Friday Links 08-05-16

From the Web

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits – A great New York Times piece on habits, what they mean and some tips for taking control of them. Habits and how they impact our lives has been a recurring theme on this blog, so it probably won’t have too many new ideas for long-time readers.

How to Be a Man – Steve Pavlina writes about the virtues of manliness. The most interesting points are:

2. Put Your Relationships Second – A man who claims his #1 commitment in life is his relationship partner (or his family) is either too dishonest or too weak to be trusted.”

8. Honor the Masculinity of Other Men – When a man sees a male friend undertaking a new venture that will clearly lead to failure, what does the man do? Does he warn his friend off such a path? No, the man encourages his friend to continue.”

Although it’s written for the XY’s in the audience, I think this advice could apply to anyone trying to be a better person.

From the Archives

Don’t Be Yourself – One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is “Whether you try to or not, you can’t be anything but yourself.” I think it is important to be authentic and original, but “being yourself” can be an excuse to surrender to any limitations you’ve had in your past.

Blog Update

Lot’s of news coming in the next few weeks. You should see announcements for a few new projects that are nearing completion:

  1. Email Zen – This is a book I was asked to do for the Web Warrior Guides. The small ebook covers my ideas for how to have efficient email usage without falling into some of the most common communication traps. This will be coming out in the next few days, so expect to see a post soon.
  2. Get More From Life – This is my “Best of” ebook and paperback. The ebook will be free and covers the best 20 articles from my archives of over 530. The paperback is similar, except it contains the best 80 articles and comes printed on dead trees. Production is finished, I’m just doing the finishing touches with the self-publisher, Lulu.

  • Thor

    Hi, some time reader, first time commenter here. I like this blog a lot and subscribe to it. I would like to ask a question about changing habits. It is conventional wisdom that one should only work on one goal at a time for like a month or so. But summer is short and I want to have gotten both healthier and have made substantial progress with my websites next fall. The websites need only one habit developed, to regularly sit down and work at them. Health habits involve exercise, sleeping and eating habits (am currently quitting smoking) and if I have to choose only one habit to work on per month I cant choose between. How do I continue?

  • Scott Young


    I spoken with a lot of people, who are enthusiastic about the process of changing habits and so they try to do several at the same time. While it’s *possible* to do 2-3 at once (I’ve done so myself), I don’t recommend it to someone starting out.

    There are two reasons for this:

    1) Habits are about mental focus. If your attention is split up between several, you won’t be able to focus on one adequately to see it through. This might not be a problem if the change is relatively easy, but if it requires some willpower, this might not be the case.

    2) You need to build a commitment threshold to the process. It’s easy to give up on a hard trial if you haven’t successfully completed 6-7 before you.

    My suggestion is to do them staggered. Focus on one for 15-21 days before starting another. The hardest part is often the first two weeks, so going after that should be easier.


  • Thor

    Thanks. Now they all fit and I only have to choose what habit to start on, and that is coming into focus as I type this. Health related habits should be well suited to do staggered since they build upon each other, better diet – exercise – waking up early – meditation – … But I guess I’ll focus on the working on websites habit first since that is probably easiest to begin with. Thanks again.

  • Tim Brownson

    Guys I have to say you are dealing in such sweeping statements that you are on incredibly thin ice.

    Forget conventional wisdom because if you don’t you just end up as an Average Joe because that is what conventional wisdom is based around. Unless of course that is what you want, in which case, knock yourself out.

    Will power = motivation, and if you have enough of that then you can easily work on more than one change at once. I have seen it done successfully numerous times it’s just a question of belief……in yourself.

  • Jonas Park

    It is absolutely true that with enough willpower and motivation one can take on any number of habit changes at once. To me, however, it looks like the issue being discussed by Thor and Scott here is the juggling act between maximizing the speed and success of habit implementation versus dealing with attention as a scarce resource.

    The “conventional wisdom” most self-helpers seem to operate on, unfortunately, seems to be: the more changes you attempt within a given period of time, the faster I will achieve my goals and the better off I will be, sooner. The idea of focusing on one manageable habit change at a time is a tall order for many for the simple fact that it seems too easy, and they question the merits of attempting something that seems so easily within their grasp (“No pain, no gain.”) Obviously, growth comes at the cost of facing challenges, right?

