When you first start to use the systems and habits approach to improvement it takes time to really gain the benefits. Initially you put a lot of thought and effort into the small changes and adjustments that you make.
These changes probably won’t have much impact on your life. The reason is simple. You aren’t doing enough to have an impact.
But this doesn’t mean that it isn’t valuable. The key is to keep going and going with these new habits. So this small change might not make a difference today, but when you do it every day for the rest of your life it does provide significant benefit. As it becomes more automatic, it becomes easier and this allows us to keep adding more and more and more small changes.
Over time these build up and grow. The time you spend now building these habits might seem to be more work than reward, but over time this starts to shift. Over time the rewards keep coming but the effort you have to put forth drops considerably as the changes turn to habit.
In Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, the author talks about this growing benefit in the way of making better decisions. She says, “The benefits of recognizing just a few extra learning opportunities compound over time. The cumulative effect of being a little better at decision-making, like compounding interest, can have huge effects in the long run on everything that we do.”
The same can be true for almost any area that we want to improve. If we want to better budget our money and take the time to develop a good system that helps us save money, this can provide additional benefits for years to come.
If we create a more efficient morning routine, the time savings might only be a few minutes, but if it shaves a few minutes every working day for the rest of our life, this could add up to a hours and hours a year.
If we invest in new skills training for our career, the benefits aren’t usually seen immediately. Instead they will show up in improved performance in the future that can result in significant increases in salary.
If we develop strategies to eat healthier these can still provide benefit 20 years later when we don’t have to worry about high cholesterol or heart disease.
If we start exercising and focus on creating a good routine, this can keep going and going providing exercise on a regular basis that can prevent us from gaining weight and instead slowly take a few pounds off the scale.
But this is only similar to compounding interest if we can sustain the improvements. If we make them systematic elements of our life they will keep providing benefit. We can do this by developing a good system (such as a good budgeting system) or by turning specific, helpful behaviors into habits so they become automatic and easy the longer we do them.
Unfortunately this isn’t the way most people tackle improvement. Instead of looking for systematic ways of slowly changing their thoughts and behaviors, they tend to look for a quick, short-term fix.
But quick, short-term fixes don’t provide any additional benefit down the road. In fact, many times we end up sacrificing the future for today. Instead of investing money and gaining compounding interest, most people go into debt for the things they want right now. The debt then forces them to pay more interest, in essence doing the opposite of compounding interest. So they keep going in the wrong direction.
Start today by eliminating the notion of the quick fix and instead look for systematic ways to improve. What routines, habits, processes, etc. can you change? What recurring thoughts and behaviors can you modify each time so they slowly start to change? Doing this can provide years and years of additional benefit, compounding over time.