How I’ve Begun Changing My Life, One Habit at a Time

Green tea in cast-iron teapotI’m not a big movie guy, but I liked Limitless.

In it, Bradley Cooper’s character discovers a drug called NZT which allows him to access 100% of his brain, giving him incredible powers of focus, perception, and creativity.

Under its influence, he plays life at a higher level, excelling in everything from cleaning his apartment to his career as a writer, to forecasting stock patterns, to fighting, to conversation, to languages.

When I watched it, I couldn’t help but fantasize about what it would be like to have such immense control of the latent powers in one’s brain and body. But of course, it’s just make-believe, right?

Not so fast …

Friends, I have found the way to become limitless.

And, good news, it’s pretty simple.

It’s not as sexy or simple as a little clear pill, but it doesn’t feel like much more effort than taking one. Plus, it has a minor advantage over NZT, in that it doesn’t lead to life-devastating addiction and murder like in the film. Plus no crash later. (And nope, it’s not 5-Hour Energy.)

Before I hype it up too much, let me say this. What I’m talking about takes time. And actual work. But it’s not hard work; it’s actually enjoyable. With enough time and consistent, small effort, I expect the results to compound and grow exponentially, to leave me — and anyone else who uses it — completely transformed, from the inside out.

It’s about engineering your habits

Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day and at last we cannot break it.
– Horace Mann

For most of my adult life, I’ve enjoyed personal development books and programs. But over the past few years, I slowed down in my consumption of them. They simply ceased to motivate me the way they once had.

What’s more, I had begun to believe that my own ability to execute on ideas had dwindled to almost nothing.

It had. I understood that small actions, taken every single day, become powerful habits which dictate the results we get from life. And while I came to appreciate discipline as the skill necessary to engineer habits, I felt that I had none.

One day, I might decide to stop drinking coffee. I’d go two or three days without, then find an excuse to drink it again.

A few weeks later, I’d decide that I was going to start writing every day. Or running every day. Or reading or saving money or playing chess or keeping a clean workspace or following a schedule or walking my dogs more or checking email less.

I’d decide to change something (or usually, many things at once) and implement it immediately. I’d tell myself that from this point forward, things would be different. I would be different.

And invariably, I’d quit the next week, disheartened and frustrated. So I’d try harder next time, with more ambitious goals, more changes to make, only to fail again.

This was me.

What was I doing wrong? Was I really this powerless? Was this just a fact of adult life, that real responsibilities, a family, and bills to pay simply must render one inept at changing?

If you can’t spot what I was doing wrong, you’re doing it wrong too

Over the past four months, I’ve changed more things in my life and had greater control over my actions than ever before. The results are snowballing, and it feels like I’m only gaining momentum. And because of some of the changes I’ve made, like getting up earlier, I have more time than ever to change even more things.

What happened?

I discovered the fatal flaw in my approach. It was my very enthusiasm to change which undermined my efforts to do so.

The ingredient I was missing was patience.

I didn’t discover this on my own — I don’t think that would have been possible, since each failure only led to my doubling down the next time to make up for it.

Instead, I learned about it last June, at the first-ever World Domination Summit in Portland. There, I heard Leo Babauta (author of the aforelinkedto Zen Habits) speak.

In my notes from his talk, I wrote these words:

One change at a time. Five minutes at first.

Never before had I encountered these ideas. I had read many times that I needed to develop discipline, and that my habits would come to define me. And yet I had never learned how to change a habit.

All of my life, especially recently, every attempt I had made to change my habits had been a dramatic one. And in concert with others, so that each time, what I was planning was nothing short of a life overhaul.

But you’d never try to run 10 miles on your first day back after a long layoff; you know that it takes time to regain your fitness, and that doing too much could lead to injury or burnout. Same with the gym — you don’t go in on Day 1 and try to bench twice your weight.

And yet that’s exactly the way I had tried to change my habits. My “change muscles” were extremely weak from lack of use, and I was blowing them out on the first day by attempting too much, too soon.

Every single time.

Change just one habit a month, and in three years you’ll have 36 new habits.

I wish I could say I took Leo’s advice then and there. Had I summoned the patience to change just one habit every month or two, and not take on another until the first felt effortless, I’d be writing this post last summer instead of now.

But instead, I listened to the voice in my head that said, “Sure, everyone else should take a whole month for each new habit, but not you. You can handle more.”

This, despite a good three years of evidence to the contrary.

I went home, put forth a halfhearted effort to restrain myself from attempting too many changes at once, and soon was back to my old ways.

What it took for me to start listening to Leo’s advice was to put my money on the line (a powerful motivator), and to hearing the message about three more times. I joined Leo’s Sea Change program as soon as he opened it this February: the point was that members would create habits using the skills Leo taught. As a group, but also on our own.

The twenty dollars I spent to join (and each twenty every month after that) could very well be the best money I’ve ever spent. What changed everything for me was the understanding that even if I just created one new habit each month, in three years I’d have 36 new habits.

I would be transformed, unrecognizable in my discipline, my actions, and my results. So began my slow, but steady, progression of change.

Happy celebrating winning success woman sunset

9 habits I’ve changed in less than four months

In Month 1, we created the habit of meditation. We started with just five minutes each day — not 30, as would have been my natural inclination — and focused on that one habit only. Nothing else.

