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zen habits: My Story

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

My Story

Many of my new readers (welcome new readers!) have been wondering, after reading some of my posts on how to achieve your goals, and how to save money or exercise or wake up early ... what exactly are my qualifications?

My answer is that I have no formal qualifications. I am not an expert, or a doctor, or a coach, or a consultant. I don't give seminars and I haven't published a book. I haven't made a million dollars and I'm not the world's greatest athlete.

All I am is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a worker, and a free-lance writer. But I have accomplished a lot over the last year and change (and failed a lot) and along the way, I have learned a lot.

Here's what I've done since December 2005, when I began to make changes in my life (this is going to sound like bragging, so forgive me, please):

  • Quit smoking (on Nov. 18, 2005). Really the change that set all the other changes in motion. Quitting smoking taught me a lot about changing habits and accomplishing goals, and all the elements needed to make this successful. I had tried and failed to quit smoking before, and when I was successful this time, I analyzed it and learned from it and was inspired by my success. Success can breed success, if you take advantage of it.
  • Became a runner. In order to relieve stress without smoking, I took up running. I started out by running about half a mile, heavily winded after doing so. I slowly built up my distance and within a month was running my first 5K. Soon after, I was so into running that I decided to run my first marathon.
  • Ran a marathon. About a year after I started running, I completed my first marathon. I didn't do it very fast, but I did it. It had always been one of my lifetime goals, and completing it was one of the very best things I've ever done. I hope to run many more, and recommend it to everyone.
  • Began waking early. In order to get my running in, I decided to start waking early. I did it slowly, and once I began waking early, I began to discover the joys of the quiet morning hours. I get so much more done in the morning -- not work, but working on my goals.
  • Became organized. In early 2006, I discovered GTD. It was like waking up after a long sleep. I learned how to keep my files in order, how to stay on top of my paperwork, to be organized at home and work. I'm not perfect, but I'm much, much improved over how I was before.
  • Began eating healthy. As a runner, and someone with the goal of losing weight, I decided I needed to eat healthier. I began cutting back on unhealthy things like fried and salty and sweet foods. I ate leaner poultry and fish, more fruits and veggies, more whole grains. It felt great!
  • Became a vegan. In August 2006, I decided to become vegan. I first cut out meat, and then slowly transitioned to a 99% vegan diet. I don't drink milk or eat eggs. Now, I am vegan most days, with some days when I have little choice but to eat cheese or something with traces of milk products. I hope to be 100% by the end of this year. I am eating healthier than ever before.
  • Doubled my income. I was only working as a free-lancer for most of 2005, and wasn't making enough to support my family, looking back on it. I got a job and continued free-lancing and effectively doubled my take-home by working two jobs (while still having time for exercise and my family).
  • Wrote a novel. I participated in NaNoWriMo 2006, and completed 50,000 words in November 2006 for my novel. Actually, I still need to finish the ending and revise it, but achieving my goal of 50,000 words was awesome.
  • Took control of my finances. This is related to doubling my income, of course, but I stopped living paycheck-to-paycheck and learned how to stick to my budget, spend less, save and pay off debts.
  • Began eliminating my debt. I started with some smaller bills at the beginning of last year, and paid off several of them by the end of the year. This year, I am doing even better, and plan to pay off my credit card by summer and car by the end of 2007.
  • Began saving an emergency fund. One of the smartest financial moves I've ever made. If you don't have one, start today! My emergency fund is still smaller than I'd like, but at least it's something. I continue to contribute to it each payday and within a few months it will be fairly healthy and I can begin to save for other things.
  • Simplified my life. I have become fairly frugal, and have reduced a lot of clutter in my life. A little at a time, gradually getting better, but I'm pretty happy with the simplicity of my house and the rest of my life.
  • Cleared my inbox and desk and kept them that way. I credit this to learning the principles of GTD. My inbox is always clear, and so is my desk. It is lovely!
  • Lost weight. I've lost about 30 pounds so far, and would like to lose another 20-30. My goal is to have a flat stomach by the end of 2007.
  • Began training for a triathlon. My goal this year is to complete an Olympic-distance triathlon. To that end, I have been taking swimming lessons and have started to learn to ride a bike.
  • Began commuting to work by bike. I just started this a few weeks ago, and only do it once or twice a week, but I hope to gradually increase to doing it 4-5 times a week. I am saving gas, helping the environment, being frugal, simplifying my life and getting great exercise all in one move!
  • Began the habit of clean-as-you-go, keeping my house clean all the time. I clean my kitchen sink every time I use it, and keep the counters and table clean. I clean my bathroom sink and toilet and shower every time I use it. I pick up after the kids as I go. I make sure the house is clean before I leave, and before I go to bed, so it's clean when I wake up. It's a simple way of keeping your house clean, and I recommend it heartily.
That sounds like a lot, and looking back on it, it is. But I didn't tackle it all at once, and by building on and learning from each previous success, I was able to achieve each new challenge I set before myself. And I had a blast doing it (and still do).

