The Slight Edge

by Dan

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I thought that today I would share one of the key influencers of this project. The book The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson changed the way I look at the world. It is billed at the self-help book that you need to read before you read other self-help books, and the reason is because it outlines a philosophy that you need to make other ideas work.

In short, the premise is that by compounding the effect of simple disciplines, performed every day, you can achieve great success. Instead, most people compound the effect of simple errors in judgement each day, and that is why they fail. The simple discipline is easy to do, but the error in judgment is just a tiny bit easier – hence the path of least resistance is the route to failure. Jeff uses the word “compound” because the effect is just like compound interest – the sure-fire way to double your results in one year is to improve them by 0.3% every day. The diagram below shows the associated success curve and failure curve.

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One of the many powerful examples Jeff uses is healthy eating. For your lunch each day you can choose to eat a cheeseburger, or you could choose a salad. It’s not hard to choose the salad, but the cheeseburger is just that bit more tempting and hence the easier choice. Today, the impact of that choice is barely noticeable. You won’t put on or lose any weight, you won’t be any healthier or unhealthier as a result of choosing one or the other. But…if you make that same choice every day for a month you will notice a significant difference. After a year, the effects may not be reversible. Success and failure in your health can be dictated by a small daily choice.

You’ll probably agree that none of this is earth-shattering in concept, but it is true that unfortunately common sense isn’t common practice. What is great about The Slight Edge is that it puts the point across in a variety of ways that help to embed the philosophy in your mind.

I saw the effects of this myself recently. I got bored of making my sandwiches for lunch each evening for the following day, and got into the habit of buying food each day instead (London prices!). Making sandwiches isn’t difficult, it takes a couple of minutes, but not making them is slightly easier. For a few weeks it was great, no sandwich making and a variety of exotic foodstuffs for lunch. After about two months however, I realised that this habit was rapidly bringing my finances to it’s knees. The compound effect of that extra expenditure became a spiralling problem. Thanks to The Slight Edge‘s philosophy I am now happily munching sandwiches again!

So what has all that got to do with this blog then? Well for a start, my take on The Slight Edge is that this explains why it takes 30 days to form a new habit. In the early days it’s all pain and no gain, but once the compounding effect kicks in, and clear results are visible, those daily disciplines become a LOT easier and subconsciously you don’t want to go back to the old habit. By committing to a Daily Act of Simlification I hope to kickstart this effect.

This compounding effect explains why I am so adamant about sticking to one Daily Act of Simplification each day. I want to see if one positive action each day can be compounded in the same way as described above. Do new good simplifying habits (and complexity avoiding habits) form after a period? Do small improvements compound into big, noticeable, lasting results? My working hypothesis is that it does, hence the one-a-day rule.

Thanks Jeff for the inspiration – I will share some of my other influences soon!

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