5 Takeaways from The Compound Effect

I just finished reading this fantastic little book called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. If you are a personal development junky, I highly recommend it. Hardy makes the case that we need to get back to good old fashioned hard work and consistency in order to be successful. We like to believe in fairy tales and applying a few life hacks to change our lives, however, the compound effect is about small positive habits and choices made over a long period of time which create big results. A pastor said it this way “It’s often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.”

 Lust vs love

If you want success, help others get it. Anthony Robins opens with this in his message at the beginning of the book and Darren Hardy closes with it at the end. Many personal development and leadership books present this idea but at the end of the day we are all pretty selfish. As humans we are each trying to get ahead often at the cost of pushing others down. It is easy to view your field and work as a zero sum game. Someone else’s success takes away from your success. It is a battle between lust versus love. Lust is selfish and all about what I can get whereas love is about what I can give. If you can overcome this tendency toward lust and instead serve others, put others first, and help others succeed, you will stand out. This is also far more fulfilling in the long run. As Hardy explains, the person who goes against the norm is unusual and is the one who can achieve extraordinary results.

Choices

One of the questions Hardy raises is whether we are choosing our behavior or being a passive receiver in life. If I am honest more often I am a passive receiver. I fail to plan, to adapt, and often let life happen to me. It is essential to remember that we are each 100% responsible for our lives. Don’t point your finger to the world for the source of your problems but first look at yourself.

On a more positive note, one of the habits and choices I continually make is to be a reader. Over the past few years I have established the habit of reading in the morning before work. Sometimes I get discouraged by looking around and seeing colleagues or friends who appear just as successful but do not read. Thoughts go through my head of getting extra sleep or getting a few more hours at work for overtime instead of reading. This book helped remind me that the compound effect is at work in my habit of reading. It may not make a difference today, tomorrow, or this year, but over time I will gain wisdom and insight that cannot be manufactured.

Habits

One idea I have recently seen is linked with habits is integrity. High integrity is when your actions align with your values. What you do trumps what you say in every situation. When your habits and actions conflict with your values you will be unhappy, frustrated, and it will ultimately lead to self-delusion. I can tell my wife I love her but unless I plan a date my actions do not communicate this truth.

Another point about habits is awareness of what we think about and where our time is going. Our lives move in the direction of our strongest thoughts. We often see what we are looking for and create our own reality. I realized my habit of looking at work emails early in the morning and late at night was creating a reality of stress and anxiety. I decided I needed to break this habit to end this cycle of stress and anxiety. Since then I have turned email notifications off from my phone and no longer use my phone to check work emails. 95% of the emails I will likely get between 5pm one day and 8am the next can be handled the next day. For the other 5%, if it is urgent I can be reached on my cell phone. I want to be mentally and physically present when I am home. Often when I am reading and responding to work emails at home I am not mentally present. So far this has been working for me.

Momentum

Momentum is important to maintain habits but requires the discipline of a predictable routine. One of the ideas that Hardy shared was to bookend your day. Bookending your day means controlling how it starts and how it ends. As we all know, anything can happen during the day and your plans can be crushed, however, we have the ability to control the start and finish. For starting my day I like to read, journal, and meditate. I try not to allow the concerns and worries of the day to encroach on this time which is why it has been helpful to turn off email notifications from my phone. Hardy describes what he calls a “calibration appointment” in the morning which consists of 15 minutes of looking over his 1 year, 5 year, quarterly, monthly, and daily goals. While I have not been going through these for myself every single day, I did take the time to think through some of my goals. For me this goes back to our thoughts and how our life moves in the direction of our thoughts. If I don’t consistently remind myself of my goals I tend to forget about them. I become what I described earlier as a passive receiver just drifting through life. I find I need to remind myself of my goals so that I can pursue them daily and adjust them as needed. As this book conveys, I will not be able to achieve most of my goals in a day but through consistent habits and choices and the power of the compound effect, over time I can achieve my goals.

Influence

I am 100% responsible for what I feed my mind. I control who I spend time with, the environment I put myself in, and what I choose to dwell on. That last one of what I choose to dwell on has become painfully apparent to me. When I have a bad call with a client at work or experience a setback do I choose to mull over it and tell my friends or spouse about it when I get home? When I feel like someone has done me wrong do I choose gossip about it and replay it over and over in my head? What I ultimately learn over and over is that I give power to these negative experiences when I choose to talk about them and think about them. This can be hard to come to terms with emotionally because like many others my inclination is to be a victim. Being a victim is far easier because I do not have to take responsibility. However, in order to experience the compound effect in a positive way I need to take responsibility of what influences my mind and my habits.

