered Zen Habits just a few months ago, but it’s now one of the top blogs I read (of course along with four hour workweek). Great post, very inspirational!

    Like

  7. Hey Leo,
    I couldn’t agree more. Tim actually gave me some great advice in this area on the last live call he did (the night before the launch of his pilot). He explained that the dreamline process is more about elimination (focus) than it is anything else. In other words get rid of everything else and just focus on what your trying to make happen in the next 6-12 months. That turned it all around for me.

    Best,
    Rob-Jet Set Life

    Like

  8. Just finished reading it. What I love about the book is that it’s truly enjoyable to read. Many other “productivity” books give you the feeling of anxiety as you think of your to-do list. Leo’s book has the exact opposite effect, which is profoundly refreshing…

    – Scott

    Like

  9. Your book definitely inspired me to think in a simpler and better way and motivated me to accomplish things that I didn’t think possible before. I still have problems getting around to forming good habits for myself though, so I’ll definitely be buying this book real soon.

    Like

  10. Typical out of the box thinking !!

    So efficient. :)

    Tim, im starting a diet from your program, already lost 4kg in 5 days.

    I would like to ask you something : How do you personnaly feel during the diet off day (saturday) ? I mean what is the effect on your mind, stress … of reintroducing carbs for one day which elevate sugar rate in the blood ?

    Regards.

    Like

  11. The book sounds great!

    How true it is that we need to focus on the basics and the step-by-step process if we want to accomplish the big things in the end. It always amazes me how I manage to zip to the top of the heap in some new endeavor simply by putting my nose to the grindstone.

    Sometimes, I even feel guilty about it, like I’ve skipped some steps and don’t “really” belong there. But in the end what I realize is that I’ve put in the work (consistently) that 95% of people aren’t willing to do. And I’ve done the work in the smartest most efficient way possible. The basics are everything.

    And the cool thing is, once you’ve mastered the basics in one area of your life, they seem to transfer to other areas. Was it Musashi who said “To know one thing is to know 1000 things”?

    Great post.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Like

  12. Simplicity is something I try to practice daily. I’ve just received my copy of The Power of Less and so far, it’s been a great map. I’ve never been much of a reader. Up until a few years ago my favorite book has been “Of Mice and Men”. So to give you a gauge on the latest books I have read in the past two years: 1. The Da Vinci Code, 2. Small Is The New Big, 3. The 4-Hour Workweek, 4. The Long Tail, 5. The Power of Less. Thanks for the inspiration, Leo (and Tim!)

    Like

  13. Tim – Thanks for the timely post. Timely as in just in time to set me back on track for my 2009 goals. I am looking for the kanji poster you mentioned a while back. After 20 years, I have forgot more kanji than I remember. That is at the top of my priority check list.

    Must start up the routine. Learn 5 kanji before touching a computer every day.

    Like

  14. After reading 4HWW, I decide to go on an information diet: stop all these RSS, feeds, email update from blogs, etc and loosing so much time online and cut it down to 3 blogs:
    – 4HWW , because I am addicted
    – Zen Habits, for simplicity
    – Random Roger (http://randomroger.blogspot.com/), for his financial inside
    And now I discover that Leo and Tim read each other blogs, how random is that!!!
    Vincent (from France living in the US).

    Like

  15. Leo has a great blog and his viewpoint comes across clearly. I really need to work on single tasking. It is so tempting to want to do several things, but I noticed I accomplish more when I push myself to focus one thing at a time.

    Like

  16. Hey, Tim
    thanks, amazing article.
    Does Leo share with details for start-up bloggers in his book?

    I have to tell you that even your book is not published in russian, you have a huge army of fans in Russia. I ‘ve read your book first time more than a year ago, and since then sending 10-15 books every month to Russia to my friends and my friends’ friends by mail to quench their thirst…

    Also, being an inventor myself (who is not an inventor, right?), by blogging I inspire other independent inventors to patent, test and run their ideas and inventions themselves. I used your testing strategy myself, and actually I borrowed it as a testing step for the blog, if you don’t mind, of course [click on name for link to site!].

    The idea of One-Army-Man – and you are its greatest representative – is fantastic and fits so well in modern entrepreneur world.

    Many thanks to you, if you need a coach of Russian, you got one. And one more thing: know that we need your book in russian!!!

    Vadim

    Like

  17. Great post, Tim. I’m really glad that Leo included the part about posting your goal publicly. I started doing that a year and a half ago and it’s made a massive difference. First, I just did it with a friend over email. Then I did it with my coach. Now I do it through a Basecamp message called “Daily Check In”. There are times where I think none of the other pieces of advice will work for me unless I’m making it public to at least one person.

