Habits and Will Power

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going’ – Jim Rohn

It is the beginning of February and I’ve just returned from my local gym. The place was much less busy than it was around 2 / 3 weeks ago. This happens every year. We’re about a month away from when people were declaring their New Year’s resolutions, many of which were a full life overhaul with regular workouts, healthy diets and self improvement across the board. I also find the predictability of this a little depressing – people really do think ‘it’ll be different this year’ but rarely do their proposed radical life changes stick. It’s been well researched and the reality is that willpower and motivation are finite, so to make lasting changes you need to make things habit and you can’t change all your habits overnight.

In my personal experience I’ve had the most success with new diets, exercise and ways of living by making small changes and gradually introducing new behaviours. Firstly on the point of a ‘diet’ I don’t mean some temporary fad that will make you weight yo-yo but a permanent change to what you eat. I thought it might be useful to highlight some small changes people tend to find they can benefit from. These will obviously depend on what you currently eat, drink and how you exercise (if you exercise!).

So, for example, if you have a terrible diet a plan to improve things could be:

Month 1: Stop drinking calories: No sodas, no juice. Stick to water, tea and coffee (ideally without milk) should be the aim. Sodas don’t satiate you at all but do provide a dose of sugar and calories. Even Diet Sodas with zero calories can trigger an insulin response and also the sweeteners themselves are typically bad news. If you’re used to sweet drinks then drinking something like Green Tea can be an acquired taste. However, once acquired most people enjoy it and the long term heath benefits are significant. This small change may seem easy to some but require a lot of willpower for others – make this one change for 30 days before looking at other areas…………

Month 2: Improve your breakfast: Most people don’t eat enough vegetables and the 5 a day UK government guidelines I think is way too low. I typically have eggs and veg for breakfast – the veg being mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, red onions, chilli and spinach (try to include something green) all cooked in coconut oil. Delicious and satiating. You can vary this up with other veg once you’re in the swing of things and have the taste for it. If you still crave carbs in the morning try the eggs and veg with a piece of toast – preferable a gluten free options like rye bread – or add some sweet potatoes into the veg mix. Of all the meals breakfast is fairly easy to control for most people as they can have it in the home. If prepping all that veg everyday seems like a lot of work you can cut the raw veg up at a weekend so it is ready to cook and pre-roast sweet potatoes. Or you can make a large vegetable frittata which can last a few days in the fridge. The frittata option also works well if you are eating breakfast away from home as you can cut a slice or two before you head out. Try it for 30 days to get it to stick – I’ve been eating breakfast like this now for around 4 years.

Month 3: Improve your lunch: Sandwiches seem to be the go to lunch in the UK. I’m not an advocate of the food pyramid and think that most grains aren’t great news. If you disagree with that breads can still contain a lot of salt and sugar so do be careful about your intake. I also find that I get hungry again fairly quickly after eating sandwiches so want looks like a low-calorie option gets me snacking later on. Lunch on the go can be a minefield and if I’m forced to eat something quick when I’m out and about I try to go for something like sushi at Itsu but I realise this may not be possible for most people . An cheaper alternative would be to make something at home to take with you to work, college etc….. I like to have some carbs at lunchtime so will make a salad at home with some sweet potato cut into cubes and roasted, plenty of leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, home made coleslaw (just cabbage, carrot,  olive oil, salt and pepper – no mayo) and some protein – this can be some quality organic ham, tinned fish like tuna, mackerel – whatever you feel like. The only cooking is the sweet potato cubes but these can be roasted in a big batch at a weekend and kept in the fridge.

Month 4: You guessed it – improving your dinner. Dinner is a meal that some people are fairly good with and others are just used to grabbing something convenient or having a take-away. If time is a problem batch cooking so you can reheat can work well. As with other meals include plenty of vegetables. I typically stick to rice and sweet potatoes for my carbs but occasionally have regular potatoes or rice noodles. For my protein – over the course of a week I’ll have a couple of dinners with beef (sometimes mince – stick to grass fed) a couple with fish (a white fish and a salmon) a chicken dish and then some variety like goat, duck, ostrich steaks….. Think quality and variety when choosing protein options. If you typically buy the cheapest possible options in every field meat and dairy is one area I’d encourage you to buy organic and naturally reared options. Organic grass-fed beef is very different in nutritional value and taste than standard commercially farmed stuff. With vegetables it is arguably less important as an organic courgette, for example, may not be distinguishable in taste or nutritional value from a non-organic one.

Month 5: Read ingredients and fine tune your choices. There are a few areas that will probably still be far from optimal if you are only 5 months into a new way of eating. Such as the fat you cook with – some people are scared of fats like butter and choose vegetable oils like sunflower oil to cook with instead. Firstly from a calorie point-of-view they’re all the same – 1 gram of fat is 9 calories regardless of whether it is lard, butter, sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil or  coconut oil. However, a lot of research has been done that suggests that vegetable oils can be carcinogenic (Google or read books like the Perfect Health Diet). Also the saturated fats in coconut oil and butter are now becoming less of a concern. Coconut oil tends to be my ‘go to’ cooking oil as it is stable at high temperatures and full of Medium Chain Fatty Acids. I’ll look at different fats in another post another time as I don’t want to go off topic here! When it comes to food labels I try to avoid anything with vegetable oils, soya, added sugar and other sweeteners like high fructose syrups. Unfortunately these three things are probably in 90% of items in your local supermarket!

