Superhuman by Habit Summary: This is my book summary of Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time by Tynan. It is a compilation of the techniques the author used to rebuild his life.
You can read about the author here.
This summary will give you an idea what the original book is about. If you have already read it, this summary might help as a refresher.
Who is This Book For? “If, like I used to be, you can barely stay on top of the essentials of day-to-day living, this book is for you. If you perform well, but are inconsistent, this book is for you. Or if you’re a self-optimizer who already performs at a high level, but wants to squeeze even more out of himself, this book is for you.” – Tynan
What is a habit?
“It’s an action you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought.”
He adds that the power of habit lies in the “no required effort or thought.” And, it is this effortless action that enables us to improve our health, quality of life, productivity and enjoyment in the world without having to drain our willpower.
According to the author, people who consistently excel at their work, stay healthy and connected with others – while maintaining their calm and happiness – achieve them because they have mastered the ability to build and sustain new habits.
Every one of us has limited amount of willpower. To build a new habit, we need all the willpower we have. But once we have sustained the habit, we no longer need to use our willpower. If we rely solely on our willpower to do something, we will give in or give up when we get tired or hungry.
Don’t Spend Your Willpower, Invest It
Habits don’t require conscious thought, willpower and focus. This is great because we can only do a limited amount of things each day, both personally and professionally. When our actions become automatic, things that used to be hard are now easy to do. We free our willpower. We can then achieve our goals and the life we want without burning out.
So, if we want to be hyper-productive, physically active, eat right, build good relationships, learn things, while at the same time feeling positive and fulfilled, we must switch from taking deliberate actions to making them automatic.
He says that we can establish most habits from one to twelve months.
You Already Have A Million Habits
Most of our daily actions like brushing our teeth, inaction like procrastination, and our outlook of life like seeing the negative or positive in things, are dictated by our subconscious through habits. We don’t have to weigh our actions or looking for the pros and cons because they have become automatic.
He says that our habits are a fundamental component of who we are. And if we are dissatisfied with our lives, we should first examine our habits. When we replace a few negative habits with positive ones, we can experience more happiness.
Good habits are harder to build than bad habits. He cites an example of how easy it was for him to become a chronic procrastinator. Since he was a child, he chose to do fun and interesting things instead of things that involved work. As a result, he developed a poor work ethic in his adult life. He then realized that to achieve his goals, he had to change.
During the process of change, he had to battle with himself. It took him six months of straining willpower and mental discomfort to overcome laziness.
He says, “This process was hard and it burnt out all of my willpower.”
But it paid off. He now finds it easy to maintain the habit of being highly productive.
New Habits vs. Old Habits
“New habits are things that you do, but old habits are things that you are. There’s a difference between waking up early and being an early riser, eating a healthy meal and being a healthy eater, getting some work done and being a productive person.”
How do you go about converting a new habit into an “old habit?” And how do you know when your action has established into a habit?
It’s when you no longer have to consciously think about doing it. It is when it becomes something you subconsciously do. And this is the way to do it if you want to improve yourself permanently.
But since building each new habit requires a lot of willpower, there is only a limited number of new habits that we can work on at any given time.
Think Very Long Term
A small action when repeated, adds up over the long term.
“Smoking a single cigarette really isn’t very bad for your health, but smoking thousands of them per year adds up and turns smoking into one of the nastier habits you could have… Drinking green tea once won’t have any effect on your health, but drinking a few cups every day for years will actually make you a healthier person.”
Consistency Is Everything
The most important factor in developing a habit is consistency.
The author says that we should be scared to fail to execute a habit. To avoid from not taking action, he suggests that we make a habit easy to do. If we have to skip, we must admit it. And, we must provide a reason why we are skipping the action.
Whatever the reason we provide, our mind will challenge it.
“If you say to yourself, “Okay, I’m not going to meditate tonight because I’m just too tired,” a part of you may challenge, “Even though I am tired, maybe I can just get through it.”
What will happen then? Somehow, we will be able to push through it and take action.
He suggests that we establish a few ready-made responses to challenge our arguments when we need to skip doing the thing that we should do
Absolutely Never Skip Twice
We may, in the moments of weakness, give in to temptations and skip a day. But, we should never miss twice.
