The Power of Habit

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Benjamin Chapin: "The Power of Habit: Change Your Habits. Change Your Life." 2nd ed.

One of the realizations I have come to on the basis of my various diet experiments has been that even though there are always mysteries and the perfect diet may be challenging to pinpoint for each person - the biggest obstacle to becoming healthier is bad habits.

the power of habit

There were certain foods that I knew were bad for me but I kept returning to after my strict diets to 'treat myself'. I realized too that it is not a willpower problem - as I could have forced myself to stay away from those foods. On the contrary, it is a problem with enjoying one's life. If you force yourself on a strict diet for a month, two or three, like I did, you gain certain benefits but you may also spend all your day thinking about what you can eat, preparing foods, shopping, trying to juggle social events so that you can still stick to your eating plan, etc. In short, dieting can take too much of a control of your life, and be too time-consuming.

So eventually you weigh the pros and cons and decide that you have already gotten many benefits from the diet and now it's time to take a break and enjoy your life. Of course then the old addictions kick in and it's hard to return to the strict eating again... probably because it wasn't a very good and sustainable way of living in the first place.

This book is an eye-opener because it teaches you to map a route to success by identifying and replacing those very bad habits first. You will get better results while enjoying your life and being excited about small challenges every day, together with steady progress towards your amazing, life-changing goals.

Habits are ingrained into our subconscious minds and tied with very complex and deep feelings of joy, satisfaction, identity, fears, comfort, etc. They are formed by a whole lifetime or many months and years of repeatedly doing the same things over and over again. They have become automatic and your body and mind rely on habits to function - they resist change. Habits should not be taken lightly.

Habits are the reason why it is impossible to overhaul your life and with sheer willpower become a new person overnight.

Below is a brief summary of some key points of realization from Benjamin Chapin's book: The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit - Book Summary

  1. To form a habit, you have to do something everyday at the same time.
  2. Are you a morning or evening person? Many people think they are one but are actually the other. Use the most productive and energised part of the day well.
  3. When making changes to your habits: Small steps with the end-result in mind proves successful while a large burst falls flat.
  4. Many successful people have a habit of waking up at 4am, or starting early. Gradually shift your clock back, maybe 1/2 hour each week, to wake up earlier. 4am start may be painful but can give you three extra hours every day. Get at least 6 hours of sleep per night to get the benefits of growth hormones. Go to bed between 9pm and 10pm.
  5. Don't sleep in late in the weekends if you are trying to form a wake-up habit.
  6. If you exercise at the same time every day it's more likely to stick as a habit. Don't stop exercising if you get bored, just vary your workout. Start with 20 minutes and build-up to 30-60 mins per day, five times per week. Make it fun to help the habit form.
  7. When exercising, keep your heart rate between 50-85% of the maximum recommended exercise rate to gain the most benefit. 220 minus your age gives you the maximum heart rate (in beats per minute). Aim for the lower end of your target heart rate in the beginning when starting a new exercise habit.
  8. You can split your exercise routine into morning and evening if you prefer it. Do different workouts on different days. Don't do the same workout every day as you can injure your muscles. Sip water while exercising, otherwise your body will conserve water. Stretch before and after.
  9. Identify where you can save time in your daily life. Start by writing an hour-by-hour record of how you currently spend you time.
  10. Do stretches while watching TV.
  11. Do your household chores quicker to get extra exercise.
  12. Figure out which bad eating habits you have: e.g. alcohol when stressed, sugar during menses. Change one eating habit each week. Replace bad foods - e.g. have celery and nut butter for a snack.
  13. Use exercise as a stress-management tool.
  14. Make a list of junk foods you eat and their replacements. Keep the replacements in your house readily available. Have a standard shopping list to use.
  15. Have cheat days or cheat meals.
  16. Once you get over your body's initial resistance, exercise will feel amazing.
  17. Obsess over healthy living until you have a habit.
  18. Healthy snack example: bread, peanut butter, apple or banana slices, cinnamon > toast in the oven.
  19. Think about your good and bad habits at work and in relationships. Develop new good habits, e.g. flirt with your partner and have fun with each other. Keep your relationship in focus and keep it strong.
  20. Schedule your workday and batch-process tasks (tackle similar tasks at once). Start by identifying your daily schedule now and seek to improve.
  21. Focus on small achievements every day towards a goal and be happy of your achievements every day.
  22. Ask each morning: What good shall I do today? And each evening: What good have I done today?
  23. Shed away so-called 'absolute truths', such as: 'I love to impulse shop' or 'I am an evening person'.

This book is appropriately titled since habits are extremely powerful. I have only picked some of the suggestions I found most interesting in the above book for this summary but much more has been written about habits in this book and in many others.

Riding a bicycle was difficult until it became a habit. Speaking a language was difficult until it became a habit. And the same with walking, writing, Kung Fu, flying a plane, snowboarding, tight-rope walking, using computer software, sailing a boat, etc. The habits that become easiest and most enjoyable are those that are repeated daily, or very often. Choose an exciting goal you want to achieve now and map out the route to how to get there, in small steps. That way you can enjoy the process and you are much more likely to succeed.

If you try to change a habit too suddenly or too quickly, your body and mind will resist.

According to different reports, to form a habit usually takes about 30 or 40 days, although it may depend on the person. It was an important realization for me that to improve your chances of forming a new habit it is best to do the same thing everyday at the same time!

Take pen and paper, list the habits you want to achieve, and then map out one of them, and how to get there day by day. Pin the map for the first habit on the wall and archive the long-list away. Only tackle one thing at a time. Enjoy the progress. Make it fun!

Waking up at 4am was a very exciting idea for me, maybe because it seems like a very difficult challenge and I seem to like challenging myself (with not always very good results so far but the new approach outlined in this book should help). I have recently started thinking that if you are not naturally tired and ready for bed by 9pm-10pm, you either woke up too late or you are taking too many stimulants or energising supplements. I will draw my first map right now and see how it goes :)

For more information about Benjamin Chapin and his books, visit: www.benjaminchapin.com

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