I just finished Darren Hardy's The Compound Effect, and enjoyed it much more than I suspected. At first, I thought this would be another self-help book that suggested a mystical path to success involving the law of attraction, fairy gumdrops, and a "1 time offer" for a $299 e-course. It wasn't.
I thought Hardy's anecdotes would be fluffy and vague, limited by his own experiences, but instead I found the opposite. As I read Hardy's examples many other came to mind, his stories provided a link to mine.
The book has four main areas.
And the main point is this:
If we can make choices that lead to our goals each day, our small actions will have a large effect.
Before diving into the four main areas, there are a number of examples in the beginning that demonstrate how small choices today can have major long term effects. One from the book is to think about what effect 100 calories added or removed from a diet will have. In three years that could be over thirty pounds one way or the other. While three years may seem like a long time, good things take time.
I love my daughters but it seems like 0-3 years was a lot harder than 3-6 has been. Did it take 3 years for me to become a decent parent? Maybe. In an interview with Bill Simmons, film producer Peter Berg shared that great movies take time to come together. Berg explains that if projects have history, they seem to turn out better. Both Friday Night Lights and Lone Survivor seem to be better than average movies because they took years to come together. One of his previous projects, Battleship, wasn't developed this long and that may be part of why it wasn't as good.
After more weight loss, wealth gain, career changing examples, Hardy moves on to ask us to question our Choices - and this really resonated with me. I've been questioning everything this past year, wondering why I choose to do one thing instead of another and Hardy's suggestion is for us to find goals and then work backwards to see if the choices we're making lead to those goals.
One of my favorite bloggers is Jamie Rubin, who's been chronicling his daily writing habits this year and the results are astounding. Rubin has written over 140,000 words this year and to do that he's shared the things he's given up to do them, live television, video games, and 'being clever on the internet.' My guess with Rubin is that he found that making the choice to write led to his goals more directly than these other things.
We all come into this world the same: naked, scared, and ignorant. After that grand entrance, the life we end up with is simply an accumulation of all the choices we make.
I don't think simply can explain the complexity of it all but I do follow his thought that our choices carry a weight that guides our life. I chose to sleep instead of write this morning. I chose to get a master's degree instead of starting a career. I chose to stay at home with our daughters while they were young. My life is the tally of these choices. Hardy says we have to own those choices, he writes:
Everything was up to me. I was responsible for everything I did, didn't do, or how I responded to what was done to me.
I've lost the source, but the founder of a small company once wrote that assuming full responsibility was the best mindset he found when he was running his business.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes about the idea of controlling your thoughts in Man's Search for Meaning.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
After choices Hardy moves on to Habits, and says that "A daily routine built on good habits in the difference that separates the most successful amongst us from everyone else."
Stephen King shared this idea in his book On Writing.
I used to tell interviewers that I work every day except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, and my birthday. That was a lie. I told them that because if you agree to an interview you have to say something, and it plays better if it's something at least half-clever. Also, I didn't want to sound like a workaholic dweeb (just a workaholic, I guess). The truth is that when I'm writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not.
Later on that same page - 153 in my paperback - King writes this:
...during those periods of full stop I usually feel at loose ends with myself and have trouble sleeping. For me, not working is the real work.
King has developed the writing habit so well that it feels odd when he doesn't write.
This section on habits is also when Hardy teeters on the law of attraction. First, let me confess. In 2007, I read The Secret, a book where my main takeaway was that thinking about things made them so. I read it while on vacation at my brother-in-law's house and on the day before we were ready to leave, we were told our rental car would be downsized from what we had reserved. I wanted to test the law of attraction and mentally thought of getting the bigger car we had planned on - and it worked. I was law of attracting for three months but soon the idea lost its footing and I hadn't thought of it again, until this book.
When it came up in this book, my guard was raised. Despite the coincidence with our rental car, I don't believe in the idea that we can mentally bring things toward us like metaphysical Jedi knights. What the book suggests though, is that we use the ideas of what we want to influence or habits and actions. Hardy wants us to think about the things we want so that our actions serve those ends.
My implementation has been to think about a healthier body and to take actions that lead to that. This idea has ranged from eating fewer Christmas cookies to doing five minutes of pushups in the middle of the day. Even though these are little things, they're part of a habit, and will have long-term results.
James Altucher nearly sings about building good habits through daily improvement in Choose Yourself. For Altucher, the daily practice is to right your physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental bodies. He writes:
Devoting yourself to a Daily Practice helps to build incremental improvements in our lives, even if you only notice the tiniest increments at a time. Today they will build up. Every moment they will build up.
Doing the things we choice daily will have big effects.
The third main section of The Compound Effect is Momentum. If making good and thoughtful choices was a building block and creating habits out of those choices was another key part, then momentum is a minor player. In the book Hardy shares two analogies to motivate us to continue following the groundwork laid by our choices and habits.
Think of it like this: If you and I flew planes from Los Angeles to Manhattan, but you took off and landed in every state in between, while I flew straight through, even if you went five hundred miles per hour in the air and I only traveled at a rate of two hundred miles per hour, I'd still beat you by a wide margin.
Later in the same section he gives the analogy that when you pump an old well handle it doesn't give you water right away. You need to keep pumping and pumping until water finally comes out. Though it's fine in the book, Zig Ziglar gives a much better telling of it.
If we're going to go to the trouble to establish these habits from our choices, shouldn't we go ahead and follow them?
The final section is about Acceleration, which like momentum, is a minor role. Hardy tells the story about Lance Armstrong opening up a gap during the hardest moments of his races. He also shares a personal story about making real estate calls when he least wanted to, and presumably his competitors were not. The most compelling story in this section is the lesson Hardy draws from Oprah.
He talks about her season premier in 2004 - the one where she gave away a new car to each member of her audience. Hardy's conclusion is that Oprah's chief driver of success was her ability to do more than expected and that she did in so many areas.
Oprah is not the richest person in the country, she's probably not even the richest in her own city, but she's the most extraordinary.
In each of these cases, Armstrong, himself, and Oprah, the biggest differences were made when each of those people moved past the others when they were being challenged. Armstrong on the mountains, Hardy at five o'clock quitting time, and Oprah when other television shows were giving away smaller things.
The Compound Effect was good, not only because of the content inside, but also because the ideas it contains aren't isolated to the book. The ideas are trends outside the book. Darren Hardy tells me how he did things and how he observed things but there's other evidence too - and that's a good effect.