Although applying the compound effect isn’t easy to accomplish, it isn’t very complicated. It’s all about discipline, consistency, and a focus on the long term rather than the short term. As Hardy explained near the beginning: our problem isn’t a knowledge problem but an application problem. We know what we’re supposed to do but fail to do it. I encourage you to try some of these principles, see what works, and watch how the compound effect can change areas of your own life.

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Atomic Habits

I heard about Atomic Habits from a podcast I frequently listen to. The idea that you can change your life by implementing a few new habits sounds very sexy. Everyone desires something whether it is money, power, status, praise, approval, to lose weight, or be less stressed. The book title may give the same impression, but the reality that James Clear presents is very different. Clear shows how it is the 1% improvements that are not noticeable in the short run that change you in the long run. Can one small habit change your life? No, but consistently applying the right habits over time and adding new ones can transform you through small changes. That is why I love the meaning “atomic” from the title of the book. In one sense it is the smallest unit of matter but in another sense it is something with extreme energy and power.

Identity

One of the points which Clear makes is that we focus too much on the results, goals, and outcome we want instead of focusing on our identity. Start with your identity and work backwards from the results that you want to the type of person who gets those results. First decide the type of person you want to be and then prove it to yourself through small wins. Clear states “Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.” Instead of blindly following the norms, face life head on, decide who you want to be, and implement habits to become that person.

The steps

The crux of the book is defining what a habit is. Clear defines a habit as having 4 parts:

  1. Cue – our brains are constantly looking for rewards
  2. Craving – the desire to change our internal state
  3. Response – the actual habit
  4. Reward – the reason for our habit, satisfaction

Clear also develops the 4 laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In order to break bad habit we must do the opposite:

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

My habit

As I read the book I came up with a number of new habits I wanted to implement and a few bad habits that I want to break. However, I realized if I try to accomplish all of them at once I will probably accomplish none. The single habit I landed on is my exercising. At the end of 2018 I trained for and ran a full marathon. Once I got into the habit of running it became “easy” for me to just look at my schedule and run the allotted miles for that day. Ever since I finished that race I have struggled to maintain an exercise rhythm since the goal I was training for is gone. I have a foggy notion of what I would like to do but until I make a concrete plan nothing will change. When Clear described how we must associate a time and location with our habit, things changed for me. I wrote down 5-6 workouts that meet my current fitness goals and wrote this statement in my notebook: I will do my pre-determined workout at 6pm in my garage after I get home from work. This is no longer foggy. I know what I am going to do, when I am going to do it, and where I will do it.

Action vs Motion

Another idea that helped me was the idea of action versus motion. Motion is the planning, strategizing, and learning that go into the habits we want. Motion can make you feel that you are getting a lot done but really is a form of procrastination. Action is the actual behavior that delivers and outcome. In order to master a habit you have to get in the repetitions. I find this happens a lot with my reading. I love to read, learn, and share what I have learned with others. However, there are many things that I read which I should put into practice but until I do so they remain motion. Someone told me it is ok to sharpen the sword but at some point you have to use it.

Don’t miss habits twice

Clear points out that when we are developing new habits in our lives we should never miss a habit twice. If you miss it once you can call it an accident but if you miss it twice you are starting a new habit. This concept is extremely important when habits get difficult like when you are tempted to miss a workout on days you don’t feel like working out. On those days when you follow through with the habit you reinforce the type of person you are. You string together and unbroken chain of performing the habit. It is like the brick layer who lays one brick each day with the goal of building a wall. If he consistently lays bricks each day, after many days he will have the wall. If he stops laying bricks because it’s too hard, he doesn’t feel like it, or he is not seeing any improvement, all he will have is a couple of bricks but no wall.

Atomic Habits provided me with a framework of how habits work, how to implement good habits, and how to overcome bad habits. James Clear does not pretend that there are any quick fixes and any good habits we want will come through long term thinking rather than short term thinking. He provides many insights on how to make the process easier & more effective. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve themselves, especially to people who feel stuck in their current routine and habits and know they need to change.

Five Stars

Have you ever been having a conversation with a friend when they suddenly deliver some unexpected negative feedback about yourself that has some truth to it? It feels like getting punched in the stomach, and is exactly what happened to me on New Years Eve.

I was talking to a friend about my desire to improve my communication skills. I was explaining that people who communicate their ideas in a way that others can understand will gain more influence and be able to accomplish more. This friend confirmed that I am an introvert, that I lack social skills, and began to question why I wanted to be a better communicator. This friend implied I would not be able to improve in this area and that it was not a good idea.

