Every month, I try to read a book related to the theme of the month. January, however, is dedicated to Learning Spanish. But reading a Spanish book seemed a little too ambitious. Therefore, I decided to take the opportunity to read a book I expected to be, in another way, very relevant for January, the start of my Happiness Project: Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge.
I first heard about The Slight Edge through this video from Lavendaire. This YouTube channel, hosted by Aileen Xu, is all about lifestyle and personal growth and I could not recommend it more for its positivity. When Aileen mentioned The Slight Edge as one of the books that had a profound impact on her life, I knew I had to read it as well.
“The Slight Edge will help you apply all the information you learn from the health book, the sales book, the investment book, the positive attitude book. […] You don’t need more ‘how-to’s’, you need something to make the how-to’s work for you.”Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge
The Slight Edge teaches a kind of philosophy, ‘the slight edge philosophy’, that you can apply to the way you’re trying to reach whatever goals you want to reach in your life. If you’re still with me, don’t worry, because it’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds. All this philosophy is based on, is the idea of the compounding effect of doing small, daily disciplines.
In terms of money, this effect is most easily explained: save a penny a day and over time, compound interest will turn your pennies into a small fortune. The longer you keep up with it, the quicker your fortune grows; the steeper your ‘success curve’ curves upward. According to Olson, this effect can be achieved in any area of your life, even in the more abstract ones.
Olson argues there are two types of people: people who are on the success curve of life, and people who are on the failure curve of life. There’s no in between. Every single day, the actions you do, or don’t do, determine if you’re on the way to success or on the way to failure. Many people are not aware of this, because the compounding effect of their actions will only become visible over time — which is why many people would describe their situation as ‘neutral’ or ‘static’.
I found this a very enlightening statement, because it means that what you do now is important. Always. It forces you to take responsibility for every decision you make. I also think it’s very true that everything curves, and there’s no area in life where this is better visible than in health. People who make the wrong decisions now, who eat bad foods and don’t exercise, are on the failure curve of health. They may not notice any negative effects now (describing their state of health as ‘neutral’), but it’s very likely they will over time.
“Simple daily disciplines — little productive actions, repeated over time — add up to the difference between failure and success.
I already wrote about Daily Disciplines, which I decided to call Daily Habits (because that’s what they need to become), in my previous blogpost. According to Olson, taking a penny’s worth of action daily, in every area of your life you want to improve, will get you on the success curve. It’s as simple as that. However, 95% percent of us don’t, because these actions are so small, and so simple, that they don’t yield success immediately and therefore don’t seem worth doing. Saving a penny feels useless, like you could just as well not save it.
“So while anyone could do these successful actions, most won’t, simply because it’s so easy to skip them. […] Most people don’t stick with the simple daily disciplines it takes […], because they don’t know how to look ahead far enough along the curve to see the results they are creating.”
As Olson argues (and I think this is very true), most people subscribe to the kind of cultural mythology that “worships the quantum leap breakthrough”. We’re always talking about people who became an overnight success, we’re always looking for immediate results, we are obsessed with becoming successful in as short a timespan as possible.
“The step we’ve lost touch with, the one where the real (though invisible) power lies, is the step of cultivating. And that step, unlike planting and harvesting, takes place only through the patient dimension of time. […] And that’s the big challenge of it: no immediate feedback.”
Actually, those who are described as being ‘an overnight success’ are those people who were on the success curve for a really long time before, seemingly suddenly, the compounding effect of their actions brought them great successes.
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do — even when it doesn’t look like it makes any difference. And they do it long enough for the compounding effect to start to kick in.”
In practice, this means all you have to do is define a daily habit that is the equivalent of a penny’s worth, that has something to do with whatever it is you want to improve. In order to define this habit, it helps to write down the goal, give it a measurable description, and a deadline. When that’s clear, define something you can do every day to move towards that goal even a little bit. That daily habit will propel you forward.
I go more into detail about this in my previous blogpost, but for my January goal of Learning Spanish, it looked somewhat like this:
›› goal: speaking a decent amount of Spanish
›› description: learning Spanish up to B2-level
›› timeline: by the end of 2019
›› daily habit: learn 10 new words a day
I’ll formulate these goals, descriptions, timelines, and daily habits for every area I’ll work on this year (find the overview here), at the beginning of every new month.
Even though, in literary terms, this book isn’t the best ever written — it contains a lot of repetition and the structure is a bit all over the place — its message resonated with me very strongly. I’d recommend anyone stuck in a rut to read this and I’ll definitely apply the slight edge philosophy to all my goals throughout my 2019 Happiness Project. If you’ve read this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
“Show up. Show up consistently. Show up consistently with a positive outlook. Be prepared for and committed to the long haul. […] And do the things you’ve committed to doing — even when no one else is watching.”
Photo: Stray kitten on the success curve, Ribeira dos Caldeirões, São Miguel, Azores, Portugal