    The point that Scott has made time and again (Correct me if I’m wrong.) is that, more often than not, people greatly underestimate the mental resources required in making even one simple change in one’s routines. In order for a habit to form, one must bring awareness to his current behaviors, create a new mental groove, and deepen that groove to an extent where it will override the current behavioral patterns and/or any mental-emotional resistance, by repetition of that new behavior. In other words, you must recognize, form, and maintain a new pattern of operation. And this takes ATTENTION which, again, is a resource that one only has a finite amount of. Willpower, motivation, belief – even those are conditioned modalities, which is to say, HABITS, which one must condition through proper investment of attention and time. They don’t appear out of nowhere. They have to be cultivated in order to serve further habit changes – probably one at a time. Obviously, if they were developed sufficiently enough to handle 3 behavior changes simultaneously, I suppose you could do that – in the same sense that, if I had enough leg power and techniques, I could dunk a basketball from the free throw line. There are people who can do that. I happen not to be one of them…yet 🙂 Same for habit changes.


  • Scott Young


    Sure, if you have enough motivation you can do 10 changes at once. If you have enough motivation and confidence, anything is possible.

    My point is simple. A month, which seems like forever going into a change, isn’t actually that long. If you were to work on your habits for a year, you could basically change every major habit in 12 months. Most people won’t do that in their entire lives.

    The 30 Day Trial method isn’t a slow approach, it’s incredibly fast compared to the strategies most people use. Sure you can speed it up, but I’d rather be patient and do it right the first time.

    Jonas and Thor,

    Ignore my conventional wisdom. My advice only comes from interacting with a lot of people trying to make changes on their own. That is, the tendency is to go too fast with the 30 DT, not too slow.

    I’ve found it’s way easier to get motivated when setting my habit trials than it is to finish the entire month. This advice reflects my personal bias. Perhaps you’re different.

  • Tim Brownson

    Fascinating debate guys, I like this 😉

    The easy thing to do here is look at the situation in terms of what is right for us as individuals. You make an analogy Jonas that to do 3 things at once is akin to you dunking from the free throw line, but that is you. Some people are more adept at dealing with multiple challenges than they are single events. They’re a small minority, but nevertheless they exist.

    The reason why I sometimes shy away from dealing with issues consecutively is that it encourages people that may have a lot more in them to try the ‘easier’ more mortal route first. I would prefer to encourage a client to take the tough option first and then track back from that. It’s all about an individuals belief in their own ability and if they go in thinking it’s tough and they may fail, then guess what?

    30 days is a short time compared to a lot of things but it’s can seem like a life time to some people when making change is involved.

    I’m going to add a caveat because I am to some extent playing devils advocate. I do realize that there is a danger of knocking somebody back by overloading them and that is really a coaching/theraputic judgment call. I do accept that I will take the option you posted about if I think any reversal will severely disrupt a clients self-belief.

    If you haven’t done Scott, I think you’d get a lot out of reading Richard Bandler, the guy is a genius in the true sense. He believes that change happens in an instance. It’s not a 30 day or even 7 day thing, it’s a one second deal when the switch moves over and that is that. I am inclined to agree, it’s just that sometimes we don’t recognize the moment when we do change because it gets lost in all the noise and we think it happened slowly.

  • Jonas Park

    Mr. Brownson: Your second post makes your take on the issue far more clear. That a person may be better suited to take on multiple changes at a time rather than one, not because he is overzealous or unfocused, but because he finds that route to be more mentally workable, is a viewpoint I haven’t considered. More doesn’t equal harder, just different: I can understand that.

    I think it would make even more sense for you as a coach, because people who would ask for a paid coach are more likely to be more clear and/or determined about whatever changes they want to achieve, and have more innate motivation, at least concerning the given circumstances. And of course as a coach you are someone to hold them accountable, acting as their anchor and an added source of motivation and clarity. For me personally even the smallest, single behavior adoption was such a challenge in the beginning (such as keeping a written record of my daily activities for 30 days to see where my time goes) that I had to start with something even smaller, and sort of build my muscle for the biggie.

    Which of Bandler’s books deserve the most attention, would you say? Obviously he’s a very famous guy, being a co-founder of NLP, and there are so many books out there bearing his name going all the way back to the late 60’s.

