Are Your Daily Actions Working for You, or Against You?

February 29, 2016


Hello, friends! As you know, I’m taking a couple weeks off post-surgery. The good news: my friend Anthony is taking over the blog this week. Enjoy this post, say hi to Anthony and I’ll see you next Monday! xo

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” – Ovid

It has only been a few years since my minimalism journey began, but so much has changed since then. After compiling four years of Amazon transactions, I discovered how in small increments of $20 purchases, my impulsive spending was holding me back from the lifestyle I had always wanted. I dreamed of traveling, location flexibility, and spending more time working on passion projects, but my frequent purchases kept me chasing credit card bills at the end of every month.

To make sure I created a solid change in my life, I pledged to travel somewhere every month in 2015 by cutting the Amazon spending and living more intentionally. Having this commitment ensured that I stuck to my guns on buying less and experiencing more. After successfully completing that challenge, the impact of what we do every single day really hit home. While each day may seem insignificant, after months and years the individual actions ended up making a massive impact on my life.

With a particular vision in mind, I was able to focus my energy on looking for bargain flights, travel hacks, and any opportunity to visit a friend or family member that I could find. It helped me realize that when I had one overall goal in mind, I could spend a little bit of time each day doing some research, or looking for the right opportunities to make it real. Those small daily tasks ended up making a rather large and daunting task very possible.

The real kicker was that I actually spent less money on traveling 12 times than I had on online shopping the year prior. I managed to do that, and still save almost 20% of my income for the year. How’s that for a wake up call?

The unfortunate part is that it took years of spending for me to finally see the damage that was being done. When a storm comes through and destroys a house, the devastating damage is easy to see. When the damage is done slowly over time, however, that same house may nearly fall to the ground before being noticed.

Once all the damage was done and totalled, it was obvious. Looking at that cumulative sum is hard to deny—but day-to-day, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

After reflecting on my 2015 achievements, what I needed to do going forward became crystal clear. I could utilize the same strategy that previously created so much financial harm, but for a positive outcome. Now, I would take the small actions I did every day and ensure that they were moving me forward towards my goals.

We are, after all, what we do every day.

For 2016, I decided on a new direction and formulated a way to break it down into small daily actions. For example, I wanted to read more books, so I decided to read 20 pages per day until I finished each book from start-to-finish. In order to improve my writing, I committed to writing 500 words per day for the year. Although seemingly small, that adds up to over 7,300 pages (over 30 books) read and 182,000 words (2-3 books) written in 2016.

It hasn’t even been two months and I’ve already started seeing the benefits of these daily actions. I’ve crossed more books off my reading list than I had in six months prior. I’ve written tens of thousands of words that, while many will never see the light of day, are helping me become a more consistent writer.

The best part of this, is that these same principles can be applied to every area of life, from health and fitness to savings accounts. Can you imagine if I had simply been saving those small daily Amazon purchases instead of spending it?

With that in mind, here are some things to consider while on your own journey to make each day a small victory that adds up to long-term success.

If you don’t have much time or energy, do the smallest thing you can that gets you moving in the right direction. Even reading a single page of a book, or paying off $1 of credit card debt is forward momentum. The only goal is to make today one small step further along than yesterday. By making this small effort consistently, you’ll build a foundation of success and be more likely to continue the habit in the future. This creates a psychological investment in the action, and reduces the effort required to continue doing so going forward.

When starting to implement positive changes, pick just one thing to focus on every day. There are so many different ways we can improve ourselves that trying to do everything at once can be incredibly overwhelming. There is plenty of time to build all the good habits you’d like—the most important thing is that you start with just one. Pick one small thing and make sure you do it consistently every single day. After a week or two, consider adding to another.

Celebrate action, not results. Sometimes results come quickly, other times it can seem to take an eternity. What’s important is that you celebrate the fact that you succeeded in doing the small task every single day. Trust me, if you’re consistent in your effort, the results will come through. The true victory is in daily action towards your long-term goals.

While we can’t change the past, the best we can do is change how we spend our time going forward. With that in mind, consider what things you do every day that might be working against you, and which things might be moving you in the right direction. Each day is an opportunity to correct the course and continue heading towards the lives we’ve imagined.