Month 6: Track and tweak your calories. I don’t think minimising calories and fat is a smart long term strategy. Most people who limit calories in the short term as part of a rapid weight loss diet end up failing as they aren’t eating a sustainable diet. For many that can happen all in one day – a low calorie / no breakfast followed by a light lunch tends to result in late night feasting. I don’t advocate measuring and writing down everything you eat forever but doing it for 2 or 3 days can give you an appreciation of the calories and nutrients you’re eating.

You might think 6 months is a long time to implement changes but not starting won’t make it any quicker! You’ll also start seeing gradual improvements as you go and more importantly you’ll improve your habits and the changes will be lasting.

This gradual change approach can be applied to other areas of life improvement. So if you’re already getting your nutrition right then there might be other areas that need focus and applying this thinking may help you make lasting positive changes.

But I don’t have time! This is a common excuse we all have used, I know I have. I’ve changed my view on this in recent years – we all have the same number of hours in a day so it isn’t about time it’s about priorities. Make eating well a higher enough priority and you’ll have time for it.

The Ladder of Success

‘As you climb the ladder of success, be sure its leaning against the right building’

H. Jackson Brown Jr

This post is about decision making and more specifically about decision making on life’s bigger decisions. We can spend days researching and enquiring over a new smart phone purchase but little or no time on major life decisions like whether to have children or not. Many major life decisions seem to be driven by social and family pressure and not given the thought they deserve for each individual case.

To give an example of when I have done this myself: It was back in my teenage years I was doing well at school and the natural progression in the UK for someone who is getting good grades at school is to go to university. Also my school was relatively good so the majority of people were going to university, even those with slightly middling grades. So my question to myself when I was approximately 17 was which university I should go to, not whether I should go or not. This is a fairly major life decision – the costs of going to university when I was that age were fortunately nowhere near what they are today but it did mean 3 or 4 years of my life of further studying and minimal income. So surely I should have been considering alternatives like getting a job, doing and apprenticeship or something like that? I have no regrets about going to university and really enjoyed the whole experience, made some great friends, learned a lot both academically and how to live independently. So if I had given it more thought I believe I would still have gone but I think a lot of people make major life decisions in this manner.

Marriage and kids is the big one for me as my girlfriend and I don’t want to have children. My social circle all seem to be working on the assumption that getting married and having kids is compulsory and the choice lies in who you decide to do this with. However, I’m not even sure of how much choice is going on there as it seems to be that you have to marry who you’re with at a certain age and then have kids with whoever you marry, regardless of how well that relationship is going. So there still seems to be a great deal of social and family pressure in these decisions that can affect the course of your life. I’m sure if my friends all gave these decisions a great deal of thought then most of them would still have kids and still marry their current partners, but I do get the impression that some have walked into their lives without giving it much thought.

Another area people seem to have tied themselves down with little or no thought is their careers. I have friends in areas like law and engineering where their career is directly a result of their university course. They are doing well by social measure and supporting themselves and their family – however in many cases they have been working 80 hour weeks more or less none stop since graduating university and don’t seem to get any enjoyment from work at all. In the UK if you decide to do something like law at university and then get into a career as a solicitor you will have made that decision about doing that course at university when you were approximately 17. At that age (I know this from experience) your typical career adviser will have given you the impression there are only about 10 possible career paths. For example – I was good at Maths so was suggested careers in accounting and actuarial work (I’m glad I ignored them!). I have never met anyone who was told by a career adviser to be an entrepreneur. Also the fact our school career adviser had no experience outside of working at a school doesn’t give them much credibility on advising young minds what path to commit to. Anyway, let’s say you make that decision to study law – it certainly pleases your parents and teachers as it’s a respected and well paid profession. You get the position feedback about your career despite not even having started it yet. This is the societal pressure that is basically making this decision for. Then in your final year of your law degree you would have the big law firms come to the university, ply you with free food and drink, tell you how amazing it is to work for them and talk about salaries that, as a student, seemed life changing. As a broke student you dive straight into your well paid job as a solicitor and this is certainly the path of least resistance. Once started at work you have to spend some time learning the ropes and completing your training contract so that means more study, which your law firm kindly pays for. The hours are long but the pay is rewarding so you see your bank balance steadily increase and with pay rises on the horizon and the potential of making partner on the longer term horizon you settle into your career. Your social circle and family view you as ‘successful’ and you attract a desirable mate which typically sets you down the path of getting married and having children. This gives you other financial commitments but is another tick in society’s box of what a ‘successful’ human looks like. Now, some people will enjoy this type of life and career but others grind it out for the money and dream of a deferred life plan. Derek Sivers has some interesting thoughts on success (Google ‘Derek Sivers success’) but despite what society thinks surely having lots of money and wife and children doesn’t make you successful if you hate your job and are largely absent from home life?

