Those small and insignificant tasks you engage in on a daily basis? Well, as it turns out, they add up. In fact, quite significantly.
This is the message at the heart of Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge. In essence, it’s about compound interest and how it can either work in your favour or to your dismay.
In the book, Olson describes the process of “turning simple disciplines into massive success and happiness.” He explains how it’s the small, baby steps which gradually amount to huge strides and importantly, that there’s no way around them. “The simple things that lead to success are all easy to do. But they’re also just as easy not to do,” he writes.
The aim of The Slight Edge is to encourage a new mindset in its reader. Olson strives to demystify the process of achievement, emphasizing the consequence of small, everyday decisions when repeated consistently over time.
According to Olson, the slight edge is “already working, right now, either for you or against you.” Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re on a trajectory. Simply put, you’re either going up or down.
If you’re not proactively working on your health, for example, it’s probably worsening each day. Similarly, if your professional life isn’t growing, it’s likely shrinking. In both cases, this may not be obvious. Hell, it may not even be noticeable – at least, not in this instant.
Over time, however, the results of our actions become increasingly apparent. Ten minutes of daily meditation becomes over sixty hours in a year. Forty five minutes at the gym, four days a week? Now, that’s over one hundred and fifty.
The challenge, then, is to cultivate patience, or as Olson describes it, “to see through the eyes of time.” He writes, “most people don’t stick with the simple daily disciplines it takes to get where they want to go, because they don’t know how to look ahead far enough along the curve to see the results they are creating.”
Think bigger. Where do you want to be two, three decades down the line?
Olson describes time as the magnifying force which turns little, imperceptible actions into something titanic and unstoppable. He notes, “it is the steady, repeated action of water that can wear even the hardest rock to a smooth surface.”
The task then, is to cultivate habits and behaviours which over time will serve us, rather than others that won’t. As our decisions become automatic, they take on a life of their own. Consider, for example, the habit of smoking: with time, does it typically become more or less frequent?
The challenge, Olson notes, is “to base your choices on your philosophy – on what you know, not what you see.”
Along those lines, it’s important to trust the process. Results aren’t immediate; they take time. Instead of looking for results you can feel right now, look for incremental progress and let time take care of the rest.
consistently repeated daily actions + time = inconquerable results.
Aesop wasn’t lying in his fable; slow and steady really does win the race. That said, the key is not in going slow but, as Olson points out, in going steady.
If great results require consistent effort, then it’s imperative we make our efforts exactly that. Consistent. Trying to do too much at once is a recipe for failure. Instead, the focus should be on sustainability. The key is not in making giant leaps, but in taking small, consistent steps which gradually pave the way to our desired outcome.
He cites Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Tom Seaver, who perfectly captures the ‘slight edge thinking’: “in baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted; if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”
The small steps are easy to overlook; there’s no immediate feedback; they’re not necessarily exciting. However, they are crucial. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
What can you do today to embark on that journey; to take that first step? These are the little chunks which, when repeated consistently, develop into the slight edge.
Personally, I found The Slight Edge to be a truly life-changing read – one that I’d highly encourage others to check out. Though the central idea is fairly intuitive to grasp, it’s also equally easy to dismiss.
Fortunately, Olson provides, both, a thorough and compelling argument as to why one ought to adopt the slight edge philosophy. It’s difficult not to reflect on your ‘trajectory’ and daily behaviours, following the detailed chapters.