What's Your Sat-Nav?

Sat Nav.png

This week, guest poster Elliott Starr dives into how to create habits and systems that have enabled him to hit his goals in the easiest and least painful way possible.  In this first post, he applies this to health.  Next week, he will be telling us how he has applied this to wealth.  Enjoy!

Picture if you will, the following scenario:

Current location: Sat in your car on the driveway, at your home in Exeter. 

Destination: Dundee.

Sat-Nav: 0.

 Smart-phone: 0.

 Map: 0.

 Directions: 0.

 Likelihood of reaching destination: Not impossible. But improbable.

It’s laughter-provoking, isn’t it?  Trying to get from Exeter to Dundee with nothing other than desire.

Yet, we all have personal destinations we want to reach in our lives.  Lose weight. Drink less. Make more money.

And we do exactly what we’ve just laughed at above.  We choose a distant destination e.g. Destination: Lose weight.  (This, by the way, is the equivalent of “somewhere very north”. Not even “Dundee”.)

Then we metaphorically get in the car, start driving and hope for the best.

Some people get there.  But they represent the absolute minority and not the overwhelming majority.

Which is why, according to US News80% of people fail in their new year's resolutions and goals by the second week of February.  

Equally, research by ComRes/BUPA has found:  80% of people in the UK who set a New Year's resolution or goal fail within 3-months.

Why? Because these people are relying on motivation alone.


Motivation Is Overrated

Question: What separates “motivated” individuals from those who actually succeed in the pursuit of their goals?

Answer:  Systems.

Let’s say you’re super motivated to lose weight and on January 1st, you say:

“I want to lose 10lbs by November 1st. This gives me 10 months, which is an average of 1lbs a month. Which is a daily calorie restriction of 115 calories.”

Fast forward ten months later.

How likely is success, when you compare this with a system such as:

  • “Except for one “cheat meal” a week, I will not eat anything that is beige.

  • I will not keep unhealthy food in the house. Period.

  • I will create 4 separate online grocery shopping lists.

  • One for each week of the month.

  • Each list contains 21 healthy meals (3 a day for 7 days).

  • Each meal will be made from healthy, natural, organic produce.

  • I will buy the entirety of all 4 lists at the start of the month.

  • They will be delivered to my house on Saturday morning at 9am every single week.

  • I will hire a personal chef to cook 3-days worth of meals on both Sunday’s and Thursdays.

  • I will hire a personal trainer who will arrive at my house at 7am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday’s.

  • I will pay them in advance at the start of the month via standing order.

  • They will arrive at my house even if I ask them not to. This is something I will agree with them at the start of our relationship.”

You get the picture.

Creating a system, designed to lead you to a goal, is much more effective than simply setting the goal itself.

(Sooner or later, this system becomes an identity.  And research has shown, that we feel an overwhelming pressure to take actions that are congruent with what we see as our identity.)


Systems vs Goals

Having a system vs. having a goal. It’s the difference between having a sat-nav and having a destination.

Luckily, when it comes to driving, we’ve come a long way from the leathery maps of Game of Thrones.  Now, we take satellite-navigation for granted.

Just the other day, I was driving when a call came though via my car’s Bluetooth connection with my phone.  The conversation went like this:

Caller: Where are you?

Me: I don’t know.

Caller: What do you mean?

Me: I don’t really know, I’m just following Google Maps…

Caller: Well… can you zoom out on the map?

You can see where the conversation was going.

The point is, I had no idea where I was. But I had made significant progress towards my destination.  A system I was mindlessly following had already taken me 70% of the way.  And if I mindlessly continued to follow it, it would take me all the way home.

It will even anticipate roadblocks and setbacks, re-routing me around them. This ensures I reach my destination in a similar period of time.

It's a mindless, effortless system.


Creating Systems for Health & Wealth

We all have destinations we set ourselves in our personal lives. Is the same possible here?  I know that it is. That’s what I’m going to talk about in both this post and the next one.

Focusing on two examples; health and wealth.

In these areas, I’m not claiming to be a master. Only a student.  I’m not claiming to have the answers. Only questions.

These techniques work for me. They may or may not work for you.


How I Got Started

I pro-actively completed Switch last Christmas.

I set myself a goal in both of those areas, then created a personal “sat-nav” for each.  

I’m proud to say, whilst I have a long way to go, I’ve made serious progress in both and it’s been completely mindless.

In wealth, for example. I’ve not become an “overnight millionaire”. That wasn’t the goal I set myself.