After hearing this feedback I felt terrible. After our conversation I began to come up with reasons why this person was wrong and how I should have responded in the conversation. As the days have passed I have realized what this person gave me was a gift. Although they could have provided the feedback in a better way, they helped me see how others may perceive me. I do not agree with everything they said, however, some of it has truth. I cannot pushback on negative feedback only because it makes me feel bad. If it is true I should listen regardless of how it makes me feel. As they say “Eat the fish and leave the bones.” Listening to feedback and criticism is like drinking cough syrup when you are sick. It tastes terrible and you want to avoid drinking it but ultimately it helps you get better in the long run. Drink the truth and disregard the rest.

I may have room to improve my communication skills but that does not need to be the end of the story which is why I am pleased to have just finished a fantastic book called Five Stars by Carmine Gallo. The book is split into 3 parts. In the first part Gallo aims to convince the reader that communication skills are important. I read this pretty fast as I did not need a lot of convincing. In the second part he shares inspiring stories of great communicators. In the third part he shares practical tips and techniques to be a better communicator. Here are three tips that stuck out to me that I want to apply to hone my own communication skills.

1. Stories are better than facts

We can use stories to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Emotions help us connect with people and help our message be way more memorable. Everyone wants to have meaning and purpose in life and if they can see themselves in your story it will move them.

2. Analogies and metaphors give your words “verbal beauty”

Analogies and metaphors work because they compare the abstract with what is familiar. They get us out of conventional thinking and distill what is complex. People love analogies because they help our brains conserve energy.

3. Reappraisal and Rehearsal

Many of us lack confidence and fear public speaking. Gallo advocates the idea of reappraisal, which simply means changing the way we think about ourselves. Fear and doubt can cripple us but it is important to remember these are self-imposed. If we can impose them on ourselves we also have the power to lift them off. I have heard it said before, “If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them.” Instead of fighting for your limitations, believe better about yourself. The second R is rehearsal, which simply means practice and repetition. Repeated exposure helps change stage fright into “performance energy.”

Although the conversation I had on New Year’s Eve did not leave me feeling great, I learned from it. I am trying to teach myself that people’s words and behavior only have power over me if I allow it. My identity is not determined by what people say about me. No matter what I decide to improve, communication skills or something else, I can do so if I put my mind to it. As Henry Ford put it “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Accept People as Facts

In the classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.” I often think about this truth and have definitely seen it manifest in my life.

We each bring different life experiences to the interactions we have. These life experiences are the lens through which we see the world around us. This can be frustrating especially when we experience interactions very differently from other people. We tend to believe that the way we see things is correct and true while others are diluted and lack our understanding. I am beginning to see how this approach to interactions is problematic and stifles my growth. I am continually frustrated and agitated when trying to conform others to my way of thinking. When I push to hard to change others I either end up more frustrated or alienate them. Instead, I need to learn to accept people as facts.

Robert Greene writes about this in his new book The Laws of Human Nature. He writes, “The problem is that we are continually judging people, wishing they were something that they are not. We want to change them.” Instead, the approach we should take is to accept people for who they are.

There are years of life and experiences that have gone into shaping a person into who you see before you today. Why insist that one conversation with you or I will change them? That is unrealistic. It is true that people are not rational but the same can be said about you or I now and again. As Greene says “Work with what they give you, instead of resisting and trying to change them…You will stop projecting your own emotions on to them. All of this will give you more balance and calmness, more mental space for thinking.” It helps to remind yourself that everyone is striving for fulfillment in his or her life. It is possible they are doing so irrationally, however, they do not think so at this moment. Work with what they present to you instead of working yourself into frustration and creating a gap between you.

Deep Work

When you see the title of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work it can create the image in your head of an intellectual looking person poring over books and taking notes in some secluded area of a library. This image makes it feel like working deeply is for scientists and researchers but has no intersection with my life. The concept of Deep Work that Newport develops is quite different than the previously described image. Newport makes the case that high quality work is just a function of time spent and the intensity of focus. We all have time for what we decide to use it for and we can all learn to focus better on the things that are important to us. Because we posses both of these things we can all learn to perform deep work. The book describes what deep work looks like and provides strategies to accomplish more of it in our lives.

Attention

In the book Newport says “…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” Since depth is important in my field of engineering, I cannot afford to lose time and effort by paying attention to what does not matter. At work I often create my own reality of stress, anxiety, and worry by focusing on these emotions. For example, by constantly checking my email inbox throughout the day I ensure that the issues which come up stay at the front of my mind all day long. My work life is then dominated by my inbox and whatever comes into it. To fight this I have begun the habit of not immediately checking my email when I arrive for work every morning. Perhaps I wait 1 or 2 hours to get some work accomplished before I dive into my email. Another way I have applied this is by not immediately reacting to every email that comes into my inbox. Not every situation is a disaster and my response is not usually needed immediately, if at all. I can also close my email for intervals throughout the day to accomplish certain tasks distraction free and the earth will continue to spin.