After a week or so, it became 10 minutes per day, and by the end of the month my half hour of daily meditation was automatic.

Meditation had always been interesting to me (and something I’d been unsuccessful at sticking to on my own), so I was happy to create that habit. But infinitely more valuable than the mindfulness that has resulted from meditation was the experience of creating just one habit for one month, starting with just five minutes.

Finally, I had proof that I could create a habit. And a formula by which to do it.

In the next month, March, I added reading to my new stable of healthy habits. Just a little bit each day, gradually increasing to half an hour each day, and sometimes more. I’ve always loved reading and called myself a reader. The difference is now I do it.

In April, my family moved to Asheville, I chose an easier habit — flossing my teeth. A simple thing, sure, but another thread added to the cable (and better breath to boot). I found this two-minute habit so easy that the second half of the month, I started making my bed each day, after learning from Gretchen Rubin (in a Sea Change webinar) that this seemingly inconsequential habit was one factor linked to happiness for a lot of people.

All of these habits were easy to start, and that was intentional. Just like you learn to run a few miles before you train to run a marathon. Small, easy changes at first.

But with stronger discipline muscles and some confidence in my skills, I started experimenting with more frequent additions of tougher habits — not simultaneous like before, but separated by only a week or two.

In the last week of April, I started replacing daily coffee with green tea. I’m down to drinking coffee just once per week, and that’s where I plan to stay. I don’t want to kick coffee out of my life; I just don’t want to need it every day.

On May 1, I started getting up earlier. This was a habit that Leo suggested we not try at first because of its difficulty, but I felt ready. Three weeks later, I’m getting up an hour earlier each day than I was before, and I’m excited to get out of bed.

Next, I decided to eliminate a bad habit, another challenge that Leo recommended waiting until we had developed some skill before attempting. (Replacing coffee with tea was sort of a warmup.) And so I quit biting my fingernails, a habit that has been a part of me for twenty years, by substituting five mindful breaths each time I have the urge. It’s now been two weeks, and my hands look nicer than they have in years.

The next week, I started practicing music more seriously. One of the nice things about our new home is that I can play my drumset in the basement without much sound escaping the house to bother neighbors (haven’t yet figured out how not to bother Erin, but my son loves playing with me). I had been playing on and off since we moved — the first time since college, really — but finally I took a few steps to make this into a real habit. So I’m up to a half hour a day with that, sometimes mixing in guitar or violin when I want a break from the drums.

And last week I began daily exercise. Certainly this was far easier for me than it would be for someone who has never exercised in their life. But far too often since I moved, with all the fun things to do in my new city, I was going three or four days in a row without doing anything physical. So in the hour that I’m awake before everyone else, running (and some pushups, pullups, and situps) is what I do.

Even with this, a habit I know well and am comfortable with, I started with just 20 minutes. It’s tough to resist the urge to do more, but I’ve learned how important that is. To leave yourself craving more is a sure way to frame your new habit as something to look forward to, rather than a burden.

What’s next?

When I started all of this, I wrote down a list of 10 good habits I’d like to start, and five bad ones I’d like to break. I’ve knocked out half of that list already, not even four months in.

I’m sure as I push the limits of what I can handle, I’ll stumble. I’ll probably get too confident, take on too much at once, and fail at a habit or two. But with the knowledge of what’s going on, I think I’ll be able to make adjustments to learn just how often I can introduce new habits — as well as when it’s time to rest and enjoy the changes I’ve made, rather than always focusing on new ones.

What’s really intriguing is what will come next — once I’ve tackled all the high-priority habits that sprung to mind in that brainstorm, are there others I haven’t dared to dream of because they seemed frivolous or unrealistic? Perhaps these are the ones that will matter the most.

Time will tell. The potential for change feels, well, limitless.

I know I’ve written more about myself in this post than I usually do on this blog. But I hope you see that I didn’t write this just for me. Mainly, I just hope to get across this simple yet so counterintuitive idea that if you’ve failed at creating changes in your life like I had, trying harder and going bigger is the opposite of what you need to do.

Instead, have the patience to focus on just one thing. For just five minutes. And go from there.



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  1. Love this post and Leo’s posts as well. We limit ourselves so much, setting ourselves up for failures in the middle of trying to change too much! You’re right, the little steps are easy, and it’s all it takes to build a better life or a changed life, but it takes work. Congratulations on your changes and thank you for the inspiration!

    • Thank you for this post! I too struggle with over ambitiousness then give up quickly with little effort, fleeting to a new objective. I’m inspired to map out my conquests and make lasting, meaningful changes in my life.

      Thank you again for sharing your insight!

  2. Awesome! Just what I needed today!

  3. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Great post Matt. So many changes (improvements may be a better word?) I’d like to make. Even a 5 mile jog begins with a first step and then the desire to take another step and so on. I defintiely need to take up your method for quitting the nail biting habit.
    Rock on Dude!

  4. Makes sense to me! Great post. Good luck with all your new (good) habits.

  5. Henning says:

    really great post. but there is one thing that is bothering me. changing one or two habits shouldnt be a problem at all, but when you start meditating for half an hour, than you add working out each day for half an our, than you do this for half an our each day, and so on .. In the end all those changes take up quite some time each day, dont they? how can you combine that with work, friends and family?

    let me formulate a provocative question:
    do you need to “sort out” some of your new habits, because the amount of changes end up being a bad habit?

