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.
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.
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 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.
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.