A New Breakfast Routine (brought to you by the Magic Number 5)

The slow-carb diet of The 4-Hour Body is as simple as it gets: every meal consists basically of clean protein (meat or eggs), beans (lots of them), and veggies. My breakfast since starting the “protocol” has typically been one egg, black beans, salsa, and either spinach, asparagus, or broccoli. Though I’m fairly useless in the kitchen, really just for lack of effort, I am quite brilliant at making breakfast because of my stint as a short-order cook during college. My morning feast is quite quick to make thanks to canned beans and frozen veggies. One unexpected upshot to this new “look, Erin is in the kitchen making food” thing is that I’ve been adding veggies to my dogs’ meals and that makes me feel like a good mum (I’ve been watching a lot of British tele lately).

One of the book’s requirements of breakfast, however, is that it be eaten within an hour of waking up, and preferably within 30 minutes. This created a huge shift in my household routine. The well-established order had been that I would wake up when my dog Sofie woke me up. I would pee, don appropriate clothing for the weather, and then the dogs and I would head out for a long walk. Upon arriving home I would hop in the car and drive to my nearby McDonald’s to get a Sausage McMuffin, hashbrown, and a large Coke. (Yes, I realize what a huge confession this is. I realize my liberal arts college will now have to revoke my diploma and that any lesbians and animal rights activists who have ever associated with me will have to revoke all manner of friendship.) I used to eat a good hour and a half after waking up–not okay on this protocol.

Now I get up, pee, let the dogs out for a quick pee and sniff sniff, and I make my breakfast while feeding the dogs and cats. (I’m quite proud of this multitasking.) Then I take about 30 minutes to eat my breakfast (I’m the slowest eater ever!)–typically reading a book or looking at stuff on the interwebs. Then I take the dogs for a long walk. Big shift in routine, and the animals have all been quite gracious about it.

Now back to my old McDonald’s habit: I loved the salty of the hashbrown with the sweet of the soda. The ridiculous thing is that after a couple weeks of this, the “food” stopped tasting good–and yet I kept eating it because that’s the habit I’d formed. And McDonald’s is genius when it comes to understanding the power of habit. Twice a year (or so?) they give free small coffees away all day every day for a couple weeks. How brilliant is this? Although some people have the restraint to just order a small coffee, McDonald’s knows that most people will add on at least one item from the dollar menu (“What’s one dollar?” most people think). Get people to do that five mornings in a row and boom! That free coffee promotion pays for itself tenfold.

So why all this about McDonald’s? Because they take advantage of one of the important principles Tim Ferriss discusses in The 4-Hour Body: there is magic in the number 5. Doing anything five times (five meals, five workouts, five measurements) seems to be the point at which one becomes hooked on the behavior. Doing something a couple of times is just messing around, trying it out. Doing it five times? That’s the tipping point. The Nike+ team, using the experience of 1.2 million users, found that “at five runs, [runners have] gotten hooked on what their data tells them about themselves.” (The principle is based on the importance of logging data at least five times, but Tim expands it to include doing anything five times.)

This magic number five is part of Tim’s larger principle of Make it a Game. He talks about the importance of measuring things and that “measurement = motivation.”  The books says, “Seeing progress in changing numbers makes the repetitive fascinating and creates a positive feedback loop.” So what if I rely on measurements for motivation rather than self-discipline? Sounds much easier to me! I’m measuring inches every Monday and every two weeks I’ll have new photos taken. Logging data is motivating. Seeing progress in photos is motivating. Hell, I can see the progress in the mirror every day but how fun will it be to have pics that show the step-by-step changes?

What new behavior do you desire to implement? Do it five times and see if the magic of the number 5 works for you!


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