Have you ever found a book that really resonates with you? Through a series of serendipitous events, I happened upon a great book that seemed to be written just for me: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. In the book, Jeff Olson talks about the way in which successful people become successful. He asserts that one person is no different from another and that anyone can become successful. In his view, the difference between those who become successful and those who don’t, however, is that successful people practice simple disciplines persistently and consistently over time that lead them along the path to success.
Jeff Olson clarifies that successful people make decisions on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis that get them closer to or farther from success. So, for example, people who get in good shape make decisions each day that can either help them get closer or farther from their goal. When faced with the choice of having a burger and fries for dinner or a hearty salad, people who practice simple disciplines (by choosing the salad) will get closer to achieving their goal with each little decision they make. Similarly, people who religiously adhere to a workout schedule will get closer and closer to their goal of getting shape as compared to those who don’t.
Now, I know what you are thinking… seriously, is this the major insight, Kirsten? I’ve heard all of this before. Well…this is where it gets really good…
What Jeff Olson points out is that these small decisions don’t seem to make a difference in the short term; there is no immediate harm. So if you do choose to eat a burger and fries one time or skip one workout, you are not going to see an immediate impact. The thing is though, that these small decisions (or simple disciplines) have a compounding effect. These things, as Jeff Olson points out, are easy to do and just as easy not to do; it’s easy to choose a salad over a burger and fries but it’s just as easy not to. People who are successful, however, are people who consistently and persistently practice these simple disciplines that move them in a positive direction towards their goals.
MY AH-HA MOMENT…I’M A SLIGHT EDGER!
When I read this book, I realized that my ability to practice simple disciplines persistently and consistently over time, is exactly how I’ve been able to excel in sports, in academics and in my career. The reason that The Slight Edge resonated with me so deeply is that his philosophy exactly describes the disciplined life of an elite athlete. As a volleyball player aiming to become world class, I worked out three to five days per week, practiced for at least two hours per day, five days per week and competed in weekly matches or tournaments. This was my schedule and I did not deviate from it (except for our one month mandated rest period per year). Because of my priorities and the way I had chosen to design my life, the simple disciplines were built into my routine so it was inevitable that I would achieve success.
When it comes to real life, we have more choices in how we design our lives. We can choose to watch a lot of television; we can choose to stay up late; we can choose to eat junk food. Without a clear direction or goal in mind, it becomes difficult to figure out what simple disciplines we should practice.
WHICH CURVE ARE YOU ON?
One final thought from The Slight Edge…Jeff Olson notes that each person at any moment is either travelling on a path towards success or away from it. This graphic, excerpted from his book, usefully illustrates this idea:
By practicing simple disciplines persistently and consistently over time, we can achieve goals in various areas of our lives – and in doing so, we’ll continue to travel on the upward curve of success.
We do need, however, to figure out what our goals are in various areas of our lives to help us make decisions that support success in those areas. So let’s figure out where we’re headed, shall we?
Last week I described the importance of positive self-talk and controlling your thoughts. Now that you are being nicer to yourself, you can start to identify the direction you want to go (your goal) and then start moving towards that goal using simple disciplines that you practice consistently and persistently over time. The goal can be related to your relationships, your health, your career, your finances or your passion outside work.
EXAMPLE #1: TACKLING MY LIFELONG STRUGGLE TO KEEP MY CLOSET CLEAN…
Let me illustrate by using a recent example from my life. I’ve always had a very messy closet. In January I decided that I would like to clean up my closet and keep it clean for good. I started by putting all my clothes away. I realized, however, that part of the reason I was having trouble keeping my closet clean was that I had too many clothes. They wouldn’t physically fit into my closet. So then I purged… I gave away three big garbage bags of clothing and then I was able to easily fit the rest of the clothes into my closet.
The next step for me to be successful was to make a new practice of putting my clothes away as soon as they were folded (for clean laundry) and as soon as I took them off when changing. I needed to create a new system or set of rules for myself in order to maintain the cleanliness of my closet.
