The boring secret of getting what you want in life
Have you had a life-long dream that’s just never come true? Are you fed up of working away day after day with no real reward? Do you feel lost, like you just don’t know what you want any more?
This is how I felt in the summer of 2015, worse actually. My eight-year battle with depression was choking me. (Okay that’s over dramatic. It wasn’t choking me. In fact it was simply coaxing me back into bed with comfy oversized PJs, a family sized packet of biscuits and a fantastic boxset. “You don’t need to go out in the big bad world Lisa, stay here where it’s safe! Watch Dexter. Look, this is fun and perfectly normal”. Yer right. What’s not to love about depression?!) Plus, I was living at home with parents and I was living hand to mouth: there was always more month left over at the end of my wages and things were spiralling down and down. My life was totally out of control.
Sitting on the bathroom floor crying one evening, I wondered how the hell I’d gotten into this mess. What had happened? Where did it all go wrong? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I just knew things had to change. And they did. Things changed quickly.
Within about a month of that bathroom floor moment, I’d set a plan in motion designed to transform my life. I marched into the office one day, collared Alice and said: “This is what I want to do”. She read the plan, saw the look on my face and said “Okay, what’s first?”.
Changing my life
The plan was ambitious. It had to be. Everything in my life was so connected. Pressing ‘go’ was like hitting the first domino in a huge chain reaction style event. There was no going back. For example, I knew I had to downsize my marketing agency and that would mean difficult conversations with my team and my clients. Once I’d told clients what I was doing, they’d most certainly leave and look for a new agency – for some of them I advised it for others I knew I was still the right choice. Once I’d told my team what I was doing, they would need to look for new jobs, or become self employed themselves. Without such a big team I couldn’t support so many client contracts. Without so many contracts we didn’t have the same revenue and without that I couldn’t handle the borrowing. And on it went.
Domino by domino each action triggered the next until the company was down to two people – me and Alice – and a few core contracts. I was left staring at £85k losses (I originally thought it was £70k) to repay with no new work on the horizon. It was both terrifying and fucking liberating. I’d done it! The one thing I was scared to do, I’d really bloody done it.
Change was afoot and month by month I followed the plan, paying off huge chunks of debt initially, slowing to smaller and smaller repayments as the contracts ended and my revenue shrank from £25k+ each month to less than 10k on a good month! Alice and I reduced our wages to £8k per year and cut back on everything. And I mean everything. She wouldn’t even allow Hootsuite to schedule content. I think she knew the law of compounding long before I did! More on that in a moment…
This week I met with my accountant and she confirmed my £85k losses for 2015 against a revenue figure of £150k for the year – £100k off target. We were originally on track for quarter of a million and that’s why I invested so heavily in offices, people and infrastructure – it was all part of a very well thought out plan. We were going for it and we probably would have made it if I’d have stuck with it. But I didn’t want to. I wanted something else. I wanted happiness and I was prepared to pay for it. £85k no less.
[Related blog – Why happiness cost me £70,000]
My accountant was really impressed. I’m told that many other people in that position would have filed for involuntary insolvency – this is what happens when you just haven’t got the means to pay your bills: they shut down your company and wipe out the debt. So many people recommended I take that course of action but she never did. She always asked me how I wanted to do it and I wanted to pay it back. Every last penny.
The compounding effect
The way I saw it was that it was a lesson to be learnt. If you do the crime, you do the time so to speak. Plus there was clearly something I had to learn about money and I knew the lesson would just keep showing up until I learnt it. And this was an £85k lesson in business management, money management and life management. I never ended up owing £85k by one poor decision or one wrong move. It was the effect of compounding: one bad decision after another, one red flag ignored after another. I always remember Tony Robbins saying in a You Tube video that companies don’t collapse all of a sudden – it builds up to that moment over time. We ignore the signs and don’t take care of business and then the company collapses, right on plan.
