The Slight Edge

Years ago, a friend handed me the book “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson and introduced me to the world of “personal development.” Personal development is simply the idea, the action of, and the commitment to, learning and growing in order to make ourselves better human beings. Personal development, for me, carries a connotation of self-study or self-direction as opposed to formal education. But there are plenty of formal and organized groups and classes out there that fall under the umbrella of “personal development.”

Now back to “The Slight Edge.” Olson’s central thesis is simple, there is a slight edge in life that we can either use, work and cultivate to our advantage or to our disadvantage. The reason he uses the term “slight edge” is that the difference between the two is so subtle that most people don’t even realize they’re tilting towards disadvantage (until it’s too late). Here’s how it works, everything we do is a slight edge choice – the food we eat, the time we go to bed, what we do in our free time, how long or if we exercise, the friends we have, the movies and TV we watch – nearly everything is a slight edge choice. The degree to which we tilt, success or failure, advantage or disadvantage, depends on what we choose. Here’s the key, all of those things appear subtle or mundane at the time, they appear to be just the normal happenings of life, but add them up over days, weeks, months, years and you’ve compounded good or bad choices over a lifetime. So, the choice to eat a little too much, stay up too late, watch mind-numbing TV, done over and over and over and over again tilts you towards the side of the slight edge you don’t want to be on. Conversely, eating well, getting enough sleep, watching thoughtful or uplifting or no TV at all, over and over tilts you towards your own advantage. This is the crucial point; these things are easy to do and they’re easy not to do. That’s why he refers to them as “slight.” Watching TV for 2 hours tonight is easy to do or not to do and may not seem like a big deal. But watching 2 hours of TV every day for a year is a massive commitment of your time and mental energy and has a significant impact on your life, well-being, mental state and success.

This is all about the compounding or magnifying of good or bad decisions. And really, from the slight edge perspective, bad isn’t really the right word. A single dessert isn’t “bad” per se, unless it’s the chocolate tower of cake, ice cream and fudge meant for four people at a tacky chain restaurant that you eat by yourself in one sitting. That’s an obvious and not so slight choice. But a little bit of sweets every day after dinner, compounded over time, can have a serious impact on your health and waistline.

This concept is mirrored in Darren Hardy’s book “The Compound Effect.” In fact, Olson and Hardy are friends and they’re both very successful people. Both are great books, both are worth a read. They address the same concept in different language. So, whether you see it as the compound effect or the slight edge, the accumulation of good choices in every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant, added up over time leads to our success. It’s really just a way of looking at building good habits and sticking with them. That’s easy to do, but it’s also easy not to do, and that’s why the edge on which we tread towards our own advantage or disadvantage is so slight. The subtitle of the 2nd and 3rd editions sums it up: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success.

Speaking of editions, there are 3 that I’m aware of. The first is a relatively small book, very practical and to the point. The 2nd and 3rd editions add more illustrative stories and deeper explanations of the concepts. If you’re looking to save time, find the first edition, everything you need is there. If you like more depth and examination, the revised editions offer lots of real world examples of the Slight Edge concepts in play.

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