How This One Tiny Habit Cost Me $297,664

by Ben Holt on May 26, 2012

Five years ago, I was making around $40,000 per year. That’s not much for some, but it was more than enough for a young and minimalist single guy. After devouring a copy of Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek, I put together plans to build my own lifestyle business.

I planned within the first year to fully replace the income from my 9-5 job and expected a minimum of 20% growth for the next several years.

Years Earned
1 $40,000.00
2 $48,000.00
3 $57,600.00
4 $69,120.00
5 $82,944.00
Total $297,664.00

Looks pretty cool, eh? But I don’t have that money now. To find out why, we need to go back another 20 years to the beginning of my indoctrination formal education. Don’t worry, I promise this will be worth it!

Now, I’m certainly no genius or prodigy, but I was a precocious child and an avid reader. My family had an encyclopedia set – 21 deep-blue, hardcover volumes with gilded lettering on the spines, containing what seemed to my 5-year-old mind to be the sum of everything that could be known about our world. When I was learning to read, I progressed from Dr. Seuss to Where The Wild Things Are to the entire 1985 edition World Book Encyclopedia. It took me about 4 years, but I read it all. “Aardvark” to “ziggurat” and everything in between. I read about East Germany, human reproduction, and Sputnik. I loved that encyclopedia.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much an elementary school curriculum had to offer that I hadn’t already read about. I even argued with my teachers when the simplified version of a subject conflicted with my less watered-down understanding.

Like in 5th-grade science:

Well-meaning science teacher: “The sun is made up of very hot gas.”

This know-it-all little punk: “Actually, the sun is composed of plasma, an entirely different state of matter.”

Science teacher: “No, it’s gas. Hydrogen and helium. Those are gases.

Know-it-all little punk: “It’s hydrogen and helium, but the elements in the sun are so hot, they’ve ionized. Their electrons are not all bound to their nuclei. A plasma is a different state of matter with distinctly different properties from a gas.”

Science teacher: “Look, I think I’d know what I’m talking about. Can I continue with the lesson?”

Sure, but I’m going to tune you out now. We were off to a great start, but oh well. I was right and I knew it.

I didn’t need to work very hard to get good grades. Eventually, when I got my hands on my very own PC, I played video games for hours and hours instead of doing homework, but because the material was relatively easy, my grades suffered very little at first.

Every time I’d put off doing my school work, studying for a test, or putting together a project, the laziness habit was reinforced. The consequences, though real, were not immediate enough to concern me. I just wanted to beat one more mission in X-Wing (yep, that classic Star Wars flight sim – I am a nerd, OK?). Putting off work for play was not only easy, it quickly became automatic.

This trend continued through middle school and high school. As cool as I felt knowing things the teachers didn’t, I was beginning to develop one very bad habit: laziness.

Once old enough, I entered the work of work, getting jobs in retail at first. It was easy – show up, don’t be an idiot, get paid every couple weeks. Though I had some aspiration to wealth and independence, my habits were not in alignment with those goals.

Enter The 4-Hour Workweek.

First of all, if you feel any amount of dissatisfaction or frustration with your job, your lifestyle, or, well, practically anything in your life, I recommend taking a peek inside the covers of Tim’s book. Reading it completely blew my mind. I was awakened to the world I’d been craving, but never thought existed – a world where people design their lives to support their goals and dreams, rather than being held captive by the status quo.

Despite being handed a blueprint for a lifestyle I wanted badly, it took over 4 years to for me to take significant action. Breaking free from the 9-to-5 life requires a monumental shift in one’s thinking. Change is scary. Really scary. And showing up for work everyday and getting a paycheck is easy and predictable.

But still, I had some ambition. I made plans. I brainstormed ideas for products and services. I wrote goals and made lists. I talked about it all a lot, but year after year had nothing to show. To combat the cognitive dissonance of the situation…

. . . I made excuses and spoke a lot in the future tense.

“If all goes according to plan, I should be making $XX in 6 months.”

“It’s not that easy to…”

“I don’t know how to…”

“I can’t afford to…”

“I’d start now, but…”

“I’m overwhelmed. I need some time off.”

“I’m tired. I’ll start tomorrow.”

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar, as if someone you know – maybe very well ;-) – has said the same things?

The thing with excuses is that no one believes them more than the person making them up. Maybe not at first, but in time. They become a lens that colors our view of a situation and, when repeated often enough, become our reality, our truth.

Now, I’m an intelligent and capable guy. Probably as intelligent and capable as you. Like you, I’ve had experience finding and putting in place creative solutions to problems. I can identify the needs of people. I know how to learn things, like the fundamentals of business. I don’t doubt that if I had really put my effort into building businesses back in 2007, I’d have made that three-hundred grand over five years, if not more, and faster.

I was lazy. I admit it. I was guilty of sloth.

But no regrets, right? I don’t believe in them, and I encourage others to let them go as well. I learned a hell of a lot in the past years, and I hold on to that.

I’ve told you this story from my life, baring embarrassing aspects of my past, to make this point: don’t wait. You can’t get your time back, so start today to work toward the life you want.

If you have something you want to change, get started now. Take action. Take literally any action that comes to mind. [Tweet this]

Don’t over-think. After you read the last paragraphs of this post, close your web browser or email and use the next 15 minutes to take positive action toward the big thing you’ve been putting off for far too long. We all have something and you know what it is for you.

Don’t put this off.

The last word here: Research shows laziness is an addictive behavior, like gambling or pornography, and I believe is the single biggest barrier holding most otherwise-capable folks back from getting what they truly want in life. This post is the kick-off for a series of essays, podcast episodes, and a free video course that will be exploring the topics of laziness, how habits affect our outcomes, and taking consistent action. This series of content will be a bit different from other blogs. I’m going to be a little demanding. I’m going to insist that you take action before going on to the next part. I’ll show how I’ve learned – slowly but surely – to beat laziness and procrastination. I’ll show you how to begin making real, solid progress toward that big goal that will change everything for you.

Please be sure you are subscribed to get updates. Click here to subscribe – it’s all free. By subscribing, you’ll get every part of this series, including easy access to the free podcast episodes and video course. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned, and to learn from you in turn! Again, please subscribe.


Resources from this post:

The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss [Amazon: hardcover, Kindle]

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  • http://breakthefear.com/ Matt Horwitz

    Ben, what a great insight man!  I realized the same thing about some things I was working on.  I find it’s good to keep a balance between not being too hard on ourselves, but then when the time and context are right, it’s time to get our butts into gear, implement & take some massive action.  p.s. you write very well !!

    • / Ben Holt

      Thanks for your comment, Matt!

      I like your point about balance: good balance lets us work when it’s time to work and relax guilt-free when it’s time to relax.

      Thanks for the note about my writing, too. It’s still something I’m fairly self-conscious about, so it’s very uplifting to hear you like it :-)

      • http://breakthefear.com/ Matt Horwitz

        Sure thing man, I meant it!  I can learn a few things from you :)  Aim for consistently writing a post ‘x’ number of times per month (I’d imagine you already are), and just keep putting out great content.  Learn by doing, implementation, and integration.  

        • / Ben Holt

          Hah! Great minds, eh? I was just in the middle of putting together a schedule for consistent content creation :-) 

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