“Missing two days of a habit is habit suicide. If missing one day reduces your chances of long-term success by a small amount like five percent, missing two days reduces it by forty percent or so. Three days missed and you may as well be starting over. At that point you have lost your momentum and have made it far too easy for you to skip in the future.”
Tynan says that when you miss a habit, it should be your top priority to do it the next day. We need to be specific by stating when we will do it. And, if we missed taking the particular action because of a problem, we must find a solution in advance so that we can execute the action.
There will be times when we might not be able to follow through with a habit because we do not have control of the situation. When this happened to him during his travel to China, he was unable to follow through with his clean-eating habit. So he made a premeditated and conscious decision to pause the habit.
He says that if we have to pause, we must make our plan concrete, in black and white and we must specify when the variance will end.
“For example, instead of doing your regular gym routine while traveling through Europe, you commit to do twenty pushups every morning, and then as soon as you return home, resume your normal routine.”
Making and affirming our plan of action is necessary. Otherwise, our brain will consider that breaking the habit is acceptable. And it will tell us that it won’t matter if we miss more days, which usually means, the end of that habit.
You Just Go – Do a Terrible Job
When we begin our plan to create a new habit, we feel motivated and our stress level is low. But, those feelings may not be there when we need to execute them. We might be sick, tired, and busy.
So what do we do when we have lost the motivation but have already promised ourselves to follow through with our plan?
“Just do a terrible job… Remember that the power of a habit isn’t actually in the individual execution, but in the consistency. It is far, far worse to skip doing something than to just do a horrible job of it. This feels wrong and sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. Skipping a day makes you feel guilty and unmotivated to do it the next day. Doing a crappy job makes you feel a little bit guilty, but also proud that you worked through a tough time, and eager to improve the next time.”
Don’t Reward the Lazy Brain
While we are building our habits, our brain will try to sabotage us. It is its nature to stick to the old, low-energy, and efficient ways.
When we feel tired and mentally exhausted, what most of us will do is take a break. The brain will then go back to “resting.” By repeating it each time, it becomes a habit. This is what quitters do.
The solution is to push through that phase by doing what we are supposed to do. By taking action despite not wanting to do so, we are giving a clear signal to the brain that we are not putting up with its ways. If we do this enough times, the brain will get the point. It will stop sabotaging us.
Forgive and Focus
At some point, we will miss a day, maybe two, and make mistakes. Most of us might beat ourselves, give up, and lose our self-esteem because we think we have failed.
That is not how we should treat ourselves. We must push ourselves forward. We need to determine which area needs our attention and focus on it.
Challenge ourselves to do better next time. Forgive ourselves. Learn from our mistakes.
When we succeed in sticking to a habit, give ourselves a reward. He suggests that we take a moment of reflection and self-congratulation. It is as simple as the act of smiling or making a fist coupled with a “Yes” to remind us that we succeeded.
Take Pride in Process, Not in Results
He suggests that we evaluate our progress based on our actions and how well we stick to our plans. We must avoid focusing on short-term result because we may not see immediate outcome, which could add stress and might cause us to quit.
“The core skill required for choosing habits, as well as for staying on track once a habit is implemented, is the ability to be brutally honest with oneself.”
The author says that we must figure out which bad habit is holding us back from achieving our goals. We can use the information to pick a better habit and replace the bad one.
We must identify our weaknesses and admit that we have failed to meet our standards. Most of us will find it difficult because it creates internal tension, pain, and discomfort.
How to Discover High Priority Habits
He provides a guide on when and how to choose which habits we want to break and replace it with.
“The easiest time to choose a habit is when something is a major impediment in your life, or where there’s one habit that currently extends its negative influence into other areas of your life.”
We might want to shoot for the obvious big bad habits that we want to break like quitting smoking. But we can start with the little ones to help us build momentum and self-confidence, which will give us the strength and motivation to tackle the larger ones.
If we aren’t convinced that the benefits of breaking a bad habit exceed the negative impact, we will consider that habit as less important. We have a better chance of succeeding creating a habit when we know we can succeed. And with each success in breaking a bad habit and creating a new one, we will pave our way for a lifetime of habit building.
Another way to choose a habit is to ask our friends.
