We’re not going to take it easy on you today. This interview, at its core, is all about habits, and Ben Austin and I will demand that you take a hard look at what your habits have already gotten you, where they are leading you, and how you may wish to make some changes.
Ben Austin runs Stop. Start. Do., and habits are his livelihood. He helps top-performing entrepreneurs master new habits in 6 DAYS, with his stated end goal being to help create a life of their own design.
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The guy also loves his books, so it’s no surprise why I wanted to feature him here. Books literally contain the answer to every single problem you may have, or may THINK you have, and reading is one of the habits we talk about.
I wanted to bring in Ben today to reinforce the idea that attentiveness is how we make meaningful changes to our lives. We are what we do every single day, and once you have a set of solid habits in place that are taking you in the direction that you want to go, you’re going to end up achieving accelerated results. It’s a virtuous cycle.
So without any further commentary from yours truly, let’s listen in on what Ben has to say:
MK: I’ve always struggled to put “what I do” into a single sentence, so I’m always interested in other people’s answers to that dinner-party question. So, what is Stop.Start.Do.? What do you do for others with your site?
BA: Hey Matt,
First of all, thank you for interviewing me for your site. I’m grateful to be here.
To answer your question…Stop. Start. Do. was designed to help people master the habits of world class performers and leaders.
Most of the people who come to my site want to improve their performance or become a better leader, so that’s what I help with.
MK: And I’m grateful to have you here! Put simply, there ARE things that world class performers and leaders do that separates them from the rest of the population. I love that there are people like you out there disseminating those ideas so that the rest of us can learn what they are and how they can be applied.
Now, you put out a list of your top recommended books, and I counted which ones I’ve read. I didn’t do too badly, and I figured I read 36 out of 72. At least I think it was 72! But how on EARTH are you able to put life-changing books in order? Personally, I always fumble for an answer when anyone asks me what my favorite book is.
BA: This is a horrible answer… but you can’t overthink it.
If a book is life changing (meaning it changes the way I live my life), then it makes the list. If I read it and it doesn’t inspire me to change, then it doesn’t make the list. The more a book changes me, the higher it gets ranked.
MK: Do you take notes on what you read? What kind of a system would you suggest for someone who wants to retain the information they get out of the books they end up reading? I’ve had people tell me that they just “remember”, and I’ve learned not to believe them. So what’s your strategy?
BA: Yeah most people read to feed their ego. They read a book so that they can check it off their “book list” and say that they read it. If ask them what they learned, you’re met by a blank stare.
To answer your other question, If a book is worth taking notes (many are not) I use two systems.
1st – I mark up the physical books with a red pen while I’m reading them. I draw pictures, underline, circle, and write notes. This helps my brain stay engaged as it’s both a left brain and right brain activity. Your levels of comprehension go through the roof by doing this.
2nd – I use Evernote to scan the document and take electronic notes. This allows me quickly jot an idea down when I’m exercising or on a walk. Serendipity and new connections usually strike when you are not ready for them, so Evernote acts like an external brain where I can write down my ideas for later reference.
MK: Right on. I usually take notes on my phone (since that’s where I read a lot of my books), and then transfer them to the computer. I have my book notes organized by book and by year. For example, in 2015 I read “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, by Steven Pinker, and took 12 pages worth of notes, double spaced. And that’s just ONE book! People who say they remember everything they read are lying to themselves and to you.
I’m going to pick 10 of my favorite books out of the list that you’ve read, and I want you to tell my readers one thing you learned from each one. Ready?
BA: Ok, here they are:
*The Way of the Superior Man – The core of man’s life is his purpose.
*Awaken the Giant Within – He says motion creates emotion. This means if you’re tired and can’t get to work, stand up, wave your arms, break the cycle and you won’t be so tired!
*Mastery – You must find ways to use your hands in our digital world. When you learn with your hands you’ll learn 10x faster.
*The One Thing – All of the things on your “to do list” can be boiled down to 1 task. This singular task will make everything else unnecessary or easier.
*On the Shortness of Life – Life is short, so stop wasting your time. Stop waiting for things to happen.
*The Happiness Hypothesis – Both eastern and western philosophy have good ideas about what happiness is and the truth is somewhere in the middle.
*Antifragile – Life is really hard. Embrace change, uncertainty and struggle. They make you stronger.
*The War of Art – Stop listening to the voices in your head. Most of the time, they are full of shit.
*Man’s Search for Meaning – Nothing is really good or bad, only our judgment of it, makes it so.
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MK: Amazing. I love each and every one of those books and I have dozens of pages of notes taken from them. Those, and “Meditations”, by Marcus Aurelius are among those that have largely shaped who I am today. I could talk about books all day, but let’s talk about habits. What do you make SURE that you do every single day? How long was your adjustment period before they started to flow naturally?
BA: I do my gratitude journal every day without fail. If I don’t, I revert back into old bad mental patterns within a few days.
As far as habit adjustme
nt periods, it used to take me months of struggle to wire in a new habit. Now I can do most new habits in less than a day. The exception to this was when I gave up multitasking for an experiment with Dr. Theo.
That was hard.
MK: I usually try to bookend my day with some silent meditation. Beginning and end, my day is relaxing, and I can know myself on a deeper level. Can you give some advice on integrating this practice into your life? How easy is it for someone with racing thoughts all day long to be silent for 5-15 minutes?
BA: Before starting any new habit, you’ve got to understand WHY you are doing it. What is your intention? What do you want to get out of it? What are the reasons you are doing it?
If you can answer those questions, you’ll have a much easier time integrating a meditation practice into your life.
Also, the ability to meditate and calm your mind is like a muscle. The more you train and the better your training gets, the stronger your mediation muscle gets. That’s why I like using multiple methods of meditation. My two favorites are binaural beats and HRV biofeedback. Both are awesome.
