The Cumulative Effect of Getting Started

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been working on a novel. I started it not quite two years ago and I’ve tried to write at least 100 words a day. That’s a pretty small number, but there have been few days when I have written 300 to 400 words, and there have been some days when I have written nothing.  Of course, doing this little thing for a long time adds up. As of today, I’ve written a little more than 60,000 words. 

James Clear shared a recent post about getting back on track “after slipping up”, something I wrote about last week. In his post he had a point about the importance of even doing small things to stay on track:

“Stick to your schedule, even in small ways.

It’s not the individual impact of missing your schedule that’s a big deal. It’s the cumulative impact of never getting back on track. If you miss one workout, you don’t suddenly feel more out of shape than you were before.

For that reason, it’s critical to stick to your schedule, even if it’s only in a very small way.

Don’t have enough time to do a full workout? Just squat.

Don’t have enough time to write an article? Write a paragraph.

Don’t have enough time to do yoga? Take ten seconds to breathe.

Don’t have enough time to go on vacation? Give yourself a mini–break and drive to the neighboring town.

Individually, these behaviors seem pretty insignificant. But it’s not the individual impact that makes a difference. It’s the cumulative impact of always sticking to your schedule that will carry you to long–term success.

Find a way to stick to the schedule, no matter how small it is.”

James Clear

There are a lot of things that I want to get done and sometimes that means doing things in smaller chunks, such as writing at least 100 words per day in my novel. This morning I got up early so I worked out for almost an hour, but some days I only have 30 minutes, and occasionally even less. I try to get in what I can because of that cumulative effect. I didn’t feel the positive effects of my first workout on the day that I did it, but I feel the accumulation of that workout plus all of the ones since then. The individual bits adds up.


Of course the same is true for things that are bad for me. My wife makes some absolutely delicious pizza, but I can’t eat it every night or the cumulative effects over time wouldn’t be good for my health.

When looking at cumulative effects, I think there are two factors to consider – initial action and consistency, whether it’s a positive or negative cumulative effects.

That first workout was really important, just as the first 100 words I wrote in my novel. If I didn’t take that initial action I would be unfit and have blank page. Want to avoid the negative effects of smoking? Don’t start.

Now if I’d done the first workout and written the first 100 words, but didn’t make them both consistent things that I do, I’d certainly be less fit and not have those 60,000 plus words. Want to see the cumulative effects of an action? Make it a habit.

There is a third factor if you’re hoping to see the positive results from a cumulative effect, and that’s patience. You will not, I repeat, you will not see significant results on day 1. You may not even see them in the first month, depending on what it is you’re doing and the results you’re hoping to see. You need to have patience. I know that’s not always easy, but stick with it and watch your results add up. The more that they do, the more motivated you’ll likely be to keep it going and see greater results.

I took the featured image of one of the many pizzas my wife has made. I’m licensing it as CC-BY.

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