The Failure Curve
When I first started this site, I thought it was going to be a fairly straightforward documentation of the little things I was doing each day to improve and over time we’d see the “Slight Edge” in action in the form of various successes. But I’m realizing quite early on that it isn’t going to be that simple. You see, the Slight Edge works in both ways: it works for you on the “Success Curve” OR it can work against you on the “Failure Curve”. The Failure Curve is the compound effect of all of those little errors in judgment that, when compounded over time, lead to failure. The longer these errors in judgment go on, the worse it gets.
Another way to think about it is with a bank account. As you practice the daily disciplines and think of those as a daily “deposit” into your bank account, each day it grows and compounds over time. Similarly, those errors in judgment act as a “withdrawal” from that account – depleting the funds until one day, you are bankrupt and have nothing left. It isn’t simply a matter of needing to make deposits, you must also limit the amount of your withdrawals. Otherwise, you’ll simply stay in the same place making an equal number of deposits and withdrawals with your bank account not growing.
So one blessing (that honestly feels likes a curse) from trying to apply the principals of the Slight Edge philosophy is the realization of where the Slight Edge is working AGAINST me and I am unknowingly making daily withdrawals. To put it another way, realizing where I am on the Failure Curve.
For today’s post, I want to share two examples where I’ve made this realization and how I hope to reverse the trend and get back on the Success Curve.
Weight Loss 101
I’ve written previously about how I want my current “self-induced sabbatical” to be a TRANSFORMATIVE time for me. And let’s face it, when we’re talking about transforming our lives, nothing is more obvious or easy to measure as our outward appearance – which in most cases means LOSING WEIGHT. I am no exception.
One area where I am bound and determined to see a transformation is in my weight. And I have to admit, for the first month of my sabbatical, I was doing GREAT! I had been gradually chipping away at my weight and getting extremely close (within 3 lbs) to my goal weight! I was already weighing less than I had since my son was born over 7 years ago (I guess that sympathy pregnancy weight I jokingly put on decided to stick around for a while) and I was feeling great and completely in control!
Then the Thanksgiving Holiday arrived. And in my family, Thanksgiving isn’t simply a big meal at a relative’s house. Oh no, for our family, we use our kids’ week off from school to turn Thanksgiving into a week long vacation at an All-Inclusive Resort in Mexico! It is obviously a wonderful time for the family and it’s great to exchange the chilly November weather at home for the warmth of Mexican sunshine. But, staying at an all-inclusive resort means you can eat and drink whatever whenever. So Thanksgiving is not simply one or even two big meals celebrating with family…It’s 7 days of it!
Well, I certainly tried to be good and have to say, I think I made slightly better decisions than I normally would. BUT, upon arriving home and stepping on that scale for the first time in 8 days, I was quite surprised to see that I was NINE (9!) pounds heavier than my lowest weight right before we left for vacation. “Don’t worry,” I told myself. “That’s vacation weight. It’s probably mostly just water and it’ll all drop off in no time.” And actually, the weight did start dropping off a little bit.
But then came the second whammy. After being home for less than a week, I came down with a virus. Probably just a severe cold, but it certainly did a number on me primarily in the form of a VERY sore throat. After going to the doctor and getting tested for the usual suspects (the Flu, Strep Throat) and having the results come back negative, I was on the path of simply needing to get rest, drink lots of fluids, and just “wait it out”.
Driving home from the doctor, I was feeling sorry for myself. “Hey – You know what would make that sore throat feel better?” I thought to myself… “A MILKSHAKE! Yeah, a milkshake would be pretty soothing right about now.” And that was error in judgment #1. This started me down the path over the next couple of days of multiple errors in judgment compounding on top of each other. No single error catastrophic on its own, but each one adding to the previous mistake. But each time, I also had a good excuse…”I’m sick…That cookie will make me feel better.” Or “Of course I can’t do any physical activity…I’m sick. I need to rest. Doctor’s orders.” Flash forward just a few days to today and the scale says I’m right back to up to where I was when I got home from vacation. UGH!