If you are a complete newbie, start with Binaural Beats from iAawke technologies. It’s really easy, effective and a fraction of the price of other competitors.
MK: Why did you narrow down your list of essential habits to five? For me, tracking my measurables (body weight, calories, protein, hours worked, schedule, expenses, etc) is important, meditation, studying my second language (Russian), drinking water, planning my day, etc. Surely there are other important things people should do on a regular basis besides the five that you list?
BA: Those 5 habits that I teach people are fundamental. If you talk to just about anyone performing at a high level, they are doing those 5 things, regardless of industry.
The other habits people have are specific to goals. For example, I study great writing every single day. This is because my main medium of communication is writing and I want to be really good at it — but, I would never recommend this to one of my athletic clients. Their time is best spent doing other things related to their goals.
MK: With the people you interact with the most, which negative habits pop up most frequently?
BA: I’ve changed my circle of friends, so most of them are self-driven entrepreneur types. They don’t have the same issues you see in the normal population.
With the “Entrepreneur” type the worst habit we have is not asking for help when we need it. It makes us feel weak. The strange part is, we all love helping people and we’re more than happy to lend a hand.
I’m the worst at this FYI!
MK: Oh man, so am I! I have this image of myself as this lone hero that is going to save everybody, and so it’s really tough to ask for help when you think of yourself like that!
Are you in favor of completely overhauling your daily routine and adding your five suggested habits all at once? Or do you suggest starting with one and then adding one more every so often?
BA: Regardless of where you are in life, it’s always best to start easy and take baby steps. When I wanted to change my life, I started with one habit (which was reading). After I got that down, I added more.
Unless you are really advanced, keep it simple, baby step it and set easily achievable goals.
MK: Do you believe anyone who says that they don’t have time for meditation? A quote that I heard recently that I quite liked was this: “If you don’t have 20 minutes to meditate, then you need 2 hours.” Thoughts?
BA: Anyone who says “they don’t have time” is completely full of shit.
All of my poor friends tell me they don’t have time. All of my rich friends make the time.
MK: I can see that being true! Is there a way, do you think, of distancing yourself from negative people without making them resentful towards you? Sometimes you just can’t let certain people drag you down, but it seems to me that you can do this without hurting their feelings.
BA: It’s hard, but it’s a necessary step.
My only suggestion is don’t be an asshole about it and don’t make it a big deal. Just slowly remove yourself from the situation.
They might resent you for it, but you’re not helping them by hanging around. They need to figure it out as well.
MK: Who are your biggest role models? Who do you look to for inspiration?
BA: I started this journey because I wanted to be the next Tony Robbins. That was I huge moment when I made that goal, because I had a target to aim for and someone to copy.
My other big role models are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Mother Theresa, Elon Musk, Michael Jordan, Jim Rohn, David Deida, Dave Asprey and Steven Pressfield.
To answer your other question: When I need inspiration, I remind myself of my purpose. I have a series of dream boards, visualization exercises, pictures, quotes, and people that I want to model my success after. Those usually get me pretty jacked up and ready to attack the day.
MK: What have your role models taught you specifically? Have you ever reached out to any of them and gotten a response?
BA: I recently went to a Mastermind retreat in Austin, Texas, where I got to hang out with a bunch of my role models including John Corcoran, Jeremy Weisz, Dan Kuschell, Noah Kagan, Alex Charfen and Ryan Levesque. They were awesome!
Each of them showed me what I could be if I continue to work and put in the time. They also gave me so many great ideas surrounding my business.
MK: Alright, if I wanted to clear up an extra hour during my day, which 3 things could I eliminate? Or perhaps streamline? Personally, I don’t watch much TV and I never watch the news. I also get the kitchen staff at the bar where I work to cook my food for me, and it’s not as expensive as one might think!
BA: Well, without looking at your schedule, there are 3 killers of productivity.
- Email. I only check email twice per day.
- Social Media. I only check twice per day.
- Grey zone time. The time when you are kinda working and kinda not working. This is the worst possible zone. Time is best spent in complete focus or in playtime without purpose. Research shows that we need both. This weird gray zone in between work and play is bullshit. Eliminate it.
MK: So what stage is the Stop.Start.Do. movement at right now? What’s next for you?
BA: Right now we’re getting a lot of people interested in personal development and leadership. I’ve reached over 150,000 people over the last two months and I want to keep growing the tribe.
In the next year, I will keep doing what works, which is writing articles, speaking, consulting and coaching. I’m also starting do leadership and personal development work with sports teams. This is a huge step forward and will help me reach a new audience that I’m very excited about.
Finally, if any of your readers want to reach out to me, my best email is Ben@benaustinblog.com. They can also grab my habit resources guides at http://www.stopstartdo.com/tribe-members. I have two things that I’m giving away for signing up to my list. First is a copy of “the 5 Essential habits of top performers and leaders”. And the second is a guide to personality tests for aspiring leaders who want to take the first step on their leadership journey. You will find both incredible helpful on your journey. You can also click here to get them.
MK: Ben, I want to really thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I know my readers will definitely be able to learn quite a bit from you, what you’ve accomplished, and what you stand for. I’m honored to have you as a guest at Godlike Discipline.
Also…as tangible evidence of my appreciation, I have made a $50 donation on your behalf to Doctors Without Borders, the non-profit that I raise the most money for with this site.
Here is our campaign: GodlikeDiscipline.com Supports MSF
They operate in 70 countries providing disaster relief, emergency medical supplies, medical training, and a lot more. The organization received a Nobel Prize for their work, and currently have attained the highest possible ranking on Charity Navigator.
Thanks again, and you’re encouraged to come back to Godlike Discipline any time!
All the best,
Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, and human rights activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.