If you’re anything like me, your daily practice and habitual routine has consisted in saying the following mantra: “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
It’s easy to do, because one day doesn’t really add up to much. What’s one day of missing the gym, working on financial independence, learning a new skill, or any other habit that you want to implement?
In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olsen teaches that it’s just this kind of attitude that results in a life of failure.
One day of procrastination, or of indulging in a bad habit, may not in itself produce a noticeable effect on your life; but 100 days of not going to the gym, of eating harmful foods, of dwelling in negative thoughts–these will certainly show up in your life.
I’ve struggled with developing positive habits, investing in my future, and being proactive throughout the majority of my life. But, as Olsen shares in his book, “We all have ‘days of disgust’ where we cannot take our failure anymore, and change our life habits.” For me, the realization that I needed to change my daily habits was fraught with frustration.
I simply could not seem to muster the willpower, resolve, and consistency needed in order to implement my goals.
So, I embarked on an extended study of the science of habit formation, implementation, and willpower. I’ll be doing a series of book reviews on several of the books that I found the most useful, in the hopes that my readers can avoid many of the setbacks, mistakes, and frustrations that I myself experienced.
Out of all the self-improvement books that I’ve read this year, I consider Jeff Olsen’s The Slight Edge to be the most important and useful. In fact, I’ve given the book out as gifts to friends more than any other book (excepting Coleman Barks’ The Soul of Rumi).
The main idea of The Slight Edge is that “There is a natural progression to everything in life: plant, cultivate, and harvest.”
In a good human life, we are planting the seeds of good habits in the hopes of harvesting success–defined, of course, by the goals we set.
But the key to doing this lies in the continual cultivation of those habits–the daily practice of them–over time. As Og Mandingo says in The Greatest Salesman in the World, “I will form good habits, and I will become their slave.”
Good habits are undoubtedly the cornerstones of success.
Now, this may seem like an obvious point, but it really is something that we can easily dismiss in our lives; this is because “sweating the small stuff” isn’t common wisdom. But, as Olsen points out, it truly is the small stuff–the little daily practices–that lead to the major quantum leaps in life.
Major shifts are rarely single events; rather, they are the result of cultivated habits through time. And our culture of instant gratification tends to downplay persistence and long-term investment. As Olsen points out, “The things that create success in the long run don’t look like they’re having any impact at all in the short run.”
Olsen shares his own experiences of life crisis’, those “‘days of disgust’ where we cannot take our failure anymore, and change our life habits.” The problem is that we tend to go from failure to a state of comfort, and then stop there.
But what was truly eye-opening for me is his rather simple observation that if we only continued doing the things necessary for stability–say, eating better, being better with finances, or being proactive in seeking out employment–we would go from stability to success.
One of the keys to doing this is to have a positive life philosophy. “A positive philosophy turns into a positive attitude, which turns into positive actions, which turns into positive results, which turns into a positive lifestyle.” Plant, cultivate and harvest.
The Slight Edge consists of many elaborations upon this basic idea, and although it spans slightly over 200 pages, I never felt like I was reading mere filler. Olsen has a knack for scattering eye-opening, aphorism-like nuggets of wisdom throughout each chapter.
For example, one of my favorite passages is this one: “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.”
Or, “Greatness is always in the moment of decision.” We spend our present moment with one foot in the past, which drags us down, and one foot in the future, which drags us upwards with the inertia of the past. But we can change the future through changing our present; we just concentrate on doing the thing at hand.
There are many more insights in the Slight Edge, and my copy is absolutely filled with underlined passages, which I’ve reread multiple times.
If you are serious about changing your life for the better, if you are in your “day of disgust” and are looking for some wisdom, I cannot recommend this book enough. It was recommended to me by individuals whom I look up to, and I am passing this recommendation on to you.
Olsen is telling us to stop waiting around for a miracle to happen, some gift from the universe that will magically lift us out of the bad habits and failure we’ve created for ourselves. Instead, BE the miracle by choosing to do the work of planting and cultivating NOW.