The goal I set myself was to increase my feeling of wealth by:

  • Reducing spending that doesn’t directly create happiness

  • Reduce wasteful and unnecessary spending

  • Gain greater control over my finances

So I’ll use myself as an example, for no reason other than ease.  But my sat-nav might not be your sat-nav.

So I’ll also talk about the over-arching principles I’ve used to guide me. (Many of them are detailed in Switch).

By writing this, I hope I inspire you. I hope you think about your own sat-nav, programme it, follow it and get to your destination.


The Problem With Our Cultural Expectations

There was a 24-carat gem in Krish’s post last week. Did you find it?

“Success is dependent on consistent, strategic and small actions.”

Modern culture programs us not to believe a statement like that.  We live in a culture that celebrates the woman who “lost 30lbs in 30 days”.

Not the woman who maintained a heathy bodyweight her entire life. Whilst having and raising three kids, plus jugging all of the other balls that modern life threw at her.

Our culture celebrates the lottery winners and the over-night “Bitcoin Billionaires”. Not the people who slowly and steadily amass fortunes over their lives by:

  • Working hard

  • Working smart

  • Doing their homework

  • Mitigating risk

  • Adding value

  • Making smart financial decisions

Because we live in a culture that celebrates shouting, not whispering.  Headlines like: “Eccentric oligarch spoils playboy bunny wife with diamond-studded Nutri-Bullet”  rather than headlines like: “Normal couple, happily married for 70 years, admits that they’ve had their share of arguments”.

Ours is a culture that celebrates big success in small time-frames.

But the average human-being lives for around 80 years.

So not only is this thinking fundamentally flawed, it puts tremendous pressure on us all.  We set unrealistic destinations and unrealistic time-frames for getting to them.  

We look at steroidal actors. Anorexic models. Immoral and nefarious bankers.  We see what they have, and we want it. We want it now. Or at least within 30-days.


Finding A More Realistic Timeframe

That’s the beauty of a sat-nav. Before it performs any of its other wonderful functions, it gives us a realistic time-frame.  It brings us down from the clouds of egoic imagination.

According to Google Maps, Exeter Central Station to Dundee Central is going to take “between 8 hours and 26 minutes and 9 hours and 27 minutes” depending on the route you take.

Even then, once you set off on your journey, those numbers are going to fluctuate;

  • If there’s traffic

  • If you take a wrong turn

  • If you stop off somewhere on your journey.

Tony Robbins once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Because ten years is hard to imagine, it’s a long time.  Even a year is hard.  So we tell ourselves we’ll do X, be Y or not be Z in three-months.

Three months is still a marathon!

But we ignore that painful reality. Then we sprint at 100% for five, six weeks, run out of willpower and give up.

It’s much more effective to give yourself six months and pick a pace you can maintain for the whole race.


Using The Rules Of The Sat-Nav

That’s what I’m hear to talk about, focusing on two areas I’m trying to improve myself.

Within these areas I’ll cover the following strategies for maintaining pace.

The goal is the destination. Where we are now is our point-of-origin.

They include:

  • Set the game up so it’s easy to win (Using a sat-nav).

  • Running an 80/20 analysis. (The Sat nav chooses the roads that deliver the most bang for your buck. These roads have the fastest speeds, least traffic and least obstructions.)

  • Setting binary rules (avoid toll-roads, avoid London).

  • Set If, then rules. (If there’s traffic, then sat-nav re-routes you).

  • Programming habits (the instructions we mindlessly follow. e.g. Turn left, turn right, at the roundabout, take the third exit onto the A412.)

  • Setting systems that eliminate choice and by default, the possibility for bad choices. (Just follow the sat nav, even if you think you know the way).

  • Setting stakes (If I don’t arrive by X time, I’ll miss my very important meeting).

  • Incentives. (If I get to Manchester, I’ll buy myself a really fancy latte.)

  • The rejuvenating power of stopping off on the journey.

These are all tools we can use to get us to our goal. But they are most powerful, when combined.

So, let's apply this to my first goal area...



Setting The Game Up So It’s Easy To Win

I exercise at home. It’s cheaper than a gym and I don’t have to go anywhere.

I exercise in the morning.  Before work.  Before commuting. (It’s the only period of time we have each day that’s guaranteed.)

I do one large grocery shop per month. I bulk buy any foods I’ll need that month that won’t go off. (Peanut butter, frozen veggies etc.)

I don’t keep unhealthy food in the house. Period.

If it isn’t in the house, I can’t eat it.

Or, let’s phrase it another way: if it is the house, it’s guaranteed that I will eat it, at some point.


The 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle is a theory named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He developed the theory to show that in almost every area of life, 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs and 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes.

