This is a guest post by my friend Sarah Peterson.
In the summer of 2014, I went on a quest that I sometimes referred to as the “life improvement project”. I became a student of happy living. I consumed as many articles, books, podcasts, videos, and documentaries – anything that I could find that revealed exactly how people lead remarkable, passionate lives. I became entrenched in making tiny (but powerful) changes to my life, and during this period I had an “aha” moment:
Every single change we make to improve our lives pays compound interest.
I came to this realization about a month after I decided to make the first tiny change in my life by waking up earlier.
I had begun to build my business and noticed that there wasn’t enough time in my day to work full-time, commute for half an hour each way, maintain our home and also build my business (all while being a newlywed).
So, my solution was to wake up half an hour earlier.
It was difficult at first. I was groggy and most of the time it was hard to drag myself out of my comfortable, warm bed. But once my body adjusted to the rhythm I’d established, I realized just how valuable the decision to wake up earlier had become to my life.
Not only did this one small change give me more time in the day, but it also helped me sleep better at night and gave me the ability to harness my creative energy when it was at it’s highest.
The one tiny commitment I made at the beginning of my life improvement journey paid me interest in the form of time – time that I could then invest into something else that would further improve my life and also accumulate interest and compound over time.
Those newfound minutes gave me the ability to begin to do two things: journal and meditate. Both of these things provide me with more focus, which pays me interest in the form of doing better work at a faster pace. I’m able to get the “important missions” done more effectively and efficiently than if I didn’t meditate.
They also pay me interest in the form of greater accountability.
I’ve always been somebody who struggles with eating right and exercising, mainly because I love ice cream and I have a hard time saying no when my husband, Jason, wants to go for a walk to our neighbourhood ice cream shop for some cold sweet goodness in a cone.
But meditation and journalling both provide me with the accountability and willpower to say no. And guess what? Those are investments that pay compound interest as well.
Nourishing your body makes you healthier, more energetic, and improves your focus. Exercising helps you sleep better, which reduces your insulin levels, causing you to store less fat. Deeper sleep provides you with more focus, energy, and willpower during the day.
I could go on forever about all of the positive changes I’ve experienced since making that initial change of waking up earlier, but I think you get the picture.
Every tiny, seemingly insignificant change you make to your life doesn’t just change that one area of your life. If these changes are positive, they pay interest. But not just any interest: compound interest.
Compound interest happens when you earn interest off of the interest you’ve already earned. So in financial terms, if you invest $100 and make 10% on it each year, you’d have $110.
The compounding part comes in when the interest is calculated based on that new total. Instead of making 10% on $100 the next year, you’d make 10% on $110. So instead of earning $10, you’d earn $11. This continues – so next year, you’d make 10% on $121.
In my example, waking up earlier paid me interest in the amount of time it earned me to meditate and journal. Those activities compounded the interest because they also improved my life by giving me more focus and willpower to do better work and to be healthy.
How to Start Making Small Compounding Changes in Your Life
Chances are, you’ve seen the impact that small changes can make to your life.
Have you ever gone to the gym one morning and found that you had more energy throughout the day? If you’ve ever had that feeling, you’ve experienced this at a small scale. But the real progress is made when you make these changes stick.
So what change should you make to start accumulating compound interest on your life?
I don’t have all the answers, but I found that these few things worked for me:
- Start Small: The best place to start is where you are. Cut one 30-minute TV show out of your day. Spend 15 minutes less on Facebook. Meditate for 5 minutes. Don’t try to jump from the ground floor to the second story. Just take the first step.
- Listen to Yourself: If you don’t know where to start, tune into yourself. What are your feelings telling you? If you always feel guilty when you roll over and grab your phone first thing in the morning to check your email rather than making yourself a priority, your body and brain are trying to tell you something. Guilt is often your subconscious telling you that you’re better than your actions.
- Sharpen Your Ax: Abraham Lincoln said: “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax”. When you’re sharpening your ax in your life, you’re choosing to focus on the small number of activities that will give you the highest impact. If you’re trying to choose between three things you can do to start investing in yourself, ask yourself which of them has the highest interest rate.
For example, there are a million things I could do with my blog and business. I could spend more time on social media, or I could focus on YouTube and create video content for my audience. But what pays the most interest for me is writing. Specifically, writing for other websites like I’m doing right now. It will pay the highest interest rate and compound at a faster rate, as I’m able to reach more people with my message.
So consider this in your own life. Which of the things you could start with would pay you the most interest?
Wherever you choose to start, there’s nothing more important than this:
We too often hear about a concept or an idea and either never take action because we let it sit for too long or use research or “thinking about it” as an excuse not to act. There’s no wrong answer here, so:
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the interest accumulates.
What are some small changes you’ve made in your life that have paid off?
Sarah Peterson is the writer behind Unsettle.org, where she encourages people to take action and improve their lives by building a career they love. Join her newsletter to find out how to start a side hustle and do what you love.