Habits, 30 Day Challenges & My Transformation Journey – The Compound Effect

Habits, 30 Day Challenges & My Transformation Journey - The Compound Effect

The Problem – I landed in London at the beginning of 2008. I had no money, a bit of support from friends, but no real safety net. Through a strong reference I got a temp job in a finance function. A one month role turned into eight months, I was being paid by the hour, so was working as many as possible. By each Friday I was exhausted, so I would go to sleep early, Saturday would involve beer, perhaps a “Braai-BQ” and heading out until the early hours of the morning, Sunday was dedicated to the couch recovering for the week. September that year I started a 3 year training contract with Mazars in London. They had a great incentive where overtime became vacation, so again I worked as many hours as I could. I also spent many evenings and week-ends studying.

I then moved to Bermuda for 8 months, followed by 18 months at AIG with 100% travel role where food was generally in restaurants. I came back to London for a few months, before moving to Milan for a 7 month project in the April 2014. By then I was 94kgs (205lbs), having arrived in London weighing 73kgs (160lbs) – only 8 grams a day. I was tense. My stomach was a mess. I knew I needed a change and  had started to read a lot on personal development, the mask of self-denial was beginning to peel off.

Key points – desk job, loads of food and minimal exercise. 

The Transformation – I’ve learnt about how some people are abstainers and others are moderators. Abstainers are quite happy to go without, but have one and they have to have many. Moderators hate to be told they can’t have something, but they are quite happy to stop after one. It may vary from vice to vice, but I am an generally an abstainer. I am also fortunate in that I hold myself accountable to a greater degree than anyone else could possibly.

I knew something had to change, something drastic. My whole focus had been on my career and lifestyle for the previous 6 years. I knew I needed a re-alignment. I went extreme (classic abstainer), I took a week off and…

  • went caffeine free
  • sugar free (most carbs)
  • alcohol free
  • started running (a lot of walking or very slow running)

Then I went back to work in Milan and I continued to go sugar free for a month. Caffeine free was not possible for me with Italian coffee aromas proving too tempting. I continued to go on runs from time. Within a couple of months I had dropped 10kgs. I could close my suit jacket!

But I was not done, I have continued since then to do a combination of read and apply. Focusing on one issue at a time. Substituting bad habits for good, challenging myself. It has been (is) a truly transformative journey over the past 2-3 years.

Key points – good habits, challenges and compound effect.

Habits – Habits are crucial. In the Compound Effect by Darren Hardy he explains that without habits, life would be tough. We would constantly be needing to make decisions. These habits, good or bad, have a compounded effect over time.

I have transformed many of my bad habits, some fundamentally, so marginally. Some highlights are below:

  • Clear on my Why – No change will stick, unless you know why you are doing it.
  • Perfect Week Plan – I set up a schedule of each day and what I want to spend my time doing. I then have to make a decision not to do it, rather than to do it. As I set up the schedule, it is what I want to do. The paradox of freedom based on a routine and set rules.
  • Intermittent fasting once a week – The idea of eating at regular intervals is illogical, never in our evolution has food been available at regular intervals until now. The commonly accepted wisdom is mostly B.S. Fasting helps to de-train my body from the craving effect around meal time.
  • Regular smoothies – Highly nutritious and low in calories, usually replace a meal. Win-win.
  • Morning and evening routine (5 days a week) –  Starting the day with a routine helps set the mindset and reduces decision fatigue. An evening routine will condition you to sleeping better.
  • 4 Runs a week – The key is variety, so I do one long run, one recovery, one Fartlek and 4 x laps around the block.

With these habits, I am never seeking perfection. I factor in failure. I go out for dinner and have starter, main and dessert. I don’t want it to create the misery associated with sacrifice, these are not sacrifices these are choices to do something. I know those that if I expect perfection, I will fail.

30 day challenges – Each month I do a 30 day challenge to break the back of a particular issue and I tend to retain some of the habits, but with more manageable intensity. While I am a big believer in setting goals, I also realise there are some intangible benefits not as easily defined, as it’s their absence rather than inclusion.  A 30 day challenge is a great way to break old habits and form new ones.

These are some of the ones I have completed:

  • Wheat free – A lot of people are more intolerant than they think. The beauty of this is you end up skipping a lot of processed foods.
  • Vegetarian – This was “enforced” from a housemate. It has allowed me to be more creative in my cooking (and generally healthier and cheaper). I seldom cook meat these days.
  • Sobriety – 30 days without a drink. I have done this twice this year. This wasn’t  a “I shouldn’t drink…”, that is a punishment mindset. I used a “I want to be sober” a more effective positive mindset.
  • Mobility – Fighting off the impact of the desk job. The Art of Manliness has some great posts on this. See some of the links below. I had a frozen left shoulder for 8 years without realising it and a hunched back from the desk job. I have managed to reverse most of the damage.
  • Complaint free – No one likes a whinger (I haven’t managed, but trying has made me better) – try wearing a band on your wrist and switch sides every time you notice.
  • Sugar free – It generally includes carbs, which most people need some of, what this is about is breaking the addiction.
  • Couch to 5k – Start easy, run 100m, walk the rest. Run from one bus stop to the next, then walk until the next. Slowly build it up. Don’t over do it, that causes injury and a negative association. There are some great apps to help you.
  • Sleep routine – This was fundamental to me. There are some great articles on sleep routine, otherwise day 2 of this mindfulness course focuses on sleep routine.
  • Gut Reboot – First week gluten & dairy free and live off smoothies and soups, second week back to solids, third re-introduce either gluten or dairy. Monitor the effects. Fourth week add back the other common intolerant.

Highlights of my Transformation

Fat dave Thin Dave

  • Lost 19 kg (93kg -> 74kg) so far
  • Sleep improved (2-3hrs uninterrupted to 6-8hrs)
  • Sick 3-4 times a year to I can’t remember the last time
  • Running 6:30min/km to 4:42/km for a 6km route
  • Struggling as a “non-runner” to complete 1km to comfortably running 10km (I plan to do a marathon next year)
  • Hunched back and locked shoulders to full mobility
  • Negative comments and interaction to more positive group engagement
  • Hair loss…Well, I’m still working that one out.

Nothing happens overnight. True transformation is not short term. Changing is easy, making that change stick is where it get’s tough. This is where the compounded effect of habits and finding accountability is crucial. It has been close to 3 years now of reading 1-2 books a week, applying what I have learnt. There have been many challenges and changes in my life and I have included some of the  key resources below, which I hope may benefit you too.


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