The Power of Compounding Effort

A Blog Post by Chad Hall

Maybe all of your coaching clients are “eagles” – they set goals, work hard, never quit, and live with an awesome level of intentionality.  Good for you; you can stop reading now.

For the rest of us, we have clients (as well as that person staring at us from the mirror) who struggle to clarify goals, follow through, stay motivated, and avoid distraction.  Normal humans wrestle to make the most of life, which is why coaching is so valuable.  So what can we coaches do to help our clients (and ourselves) soar like eagles?  Well, short of transforming everyone into a walking billboard for Tony Robbins, we can support our clients in establishing small, meaningful habits.

Habits are the secret sauce of success.  You know this already.  But what you may not know is how habits allow us to reap the rewards of compounded effort.

Compounded effort?  That’s right.  In a way similar to compounding interest, small amounts of effort, contributed day after day, eventually stack up into something significant.  This compounded approach to change is radically different from the, well, radical approach to change.  The radical approach declares, “I want to lose thirty pounds, so starting tomorrow I’m going to eat only 1,500 calories per day!”  Good luck with that.  Some people succeed with a radical approach from time to time, but most stick with it only until their willpower gets depleted, which usually occurs after visual contact with three donuts.

Sometimes life requires radical change.  But most of life calls for small changes that accumulate over time and eventually generate significant outcomes.  Our clients can see dramatic results when relatively easy habits are implemented and improved upon over long periods of time.

Bobby is an example of compounded effort.  Bobby knew his personality produced a sort of low-level of toxicity in his workplace. He’s smart as a whip, works hard, and is very good in his role as a production manager in a manufacturing plant.  But his people skills were in the toilet.  He’d bark orders, ooze passive-aggressiveness, and even sometimes criticize people publicly.  He knew he needed to change.  He also knew there was no overnight solution, so we tried changing some small, easy-to-implement habits.  The results were astounding.

Bobby started with the simple habit of praying for one crew member each day. This was nothing elaborate, just a 30-second prayer before getting out of his truck each morning.  He had a dozen guys on his crew.  After he made it through the entire list twice, he added another habit: each day when he got in his truck to leave, he’d take just 30 seconds to give himself a grade for that day.  He made the grading system kind of like a restaurant health inspection.  A was very good.  B was problematic.  C or D, you don’t want to eat there.  Again, this was simple, easy, and provided almost zero immediate benefit.  The habit did not include thinking about what to do differently or making a plan or any of that.

Bobby’s two habits took a combined effort of just one minute per day, but they paid big dividends over time.  Because he was consistent, his tiny amounts of effort accumulated into sizable improvement after a couple of months.  He was more pleasant to be around; he was more patient; and the good aspects of his personality were on display much more often than before.

As coaches, we love the “come to Jesus” transformational moments that some of our clients experience.  We should embrace those moments.  But we should also recognize the far more frequent opportunities when a compounded effort approach is the best approach.