    Like

  18. ZenHabit is a great read. I believe in the less is more principle in relation to most aspects of life. When you clear away all the clutter and drama it’s much easier to set and achieve goals. I also believe it’s important to be adaptable and willing to accept change.

    “To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid.” –Zen saying

    ~Gennaro

    Like

    • These plans are extremely affordable as compared to their offline counterparts, mainly because you save the agents cuts and added charges for
      the paperwork. Should they be involved in an accident, you will still not be liable
      for charges. Your premiums might go up a little, but that will be
      better than being accused of fraudulently withholding information.

      Like

  19. Hi guys … thanks for all the positive comments! And thanks, Tim, for doing the post — it was great to hear your thoughts.

    If anyone has any questions about the book, I’ll be checking in periodically and would love to answer them.

    Like

  20. @Green Panda: Yes, the temptation to multitask is hard to avoid! I’ve learned that it gets easier to single-task with practice — start with 5 minutes of just focusing on one task (clear away distractions) and work your way up to 30-60 minutes over time.

    @Rob-Jet-set Life: I completely agree with Tim … I focus on just one goal at a time to really allow myself to pour all my time and energy into that goal. It’s really done a lot for me!

    Like

  21. That is a one impressive man. I read another extract of his book in another blog. I think it was copyblogger.

    He probably was so fed up with his life that one day he woke up and decided to completely change.

    This is definitely a role-model for many.

    Like

  22. Another great post –
    and thanks for the look inside Leo’s book, I’m still waiting for a copy from the library before I dive in and buy it (sorry Leo, but I’m taking your own advice, cutting expenses wherever possible!).

    Looks like I’m adding this to my blogroll right next to Zen Habits!

    Like

  23. Hi Leo,

    By focusing on one thing at a time, you have achieved many over the last two years. How specifically do set your target (is it always a habit, or also an ability, a broad direction, a specific goal)? How long is it your top (single) priority?

    Can you be specific about goals you have set yourself in the last two years, and how your approach made you eliminate what conflicted with it?

    Did you progress in a hierarchy / sequence – first 5 habits, then triple income, then six kids…? :)

    Thank you
    Filip

    Like

  24. @Filip: Great questions! Briefly:

    1. How do I set my target? Basically, I choose something that I’m really excited about — that really helps motivate you. Sometimes it’s a habit, other times it’s a specific goal (run a marathon, promote my book, etc.).

    2. How long is it my top priority? Well, building up Zen Habits and quitting my day job was my top priority for all of 2007, but within that I had sub-goals (write a ton of guest posts, etc) that lasted for 1-3 months (or so — there’s no specific time limit).

    3. After the success of Zen Habits, I decided to focus on writing my book (in early 2008) … that meant I had to focus on Zen Habits less, so that I could put my focus into the book. I still did blog posts, but it was more of a maintenance thing, not a building up of the blog … this meant my traffic declined a bit, but I was OK with that, because there’s no way I could have written the book while still putting the same focus and energy into building the blog.

    4. I didn’t progress in any specific sequence … I generally follow my passion. So after I complete one goal or habit, I figure out what I’m really excited about next (and usually I have a few things waiting in the wings to choose from). Maybe it would have made sense to progress in a logical order, but for me, it’s more important to be excited about something than to do it just because it’s the most logical choice.

    Like

  25. Although Leo suggests smaller easier initial challenges, I’ve found that lasting change usually happens when you have to do something huge. You have to have a big enough reason to change. Massive action, to steal from Anthony Robbins, is what give you the motivation to keep going. Getting real results quickly is what does it.

    Often if you tackle it all at once, and you tackle it with extreme intensity, you’ll find that most problems, and most difficulties in your life are interrelated. You hate you job, spend 60 hours there, you then eat garbage, don’t have time to work out, etc. Change the big one (usually your job/time) and everything else changes with it.

    Like

  26. Hi Leo and Tim,

    Thanks for the great post.

    This list with 12 items is already very worthwhile. It was yesterday when I considered exercising to get a better shape, after I watched Heroes and saw that every actor was in a better shape than I am. It’s a great way indeed to start small and build it up.

    Btw: In my experience, multitasking ends up in procrastinating all the tasks. Today I tried to do a lot and did absolutely nothing productive. I am glad that this doesn’t happen every day.

    I look forward to your posts!

    Like

  27. @Allen: You have a point. Unfortunately, two things often happen:

    1. Large changes are too overwhelming for many people and they don’t every actually undertake them, because they’re too busy or are intimidated by the scope of the change.

    2. Often we have an initial burst of enthusiasm for a change but that dies out and we stop doing it — that’s why most resolutions fail.

