5 Questions About The Power Of Less: Leo Babauta Of Zen Habits


Today we have a special interview with Leo Babauta, author of The Power Of Less and the highly successful productivity blog Zen Habits! Leo has been a writer for over 17 years and has become one of the most famous bloggers on the planet. Without further delay, here is my interview with Leo! (Don’t forget to check out the forum for a free giveaway of Leo’s book!)

The Power Of Less

Simply from understanding the title of your book, THE POWER OF LESS, I believe people can achieve greater goals in health and fitness with relation to eating fewer calories/processed foods, spending less time working out (while upping the efficiency of that time), and enjoying the innumerable benefits of simply taking a walk. How have these changes affected your overall health and fitness?

I am healthier today than I have ever been in my life. In December (2008) I ran my third marathon, coming in under 4 hours — not amazing for many marathoners, but amazing for me. I now lift weights, run, do interval training, I’m a vegetarian, and I eat clean about 90% of the time. I’ve lost 40 pounds, though I’m gaining some of it back as I put on a little muscle.

But it didn’t happen overnight — I focused on one habit at a time. I started running, just half a mile at first. I started waking a little earlier so I could run (now I get up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. on most mornings so I can exercise). I started eating healthier, one food at a time, in small baby steps. I started eating less food, a bit at a time so that it takes less food to get me full these days. I started eating less processed foods. I started lifting weights just last year. I took my running to the next level with intervals and hill runs.

If I tried to undertake all these changes at once, I’d never have made it. But little baby steps, and it’s not so hard.

The part of your book that really hit home with me was the part about understanding how health and fitness goals take time to work and that building a strong foundation yields the most results. What message would you give to people who want to see results in their appearance right away?

LeoThe fastest way to see results is to have surgery — liposuction or have your stomach stapled or have a tummy tuck or something like that. Unfortunately, it’s not very healthy to put your body through surgery (unless it’s medically recommended), and worse yet, if you don’t change your actual eating habits and get into the habit of exercising, you’ll just end up back where you were (or worse, eventually). The same is true of any short-term solution — you can very quickly lose a lot of weight (mostly water weight usually, though some fat and muscle), but it’s not healthy and you haven’t changed any habits, so you’ll eventually go back to where you were. Quick fixes don’t work over the long term.

What you need are changes that will last — and that means changing habits. Changing habits work best, as I show in The Power of Less if you start small and increase gradually. Unfortunately, this means the changes take longer, and people often lose motivation because they want quick results.

The trick is to learn to enjoy the new habits. Exercise can be a LOT of fun if you do it in small steps and do things that are fun. Mix it up! Challenge yourself! Make it a game! Get a workout partner. Learn to be in the moment, and really enjoy the activity. The same is true of healthy eating — you can learn to enjoy the food if you find healthy foods you like and don’t deprive yourself. Change your eating habits in small steps and it won’t seem as hard as a diet.

Enjoy the journey. The weight loss or improvement in appearance will just be a nice side effect.

In the section A Simple Fitness Plan, you recommend that people start with 5-10 minutes of exercise a day, 3 days a week and work up to more. Many people find that they feel the need to throw themselves into a fitness plan full force right from the get-go. What would you suggest those of us do to find a way to be at peace with this gradual start to exercise?

You could try both methods. Try going into it full force right from the start, and see if that works. It does work for some people, but for many, they lose motivation after a couple of weeks or so. If that method doesn’t work, try mine — start with just 5-10 minutes at a time, and be as consistent as possible. Use the effective habit change methods in The Power of Less (or see the New Year’s Challenge section in thepowerofless.com — it’s not just for the New Year).

It is definitely hard to rein in that enthusiasm, but think of it as simply a way to ensure your best chance of success. Baby steps. It really works.

You mention that with any challenge, it is a good idea to “post a goal publicly” such as a weight loss goal to instill a certain level of commitment and accountability, yet you stress that people need to understand that “there is no failure”. It seems that some people may have trouble doing both. What advice would you give to them to understand that they can, in fact, do both?

Posting your goal publicly is just a way to motivate yourself — as social animals, we human beings like to look good in front of our peers. We’ll do our best to stick to a goal if we’ve told everyone we’re going to do it.

But what happens if you do that and then don’t stick to the goal? You’ll feel like a failure, possibly. That’s not a very useful response, unfortunately, and what happens is that people often get discouraged from trying again, just because they feel like failures and feel they can’t-do it. If that approach isn’t useful, try a different method: see failure as just a stepping stone to success.

If you failed, don’t get discouraged — just think of it as a learning experience. What can you learn from the failure? Why did you fail? What were the obstacles that got in your way? What can you do differently next time to get around those obstacles? Write down your solutions and put them into action.

Let me put it this way: I tried to quit smoking and failed seven times before I was successful the eighth time. If I got discouraged after the first or fourth time, I would still be smoking today, and killing myself. I probably wouldn’t be running or eating healthily. Instead, I learned something from each of those failures, and by the eighth time, I had an amazing quit plan.

Has the mantra of peace and serenity found in your blog, Zen Habits, lead you to look at health and fitness in a different light?

The peace and the health are tied together very closely. I don’t talk too much about the mind-body connection, only because I don’t know enough about it to speak intelligently on the topic (though that has never stopped me on other topics!).

But what I do know is that exercise and being healthy has enabled me to find peace of mind, and in turn, the ability to be at the moment (which is the key to my peace of mind) is an amazing way to get healthy — be in the moment as you eat, and you won’t overeat, and be in the moment as you exercise, and you’ll enjoy the exercise much more.

So where do you start? With exercise … it helps relax you and makes the peace of mind possible, and it motivates you to start eating healthier. Getting your body in motion gets your mind in motion, and starts the ball rolling.

To find out more on The Power of Less, visit thepowerofless.com. Big thanks to Leo for taking the time to do the interview! The rules for the book giveaway can be found in the forum of the Go Healthy Go Fit Social Network, so don’t forget to join!