“The Cheat is not the Treat” (or what I learned during a 30-day challenge – and beyond)

Have you ever given any thought to how making tiny, incremental changes might change your life? I challenged myself to make changes in January this year and eight months down the track it’s put my productivity, health and relationships in a completely different place. Here’s what happened.

Living your best life means something different to every person and it doesn’t have to mean fame, fortune or a million dollars in GCI.

Your definition may be drastically different from that of your spouse, partner or boss, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The important thing to remember is that it is never too late to make changes – even though they may seem scary, or unattainable.

Earlier this year, I was told I had a bio-age of 80.

Clearly, I was not living my best life.

Thankfully, I had in my hands James Clear’s book Atomic Habits (which I subsequently read twice) and took heart that it’s not necessarily massive action that’s needed to make great change.

In fact, consistently making tiny changes can alter the trajectory of your whole life.

So, it was time to stop joking about being an old person and make some small changes.

I went gluten-free.

Then I gave myself a 30-day challenge to give up drinking.

Yes, you heard that right.

Everyone knows that I love a wine (or a few wines) but apparently my liver was not enjoying it that much.

After a week or so I realised I was going to survive without what I thought were the good things in life, so I decided to try Clear’s theory of “habit stacking”.

He defines this as basically having one action trigger another.

For example, if you’ve been meaning to read more but you can’t seem to find the time, while the kettle is boiling of a morning, pick up a book instead.

Leave that book by the kettle so it’s there the next day.

Tiny, easy changes can easily form good habits instead of bad ones.

I changed what I was wearing at 6am while finishing The Brief. Instead of just putting clothes on I started choosing gym gear as my writing apparel.

When I finish The Brief, I jump on the treadmill.

After all, it would be super weird sitting in exercise gear and then not working out, right?

That became an absolute trigger of what to do as soon as I pressed the send button.

I bought a Fitbit to track my steps and it’s become a little bit of a game, seeing those green circles light up at the end of the day.

Instead of a couple of wines each night, I now put my energy into creating new and healthy recipes and looking forward to a bath.

Seven months later, I’ve lost more than a few kilos, several years (yes, I am getting younger) and to my amazement, I’m running 5km of a morning without thinking too hard about it.

Now, after listening to Tom Hector at AREC, I am thinking about what would have been unthinkable six months ago, and I’m researching infrared saunas.

Who is this person?

The continuous tiny changes have created a habit stack that has changed my energy and belief system, including who I am and what I am capable of.

I feel better than I have in months, years even.

However, despite all of my good work, inside of me there was still a voice saying that I was “missing out” on something with my new routine.

I loved the pub.

I loved the social scene.

But I questioned myself.

Had I become ridiculously boring (you know – one of those annoying ‘healthy’ people?)

My favourite cousin was out from the UK a couple of months ago so it was time to see if I could still party like it was 1999.

We went out playing pool, drinking way too much red wine, joking, laughing and even ended up belting out Summer of 69 at Sydney’s infamous Pickled Possum.

It was a good night.

The next morning my Fitbit said I had done more steps that night than any other in the past seven months.


But, my head was screaming something completely different.

All I could think about was this one time Matt Lancashire, from Ray White New Farm, was on stage at Momentum and recounted a similar experience.

Without a shadow of a doubt I now completely understand what he meant but I’ll put it into my own words:

The cheat is not the treat.

It sounds so simple, but somehow it was a major realisation for me and basically it applies to everything.

Every diet I’ve been on in my life (and there have been a few) I’ve always looked forward to the reward when I could relax with a treat.



But when does the treat ever make you feel as good as the routine of healthy eating?

Mostly those treats end in a tired sugar crash or a headache.

Some people convince themselves that time on Facebook is the reward for making the calls and doing the work.

But does Facebook really make you feel good?

Or does it feel better when you are routinely connecting with people and making a difference in their lives?

The cheat is not the treat.

Am I going to drink again? For sure.

Am I going to indulge in a crusty bread roll at some point?


But there has been an undeniable shift in my attitude this year.

Those ‘cheats’ aren’t really treats.

The real treat is the ability to go back to a monotonous, but brilliant routine.

The treat is being able to execute tiny changes that lead to bigger successes.

It could be an extra call, one more routine inspection, writing ahead of deadline, updating your database or shopping ahead of time.

The little things that add up to a great result are the real treat.

The real treat is having a great day at work because you’ve added up all the one-percenters over time and they are starting to pay dividends.

The real treat is moving easily at the gym, where some people struggle to get out of bed and go down the street.

The real treat is the clarity and the energy of not making silly mistakes and doing the simple things right.

Author L.R Knost summarises this beautifully:

Life is amazing.
And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and awful
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing,

hold on through the awful, and
relax and exhale during the ordinary.

That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing,
amazing, awful, ordinary life.
And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

I couldn’t agree with that more.

Tough times never last, but tough people do.

I’ve finally learned a valuable lesson: in the middle bit, the ordinary, the boring and the routine is beautiful.

The treat is life – and luckily for all of us, spring is full of life and all sorts of possibilities.

Make the most of it.

Post script: This piece is the ‘as published’ Editor’s Letter as is from our September 2019 Edition of Elite Agent.

I would just like to add that even small changes are much easier when you have the right ‘cheer squad’ around you. So that’s a big shout out to Perry Marshall – who’s 30-day reboot kind of kicked things off, Victoria O’Sullivan who put me on the right path (and keeps me there), and my husband, whom I am grateful is always there.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.