Plan Your Day

In order to focus your attention on the right things throughout the day, you have to have a plan. One idea that Newport gave to plan your day better is to start each day by creating a block schedule of your day on a piece of notebook paper and assigning activities to each block. You can batch similar tasks together, you can plan for lunch breaks, but the idea is that you assign each minute of your workday a job. Inevitably you will be interrupted or a new task will manifest which takes priority over your plan. When this happens it threatens to throw off your schedule. All you have to do is start over from wherever you are on your schedule and map out the remainder of the day. For me this exercise does 2 things:

  1. It helps me plan to accomplish what I know is important. When I don’t do this it is easy to get sidetracked on easy to accomplish tasks that will not equate to deep work.
  2. It helps me grasp where my time is actually going. It acts as a time audit.

Shutdown Ritual

In order to become good at deep work we not only have to start our days correctly by planning but we also have to end them correctly. Newport describes what he calls a “shutdown ritual” which is a set of steps that ensures he has reviewed all the open items and notes from the day, has a plan to complete them, or trusts that they are documented in a place where he can revisit them later. I have found this concept very helpful in my own working life as it helps me release my mind from work at the end of the day and allows me to enjoy my life outside of work. Our minds need rest but at the same time incomplete tasks cannot be left unplanned for because they will create open loops in our minds that take up mental space and energy. As long as we have noted and planned an actionable step for all open items, our minds are free to rest at the end of the day.

We all want to be fulfilled and have purpose to our lives. This desire is vague though and hard to get a handle on. We see many people around us accomplishing this in many different ways. Should we follow what they are doing? There is no blueprint. Deep work is a good way to cultivate the skill of discerning the meaning that is already present in your current role. You can apply these principles to be more efficient and increase your ability to perform deep work. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow and generate more depth in his or her work.

Extreme Ownership

There are so many ways to consume information in our world today. If you have a desire to learn something new on a particular topic there are virtually no legitimate excuses to fail to seek it out. One of the ways I consume information is through podcasts which is how I originally heard about Jocko Willink and his book Extreme Ownership (co-authored by Leif Babin). I was listening to a podcast and Willink was the guest. He mentioned his book Extreme Ownership and it was a classic case of “That sounds like a good book. Maybe I will read it someday.” As time went on, Willink was the guest on two other podcasts I consistently listen to, an old friend recommended the book to me, and so I decided it was time to read this book. I do not regret that decision as the book is full of practical leadership principles that I have been able to apply at work and in my personal life. Willink and his co-author Babin use their experiences and stories as U.S. Navy Seals in Iraq and as leaders of a leadership consulting company, Echelon Front, to communicate leadership principles. The stories and principles flow well and develop the cohesive concept of Extreme Ownership. The book is completely full of valuable information so I will just highlight a few of the concepts that stuck out to me.

Extreme Ownership

“As individuals, we often attribute the success of others to luck or circumstances and make excuses for our own failures and the failures of our team.” I personally find it very easy to live life as a victim and feel like the challenges I face and failures I experience are no fault of my own. I often go a step further and blame them on things outside of my control. That approach is easier to emotionally accept than taking ownership. The concept of extreme ownership described in this book requires self-awareness and humility, both of which are not developed overnight. I have caught myself in mid-thought multiple times over the past few weeks when I realized I was slipping into a blaming mindset. I find myself wanting to blame failures on a team member at work, someone who did not follow through, or someone else’s poor judgement. The truth is victimization is far less rewarding in the long run than accepting responsibility, identifying the direction to go, and executing. I am striving to practice extreme ownership but I am definitely a work in progress.

“When a leader sets such an example [extreme ownership] and expects this from junior leaders within the team, the mindset develops into the team’s culture at every level.” We cannot expect what we do not express. What we express will not be taken seriously if it is not backed up by example. No matter how willing I am to uphold a culture of ownership, unless I model it, I will not be able to affect any spheres of my influence. To create a culture of ownership and taking responsibility, I have to set the example. I have to admit it is a lot easier for me to recognize where others should take responsibility than to do so myself. I am realizing everything hinges on my initial reaction to failures or breakdown in communication. Is my first reaction to point the finger and try to determine where others dropped the ball or is it to look at myself first, figure out how I contributed to the problem, and then take responsibility?