    The idea that change on a meaningful level happens in an instance, on a non-linear dimension, is an intriguing one, and one which I’ve been continuously encountering and trying to wrap my head around while reading such books as “The Power of Now” and “Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work: A Book About Instantaneous Transformation.” I’m not any closer to understanding it now than I was two years ago. Maybe you could elaborate on that or direct me to a good source?


  • Tim Brownson

    LOL, please Jonas call me Tim!

    If money wasn’t an issue then I’d say buy some of his live work, but it’s usually very expensive. He has a charisma live that I have seldom seen bettered.

    With Bandler though you have to understand he does things his way and he some people truly hate his style. He’s also known for being economical with the truth if he needs to when making a point. If you go in with your eyes wide open looking to learn though he’s a true master.

    I can watch good NLP and hypno guys and think “Now he’s doing this process, now he’s doing that process” With Bandler I haven’t got a clue what the hell he’s doing 3/4 of the time, but and it’s a big but, he gets incredible results.

    If I were going to pick just one book I’d maybe go for ‘Using Your Brain For A Change’ or if you want to delve into the linguistics check out the book that kicked it all off “Structure Of Magic Vol l”
    Actually scratch that, I’d go for ‘Frogs Into Princes’ although it’s pricey as it’s been out of print for some while.

    If you want to ask me any more that’s no problem at all, but it may be an idea to contact me through my blog because I don’t want to clog up Scott’s comments board.


  • Scott Young


    There is value in sometimes making changes more difficult, so you can fully use all your resources (setting an easy deadline might not motivate enough). My comments with the specific 30 Day Trial scenario come from general trends, but there are exceptions.

    I’ve read a fair bit about NLP (mostly through Tony Robbins, which you may or may not agree with). I’ll give two comments to the idea of instantaneous change:

    1) From my experience, change doesn’t work this way. Sure, in a 30 DT, I’ll change instantly when I start performing the habit. However, the conditioning takes place over weeks. Conditioning, personal finance, fitness, business success all need some measure of time.

    Again, from my experiences, the idea of instantaneous change itself can be somewhat damaging. It makes personal growth seem like a magic trick instead of something fairly simple that most people can grasp. Magic tricks sell more seminars, but they are harder to do in real life.

    Patience, not extreme motivation, has been a focus for me. I’ve never had a problem being motivated enough to do something, but patience to see it through is harder (and, in my opinion, rarer).

    2) That being said, I’m not going to say NLP is junk or that instant change IS impossible. Just from my personal experience, I’ve noticed that change tends not to happen in lightening bolt moments but in gradual, continual improvement. I’m open to being proven wrong.

  • Thor

    I’ve come a full circle and now think a 30 day period for each habit is the best course. I think my confusion stemmed from a combination of fear of failiure, do-or-die/all-or-nothing mentality and as an effect of the routine of how I’ve gone about changing habits in the past. That is to a) despair for the direction my life is heading, b) find hope in various litterature that teaches how to change, c) build up motivation for several weeks, d) start with a bang and try to change everything at once, e) get burned out and give up and finally h) despair again. This circle I suppose developed into a habit and perhaps it was mostly fear of failiure that caused the confusion on what to choose first. I feared that if I did not succeed at changing the first habit then all the others I had lined up would fall over like dominos and therefore it was so important to choose the right one first. How the mind excells at setting traps for itself! Now I’m planning to allow the rest of this month for the not smoke habit to set in and then try to do one habit per month after that. Thanks for the discussion above, it has been very educational.

  • Tim Brownson

    Scott if you want to understand NLP you’re in the wrong place. I actually like Tony Robbins but he’s not in the same league as Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Robert Dilts, Steve Andreas, David Gordon and a dozen more I could mention, he’s a showman. and a brilliant marketer.

    That NLP can facilitate instant change is not in doubt. I have done it enough times with people that are phobic and fearful to know it works. I’ve even used it on a plane with a hysterical passenger and got a positive result in 30 minutes. I have also seen many other people do it over and over again.

    Is it right for everybody? No. Will it always work 100%? No. Can what you’re doing be more effective sometimes? Of course. It’s different strokes my friend.

  • Scott Young


    Certainly there are more than a few dramatic success stories. I’ll agree that instant change is better than slow change. But the mentality I’m trying to break people away from is that the 30 Day Trial is inherently slow. Compared to the cycle Thor describes, it is extremely rapid.