The Simple Math of Success

You all already know the “secret” to success.

But you love searching for it. The funny thing about it is, the most obvious answers are always right in front of us. We see it, yet still want something newer, more exciting or exclusive. Barring exceptions like freak athletes, born-geniuses and other rare specimens of human excellence, most of us are given a fairly average set of skills.

It’s a comforting fact to know that we’re all fairly average, even those people who are amazing at whatever skill they have chosen to pursue. Unfortunately, we usually forget this when faced with the awesomeness of those better than us.  What happens is simple, yet common:

We get seduced by complexity.

We forget that even the most complex skills and ability are the result of a series of sequentially more difficult steps.  This is the “secret” that most of us already know, but are dying to hear again and again.  Some of us (me included) will even read 200-300 page books constantly reiterating this same basic point.

There is no secret to success other than hard work. Lots and lots of it. If anyone promises you anything else they’re lying to you.

The thing about hard work is it’s mathematical and most of us aren’t good at math.

Math has been relegated to something that most of us only use to calculate how to split the dinner bill. Hard work is about compounding results and when we talk about compounding we’re talking about some pretty big numbers.

And most of us don’t understand big numbers.

Try this thought experiment from Darren Hardy:

If you were given a choice between having three million dollars cold hard cash in your hand now or a single penny that doubled every day for a month, which would you choose?

You might be a bit biased since you’re reading an article about personal development, but if you’re like most people you’d take the 3 million, buy yourself a new car, get drunk and maybe politely “inform” your boss you won’t be working for him/her anymore.

However, it’s important to look at the math behind this question.

If you choose the penny, on day five you would have only 16 cents and your friend who took the $3 million would be laughing at you. On day 10, you now have an amazing $5.12, just enough to buy a Big Mac meal. Day 20, with only 11 days to go, you now have $5,243 and are probably starting to feel regretful about your decision, but that’s when compounding starts.

On day 29, just nine days later, your penny has exploded to $2.7 million. Finally, on the last day you are standing with a whopping 10.7 million while your friend has only a measly 3 million. 🙁

Now you might be thinking, “Hey, three million isn’t bad!” and don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind three million dollars in one giant non-taxed lump sum, but the point is that most of us are woefully lacking the ability to understand big numbers. And that is exactly why we think we can’t reach the level of success of those ahead of us.

When we invest time, energy or money into a new habit, we are compounding. Plain and simple. This is the magic of “habitual compounding”. Einstein once referred to the compounding effect as, “the greatest invention of mankind”. The same goes for habitual compounding.

effectiveness is a function of simplicity

There is no secret in any of this stuff, but there is something that most of us don’t take into account.  It’s called the “saturation point”.

The Magic of the Saturation Point

Starting any new habit or committing to daily work might be initially demanding but once it passes a certain point results start becoming more and more abundant. Once you reach a saturation point, results start multiplying and compounding. The effort that you put in while working hard starts to come back to you.

This often happens in ways that aren’t immediately imaginable or conceivable from the onset.

The saturation point of compounding is magical and I don’t say this lightly. Opportunities start to manifest themselves in ways that you would have never guessed. This might sound like some pseudoscientific “law of attraction” kind of thinking but it isn’t. It’s simple math.

The more effort you put forth, the more you put yourself out there. The more of your work, energy and art is out there in the world the more future opportunities present themselves.

Let me give you some examples from my own life:

  • New SEO contract based on some simple free consultation I did for a friend’s friend last month. A simple half-hour of consulting work for someone’s website led to a recurring monthly contract three months after the initial consultation. Not the same person, but a friend who they recommended use my service.
  • Linkedin Profile. I wrote some recommendations for fellow teacher. I had totally forgotten about this until I was contacted several months after in regards to an opportunity to work at a new international school.
  • Monthly coaching for new authors. Someone who had read one of my books reached out through email and asked if I’d be interested in helping them with some coaching for a new book/product launch.

The point of all of these isn’t to brag, but to show you compounding in action. I haven’t reached any sort of huge saturation point, instead I’m receiving small dividends for work I’ve done along the way. The more you put yourself out there, the more things start opening up. Possibilities and connections that you previously hadn’t thought possible start popping up here and there.

Doing the work is tricky business. Sometimes you engage in something and think why the hell did I do that for the last 45 minutes. Rewards don’t manifest themselves immediately and sometimes they don’t appear for months or even years after. A project that you started that ended horribly might not immediately provide anything other than frustration, but four months later, something just “clicks” in your head and you figure out exactly what kind of mistake you made.

Compounding isn’t about quick rewards. If you want quick rewards go eat a cheeseburger or go look at how many people like your newest Facebook status update.

Habitual compounding is about a long-term growth mindset. It functions on a simple mathematical process.

Your Choices (decisions) + Behavior (action) + Habit (repeated action) + Compound Effect (Time) = Success

The takeaway from all of this is that habitual compounding is difficult to understand for two reasons:

  1. Compounding actions work exponentially and big exponentially created numbers or opportunities are difficult to understand.
  2. Rewards aren’t directly accessible and often take months or “years” to cultivate.

In light of all of this it’s important to ask yourself this one simple question: Are you compounding daily?

If this seems to abstract, let’s simplify:

1) Are you making new connections? With ideas, people or techniques.

2) Are you investing at least 30 minutes daily towards something that can grow in the future?

And most importantly….

3) Are you helping others?

Building something great isn’t difficult. The greatest things are built one step at a time.

It doesn’t start tomorrow or a week from now. It starts today.

  • Michael Wald

    You’ve articulated something I’ve been thinking about for years