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The habit series: the success story

Habits. When done right, they can become the secret to hacking fitness and reaching goals. We talked to four people with (incredibly) busy lives on how they run regularly through the power of habit.

DARREN HO - entrepreneur, Singapore  


Darren Ho is a 34 year old triathlete, entrepreneur and former competitive tennis player from Singapore who, when looking at him now, is a beacon of success and shining example of what hard work looks like. Of course for Darren, the person he is now is very different to who he was just a few short years ago when he was “distracted” from fitness by his career – and as such, was double the weight of today. We talked with him about just how far he has come, and the habits that paved the way for his change – and his success.    


This interview is part of the habit series. To see all interviews, click here.



So Darren, let’s jump right in to it. Take us through what an average week now - between, work, fitness and everyday life - looks like for you?


Its hectic. I wake up between 3 to 4am on Mondays to Fridays where I will hit the gym for daily strength and conditioning work together with a short session of cardio (1 – 1.5 hours). I’m usually done by 5 or 6am (sometimes I sneak in a recovery swim). Then its breakfast and I begin my work day by 8 – 9am. During lunch, I hit the pool for my swim (swimming is my weakest part of the triathlon) as I just learnt how to swim 8 months ago. Then it’s back to the grind for me, where I manage startups, new initiatives and as a mental skills trainer. I’m usually done by 6pm where, on alternate days, I have my main session prescribed by my coach. Then I’m usually off to bed by 10pm. In between all of this, I have meals with my girlfriend who has been most understanding as she used to play competitive tennis as well. There’s very little time for anything else. Weekends are my longest sessions and I can be out on the roads by 5 or 6am for my long cycles either followed by a brick session or a long run in the evening. In between all of this, I’m replying to emails, messages and working off my laptop and mobile phone where its required of me.



Has it always been like this? What got you to this point/what was the catalyst to kick off your dedication to fitness?


Its hasn’t always been like this, no. When I stopped playing tennis competitively, my weight started to really skyrocket.

I hit my “peak” in 2011 at 150kg and my health was really backsliding.

I was drinking every day, eating fast food between meals due to stress and completely sedentary. Mentally I faltered to a point where I would consistently give myself excuses to not get off my feet. My doctor was truly worried for me as my heart and liver was showing serious signs of deterioration. I hit my lowest point in my life when I witnessed my uncle pass away due to the same reasons as me and how the entire family stood by helpless. I decided that things had to change. As an ex-competitive tennis player, I was too young to understand the importance of maintaining my fitness and imagined that it was something that would never leave me and hence did not put in the necessary effort to work on it. Once we let go, mentally we backslide and this proved to be extremely painful for me. Starting at the end of 2012, I began to make a change and decided that enough was enough.



We’re talking a lot about habits at On – what are a few of your good habits that got you to this point in your fitness?


Discipline, dedication, determination and patience. I believe that these four traits can make anyone accomplish amazing things. I wouldn’t say I had these habits but discovered them throughout my journey instead. It all started off with my very first jog/walk where I had to literally throw myself off the bed, put on my shoes and go for a walk. That walk was rough. Really rough and there were so many times that I wanted to give up. I tried jogging and threw up after 100 meters. Tried again and threw up again after another 100 meters. But I realised that giving up would be the easy thing to do and that ultimately would mean a much shorter life for me. So I persevered and kept moving forward. The first few months were devastating to my mental state as well. I was in the midst of starting up a new company and the demands were extreme. Yet I had to learn how to balance my new exercise regime and the results were not showing. Many times I wanted to give up but my parents reminded me on why I started this journey in the first place.



What have you had to give up to make your habits happen?


I gave up a lot of my social time with my friends. I also gave up alcohol and junk food. During the initial part of my weight loss, I gave up gluten and processed carbohydrates and ate as healthily as I could.

On a much deeper note, I also lost many friends who did not understand this path I was taking. They felt that I was trying to re-live my glory days and did not understand that it was something I had to do for myself.


How do you achieve so much with only 24 hours in a day?


I compartmentalise my time and keep to it strictly. I aim to do 3 things well every day and that’s it. I run a very tight schedule from my phone and have reminders and alarms for everything. Even my rest and TV time is allocated. My schedule on my phone is broken down into 3 parts and each part broken down into half hourly and hourly slots. If something is not worth doing then I won’t waste time doing it. There are many stronger athletes out there who balance families and their training and I knew there had to be a way that they did it. Hence I came up with my own system for keeping time and ensuring everything is in balance.



What was the moment you knew your habits had paid off? Tell us about it.


I kinda knew when I decided to start training for my maiden Ironman in Busselton, Western Australia sometime in March 2016. Before that, I had a fear of not being fit enough and mentally I was not ready. But in March 2016, I decided that I was ready since my weight had dropped back into the 75kg region. I was also eating a lot better than before and could do so without feeling pressure because it had become part of my lifestyle. When I did my first full triathlon in May followed by a half-Ironman in July, I knew that there was no looking back anymore and that I was enroute to coming full circle.



Would you say fitness goals for you are better achieved solo or as part of a team?


Training wise, I prefer to train alone because it also gives me time to reflect and to continuously push my mind forward. But having a positive support time is very important.

My family and especially my girlfriend has been extremely supportive and they have been there for me when the fatigue levels are through the roof or when I need that extra push forward.


Many people use new years as a chance for new habits – were there any on your list this year? (e.g. change diet, run to work vs train etc).


I definitely want to get stronger all round by putting in high quality training for the three components of the triathlon, especially my bike and run. I’ll be putting in more strength sessions and making swimming a daily affair while taking on the most challenging of bike and run routes in Singapore and other regions nearby to become a better triathlete. If there is anything else I want to improve it would be to become even more efficient with my daily commitments so that I can spend more time with my loved ones.



And what are you training for next?


2017 is a bit of a breakthrough year for me. In 2016, I did every triathlon distance (except the Ultra Man). 2017 however, I will be taking my races a lot more seriously and competitively. Hopefully I’ll win a few races or at least achieve a podium finish. I have multiple sprint and Olympic distance triathlons coming up this year as well as half and full marathons. But my highlight will be the Ironmans in California in July as well as a repeat of Busselton in December. I’ll also be doing the 70.3 in Taitung and possibly in Bintan.



Finally, what advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?


Always remember these five keywords: Discipline, determination, dedication, patience and sustainability. If whatever exercise or training plan you’re on fits these 5 keywords then you’re well on your way to success. If it doesn’t then re-evaluate what you want to do and re-calibrate. It has to be part of your lifestyle and something you look forward to everyday. Yes there will be bad days but majority of your sessions must fit so seamlessly into your lifestyle that you don’t consistently need someone to nag you to train or work out. And be patient, a lot of us expect to see results so fast and get discouraged.

Enjoy the process first and foremost and the results will come.