For a while I thought it was just me who thought this way and that everyone else really did want the career and family life of the path they were on. However, I recently read an interesting article on the BBC website about people who regretted having children – they were responsible adults, they loved their children and brought them up well but were open about the personal and financial sacrifices made. They typically said that given the choice they wouldn’t do it if they could go back and relive their lives. Firstly, this is brutally and admirably honest. Secondly, it clearly shows there are intelligent people out there who are not giving these major life changing decisions much thought.

My only suggestion is to be aware of these potential pitfalls and try to pursue things that interest you. Try to strip away what your family and friends think is socially acceptable to get to what you really want. For example, when you think of a career don’t focus on the salary and it’s status in society – think of the day to day work and what it might mean in terms of sacrifices (such as no free time, working weekends etc…). I’m not saying a steady career and bringing up children are bad things to do so if you come to the same decision after giving it a lot of thought then great. But you haven’t lost anything by spending some time to really think it through and if you do come to a different conclusion then it might save you committing a huge amount of your time and resource to something that doesn’t bring you any satisfaction.


Goals For the Year / Tools of Titans

I’m not one for New Years resolutions but have in the past set goals and tried to introduce new positive habits. Therefore I’ve set various goals and habits for the year and will look into others in future posts. The goal covered later in the post is to do with my business and the habit I’m looking to introduce is maintaining this blog!

I read a lot of non-fiction / popular science type books and many have referred to regular writing as being beneficial in many ways. One way is simply to improve one’s writing. Beyond that if you have any sort of online presence such as a blog, a company website or have to correspond with people by email then being able to communicate in writing in an effective way is hugely beneficial. My business goal for the year is covered below but will involve creating significantly more website content and blog posted than I currently do so I want to be in the habit of writing on a daily basis. The aim with regards to the blog is to update it once or twice per week and beyond that daily journaling will help me to create content and ideas. The journaling idea and the change I’m looking to make are both inspired by Tim Ferriss and therefore I’ve included in this post is a brief review of his latest book that I recently read.

I was away in Costa Rica over Christmas and spent most of my time surfing, relaxing in the sun and reading – one of the books I read was Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. I’ve been reading Timtoolsoftitans‘s books for several years, ever since the 4 hour work week, and have also listened to his podcasts for a few years.

Prior to reading Tim’s books I’d dipped in and out of certain ‘self-help’ type books and I hadn’t found them that interesting or practical. With the 4 hour work week I found genuinely useful ideas and practises that have slowly crept into my day to day activities. Through Tim and other writers (they’ll get mentions in future posts) I have looked to improve areas of my life that are important to me such as my health and my work life. Willpower is rarely sustainable so making something a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, gives me a much better chance of maintaining it long term. So with blogging and journaling the aim is to commit 10 – 30 minutes first thing every morning (or at least 5 days a week). My working day doesn’t properly kick off until 9am and I’m fortunate to work from home so I have plenty of time to fit this in before my phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in.

Tim Ferriss does keep very good company and Tools of Titans is a collection of ideas from his podcasts with various high functioning guests. I read the Kindle version and like to bookmark various pages for future reference. It is the kind of book you will dip in and out of regularly but not necessarily read cover to cover. That said, I did read it cover to cover to make sure I didn’t miss anything – I found some of Tim’s most interesting contributors those I’d never heard of before so just going to chapters with the familiar names may not have been as rewarding for me. If you were to listen to all of Tim’s podcasts and condense them into the most useful highlights you’d have something similar to this book but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that I would recommend checking this book out and making notes and / or bookmarking things that peak your interest. If you’re not familiar with Tim’s work I would recommend starting with either the 4 Hour Work Week or the 4 Hour Body depending on whether your interests lie in Lifestyle Design and Productivity or Heath and Fitness. His other book – the 4 Hour Chef – I found less interesting but it might be worth checking out if you can’t cook but want to learn some basics. I also find his podcast interesting and a habit I introduced last year was going for walks whilst listening to Podcasts – Tim’s along with various others – have been hugely interesting and useful.

So on to one of my goals for the year – the aim is to make my main income fully remote. This blog is not part of that directly so if you find my writing clumsy, boring or irrelevant that is fine – this is more a tool to get my thoughts down and make myself accountable on my goals. I am going to recommend certain books and products through this blog but my main income comes from a completely unrelated business. That business is a property finance consultancy where I work with property developers to help them fund construction projects and property acquisitions. I can do a lot of work remotely, and most of my work is done from home, but currently need to attend meetings fairly frequently and this is something I’m looking to change. I have been doing this for over 10 years and have worked for myself for around 8 years. I enjoy my work, find it interesting and like working for myself but I would like to spend more time overseas and pursuing other interest so if I can remove myself from areas of my work or change the way I monetise my business that would allow my to leave my current base (London, England) for longer periods of time. As part of that I need to also address the accommodation situation – I currently rent an apartment in Central London with my girlfriend. This is fairly expensive and that is fine while we’re here but if we were to be overseas for an extended period then renting here and somewhere else doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick up on this and some other goals in future posts. They include health, fitness, creating better habits for myself and business related goals. I’ll be including very brief reviews of books, podcasts, supplements and other resources I’ve found useful along the way.