    • Thanks Henning. Yes, the time thing has bothered me too. Because ideally, I wouldn’t even want a bunch of half-hour-a-day habits, but rather a few habits that I spend more time on each. So I think I will sort them out as I go. But as I mentioned, some habits free up a lot of time. Waking up early has freed up a whole hour (maybe slightly less if you assume I go to bed a little earlier), and developing the habit of checking email only 1-3 times per day would save me a ton of wasted time if I could do it (haven’t tried yet since I started all this). Same for working on a schedule — I think I could get done in 3 hours what I currently do in 5 or 6 if I followed a schedule. Exercising gives you back in energy what it takes in time, in my experience. Etc., etc.

      Certainly you can always think of more activities than you have time for, though. So yes, of course I’ll need to choose if I keep going with this and reach that point.

  6. Thank you for this post! The last five months have been a roller coaster of frustration for me as I’ve tried to make too many changes at once, and as you said each time I failed I would try to change even more. Finally a couple of weeks ago I said screw it! and stopped trying to change anything. Now feeling refreshed and no longer stressed about it all I’m ready to start with one good habit at a time and meditation is first on my list.

    Sometimes we know what the solution is but it can take reading or hearing it from another person’s viewpoint for it to really hit home.

  7. I highly recommend the Sparkpeople website for anyone interested in making changes that stick. Their approach is very similar to the one Matt mentions here – pick one thing and change it slowly. Add on more as you get more comfortable. You don’t have to become a marathon runner overnight when you’ve spent the last 25 years on the couch. You don’t have to become vegan overnight when your main veggie has traditionally been iceberg lettuce.

    Visit the website for articles, tips and support!

    • HuskerSalad says:

      I’m a fan of SP, too, and agree with your recommendation.

    • I got to a point last year where I lost my appetite, and when I started to eat I used Sparkpeople to make sure I was getting the nutrients needed. Very useful when I made the switch to a pescatarian diet. I used it to keep up with the recommended nutrients and minerals that will keep me ticking. Very useful app indeed.

  8. I’m not sure if I’ve commented here before. I had to click over from Google Reader to let you know what a fantastic post that was. I read Zen Habits too so I’ve heard it before but this time, it hit harder. Not sure why. Anyway, I wanted to say thanks.

  9. Veertje says:

    Thank you for writing this post! I happen to have started this exact approach just last week (I wasn’t aware of sea change, will visit the site in a minute) because I am always trying to improve myself by doing EVERYTHING perfect all at once… like swimming in the ocean whilst trying to push a massive tanker from shore. This week I have started meditating each day (20min) and I can be proud at the end of each day for having accomplished what I set out to do. More like pushing a little raft in the water, much easier!

  10. Michele says:

    Love this – thanks for sharing! Patience is one of my biggest struggles and it manifests itself in so many ways, but I never really thought about being so impatient to improve that it was holding me back or causing me to fail! Thanks Matt!

  11. Great post! I have also started changing bit by bit instead of doing the 180 degree things, which always saw me crashing and burning in no time at all. I’m intrigued by the assertion that making one’s bed adds to happiness – I’m definitely going to find out. Good job keeping track of all the changes you’ve made – I think it’s very important that we remind ourselves how far we’ve come.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Hanlie. And thanks so much for linking in your post!

    • Hanlie, try it! I have found that making my bed accomplishes many things. It makes my room look good, it makes me smile, it keeps me from going back to bed 🙂 and it makes me delighted to slip under the covers at night. It seems so silly but I believe it is true.

  12. The first part of the post seems like my story! You nailed it right. I lack patience too. This is such a great eye opener for me. I need to be patient with myself to see strong changes. Usually the changes are overwhelming and I tend to give up. May be it’s time I slow down , make a list and concentrate on one change at a time. Thanks!

  13. Stephanie says:

    Amazing post Matt! so very true. Patience is something I lack but I’m trying to look at it as something I’m working on 🙂

  14. That’s good coaching. Thanks Matt.

  15. Matt, I love this post! I’ll have to share with my family AND put myself to the test with this challenge. I was reading some of my old journals recently and lamenting on how I have been “working” on some of the same things for quite some time now with limited results. This sounds doable. The specific changes you chose are investments in a better you. Keep it up. You’re doing great! And thank you for sharing your experiences. This post has really made my day.

  16. Hello. I learned the same type of thing from Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fad, Feed the Muscle. He talked about NLP and Visualization, and that really works!! Basically it teaches that the habit is controlled in unconscious level, so it doesn’t work if you try to change it consciously. So I write down what I want to change every morning in the form of it’s already changed (like “I sleep well at nihgt since I switched from coffee to green tea for afternoon drink”: don’t want to use negative like “I don’t drink coffee anymore”), and make your brain to believe it. This works for me because by doing this, I started to believe it’s not only possible to make change, but more like that’s the way it is.

    • Takayo, interesting stuff. NLP is what a lot of Tony Robbins’ stuff is based on, and he’s always had a big impact on me. Maybe that means I’m particularly susceptible to NLP. 🙂 Congrats to on your changes!

  17. kathy weber says:

    I have low blood sugar and low thyroid as well. Because the low thyroid I cannot eat soy and certain vegetables I am told.

