I recently stumbled upon an interesting story about Ethan Simonton, a vibrant and enthusiastic twenty-three year old from Denver Colorado. Ethan is a man on a mission, and he is taking such a downright ambitious approach to a common problem many of us have that I knew I had to learn more about the man himself.
In our first interview, Ethan told me of his past struggles with making certain habits stick – habits like eating right, exercising on a regular basis, being grateful for his lot in life, etc. – and that his decision to overcome this problem once and for all, was to take massive, deliberate action.
His method is as sound as it is simple: Ethan plans to fully immerse himself in one habit per month for twelve months with the idea being that at the end of the year he’d have (a) mastered twelve practices that had eluded him in the past, and (b) live a more fulfilling and rewarding life as a result. Needless to say, this idea alone intrigued me; but wait, there’s more.
On its own, learning twelve habits in twelve months would be a pretty massive undertaking – no question there. But Ethan wanted to make it even more challenging for himself and had decided to conduct this experiment not from the comforts of his home in Denver Colorado, and so he’s hitting the road and tackling one habit per month for twelve consecutive months, only he’s doing it in twelve different cities across in America!
This means that besides focusing on learning a new habit each month, Ethan also needs to orchestrate the logistical nomadic nightmare that comes from uprooting and moving to a new city every 30 days. (as of this writing, Ethan’s in New York City which I think is month five)
Being a man looking for challenges, this wrinkle came as a welcome addition, since Ethan felt that for massive change to happen, massive action needed to take place!
Here’s an example of one such challenge: Learning to live boldly… in Miami – in month four.
Ethan describes his motivation in his own words:
There is a complimentary “state of the art” gym across the hall from my apartment in Denver, Colorado which is also within walking distance of two grocery stores. And yet despite my wanting to work out or eat healthy, it seemed that every time I attempted to do these things I’d make just excuses to stay on the couch or in the bed, and stay out of the both the gym and kitchen.
With my levels of self-confidence and self-discipline at an all time low, I finally decided that something HAD to change. And then it happened; I was offered a once-in-lifetime opportunity to work from anywhere I wanted in in the United States, and realized this was my chance to make a change…
And so, over the next two months I decided the time had come to tackle my elusive “habit” problem in a big way. I’d do so by spending then next year traveling around the country searching for an answer to the question, “How does one build sustainable habits?” And with this, the gauntlet had been set: 12 months, 12 cities, 12 habits – and the idea of Habitstacker.com was born.
And with that introduction, please meet my new friend Ethan Simonton!
David: Hey Ethan, Thanks for agreeing to share your story with our readers! Please begin by explaining the motivation behind your grand experiment, beginning with gratitude, and also tell us what keeps you inspired each day?
Ethan: First, I wanted to thank you for having me, it’s great to be here! So, you are wondering why in the world I have been performing crazy experiments on myself that make my family shudder and my friends scratch their heads? It’s a good question! It all began in New Orleans last February where I was fortunate enough to spend the month with a lovely Pakistani family I found on Air bnb.
Other than savouring their wonderful Pakistani cooking, I often found myself having insightful conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the night with my host. He was a man who lives a simple life, such as owning one set of clothing and sleeping on a pad in his minimalistic room. He told me of how he often walks for many months on end across the landscape of America, usually traversing many states at a time.
It was during one of these deeply philosophical conversations that he revealed he feels the most gratitude of all when he’s able to rest under the shade after walking under the hot sun all day, explaining that this experiential method of feeling gratitude has been much more powerful than simply writing in a journal.
This idea lit my mind up like a Christmas tree; and the thought of sleeping on the floor, taking cold showers, water fasting and sleeping on the streets started to flow in. I thought that by removing certain aspects of my life that I take for granted, then reintroducing them after a period of time would force a feeling of gratitude upon me. This idea seemed logical and brilliant, and I say Thank-you again to my Pakistani walking friend for your inspiration!
David: That’s an amazing story, and I love how this man’s simplicity inspired you so much. Now part of the plan is to live in a different city each month, right? How did you pick the cities you would move to, and why did you choose these ones specifically?
Ethan: With the thousands of cities within the United States, I thought how hard could it be to pick only twelve? Apparently, it can be excruciatingly difficult! I liken it to picking cereal at the grocery store: First you see what looks attractive to you, then you research the ingredients, check out the nutritional value, etc. and (if possible) sneak a handful out of the box while the cashier isn’t looking, all to make a decision. But the truth is that none of it matters… in the end, you have to just pick a cereal and make the best of what you get.
This is how picking the cities felt. So basically I’d focus my research on cities that I was attracted to, (including those visited earlier on family vacations) and included any that had major events that I wanted to attend, and worked my schedule from there.
I also looked for cities with things like great beaches, or questioned if were they places I probably won’t get a chance to live in ever again, so why not include them now? It was all pretty overwhelming, but overall I feel like I picked a good, diverse mixture of cities throughout most regions of the United States, and am happy with my choices.
