Build up habits that compound

what tiny changes can amount to

Winnie Lim
Mar 9, 2014 · 4 min read

When a leopard starts to change its spots

It was by accident that I discovered that my three-decade worth of behavior history can be radically altered in a single day. I started making my bed two years ago (that’s another story to tell) and since then I have never stopped. Through that newly acquired habit I have learned:

  • Something really small can make a huge difference
  • Small habits permeates many other aspects of our lives
  • Daily rituals can be strangely meditative and grounding (This was new to me, I had always presented myself as the anti-routine person)
  • The act of making my bed no matter how tired, busy or stressed I am, reinforces the idea that I am willing to allow my well-being to come first (you have no idea how difficult is that for me)
  • Keeping the order in our environment can be key to having less mental distractions as nothing is tripping your line of sight

They say a leopard does not change its spots and I was one of those people who used that idiom as a vehement defense for my previous lack of trying. Having one mini successful habit changed the way I thought of myself.

If I could change how I had lived for three decades, what else is there I cannot change?

Three of my favorite little habits

Read on my eight-minute commute

I used to fiddle on my phone endlessly during my commute to work, but for more than half a year now I have been reading on my kindle instead. Eight minutes do not seem like a long time, but I have surprised myself how much I end up reading over a week. It really adds up when I include the wait time as well.

An unintended effect of this is that it sets the tone of my mind every morning before I walk through the doors of my workplace. It gives me more opportunity to think more critically and understand the weight of my privilege.

“Read 500 pages like this every day, That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” — Warren Buffett

Write 750 words every morning

This is a habit that dropped off every now and then because it is really darn hard to write 750 words every morning, especially on the days with a packed schedule. I started writing them again at the turn of this year, this time fully committing myself to it by adjusting my body clock to wake up thirty minutes earlier. There is a lot out there why writing morning pages is so powerful and it differs for every individual. It allows me to understand my psyche better, acts like a mind dump so I can start the day with a clear mind, and I get to keep a record of things I think about.

Keeping a record of things I think about has had a massive transformative effect on me. When I go back in time to look at what I had written, I am both appalled and amazed by the distance I have travelled, as well as how much certain behavior patterns tend to repeat themselves a lot more than I would assume. In other words, I discover how neurotic I can be and it becomes so painfully obvious that I become motivated to do something about it.

Publish one post per week

By default I write a lot more than most, but they can be sporadic and extreme, when there was not a single post in months. It is not so much about keeping to an absolute metric for the sake of it. Just like how writing privately had a transformative effect on me, writing publicly adds a different dimension to my life. It is something I truly love doing, allowing me to connect to people I would never had a chance to come across in the same physical space. More importantly, it gives me a voice. A voice I still struggle to have verbally.

Writing one post a week gives me an established rhythm to write — to have that trust in myself that if I sit here once per week, there will be something meaningful to write about. It has been about six months since, and this is probably my most favorite time of the week.

It is also about my own curiosity. If I write once per week, how much would that compound in five, ten years? How many more opportunities would my writing create for connecting to my kind of people? How many more kids would I be able to reach out to?

These habits gather momentum by influencing each other. The more I read, the more critical I become in my thinking. The time I set aside to write my morning pages reflect that thought process. Some synthesis occurs and it presents in the writing I publish to the world. The more I publish publicly, the more connections I make and the more I desire to learn so I can contribute more.

In other words, they compound and become a snowball. The best part is, I have no idea what this will grow into or how exponential their effects will truly be on me. I am only starting to see how tiny decisions I have made a long while ago trigger or become huge turning points in my life.

Like that early morning decision to make my bed two years ago.

Fragmented Musings

Random fragments of life & love by @wynlim

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