“People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.” ~ James Baldwin, No Name In The Street
The Key To Success
Once upon a time, there were 3 friends, Ron, Tom, and Oswald. (*This example is patterned after one presented by Darren Hardy in The Compound Effect. See Resources.) They grew up in the same neighborhood and remained good friends through school and later after they began their careers. They made about the same income. All three were married and were raising families.
Ron noticed one day that he was a little out of breath when he climbed a flight of stairs. He had also noticed the scales creeping up as he put on a few extra pounds. He decided to make a few small changes – nothing drastic. He began waking up a 1/2 hour earlier and going for a brisk walk. He swapped his nightly bowl of ice cream for fruit and yogurt 4 – 5 nights during the week. He began brown bagging a healthy lunch in place of the greasy fast food he’d been used to eating. Ron didn’t make any big changes, just small, incremental steps that were pretty simple and easy. Eventually, they became habitual and he didn’t even think about them any more.
Tom also noticed that he had put on a few extra pounds. He thought he might start exercising in the morning and even got up a couple of times, but most mornings he opted for a little extra sleep and hit the snooze button. He packed a salad for lunch a couple of times, but most days, he forgot until he was on the way to work. Tom’s life pretty much stayed the same and he didn’t really notice that time was slipping by.
Oswald had added a few extra pounds as well, but didn’t think much about it. That happens as we get older, right? Besides who has time to exercise or pack a lunch, what with work and driving the kids around? Oswald decided he wanted more fun in his life to offset the demands of work and family. He bought a big-screen TV so he and his wife could watch more of their favorite shows and movies. In fact, they added an extra hour of TV time to their week without even noticing. Oswald got interested in the food channels and learned to make some great desserts that he and the family enjoyed. No major changes, just small, incremental steps.
If you examined the lives of Ron, Tom, and Oswald in 6 months, you wouldn’t notice any differences. They weigh about the same and their energy levels are similar. If you visited them in 12 months, you’d still see little difference. But at about 18 months, you begin to notice that Ron is looking trimmer while Oswald appears to have put on a little weight. After about 2 or 2 ½ years, Ron has lost 20 pounds while Oswald has gained that much. Oswald now weighs about 40 pounds more than Ron. Ron is energetic; Oswald drags through the day. And Tom? He continues to plug along, not getting any worse, but certainly not getting any better. [Hardy]
This is what Darren Hardy calls the Compound Effect. In Ron’s life, small smart changes + consistency + time = a radical improvement. [Hardy] In Oswald’s life, small changes brought a radical result as well, but not improvement.
A Long Time Perspective
Jeff Olson calls them “simple daily disciplines” — small productive actions, repeated consistently over time, that add up to the difference between success and failure. [Olson]
Your actions and your behaviors may seen insignificant at the time. And observed in isolation, they mostly are. It is difficult for us to envision how our daily actions effect the outcome of our lives because of the amount of time that is necessary for the compound effect to show up. As we saw in the opening story, it took months for any changes to be observable and years for the ultimate outcome to show.
As Olson says, “The reason people don’t do the little things that add up to success is that at first they don’t add up to success.” [Olson, 62]
The fact is, what you do now matters, but you have to look into the future to see it. Harvard professor and political scientist Edward C. Banfield called this “long time perspective”. In his book, The Unheavenly City, he reported on his research which indicated there was one primary reason why some people reached financial success and others did not. That factor was not intelligence, education, family background, or contacts. The major difference between success and failure, between financial stability or instability, was time perspective. Those people who made decisions today based on a long-term future outcome were much more successful in terms of financial well-being than the people who were focused only on the present. [Banfield]
Success Is A Habit. So Is Failure.
The difference between success and failure is this: simple positive actions repeated over time OR simple errors in judgement repeated over time.
Each of us takes pretty much the same actions day to day. In fact, Charles Duhigg reported that researchers at Duke University determined as much as 40% of the actions people perform each day were habitual, essentially done without much thought. [Duhigg] For a good chunk of the time, we are determining our futures — good health or poor health, thriving career or soul-sucking job, fit or fat, financial independence or barely scraping by — without even being aware of it. Simple actions, repeated day after day, over time lead to a life of well-being, meaning and purpose, in fact the Excelerated Life. Or they lead to a colorless life of frustration, poor health, and insignificance.
Look Into The Future
The key is to become aware NOW of how our actions and behaviors will determine our lives LATER. When you are tempted to skip your exercise routine today, stop. Imagine yourself in 5 years if you continued to skip exercising. Then imagine yourself if you continued your regular exercise routine. (Don’t have an exercise routine? Imagine yourself in 5 years if you exercised regularly, beginning today, or if you continue along in your same behavior.) When you are tempted to have that dish of ice cream after dinner, stop. Imagine your body in 5 years if you ate a big dish of ice cream every day. Then imagine your body if you skipped the ice cream and maybe had a piece of fruit.
Or give this experiment a try, as suggested by Todd Henry in Die Empty. Imagine as you go through your day that there is an observer following you around, recording every part of your day. What you do. What you eat. How you talk and to whom. What you say you want vs. what you show you want by your behavior and actions. This template that the observer sees and records becomes how you live every day for the rest of your life. Are there changes you would make in your daily life? I expect most of us could find some things.
1. Observe. The first step is simply to become aware of the myriad behaviors and actions we do from habit, without even thinking about. Bring these into consciouness as much as possible.
2. Forcast. Think about the actions and behaviors that you are becoming aware of. Imagine if you continue them for the next 5 years. Will they bring you success and fluorishing or failure and frustration?
3. Change as necessary. If you (or I should say, When you) find habitual behaviors that are not leading to the life you want to create, begin to take the tiny steps to replace the unhelpful habits with more positive ones.
What Will You Become?
Darren Hardy calls it the Compound Effect. Jeff Olson calls it the Slight Edge. Whatever you call it, it’s always there. It is working in your life, right now — either for you or against you. You are moving ever so slowly but inevitably toward success (however you define it) or toward failure. There is no standing still. The key is to become aware of your habitual actions and to see in which direction they are moving you. If you are not going in the direction you choose, begin today to change course. Use your Super Powers of future vision and consistent action over time.
“We must all suffer one of two things,” said Jim Rohn, “the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” You are paying with your life for what you do and what you are allowing yourself to become. Choose to pay the smaller cost of daily discipline rather than the exorbitant compounded price of regret. Choose to embrace the Excelerated Life!
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Excelerated self-discipline — doing what you say you will do — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Banfield, Edward C. The Unheavenly City : the Nature and Future of Our Urban Crisis. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.
Duhigg, Charles. The Power Of Habit. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2012
Hardy, Darren. The Compound Effect. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010
Henry, Todd. Die Empty – Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. New York: Penquin Books, 2013, 2015.
Olson, Jeff. The Slight Edge. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2005-2013