We can also look at what we feel are “just aren’t you.” It will help us expand how we define ourselves. He says,
“Exploring areas that “just aren’t you” are how you expand how you define yourself and take things to the next level. You become more rounded and versatile, but you also find connections between various habits. Spending time with ballet and programming, two nearly polar opposite practices, allowed me to really examine how I learn things, as that was the only common thread between the two.”
An area that he suggests we examine is our social skills. He says that the quality of our live will be determined by our interactions with others.
It’s Always Your Fault
The author tells us to assume that everything that happens to us is our fault.
“Not happy? Assume that it is your fault. Not in shape? Assume that it is your fault. Not as wealthy as you’d like to be? Assume that it is your fault. Don’t have as many friends as you’d like, get sick frequently, or live in a messy house? All your fault.”
“Not everything is actually your fault, but by assuming it is, you give yourself an opportunity to take responsibility for the future by coming up with a plan to change things. You also over-correct for the bias we all have against believing we are responsible for negative outcomes.”
We shouldn’t feel guilty just because we assume that we are at fault. Rather than feeling guilty, we should practice self-compassion to help us treat our self-inflicted wounds. We can look at the potential fault as an opportunity because when we discover something in our lives that we are not happy with and take responsibility, it implies that we have the power to change it.
However, if we have wronged someone, we ought to feel guilty and make things right.
There’s Nothing You Can’t Do
The author used to think that successful people were born with certain advantages. But after he made friends with successful people who seem to him are superhuman, he discovered that they are exceptional not because of who they are but what they do. Each of them has a set of habit that led them to the top of their fields.
“You can do just about anything if you break it down into habits and execute on them. That’s not to say that it’s easy, only that it’s possible. The key is to be honest about what’s stopping you from success, take responsibility for it, and create new habits to correct.”
We develop greatness by repeatedly improving our craft, taking responsibility for our success, identifying our weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
Addition Versus Subtraction
In his opinion, there are two types of people. The first type finds it easier to add new things to do. The second type finds it easier to subtract things.
How do you know if you move toward adding or subtracting?
“A simple test is to think about whether it’s easier for you to cut out junk food or to go to the gym. Those who prefer to go to the gym are adders, and those who cut out junk food are subtracters.”
He says that it is good to be able to do both. But when we begin working or a new habit or when we are correcting a failed attempt from a different angle, it might be better if we lean toward our strength; which is either one of them.
We should tie a habit to a goal.
“…don’t eat healthily because it sounds like a nice habit, eat that way because you want to live longer, be more capable of physical activity, or improve your appearance.”
Securing Your Motivation
We need both excitement and motivation in forming new habits.
Excitement is unsustainable. It does get us through the first two weeks of a new habit. After that it will wane. This is when we need motivation to stick to the habit development. Without motivation, we might end up losing interest and then feeling bad for giving up. We might also feel pessimistic and reluctant to build new habits in the future.
The author then says that if we are not going to follow through with a habit, it is better not to start it. Furthermore, the time spent building that discarded habit would have been better used to form a habit that we feel motivated to follow through and succeed.
The first step in creating a new habit is to be honest with ourselves and find out why we want to develop it. We must have a strong reason that will motivate us to stick to it through the hard times, and when we are under pressure, a month and a year from now.
“In most areas of life it’s better to try and to fail than to not try at all. In habits it’s far better to succeed at an easier habit, and then build up from there.”
If we start to create a new habit due to outside pressure, the chance of success is slim because it is not something we desire to do. So, we must learn to motivate ourselves.
He suggests we answer the following questions:
- What good things will happen if I implement this habit?
- What bad things will happen if I implement this habit?
- What good things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
- What bad things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
This exercise lets us see the positive and negative, our options, our fears and desires, and what life would be like. It helps stir our motivation. When we are done with the exercise, he suggests that we write a note or letter and state what would happen if we stick to our goal and what would happen if we don’t.
It worked for him.
“Whenever I’d be exhausted and want to quit, I’d read the letter, feel some of the enthusiasm, and one or two of the points would hit home and keep me going.”
Start Easy and Often
If we are worried that our excitement will wear off and we might not follow through with our routine, we must make it easy to complete the task. The way to do it is to start small. We then build upon it and strengthen the habit.
