Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Madd Money: The Value of "Doing a Little Every Day"

Having finished "You're Broke Because you Want to Be" by Larry Winget, I found an interesting comment towards the end of the book. Larry described growing up on a farm near Tulsa, Oklahoma as a kid, and some advice that his father gave to him. His father told him, at the time that a young calf was born, that if he would work with that calf, and if he would carry that calf from the mother's pen to the feeding and grooming area, and back, that he would be able to continue to do that almost indefinitely... but he'd have to do it every day for that to happen.

The story goes on to say that Larry did indeed continue this ritual for several months, and in that time, the calf grew considerably, but he was able to still carry it each day. Then because of rain, he missed a day, and when he came back to do it, he found it harder to do, even after missing just one day. Later, there was a series of storms that caused him to not be able to get out and do more than just the absolute basics of care for many days. When that week was up, he went to try to carry the calf again... and couldn't do it. That was the end of the road for that experiment.

This story has a parallel in the ancient world, in the fable told of Milo of Croton (sometimes attributed to "Milo of Crete") where Milo carried a baby calf shortly after it was born on his shoulders, and did so every day until he could carry the weight of a full grown bull on his shoulders. Now, in both of these cases, I don't know how realistic it is (a full grown bull is a mighty big thing, and we're talking somewhere around 800-1000 pounds; maybe a single lift, but carrying it around on a regular basis?! WOW!!!). Still, the stories both present a simple principle that can be used everywhere(in finance, work, hobbies, etc.) and that's the value of practice each and every day.

Back in January, I embarked on an experiment to learn Japanese, and to that end, I bought a video game called "My Japanese Coach". I played that game a little bit every day for three months, and in that three month stretch, I memorized the Kana alphabets and some basic phrases and started learning sentences and practicing longer phrases. Then a couple of games came out that I really wanted to play, and I took a break from the daily Japanese. When I got back to it, I saw that I had forgotten (already!) a lot of what I learned. I still remembered quite a bit, and I'm still learning, but it's going slower and I'm not progressing at the same clip as I did when I did a little bit every day.

When we make new habits, whatever it may be, it's the ongoing daily input that really makes the difference. If we want to get stronger with weights, yes, we will have to wait for the body to recover, so "daily" in this case may not be a perfect metaphor, but regular enough to remain effective has to be in place. Training once a week won't cut it in most cases; we have to be regular, consistent, and we have to apply a little more effort and take on "more weight" each time to keep moving forward. Scripture study, balancing our financial lives, learning a foreign language, developing software, all of them follow the same principle... and for me, so does blogging. the only way to really get markedly better at something is to "do it every day".

My son recently started playing the viola, and we've had chats about practicing and getting more proficient, I told him that there is a book called "Outliers", written by Malcolm Gladwell, where he describes what makes someone World Class at something. Throughout the book, Gladwell mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", the idea being that the key to success in any field is practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours. Roughly put, if Nick were to practice every single day, an hour a day, and never miss a day, he could become a world class viola player roughly by the age of 39 (10,000 hours, into 365 days a year at one hour each day, gives us roughly 27 years). If he practiced two hours a day, that time would be lessened to about 13 1/2 years, or by the time he was 25. 3 hours a day would be 9 1/4 years, or by age 21. Of course, whether or not that is practical is another story, but it illustrates the fact that those who become not just good, but great at what they do, tend to do it not because they are super gifted or extraordinarily talented (though theat certainly helps), but because they put in the work to achieve that greatness... and they do it every day.

My hope is that I may be able to take from this and also start "carrying my calf" and do so daily :).

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