A three–month transition from something he did daily to something he targets doing once a month feels pretty big to me and he shares thoughtfully and in-depth how his transition went. So if you’re thinking about doing one or you’re doing one, I recommend listening to how it goes for him because I think it’ll help you feel not alone, that you’ll feel like part of a team. You’ll also hear how doing one change led him to doing several other changes as well based on him enjoying the process, I’m not sure enjoying it but based on him getting reward from the process. You’ll also hear how it’s affected other people so simply by changing to live by your values generally leads you to become a leader of others that others will follow you. So let’s listen.
Joshua: Balint Horvath was the first guest I interviewed and I’ve done a whole bunch of interviews since then because he has taken on one of the bigger challenges of all the people who I have had on the show. So as I remember you normally would eat meat every day, several times a week?
Balint: Yeah. I try to have it every day typically.
Joshua: You try to. It’s not like you kind of do but…
Balint: Yeah, because sometimes you know I want to have the right amount of protein intake. So meat has a lot of protein and usually I think that you know if I like go out and eat somewhere, let’s say in a restaurant or a canteen that I need to have my protein intake and the first thing that comes into my mind and also in the mind of the cook is meat because of course you can have vegetarian food but it’s not as typical, not as common here as meat based dishes.
Joshua: I’m glad that you start off with that so that people listening don’t think, “Oh, Josh doesn’t eat meat so his friends probably don’t eat meat so it’s no big deal that he’s not eating meat for some time.” But for you it’s something that you consider valuable enough that you put effort into eating. And even if for not nutritional reasons do you like it?
Balint: I do like it the taste but now thinking about it chewing it, it can become a little bit messy because it can stay between your teeth. And if I was eating something else like vegetable-based things, some of them like let’s say mushrooms, they are not as strong in terms of getting between your teeth.
Joshua: Are you saying this change has come about over the past three months or did you feel that way before?
Balint: Yeah. I do think that many things have changed and have crossed my mind.
Joshua: As a result of the personal challenge?
Balint: Yeah. And actually, I do want to take on new challenges. And yeah, I have actually quite a few things to share. Regarding this you know the challenge was that can I cut down on my meat consumption specifically beef because beef is really, really bad for the for the environment because of you know the amount of water that is needed to produce beef like for half a kilogram you need 20000 liters. I still remember this number because it’s just really shocking number.
Joshua: And that’s totally independent of any greenhouse. This is just pure resource depletion. So whether you believe in the greenhouse effect or not so when you talk about resource depletion and probably pollution things too.
Balint: Yeah, it’s not sustainable at all. And I wanted to you know for a long time I was just talking about it and thinking about it how bad it is but I didn’t do much about it. And thanks to you I took on this challenge and what I can report is that I ate beef and the challenge was that then for the next three months I was supposed to eat just three times so until the end of October. And it happened four times. Once I have to say that it happened because I accidentally misunderstood the German word which is [unintelligible] which means [unintelligible] when I bought dinner and it was too late. I already got it and I didn’t want to throw it away.
Joshua: And how did you make it happen? Were there big changes? Did you have to change how you cook at home? Like what were the facts of what you did?
Balint: Yeah. So going back to the time when this happened I usually try to eat meat especially beef when I’m out. But I also sometimes actually I eat at home beef for example in lasagna. So I remember very well because I wanted to keep track of these you know when I have beef and I ate once beef lasagna, a big mac, apparently outside and meatballs.
Joshua: Of all the meat you could eat you went for a big mac? That’s your taste.
Balint: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because I do like burgers. I can eat it almost any time. So for me that was the big challenge how can I cut down on the burger consumption because normally burger comes with beef. But actually, I found a way to still keep on eating burger but not with beef but with the chicken inside.
Joshua: So chicken burgers, turkey burgers.
Balint: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s already a nice step forward in terms of sustainability. So I’m very happy about it. And the other thing is that you know I started going more to my favorite restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants here in Zurich, it’s a vegetarian restaurant quite popular actually because they have really, really delicious food. So I started discovering more of their different dishes and that was also really, really good. So I would like to keep on you know exploring that and also at home in the kitchen preparing more vegetarian food.
Joshua: This happens all the time including with me is that a lot of people think, “I’m not going to do X.” So you think you don’t think of what you are going to do instead. So like for me not traveling the alternative is not sitting at home twiddling my thumbs. The alternative is figuring out other things and then people to think that they can’t figure anything out that’s a statement of their own lack of initiative or imagination. But like you say you found lots of other things.
Balint: Yeah. The other thing that I wanted to emphasize is that I picked up even more routines and habits so since around July so around the time when we had the conversation I started taking cold showers every morning.
Joshua: I love it. So for anyone who doesn’t know I’ve been taking cold showers every fourth day for the past, I forget, three years. I’m like several hundred cold showers. How’s it worked for you?
Balint: It’s amazing. I do it every day, every morning but it is such a way that I do it for like two minutes. I have a hot shower like on the edge of my tolerance. So and then I just turn the tap to the coldest possible and this gives me a huge boost in the morning because of two things. One is that I’m happy, I’m smiling after that. It’s physiologically proven that it gives you happy hormones. And second, it makes my immune system stronger. And actually, the last thing that I wanted to add is that if you can survive a cold shower, you can survive anything during the day.
Joshua: Yeah. I mean the word I use is invigorating. I’ve never left a cold shower not fully invigorated. The physical sensation is a small part of it, it’s an important part. But look at your heroes in life. Did they get there by eating cookies and ice cream watching TV or did they take on challenges? And if you learn the skills of taking on challenges that increases what you can do in life and I think that if you’re looking for areas to do this, cold showers is one. But I don’t think I mean a lot of people they are like, “Well, should I do it with work, with family, with relationships of other sorts or making money or whatever?” Well if you do it with respect to the environment of improving whatever your values are, of improving your effect on the environment based on your values you’re going to develop these skills and you’re going to end up doing things like Balint is doing. It’s like you do one thing and you realize, “This was easier than I thought.” Or maybe it’s challenging but if you rise up to the challenge and develop the skills, then the next one is easier. Even if it’s equally hard, when it it’s equally hard to do but your skills are greater, then it will feel easier. And if you ever look in a way to improve your life doing something with respect to the environment is generally a pretty safe place to do it and the effects are just as great.
Balint: Yeah. When you start taking on a challenge maybe you should not look at it as a challenge first, if it’s something completely new, but just give it a try and try it just a few times and then after that you can commit to it. Because you know if you commit to it from the beginning, from the very first moment, you might be intimidated of the big challenge that, “Oh, I will take a shower, cold shower or I will not eat beef so regularly for the next half a year.” It sounds like a big challenge. But I think if you start with baby steps but you know you should not do the baby steps for a long time because then it’s not a challenge anymore. But just have baby steps and then start the challenge.
Joshua: So OK, so now let’s talk about results. How does it feel now?
Balint: It feels great. It feels great being different from other people when I go to for example a burger restaurant when everybody around me is eating beef-based burgers and I’m eating chicken-based or I’m eating something else. So even actually when I was celebrating kind of like the three-month challenge, the end of the three-month challenge, that is just a few days ago, like a week ago, I went to a special craft beer restaurant in Berlin, I was at a conference there, and then everybody around me was eating meat. Actually, they had quite a lot of beef on the menu but I ordered the vegetable or vegetarian food including mushrooms. And I loved it.
Joshua: And how did everyone else react?
Balint: Well, they reacted already strangely that I was eating alone because it just happened like that. I was there alone. And second, people think that the beer is only something salty and something meat would match. So yeah, they were a bit surprised but I think, again, one should not care too much about what other people think. If you think it’s right, just do it.
Joshua: I’m going to actually add to that. It’s not just not caring because that’s kind of neutral. What I’ve found over and over again is that people doing these challenges at first they think or either they think that dealing with other people is going to make it harder or they don’t think about dealing with other people and then when they interact with other people it becomes hard, especially with like husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends that they are like, “You go not eat meat but don’t tell me what to do.” I don’t know but they get that. But the people who make the stuff work they make it work by involving other people in it and making them allies, making them work with them. So I think that you’re kind of….If I read you right, when you said you liked the feeling of your interaction with other people, I forget exactly how you said it. Don’t you feel really good about it?