For example instead of starting to meditate for 30 minutes every other day, we would do better if we just meditate for one minute. Once it becomes a habit, we then make it to two minutes. We then increase the duration to five minutes, followed by ten and fifteen minutes. Once meditation becomes a habit and a lifestyle, we can then meditate for 30 minutes as we initially planned.
This strategy of starting small and being consistent will take us several months to a year to achieve our target. In order not to discard the idea, think long-term. Think of the benefits and cumulative effect.
The Magic of Daily Habits
When creating a new habit, think of something we can and will execute daily. Why? Because it is unlikely we will reschedule it. It remains in our consciousness, and it becomes a part of our life. Just like brushing our teeth.
Don’t Build Habits That can be Automated
“The primary reason we build habits is to ensure that things are done on a regular basis. To do this we move repeating tasks from our conscious mind to our subconscious mind, so that they happen automatically. For some tasks, though, we can take things a step further and completely automate them outside of our own consciousness.”
These tasks include those things that have to be done on a regular basis such as making our credit card payments.
Loading and Maintenance
To replace established bad habits with new ones takes a lot of willpower, efforts and adherence. This is because we are creatures of routines. To motivate ourselves to stay mentally strong during the difficult times, we can remind ourselves that this phase is temporary.
The phase he is talking about is what he calls the loading habit and the maintenance habit.
Here’s the explanation.
“The purpose of the loading habit is to completely remove all associations with your old habit. You start small, build up to your loading habit, keep at it until you believe that your new behavior is fixed in place, and then switch to maintenance… Often times you’ll reach your goals during the loading phase. Your aim with maintenance is to keep the benefits and to continue to get better, even if that improvement is slight.”
The Habit of Building Habits
When we succeed forming each new habit, it becomes easier to form future ones. If we have difficulty, we should find out what the cause it. For some people, it could be lack of motivation to implement it. For others, it could be having trouble choosing the right habit to build. Some may find it had to stick with a habit.
By finding out our weakness, we can take action such as finding the motivation, getting guidance, or find someone who will make us accountable.
Stress triggers negative habits such as gambling and overeating. Waking up at night triggers smoking. Boredom triggers wasting time online.
Without a trigger, an inconsistent action is just something we do. We can make use of triggers to form positive habits and get rid of negative habits.
Before we begin a new habit, we should think of what the trigger is going to be and commit to it.
“If you have the habit of browsing gossip sites whenever you turn on your computer, and you retrain yourself to respond to open emails as soon as you turn on the computer, you both gain a new good habit and lose a bad old one.”
He tells us to take a look at the triggers for our bad habits and find a more productive way to deal with it. For example, if we realize that we overeat when we feel stressed, we can replace it with drinking greet tea. This strategy doesn’t require us to add a new trigger to the habit. We are using the existing trigger to change our action.
Chaining habits is about using one habit as a trigger for other habits; creating a chain.
He provides the following example.
“When I wake up, the very first thing I do is put a pot of water on the stove. Putting the water on is a trigger to brush my teeth, so I do that while it boils. Once it’s done, I make tea and sit down at my desk. That’s a trigger for me to read my email, check my calendar, and check various reports and stats that may affect how I plan my day.”
Chaining habits make our habits become a routine, effortless, and automatic. It gives us the freedom to use our time and willpower to make forward progress.
The disadvantage is that when our schedule is disrupted, so is our chain of habits. As a result, we might let the habits slip. To avoid this from happening, be prepared in advance by acknowledging that it can and will happen and when it does, we will act on at least one of the habits in the chain. When the disruption is over, we can get back to the chain.
Accountability With Friends
It is good to be accountable. But if we are unable to do it, ask a friend to help. It makes it easier for us to evaluate our progress.
The disadvantage of asking someone to help us is we will not develop self-reliance. It also increases our compliance.
So, only ask a friend to help us if the habit is difficult and important for us to accomplish.
Habitualizing Input for Instant Change
When we talk about changing habits, what we are saying is: we want to change our behavior. Some of our habits are hard to change because of an underlying strong belief. The way to change these kinds of habits is to make a quantum shift in our beliefs. We can do this by learning and acquiring knowledge. The other way is to read and gather information that distort and challenge our perception.
When to Quit Habits
Some of us might want to quit in the early stages of building our habits when it gets difficult and mentally challenging. We might also think of quitting because we realize that continuing with the action doesn’t serve us, have negative consequences, or not showing us the result we want.