David: Got it. Now, there must be some pretty big costs to this project – How do you afford them, and so far what’s been your biggest challenge financially?
Ethan: You are absolutely correct, there are some pretty big expenses associated with this project, especially now that I have recruited a paid videographer/marketing specialist to travel with me. Imagine the cost that steak dinners and flying first class can have on your wallet, and double that. This is a realistic picture of the cash-burning machine this trip is.
The largest challenge financially has been having to pay rent through Air bnb many months ahead of time. This often requires me to have to pay 2-3 months’ worth of rent in advance; also factor in that many of the cities I am living in are the most expensive in the country.
We drive between cities and limit the extravagant meals to help keep costs down, but it is still an expensive lifestyle – especially since my only source of income is my full-time job. However as mentioned, working from remote locations has provided an opportunity that has helped kick open this door of adventure for me, and that’s the most important thing at this point.
David: I noticed on your site that you began with 31 days of motivational videos, each with a theme. What was the motivation for beginning this way?
Ethan: When I started this adventure the extent of my self-discipline consisted of forcing myself to get out of bed before 2 p.m. in the afternoon, and my most consistent habit was indulging in my grande, three-pump, white chocolate mocha with whip cream every day. With this realization, it was clear I needed to start the project with a sobering, and motivating habit, and though watching the videos would be a great place to start.
The theory was that if I listened to positive and motivational people every day, then I’d be able to slowly re-train my mind from its lazy, undisciplined and comfort obsessed slothful state to that of a disciplined drill sergeant 100% driven towards success. I figured with this mind-set, I felt there would be no problem accomplishing the tougher habits I’d challenge myself to later on in the year.
David: Recognizing you are five months into the year, what has been the biggest surprise or “Ah-ha!” moment that you’ve experienced so far, and why?
Ethan: So far, my biggest “Ah-ha” moment is when I started to realize the importance of living in the present. I’m understanding that feelings such as happiness, gratitude, and motivation are fleeting, and can run away from us in the same way I used to run from a salad.
By slowing down and living intentionally I’ve discovered we can reign these feelings back in, and create longer lasting and more fulfilling experiences. By slowing down when we walk, and taking time to notice the sights and the sounds, or savour every bite of a meal, or simply stop and realize how amazing your life already is we get so much more out of life.
We all have things to be grateful for; we just have to take the time to look around and remind ourselves of these things every day. This has been the biggest awakening for me so far.*
David: Have you had any moments or experiences so far where you felt you’d wandered into a situation you weren’t prepared for?
Ethan: Most definitely! I thought perhaps I wasn’t prepared to stop eating food for five days, or to live as a homeless person on the streets of New Orleans, both situations that were a piece of cake compared to my latest challenge – that of managing an actual living breathing employee. Unfortunately, my overpriced business degree has proven to be no help in this matter, and has left me feeling utterly unprepared on how to tackle this scenario in real life.
I feel like those first-time parents on a crowded airplane who are clueless on how to stop their baby from crying – you know, everyone is turning to them for answers, yet the library of books they read during previous nine months didn’t provide any answers! The lesson here is simple: As painful as the learning curve can be, sometimes the only way to learn something is by actually doing the practical work, rather than studying the theories.
David: This year-long experience will undoubtedly change “who you are” as a person; who and/or what personal goals do you hope to accomplish when you are finished?
Ethan: When it comes to health, wealth, relationships, and happiness I have many goals I’d like to accomplish, but also realize they are all just by-products of the more important intangible traits I hope to gain by the end this experiment. By the end of the year I aim to be a more self-disciplined and self-confident person. I want to tell myself that I am going to do something in life, actually go out there, tackle it, and sustain it over the long term. I truly believe that if I can teach myself the skill of building habits that stick, then the possibilities of what I can achieve are endless.
David: What’s the one thing from home you miss the most, and why?
Other than my family, friends, and the spicy hot chicken wings from my favourite hole-the-wall, I don’t miss many aspects of home. This may be come as a surprise to many people; but there these days there is simply not enough time in my life to think about anything other than what lies before me, day by day.
Moving to a different city every month has proven to be a complete sensory and intellectual overload; it forces me to live in the present, and not dwell on the past, or even attempt to comprehend what the future holds. Each day I live and focus on the here, the now, today; and best of all, I believe this is precisely what I need at this time in my life.
My sincere thanks to Ethan for his time, his candour, and above all his friendship as I’ve gotten know him over the past few months. I’m truly looking forward to meeting him live and in person (as opposed to our weekly Skype sessions) when he comes to speak to my Inspired Victoria community next month.
If you are in town, whatever you do don’t miss this fun evening! Sign up Here!
*Please note that due to financial constraints, Ethan (a) no longer has an employee, and (b) spends most nights sleeping in his car. His take on these developments is simple; he reminds us that “It’s all part of the adventure!”