No bad teams, only bad leaders

“…it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate. When setting expectations, no matter what has been said or written, if substandard performance is accepted and no one is held accountable – if there are no consequences – that poor performance becomes the new standard.” Ultimately the poor performance of any team can be attributed to the leader. Again, this is not easy to accept but it is true. The leader is in charge of setting expectations, following up, and coaching to maintain performance. Whatever is being tolerated will become the standard and it is the leader’s job to set the expectation. John Maxwell says “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This principle is definitely easier to talk about than to put into practice. I know this idea is true intellectually but I often fall back into a mindset of blame. I am learning that leadership is rewarding but it is hard. Being a leader is not always glorious and when you are doing a good job it can be taken for granted, whereas when you fail you attract attention. This is why it is important to enjoy your work, develop good relationships with your team and enjoy them, and figure out ways to celebrate success. In the same way that we each have to accept responsibility when practicing extreme ownership, we also have to take responsibility for celebrating our wins.

Prioritize and Execute

“Even the greatest of battlefield leaders could not handle an array of challenges simultaneously without being overwhelmed. That risked failing at them all. I had to remain calm, step back from my immediate emotional reaction, and determine the greatest priority for the team. Then, rapidly direct the team to attack that priority.” I recently went through a season at work of feeling overwhelmed. I felt there were just too many tasks to complete like keeping up with engineering tasks, juggling multiple projects, keeping up with dates & deadlines, phone calls, emails, questions from team members, and other people to talk to. I learned through that season that I need to rely on my team and trust them to take on some of the load, I can’t tackle all the tasks in front of me at once, and that I need to be ok with everything not being complete at the end of the day. The strategy recommended in this book is a helpful one: remain calm, avoid the initial emotional response, and determine the greatest priority and execute.

Another quote from the book said “Even the most competent of leaders can be overwhelmed if they try to tackle multiple problems or a number of tasks simultaneously.” I had to learn that to be an effective leader I cannot do everything myself and do it all at once. I have come to the conclusion that being busy with no margin is not a badge of honor for a leader; however, this is generally the perception people have. We tend to think that the busier you are the more important you must be. I am learning to set priorities and delegate. Another book I recently read called Getting Things Done by David Allen recommended a strategy involving 3 D’s:

  • Do It
  • Delegate It
  • Defer It

Overall Extreme Ownership helped me identify areas of weakness in my leadership and personal life. The content itself was formatted well making it easy to follow. The principles from the book are not just vague concepts but leadership principles which can be readily applied. I will definitely be recommending this book to fellow readers in the future.

Redefine Your Win

The Tension

Have you ever felt that you are falling behind your peers? People out there who are your age or younger are going out and becoming entrepreneurs, becoming successful consultants, or gaining some sort of platform. They are reading and learning more than you. Ultimately this makes you feel like you need to do more or put in more effort to develop yourself.

I feel this tension a lot. I self-impose pressure and an expectation I have to read an entire book in one sitting and ingest all the information to be successful. There are all these blogs I need to write. Am I working out and running enough? Should I spend more time with my wife? Am I spending enough time with my friends? Am I living a balanced life? I do not have all the answers and I suppose if I did it would take all the surprise and excitement out of life, however, this tension I feel is something I have thought a lot about. Thinking about this tension has revealed some principles to me and I have been trying to apply them to my life.

Comparison

I often read about people like Mozart who composed incredible symphonies and think to myself “how can I get as good at my craft as they were at theirs?” It is easy to forget that it took something like ten years before Mozart produced what we now admire from his work. The same thing is true about Bill Gates, Bill Joy, the Beatles, and plenty of others (check out Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell). Not to mention that these people’s priorities were not the same as mine are. Am I willing to put everything aside, pursue my craft relentlessly, and become the best if it costs me my marriage? It is likely no one ever frames it that way in their minds but we see it happening all the time.

My Win

The truth is I feel as if I have lost if I am not able to finish a book quickly, hammer out a good blog post, or feel like I am not learning enough. What if I redefine my win? What if my win is to learn one new thing when I sit down to read or listen to a podcast? I win if I can learn something new that I can immediately apply to my life or share with someone else. This takes the pressure off. It makes it fun and sustainable. And I’m not beating myself up for all the things I’m not doing, but providing structure and framework for what a win looks like in what I choose to do.

Little by Little

I love this quote from John Wooden, “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.” Growing, learning, and getting better is not a sprint but a marathon. Like Tim Ferriss mentions in his book Tools of Titans, “…deliberately set a low bar for a ‘win’.”

This change of perspective of what I need to accomplish each day to be effective and win has been helpful. I have begun to look at the priorities in my life like marriage, work, church, & other relationships and define what a win looks like. I believe this change in perspective will help relieve the tension I often feel and help me succeed in the long run.