How this one habit could add years to your life … and life to your years

October 22, 2018

My friend and business coach, John Anderson, asked me to write the foreword for his upcoming book “Replace Retirement.” I quickly agreed, figuring it was the least I could do since John, on the first day I met him, extended my life by at least 12 years.

To explain, let me take you back to the day in 2011 when I first met John: I am 39-years-old and John is consulting with my small YPO forum group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (YPO, in case you’re not familiar, is the largest group of CEOs in the world. I served as its chairman in 2016-2017.)

Several in the room already know John – he’s been their business coach for years. Yet he is new to the rest of us and we are a demanding group. But based on what our colleagues have told us about him, we are willing to hear what he has to say.

We spend the first half of the session talking about habit formation and the concepts in the book the “Compound Effect” by Darren Hardy. The ideas in the book are powerful and resonate with many of us. Real change, Hardy says, takes longer – sometimes years longer – than we think, whether it’s a fitness plan or a business concept. And, often, people quit before seeing the fruits of their efforts because they don’t give sufficient time to the change process or don’t track their progress, meaning they’re unaware of how far they’ve come.

The power of tracking

Both Hardy and John recommend diligent tracking. What gets measured, gets done, so the standard coaching line goes. So, right then and there, several of us commit to tracking our habit-forming results and creating personal Key Performance Indicators (better known as KPIs). We also create accountability pairs that require weekly check-ins about our progress or lack thereof.

We don’t know it at the time but many in our group – including me – will come to consider the months and years following the adoption of these habits as the most life-changing period of our adult lives. Almost every day since, I have tracked on a spreadsheet the major data points I have needed to create and sustain excellence in my life. Whenever people ask me how I get so much done, I often point to my tracking of habits and personal KPIs as my cornerstone.

If that was all I learned that day, I would be forever grateful to John. But the life-changing insights were only beginning. During the second half of our time together, John focuses on his Legacy Map, a worksheet he is developing to help people focus on a full-life view of success.  To illustrate how it works, he asks for a volunteer from our group to be the guinea pig. Naturally, I raise my hand.

John asks me in front of the group to name the age I will be when I die. You see, this exercise begins with a visioning of the final year of my life. Caught quickly in the mental bind of wanting a long life but not wanting to be greedy for years, I choose 88. He then takes me through a process where I describe in detail what my life looks like at the beginning of my 88th year. I describe where I will live, what my houses look like, what my marriage and relationships with my children and grandchildren will be like. I talk about my health and vitality regimen—jokingly adjusted for my 88-year-old body. I talk about my financial security, how I will spend my time, how happy and fulfilled I am. By the end of it, I am one fricking happy, healthy and successful 88-year-old!

Why not plan to live longer?

John smiles as he listens and takes careful notes. He reads highlights of my end-of-life vision back to the group and then looks me in the eye and asks: “McKeel, if you are such a happy, healthy and successful guy at 88, why are you going to die so young?”

We all laugh. I squirm a bit. And then I have an epiphany unlike I have ever experienced. It is like someone revealing to me some sort of temporal Holy Grail, or more properly, a fountain of youth. I blurt out: “OK, then, 100. I will die at 100.” John laughs again and says: “I just added 12 years to your life!”

Since that day, I have lived with a new view of life. Now I view the later stages of my life as something worthy of effort and achievement. I view those years ahead as the result of years of habits and practices that I can control and use to create a better reality. I don’t have to see the later part of my life as a passive decline. Instead I can view it as just another vision to achieve.

If I do, who knows, maybe I’ll enjoy another 12 after that.

Onward and upward.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash