John Chancellor: Habits…And How To Get Things Done


John Chancellor, Author and Amazon Reviewer

John Chancellor, Author and Amazon Reviewer

I’d like to welcome John Chancellor, Author of Lessons in Life – Stories that Touch the Heart, Teach the Soul who is also one of Amazon’s top 500 book reviewers. I’m eager–as I’m sure you are, too–to hear about him!

Diana: My blog is about living our best chapter each day. I know you make a list of things you are grateful for each day. Could you tell us some other things you try to do each day?

John Chancellor: The first thing I would say is I love the Yoda quote, “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”  I have learned that if I “try” to do something, I am giving myself permission not to do it.  I have found that the only way to get any important tasks done is to fully commit to doing it.  That means blocking out the time to do it.


One of the most important things I started doing some nine years back was to devote at least one hour to self-development each day.  This has been the most important change I have made in my life.  I developed the habit of devoting between thirty and forty-five minutes the first thing in the morning to combining exercise and reading.  I have a stationary bike and I ride it with a book in my hand.  That allows me to read at least one book per week.  I focus my reading on non-fiction so I am really expanding my knowledge of the world and people.

When I started this practice, I also started to write reviews on  Initially this served as a way to record my thoughts about each book I had read in a very convenient place.  What has happened is that I gradually moved up in ranking and now am a Top 500 reviewer.  As a result, each week I get multiple offers from publishers, PR firms and authors who want to give me a copy of their book to read/review.  I have also developed some valuable friends and contacts from this practice.

I think the other important thing to focus on each day is to doing one thing that takes you closer to your major goal in life.  If you try to do too many things, it is easy to get overwhelmed and not do anything.  Get comfortable with doing one thing each day. You can always do more than one thing. The most important point is to be consistent each day with moving your life in the right direction.

Diana: your book, Lessons in Life – Stories that Touch the Heart, Teach the Soul, you write that fear is what keeps us stuck. Could you make some suggestions for how to substitute that fear for courage?

John Chancellor: I think the first thing that is helpful to know is that our brain is designed to help us survive.  It is comfortable with the things it knows to be safe and is naturally wary of anything that strays too far from anything we have done in the past…We lived in tribes because that was the only way we could survive.  So we have this strong urge to fit in, to seek approval of others and not to do things which would result in bringing unwanted attention to ourselves. 

Fear is totally natural.  Everyone experiences it. I think there are three quick suggestions that everyone can use to overcome fear. 

The first is to shine a light on our fears. 

Let me illustrate that by telling a story on myself.  When I was just six years old, I remember one night that I hung my clothes over a chair in my bedroom.  I laid the pants on the seat of the chair with the legs handing down, I hung my shirt over the back of the chair and my hat on the top of the chair.  Some time in the night, I woke and in the darkness saw the outline of a person setting in the chair.  I was terrified.  Too frightened to move or call for help.  I lay awake for some time fearing that the “burglar” in the chair was going to attack any minute.

Now I was only six and if I had thought rationally, I would have known that no burglar would have bothered to enter our house.  We had nothing worth stealing. 

When dawn finally arrived, the sun shining through the window revealed the truth.  There was no burglar.  Only the outline of my clothes and my imagination had produced the “burglar” that I was certain was going to do all manner of harm.

Whenever you are afraid of anything, the first step is to shine lots of light on the problem.  By bringing the problem into the full sunlight, you can see reality.  Fear is always about something that might happen.  You may need to take a deep breath, get grounded and ask yourself if your worst fears are likely to happen. 

The second suggestion is when you are considering taking any action that is creating fear is to remember the lessons from the Japanese Kaizen method.  The Kaizen method suggests that you take small incremental steps.  If you want to make changes in your life, instead of trying to make massive changes in a short period of time, decide to make small incremental changes on a continuous basis.  By making small changes, we bypass the emotional part of the brain that engages the fear response.  

The third point is to remember to focus on the why.  Do not focus on what could go wrong but focus on why you want to accomplish something.  If your why is strong enough, you can overcome almost any obstacle in your way.

I love this Viktor Frankl quote, “Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”  We need to have something meaningful that we are striving for – that will help us overcome any fear.

Diana: I love your idea that “habit is the most powerful force in the world.” Could you explain that?

John Chancellor: Psychologists tell us that we are creatures of habit.  We learn to do things and once we have learned to do something, we no longer have to think about what we are doing.  We do it automatically.  Actually this is very helpful.  If we had to stop and consciously think about everything we did throughout the day, we would not get a lot done.  It is estimated that over 95 % of our daily actions are habits. 

When we think of habits, we generally think of bad ones – the ones we are always promising ourselves we will change.  But the truth is only a small percent of our habits are bad. You will be slave to your habits, so choose them wisely.

The ancient philosopher Ovid said it best, “Nothing is stronger than habit.”

Diana: I also loved the story about George Dantzig, who solved a problem that others in his class could not because he didn’t know it was “unsolvable.” Could you explain more about that?

John Chancellor: For those that don’t know the story, let me give a brief recap.  George Dantzig was a graduate student studying statistics.  He was late to class one morning and saw two problems written on the blackboard.  He naturally assumed they were homework problems and copied them down.  He worked on them and eventually solved them.  He handed in his work and the professor (Jerzy Neyman) just threw them in the stack of other work on his desk.  George thought they would surely be lost.

A few weeks later on a Sunday morning, the professor was knocking on George’s door.  Only then did George learn that the problems were currently thought to be unsolvable by all the statistic community.

If George had realized everyone thought the problems could not be solved, he would most likely have accepted that conclusion.

We do this all the time.  We assume limitations for what we can accomplish in life.  Our biggest obstacles are generally self-imposed and become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I love what Henry Ford said about this, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are probably right.”

Diana:  Finally, what are you writing now? 

John Chancellor: I write a weekly blog called Lessons in Life.  It is rather short and I try to give people something to think about to make their life better.  It is published each Monday morning and it is totally free.  I find it therapeutic for me to write these Lessons.  There is nothing that makes us learn something quite as fast as trying to share/teach it to others.

I am also developing a set of “flash cards” that contain a series of messages the people can run through in a couple of minutes each day.  I am an avid reader but even I rarely read a book twice.  But for us to internalize lessons we need spaced repetition.  I think the best way to gain this is reading a series of short messages daily.

One last thing, if any of your readers would like a copy of the Lessons in Life – Stories that Touch the Heart, Teach the Soul, please feel free to provide them with the PDF file.

Diana: I will! Thank you, John! Anyone interested in signing up for John’s blog can do so here:

It’s wonderful when people want to pass along spiritual insights! Remember: Do not focus on what could go wrong but focus on why you want to accomplish something. 

On a separate note, if you want to know more about daily life in Israel, check out my article in today’s Wall Street Journal here:



About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
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5 Responses to John Chancellor: Habits…And How To Get Things Done

  1. Thanks for introducing us to John Chancellor. His messages resonate with me. I would love to receive the PDF file of Lessons in Life – Stories that Touch the Heart, Teach the Soul so I can read more of his thoughts. I will definitely take a look at his blog.

  2. Excellent post, Diana and John. Your examples rang very true, especially about the student who solved the problems because he didn’t realize they were unsolvable. So many times we deliver a message to ourselves that we cannot do something–or we allow others to deliver it to us–and then we fulfill the prophecy. Wonderful example! I signed up for your blog, John. Now I will have something important to consider from both you and Diana!

  3. Thanks Sharon and Marylin for your kind words. And thanks Marylin for signing up for the weekly Lessons in Life – I do hope you gain some value from them. Be sure to explore the archives for some of the older lessons.

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