Balint: Yeah. I mean also like around me my girlfriend is eating now also less meat. So it does have an effect. I talk about it and I think I can at least I tend to believe that I can inspire others that they should try it. So it does have an effect on my environment, on my relationships.
Joshua: Tell me more about…. What other relationships? Any good stories? How about your family?
Balint: Yeah. I mean they were surprised. But now you know they are more aware of this issue because they see this challenge. So I think they were surprised that I took on this challenge. So you never know. They might take on the challenge soon. We will see.
Joshua: You can send them to my web page so that they can do it there and then put in their testimonials. So were there any hurdles, was there anything that made it really hard?
Balint: Well, it was the challenge you know was for me a really personal one. So the challenge was that when we went with some other people to a place where everybody else was eating beef or steak or my girlfriend wanted to prepare again beef lasagna because she loves preparing it and she prepares it brilliantly, then I had to say no. But again, for me after a while it was not a really, really big challenge. So I would like to actually keep on doing it so eating less beef.
Joshua: So it sounds like an unqualified success. Is that putting too much into it?
Balint: You mean like unqualified success meaning?
Joshua: It was all good. I mean you had challenges, I guess you had challenges here and there. You went over by 33 percent but it sounds like you want to do more like. Maybe you’ll eat more than one amount of beef, one serving of beef per month now, I’m not sure, but it sounds like you want to do the cold showers and you’re already doing the less clothing shopping but it sounds like you want to do the next thing.
Balint: Yeah. I have to think about it what the next thing would be because in the last half a year I’ve already changed a lot in terms of habits, routines. But I can certainly take on more, for example going back to running, regular running which I miss because I have now tight schedule but I would love to do that. But I have to think about more other challenges.
Joshua: It’s interesting to switch from environment to what you would call fitness.
Balint: Yeah, true, but regarding sustainability I mean another thing is I mean since I got to know you more that I pay attention to is packaging, so plastic packaging and actually since I started doing more this challenge, the beef challenge I’m more aware of the sustainability topics in general. So I also consider plastic packaging. If I should take it or not. So even like now today, during lunch time, I wanted to have a cake but I could have bought it in a shop at a cheaper price and I decided that I don’t want to do that. I just want to get it in a café where I was at that moment. And because if the price difference is not so high, I’d rather get it in a cafe where there is no packaging.
Joshua: Balint and I are in touch a lot because he’s helping me get my podcast started but we’re now talking about this so that listeners can get everything. So did I tell you about my friend? She’s Polish she’s been in America. I think she’s an American citizen now but she came to visit with a carrot cake. Did I tell you about that?
Joshua: So she’s in my neighborhood, she texts me and she says, “I am in your neighborhood” so I say, “Come on by.” So it’s like the end of a work day. I think it’s maybe last Friday or two Fridays ago and I say, “Come on by.” So she comes upstairs and she says, “Josh, I got some really good carrot cake. So I guess some cafe near me she must got some carrot cake and she’s like, “Have some.” And I look at it. OK. So one, I avoid packaged food. So it’s in a box, I only have it because it’s in a box. And then I avoid food where fiber has been removed. So there’s like white flour, so that’s fiber removed, there’s sugar so that’s fiber removed and then there’s oil fat so that’s fiber been removed. So I don’t to eat it for four different reasons.
And she said, “Come on, have some.” I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, “I don’t want this.” She said, “Come on, live a little.” And you know it’s interesting that in the time that I’ve been doing this, it really has lost its appeal like I know that if I tasted it, I’d want to eat more of it. But I also know that the way I think of it is it wouldn’t make my life better to eat the stuff. So I’m avoiding it and not avoiding, I’m just not eating because I don’t want it. And she’s like, “Come on,” she’s really confused because she thinks I’m trying to not…. She thinks I’m using willpower and I’m not.