Anthony Ongaro is the creator of Break the Twitch where he helps others explore ways to live a more intentional life. You can follow Break the Twitch on Twitter and Facebook

  • ladyfrufru February 29, 2016 at 4:59 am

    I totally believe that tiny habits are the stepping stones to big changes. It’s less daunting to do things in small bits. Also, running numbers are so important: they can help dispel myth and fixed ways of thinking–as you wrote about when traveling cost less than your Amazon purchases.

    • Cait Flanders March 1, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Couldn’t agree more. I relate to Anthony’s post so much because I did the same thing with Amazon for years – just with books, but I felt like those $25-30 transactions were nothing. In reality, I paid at least $1,000 for books I never read (and could’ve gone on an epic trip with that money instead, too).

      • ltw March 4, 2016 at 11:44 am

        Me too! I am so thankful I found your blog or I’d still be handing over whole paychecks to Amazon in little bits and pieces. I recently thought about tallying it all up and was terrified just at the thought of it. That’s even more reason to do it. There is an old saying about ‘nickel and diming your self to death’ and I have become expert at that over the years! I haven’t spent huge sums at a time, but the small transactions have added up to a point where I have not had money available for the things that are really important to me in life, like travel for one. I can so relate to this post. There are so many things I wished and wanted to have money for….I have two children who will be in college soon….and God forbid the guilt I would feel if there were ever held back from pursuing their dreams because of money I squandered that would have been better off put away for things like college tuition. We live and we learn. I know they will be fine. My parents didn’t pay for my college tuition. But knowing what I could have done had I made better choices can riddle me with guilt at times. But I am empowered and inspired by your blog and I know that it is never too late to change course. And I am most of all so happy to be turning things around now while they are still young enough to learn from my example. I have a lot of life ahead to live and so do they. No regrets. Onward and forward!
        P.S. I am going to read that quote every day for inspiration. It is certainly worth remembering.

  • Ashley February 29, 2016 at 6:40 am

    What an excellent quote to start the post! I also really like your last point, it is easy to say I have tried taking action for x amount of time and haven’t seen results, I might as well give up. Cellebrating action is a requirement to keep your motivation up when pursuing a difficult goal or a goal with a long timeline.

    • Anthony Ongaro February 29, 2016 at 8:28 am

      You got it – keep it light, keep it consistent, and it’s guaranteed progress over time. Thanks for your comment.

  • gail February 29, 2016 at 6:43 am

    Thank you, Anthony, this was the reminder and the inspiration I needed today to continue on my simple, intentional journey!

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      I’m so glad to hear that Gail, and you’re welcome. Thank you for your comment.

  • Liz February 29, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Small steps lead to big rewards – I have always been able to apply this to running, and often joke that finishing a marathon is easy: left, right repeat. I don’t know why it’s taken to long to apply the same theory to other parts of my life!

    If the only market of success is running 42.2, then what are all the training runs about?!
    If the only marker of success is being debt free, then what are all the little debt repayments about?

    • Anthony Ongaro February 29, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Liz, it’s the journey – you’re absolutely right. Thanks for your comment.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach February 29, 2016 at 8:15 am

    I agree that taking small actions each day, but done repeatedly can help us build successful habits. It’s all about inertia, which I think is something I mentioned on your blog on another post you wrote.

    • Anthony Ongaro February 29, 2016 at 8:27 am

      Hi Tonya! Yes, I appreciate that. Creating that inertia, that momentum is everything.

  • Daisy @ Simplicity Relished February 29, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I love your one-step-at-a-time approach! Our culture just loves to go big or go home, but most goals are accomplished with those simple, everyday decisions.

    • Anthony Ongaro February 29, 2016 at 8:26 am

      Thank you Daisy, I think you’re absolutely right. I do believe the ‘no pain/no gain’ mentality is actually hurting more than it helps. Thanks for your comment.

  • Lynn February 29, 2016 at 9:20 am

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the regret of what we did in the past and not be able to see how to move forward. Your tips make it much easier to do that. Thank you, Anthony.

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you Lynn. You got it, you are only this moment. Onward!