Now, I have no claims to perfection. I fail all the time, on a daily basis. But I don't let it stop me. Maybe I didn't run today. But that doesn't mean I won't run tomorrow, and it wont' stop me from achieving my goal. And there's still a lot of things I'd like to achieve, habits I'd like to change, and hope to change this year and in the coming years. But so far, I'm pretty happy with myself.

How have I done all this? No magic tricks, no special amount of determination or dedication. Simple methods, the stuff I talk about on this site, and stuff that I'm still learning to perfect and probably never will.

It is a journey, with no destination, that we are on, my friends. Join me. Together, we'll accomplish a lot and have fun along the way.


Anonymous said...

Leo, congrats on all the accomplishments over the past year. It seems like you got the ball rolling and everything just rolled along after that.

My question involves getting started. What event, etc in your life made you take such drastic steps? Was there one thing that gave you motivation to change? On top of that, what gave you the motivation to keep going? I often have initial plans to make changes, but the fire quickly burns out. Any advice you could give would be great.

Keep up the good work, I subscribe to your blog and read it daily.



Leo said...

Wow, Robert, great questions! Thanks for the comment (and for reading and subscribing, btw) ...

You're right, once I got the ball rolling, the rest sort of fell into place (to mix metaphors). It started, like I said, with quitting smoking. I had tried to quit, and failed, several times before, but this time it stuck.

What was different? A number of things. First, I had strong motivation - I had made a promise to my daughter (the subject of an upcoming Motivation Hack) and also my wife, who was a smoker herself but who had quit temporarily while pregnant. I knew that if I didn't quit before my wife gave birth, she would go back to smoking right away, and I didn't want that (I worry about her health).

What else was different? Well, I joined an online quit smoking forum, and that was great support. I committed as publicly as possible to family and friends. I wrote down a plan, with rewards and strategies for overcoming urges (take deep breaths, drink water, eat healthy snacks, go running). Running also helped, because I started that while quitting. And there was the support of my wife.

All of those factors helped. It wasn't one thing. I think having a combination of motivations, tactics, commitments, support, all of that is what makes a successful goal. It's not as simple as saying "I'm going to do this" because as I found out, and so have you and countless others, we begin to lose motivation or focus (both are very related) and soon we drop the goal.

Robert, I am not a person of great dedication or sticktuitiveness. I have failed in many goals ... but like you said, I got the ball rolling and kept going. You can do it too, and so can anyone, if I can!

Anonymous said...


I was looking for a way to contact you, but I couldn't find a contact form or email so I decided to leave a comment.

I've been following your blog for a couple weeks and I find it really inspiring. You actually inspired me to take up GTD. I can't wait until the book arrives so I can get started.

I'm also a member and organizer of a blog network that I think your site would fit in very well with. The main purpose is to help readers find quality blogs, aimed at helping them improve their lives, and to help the blogs increase their readership.

You can see the network homepage at www.positiveblog.net . Check out some of the member sites, and let me know if you're interested so I can fill you in on the details.

Anonymous said...

Who the h... are you? I did not think things like this were possible! I admire you without reservation. I wanna be like you. How can I ? You know, Leo, that most of us live life of quiet desperation ?

Thank You for such an example

Leo said...

I'm just a regular guy. And I haven't really done anything all that amazing ... I've just been changing my habits, a little at a time, taking two steps forward, falling one back, and then taking another two forward.

Yes, you can do it too. If I can, anyone can. And not just with the goals I've listed, but with anything. Start with something small. Want to be organized? Try just clearing out your inbox every day (see my article on that). Want to be a runner? Try walking three times a week, sprinkling your walking with a little running. And for each goal, don't just say, "I'll try to do it." Say, "I'm really gonna do it" and commit yourself fully (see my Top 20 Motivation Hacks). Really motivate yourself. Tell the world about it. If you only tell yourself, you're giving yourself a back door to let yourself out.

If you set a small goal, and really commit, and really motivate yourself, you can achieve it. And if you do, you will feel great. Then build on that feeling of success, and set another small goal.

A series of small goals adds up to a lot. That's what this article shows, not that I'm anything special. That little things, over time, really will seem like a lot when you look back on them.

Anonymous said...

Leo, I just read your comment in the 43 folders google group, had a short look at the 3 postings, bookmarked them and decided to subscribe to your blog.