Quitting is not a good thing to do because it creates a cycle of failure. We will find it difficult to develop habits in the future. Furthermore, making a decision to quit when we have not had an emotional firsthand experience and have not waited long enough to enjoy the benefits is a bad decision.
The author suggests that we quit only when we no longer want to quit. The reason why we should do this is because at that point of time, we will not be influenced by the lazy brain. We would have established the habit by then. If we still want to get rid of it, we would probably do so because the benefits of quitting outweigh the negative.
Beware of Disruptors
“The three main disruptive habits are the use of drugs, the seeking of stimulation, and the habit of hanging out with negative friends.”
The habits of taking drugs and consuming alcohol affect our decision making capabilities. They also serve as triggers for other bad habits. As for seeking stimulation, what we are trying to do is get a quick fix of dopamine. The action comes in the form of web browsing, channel surfing, or simply focus-shifting.
The reason why negative friends are disruptors is because they hinder us from building positive habits. Our friends are people who behave and think like us. When we want to change and develop new positive habits, these friends see this as a threat because of their insecurities.
To deal with the habit of taking drugs or alcohol, we need to find the trigger and when it shows up, instead of repeating the old behavior, replace it with a new and positive one. As for the habit of seeking stimulation, we need to take time to reflect and decide to do better things with our time. When it comes to our negative friends, we don’t have to discard them. Instead, choose to surround ourselves with positive people.
The Natural Habitat of A Habit Builder
Besides willpower and motivation, our environment has an effect on building our habits. The right environment will reduce the possibility of us slipping up. The right environment should be distraction free so that it enables us to focus and where we have motivated and supportive friends.
Imposing Your Habits on Others
The author advices us not to not share our enthusiasm and try to get our friends to switch their habits. This is because when they do, they were not driven by their own problems and goals. Our friends might give up when the going gets tough. They might feel bad for trying and may resent us for pushing them to change their behavior.
Instead of persuading them to change and build new and better habits, build ours until we succeed and let them see the change. It is up to them then if they want to ask us for advice and help to create the habit.
PRACTICAL ANALYSIS OF VARIOUS HABITS
The author offers a list of common habits that people want to develop, his experiences in building them, the pros and cons of the habits, and also tips on how to go about making it happen.
Positivity habits include being positive toward yourself and positivity toward others.
This habit is about building our skills of seeing the positive in ourselves, people and any situations. Having this habit helps us improve our outlook, increases optimism, enhances our ability to deal with negative events, and improves our mood, which is essential to better relationships.
Developing positivity toward others increases our ability to work with other people, develop feeling of goodwill towards them, be more open and willing to be positively influenced and be able to consider other views of situations.
He suggests that whenever we feel or think negatively toward others, we are to remind ourselves of this quote.
“Remember that everyone is just doing their best and trying to be happy, just like you.”
It takes one to three months to establish the positivity habit. To begin developing this habit, think of one positive aspect on a negative situation whenever a negative thought appears.
Health habits are habits that will improve our life expectancy, well-being, and the ability to fully use our physical and mental functions. Health habits include eating healthy food, getting a good night’s sleep, meditation, drinking tea daily, taking vitamin D supplement, and working out.
We don’t have to work on building all the habits at once because by establishing just one or two healthy habits, the effects will transfer to other areas of our lives.
Eating healthy food has a big impact on life expectancy and increases our moods, and mental abilities. When we are taking good care of ourselves, we feel better. It motivates us to build other positive habits such as exercise and drop unhealthy habits like using drugs and drinking alcohol.
When it comes to healthy eating, what we need to remember is this:
“Sugar and highly refined grains are the most significantly unhealthy things in the standard diet. Eliminating those two groups of foods is about eighty percent of getting to a healthy diet. Focus your willpower getting them out of your diet.”
The habit of getting good sleep will increase our energy levels, decrease stress, improve our focus and mental abilities as well as being less susceptible to depression.
“The first step towards a good sleep habit is creating a good sleep environment. The key components of a good sleep environment are complete darkness and silence. “
Some of the benefits of creating the meditation habit include improved impulse control, less stress, and improved focus. If we meditate for five minutes each day, we will notice the effects in two months.