For example, you probably wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.  80% of the happiness in your life is likely created by 20% of the people in your life.  Roughly 20% of sports teams win 80% of games.

The split isn’t always 80/20. But a little does often create a lot.

Having run an 80/20, I knew that roughly 20% of bodyweight exercises deliver 80% of results. (Muscle gain, fat loss, cardiovascular fitness).

I decided what these where and built a program around them.

  • Binary rule number 1 - “On Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, I exercise for 1-hour, no matter what.” Because of my commute, this means:

    • Waking up at 5am (I’ll talk about how I tackle these 5am starts later in the post.)

    • 20-minutes of coffee making, drinking and waiting-to-kick-in-ing

    • 1-hour of bodyweight training in my living room.

Roughly 20% of foods and drinks have 80% of negative effects on the body.

  • Binary rule number 2 - “Sunday to Thursday, I don’t drink alcohol”

  • Binary rule number 3 - “Sunday to Thursday, I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat beige-coloured foods.” (I no longer have much of a sweet tooth, which helps).

  • Binary rule number 4 - “Except for post-workout, black coffee, black tea, green tea and water are the only liquids I drink.”


Building Habits

In “Bodyweight Muscle”, Fitness Youtuber (and unbelievably inspiring person) Anthony Arvanitakis says, “It’s not what you drink or eat the 5-days of Christmas that sculpt or sabotage your body, it’s the other 360.”

And to nod back to Krish once more, “Success is dependent on consistent, strategic and small actions.”  We are what we repeatedly do.  And what we repeatedly do is habitual. Habits dictate up to 95% of our decisions.

Our bodies, our health, our relationships, our careers and our lives are all the result of the habits (positive and negative) that we live each day.  We make far less conscious decisions than we think.

For example, Google New York helped its employees eat 3.1 million fewer calories from M&M’s.  They simply put them in opaque containers, next to healthy snacks in clear glass jars.

It made a bad habit incrementally more difficult to fall into.  But the best thing about habits, is that they can be programmed.


The Pain/Pleasure Principle

The habit cycle operates under the umbrella of the pain/ pleasure principle.

Effectively, as humans, we’re wired to move towards things that are pleasant (objects, animals, people, experiences) and we’re wired to move away from things that are painful.



This (plus a few other ingrained behaviours) is why you run towards a puppy and away from a python.

There is of course, a spectrum.

  • Making love with your partner: very pleasant.

  • Eating a Kitkat: somewhat pleasant.

  • Climbing a 140-volt electric fence: very painful.

  • Eating steamed kale: somewhat painful.

Good habits are hard to form because, generally, they’re a little painful.

Bad habits are easy to form because, generally, they’re pretty pleasant.

To end bad habits, we need to add friction to them and/or modify them by replacing the habit routine with a better, substitute routine. (It’s near-impossible to just kill something that is truly, a habit).

For example, I used to crave something sweet after dinner almost every night of the week.  The result? I often ate chocolate. I needed that “full-stop” on my day.

Now, I drink a cup of white tea with a teaspoon of honey in it.  Bad routine replaced with a good routine. Same habit, different result.

To start good habits, we need to remove friction, making them as easy as possible to do.


If This, Then That

Now, back to the 5am, 1-hour workouts.

In 3-months, have I always made them? No.

Have I always worked out for exactly 1-hour? No.

I’ve missed 1-workout.  I’ve trained for less than 60-minutes on multiple occasions.  (Even when we’re using a sat-nav, we still make mistakes and take wrong turnings.)

But, to tackle this, I created an If, then rule. 

  • IF: I miss a workout.

  • IF: I workout for less than 60-minutes.

  • THEN: I have to make up for it with mini bodyweight-workouts throughout the day.

On such days, to make sure I do them, I created another If, then rule.

  • IF: I make a cup of tea.

  • THEN: I have to do 1 circuit consisting of:

    • 1 set of push-ups

    • 1 set of sphinx push-ups

    • 1 set of single-leg squats

    • 30 second ‘hollow-rocks’

I did these in the office. (In as private a space as I could find.). Did I look ridiculous? Yes.

Had I completed 60-minutes of exercise by the end of the day? Yes.


Removing The Friction From 5am

What about the days I did make the 5am workouts?

Well, getting up early and exercising are both good habits.  As a result, they’re both a little painful.

So, I removed as much friction as possible:

  • I keep my workout clothes on the radiator at the end of my bed. (Nice, toasty clothes at 5am always helps).

  • Using a timer wall-plug, a light comes on in my bedroom 20-minutes before I need to get up.

  • My Fitbit vibrates 2-minutes before I need to get up.

  • My phone is always on the landing. On flight mode. Where I leave it the night prior.

