Book Review – Small Habits Revolution by Damon Zahariades

Small Habits RevolutionSmall Habit Revolution by Damon Zahariades is a book that teaches a simple yet powerful technique. That of using small actions to build new habits. According to Damon:

We can learn to speak new languages. We can learn to survive in the wilderness. We can learn to cook delicious, mouth-watering meals. We can learn to parallel park (no small feat for some of us!) And we can train ourselves to adopt new, life-enriching habits that improve our long-term health, wealth, and productivity. That’s the purpose of this action guide. I’m going to show you the best method for creating positive, healthy habits. And importantly, I’m going to show you how to make these habits stick.

This is not a big book, with just about 160 pages but it does teach a strategy which anyone can start using straight away to make changes to their life.

The book is divided into seven parts. Each of the parts are outlined below.

PART 1: HOW DEVELOPING HEALTHY HABITS IMPROVES YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE

In this section you will read about the benefits of developing new habits. Each of these benefits is discussed as a separate chapter. Here are the benefits:

  • Lower stress levels
  • Better focus
  • Improved productivity
  • Stronger relationships
  • Greater sense of joy
  • Better sleep quality
  • Improved physical health
  • Ability to take lightening fast decisions 
  • Increase creativity 
  • Greater self confidence 
  • Stronger commitment to your goals

PART 2: TRIGGERS, ROUTINES, REWARDS AND LOOPS

Damon starts this part of the book with this statement:

Every habit, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, is prompted by a trigger. When the habit is performed, it is either rewarded or punished. When habits are rewarded, they become behavioural loops, which reinforces themselves over time.

This part of the book focuses on triggers, routines, rewards and loops. These four are crucial in helping us develop habits whether good or bad.

The first section in this part of the book is titled, FIRST THINGS FIRST: DEFINITIONS. Here some key definitions are discussed. The definitions discussed are:

  • Trigger: A trigger is a cue or circumstance that spurs you to perform an action.
  • Routine: A routine is an action performed over and over. It’s another way of referring to a habit or behavioural pattern.
  • Reward: Rewards reinforce routines. They represent what you gain whenever you perform an action or series of actions.
  • Loop: A loop encompasses the three previous definitions. Every behavioural loop consists of a trigger, a routine and a reward.
  • Keystone Habit: A keystone habit is a routine that influences, and even triggers, other routines or behaviours.

According to Damon:

These five definitions will help to clarify the ideas found throughout the rest of this action guide. They’ll prove invaluable when we get to my simple 10-step plan for developing new habits that stick.

So, if you are reading the book, it’s important to get a good grasp of those five definitions.

The next section in this part is – THE FIVE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TRIGGERS. Here Damon discusses five triggers which are:

  1. Time: We all go through certain routines based on what time of the day it is. For example, waking up to brush our teeth or whatever it is you are used to doing when you wake up. Therefore, time is one of the most common issues. It’s a valuable tool for developing new routines because it’s easy to control.
  2. Location: Habits can be triggers based on settings. We may associate certain behaviours with some specific locations.
  3. State of mind: Our mind plays an important role in the way we behave. Our state of mind affects how we feel which can trigger certain behaviours.
  4. People: The people we are around can trigger us to behave in certain ways.
  5. Preceding event: Our routines are comprised by a series of actions, so preceding actions we take can be a trigger for the next actions we can take.

The other topics discussed in this section are:

  • How triggers and routines lead to new habits
  • How rewards reinforce newly-formed habits
  • How to create strong habit loops
  • Remember, you’re in control

PART 3: MOTIVATION VS WILLPOWER. WHICH ONE DICTATES YOUR SUCCESS?

This part of the book looks at motivation and willpower and answers the question of whether they can help us succeed in building good habits. The first section looks at why motivation is not enough for us to succeed and four reasons discussed are:

  1. Motivation is not constant. You don’t feel motivated all the time.
  2. Motivation is unpredictable. You can’t anticipate it.
  3. Motivation is short-lived.
  4. Motivation is often dependent on our internal messaging. If you don’t feel like doing something, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do it.