    The low blood sugar I am not supposed to eat sweet fruits like bananas, pineapples etc.

    Do you think is is possible to eat raw 80% or should a person like
    with health conditions such as I have eat more vegetarian ?

    Thank You for your support K.Weber

  18. Just when I thought letting myself down is my only talent… Thanx bunches

  19. you would likely enjoy the writings of Moshé Feldenkrais. 🙂


    I’ve included a link above to a NY Times book review of a good book that describes the “Habit Loop” that we inevitably find ourselves in at certain times in our lives, and how to change it. One of the takeaways from this book, and echoed in your blog post, is that you can “chunk it” in terms of changing habits – you don’t have to change the whole world in one day – in fact, habits become more permanent when they are gradually modified.

    As for me – I can tell you that the past 18 months have been a tremendous time of change for me as well. In December 2010 I attended a brief talk by Rip Esselstyn, a former professional triathlete and author of “The Engine 2 Diet” – and this former meat-a-tarian became a full fledged vegan. (I also gave up coffee and all caffeine – it was one of the best things I could have done for my training).

    I’m now on my 4th marathon (Steamboat Springs June 3) and will also do NYC this year for the 2nd time. I’ve used your vegan recovery drink for each long run over 8 miles and find that I actually crave it (my wife calls it green muck – well she’s now started running too – the green muck can’t be far behind!)

    Thanks Matt for a great website – keep the posts going – it’s okay if it’s about you (as long as it’s interesting).


    I’ve never felt better in my life.

    • Veertje says:

      Hey David, would you mind explaining why giving up coffee has made a big difference (to your training)? I am curious…and a little worried as I am enjoying my warm cup of caffeine… 🙂

      • Veertje – I’m convinced that (for me) giving up caffeine has re-set my body to a natural circadian rhythm. I don’t have any empirical evidence to prove this, but I can tell you that now, 18+ months after having given up all caffeine, when I wake up, I’m UP! I’m alert and ready to go. Conversely, when I need to go to sleep I can go to sleep much easier and get a more restful night’s sleep. I think there is no issue with one cup of coffee to wake up in the morning – but i was up to 4 or 5 cups throughout the day, so I wanted to get it out of my system completely. (And I will spare you the diatribe about the military-industrial complex conspiracy to caffeinate workers to get more productivity out of them – that’s for my friends in Boulder ;))

        • Veertje says:

          🙂 awesome, thanks! Cutting out coffee is on my list of habits to change and I can use all the motivation I can get because it means 3 days of withdrawal headaches (and I only have one cup a day…). Brrr.

        • I’ve found that I sleep better just by replacing coffee with green tea. I know it’s still caffeine, but I’m getting far less than I was with coffee.

          Two other ways giving up caffeine might improve your training:

          – If you believe in the acid/alkaline nutrition thing, then getting rid of a high-acid source like coffee would be a benefit to your body’s recovery.
          – If you choose to use caffeine for races or workouts, giving it up as a daily habit would make it more effective on the few days you use it for workouts. Not sure that I recommend this, though I do get a little caffeine in my Vega pre-workout drink (I wish they’d make a caffeine-free version).

          • Veertje says:

            Awesome, thanks for the tips and motivation, Matt!

          • I frequently start my workouts with a cup of green tea. (Adding a squirt of lemon juice multiples the antioxidant benfits three times.) I find that it boosts my energy about 20 minutes later. Sometimes I time that for the middle of my workout. The other great thing about green tea, besides the boost from the caffeine, is that one of its substances (Camellia simensia) helps you access and burn fat. It is often an ingredient in diet pills and supplements. it’s a great way to boost your work out and burn fat.

            Wonderful blog post. Well crafted and inspiring, which shows in the interesting comments that enhance and add to it! Best wishes for your mindful living!

    • Hey David, thanks for the link to the NYTimes article and the book suggestion. I’m checking it out right now. I’m interested to hear that you mention Rip in the context of not taking on too much — I love the impact that he and Dr. Esselstyn (and Campbell, of course) have had, but my problem with it is that it seems so idealistic. I prefer to approach things (in my own life, and in trying to teach others) with the assumption that just doing a little bit at first is great, and even if you can’t go all the way (whole-food, plant-based, say, with no oils, caffeine, alcohol, etc.), it’s still progress. I just find that if that end is what’s in mind and it’s unappealing (like, to me, such a restrictive diet is), then it’s very hard to make change.

      But it sounds like that was not the case with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      Thanks for the great comment!

      PS — I’m not sure which recovery drink you’re referring too (I think there are a few here), but it’s probably Brendan Brazier’s recipe, not mine. The only drink recipe that’s mine (I think) is the smoothie formula.

  21. Great post. Though I couldn’t imagine life without a daily run in the afternoon…. And I’m also a drummer. Curious as to what kit(s) your play. Me? Ludwig club dates sky blue pearl (1963), and Ludwig Rocker II (1984).

    • Larry, the fact that you couldn’t imagine life without your daily run just means it’s a strong habit, right? As for drums, I’m playing Pearl Export Select kit that I bought in high school as an upgrade to the $100 set I got at a yardsale. I’ve thought a little about upgrading again if I stay serious about it, but for now, I’m not worried about the equipment. I’m sure yours sound great!!