And then so I get all these vegetables from ICSA. I get so many vegetables I’m like, “What do I do with all that stuff?” And so I’ve been fermenting stuff. And so I have some, it’s called celeriac or celery root I think, and I put some salt on it, I was letting it ferment and I say, “Try some of it.” Anyway, and the conversation goes on from the cake. And then at some point I’m like I got this pickle stuff or fermented stuff and I say, “Do you want to try some?” and she said OK. Oh, and there’s a jalapeno in there too. So it’s mostly celery root, celeriac or whatever it’s called. And I don’t care what it’s called, I care about how the stuff tastes. So I give her a spoon of it and her eyes light up, she said, “Oh my god! What is this?” And I’m like, “Yeah, isn’t it good?” She said, “What do you do?” And I tell her how I made the stuff and it is really easy. Takes very little time to …You just have to let it sit on your counter for a while. And she’s eating more and more and more of it. And she says, “No wonder you didn’t want what I brought. This is so much better.” And I even had to give her whole container full of it because she liked it so much because she has going through so much of it. And that’s what happens.
I grew up eating candy. I grew up eating ice cream. I love the stuff and I know the taste of it. It still tastes as good as it ever did. But it’s not as rewarding, there’s much more to food than just how it tastes on your tongue and how it feels going down your throat.
And when I was at West Point over the weekend early this week I went to a couple of places, they took me to these restaurants and I had this one salad at a restaurant and it was beet and arugula and I don’t know how to put it. Every surface had like a layer of oil on it that they’d put oil and like completely distributed all throughout and the arugula didn’t taste like arugula. It didn’t have any flavor and the beats were like… It was pleasing to my mouth but it was just the feeling of food going down my throat. Arugula has so much peppery flavor. I don’t know how to describe the flavor of arugula. It’s really good. Sometimes it can have so much flavor, you can’t keep it in your mouth. Maybe not like a mustard green and I never knew that before but now I love it. And I don’t know how I got into this, sorry if I’m talking too long, but it’s this so much more to food than just the superficial flavor and texture. It’s how they fit together and all these other things that I was totally blind to for almost all my life.
Balint: Yeah, it’s not only the sweet stuff that one should be attracted to.
Joshua: Yeah. I mean you can put oil on anything and it’ll be palatable. But what that vegetable or herb or whatever…What it really has to offer? All these different complexities. For a long time I used to think New York has so many restaurants, it must be some of the best food ever in all of human history. But now that I’m eating all these vessels that are just from a farm I’m thinking maybe I live in a time when we’re so used to things being made bland and just sweet, salt, oil and maybe we used to eat really delicious for most of human history. I don’t know. This is just an idle thought. But I can tell you that when I go to even some of the really better New York City restaurants it’s still they know what brings people back. It’s sugar, fat and salt. And now it’s disappointing and you know it still tastes the same.
I’ve got to tell you if you used to like something and that thing hasn’t changed but you like something so much more that you don’t do the other thing anymore, the first anymore, that is like a clear sign that you have improved your life if the old thing is not as good as the new thing. Then your life is better.
Balint: Yeah. Yeah. And when you say no to something like I said no to beef, then you start looking for alternatives that could replace it. So if I want to have my protein intake, I could look at some alternatives, alternative sources and this is what I was doing.
Joshua: Yeah. Here’s a little thing that I found out after decades of being vegetarian is that if you look at protein per gram of food, then meat is pretty high in protein but if you look at protein per calorie of food, then a lot of plants are way higher and what that means is that you have to eat a lot more of it but you still get fewer calories. And so I’m ending up eating more food than most people in terms of total quantity of food, in terms of like the mass of food but fewer calories and as long as I keep eating food that I like I’m actually eating…It’s like more pleasure. And you know you get all the fiber nutrients and things like that. Not to mention the environmental stuff. Now I’m breaking all these rules that you should be talking with me.
I’m curious. You talked about the environmental side of things but the environment isn’t you. Like what’s the value behind doing something for the environment. I mean I think we talked about it last time but I’m still curious. Like just because it improves the environment by your values doesn’t mean…What are you doing internally for yourself? Is this making your life better or you are just helping others at your own expense?
Balint: It does help me as I said because I have to look for alternative ways of getting my intake and I like challenges, I like creative process, the creative thoughts coming up with new solutions and I like routine but at the same time I like also deviation, changes and it gave me that that difference that boost, that helped me I think experiment and start taking on other habits that I mentioned. So I think once you start it probably you cannot stop it.
Joshua: The process.
Balint: The process of taking on new challenges and improving your life because in the end it’s not just the fun factor that is a new something. But it should be something that improves your life.