What about willpower? While willpower can help us to take actions, it has it’s own shortcomings and is ultimately not the answer because:

  • Willpower is a finite resource
  • It has a short-term nature

Damon believes building small habits is a better solution than trying to find motivation or willpower 

PART 4: 10 STEPS TO FORMING HEALTHY HABITS THAT LAST

This is a key part of the book as it outlines ten steps we can take to form healthy habits that last. Here are the ten steps:

  1. Clarify the goal you want to achieve with your new habit.
  2. Identify the habit you want to develop.
  3. Break down your new habit to its smallest iteration.
  4. Create a cue to trigger the habit.
  5. Establish a clear objective.
  6. Design a plan to slowly increase your new habit.
  7. Create a simple reward system.
  8. Perform the habit at the same time each day.
  9. Identify the stumbling blocks that can sabotage you.
  10. Monitor your progress once a week.

PART 5: SEVEN RULES FOR SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

If you have followed the ten steps discussed in the previous section how do you set yourself up from success? Damon discusses another seven rules for setting yourself up to succeed. This rules are:

  1. Start small – big changes encounter greater personal resistance so starting with small changes is much easy and has a higher possibility of success.
  2. Commit to performing your new habit for 30 days – If you can do it continually and consistently for 30 days, it’s more likely to be a habit.
  3. Develop one habit at a time – Damon writes that, ‘one of the reasons so many people give up on their New Year’s resolutions is because they try to do too much at once.’ It’s better to try and develop one new habit at a time, at the most two.
  4. Disclose your new habit to others – Tell people who can hold you accountable about the habit.
  5. Perform your new habit early in the morning – Damon believes that performing a new habit early in the morning is easier because there is less personal resistance to it.
  6. Remind yourself of your reasons – Remind yourself of the purpose for your new habit.
  7. Be willing to forgive yourself if you fail – Occasional failures will happen as you try to develop your new habit. When they happen, forgive yourself, get up and get back on the habit trail.

PART 6: HOW TO GUARANTEE YOUR NEW HABIT WILL LAST

This part of the book has information similar to what has been discussed in previous sections but the information here is still worth reviewing because it gives us a way to guarantee the new habits we are developing lasts. The first question answered here is,  why new habits fail to stick and some of the explanations Damon offers include:

  • When the new desired behaviour or routine is too big of a change for the person.
  • Many people beat themselves up when they make mistakes along the way. This can be a discouragement to continue.
  • When people focus more on the outcome than the routine itself.
  • When people lose track of the purpose for wanting the new habit.
  • When people fail to create a supportive environment to support their new habit.
  • When people try to adopt too many new habits at once.

In addition these are things that can help to maintain the habit:

  • Leverage the power of accountability. This has been mentioned before.
  • Use Seinfeld’s calendar strategy. If you are interested in this one then do some research to learn what the calendar is. Or better still, read the book.
  • Link your new habit to a reliable cue. A cue is something that triggers the behaviour that leads to the habit.
  • Insert your new routine into an existing habit stack.
  • Put your new habit on your daily calendar or to-do list.
  • Reflect on the positive effects of your new habit.

PART 7: EXAMPLE HABITS YOU CAN DEVELOP USING THE SMALL HABIT STRATEGY

This is the final part of the book where Damon suggests 23 small habits that we can develop to change our lives. These are the habits:

  1. Eat breakfast
  2. Practice active listening
  3. Do pushups, crunches and squats
  4. Master the art of conversation
  5. Drink more water
  6. Write in a personal journal
  7. Compliment strangers
  8. Take short walks
  9. Read non-fiction books
  10. Declutter your workspace
  11. Smile at people
  12. Meditate
  13. Wake up earlier
  14. Express your gratitude
  15. Keep in touch with friends
  16. Help people
  17. Track how you spend your time
  18. Learn new things
  19. Save money
  20. Use the time chunking method
  21. Start each day with a to-do list
  22. Learn to breathe properly
  23. Take immediate action

The concept in this book is simple and it works. I can say that because I have tried it personally in areas such as doing exercise for five days a week and writing a first draft of a 50-page eBook by writing for just 10-minutes a day. It’s a simple concept that can have very far reaching positive outcomes if we practice it.

