I have a bit of an obsession lately with the idea of incremental change and its cousin, compounding. It started about a year ago with a podcast that Patrick O’Shaughnessy did with (I think) Trish and James Higgins of Chenmark Capital. One of them brought up the idea of “incrementally better tomorrow” and it laid an egg in my ear. And recently the idea keeps popping up. Carl Richards did a perfect sketch in a recent piece on his podcast, Behavior Gap Radio. It encapsulates this whole idea:
Then again recently Nick over at Of Dollars and Data wrote something else along these lines, about how small early changes can lead to tremendous outcomes.
And now I’m seeing, hearing and reading this idea everywhere and thinking about how it applies to nearly every facet of my life.
In 2016 I raced my first real mountain bike race and this year things got more serious for me on the bike. I took training more seriously and thought about more than “just riding.” I can look back over my fitness and handling skill and see that in 24 months I really have made huge progress on the bike. I am faster, fitter and a better descender than I ever thought I would be. I can’t pinpoint the moment that it happened. It wasn’t the result of a single training ride or book I read or skill I practiced. It was the result of hundreds of training rides, hundreds of descents. Trying small things and failing, and trying again. Recovery days and interval days and long, grind-it-out days were all part of it. It has been the series of small, regular decisions that has gotten me this far.
For most of my life I have been short-tempered. It is not a personality trait I’m too fond of. It has created barriers and caused unnecessary strain on my family. Losing your temper is also an objectively horrible feeling. Last year I set off do try to do something about it, and (among other things) I started meditating regularly. Just a simple practice of mindfulness for 10 minutes or so is all it has been. Meditation isn’t a medical cure-all and it’s not magic. I wasn’t instantly cured of all of my personality faults after the first week. But a steady practice over time has led to a material change in my mental state. I am calmer. I am more patient. I am less likely to lose it over chores not done and Legos stepped on and two wonderful little girls having a screaming match with each other. Again in another of Patrick’s podcast episodes, with Peter Attia, Peter brings up the idea of “Distress Tolerance.” I love this – a bank that you can build up to have the resolve to deal with distressing events in your life. If the bank is empty, getting cut off in traffic can bring out the worst in you. Meditation and mindfulness helps build my distress tolerance bank.
And the last but hardly least important reflection on incremental change and compounding in my life is this firm. Bason has been built one client at a time. There was no acquisition of another business, no massive marketing campaign, no coupon flyer that has led to the place I am today. It started with one client, and then a second. Then months of no new clients. And slowly, one client at a time, I found myself with a pretty full bus. It snuck up on me, to be honest. Sure, I can pinpoint a few events that pushed the snowball down the hill a little faster, including Jason Zweig’s early mention of the firm in his Intelligent Investor column in March 2014. But mostly I have found myself taking one new client at a time as they come. Suddenly (after five years, actually) I find myself with a robust practice and a bunch of wonderful clients that I’m hoping to keep around for a long time.
All of these little things compound. Yesterday’s suffering on the indoor trainer by itself isn’t much. But a full winter of building my base fitness is going to pay off next summer. Lifting at the gym Monday morning at 5:30 by itself didn’t make a noticeable change to my strength and body composition. But since I’ve been back in the gym since September, I can notice a small improvement and I know that by summer the increase in strength will be big. Meditating this morning will have a tiny impact on my day today, but meditating 5-7 days a week for a year and a half has had a huge impact on who I will be today. Bringing on one new client this month won’t make a huge difference to my personal bottom line, but doing that once or twice a month for the last 3-4 years has completely turned my life upside down.
And I’ll end my philosophical ravings with this: do one small thing today that, if repeated consistently, will change your life in five years. And try to do it again tomorrow.