How Much Would You Pay for a New Habit?

By Duff McDuffee on May 18th, 2011 1

If you’re a regular reader of Beyond Growth, you already know that buying things isn’t self-help. If you aren’t doing the free or cheap version of something (e.g. pushups), than buying something expensive (e.g. a weight set) isn’t likely to magically bring about positive changes. The hard work remains either way.

Which brings me to a new $497, 28-day course “worth thousands of dollars” in changing habits called The Habit Course, from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and friends. (Hat tip to @7breaths_.) Personally, I think the most important habit to create in your life is the habit of avoiding overpriced personal development products, of which there will always be more. The chances are for most people who purchase this or any other program, compliance will be very low, the forums are likely to be dead, and the added “bonuses” will likely lead to overload and analysis paralysis.

In addition, anything other than just working on your habit is not working on your habit, and fundamental changes simply take time. While it can be helpful to learn a few things about successfully forming habits, it is all too common to become an armchair expert in the theory of success without doing the actual work. Just as it would be ridiculous to eat a menu, confusing it for the meal, we consumers of personal development often eat up the inspiration instead of being nourished by the actions required to make real change—most of which are completely free.

One of my values is frugality—using your life, time, and money well due to the recognition that all of the above are limited resources. Now this doesn’t mean I’m a “freegan” or a freetard. It is reasonable to charge money for your product or service. Indeed, often times purchasing something—a book, a therapy session, a piece of exercise equipment, etc.—can be the best use of one’s time and money. A single kettlebell might cost $70 including tax and shipping, but if you used it every day for a year it could save hundreds over a gym membership…and still be in perfect condition to resell if you didn’t like it, or wanted a heavier one.

Leo B. also advocates for frugality, minimalism, and simplicity. For instance once of the “free bonuses” for The Habit Course comes from Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar. (I like that his bonus has a “$2 value”—the most honest assessment of any bonus I’ve seen in a marketing launch like this.) Yet the $497 price tag is hardly a fit for the frugal personal development consumer. Like Leo’s love of this minimalist mansion (which he said in the comments he has since retracted), his stated values and his actions seem to be once again incongruent. While there is a money-back guarantee after week 1 if you don’t like it, I just can’t see any benefits above maybe $50 from a 28-day course on such a generic, well-known subject as habit formation. Why not just keep it simple and offer less?

My recommendation? If you want to learn about changing habits, get a book from your local library on the subject, or purchase just one physical book that you can resell on Amazon afterwards. Read it and test the principles in your real life with at least three habits. Refine your process based on real feedback. Cost: $0-$10 + a lot of hard work, a savings of $487 or more. Either way the bulk of real change comes from that hard work part, so why not invest that $500 instead? If you invested $500 a year instead of spending it on products like this, at a mere 5% return over 20 years you’d have over $18,000 extra bucks!

If you find that idea insufficient, I have an additional program for you, dear reader. Instead of giving Leo and friends your $500, give it to me. Send $500 by PayPal to andrewmcduffee at gmail and tell me the habit you want to keep for the next 28 days. If you keep it to your satisfaction, you get all your money back (minus the interchange fees). If you don’t, I keep the money. You can’t beat that deal for it’s simple effectiveness! 🙂

To summarize, a wise man once said, “Stop buying the unnecessary.”



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59 responses to “How Much Would You Pay for a New Habit?”

  1. Henway says:

    I agree, a lot of personal development stuff out there are simply money wasters… yet so many ppl think that CD or that one set of books will help them achieve their goals.
    My recent post Medifast Faq

  2. Greg Linster says:

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, people would be better off to drop the self-help and pick up some philosophy instead. I find it strange that many people seem to enjoy reading self-help as opposed to actually helping themselves. It seems as if some people would prefer to read about how to learn Spanish instead of spending time actually learning it. To each his own, I guess. As your essay eloquently puts it, there is no substitute for doing the work. Tips and information can help to a degree, but as a general rule of thumb, they should never cost more than your monthly car payment.

  3. If his program results in the kind of changes being promised…. you know, exercises and lessons that produce life-altering results, I think the price tag may be worth it. I mean, if he can actually get people to change their lives for the better… ending bad habits, forming good ones that lead to happiness, fulfillment and success in whatever area of their lives they want to find success in, does the price tag matter? Of course, the problem is there is a barrier placed between those who can afford to change their lives through his course vs those who can't afford it. But, as you say, there are free alternatives too – go to a library, do some pushups — just do the hard work!
    My recent post “Little Hawk” – Oil Pastels Art

    • I mean, if he can actually get people to change their lives for the better… ending bad habits, forming good ones that lead to happiness, fulfillment and success in whatever area of their lives they want to find success in, does the price tag matter?

      What if I told you I could get you to travel at speeds far greater than human locomotion, to have incredible freedom to go wherever you wanted to go, and could guarantee results…would the pricetag matter? This gray 1994 Toyota is worth millions in terms of your personal freedom, but I'll sell it to you for only $497,000!