Then, being a little curious I had a short look at 'your story' and like the others I'm impressed that changing your life to a more organized and fullfilling one in such a short time is really possible.
Like - I think - most of those people getting interested in GTD, I'm not really happy with my work habits and I feel not getting enough things done, doing them too slowly and with much more stress than necessary.
For several weeks now I'm reading many comments on GTD and other interesting methods and there are a lot of things I want to change in my life (keep inboxes clean, keep home clean, don't do things always last minute or even later....).

Your story gave me a lot of hope and courage so keep up that interesting blog.

Kind regards from Germany


Leo said...

Hi Elwood ... thanks for the great comment and especially for subscribing.

If I've inspired you at all, I am extremely happy. Like many people, you are trying to change your habits. I suggest you not focus on the negative (what you haven't done yet) and focus more on the positive ... such as how you are taking the time to improve your habits, and how far you've come already. Always focus on the positive -- it makes a huge difference. Celebrate your successes, and don't let your failures slow you down. Just start again. And again. Until you succeed. It can be done! I'm living proof (and as I said, I'm not perfect, but I've made lots of little improvements and have many more to make).

Good luck with your habit changes, and I hope I can be of help as you work towards your goals.

Anonymous said...

You are the man. These are great qualifications. After reading this post, I am totally sold on your posts.

I am working on getting up early right now. The only struggle I am having is to keep noise level down so I won't wake up my family. Do you have any tips on that?

Leo said...

Congrats on trying to become an early riser. Actually, you hit on one of my big motivations ... when my alarm goes off, I jump right up and head across the room to turn it off as quickly as possible, so I don't wake up the wife and babies. It usually only rings for a few seconds, and while they might stir a little, they don't usually wake up fully (or if they do, they go right back to sleep). If this isn't good enough for your situation, I would look for some kind of vibrating alarm clock solution -- I've heard of them but haven't tried any and can't recommend it. Lastly, another idea is earphones, if you're willing to sleep with them on, although I'm not sure if it would really work. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Leo, your story is really refreshing to read, I am a woman-of-a-certain-age reader (and from the other comments, maybe in the minority here) but, like you, I find that daily practices, staying present, GTD, clean-as-I-go, have engendered positive changes in my life, too. I am an artist, self-employed, and find applying these zen principles to life not only make me more fit, more organized, more peaceful, but more creative as well.

Leo said...

Thanks for the comment, Susie. It sounds like you are doing great with your habits. And congrats on being self-employed ... that's my eventual goal in terms of employment. I'd love it if you could stick around and share your tips and experiences with these topics. Or feel free to email me about writing a guest post (zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com). Thanks so much!

Robin said...

Hi Leo,
Your story is very inspiring and I commend you on all of the positive changes you have implemented in your life. I'd like to hear about your experiences and challenges with how the changes you have made have impacted others in your life? Have you inspired others to change in your immediate family and how (directly, indirectly)? Have you experienced resistance from others? How do you deal with this?

Keep up the excellent blog!

Leo said...

Hi Robin ... thanks for the nice comments and great questions. I could probably write a book in response to those questions! But briefly:

* My family has been very supportive, especially my wife. My kids were at the finish line of my marathon with a home-made sign, cheering me on, and they regularly congratulate me on my accomplishments. I couldn't have done any of this stuff without my wife and family.
* I have faced a few detractors in the last year or so (see "How to Deal with Detractors" in the sidebar to the right). The resistance, for most goals, hasn't been that strong, and it's just another obstacle to overcome. Just stay positive.
* I think I have inspired others, which is amazing to me. First, I inspired my wife to become a runner, which is awesome. I've inspired people in my hometown to run, and a few (who had already been runners before) ran their first marathon with me! And through this blog, I've had others tell me that I've inspired them, which is the true purpose of the blog. It is immensely gratifying.

Thanks again for the great questions! If you have other questions, feel free to email me at zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com. I'm pretty good at returning emails.

Anonymous said...

In French, because I don't qpeak (write) English very well ;-)))
Tu m'impressionnes beaucoup et tu me donnes du courage.
J'ai emprunté le même chemin il y a quelques temps mais ne suis pas parvenue (encore) aux mêmes résultats ! Toutes mes félicitations.

Leo said...

Hi Marie ... wow, my first multi-lingual comment! I don't understand French, but I looked closely at each word and made guesses about the first sentence (something about impressing you very much and giving you courage?) and the last sentence (congratulating me?). So overall, it sounds like a wonderful comment! I appreciate that. French is such a beautiful language. I'd love to learn it some day.

Mahesh said...

Great Blog! And congrats on positively changing yourself. You have become an inspiration to millions who are reading your wonderful blog, including me. And you are in my "personal heroes" list now!

Thanks for showing the way.


Leo said...

Thanks for the nice comments, Mahesh. I'm glad if you've found this blog useful, and extremely happy if it's been inspiring!