Can one training session make a person fit? You wouldn’t claim that a person is fit after one training session or even ten of them. How about adding one more or even one more after that. At some point, a person will become fit after just one more training. But which one of them is it?
This is the old Greek story known as the Sorites paradox, popularised by James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, and it tells us how small, almost meaningless actions, can yield excellent results if repeated enough times. If you put a grain of sand on the ground and add one more grain on top of it, will it create a heap? It won’t. So you add one more grain and it’s still not a heap. But after a while, adding up grain after grain, you will make a heap even though you won’t know which grain exactly made the difference.
The answer to the paradox is that a single training session doesn’t make a difference. But all of them stacked on top of each other do make a difference. The answer is called the compound effect, and that’s where you need to begin when you want to get healthier.
The Compound Effect
Larry and David are friends, and they both want to become healthy, but they take radically different roads.
Larry starts with the newest hacks, tips, and tricks to lose weight quickly. He buys different eating plans, makes six-week-long projects of weight loss, and decides to change the way he currently lives radically. On the other hand, David starts with one simple thing. He will start eating 125 fewer calories every single day.
After two weeks, Larry gains visible improvements. He is leaner, more refreshed and feels healthier. David looks and feels the same. Two more weeks pass, and Larry now feels the burden of his new lifestyle. The eating plan is becoming a nuisance and a significant time-waster, the training schedules are almost impossible to maintain, and he craves the sweet taste of chocolate. David still feels and looks the same.
After two more weeks, Larry quit all of his activities and returned to his regular lifestyle. He still feels great and looks leaner. David is still the same. After four more weeks, Larry “yo-yo-ed” the effects of the training and eating plans and now, he is back to square one. He regained all the weight back and after eight weeks, there is no difference. This is something most of us experience.
But what is happening with David? David is in the “eat 125 fewer calories” mode every single day. It seems easy to do, but also almost meaningless because eating 125 fewer calories a day won’t make a difference. Or will it? After two-and-a-half years, Larry is still in the same tactical hell, trying out different hacks and tips, gaining some short-term results, but again “yo-yo-ing” back to square one.
I’ve shown you the Sorites paradox at the beginning of the article, so let’s do the math behind David’s action plan.
Thirty-one months is the equivalent of 940 days. Multiply 940 days with 125 calories fewer per day and we get 117,500 calories in total. If we divide the number of calories with 3,500, which is the number of calories per one pound, we get 33.5 pounds. So David, after 31 months of eating only 125 fewer calories a day, managed to lose 33.5 pounds!
This is the power of the compound effect and the best thing is that these results are sustainable. The actions that produced the results seem small and meaningless, but when you add them up over time, they create a massive difference. “Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = Radical Difference,” says Darren Hardy, the author of The Compound Effect.
But there are so many different things you could start doing every day to become healthier. Are all of them equally important? No. How do you prioritize them? That’s the question. There are certain habits that we can cultivate, which have a spillover effect in all areas of our life and if we can sow these kinds of habits first, we will reap massive rewards. These are known as keystone habits.
As Brendon Burchard, author of High-Performance Habits said it, “Not all habits are made equal.” (Burchard 2017) There are bad, good, great and the best habits if you want to get healthier. And the three most important ones when it comes to getting healthier are the 3Bs:
- Body – Exercising system
- Belly – Eating system
- Bed – Sleeping system
These three keystone habits are what make the most significant difference regarding your health. The benefits of having systems for all three are uncountable. Your task isn’t to start counting every single thing when it comes to body, belly, and bed. But to simply choose one small, simple activity that you can do for each of these categories, which, as we have seen above, will bring massive results over time (the compound effect).
I will give you three options from each category – choose one per category and write in the comment section, whether it is for body, belly, or bed. All of the actions I recommend in the following sentences have an 80/20 rule. That means that 80 percent of the results will come only from 20 percent of the activities. This is known as the Pareto principle.
When it comes to the body and your exercising system, the most simple options which yield the biggest results are the following:
- Walk for 30 minutes a day.
- Jog, walk, run, or take the bicycle to work. If your job is too far away to take the entire route by foot or bicycle, then park your car further away from the building and take the rest of the path by the methods mentioned above.
- Hit the gym three times a week. I haven’t mentioned anything about the exercises here. It’s just your job to get to the gym three times a week physically. Once you’re there, your brain will make you exercise 95 percent of the time.
Older people or people who have certain health problems should not give up physical activity either. However, they should seek medical advice about the type and intensity of physical activity.
If you want to know more about exercising systems and the benefits they bring, you can check the details out here.
Have you picked one from the list? Great, let’s move on.
When it comes to the belly and your eating system, the options are the following:
- Eat 100 fewer calories a day (David’s system)
- Eat one healthy snack per day (it doesn’t have to be an entire meal; eat fruit once a day as a snack or grab a carrot to chew during a game instead of chips)
- You can eat sweets, have fast-food or drink alcohol only on weekends.
If you want to know more about eating systems and the benefits they bring, you can check the details out here.
Did you pick another one? Awesome. Just one more to go.
When it comes to the bed and your sleeping system, the options are the following:
- Darken your room before you go to sleep (sleep in the darkest room possible)
- Designate the time when you will hit the bed (you will lie down at this time in your bed)
- Decide the time you will wake up (you will wake up at this time)
If you want to know more about sleeping systems and the benefits they bring, you can check the details out here.
Excellent. Now you picked all three keystone habits when it comes to health.
There is just one more thing left for preparation and it’s the following:
What Happens When I Fail?
No matter how easy the actions above seem, there will be days when you will miss out on doing them. I know, because I apply the same systems on myself. The most important thing to remember is to pick yourself back up and make these habits the next day.
I read 20 pages of a book each day and there are days when I don’t read anything. But I pick myself up and read 20 pages the following day. And at the end of the last year, I managed to read 47 books by only reading 20 pages a day. So when you miss a day, and it will happen, remember that it’s the long game that you’re playing and that the grains of sand will make a heap through the compound effect if you continue doing the work.
The road to a healthier lifestyle begins here.