Over the holidays, I read the book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.
Actually, I mostly listened to it while walking the dog — I had it in ebook form, and I used the “Speak Screen” feature on my iPhone to read each chapter to me on my headphones while I walked.
I didn’t intend for it to be a good resource for the new year (my library hold just happened to come up in the middle of December), but it turned out to be a good one.
At a high level, the book recommends that to achieve success, a person needs to take consistent daily action toward each of their goals. The actions can be small (such as read 10 minutes per day or spend 5 minutes on an exercise bike). What makes the difference is taking that action on a consistent basis for a period of time, at least a month or two.
I recommend the book – it inspired me to implement some things starting in January and there is definitely some valuable insights to be gained.
There is obviously a lot more to this book and you should read it in its entirety, but I wanted to highlight a few concepts that stood out to me.
1. The compounding effect
The book suggests that daily actions have a compounding effect, like interest on savings or like a story near the front of the book. In this story, two sons were offered a choice by their father on his deathbed. Either take $1 million in a month’s time and do with it what you want (invest, start a business, etc.) or start with a penny the next day, and each day for the next month the money would double — 1 cent turns to 2 cents to 4 cents etc. After 30 days, the latter was worth roughly $10 million. Having the small daily act of doubling the money was better than the seemingly large single sum.
I struggled a bit with this concept. I think there are many daily actions that wouldn’t have this compounding effect. 5 minutes per day on the exercise bike may actually have the reverse effect, since as you get more fit, the 5 minutes doesn’t provide as much benefit. Reading 10 minutes per day . . . maybe you get slightly more efficient at reading, but again this seems more like an additive effect rather than a compounding one.
That said, there are some ways that I could see a compounding effect. If you adjust your daily actions as you go, it might make more sense, e.g., up your 5 minutes to 10 minutes after 2 weeks. Maybe certain actions get easier, allowing you to increase the action or free up more energy to take on more actions.
There may also be times when the result seems to come in a rush, later. In the penny story, the money was insignificant until the last few days. Another example is two frogs who jump into a barrel of cream. One gives up and drowns, but the other keeps swimming and working and a long time later, the cream suddenly turns to butter and the frog can jump out of the barrel. Taking action in a home business may be similar – you do Facebook lives, you offer value, you create a following and a list, and maybe after 2-3 months you start seeing the results of your labor.
The author does acknowledge that things may not necessarily compound. He does note that even if they don’t, doing small actions every day can really make a difference over time. For example, let’s say you want to learn about online marketing – you have a small amount of knowledge today. If you spend a few minutes learning 1% more than you already know (and even if the 1% continues to be based on the initial amount of knowledge, not the increasing knowledge), after a year, you’ve added 365% knowledge – your knowledge has increased my more than 3.5x.
2. Do your daily actions take you up or down?
The author believes you are never just staying in the same place – you are in motion either positive or negative. Whatever actions you take on a daily basis can either be improving your life by moving you toward your goals and
You either eat a salad every day, helping you toward a health goal, or you eat a hamburger every day, pushing you toward a heart attack or other health problem someday.
I usually think of many actions as being fairly neutral, so it was somewhat motivating to think that small daily actions that weren’t positive could have a similar additive/compounding effect over time.
3. Why is it so hard to take small daily actions?
He offers a few reasons for why most people don’t take the small daily actions that can have, over time, a huge positive effect on their chances for success and happiness.
One is that they are easy to do, and easy to not do. It is easy to go on the exercise bike for 5 minutes or read a valuable book for 10 minutes per day. It is also very easy to skip these actions.
The results are often far away, and the action seems insignificant. The hamburger (usually) will not give you a heart attack that day. So what’s the harm? The single 7-minute workout won’t leave you ripped. So why bother?
Knowing that we are susceptible to these kinds of thinking helps at least me to try to combat the urge to not do these actions.
4. The role of happiness
I no longer have the book in front of me, but the author devotes a chapter to the role of happiness in achieving success. He cited some studies showing that cultivating a positive outlook and happiness can help dramatically. Taking daily actions toward your goals become much easier when you do some things to increase your positive outlook.
There were several specific suggestions in the book, but the one I’ve been trying to do is to identify 3 things each morning that I’m grateful for.
5. Continuous learning and mentorship
Two things he suggests to help people stay on track toward their goals is continuous learning and mentorship.
I’m a big fan of continuous learning. Even before reading this book, I try to read or consume content that will help me learn skills, help my mindset, etc., and I also try to do and learn by doing on a regular basis.
I’m less good at finding and spending time with mentors or other like-minded people who can help me stay on the right track. I am not working on this just yet, but will keep it in mind.
6. Momentum and other allies of the slight edge
He lists a few allies you have to help you with your daily actions, such as completing things off your list so you have less clutter, reflecting daily on what actions you did and didn’t do, and celebrating when you succesfully do an action.
I particularly liked the concept of momentum and his example of a giant flywheel. Let’s say your mission is to get a giant flywheel moving. You spend X effort every Y time to move the flywheel. At first, your effort barely even budges the flywheel. But, slowly it starts to move, and your X effort gets it going a bit faster each time you apply it. After some time, the wheel is flying around and would even be hard to stop.
I do think there is something to be said for momentum in these daily tasks. Getting into a rhythm. There may be less starting cost or resistance to doing a daily action as days go by.
So, as I said, I’d recommend this book. Over the past month, I’ve identified a few goals and for each of them, a small daily action that can help me move toward those goals. I’ve also been identifying 3 items for which I’m grateful every day. And, some of the concepts in this book come to mind as I take the various little actions that make up my day, whether part of a goal or not.