  • Revanche February 29, 2016 at 9:59 am

    Perfect post for this Monday when goals seem daunting than most! Normally I subscribe to the belief that nothing worth having is likely going to be easy to achieve but that’s not always true. Or rather, it can be easy if you adjust your mindset to accept that simple actions can have as valuable outcomes as dramatically sweeping choices. I liken this to my habit of tidying versus my husband’s deep cleaning: we both achieve cleanliness with vastly different approaches and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Cait Flanders March 1, 2016 at 11:18 am

      YES! Oh my gosh, I’ve thought about that quote a lot lately, friend – that nothing worth having comes easy. It’s true, if you only look at the BIG picture, but it takes very small steps (done many times) to make big things happen. The small steps are easy – you just have to add them to your routine and make them part of your life. :)

  • Tyler February 29, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    This is EXACTLY what I needed today, I’m want to do better with content on my blog as well as finally get in shape. My plan is to do small things everyday to get there so this is perfect for me thanks so much for this article.

    • Cait Flanders March 1, 2016 at 11:19 am

      With the “finally get in shape” part, Tyler, can I suggest you first WIN being that you’re not getting takeout anymore? Cutting Starbucks alone helped me drop a few pounds fast, because I wasn’t taking in that sugar anymore. So just keep doing that… and then add in things like healthier snacks, a few workouts, etc. But you’re starting by changing one daily habit, which is huge in and of itself. :)

  • Marii-Heleen February 29, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Such a great post! I totally agree that first we have to notice what is not helping us to reach our goals and then we can step by step form new habits to change this. I also read a little booklet by James Clear about habit transformation and wrote a little summary about it:
    I would definitely recommend reading the 49 pages book and get inspired!

    • Cait Flanders March 1, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Yes! My friend Sarah suggested I read this last year and it was a game changer. Thanks for sharing!

  • Mary February 29, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    This is a wonderful guest post that is well thought out, beautifully written, inspiring, and most importantly it’s actionable. Will keep an eye out for you Anthony, you’ve got lots to offer!

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you Mary, that means the world to me. I appreciate it!

  • Aziza March 1, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    I appreciate the thought about doing the “smallest thing.” Our world is becoming increasingly complex and so many people are overwhelmed in their daily lives. Small actions may not always feel as satisfying as the big dramatic changes that we’re hoping for – but with consistency and a little bit of joy we can slowly build new habits.

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:52 pm

      Absolutely. We’re being trained to want instant results, and real progress simply doesn’t work that way. When we look back, all the small actions will become everything we needed them to be.

  • Mary C March 1, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    I love this post and I am in the same situation. I make almost no big purchases yet I come out each month with a big bill thinking, “I’ve only bought lunch and lattes, how did this happen?” I’m starting to track my spending and am currently in a No-Spend-March!

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Thank you for your comment Mary – I hope you have some wonderful, peaceful experiences during your no-spend-march! :)

  • Broke Millennial March 3, 2016 at 6:01 am

    I love how specifically actionable each item is. 20 pages a day might be something I steal. Makes it even easier than “read one book a month.”

    Traveling is something I love too and I usually end up traveling once a month, but lately it feels like none of the trips are destinations of my choosing thanks to weddings and college friend reunions and the like. I’m looking forward to when 5-7 weddings a year are no longer the norm and I get regain control over my destinations!

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      It is interesting how there is a period of life where your vacations are largely decided for you, isn’t it? Best of luck on your reading goals and future travel destinations.

  • Jessie's Money March 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Wonderful guest post.

    We’re not doing a complete no-spend, but we are doing a no eating out month to see how that goes…it’s our nemesis.

    • Anthony Ongaro March 3, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Jessie, I hear you – eating out can seem harmless but adds up quickly. It’s those little things! Best of luck on your month and going forward from there.

  • Jen @ Frugal Millennial March 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    “If you don’t have much time or energy, do the smallest thing you can that gets you moving in the right direction.” Great advice! I’m a perfectionist and I tend to be critical of myself if I don’t work very hard. But there are times when we just don’t have the energy to give it our all, and it’s better to at least do something instead of nothing! When I feel this way, I’ll tell myself that it’s okay to just write a paragraph or just work out for 20 minutes instead of a full hour. Something is better than nothing!