He includes the habit of drinking tea daily because the health benefits outweigh that of coffee or soda.
“The majority of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, which is an important vitamin for everything from your immune system to the strength of your bones and muscles. If you work indoors and don’t spend an obviously significant amount of time in the sun every day or two, you are almost certainly deficient.”
The habit of working out should be made a high priority. This habit increases longevity, improves our body composition, self-esteem, and physical abilities.
By expansion habits, the author means, “habits that help increase the quality of input we take in, and use that input as constructively as possible.”
The habits include traveling to unusual countries, developing daily writing habits, seeking out masterpieces, and pushing our comfort zone.
The author states the difference going on a vacation and travelling. He says,
“One is an escape from reality, and the other is a means to connect more deeply with it.”
The benefits of travelling include exposure to different mindsets, works of art, architecture and nature outside our country. And, we develop self-reliance.
Developing daily writing habit forces us to evaluate our thoughts. We also gain clearer thinking and improve our communication skills.
When he says to build the habit of seeking masterpieces, what he means is to go out there and expose ourselves to mastery. “A masterpiece is anything made by someone who is an expert in their craft.” From his experiences, this habit helps increase motivation, provides inspiration, and increase personal standards.
Why should we develop the habit of pushing through our comfort zone?
It guarantees our personal growth. It helps us confront our fears and builds our confidence and enables us to discover new interests and abilities, which can inspire and change us. If we don’t push through our comfort zone, we might miss opportunities.
The next group of habits to develop is organizing habits. The habits including daily imperfect cleaning, staying on top of email, keeping a useful calendar, and getting rid of stuff.
On daily imperfect cleaning, he says, “if you can set a lower standard for acceptable cleanliness, cleaning becomes a lot easier, and a lot of the pressure is relieved. I recommend setting this level at a nine out of ten.”
His method for staying on top of email: “As soon as you read any email that requires further action, including replying, following up, visiting a web site, etc., you flag or star it…Once per day, preferably early afternoon when you’ve had the chance to read emails and still have a bunch of productive time left, go through all of the starred emails and either reply, take the necessary action, or unstar it.”
The purpose of developing the habit of keeping a useful calendar is to avoid missing or being late to your appointments. It also eliminates the need to keep a mental note.
The next category is social habits. They include the habit of always being on time and to delete or contact the people in our contact list.
“The way you interact with people is largely based on a set of habits. By changing just a few of those habits, you can be a better friend, colleague, or family member”
When we always arrive on time, we are giving respect and thus gaining it. To add to that, we are also showing to ourselves that since we can show up at a time we agreed upon, we will be able to do much more difficult things consistently.
What he means by delete and contact is to organize our contact list. The author deleted all the names and numbers of people whom he will not get in touch with or want to get to know better. For his Facebook friend list, he keeps only those whom he would go have dinner with.
“The interesting effect of building productivity habits is that because so much of your output is defined by your habits, you’ll have a major advantage in anything you do. So even if your specialty is programming, if you decide to become a writer, a lot of those habits that you built are universal enough that you’ll start with a leg up.”
This category of productive habits include what he calls twice then quit, eliminate starting procrastination, plan when stuck, and rating your day.
What is this twice, then quit habit?
“Twice, then Quit is very simple. When you want to quit working for the first time, don’t. Push through and work some more. The second time you want to quit, also don’t quit. Push through again. The third time you want to quit, go ahead and quit.”
How does it help us? It pushes us through when we feel like quitting because we know we can do so after our second push instead of when we face a stumbling block. By doing this we will quit only when we feel exhausted and no longer can focus on what we are doing.
On eliminating starting procrastination, he says, “When I began trying to track down where wasted time was going, I found that I procrastinated quite a lot. That wasn’t surprising by itself, but what I didn’t expect to find was that almost all of my wasted time was before I even got to work.”
To solve this problem of starting, we should do the highest productivity activity first thing in the morning and before we do anything else.
By “plan when stuck” he means that when we feel stuck, we should set our timer for thirty minutes and start planning on what we should do.
Why rate our day? Because “what gets measured gets managed.” We do this every night by looking at how little time we have wasted on a scale of one to ten.
He ends the book with this message.
“This book is called Superhuman by Habit because the results can seem truly superhuman when willpower is leveraged in this manner.”
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