  • It goes off until it annoys me enough to get out of bed.

  • I pop on my workout clothes and turn it off. I then immediately walk into the bathroom and splash cold water on my face.

  • I stumble downstairs, turn on all of the lights and switch on the kettle.

  • I prepare my coffee (grounds, French press etc.) while the kettle boils and I pour the coffee.

  • I prepare a few things for the day while the coffee steeps.

  • Pour coffee and drink. (I usually do chores like hang out washing while I’m drinking the coffee or waiting for it to kick in.)

  • Usually around 15-minutes after pouring my cup of coffee, I start warming-up.

Here, I employ another If, then rule.

  • IF: I complete my warm-up

  • THEN: I don’t have to do the rest of the workout.

By the time I’ve completed the warm-up and DMX is playing loudly in my headphones, I’m motivated to finish the rest.

After my workout, I drink half a litre of chocolate milk as my post-workout drink.  (Much more delicious than protein powders or recovery drinks. It also works perfectly as well. Plus, you don’t have to mess around with powders.)

Is this excessive? Yes.  But I’ve only missed one workout in three months.

1 out of 39. That’s a 97% consistency rate.

And the one I missed I made up for with mini bodyweight workouts throughout the day.


Let’s Recap The System

Let’s go back and look at all the external factors I have working for me here.

i.e. How little motivation I actually need to do all of this.

i.e. How little credit I can actually take for my progress.

  • A light comes on 20-minutes before I have to get up. This naturally brings me into a lighter sleep before my alarm goes off. (System).

  • My Fitbit vibrates, gently stirring me to wake. (System).

  • My phone goes off until I’m annoyed into getting up. (Habit reminder).

  • I put on warm workout clothes. (Habit routine).

  • They’re nice and toasty. (Habit reward).

  • I splash cold water on my face. (Setting the game up so it’s easy to win. I’m immediately more awake with minimal effort).

  • I turn on all of the lights. (Setting the game up so it’s easy to win. I’m immediately more awake with minimal effort).

  • I make and drink coffee. (Setting the game up so it’s easy to win. I’m Extremely more awake and motivated with minimal effort).

  • Caffeine lights up the pleasure centre in the brain and is addictive. If I know getting up to exercise means I get coffee, I’m much more likely to get up.

  • I tell myself I only have to complete the warm-up. (If, then rule. Setting the game up so it’s easy to win).

  • I get to drink chocolate milk if I do complete the workout. (Habit reward, the routine being training and the reminder being coffee + DMX.)

Now, there’s certainly nothing special about me or the tools above.  Anyone can use them. (Including you, reading this, right now).


Setting stakes

I’m getting married in September in front of a lot of people.  That certainly seems to be doing the trick.

But there are a million ways you can set stakes for yourself. Ways to ensure that you have some skin in the game when it comes to completing your goal.

Use Diet Bet, or one of the many sites like it.  Stickk, for example, was created by behavioral economists at Yale university.

Or do the same thing in real life.  Make a bet with your friends. For example:

  • Everyone puts in £100

  • The first person to lose X number of lbs (as verified by a weekly weigh-in altogether) gets to keep all of the money.

Research has shown that the thought of loss is twice as powerful as the thought of gain.

So the thought of losing your £100 if you aren’t the first the lose Xlbs will actually motivate you twice as much as the thought of winning £100.  However, a bet with your friends like the one above motivates you in several ways:

  • Not losing the £100

  • Winning the whole pot

  • Not losing to your friends

  • Beating your friends


Creating Incentives

Make yourself a promise via a If, then rule.  For example:

  • IF: I win the bet against Krish, Has and John.

  • IF: The whole pot becomes mine.

  • THEN: I’m buying myself that £400 designer jacket I’ve been obsessing about.

(There’s a nice pair of swimming trunks I’ve been eyeing up for my honeymoon. If I reach my health goals, they’re mine!)


Stopping Off

Occasionally take a break from constantly chasing your goals.

It can serve as a much needed ‘re-set’ for many people, allowing them to come back with renewed motivation.

Easter is coming up, I’ll be with family. I’ll probably relax a little with my diet.


So there you have it for this week.  Next week, I will be showing you how I have applied these principles and created a system around wealth and making my financial picture look a lot more rosy.

YOUR TURN: Leave a comment and tell us what principle you are going to use to reach one of your goals!




Elliott Starr

Elliott is a creative advertising and marketing consultant, currently working at Drum.

He likes to make things and solve problems. He particularly likes to makes things that solve problems.

In his spare time, Elliott prioritises mentoring, Gymnastic Strength Training and obstacle course racing.