Jeff Olson On Gradual Improvement and Winning with the Slight Edge

The year I turned 26 was when I really became conscious of the fact that what we do every day is what actually shapes our lives.

Years are too long to focus on. You can really only reliable focus on the present moment, the next hour, and at most one entire day. If you get your days right, then your years will start to take shape.

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It’s not what we do occasionally that has the biggest effect, but it’s what Jeff Olson calls “slight edge activities” that can either lead us to where we want to go, or drag us down so slowly that we don’t even realize we’re on our way down.

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Jeff is a CEO and also the owner of Live Happy magazine. His book, The Slight Edge, is all about incremental improvement in the areas that can have the biggest effect on our productivity and happiness.

If you know me at all, you know that pragmatism is at the core of what I believe. What we learn has to be practical and applicable to our lives, and there is no room in the personal development space for snake oil salesmen and charlatans. There is real value here, in the stuff that Jeff teaches, and my notes on The Slight Edge are notes that I return to again and again.

That’s what I want to share with you today.

 

Here is the greatest lesson we can take from Jeff’s vitallly important book:

“The things that create success in the long run don’t look like they’re having any impact at all in the short run.”

It’s like the water that gradually hollowed out the Grand Canyon after millions of years.

If you looked at the Grand Canyon on any particular day, you wouldn’t have noticed any change.

But given enough time, simple, ordinary water hollowed out an area that is 18 miles wide in some places.

This is the slight edge at work.

And it’s the same thing with our lives.

Sunset above the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River.
Sunset above the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River.

Skipping a day of brushing your teeth isn’t going to  give you cavities. But let it go long enough, and you won’t have any teeth left to call your own.

Or perhaps even more seriously, one missed workout isn’t going to endanger your health, but a life of inactivity will kill you. And missing one workout is how it starts.

FAILURE AND SURVIVAL

Olson says that most people spend a lot of time oscillating between failure and survival.

What does this mean?

Well survival is doing just enough to get by. Doing enough at work not to get fired, and nothing more. Going to the gym to stave off obesity, but not pushing yourself to see what your body is actually capable of.

But…

If you keep doing the things that bring you up to the survival line,  they’ll carry you upwards still.

It’s when we stop doing these things that we slide into failure. Don’t stop doing things after they start to work for you!

If you can survive, you can succeed.

BUT WHAT DO I DO?

Remember: It’s not that you don’t know what to do, it’s that you stop doing those things.

We all know that if we exercise, we’ll become healthier. That if we meditate, our minds will become sharper and clearer. And we all know that if we read a little bit each day, eventually we will end up having read a large number of books.

It’s clear that we know all of this stuff already, and not a lot of what you read on many “self-improvement” sites is going to be new to you.

You already know what’s required of you if you want to achieve your goals.

But for some reason or another you stop doing the very things that you know will get you to where you want to be. That is the real challenge of self-discipline, and that is where you’ll have to fight your battle against mediocrity.

Basically…you need a plan.

YOUR PLAN

The point is to come up with a plan that will get you out of the starting gate, not to have everything figured out before you begin.

You have to start with a plan, but the plan that you start with will probably not be the one that gets you there. Jeff Olson makes this abundantly clear in “The Slight Edge”.

Your first plan will get you to your second plan, and that will get to your third plan, etc.

goethe

Your first plan won’t look anything like what eventually happens, at least not usually, and there is no reason why it has to.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
SIDE NOTE: People who have read Goethe might notice that the above is simply two of his quotes combined into one. Forgive me?

Just begin, and things will start happening that never would have happened if you had not started. As Brian Tracy is fond of saying, doors of opportunity will open for you, but you have to be moving down the hallway.

THE NATURE OF THE SLIGHT EDGE

The slight edge is always working in your life, either for you or against you.

The difference between success and failure often isn’t dramatic, and what you do every day matters. It matters far more than we would sometimes like to believe.

Basically, the things that are easy to do are also easy not to do, and that’s why so many people don’t do them.

But you already know that you’re not “many people”, or “most people”, so why the hell would you want to behave like them?

Do you want to become godlike or not?

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Self-respect begins with doing what needs to be done, regardless of whether or not you feel like doing it. The slight edge works the same way.

You simply have to believe in the not yet seen.

Success is simply the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Pick something that’s important to you and go after it with the tenacity of a dateless cheerleader on prom night.

(Above “cheerleader imagery” provided by Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass”)

SOME SIMPLE FORMULAE

I’m not a mathematician (how many mathematicians read hundreds of books every year?), but it seems to me that Jeff Olson is on to something when he says:

“A 1% improvement every day is a 365% improvement each year.”

An easy way too accomplish this also comes from the rich pages of “The Slight Edge”.

Now eventually, 1% is going to become larger and larger, to the point where you just won’t be able to improve that much in a single day. But in most things, I think a 365% improvement in a single year is NOT implausible.

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It’s simple: “Show up more often than you don’t.”

Here, time is actually your friend. You take it one day at a time, maximize each effort that you make, and course-correct as necessary.

Jeff mentions in the book how the Apollo rocket to the moon was only on course for one minute out of every thirty. That means the rocket strayed from the path, but kept going back to it. It got out of alignment, but then it (and the engineers) did what had to be done to get it to the moon.

It all comes down to whether or not you ACTUALLY want to succeed at what you’re attempting to do, or if you’re not quite serious.

If you’re not going to commit to this, whatever it is that you’ve decided is your slight edge decision, then it’s just not going to happen for you.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It takes far less discipline to keep yourself doing something that you’ve already started.

Stopping and starting wastes valuable time and really isn’t in your best interests. So once you’ve identified what it is that will take you past “survival” and into success, you owe it to yourself and the slight edge process to keep doing that thing.

What you do when no one is watching is of extreme importance. It’s when there’s no one telling you what to do, or enforcing your initial decision to work, that we find out whether we really have what it takes.

Every single thing you do is a slight edge decision, and it doesn’t matter whether anyone sees you doing it or not.

You have identified this (whatever it is) as something that is important to you, and only you can decide whether or not to break the chain.

If you were truly godlike, the ideal of perfection that mankind strives for, then staying the course would come naturally.

I think you know what you have to do.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov

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