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On the Effects of Repetition

While riding down High Street this morning, I passed the Greek Orthodox Church south of the Short North, and noticed a small sign on one of the exterior spotlights (the ones that light up the church from the outside).  The sign read "Please clean up after your pets."  My mind began to wander a bit as I went from "man, people need to take responsibility for their pets" to "but what about pee? I bet that light would corrode from being peed on over and over by dogs."

Yeah, kind of gross, I know.

But it led me to thinking about an article I read in Success Magazine a couple weeks ago (the one with Steve Jobs on the cover).  The article was a preview to a new book by the magazine's publisher, Darren Hardy, and was called "The Compound Effect."  Hardy pointed out in the article that success isn't made up of doing hundreds of things once, but rather doing a few small things hundreds of times.

Simple, isn't it?  Let's look at this a bit.

I'll be those dogs' owners didn't think twice about letting their dog pee on that light.  And one or two dogs peeing on it wouldn't hurt it much at all.  But after a year or two, if the church didn't take care of the light and clean it up occasionally, that light's going to corrode.  I saw it happen to an air conditioner in a neighbor's back yard - they let their dogs pee on it till it was eaten through. No kidding.

(Okay, I'll stop talking about pee now.)

Almost everything that happens to us in life is the result of small steps done over and over.  And that's both good and bad. It's like a snowball.  It starts out as a tiny little speck of frozen water, a single snowflake.  It lands on another snowflake and for whatever physical reason, they start to roll.  They pick up more snowflakes, and more, and more, till there's an avalanche rolling down a mountain!

Another example: if I ride to work one day, that's not going to do much for me at all.  Sure, a little exercise never hurt anyone, but one day of exercise is going to be undone really quickly by not getting exercise on all the other days.  But doing it over and over, day after day, that's going to have a big effect on me (and it has).

And Henry Thoreau pointed this same thing out in Walden:  
"I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the Highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!"
Just a few days of walking wore a path.

The interesting thing is that as thinking, intelligent creatures, we can use this to our advantage or our disadvantage.  Habits are created by doing the same things over and over until they're part of our routine.  It's said that it takes 21 days to make something a habit - that you need to do the same thing for 21 days straight before it's part of your consciousness.

But the opposite of that is what I've heard founder JB Glossinger call "making the first exception."  You're working along, trying to build a good habit in your life.  You've gone a few days without watching TV before going to bed, we'll say.  But someone tells you that your favorite actor is guest starring on a TV show that night.  So you say to yourself, "one day isn't going to hurt me. Let's watch." And it's absolutely true - one day isn't going to hurt your sleep too much.

But what's happening on the inside?  What you've just told yourself is that your efforts to create a habit and use the snowball effect to your advantage aren't as important as watching a TV show once.  So the next time, your subconscious is going to feel less resistance as you decide "oh, let's catch part of Monday Night Football before heading up to bed."  And you end up watching the whole game, keeping you up a couple hours past when you wanted to go to bed.   You're tired the next day and you're not effective at going after your goals.

So take some time to figure out how best to use the snowball effect on yourself.  It's a powerful tool or a powerful enemy, however you wish to implement it in your life.  Grab that power for yourself.


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