  22. I see a lot of myself in this post. I, too, lacked the patience and still do. Your words have given me hope and a desire to start again, but in small manageable steps this time. Thank you.

  23. Karen Hanson says:

    Well, I’m going to get off of here and go make my bed!

  24. This was an awesome post. I’m so glad you shared this experience. I know I’m guilty of WANTING to make a change or do something new, but never actually follow through. This process makes complete sense. It has inspired me to join the movement and start a new habit every month! I’m also sharing on my blog to spread the word 🙂

  25. Thanks for this write up Matt! As usual, it is a great read. Patience does not come easy for me; I will try your suggestion of 1 thing for 5 minutes; surely I can do that!

    Thanks as aways for your writings!

  26. Hi,

    I don’t want to be a naysayer, but I kind of have to here. To me the problem wasn’t that you had too much enthusiasm, I would beg to have yours; it seems like you did these things without telling yourself what meaning these things had to you. I mean real meaning/value not because “I should or shouldn’t.” You make it seem like a goal to change your life. Life is not a goal! What if you suddenly could not walk or see? Would exercising your legs and reading still be important to you? What if science and medicine proved that coffee is better for you than green tea? You would have your habits, but suddenly they would become against what you actually are about. You could learn new habits for sure because you have the energy, but most people don’t. My life has meaning because I’m still here and all the possibilities I have in reacting according to my values. I know what I value and I have to tell myself, not question, ever second if it’s worth my energy. This is only important if you do not have enthusiasm. My body and my brain are telling me I don’t have any energy, but by knowing what I value I still do everything that I see as meaningful. And all these things are not habits. I only suggest these ideas because I am one of those people with curiosity and no enthusiasm. Not having habits but doing a lot of things makes me feel free.
    Also, you could run ten miles after not ever exercising if you had some reason to do so. Ask Pheidippides of the Marathon run. I’m sure he ran that much all the time. I know he died, but still; he did it.
    If habits are what you want, then this is very promising. I just chose not to see it this way.


    • Hey Rich, nothing wrong with being a naysayer. I’m a naysayer about a lot of things. 🙂 I think your points are fair ones, but I’m not sure where I conveyed the idea that these aren’t meaningful things for me. None are things that I felt I “should” do for reasons other than my own.

      I can see the downside of having a life full of habits that are not meaningful, and leaving no time for curiosity, spontaneity or exploration. But something like playing music, for example, adds a lot of richness to my life over time, yet is not something that I’m always compelled to do in the moment. I think changing my default from not playing music each day to playing it each day is a good thing in my life, and similarly for many other habits.

  27. Deborah says:

    Matt, my son’s a drummer. We keep a big container of foam earplugs at all times. He wears them while playing in the house, too. Protect those ears!

    • Deborah, thanks for looking out. 🙂 I do wear earplugs when I play (although I didn’t always, and I worry about what effect it will have later in life). And whenever my son is down there with me, he wears these headphone-style ear protectors too. Wouldn’t want to mess with his little ears.

  28. This post is so incredibly inspiring! I am curently going though the same thing you went through; there are so many changes I want to make in my life and every time I try, I fail miserably because its just too much at once. I am going to take your advice and try sticking to just one change at a time. The first change I am going to make is one that you mentioned; running for just 20 minutes (and eventually longer) every day. I used to love running; I ran two half marathons. But recently things have been going on in my life and I have been making excuses to not run. I haven’t run since my last half marathon which was at the end of April. Hopefully by running for just 20 minutes every day, I’ll be able to re-discover my love for running. Thank you for this post!

    • Jessica, keep in mind that even 20 minutes is a lot for a brand new habit. I was comfortable doing it with running because I’ve been running occasionally anyway and have a long history with running, sometimes for 10 hours straight! But for all other habits that I’m less familiar with, I started with 5 minutes. Sometimes Leo even suggests just 2 or 3 minutes if you’re having trouble getting yourself to do it!

  29. Richard says:

    Great post. Thank you. I hope you are enjoying Asheville – it’s amazing place. A health conscious and spiritually focused community. Plus the opportunities for recreation are incredible. One of my favorite destinations!

  30. Matt,

    I came across your site from a friend of mines (Amber at fettle vegan). Although I am not vegan (very much a paleo guy) I am fully enjoying the site.

    I’m a big believer in finding what works for you, makes you happy, and continuing to do that until you feel it’s time to change.

    This post was phenomenal and one that I can really relate to. I recently took on the challenge of adopting regular meditation as a practice. It has translated into my life in some amazing ways. If I can just now get into the habit of stretching more often 😀

    I’d like to recommend the book “Switch” by The Heath brothers if you have not read it. It touches on a lot of these concepts and some other very unique ones when addressing creating change and habits.

    • Thanks Justin! I haven’t heard of Switch but I’ll check it out! This stuff is fascinating to me. Glad to hear you found me through the Fettle Vegan interview!

  31. I think this sounds great, but the actual site says that registration is closed (for April!). Think you have any sway to open it up (for May? June?)

    • Mike, haha, no I don’t think I have any sway with Leo’s business plans… but I think he opens during the last few (or first few) days of each month. Not totally sure about that though; just check Zen Habits around that time to see if it’s opening.