And this is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt from being in debt. Nothing in life happens ‘all of a sudden’. There are always warning signals, signs that we either face and deal with or shy away from and ignore. One bill not paid turns into two. Two turn into three and off you go down the rabbit hole. It’s the same with health, relationships and life in general – one biscuit doesn’t make you obese. It’s the compound effect of biscuits every day. One fight doesn’t bring a relationship to its end – it’s the compound effect of 100 little moments and missed opportunities.
The same is true in reverse too, however. One walk every day, one date night every week, 10% of earnings saved each month – they all have an incredibly positive effect when compounded over time. It’s actually called the law of compounding. The trouble is, people think the small things they do each day don’t matter. But they do, they really really do!
The secret of success
You see, the secret of success is not about making one big right move. It’s about making the right decision over and over again for a long period of time. And, that right decision is rarely the most appealing option at the time. Let’s be honest: we never think that one biscuit or that one drink each night or that one missed family meal is going to have that big of an impact right? But over time it does.
Have you ever made a snowman? You start with the tiniest handful of snow. You pack on as much as you can with your hands and then you drop it to the ground and start rolling. It starts off so small and piddly but with each roll it grows and grows and grows. Finally, in the final few rolls the massive surface area picks up more snow than you could carry and the snowball becomes immense, immovable.
It’s the tiny, small habits you take and build on each day that snowball into a pattern, which results in an outcome. Pay your bills on time, raise and chase each invoice, Tweet consistently every day and you have a great business (well, almost!). Ignore a bill or two, leave outstanding invoices, miss a few deadlines and things compound. It becomes your culture, your attitude, your philosophy.
Joe Wicks (the Body Coach) gave a great example in a recent interview in a popular paper. He talked about how he got his business off the ground – he did the same thing day in and day out and never slowed down. Even when people weren’t watching, he still did it: “Nobody wants to do the tweets. Nobody wants to write 60,000 tweets and post 1,000 videos when they’ve got no followers. People think you’re mad. But it pays off in the end.”
This is the boring secret of change. The people who ‘make it’ never got there with one sweeping move after another.
Personally, I made a few big trajectory shifting moves in the beginning sure, but what people didn’t necessarily see were the boring, mundane actions I took behind the scenes each and every day. For example, I had a personal credit card with £1600 on it. Not a lot now, I could pay it off in a few payments but last year it might as well have been £1m. It was a huge amount. I was earning £8k a year and had not a penny to spare. But, each month I managed to pay just a little bit more than the minimum amount: a small, boring, seemingly inconsequential amount of £22.50, then £23.20, then £24.01. As one month turned into three and three turned into six months and as six months turned into a year, the debt was down to £600 before I knew it. The repayments compounded and the net positive result was the card was cleared within 15 months. Done. Dusted.
I did other things too, like read motivational content every day. Ate more good food than bad. Had one more honest conversation a day. Wrote blogs, just a little bit of new content each week. Went on courses – mostly free online webinars. Updated my social every day (nearly!). Smiled more. Journalled more. Walked more. It all just compounded over time to give me incredible results. A business and blog I love. A relationship I cherish. A waistline I’m proud of! An attitude that will take me places. A tribe I’m committed to. Clients I go above and beyond for.
I wavered, of course I wavered. Some days I bought a book a couldn’t afford, or had an extra coffee or spent too much on the shopping. When I felt myself going off course I’d stop and look ahead to Christmas 2016. I always said, the whole time, that I wanted to give me and Alice and best Christmas of our lives – the first of many more. I knew the time was going to pass regardless and I couldn’t face a Christmas with no presents so I corrected my behaviour. And no I’m not being dramatic. We couldn’t afford presents, for anyone, in 2015. It was awful.
Change can be big and exciting in the beginning but in the middle it’s boring and mundane. You just take one small, seemingly inconsequential action at a time and see no difference. Not then, not even the week later. But as the month passes, and then three months go by and a year passes you start to notice a difference. After a year, the compound effect has worked its magic and your life is transformed.
One boring little action at a time.
Remember that Tony Robbins I often share? “People over estimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in a decade” – what life could you be living in ten years, or five years even if you let the small things compound into the big things?
Give it a go. Let the compound effect do its job.
I’ve listened to two amazing audio recordings on this topic recently.