    So yes, if you have the will and determination to make a large change all at once, I say go for it … but I’ve found that in my experience, small changes work much better at 1) allowing people to actually start and 2) keeping that initial energy going for much longer and thus being incorporated into their lifestyle.

    Like

  28. Very nice post.

    I just checked around Leo his blog and I think it’s too bad I didn’t stumble across it earlier. Great inspiration.

    The one thing I personally have a problem with , is sticking to ONE goal / month?
    One tiny little goal?

    Keeping your desktop tight and you cannot go for another goal that month. Could you tell me why the benefits of focusing on one goal at a time are bigger than the costs of not chasing any other goals?

    Happy New Year from Belgium !

    Rens

    Like

  29. It seems that a lot of this (30 day trial) is copied from http://www.stevepavlina.com
    I love the principles behind it, since it reduces a potentially doubting task to a simple activity you will “test” for 30 days. I have done MANY 30 day trials:
    *No TV
    *Vegetarian
    *Vegan
    *Writing
    *Meditating
    * Email once a day
    * Getting up at 8:00 am every day..
    LOTS MORE
    But some of them didn’t really stick to well… I will continue to do my own research into what will make a habit stick.
    Great Tool!

    Like

  30. Great advice! Some thoughts I have had in this area:

    (1) Allen said: “I’ve found that lasting change usually happens when you have to do something huge”

    This is like being “thrown in the deep end”, when you are challenged beyond all the limits you thought you had, and without a way out, the “sink or swim” situation. In the few instances this sort of shock treatment has happened to me I’ve found it was an amazing way to boost confidence and instill a lasting sense of empowerment **as long as it is followed up with regular, reinforcing habits** — and assuming you survive :-)

    (2) I have been wondering if attempting to instill only one new habit at a time is the optimal way to go about this. Maybe, very carefully, choosing a second new habit or activity that is totally orthogonal to the first (one that uses a completely different aspect of your brain or body) will help reinforce both. A bit like when you are trying to understand something, and feel like you are getting no where, then you take a walk, or do some cleaning, or just anything unrelated, and suddenly you find you have a solution or you understand. So trying to instill a mental habit may be complemented by simultaneously working on a new physical habit. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    But I guess you’d have to get good at instilling one new habit first, so one at a time would seem like a good way to start before experimenting with different methods.

    (3) Some of my most liberating simplification breakthroughs have come from Gedanken (thought) experiments where I consider scenarios such as if I had to immediately vacate my apartment due to a massive fire – what would I grab? — or if I had to live out of a suitcase and the only belongings I could keep were what I could fit in the bag and what I could fit in a small long-term-storage facility (i.e., storage for items of sentimental value, important/meaningful books, etc) .

    Taking this one step further, packing a BOB (Bailout Bag) and really visualizing living out of it helps considerably. You find yourself thinking about what you really value in life, and what is just meaningless clutter that serves to tie you down.

    Like

  31. Wao !! i think you dont know the Babauta blog. The only blog i visit every day is Zen Habits. In those last six month my life change for bad to great. Finally im clear what i want and how reach my goals. And Mr Babauta is one of my profesor. You Ferriss also help me to change from thinking status to Just do it. I ever now people can do more than they do now .The sleep time is over, is time to grow up , is time to change, is time to win our life race. Thank you to both for books.

    Like

  32. Hi Tim,

    Leo definitely shown that he has been there and done that and what he had written definitely works.

    Focusing on one goal at a time definitely works much more better than having multiple goals and causing yourself to be distracted. Thanks for the post Tim.

    Cheers
    Vincent
    Personal Development Blogger

    Like

  33. WOW!

    Probably the most helpful blog post I have ever read. I also think it was exactly what I needed. Oh yeah…and ALL of my business partners and friends need this too! Haha.

    My personal fav. tip – “process your inbox to empty”
    — I can attest to this from personal experience…that one habit helped me earn a lot more money!

    Fantastic work. Can’t wait to share with everyone.

    Justin

    Like

  34. Hello Leo & Tim,

    Leo, going to get your book, and have bookmarked your blog! I love how both of you have revitalized a long standing principal, like less is more, it really contradicts old die hard fundamentalists. It’s so true, especially with sports, I love baseball and played four years in college, the major flaw in sport specific training was doing too much (quantity over quality) with such a resistance to giving players true days off. Ridiculous, big changes happen after recovery (I know Tim would agree).

    In the “Art Of Learning,” by Josh Waitzkin, he often found after taking a few weeks to a month off of training, while his competitors worked feverishly in never ending repetitions, Josh felt refreshed upon his return allowing him wipe the chess board with most every over-achiever he faced.

