Tiny decisions matter

I just reread a book called “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson.  It’s a great book about personal development and all that good stuff that I love.  This time I read it, however, I read it through the lens of managing weight and eating habits and absorbed so much different information.  I’ve grabbed some of the great stuff and put it into a cliff-notes version in order to make it easier and faster to read.  If you are a reader that likes personal development stuff, I would encourage you to read the whole book.  And one of my new goals is to go back through more of my personal development books and try reading them through the weight management lens to see what else I can extrapolate!!  Most of this is in Jeff’s words but some I have changed to apply it to weight rather than generalized happiness or wealth building or all of the other things he touches on. Here goes…

First, start with some perspective.  We each have twenty-four hours each day (or 8.760 hours each year) and we each fill these hours one way or another with a sequence of little tasks and actions, any one of which is seemingly insignificant. 

The thing that makes all the difference between success and failure, between achieving the quality of life you want and settling for less than you desire and deserve, lies one hundred percent in which of those little “insignificant” actions you choose to do.  

Everything you need to do to transform your weight is easy to do.  However, here’s the problem.  Every action that is easy to do, is also easy not to do.  

Why are these simple yet crucial things easy not to do?  Because if you don’t do them, they won’t kill you… at least, not today.  You won’t fail – today.  

What’s more, not doing them is usually more comfortable than doing them would be.  But those simple, seemingly insignificant errors in judgment, compounded over time, will kill you.  

That’s the choice you face every day, every hour:

A simple positive action, repeated over time

– or – 

A simple error in judgement, repeated over time

And, to make it harder to stomach, when you make the right choice, you won’t see the results.  At least not right away.  We live in a results-focused world.  We expect to see results and we expect to see them now.  So NOT seeing them is hard to stomach.  

But that’s not how success is built.  Success is not a huge, earth-shattering transformative moment.  Rather, success is something you experience gradually, over time.  By the time you get to the point that everyone else can see your results and congratulate you on them, the real work has already been done.  The little tiny choices you made to get there are ancient history.  

And chances are, at the time you actually made those choices, nobody noticed but you.  

The difference between success and failure isn’t dramatic.  In fact, the difference between success and failure is so subtle, most people miss it.  

The truth is:


What you do TODAY matters. 

What you do EVERY DAY matters.

Willpower is vastly overrated.  For most people, willpower ends up looking and feeling like some sort of grim self-tyranny and involves creating an elaborate, artificial reward and punishment system.

When you enter a dark room, why does your hand reach out for the light switch?  Because you know that when you hit the switch, the light will go on.  You don’t have to give yourself positive self-talk about how you really ought to hit that light switch, or set up a system of rewards and punishments for yourself around whether you follow through or not with hitting the light switch.  You don’t need any of that; you just hit the switch.  Why?  Because you know what will happen.  You know.  

It’s the exact same thing here.  You eat a little better at each meal (hit the light switch) because you know that it will make you healthier (the light will turn on).  It’s the exact same thing – except for one thing.


It’s become a truism to say we live in a push-button, instant-gratification world, but this is a truth very much worth pondering.  It does’t simply mean we have more impatient temperaments than our parents do.  It represents an entirely different way of thinking.  An entirely different philosophy.  

There’s a natural progression in life, which everyone used to know back in the days when we were an agrarian society.  You plant, then you cultivate, and finally you harvest.  In today’s world, everyone wants to go directly from plant to harvest.  We plant the seeds by skipping the piece of cake and then we get frustrated when a few days go by and the number on the scale hasn’t budged (the harvest doesn’t come in).  

The step we keep overlooking (and overskipping) is the step of cultivating.  And that, unlike planting and harvesting, takes place only through the patient, methodical dimension of time.  

In a world filled with instant coffee, instant dinner, overnight shipping, constant news and instant information at the touch of our fingertips, we have come dangerously close to losing touch with reality and believing we have access to instant life.

In real life, everything important happens through time.  In real life  

During a movie, we can experience the triumph of the human soul over adversity, the drama of a struggle between doing what’s right and succumbing to the temptations of the world, the flowering of a powerful romance, the struggle and birth of a nation…  But it all has to be wrapped up in two hours.  Can you imagine a nation being born in two hours?  Meeting the person that will become the love of your life – the dating, courtship, romance, struggle, triumph, wedding and life thereafter – in two hours?  Of course not.  

In a film, we never see the little steps, repeated hundreds of times, which create the result.  There isn’t time.  We might see a quick sequence of steps that conveys evolution – the classic “falling in love montage” but these never last more than thirty or forty seconds.  

In real life, everything important happens through time

In a way, it would be a simpler matter if making the right choices were a big deal.  If it were a dramatic, huge, difficult thing.  Why?  Because then it would be obvious.  The challenge is that making the right choices is not dramatic.

Deciding whether or not to kill Darth Vader with your lightsaber is a dramatic choice.  Deciding whether or not to have a salad or a cheeseburger is an undramatic, boring, mundane little choice that nobody will even witness.  And that’s the big challenge of it.  

No immediate feedback

The choice to eat healthy or unhealthy at this moment will have little or no noticeable impact on how your day goes for you.  Nor tomorrow, nor the next day.  

Making a choice to eat healthy at each meal is truly easy to do.  Ridiculously easy.  But it’s just as easy not to do.  And if you don’t do it, there won’t be any big drama about it.  It won’t kill you.  It won’t hurt you; in fact, it won’t make any difference at all – today.  Not tomorrow.  But over time?

The right choices you make today, compounded over time, will make you healthier and healthier – and that health will allow you the freedom to devote your life to things that provide you joy and fulfillment and give you a sense of purpose.  

The wrong choices you make today, compounded over time, will absolutely, positively, and inevitably take you down and out.  

No matter what you have done in your life up until now, no matter where you are and how far down you may have slid into poor health, you can start fresh, building a positive pattern of success at any time.  

Including right now.

But you need to have faith in the process, because you won’t see it happening at first. 

Let’s say you are in a tough place with your health and eating habits right now.  The scales are tipped badly – the negative side tipped way down.  You’ve reached a point in your health where many years of simple errors in judgement have compounded over time, and you’re feeling it.  

Now what happens if you add one small, simple, positive action to the success side? 

Nothing you can see.  

What happens if you add one more?

Nothing you can see.  

What happens if you keep adding one  more, and one more, and one more…

Before too long, you see the scales shift, ever so slightly.  And then again.  

And eventually, that heavy negative side starts to lift, and lift…  and the scales start swinging your way.  And if you have ever played with one of those scales, you know that as the sides get more balanced, it takes less and less to shift them.  No matter how much negative weight from the past is on the other side, just by adding those little grains of success, one at a time (and by NOT adding more weight to the negative side), you will eventually and inevitably begin to shift the scales back in your favor.  

With continued work, you can shift it so that the scale is so weighted down on the positive, healthy side that a few poor food choices here and there don’t do anything terrible to your overall health.  You have to keep putting positive actions on the healthy side (lots of them) to keep those scales in balance, but you don’t have to be perfect day in and day out to keep it balanced where you want it.  

How long will it take? 

Chances are, it will take longer than you want it to

But it will happen

Try it

You have 24 hours today

You have 8,760 hours in the next year

Where do you want to be in 8.760 hours?

Struggling or thriving?

If you keep making the same decisions day after day, week after week, where will you be in 8.760 hours?

Keep learning, keep growing, keep developing yourself. Learning WHAT to eat is the easy part. Learning HOW to eat that way takes more work. I will keep doing everything in my power to help you. However, each little seemingly insignificant decision is yours to make – over and over again.

Courtney Younglove, M.D.