Habits are the compound interest of self improvement. The same way money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiple as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.
We dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment. If you save a little money now, you’re still not a millionaire. If you go to the gym three days in a row, you’re still out of shape. We make a few changes, but the results never seem to come quickly and so we slide back into our previous routines.
Unfortunately the slow pace of transformation also makes it easy to let a bad habit slide. If you eat an unhealthy meal today, the scale doesn’t much change. If you work late tonight and ignore your family, they will forgive you. If you procrastinate and put your project off until tomorrow, there will usually be time to finish it later. A single decision is easy to dismiss.
But when we repeat 1% errors, day after day, by replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalizing little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results.
Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York. If the pilot leaves from LAX and adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, DC instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at take-off. The nose of the airplane moved just a few feet, but when magnified across the US, you end up hundreds of miles apart.
DC is about 225 miles from NYC. The nose of the airplane moved just 3.5 degrees or about 86 inches. A very small shift in direction can lead to a very meaningful change in destination. A slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination. These 1% choices can make up the difference between who you are and who you could be.
Clear wrote, “You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than your current results.”
Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.