    Tim and/or Leo: did you guys play any sports growing up? And, what was your ah-ha moment where less is more hit you over the head with a 2X4? Thanks for your time!=-)

    Like

  35. no hate, but Zen Habits and everything related to it is very general and very underwhelming in my opinion

    it skims over the basics without really getting in depth on anything of real significance or real value

    in my opinion it focuses largely on the 80% of things that only bring 20% of the results (or less)

    Like

  36. Very good! I agree that having a “trigger” is key; it’s just another way to cement the idea of making the change that you want to make.

    I really appreciate the last couple of motivational posts, as so many people are grappling with what they want their life to look like in the midst of a fast-changing economic and social climate.

    Here’s to 2009!

    Like

  37. can’t wait to get this read..stripping everything to its essence reveals truth and meaning…the rest is just clutter…Einstein revealed this with E=mc2..an equation only an inch long that changed the world forever

    stay strong Tim
    pura vida hermano

    Like

  38. I just went on a blogging / blog reading strike for several months and yours is probably the ONLY one that I still read and LOVE. loved the last article BTW – ‘Materials over Methods’….

    I’m liking this one too.

    Keep kickin’ butt

    Like

  39. Hi All,

    Thanks so much for all the great comments and additions to the post!

    A few quickies before bed:

    -@Vadim, thank you for the kind words about our friends in Russia! If it’s not in Russian now, it will be soon. Trust me :) Hope to meet you soon. I’ve never been to Russia but would love to visit.

    -Leo doesn’t talk about how he built his blog in the book, but here’s the basic hate-to-hear-it truth of most high-traffic blogs: write a lot of good content and submit well to sites like Digg, which creates inbound links and then creates excellent organic SEO. SEO on keywords in text is overrated.

    -@Michael JP – love the gedanken “what if” exercises. Good questions.

    -@Pekka – I haven’t had to rethink any of the 4HWW principles since I published the book, even though what I want to spend more time on has changed. I’m cutting back on travel and loving more time at home. Some people think I want all people to travel all the time, but that’s not true: I want people (myself included) to spend time on those things that matter most to them.

    -There was a question about sports epiphanies: I have wrestled since age 8 or so, and all of my thinking was changed when my HS coach entered the picture. His focus on principles vs. techniques — and massive conditioning — has led me to approach other things similarly. He produced a lot of champions and winning teams.

    Later lads and lasses :)

    Tim

    Like

  40. Tim,
    Awesome post that is extremely timely with the beginning of the new year and the current economic situation that many are facing. Simplify and FOCUS and you can attain anything…

    Keep up the great work,
    JIM

    Like

  41. Hi Tim (and Leo),

    Let me first start by thanking you for writing a book (and blog) that made quite an impact. I actually lost count of how many times I’ve listened to the 4HWW audio book during my daily commute. Listening to your audio book while driving out to work on a cold and grey winter’s day in the North of England is a pretty good motivator to start changing things ;-)

    As to this post, I actually find it more difficult to break old habits than to create new ones. I do understand that creating a new habit could imply breaking and older habit, but these seem to be the most challenging ones. Being a bit of a geek, the most difficult thing for me is to not get overwhelmed by “information overload”. So much cool and interesting stuff out there on Blogs, RSS Feeds, Twitter (using Twhirl), etc. and so many ways to get all that information delivered via different channels make it quite hard for me to just “pull the plug” (not literally) while I’m sitting at my computer.
    Just a quick example of how addictive and non-productive my information usage sometimes gets: [UK deal site URL] shows many bargain deals available in the UK. Since this site also has a Twitter feed you can be updated in real-time. Initially I thought this was quite “cool”, but I soon found out that by subscribing to this feed I actually created “a monster habit”. If not being distracted by Twhirl-pings, I would be checking the updates manually in order to pick up a bargain. So basically I would waist time, buying things I don’t need. So instead of investing time and focus in making money, I waisted it on saving money on things I actually don’t really need. Absolutely pointless exercise!!!

    So, my 2009 resolutions actually start with a NOT TO DO list…

    All the BEST for 2009 and please keep the non-US residents posted on “Trial by Fire”

    Greg

    Like

  42. Great post Tim,

    Being a leader by example myself as a “Healthy LifeStyle Coach / Fitness Psychologist”; I have learned a lot in over 18,000 sessions with all kinds of people.

    A lot ot the principles that you share with us have not only changed my life; but my patients as well.

    One thing that has been working well to help my patients take control of their own life through making healthier lifestyle choices is something that I learned from Richard Bandlers NLP.

    I have the luxury of working with the #1 instructor of NLP in the world, Mrs. Barbara Stepp. And she has taught me how to re-frame every situation with empowering words and thoughts; thus actions.