So, I do recommend the book. You don’t have to read it start to finish but make sure you read enough of it to start building your own small habits.

Book Review – The Start Up Kit by Emma Jones

Start up kitThe Start Up Kit by Emma Jones subtitled, Everything you need to start a small business, is a book that aims to give you the information you need to start your own business. Emma Jones, the author, is no stranger to the world of business and start ups. She is the founder of the small business network, Enterprise Nation (www.enterprisenation.com) and has written other books that have to do with entrepreneurship.

This is not a big book, it has just 141 pages and it consists of three main sections. Each section contains a number of chapters and these have been outlined below.

PART 1: PREPARE

1 – Coming up with an idea: Questions you can ask and answer to come up with a business idea include:

  • Is there a gap in the market that I can fill?
  • What is my passion/hobby/skill?
  • Is there something someone else is doing that I can do better myself?

Here are some possible business ideas:

  • Blogger
  • Vlogger
  • Social media adviser
  • Online store owner
  • Giftware maker
  • Giftware seller
  • Artisan
  • Cupcake maker
  • Cosmetic producer
  • Hair and make-up artist
  • Party organiser

2 – Research the market: Once you have your idea, turning it into a business requires some research followed by turning that research into a plan. Here are some questions your research should answer: Continue reading

Book Review – 30 Days to Financial Excellence by Inge Natalie Hol

30 days to financial excellence30 Days to Financial Excellence by Inge Natalie Hol subtitled, learn to master your money like a personal finance pro, is a book you need to read if you want to take care of your personal finances. This short book of just about 120 pages goes straight to the point and outlines steps we can all take in 30 days to clean up our finances.

The book is split into eight key parts with each part dealing with an important aspect of finance. These eights parts cover 30 day actions. Following are the eight parts with the daily actions

PART ONE – YOUR MONEY MINDSET

  • Day 1: What’s your money mindset?
  • Day 2: Create new money beliefs

PART TWO: YOUR EXPENSES

  • Day 3: Track your expenses
  • Day 4: Cut down your expenses
  • Day 5: Create a spending plan
  • Day 6: Set a spending goal

PART THREE: YOUR SAVINGS

  • Day 7: Set your savings goals
  • Day 8: Your savings rate
  • Day 9: Automate your savings
  • Day 10: Your net worth

PART FOUR: YOUR DEBTS

  • Day 11: Gain clarity on your debts
  • Day 12: Pay off your debts
  • Day 13: Plan to become debt free
  • Day 14: Build an emergency fund

PART FIVE: YOUR INCOME

  • Day 15: Determine your income
  • Day 16: Start a side hustle
  • Day 17: Set your income goal
  • Day 18: Your personal capital

PART SIX: YOUR RETIREMENT

  • Day 19: Take stock of your retirement
  • Day 20: Set retirement goals
  • Day 21: Increase your contributions and close your retirement gap
  • Day 22: Invest in your own portfolio

PART SEVEN: RISK MANAGEMENT

  • Day 23: Audit your insurance
  • Day 24: Set up a will
  • Day 25: Don’t take your situation for granted
  • Day 26: Pass it on

PART EIGHT: YOUR FINANCIAL FUTURE

  • Day 27: Visualize, track and celebrate your victories
  • Day 28: Sort your paperwork
  • Day 29: Make a long-term plan
  • Day 30: Money mistakes to avoid

The last section in the book is titled, ‘What’s Next‘. This section reviews what you should have done in the last 30-days if you followed the plan and also we are encouraged to not give up. Even if things don’t look exactly how we want them to be, at least we have made a start and are now moving in the right direction.

The book also has an appendix that outlines actions for us to take in a tabular format. They are really the 30-day actions discussed in the book summarised into actionable items.

Below I have summarised one personal lesson from each of the eight sessions, so eight lessons in all.