  4. Eric D. Greene says:

    $497,000 isn't worth it. $497 which results in happiness and fulfillment *might* actually be worth it… No?
    My recent post “Little Hawk” – Oil Pastels Art

    • How do you know that $497,000 isn't worth it for my 1994 Toyota Camry, but $497 might be worth it (when the price is hundreds of times more than a book on the same subject)? How can you put a price on your physical freedom? 🙂

      • Eric D. Greene says:

        If you had a buyer for your 94 Camry, willing to pay $497,000 for it, would you sell it to them? Answer: of course you would. Leo Babauta appears to have found buyers for his product who feel it's worth it to them. So what, I ask, is the difference in principle?
        My recent post “Little Hawk” – Oil Pastels Art

        • While in theory that sounds great, in actuality I would never sell my used car for more than 10% more than the Kelly Blue Book value—not because I couldn't, but because it would be a raw deal for the other person.

  5. Sheila says:

    They really need to come up with some kind of FTC regulation that says that if you claim that a product is [blah] value then it needs to be on sale somewhere at that exact price. Granted, this will probably result in a lot of hastily thrown-together pages to sell the product there, but it would at least tamp down the bullshit factor slightly.
    My recent post Word Art- Wishing Stars

  6. @olimay says:

    That's about the cost of a 3-credit community college course. On the other side, I know people shell out $2000-3000 for 3-day business seminars. A lot of them probably have questionable value. So this seems like this falls somewhere in-between. It may be ridiculous, but it's fairly bounded ridiculousness.

  7. aarthi says:

    It was nice to have found this post when I googled 'leo habits course scam' or something similar 🙂
    I have always liked Leo's philosophy and approach. Most of his advice is simple and he seems like a really genuine guy, someone who practices what he preaches.. unlike someone on the Habits Course Panel – Steve Pavlina! And this is part of the problem with Leo's new course. I think he's hurt his credibility with a) the pricing and b) the people on this panel, I don't know about the rest but especially Pavlina. There's tons of stuff out there about him and his wife Erin.

    But most importantly, i reached habits course through his latest post which was obviously written *just* to promote the course. That really put me off. I mean when I go to zenhabits I look for posts of quality not some lengthy advertorial!

    I can understand that living in SF can't be cheap and paying all those 'expert' panelists. Leo should probably take up corporate clients or something and charge 3000$ – an amount mentioned earlier by another poster – for all you know, he's probably doing that already. But most of his audience is not going to be happy about shelling 500$ for a course like this.

    • Hi Aarthi, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Indeed, I've written a number of pieces on Pavlina myself:

    • 32000days says:

      At the risk of becoming the resident Steve P apologist…

      someone who practices what he preaches.. unlike someone on the Habits Course Panel – Steve Pavlina!

      This is very vague – I'm curious to know about the way(s) or incident(s) in which you've observed Steve Pavlina not practicing what he preaches.

      There's tons of stuff out there about him and his wife Erin.

      Again – vague and rather ominous. I'm wondering what this "tons of stuff" is – do you mean secret paper legal files in a warehouse outside of Topeka, KS? Or perhaps many old hard disks full of incriminating data, in a military facility outside Area 51?

      Inquiring minds want – no need – to know!

      OK, so I am partly joking. But the real part is my curiosity about the word on the street about what Steve's done, aside from (1) create a very popular and occasionally controversial personal growth blog (2) write a book (3) run several personal growth seminars in 2010.

      My recent post Life is

  8. Eric Normand says:

    Like you say at the end, Duff, it's more effective to pay not to change but when you DON'T change. For example,

    has a service where you sign a contract with them. If you break the deal, you pay some money. If you want to lose weight, sign a contract that says "I will pay $500 if I don't exercise every day." That actually works.

    • Great example, based on principles of Behavioral Economics (which has some problems IMHO, but is at least research-based which is more than one can say about most personal development information).

  9. Trenia says:

    I've been lurking on your blog for a while now, but wanted to respond to this post. I never quite understood what bothered me about stuff like Leo's course, until today. The issue for me is that there seems to be a price tag on life fulfillment and happiness, so the implication is if you can't afford it, there is no way to get it. I'm always amazed at how so many internet "gurus" with such a large fan base can sell so many of these products for such a hefty price tag because the reality is if you can afford to spend this kind of money on these kind of products, do you even really need what they are selling?
    My recent post Dating is All About A Man’s Package

    • Hi Trenia, thanks for commenting (and lurking too).

      …the reality is if you can afford to spend this kind of money on these kind of products, do you even really need what they are selling?

      As a teacher of mine says about life coaches who require expensive contracts and then claim high success rates, it's a great way to filter out people who have any real problems!