    But what I have been doing lately is making my clients feel the immediate pain of not changing. I also learned this from Tony Robbins. Feel the intense pain of “continuing to live in mediocrity” or even underachieving.

    Cause we are all hearin about the guys that are walking out in the field and blowing their brains out because they feel as though they lost everyting.

    So instead of the “inch by inch” its a cinch mentalllity that I used to teach and use; I tend to lean more toward “Feel the emence pain now; and change immediately.

    I have had lots of luck with this lately. Cause like I tell my patients when they start with my; their sedentatry, unhealthy lifestyle has created a life or death situation. Whether it’s a physical, or a mental or emotional life or death situation.

    When people are faced to look in the mirror, feel the pain, and answer some tough questions; you ought to see how easy it is for them to follow my healthy lifestyle protocol; thus their body, and life changes immensley in only 84 days.

    Go to my blog to check out a client who reversed Myotonic Dystrophy (a form of Muscular Dystrophy) dead in its tracks.

    [URL removed - comment policy. Link available through name.]

    His siblings did not and all three unfortunately died. Big Brian is excited about his future, very active; and expects to live another 30 years; symptom free. All because of a shift in his thoughts.

    Tim; besides helping re-build a more productive school system; there is no body more equipped to put together a “Living Long and Strong” methodology together.

    Keep up the great work my man;

    Darin Steen (aka The Chicago Kid)

    ###

    Hi Darin,

    Thanks so much for the kind words!

    Live strong,

    Tim

    Like

  43. Hi Tim (and Leo),

    Let me first start by thanking you for writing a book (and blog) that made quite an impact. I actually lost count of how many times I’ve listened to the 4HWW audio book during my daily commute. Listening to your audio book while driving out to work on a cold and grey winter’s day in the North of England is a pretty good motivator to start changing things ;-)

    As to this post, I actually find it more difficult to break old habits than to create new ones. I do understand that creating a new habit could imply breaking and older habit, but these seem to be the most challenging ones. Being a bit of a geek, the most difficult thing for me is to not get overwhelmed by “information overload”. So much cool and interesting stuff out there on Blogs, RSS Feeds, Twitter (using Twhirl), etc. and so many ways to get all that information delivered via different channels make it quite hard for me to just “pull the plug” (not literally) while I’m sitting at my computer.
    Just a quick example of how addictive and non-productive my information usage sometimes gets: I recently subscribed to a “Hot Deals” web site showing many bargain deals available in the UK. Since this site also has a Twitter feed you can be updated in real-time. Initially I thought this was quite “cool”, but I soon found out that by subscribing to this feed I actually created “a monster habit”. If not being distracted by Twhirl-pings, I would be checking the updates manually in order to pick up a bargain. So basically I would waist time, buying things I don’t need. So instead of investing time and focus in making money, I waisted it on saving money on things I actually don’t really need. Absolutely pointless exercise!!!

    So, my 2009 resolutions actually start with a NOT TO DO list…

    All the BEST for 2009 and please keep the non-US residents posted on “Trial by Fire”

    Greg
    PS: This is a slightly modified version from a prior Comment (awaiting moderation). So I took the website link out.

    Like

  44. I find it funny to see people getting back to square 1. I mean, aren’t these the principles of life for our grandparents without much thinking or debating? Our life got complicated with technology, and we are now trying to make it simple without reducing our use of technology, hence the irony.

    I am glad to realize that I keep many habits of my people, and although I am a bit into technology, my life isn’t that complicated yet.

    @Tim, your book is not available in Arabic, is it?

    Like

  45. Hi Tim

    I love this post and couldn’t agree more. I would love to encourage people to adopt these principles. Give yourself one goal to concentrate on and forgive yourself in all other departments until you have ingrained it into yourself life.

    After spending 10 years in England, I learned to drink like a fish. Needless to say, upon my return to the great U S of A, I was 27 and my drinking was out of control. I spent one year dedicating myself to a strict structure to allow myself to give up the sauce. I ate want a wanted and said no to most requests from others. I needed at least 12 months to concentrate solely on myself. After one year of white knuckling it – I gave myself another year to get in the groove.

    In May 08, it was time to give up the smoking. Same thing. I happily piled on 15 pounds and decided that exercising was too much as well! I didn’t care or feel guilty. I haven’t a cig since May 08. Now, it’s time to tackle the weight. So, I’m doing your diet in full concentration mode and have wiped out 8 pounds in a month. I can’t stress enough how great a crock pot is for those who hate to cook! I plan two meals (one for lunch / one for dinner) for the week. I cook both on the weekend – and TADA! Chuck in some meat, vegetables and beans and your done. How’s that for super efficiency? One month after getting your diet down…oh yes, now it’s time to get off my ass and get back in shape.

