This one lesson, applied, will have a bigger impact on your life than anything else I could ever teach…
This morning, before starting work, I did 38 pull-ups on the gymnastics rings I have hanging from my home office ceiling.
Yesterday, I did 36.
On my birthday, September 30th, I did 6 pull-ups.
Now, before you get too excited at my super-human strength, I’ll note that I’m NOT doing this all in a row, in a single set. I break them up, as needed, to get to my daily goal. But the point is that I do them. Today, I did two more than yesterday. Tomorrow, I’ll do two more than today.
And with the exception of weekend rest-days (which my body told me I needed after 15-straight days of adding 2 reps per day), I’m adding two more pull-ups every single day. Assuming my body keeps cooperating and I stick to the plan, this will get me to 100 pull-ups in a single day on November 30th.
The point of this isn’t to brag.
The point of this is that on September 30th, I would’ve killed myself to do 38 pull-ups. Today, it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t that hard.
And every day I do it, my muscles are more and more capable.
It’s not about big gains. It’s about little gains, repeated through time, compounding results.
This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again…
Warren Buffett became the world’s most successful investor on this principle. He never swings for the fences on an investment. He just finds those investments likely to keep growing his capital a little bit every day.
One of my copywriting heroes, Mark Ford (also known as Michael Masterson), also teaches about growing your wealth this way. While his businesses have often attracted investors who want home run investments, his goals are more modest. Each day, he simply wants to be a little richer than the day before. When starting out, this may mean adding a couple bucks to savings, on a daily basis. Later you may be able to add hundreds or even thousands per day to your wealth accounts. And yet it’s the same practice of getting a little richer every day.
Perhaps the world’s best living copywriter, the retired Gary Bencivenga, also taught this about developing your career skills. If you improve yourself just 1% per week, you’re setting yourself on an incredible growth trajectory. Because of the miracle of compounding, after a year (52 weeks), you’re not 52% better, but 66% better. In two years, you’re 178% better.
But here’s where things get really astounding. Over ten years (520 weeks), that small incremental improvement of 1% per week doesn’t make you five-times better (520%), but 173-times. In 20 years, your skills compounded by 1% per week are 3,089,536% greater than they were when you started.
This is the miracle of Kaizen…
Yet another of my influences on this topic was my very first copywriting client, David Bullock. David was and still is one of the world’s foremost authorities on using advanced statistical models to test your marketing campaigns.
As part of sharing his expertise with me, David introduced me to a Japanese concept called kaizen. It’s a large part of why so many of the technological innovations of the 20th century came from Japan.
Kaizen is the practice of making continuous incremental improvements. Each of which may seem relatively insignificant. But together, they represent a massive improvement in the performance of any given system.
So, for example, a business that improves 11 critical parts of the customer journey by 11% each doesn’t get 11 times 11% growth (121%) but rather grows by 3X. And those same 11 parts of the customer journey improved by just 25% each create 11-times growth in the business. (This is the principle behind my Most Valuable Customer Strategy training.)
Although there are a million new applications for this, this lesson is as old as civilization…
I’ve mentioned in recent essays that I’ve been proactively studying the ancient philosophy of Stoicism recently. It’s meant as a practical philosophy, and has been followed by everyone from slaves to emperors in ancient Rome, and today by leading entrepreneurs, political and social leaders, and even the US military.
Stoicism is meant to help you live a good life, plain and simple.
And this lesson is one taught in Stoicism as well.
Each day, you try to be a little better than you were the last.
So much of Stoicism is focused on living a good life, a life of virtue. Following the lessons of Stoicism, you never believe that you’re superior. Rather, you recognize all your shortcomings with radical honesty, and seek to be a little better every day.
It’s in this vein that Seneca said, “I am satisfied if each day I make some reduction in the number of my vices and find fault with my mistakes.”
You’ll never be perfect. You’ll never be free of your vices.
There will always be a higher answer to the question of, “How high is high?”
And that applies whether we’re talking about your virtue, your health, your career skills, your wealth, your business profits, or anything else.
The question is, if you want to go higher, what will you do today to get just a little better? And then tomorrow? And the day after? And the day after?
And then each day judge yourself by the mistakes you made, that kept you from living your best life — only judged against who you were yesterday.
There will be many days where you fail…
There will be many days where who you are feels like a failure against who you were yesterday.
The question is always, “What can you learn from your failure, and how will that lesson help you going forward?”
When — after 15 days of continually-increasing pull-up counts — I was down to doing one pull-up at a time just to add to my daily count, it felt like a failure.
My muscles were dead.
But in that moment, I was able to step back, and ask if another day of that was truly better than giving my tired muscles a break.
I actually decided that to get better every day, I had to “go backwards” and take two days’ rest.
My muscles throbbed from the inside as they recovered from the fatigue.
But when I started up again, the reps became easier.
I learned from pushing my body to the point of failure.
And I was able to adapt, to increase my capability.
If you think I’m just talking about fitness, you miss the point.
This is life.
Every day you have lessons — in both success and failure — that you can use to improve.
The question is, will you learn and use them?
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,