      People who have serious habit problems are drug addicts, people who self-injure or cut themselves, kleptomaniacs, and others in similar situations—few who can afford $500 for a month of habit training, not covered by insurance, with no personal attention.

    • And what really gets me is the blogging about frugality and "minimalism" on the one hand, then the $500 price tag on the other.

    • 32000days says:

      I'm always amazed at how so many internet "gurus" with such a large fan base can sell so many of these products for such a hefty price tag because the reality is if you can afford to spend this kind of money on these kind of products, do you even really need what they are selling?

      Financial wealth doesn't imply a superior ability to maintain healthy personal habits or eliminate bad ones. I've met lots of people who work in high-paying professions who nevertheless find it a challenge to keep up an exercise program, maintain healthy eating habits, or quit smoking.

      Of course, just because a person could afford a more expensive technology doesn't mean they need it or that it's automatically superior to something cheaper, simpler, or older.

      My recent post Life is

  10. isabelle_ang says:

    Thanks for your critical take on this topic! A friend of mine signed up for the course and asked or a refund during week1 actually. She didn't think it was worth the time and investment. I think Leo relies a lot on people's devotion to his blog and his 'celebrity' status. It was a scientific take on habit creation (do the habit daily after a specific trigger, report back, be accountable, do the habit for 4-6 weeks, start small, don't aim too high, spice up your habit if it gets boring etc) but it had a strong "motivational" course flavour to it. The forums were suprisingly active though.

    As you say, anybody who's self-motivated enough to research the science of habits can probably absorb all the vital information from the internet / free sources and implement strategies in their own time and space. I think the course was created more for people who need to feel part of a community (and report regularly via the forum to be accountable) in order to feel "motivated" to change. Of course it's difficult to review a course from week1 materials only, but that's where the refund window expires. This post actually provides a good overview of week 1 and what is covered –…. You can decide for yourself.

    • I think it's very reasonable to create and even charge for a community devoted to supporting people in developing new habits. There are of course numerous communities online and off available for free or a small fee that do exactly this, for instance Spark People, running clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, yoga classes, Toastmasters, etc. Note that all are devoted to specific, topical habits, which in my opinion makes them more valuable than generic habit formation courses, and more likely to lead to success as well. Note too that most are far cheaper, or even totally free like AA and Spark People.

      For instance here in Boulder we have one of the finest yoga studios in the world run by Richard Freeman, The Yoga Workshop. You can take 6 yoga classes per week (each 75 minutes to 4 hours long) for a month for $220. That's still less than half of the cost of this habits course, and would guide you every second of your practice through a deep psychophysical transformation.

      That said, I'm glad the forums were very active, which is a difficult feat to pull off, and sounds like the organization of the course isn't too bad either. But for that expense, I'd expect at least four 1-on-1 coaching sessions or something equivalent. A bunch of useless eBooks isn't gonna cut it IMHO.

      • isabelle_ang says:

        Apart from the expense, I think one also has to evaluate the effectiveness of a habit. Examples in the course were – declutter every day at 6am, write for 5 minutes every day at 6am etc… It sounds great, but how effective is that? I may not feel like decluttering for a week, but then I have a power session on a Saturday afternoon and gets tons done! However, if I force myself to declutter at a set time every day I a) have a horrible time forcing myself to do something I don't feel like doing, b) end up being less effective as a result and c) waste time. I think following your own instinct (depending on the ebb and flow of your emotions, energy levels and inspiration) is far more effective than adhering to a stringent habit programme. The same holds true for creative habits like writing or playing an instrument – it cannot be forced.

        • That is an excellent point, one I've often thought but never expressed so clearly as how you just did. I've often been skeptical of Babauta's emphasis on daily habits for similar reasons. Some habits work great daily, but others do not. While there can be a value in disciplined practice of a skill at the same time of day, just as many successful writers, athletes, etc. switch it up based on their intuition.

          For instance currently there is a writing challenge called #trust30 which has people write for 15 minutes a day. In a month's time, that's only 7.5 hours. I hate writing daily and can't force myself to do it, yet I write 1-2 blog posts a month and each takes me 4-8 hours to write. This challenge encourages people to post their 15 minutes of writing to their blog. In my opinion, this is just encouraging more sloppy, unedited writing to populate the blogosphere. In addition, the pro writers I know write for 4-8 hours a day, not including time spent reading, finding a publisher, etc.

          But back to habits, I'm all with you on this one. Personally I find cleaning is best all at once rather than little bits at a time, and many projects do not require the creation of a daily habit to complete.

          • isabelle_ang says:

            Exactly. And when it comes to being "blocked" about decluttering (or writing or exercising for that matter), it's often about clearing emotional boulders, not a lack of 'knowledge' on the 'science' of habit creation. We're not robots. Honouring the cycles and rythms of your body (and setting intentions on a larger goal) can lead towards a much more productive lifestyle.

          • I think you really got to the heart of the matter. Leo B's approach to personal change has always felt robotic to me.

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