    In addition, it’s so important for people to realize that goal achieving is nothing less than breaking your inertia and beginning to move in the right direction. Make one change and the rest will follow. The first step truly is the hardest. I am amazed how competitive I have become with myself. The days become months and the months become years. I see myself as someone slowing learning to juggle more and more great habits and my life is changing because of it.

    Best of luck to everyone in 2009!

    Like

  46. Good synopsis about fantastic book.

    I especially like the part: “Designate a home for everything, and be fanatic.”

    This is key to sharper memory also, since it is excellent start for building your own memory palace – mnemonic technique which should belong to every jack-of-all-trade’s toolbox.

    I would also like to thank Tim for pro tips in learning languages. After many frustrating years on disgusting language courses I had started to thing that non-computer languages are not my field.

    In Finland we study minimum of 3 languages (finnish, swedish and english) during our 9 years of basic school, but in fact less than half of people are fluent on all of those when they move to high school. In fact, bad methods convince lots of people that they are bad learners.

    Like

  47. Hi Tim,

    Long time reader, first time poster. For 2009 I decided to set my New Year Resolutions and keep track of it through a blog for accountability purposes. I plan to apply some of the principles discussed in 4HWW to achieve these goals. Some of the topics you have covered such as increasing your bench, squats and deadlifts dramatically and learning a new language have been very helpful. Your book has changed my perception of what is achievable and made me realize that the deferred lifestyle is just not for me.

    Like

  48. I’ve just put together an online forum for tracking group goals [URL removed per comment rules; click on name]. It’s in alpha-stage right now, but within the week it’ll be on Facebook and cleaned up on-line.

    Right now it’s for group-tracking my own weight loss goals and my wife’s book sales, but it is meant EXACTLY for what Leo advocates. Report on a regular basis to a group of people.

    Great post by the way.

    Like

  49. Tim,
    Great post as always! I needed that reminder and will pick up Leos’ book for sure. I’ve only read 4HWW 3 times and have not been diligent with my simplifiction process but have made great strides, so I guess I have to read your book again! Thanks for snapping me back to whats beens slipping away, when we meet some day I will buy the Vino.
    One suggestion I would have to all is to balance what is easiest on your new habits list with what will make the most profound change. You don’t want to start with the hardest thing but starting with the easiest may not bring the greater confidence the more profound changes will bring. The greater your accomplishments the more motivated you will be to change other habits and continually do so. So weigh the effects of what is easiest and what is most profound and you may be better off starting somewhhere is the middle of the list. That is the angle I will attack with anyways. I’m off to write my list!!

    Just a note on the power and beauty of syncronicity. I have been tossing around the idea for many months of taking up Tai Chi since I read Joel Waitzkins amazing book “The Power of Learning” last year to better my health mentally and physically but of course have procrastinated. But right before I did my regular check of your blog I was once again checking the local Tai Chi instructors website and thinking about finally starting and then directly after being there you slap me upside the head with this great post about forming new habits! Could the world be yelling at me any louder?

    Cheers,

    David

    Like

  50. Hi Leo and Tim,

    Great post! Love 4HWW and love ZenHabits as well. You two have understood some basic things that elude most people.
    In my case, my biggest bugaboo is fear of success. I start a project, it gets going, and when it starts to build momentum and become “real” I get scared it’s going to succeed, I feel I don’t deserve the success, and I stop.
    This month I am starting the habit of swimming. I go 4 times a week and swim half a mile each time. I hope to build up to 1 mile a day 4 times a week within two months. This is week two and so far I haven’t skipped a day.
    My blogs are starting to grow, I posted a well received guest post on a very popular blog, and now that things are getting real I’m starting to feel that terrible funk coming on of self-sabotage.
    So I’m going to just buckle down, turn off the internet, not answer the phone and focus on one task at a time, and write some new posts.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Like

  51. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for sharing Leo toughts. I think he is a good human being and that’s why he went from 0 to success in a short period of time.

    I agree with the fact that what he says is not rocket science but does it have to be ?

    Simple is always better.

    Michael
    Ich bin ein Berliner

    Like

  52. @Joey: I did play sports growing up — I was a track and cross country runner and played basketball (baseball and football just with friends). My ah-ha moment where I realized I needed to simplify? Basically when I was working long hours and never could make it to my kids’ events, like school functions or soccer games. I knew I needed a change.

    @Greg: Breaking bad habits is definitely tough. I learned that when I quit smoking. My suggestion: figure out all the triggers for the bad habit. With smoking, I had many: first thing in the morning when I woke up, any time I drank coffee or alcohol, after meetings, when I was stressed, social gatherings and going out at night, driving in the car.