  32. Rebecca Goodrich says:

    Let’s not give Leo all the credit here. What he is cashing in on is the ancient strategy of Kaizen.
    Rooted in the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching–“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”–Kaizen is the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady increments. There are many excellent books on the Kaizen process (that don’t cost you $20 a month). One good one is “One Small Step Can Change Your Life” by Robert Maurer.

    • Rebecca, I think Leo would be the first to admit that he’s learned how to change by learning from others. The very name of his blog, I believe, comes from the fact that he studied a lot of Buddhist texts.

      As for finding an alternative that doesn’t cost $20/month, sure, that’s a great alternative for some people. I was careful to say that the actual act of spending money was a big part of my own change though — it’s a motivator that compels me not to procrastinate. I know many others are the same way, and I’m sure many are not. Whatever works for you!

  33. This is great! THANK YOU!!! 🙂

  34. This is SO smart. I was just talking to my mother-in-law recently about not having the patience to add habits slowly. With a new month coming up, I think I’ll make a list of habits and prioritize them.

    • Miss Britt, yeah it’s such a (for me) counterintuitive concept. We’re wired to be overly optimistic in our abilities to predict how we’ll feel in the future (like how hard it will be to change habits), so the patience is definitely not natural. That’s why this has been such a life-changing realization for me.

  35. Great post! Hit home! Thx Matt

  36. How ’bout a spoiler alert next time!!!

  37. I did not research the seachange program, but I am grateful for introducing the concept of HOW to successfully implement good habits and break bad habits. I am motivated to start this myself. Meditation sounds like a good place to start as I too need this in my life in order to reduce stress.

    Thank you for this! I TOO now have hope for the future of change in my life after 42 years…

    • Dan, I think meditation is a great place to start (and I think that’s probably why Leo chose it as the first group habit). I’ve found that foundation of mindfulness to be really helpful with the subsequent habit changes. Good luck!

  38. Thanks for this. You’ve inspired me to start meditating again…10 minutes a day right now. Just finished day 3, and awfully proud of myself.

  39. Cindy Robinson says:

    Thank you, thank you! This is just what I am needing. I too, have fallen victim of tackling too much at one time. Only to find myself disappointed that I couldn’t finish a goal or accomplish kicking a habit.

  40. Thank you for this post! I seem to want to fix so many things in my life all at once, and it is SO hard to! I pile things on and on and on. Now I know I need to step back, make priorities and do things a step at a time. I set an exercise schedule and I have my boyfriend who holds me accountable.
    I love your blog! Thanks!

  41. Hi,

    We all unconsciously acquire habits over a period of time. They may be good or may be bad. But, “consciously” changing an old habit or “consciously” acquiring a new habit is a tough task. Despite all tips and tricks that one gets from others on how to set/change habits, self-discipline is the old school way of establishing habits. Kudos to you for having achieved all this.


  42. Having been a coach for over thirty years, I completely agree with the one small act or action at a time and building upon that day by day, week by week and so on. When it comes to coaching on health, many people are overwhelmed because they feel they’ve failed in the past and it’s too big of a challenge. Wrong answer. You may not be able to change the situation overnight but you can change your direction.
    TCOY (Take Care of You) Wellness is my business name and philosophy empowering others to take charge of their well-being…for the health of it.

    Good Post! If you’ve never read the book “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, it’s a must read for all my clients.


  43. Hey Matt! I found this article (and your blog) through Leo Babauta and I am super inspired by it! I especially responded to your comment about maxing out on the personal development stuff. It’s not that I’ve consumed so much that I’m at my limit….but rather that I’m starting to hear the same recycled things over and over again, from different personalities, with slightly different spins….and I am increasingly aware that my time is not being well spent listening to this stuff. Rather, I want to take full personal responsibility for EVERYTHING in my life. Right down to flossing and running regularly. I feel like this blog post was a little mental tipping point for me. An “A-HA” that I needed. Really glad I found you and congrats on all of your fantastic progress!

  44. Margaret says:

    Really appreciate this blog (sent here today from the blog by Leo, who has really inspired/motivated me too). Thank you for your frankness–and inspiration to write down my own list of good habits to form/bad habits to lose.
    A big cheer for you, from another vegetarian–at least that’s what I’m thinking, from your URL nomeatathlete!

  45. Edwin ® says:

    Well Matt, you’ve proven the power of Leo’s change of habits.

    I provide pro bono help to the financially unabled based on what I call “Leo’s principals”.
    Every time it is a miracle how the fun and the limitation of one habit at a time, works!!

    Keep on the good spirit!


  46. Thank you so much for this incredibly motivational post! I was also sent here by Leo, and I’m so glad to have more inspirational material to read. Being vegetarian myself, I’m also super excited to check out the rest of your blog! (:

    Peace & love,

  47. Love this post!! People often seem taken aback when they find out I’m vegan or that I quit coffee (wrote about that recently for my roller derby league blog). They say things like, “I could never do that!” But they can, especially if I could. I loved coffee! I tell them that it took me a long time to get my diet 100% vegan. It isn’t magic. I started with giving up chicken and then went one unhealthy food at a time. Anyway, I’ve been adding better habits to my life a lot recently (meditation!) so this post is right on! I’m glad I found it and your website. Now I just need to stop biting my nails! 😉

  48. Suresh Kumar says:

    Just what I needed. It was overwhelming for me in the things i wanted to change or start but your post has helped me to put things in perspective. I love Leo Babtua’s blog and when i see how others have benefited from his advice it reaffirms my belief that that he’s worth his salt. Thanks

  49. Well said…one habit at a time, it helps us keep focus on one problem

  50. Changing 9 habits in 4 months is pretty impressive. At that rate you can do 27 in year… Jealous!

  51. Thanks Matt – right post and the right time. I have been feeling a lot of overwhelm since moving to Asheville and recently realized that I’ve been dismissing the effects of all the change I took on the past year. Life changes plus the desire for self-improvement has left my morale low – which confused me since I’m loving my life (and my new town 🙂 Several things clicked reading this post and I look forward to testing the 5 minutes a day/1 change a month strategy!

