Compounding Action

CompoundingWhen I was a young kid around 11 years old, 2 of my friends and I thought it would be really cool if we could build a log cabin in the woods behind my grandmother’s house. She had a large stand of fir trees behind her house that one of my uncles had planted when he was young. I found an old hatchet that was my father’s, and a folding camp saw and headed to the woods with my buddies. We started the process of cutting down some trees. I still remember the surprise that I felt, which was more like a wake-up call that I totally ignored, when we were chopping the first tree with a dull hatchet. I realized for the first time how long this was going to take. The three of us spent the entire afternoon after school trying to chop down our first tree. We took turns with the dull hatchet, trading off when we were tired. Eventually the big tree finally fell over, just in time for us all to go home before our parents got suspicious. We returned to our building site every day after school, and one weekend we were there all day on a Saturday. After one week of chopping and sawing we had the first course of logs notched and put together on our cabin. Unfortunately, one evening one of my pals accidentally chopped my other buddy’s hand with the dull hatchet, which required a trip to the hospital and stitches. OSHA had to shut us down for safety violations.

Even though this story ended in a total failure, it reminded me of a concept that we all need to be more aware of, and use to our advantage. That concept is called the effects of compounding action. Most of us know about compounding interest when it comes to investments. For those that may not be familiar with compounding interest I will give you an example. If someone were to offer you 1 million dollars or a single penny that doubled every day, which would you choose? If you chose the 1 penny that doubled every day, after 30 days you would have $5,368,709.12. This story illustrates the power of compounding interest.

Let’s take that same principle and apply it to our activities, or how we spend our time. If you had a goal to write a book, what do you think would work better, sitting down and trying to write the book as quickly as possible, or setting aside one hour each day at the same time to write? I will tell you that I have been writing this blog once per week for over 10 years and have well over 500 pages of blogs. If you were to ask me to write a 500-page book as quickly as I can, I probably will give up on it because I don’t enjoy sitting at a computer and writing. This is much like the story of chopping down the trees. Little by little, with some effort applied each day you make progress. When we go for the
single focus with no plan other than to get it done as fast as possible, it leads to burn out and ultimately giving up.

Our biggest fault is that we are addicted to instant gratification. We want that beach body in 90 days. We want the get rich quick scheme. Why do you think gambling is so popular? It is a chance to get a large payout with a small investment, but what are the odds? The odds are that you will lose more times than you will win. Casinos are built on losers. This is why it is far better to develop the habits and behaviors that are necessary to achieve your goals than it is to just get all motivated and fired up to rock your goals with no real plan of action to get there.

If you can spend just 20 minutes working on a goal each day, it is far more effective than it is to spend 2 hours once per week. Abraham Lincoln is often quoted for saying “If I had 8 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend the first 6 sharpening my axe.” In this quote the first 6 hours represents taking time to be prepared to do the work. We do not need to carve out huge blocks of time, but we do have to be consistent and dedicated to the blocks of time that we are dedicating to the actions and behaviors that will produce the results we are looking for. If you see success, study the actions and behaviors behind it and you will see how the success was achieved.


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