By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Will Durant
Excellence is a habit.
But so is everything else.
From working out to reading to watching football, everything we do very quickly becomes something close to habitual.
It would be easy to make the argument that each day is a combination of accomplishment and preparation.
You might get things done this day, but a good amount of time today is helping to set in place what you need to do, and can only do, in many other days yet to come.
In other words, each day is the ultimate investment.
Each day we make a deposit of sorts in our careers, our relationships, and our health – among many other things.
From career steps, to saving accounts to body weight, it’s all about the momentum.
For example, we don’t gain weight by overeating from time to time.
We gain weight by eating a few extra calories on a regular basis over a long period of time. (In the same way, we can save an astounding amount of money by regular, even small, savings, over time).
Consider what happens if we eat only 96 extra calories per day.
There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat.
96 calories a day multiplied by 365 = 35,040 extra calories in one year.
That’s 10 pounds of fat.
This is why so many people at age 50 are 30 pounds (or more) overweight. They gained it from age 20-50 by eating about 96 too many calories each day.
And, by the way, the average donut has about 200 calories.
And the average American gains three pounds a year. For a year or two, that’s not a problem. After ten or twenty years, it’s a definite problem.
But the same principle holds true in the opposite direction as well.
100 or so fewer calories each day makes a huge difference after a few months – and even more over a year or two.
In other words, it’s as easy to lose ten pounds as it is to gain it. At least if you take your time.
The same holds true for saving money or exercising or learning a foreign language.
A little bit each day makes a massive difference over time.
Consider language learning for example.
A simple (and do-able) way to learn a language is to learn 2-3 new words a day.
Anyone could do this easily.
After a single month, you could have added about a hundred new words to your vocabulary.
After just a few months, you could easily add a thousand words to your foreign language vocabulary.
Money, vocabulary, even body weight – they all accrue semi-invisibly, only to show their effects eventually.
More than anything else, we build momentum.
We build and accumulate, word by word, stone by stone, dollar by dollar the life that all too many of us didn’t know were building.
Getting rich slowly
We know a couple who both worked at not-much-more-than minimum wage jobs.
They followed, without thinking about it, the two principles that almost always guarantee wealth accumulation in America – they kept working and they stayed married.
These two worked steadily, and thanks to long and steady pension programs with matching funds from their employers, the wife accumulated more than $800,000 in her 401(k) (the husband had a bit less than that) a few years before they hit retirement age.
They also bought a house that was a moderate fixer in an affordable neighborhood – which they paid off early.
In short, this couple, with far-from-great jobs, not much education and minimal expenditures, accumulated far more than a million dollars in net worth.
In other words, if this couple could do it, anyone should be able to do it.
It just takes sustained time and, like putting aside that donut, a teensy bit of self-control.
It has been said that bankruptcy approaches slowly, slowly then quickly.
Saving money (or losing/gaining weight) is very much the same.
That little bit each day doesn’t make much difference until you look back over a year, or a career, or a lifetime and then you realize that the little choice, the choice that became a habit you didn’t even think about any more made a huge difference.
Those simple decisions for most of us made years, if not decades ago, to smoke or not, to go for a daily walk or not or even that coffee or fast food habit, years later have accumulated, and to a large degree, sometime literally, made us the person we are today.
A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other
We are rapidly approaching that time of year when many of us make resolutions for the coming year.
New Year’s resolutions don’t need to be huge, life-changing decisions, in fact in many ways, the smaller, the better.
Those tiny decisions each day not only become easier over time, but they have a near-miraculous multiplier effect and often lead to changes far greater and more enduring than those massive and dramatic promises to yourself ever could.
There’s nothing magic about turning that calendar or even the beginning of a new year.
Those are just tangible reminders that those days are gone and new days, days that none of us have seen before, are in front of us.