And that’s when I realized the power of the Failure Curve. I had experienced the power of the Success Curve earlier in my sabbatical. As I improved my eating habits and activity levels and saw the weight dropping off little by little, I felt I was unstoppable. I KNEW it was going to work and that I was going to continue to lose weight until I reached my goal! But the Failure Curve is cunning and is just as powerful as the Success Curve. You see, the worse I ate and the worse I felt, the worse I WANTED to eat! It is so much easier to stay on that Failure Curve, making those slight errors in judgment every day slowly slipping back down, further and further way from success.
But this may be one of the benefits of the Slight Edge philosophy and why I did call it a blessing, because at least now I RECOGNIZE IT. I can see and understand that I am making those daily withdrawals when it comes to my eating habits and my weight loss, never once making a deposit back into the account. So each day I’m staying on that Failure Curve. But the GOOD NEWS is that I can make a choice. And today I made that choice to get back on the Success Curve in order to get the Slight Edge to work for my weight loss and not against it!
And that brings me to my other story….
Not-So-Much Father of the Year
As many proud father’s would certainly say, I absolutely love and ADORE my 7 year old son and in general, we have an amazing relationship. And I want that relationship to continue as he grows up and into adulthood. My relationship with my son is one of the 2 most important relationships in my life (the other of course being the relationship with my wife). So naturally, you would expect that I would be making deposits on a daily basis into that “bank account” that is the relationship with my son.
But I had the epiphany the other day that this is not always the case. In fact, very recently I’ve probably been making more withdrawals than deposits. Something about being unemployed has had me put more pressure on myself as it relates to those things I am responsible for at home. As my wife has put it several times, “You need to relax! You’re the most up-tight unemployed person in the world!” And she’s absolutely right.
One of those areas where I need to relax is in dealing with my son’s school routine. Since I am no longer working, I have taken the reigns on ensuring my son gets ready for school in the morning and does his homework in the evenings. Let me remind you, that my son is in SECOND GRADE. We’re not talking about college prep, mind you. But for some reason, with each passing day, I seemed to be getting more and more frustrated and impatient with my son.
It all came to a head last Thursday evening when he was having a difficult time practicing for his spelling test the next day. After me scolding him for repeatedly making his d’s look like b’s he got to work again. Then, while I was absent-mindedly looking at something on my phone, he decided to get up and curiously look over my shoulder at what I was doing. This prompted a very frustrated, angry, and frankly LOUD response from me for him to sit down and get his work done, not to mention how RUDE he was being for looking over my should at my phone (something that under normal circumstances I’ve let him do on countless occasions). At this point, my son begins to cry and my wife justifiably takes his side telling me yet again to chill out and reminding me that he is indeed just in second grade.
Now, this particular incident in and of itself wasn’t “that bad” and I’m sure that similar scenes occur on a regular basis from parents who have run out of patience with their child who just won’t “get your work done!” or “brush your teeth!” or “eat your peas!” – you get the idea. And I’m not trying to make excuses for myself (although for those of you keeping score at home, the next morning is when I had to go to the doctor for my VERY sore throat – so maybe the impending illness can partially account for my irritable behavior!). I just want to be clear that this one incident was not some kind of over the top parenting disaster.
What was compelling about this one incident was the fact that, thanks to the Slight Edge, I realized that with this one incident I was making a WITHDRAWAL from the account that is the relationship with my son and I had been making small withdrawals on a regular basis lately. What would ultimately happen to our relationship if I continue making those withdrawals? What would happen if, compounded over time, my son started to despise doing homework or worse…despise me?!? It was that realization that I was on the Failure Curve as it relates to one of THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS IN MY LIFE that was such an eye-opening experience.
With that realization I resolved to start making deposits into my son’s relationship account and lots of them! We are going to get on the Success Curve and STAY ON IT! This weekend was a GREAT weekend of playing and laughs and most importantly from me – PATIENCE. And this morning (Monday morning) when he was running behind schedule getting ready for school, I did not lose patience or turn into the strict task-master (“Chop, chop…hurry up or you’ll be late.”) I simply stayed patient and said, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll get you to school on time.” And we did.
So there we have it. Two examples NOT of applying the Slight Edge for success, but in realizing where the Slight Edge had me headed for failure.
But I guess those realizations are successes after all.