Joshua: So you always wanted to change things, to take on challenges but you didn’t really know which direction to go into and this gave you direction.
Balint: Yeah. Yeah, it was like a tipping point for me because as I said after that since July, since around in July I’ve taken on like, I don’t know, three-four different new routines, quite a lot actually. My morning is completely different how it looks like. It’s more routine based. So I do 40 pushups. That’s the first thing I do after small stretching. Then I go and eat… No, then I do meditation. So 15 minutes. Then I have breakfast. Then I do the cold shower, brushing my teeth. And before I was not doing these except for the breakfast and it’s great.
Joshua: People listen to my stuff about all these habits of mine and all these challenges that I do and they think it’s like some big deal. But once you start…I mean like are these challenges getting easier and easier and easier, harder and harder or what? What’s the level of difficulty with each one?
Balint: Well, all of these came at around the same time. So all of them were challenging to you know keep on doing it even when you don’t feel like it but because you’re doing it every day, you’re on autopilot and then you’re on autopilot. You start thinking about other things in your life. So you know Barack Obama supposedly he was wearing one color for his tie and I think eve his suite and when they asked him why, he’s like because he has to make enough decisions during the day that affects the world that he doesn’t want to use his limited capacity for doing such mundane things, for deciding on such mundane things as the suit.
Joshua: Yeah, so it really gives you freedom. I mean I don’t want to think about. I want my mind to think about interesting, complex stuff that really matters, not “Am I going to take the stairs or the elevator?” And so I just pick like I’m going to go up the stairs and that’s it. Done. Now I’m on to other things to think about.
Balint: Yeah. So I started looking more and more into also workflows because I’m doing a podcast, I’m naturally or I have a tendency of becoming more and more process based. So I’m looking at my workflow at work. You know I’m looking at back to Lean manufacturing because I have a background in manufacturing. So R&D and manufacturing. I was a program manager in my previous position. So I had some exposure to Lean principles. But now I’m looking at some more you know like [unintelligible] which is the end to seven [unintelligible] of that which is you know transportation, inventory, movement or motion, then you have you know….
Joshua: Alright. We know you know it. No need to show off.
Balint: It’s really great that I have this now more process-based things because I can as you said you can start thinking about other really creative stuff.
Joshua: So you’re really using this to make your life better?
Balint: Yeah. And I was not like that. Not as much.
Joshua: So I hope people listening to this who are thinking of themselves, “I want to improve my life in some way.” And if you’re intimidated by people who have amazing things going on in their lives, they started somewhere too. We all started crying babies in the hospital and we all had to learn these things. And you know if the value that brought you here is leadership and self-leadership and making your life better by whatever your values are, starting with environment is such a safe way to do it and leads to all these things. And if you think, “Oh, it’s too much for me,” you just start. Anything to add or also anything that you want to share with the listeners? I mean you said you know it’s start but anything else?
Balint: Well, I would say that the challenge doesn’t have to be something amazingly big. It can also be something that has being right in front of your nose. You know as the saying goes, “Sometimes you don’t see the trees from the forest.” So maybe you’ve already had something on your mind and now maybe is the right moment to try it.
Joshua: I like it. Yeah. I’m a big fan of not doing what I did for almost all my life of plan, plan, plan, analyze, analyze, analyze. Just start. I’m going to leave it at that. Thank you very much.
Balint: Thank you for that opportunity and for the challenges.
Joshua: OK. Thank you.
It feels great. Those are his words, not mine. Now your values won’t necessarily be his so stopping eating meat might not be your action but there’s something you care about in a similar way, maybe more that when you take on a challenge with respect to it you’ll get the results that he did in terms of the sense of emotional reward. Note that in his case awareness came second, commitment and behavior came first. That’s usually how it works. A lot of people think awareness they use that is their goal. It’s a nice milestone along the way but a lot of people when they reach awareness they stop and they don’t go anywhere past there. Usually awareness comes after commitment and then behavior. Moving to cold showers and polluting less, those are choices of his, not mine. I didn’t ask him to do those. I think he’s doing it because if you do a small thing and that improves your life, then taking on more things will improve your life more. I think that’s the perspective that he has.
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