The hardest part for me was actually in making this a priority. Usually I’m so busy for every moment of my day – whether I’m working, or catching up with friends, or spending time with my kids, working on an academic article or writing a blog post that by the time I go up to bed, I just want to change as quickly as possible and go to sleep (oh and did I also mention that I like to get at least eight hours of sleep per night?). So even though it would only take an extra moment to put the clothes away instead of throwing them into a pile on the floor, I had to make keeping my closet clean a priority in my own mind to practice the simple discipline of putting away my clothes.
It has now been three months and I can happily report that my closet is still clean! (To all you neat freaks out there – including you, Robby – this may not seem like a big deal but trust me…it is!) Even though I have kept it clean so far, I still have to keep practicing the simple disciplines persistently and consistently over time to keep my closet clean.
(Oh and every time I see my clean closet, I give Jeff Olson a wink!)
EXAMPLE #2: STARTING AND MAINTAINING THIS BLOG
Last year, I discovered The Smart Passive Income Podcast by Pat Flynn. He talks about online marketing and really inspired me to start doing some things online. Since I started listening to his podcast I started using Facebook, I started this blog and I am now exploring YouTube and Twitter. This is a huge new challenge for me to undertake since unlike my children, the online world was not really a part of my life growing up, so it is like visiting a new world for me.
Once I decided to create this blog, however, I really needed to learn what steps I needed to actually bring it into being. Not only did I need to teach myself to use the backend of WordPress to create the blog posts and manage my website, I also needed to implement a system so I could create a blog post each week to publish online.
So the first thing I did was decide that I was going to create this blog, commit to doing it and prioritize its importance. Many blogs die out soon after they start because it requires reprioritizing your time and discipline to make sure that you create new content and post on a regular schedule.
Next I had to start being kinder to myself through my thoughts and self-talk about my ability to tackle technology. I needed to actually change my thinking around my technological ability and reframe it as just another new skill that I am able to learn just like anyone else.
Next, I actually had figure out what to call my blog and the mechanics of setting it up so I watched a whole bunch of YouTube videos and had many discussions with customer support people that helped me out.
Then I had to create a system to create content to post on a weekly basis. I started a notepad on my IPhone with blog post ideas and I just jumped in the next week. My system is that on Wednesday nights I sit down and write a blog post for posting the following day. When I finish my draft post, I send it to my sister Rachel who reviews it and provides constructive feedback (luckily she lives in a different timezone so while I am sleeping she can review it!). I then get up earlier than usual on Thursday morning to make any revisions and post it before going to work. (I also do a smaller email to my contact list for another side business on Wednesday nights that also goes out Thursday morning – this is called batch processing and I will go into that in a future post!)
So now that I have created a weekly schedule to get the content out, I know that as long as I can set aside the time on Wednesday nights to get my blog post and weekly email done I’ll continue to meet my weekly publishing schedule.
So far so good… adding this extra commitment or simple discipline of writing on Wednesday nights has been really smooth. It also has made me realize that in sitting down in a simple, disciplined way each week, I am able to create a large amount of content. So I’m inspired and it makes it seem more manageable to start to tackle my next big thing – writing that youth teen fiction book I have always wanted to write…
FIVE KEY STEPS TO ACHIEVING YOUR GOALS
So I thought I would distill down my system for achieving my goals into some simple steps for all of you…
Here are five key steps that I follow to achieve any goal that I set for myself:
- make a commitment to achieving your goal – it has to become a priority;
- create positive self-talk about your goal (“I am so good as keeping my closet clean!);
- outline small steps to take to get you closer to your goal; ideally, you can record them somewhere and measure your progress (small wins keep you motivated to move forward!),
- implement a system, rules or guiding principles to help you achieve your goal, and
- deliberately measure each small decision/action to see if it gets you closer to or farther from your goal (then of course, choose the one that helps you get closer to it!)
The good news is that this formula for success can help you achieve any goal including big ones like finishing a university degree, becoming a world class athlete, writing a book, or starting your own business.
And guess what? Most people haven’t perfected this slight edge skill so for us high achievers who do…we’ll gain a competitive advantage in many areas of our lives!
I would love to hear whether The Slight Edge philosophy resonates with you as much as it does for me. Comment below to let me know!