    So after identifying every trigger, you need to come up with a new habit for each one to replace the bad habit, and then be *as consistent as humanly possible* in doing the new good habit *every single time* when a trigger occurs.

    So for me, I would exercise when I woke in the morning, type my notes after a meeting, do deep breathing and walk when I got stressed, etc.

    But it’s not easy. The key is consistency.

    Like

  53. The book I was trying to refer to is “The Art of Learning” but I had too many thoughts bouncing around in my attic, need to simplify!
    Most of you all probally knew this though from Tim’s May 26th, 2008 post.
    I need to try harder to be a Goober (some may to young to remember Goober Pyle, but we all should have a little Goober in us)

    David

    Like

  54. Tim,

    Nice post. You still training with Camarillo?

    Being so close to Bravo, I’d go check him out.

    The no-gi game is sick. Maybe I’ll see you at a tournament someday.

    Like

    • @Dave,

      I haven’t been trained in BJJ for about a year since an Achilles tendon tear. Ouch. I’m still in touch with Camarillo, but I’m not doing MMA or fight training at the moment. For no-gi, I also highly recommend Marcelo Garcia (of course) and the new Mike Fowler DVDs.

      Good luck in training!

      Tim

      Like

  55. I think Leo is great inspiration. I started my own blog and really I don’t expect much traffic (www.zaidrasid.com). But already people are reading it. So if it gets big one day like Leo’s then I’ll be ecstatic.

    Love Zen Habits and now I might even have to invest in the book!!! hmmmm

    Like

  56. Hey Tim

    Brilliant book Tim. Life changing!

    I have a question for you and Leo though. I have a habit where I manage to do really well getting through my To Do list. Then suddenly I stop and start procrastinating for a bit before I can start up again. It’s almost like my brain telling me I have can only do some much at at time. It’s not because I’m tired. It’s just a habit. Do either of you have any suggestions on how I can break this annoying trait?

    Ax

    Like

  57. Tim,

    You say you are now pursuing your vocation as an author. Well I say good vocation choice because your book is and absolute ripper :)

    Dave

    Like

  58. I’m a neuroscientist and from a biological perspective the brain is great at managing tasks – but ONLY one or two at a time. The reason we need advice like Leo’s and yours Tim is because of another great function of our brain – It won’t always tell you when it can’t handle things very well. After all you need to feel confident in your actions otherwise we would have become extinct millenia ago.

    This is also why it’s hard to change you behavior with big resolutions at the end of the year. It’s a recipe for failure because it’s just not the way the brain is good at working.

    In the end the best way to change any behavior or stick to that resolution is to break down that vague “too big to handle”concept into a series of micro-resolutions.

    Patrick

    Like

  59. Tim

    Yeah, Zen Habits was one of the first blogs I stumbled upon when I started getting into blogs. An extremely useful site. Thanks for sharing some quotes from the book. He right about trying to break multiple habits at once, I’ve seen tons of students fail, including my mom when she keeps requiting from smoking and so on. :) Instead, people might consider developing sound habits one at a time; but remember, people are conditioned to be results driven so they want to change everything about themselves overnight, it simply doesn’t work that way.

    Tim, what plugin do you use to display the thumps up feature below comments?

    -Miguel

    Like

  60. Tim,

    I just stumbled on your blog, this is really great. I love how you look at things from a different perspective and challenge yourself continually.

    Do you know Josh Waitzkin? If not I think you should look up his work, I think you guys have a lot in common. He was a US chess champion at a young age and then later in life became a wushu and BJJ martial arts champion. He has written a book on the art of learning. You guys should meet and collaborate!

    best regards,
    Sal

    Like

  61. Hi Leo,

    Many thanks for your feedback, much appreciated. Arriving at the office, I didn’t turn my computer on, but started writing some stuff (MITs) on paper. Unfortunately it took me a little longer than planned because I realised that I had neglected my Goals (4HWW Dreamline) for a while. So, trying to create a new habit, also got me thinking about the bigger picture again. Nice side-effect :-)

    As to Life/Work/Balance, just blend 4HWW*, Zen Habits and GTD … seems like a winning combination indeed!

    Kindest regards and enjoy the weekend,

    Greg

    Like

  62. On pg. 159 it talks about becoming an expert by 1. joining trade organizations but i’m having trouble locating a website and finding out how to become part of it to build up my name. If any one can help please let me know!
    I want to built up under personal motivation and how to happy. Along the lines of Tony Robbins.

    Tim Ferriss your the bomb.com

    Like

  63. Great post and great tips.

    I love the idea of making one small change at a time. I’ve been applying this recently as well. Started with the to-do list and dreamling, small steps move us to bigger things.