  1. What’s your money mindset? This is the day 1 action and it’s not only a great action to start with but it is something we should all think about. I believe the challenge we mostly have with money has to do with how we think about it. There is a questionnaire provided in this session to help you gauge your money mindset. Examples of statements that you have got to respond to with either, ‘agree’, ‘neutral’ or ‘disagree’ are:
    1. I’ve never been good with money.
    2. Wanting more money is a sign of greed
    3. I never have enough money for my personal goals.
  2. Track your expenses: Probably next to your money mindset in importance is knowing how you actually spend the money you currently have. Inge put’s it this way, ‘To get started, you’ll need to find out more about your current expense patterns: Where does your money go each month? What percentage of your expenses is dedicated to groceries, dining, savings or car expenses?’ Here are some suggested steps for us to track our expenses:
    1. Get something to register your expenses. It can be a spreadsheet, notebook or app.
    2. Register your expenses at a set time: every evening as soon as you purchase something or right at the start of your lunch break.
    3. Check daily for expenses that come out of your bank account.
    4. Create logical categories in your expenses register once you have enough information from the records you have been collating. The categories can include, housing costs, car expenses, fun money and so on.
    5. Get at least one month’s worth of data if you can.
    6. Try and make this a habit you do forever.
  3. Saving goals: It is important to have your own saving goals so write down all your saving  goals and dreams. Then divide your goals into short-term (less than 2-years), mid-term (2 – 5 years) and long-term (more than 5 years) goals. Then prioritize them by how important to you. Also, estimate how much money you need for the goals and how much you will need to set aside for each goal monthly. If you can also set up a separate account for each goal where you can save the money.
  4. Gain clarity on your debts: debt can come in different forms and a key aspect of gaining control of our finances is to gain clarity of our debts. Whether it’s a student loan, mortgage, car loan, credit card or personal loan, being clear about how much we owe is very important. Steps you can take to do this are,
    1. Collect statements for all the loans you have, whether paper or through accounts you need to log into.
    2. List all your debts and note down their outstanding balances, interest rates, remaining life spans and minimum monthly payments.
    3. Have a look at the list and allow how you feel about your level of debt to surface.
    4. Now you have a good idea of how much you owe.
  5. The seven income streams: Most of us want to have more than one income stream. We don’t want all our income eggs to be in just one basket. Here are seven income streams for you to examine and think of which ones you already have and which ones you can add to your income streams:
    1. Income from a job
    2. Profit from selling products and services
    3. Royalties from products you’ve made or other investments such as franchises.
    4. Interest income from lending out your money. For instance on things such as bonds.
    5. Dividend income from share investments.
    6. Capital gains: Any money you receive as a result of selling something you acquired at a cheaper price.
    7. Rental income: Income from renting out assets such as rental property.
  6. Set retirement goals: We all need to plan for our retirement so here are some key questions for us to answer:
    1. How much do you need on a monthly basis to support your retirement dreams?
    2. How far away are you from retirement target income goals?
    3. How much will you need to set aside each month now to meet those retirement income goals?
  7. What about risk management insurance? Don’t overlook risk management and insurance. They may not be the most exciting thing to look into but they are important. An insurance policy  is financial protection you set up against the risks of possible loss. Check for what type of insurance you need and shop around for the best deals. There are different types of insurance policies which can include:
    1. life insurance
    2. health insurance
    3. disability insurance
    4. homeowner or renter’s insurance
    5. car insurance.
  8. Money mistakes to avoid: If you want to be in charge of your finances then there are some money mistakes to avoid. Some of them are:
    1. Not living below your means: spending more than you earn will put you in trouble. Don’t try to be what you are not.
    2. Giving into lifestyle inflation: Don’t get to the point where you stop appreciating what you currently have and you start increasing your expectations hence you spend more on things. For example, if your car, mobile phone or laptop is still perfectly safe and doing what it should be doing, then hold off replacing it until it is really needed.
    3. Being unaware of the impact of fees: Don’t ignore the impact of fees such as interest rates over the long term. These are not just fees you pay on things such as loans, mortgages and credit cards but also interest you earn on investments. Search around for the lowest fees on borrowing and the best interest on investments. In the present it may not seem like much but it adds up over the longer term.
    4. Not scheduling time regularly to maintain your financial life: You must schedule time regularly to keep up with your finances. Without regular check-in moments when you dedicate some focused time, it is hard to stay on top of this area.

So, those are eight summary lessons but in the book there are much more. I believe this book can help almost anyone get a good handle on their finances. Therefore, I definitely recommend it.