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The compound effect


Making a series of small, smart choices can help make a real difference

Paul O'Brien

Why do I always fail to get fit? I recently worked with a client who asked this. Mike, let’s call him, is in his mid-40s, my vintage. He’s a successful guy, with a great job, nice house and all the trimmings we normally equate with success. But he struggles with his weight. He’s 20lbs too heavy, is carrying too much body fat and has low energy. He drags himself out of bed in the mornings and feels too exhausted at the weekends to play with his kids.
Over the previous ten years, Mike had tried running, swimming, classes, 1-2-1 training and more. He knew enough to know that the problem didn’t lie with any of these methods. He felt the issue was in his head. I suggested he needed to get out of his head and into his life. He was puzzled by that!

Who you are today?
As I explained to Mike, you are the product today of the thoughts and actions you have taken in the past number of years. The answer lies within so to speak. If you want to know how you ended up at the point you are now at, look back over the last five years of your life. So, we began to look at a regular day in Mike’s life over the previous five years. He painted a common picture.
Mike got up in just enough time to get ready for work and have fleeting conversations with his family. He went to work, went out for lunch, worked again and went home. Sometimes he trained after work, but he’d skip it if he felt too tired, which was often. Occasionally he and his wife would go out for a meal, but a normal evening was spent in front of the TV or reading a book. The weekends were spent shuttling the kids to their various clubs and pursuits and Mike squeezed in a golf game every 2-3 weeks. That’s what Mike’s life looked like five years ago. Guess what it looked like when he came to see me? Yep, the same.
I explained that if he wanted his life in five years to be different, he would have to make changes in what he did today. And not just today, but every day, from now on. We started by establishing exactly what kind of lifestyle Mike wanted. He enjoyed this part. More time to spend with his family, less stress, a healthier and fitter body, more energy and an overall more positive outlook. I then explained that taking one action per day on each of these goals and repeating this daily would give him the life of his dreams.
The compound effect is the concept of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. This effect can work for or against you. If your daily choices are not in line with what you want, you’ll end up where you don’t want to be. Eat junk, and you’ll gain weight and feel like junk. Don’t exercise and you won’t have energy. Don’t make quality time with you family and your relationships will suffer.

The Eureka moment
Mike began to realise why his life was so out of balance. He was in a negative spiral of making bad choices. When he realised that he had the power to change everything by making smarter choices it was like a light bulb coming on in his head. We proceeded to write a list of daily actions that Mike could take to improve the areas he had highlighted.

Fast forward
Two months later I met Mike for coffee. I knew he was excited the moment I saw him. Mike told me his story. He had started making changes the day after our session – getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning to do five minutes of exercise and a short meditation. He then ate a leisurely breakfast with his family while they talked at the kitchen table. He had found a training partner and was back running. They had set a goal together and were working towards it. He and his wife had agreed a dietary plan for the whole family, got the kids’ buy-in and were reaping the rewards. He had lost 14 pounds and his spare tyre was gone.

The Big Secret
Mike hadn’t performed any magic tricks. He hadn’t stumbled upon the secret to success. There is no secret. It’s a simple process of building positive habits. One, be clear about what you want. Two, write it down. Three, make a list of 100 things you can do to move towards what you want. Four, take one action every day. Five, achieve what you want. Get to it.

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or

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