    This is my 5th sentence so better stop.

    Like

  64. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the post. I have been on zenhabits.net and already applied some of Leo’s content since reading this blog. A true inspiration. It looks like he has put some information on blogging on the website ‘writing to done’. He refers readers to a few of his guest posts on that site. I personally found it useful.

    Like

  65. I’m the middle of reading The 4 Hour Week. With this being my first visit to the blog, this first article I have read about Leo Babauta is awesome. I’m convinced that simplifying my life with high impact outcomes is job #1 for 2009.

    Thank for sharing Tim and Leo.

    Like

  66. Thanks for giving an overview of Leo’s fantastic work. I was really amazed, when I read how fast he was able to establish himself in this field.

    However, I have one and the same problem, with productivity tips in general:

    I try, and after a while I feel, well, *deprived*.

    This holds for dieting, exercising, studying, working, you name it. After a while, I find myself bingeing on bad food, rest and entertainment.

    Now, I have found that scheduling slots, when I systematically oversaturate myself with everything unhealthy and unproductive actually enables me to be more focused the rest of the time.

    Do you guys have that problem at all? Tim? Leo?
    What are the ways you takle that?

    @Tim: It’s http://www.disqus.com

    Like

  67. Tim, Thanks for the post. On a very personal level, this was the one needed piece of assistance to finally get my wife on board with our lifestyle change. I have not pinpointed the exact reason how, right now all I care about is she has finally seen the light. The 4HWW completely change my life and my business and I am confident it will do absolutely nothing but positive things for my wife and I. I am a regular reader, thanks for time and efforts.

    Much appreciated.

    All the best,

    Andy

    Like

  68. Tim,

    I’ll attempt your swimming techniques next week. I have a madness of fun with your observations, keep them coming.

    Also, I want more information on implicit vs. explicit, break it down a bit further (how to deconstruct the analytical frameworks).

    From the Hulk video (subject of dancing, explicit vs. implicit), here’s what I got-
    1. Take an inventory of characteristics: capabilities and elements of different dancers who won championships
    2. Interview particular people
    3. Compared two lists
    a. Explicit expertise (training methods)
    b. Implicit commonalities
    4. Focus on 3 commonalities
    a. Exploit to compete
    What questions do you analyze for best results? I want to apply your techniques, but I’m not so clear about what you’ve said on the subject/Hulk Video.

    Like

  69. Hi All,

    I came across a scrumptious and novel vegan restaurant in Venice Beach, CA called Seed (owner/chef by Eric Leschasseur) and the food rocked. For dinner I had the Thai coconut red curry and the rest of the menu was mouthwatering. Try it.

    Like

  70. Hey Tim Ferris,

    Do you know the famous writer Kola Boof?

    She talked about losing 40 pounds on your diet and she’s one of
    my favorite novelists (her past not-withstanding).

    My hubby gave me the KINDLE e-reader for christmas and I was reading
    her autobiography (she was Osama Bin Laden’s mistress in ’96 and got fired from “Days of Our Lives” when the scandal broke two years ago–an
    incredible book if you want something REALLY HOT to read that’s different from her feminist novels!) but anyway, she was complaining how she had to go on a book tour and got really fat so she wanted to slim down.

    She went on your diet eating only BEANS AND EGG WHITES!!! for like
    a frigg’n whole month and she lost over 40 pounds!

    I’ve read your books and I’ve done your diet a few times, but it was
    really great hearing this glamorous (actually quite wild and foreign)
    black woman describing how your diet helped her so much.

    Do you know her personally?

    She lives in California and so do you, so I’m curious.

    Sorry for plugging her so outrageously, but knowing so many people
    in that world, I wanted to make sure I was specific.

    Like

  71. Hey Timothy,

    A buddy of mine referred me to your book. One of my “do’s” is to travel to South America (Chile to be specific) with a couple of my best friends (the buddy who referred me to you being one of them) and be able to function in the country speaking fluent Spanish. Although this is sure to be an amazing trip, I want to take it one step further and personally invite you Viña del Mar on April 11th at 8 p.m. outside the Oceanic Hotel for a drink on the Chilean coast with us.

    An exercise in doing the unrealistic,

    Steve Smith

    Like

  72. I appreciate how this article gives the approach to habit changing, and it takes into account that some people can change faster, or learn to. When I’m on vacation, (such as my 4th one in Buenos Aires to dance tango right now) it seems like it’s very possible to make a lot of changes quicky, my current question is how to make it stick when I get back home.

    Like

  73. Tim,
    Great info as usual. Also, I came across a book that you and your readers may like: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. Very interesting.

    Peace,
    Maniac

    PS – I still want the Ferrari though :-)

    Like