  52. Great post!! Something that has definitely been on my mind lately too. I tend to take on too much at once, habit-changing definitely included!! It’s like I took that saying – if you want something done, give it to a busy person – and built my life around it. Exams are here (post-grad law) so of course I take on two new jobs, decide to get more into my blogging and start getting up early, meditating more and fitting more veggies into my diet.

    I actually googled changing habits and am so glad that after an internet journey from one thing to the next (funny how that happens!) I stumbled across this!! Made me stop and think, hey, slow down!!

    I have heard abut Leo’s course before, but it certainly sounds like something I could do with… might leave signing up till the holidays though 😉

  53. Victoria says:

    Writing from the heart about personal stories and triumphs is far more effective than any length of copy written with an education agenda. Thank you for your story.

  54. This article has been sitting on my inbox for a while. It is almost as if I was waiting for the perfect time to read it…

    I just moved to a new place and have been ruminating over how I would like to start my life here. Isn’t this the perfect time to reassess and review my habits. I am an avid distance runner and endurance athlete -therefore I already know that I am a creature of habit. But I am also a human being and despite what people say I believe we are also meant to change and adapt. At this point in my life that is exactly what I will continually strive to do and now I have a reference point, and a forum to utilize when I feel I am retracting back to old ways. Thank you Matt, Thank you Leo. Your honesty and willingness to share your personal story has moved mountains on my spiritual path.

  55. Julie T says:

    Thanks for posting this. Some very useful tips.

  56. nice article….thnks

  57. I live in Asheville! Thanks for the review. I’m really looking into doing this program. I’m already a fan of Zen Habits and this is the time for some major changes for me. Maybe it’s time to invest a little.

  58. Just a quick note that the latest Zen Habits post indicates the course is open again through today only (8/31). I plan to sign up – see y’all in awesome-new-habitsville!

  59. Awesome article.

    I have been missing this stuff as i have failed several times to make a good habit.

    Thanks buddy

  60. I just recently joined the Sea Change program. It was one of the things that I had been putting off, waiting until i’d have more time to focus. I realized that there will never be “the perfect time” and that the best time for implementing change is always now. I am so encouraged to discover so many other folks who are honest about their struggle with similar obstacles in the pursuit of actually becoming the person they dream of being. I stumbled across you blog “by accident”, but in reality I believe there are no accidents. Thank you for sharing so honestly. You are a good writer, very clear and relatable.

  61. Matt,

    I’ve learned the hard way that my life can change through my habits–as bad habits of addiction had led me down the wrong path in the past. But this article wonderfully illustrates the way that ingraining those good habits, slowly, can transform anyone. Butthe first habit to maintain is patience.

    Great article. Love your blog. Been running now for 2 years! Much help from you!


  62. Great post! In some ways not “news” in that I know a lot of us know this wisdom from inside us, yet, we are often so distracted by the all the noise (also inside us, or all around…mental or physical, right?) that we are unable to hear it…thank you so much for the reminder to give ourselves a chance to change in a kinder way!

  63. Xavier Colon says:

    I came across this post by a miracle of wanting to change my life around. This post has given me a new way to form new ways of thinking and how to go about making the changes into reality..

  64. Enjoying the quality threads Matt! Most people fall victim to changing too much, too soon- i couldn’t agree more. As someone with a intense personality I know if i choose too many things its very hard to make LASTING changes- the ones that really matter hey. Ive recently cut back to 2-3 coffees a day MAX so that is a habit ive curbed at least. Also committing to strength or mass goals can be a great driving factor in gettting to the gym or doing those 100-200m x 10 sprints when you’d rather eat cornchips and watch a dvd haha. Cheers,

  65. Thank you!

  66. I love your site. I just stumbled upon it and then after reading your article above realized I attracted to me because you mentioned Leo B. whom I just so happen to have stumbled upon a few days ago. I just had a baby and one thing I am learning is patience. My whole world is changing and one thing I want is pure energy. So I decided to eat healthier and look up ways to transition from being a vegetarian to vegan. I’m a runner and just started up again. I miss the runner’s high. I juice everyday and started eating oatmeal and plan to start eating quinoa again. I haven’t considered Leo’s Sea of change program but I may just look into it seeing how it’s helped you. I absolutely love and adore my daughter and she is inspiring me to be the change I wish to see in this world, to be a solid inspiring role model for her, and your tips are helping me to mold into this person I am meant to be. I applaud you on your healthy lifestyle changes and look forward to mine. 🙂

  67. Hey what’s up Matt? I was searching for students from Leo Babauta and his Sea Change program and then I found this article.

