It’s not the individual choices – It’s the habits


I’m still making my way through Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect.  One of the things I’m beginning to understand is that it isn’t the individual choices we make that set our destiny so much as the habits we form.  For example, right now I’m trying to lose the 50 pounds or so I gained back after dropping the same weight several years ago.  The last time I lost weight it was because I had changed my habits.  I regained it when I changed them back.

You see, back in my mid-thirties I realized that I was going to die young if I didn’t lose some weight and start exercising.  I started jogging about 3/4 of a mile in the morning, then walking back.  This continued three mornings per week for about three or four weeks (and I hated starting every time, but was always glad when I had finished my jog), at which point I was able to jog all the way out and back, running 1 1/2 miles per morning.  After this I would walk around the block (another 1/2 mile or so),  After a month or two of doing this, I started running around the block instead of walking after going out and back, increasing my total to about 2 miles.  Finally, after doing this for several months, I increased the distance I went out, upping my run to about 2.25 to 2.5 miles.  At that point I decided the run was far enough and running farther would just wear out my body.  I was able to run 5K’s and actually registered a time in the mid 20-minute range.

The Compound Effect

I also changed how I ate.  Instead of cleaning the plate when I went out to eat, I would eat about half and then save the other half for lunch.  I found that the whole meal would be about 1500 calories, so eating a half portion was about right.  At home, I would leave one thing off, like the side of corn or maybe the potatoes.  At Mexican restaurants I would just have a few chips rather than finishing the bowl and asking for a second or a third.  One thing I noticed was that when you’re out, many of the things you do centers around food:  stopping for ice cream, pie and coffee, or just a sugary coffee drink.  I found other things to do that didn’t involve eating.

As a result I went from a high of about 248 down all the way to about 215 pounds.  My pulse had dropped to about 50 beats per minute, to the level where they would need to take a couple of readings and get one over 50 before they would let me give blood.  I had a lot more energy, my blood pressure was lower, and generally I was in good shape.

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Then life started to get in the way.  While I was exercising regularly, I often didn’t really want to get up and go out into the cold to jog since it was hard to get going to the point where I fell into a rhythm.  (After I would started, however, I discovered that actually the best temperature was about 35 degrees or so since I could wear a sweatshirt and cap and not get sweaty about half way through, so I preferred cold mornings to one that was in the 60’s or 70’s.)  When I reached about 39, however, I started getting heel spurs which would cause my feet to ache if I tried to walk after sitting for a while.  Jogging would cause the condition to worsen for several days after.  As a result, I stopped jogging as much, then finally quit entirely.  I changed my habit of exercising.

I also found myself eating more full meals when I went out to eat.  I also started getting soft drinks again in restaurants (I went to water before).  Worst of all, I started doing more business trips and vacations, where I would be eating out every meal and having a big breakfast at the hotel.  (I normally didn’t eat breakfast, so that added another 50 to 800 calories onto my diet each day.)  I went back to 220, then 230, then into the 240’s.  Finally, after a few holidays and trips, I found myself in the 250’s, higher than I had ever been.

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From reading The Compound Effect, I realized that what got me into such great shape was that I changed my habits.  It wasn’t the first day I went jogging or the choice of having water at lunch instead of a Coke one day that made me lose weight and get into shape, it was the habit of doing those things.   Likewise, changing habits back to eating full meals out and drinking a soft drink more often than not when we went to a fast food chain caused me to go right back to where I had been and then some.  Once again looking at an early fifties heart attack, I’ve changed back, cutting my meals and counting calories to stay below 2000 per day.  As a result, I’m down to 242 again.  I plan to stay with this, and start jogging again after I lose another five pounds or so (so that it isn’t as hard on my heels) and keep those habits this time.

So what does this have to do with personal finance?  Well, just like with losing weight and getting healthy, putting yourself onto a firm financial footing doesn’t mean doing one thing and then going about your life.  If you stick $100 into five shares of Intel Corp today and never do anything else, you won’t retire a multimillionaire.  But if you put away $100 every week or two and invest regularly, you’ll find yourself in 20 or 30 years financially independent.  It isn’t the individual choices – it’s the habits that make the difference.

So what are your habits?  Are they good, taking you where you want to go, or bad, holding you back and making you unhealthy or poor?

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.


  1. Excellent you’re re-discovering those healthy habits SI. I try to exercise 3-4 times a week, and am trying to eat more healthfully too (more vegetables, smaller portions etc). I find with running/swimming it takes a good month or two to get back to feeling good during the session itself, especially after a lay-off of more than a couple weeks – surprising how fast fitness seems to go when not used. I suppose financially I need to work into habits to save, invest and reduce discretionary expenses to a more moderate state…getting there.

    • Exercising and putting money away are both things that feel better after you’ve done them than before your start. It’s too easy to make excuses.

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