    I just want to tell you that I really liked your story and how you managed to change so many things in your life in such a short period of time.

    Thanks for sharing your results man, I really appreciate it!


  68. awesome

  69. Thank you for your post, I really enjoyed it.
    Also, it reminded me of a passage from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.
    It is interesting to see how this extremely intelligent and successful man used the same method to improve himself and his life. And even though it seems like he was aiming for sanctity, Franklin was actually a pragmatic man, much more interested in worldly success than in divine grace. So we can still learn from his experience 🙂
    If you’re interested, check this out: “CONTINUATION OF THE ACCOUNT OF MY LIFE, BEGIN AT PASSY, NEAR PARIS, 1784”.
    Thanks again for sharing your experience!

  70. This clarified why in the past, some of my habits have stuck and some haven’t. I wish I would have been aware! The process of conditioning ourselves feels incredible once we get that initial momentum, and attitudes follow behaviors. Ben Franklin said, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”

  71. Suigeneris says:

    I changed my diet dramatically & embraced a whole foods plant based diet almost 2 years ago. I was 54 & morbidly obese and have lost 30 kg (66 pounds). Last year I was talking about trying to become more active but it never became a regular thing. After I listed to your podcast on habits this year I decided I could try one small habit and go up and down the stairs at home before my shower in the morning. So I began to do this easy brief small habit (5-6 times down then up) I did it in my nightwear with bare feet so no prep and very little time needed. After doing it for about a month to 6 weeks I decided I could extend things. Decided I could get up 1/2 hr earlier & Got the couch25k app. For the past 2 weeks 3 times per week I’m jogging & walking with the app and the other days I do my stairs. Every day that slot before my shower is my exercise time. Thank you for the inspiration it makes it feel possible to change doing it in such small increments.

  72. Nice effort in changing the habits. Very strong will indeed. I’m trying to up my game when it comes to overcome bad habits, but it remains very challenging.

  73. Merrilee McCain says:

    Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing with us Matt. HaBITs are made a BIT. at a time!

    A great writer from the turn of the century wrote, “There is not a virtue nor a vice, not an act of body, nor of mind, to which we may not be chained down by the force of habit.”

    When I was struggling with progressively poor health in my late twenties, I was led to think back on what made my childhood so happy and healthy. I came to the conclusion that I had never developed the habit then of taking drugs or stimulants in order to feel “normal.” so why should I need them as an adult? What a simple lifestyle we had then!

    My mom made us balanced vegetarian meals that appealed to our eyes as well as to our taste buds at regular times each day, where we would all come and sit down and eat together and it would be a happy time. In the evening after school we would socialize together reading or playing scrabble, or played musical instruments, sang, etc. and it was a nice way to wind down from the day. I was in bed every night by 8pm, We played freely for hours in the fresh open air and sunshine with friends and went on hikes. At home our parents worked with us learning practical things. My mom was a gardener, by dad taught my brothers how to do skills like building things from scratch, etc. My family habitually took one full day off at the end of the week to rest from regular labor to spend together in a special way (we believed in the 7th day rest day which we called Sabbath so we took this time off to recharge spiritually as well as physically), and out in nature. I discarded the T.V. and movie habit long ago and now favor spending quality time daily with my children in practical and fun ways as a homeschooling mom. We are learning that in order to live like no one else, we have to LIVE like nobody else!

  74. Eileen Burke says:

    Thank you for this. Fantastic advice!!

  75. Matt,
    In your ‘Remedy Food Project’ video (Atlanta), you state, from minute 2:16, that you were a marathon runner at college and that your times improved since becoming vegetarian & vegan.
    Why, then, within this article, do you state that one of the habits you have changed is exercise? (“And last week I began daily exercise…..So in the hour that I’m awake before everyone else, running (and some pushups, pullups, and situps) is what I do.”)
    Contradictions like this do anything but inspire me.

    • Hi Nige, all of these things are true, but I don’t see a contradiction. I qualified for Boston after going vegetarian, got into ultra running after going vegan, and have dealt with virtually no injuries since making these diet changes. A few years after I started running 50-milers I took a break from running, not really a deliberate one but I just found it hard to get myself out the door. (Also moved my family during this time, and did manage to train for and run a few marathons.) And that’s when this post, and this “restart daily exercise” initiative, came about… and it worked! I ran my 100-miler about a year after this post.

  76. Love love love this. So true!!!! I’m going to try meditation for 5 mins a day…..and that’s all 🙂

  77. Kit Schmulling says:

    Thank you for writing this.

  78. I set up and chin-up bar in the washroom at the beginning of Winter and to enter I have to do a chin up. First I could only do one or two. Now I’m up to twelve including some variations. We actually use the washroom often I realized. 🙂 Thanks for the posts!

  79. Mackenzie says:

    This article feels life-changing. The notion that it is impatience that hinders our growth really changed my perspective on adopting new habits and routines. I am a competitive person, and runner, and am so guilty of trying to change too much, too fast. You are right- when I first started running I didn’t expect myself to do a marathon right off the bat, I just tried to start. My only goal was to enjoy it (Beyonce helped me with that). So why am I setting myself up for failure now, even with the best intentions?
    Thank-you for sharing this post. I leave feeling more confident that I am in control of my life, and am capable of more.

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