How To Make Incredible Progress By Using The Slight Edge

Where would you be today if you saved just $1/day every day since you graduated from high school? (Assuming a 2% interest rate)

If that was 10 years ago, you’d be $5807 richer.

If that was 20 years ago, $12,887 richer.

If that was 30 years ago, $21,517 richer

And that’s just $1/day!  Those numbers would more than double if you had saved $2/day.  

I'm probably not shocking you with these numbers. If you have taken a high school level of math, you know the value of compound interest. 

But what if we start applying this concept to other willpower challenges besides saving money? 

Where would you be today if you spent 20 minutes/day in the last year exercising?

Where would you be today if you spent 20 minutes/day in the last year learning a new language? 

Where would you be today if you just ate a healthy breakfast every morning?

And that's just 1 year! Imagine if you spent the last 5 or 10 years of your life making these slight changes to your daily routine. Would you still be struggling with your weight or falling short of your goals?


Every year, millions of us forget about the idea of small changes accumulating into big results and instead set huge goals for the New Year.

We set goals to quit smoking, eat healthy, exercise and spend more time with our family - all at the same time! Then after just a few weeks, we are burnt out and left feeling helpless to ever achieve our goals and dreams.

That is, of course, until next New Years! 

What if, instead, every year you were to simply set one small, realistic change to your daily routine that over time would lead to extraordinary results? 

This could be exercising 20 minutes/day, writing 20 minutes/day, or simply carving out 20 more minutes to make your family a priority. Then every year you would just add one more thing to your list.

How would your life be different today if you had spent the last 5 years doing that? 

This is a concept known as the Slight Edge – and it is a fail-proof system for achieving extraordinary results. [2

Great results take time, they take patience and they take willpower to ensure that you show up consistently. Your brain is literally wired to achieve these slow results over time. This was formed as we began to make slow progress in the designing of tools and learning which hunting strategies worked best. [3]

So why do so many of us ignore the Slight Edge and go for big results, fast? 

There are two key reasons we do not use the Slight Edge to our advantage:


What change would happen to your body today if you ate a delicious hamburger and fries with your favorite beer?  

Absolutely none.

What change would happen to your body today if you spent a full hour exercising? 

Absolutely none.

So why should we force ourselves to exercise and resist the unhealthy meal if nothing about our body is going to change?

Because we know that over time the choice to eat unhealthy is going to lead to being unhealthy. And we know that over time the choice to exercise regularly is going to lead to our goals of health and fitness.

However, we can always justify that this one meal and this one workout won’t change a thing! 

So we tell ourselves that it is okay for us to indulge "just this once" (then probably reassure ourselves by promising to make up for it tomorrow).

I will fully admit that even I, Mr. Willpower, am absolutely guilty of telling myself that I "deserve to indulge just this once." Then come up with a completely logical reason for doing so. Including the fact that 1 meal, 1 workout, or 1 meditation session will not make a difference.

This is a classic triumph of hope over experience. Look back over the last few months. How many times did you promise yourself that you would skip out on your plan "just this once"? 

It is never an isolated incident. Yet, even though we know deep down that it really won't be just this once, we still convince ourselves that this time will be different. Our future self will magically summon the discipline that we could not. 

When, in reality, our future self will probably be exactly like us. They will be tired, stressed and looking for justification to indulge "just this once".


The second reason we don't adhere to the Slight Edge is because we want results and we want them NOW!

So we choose to go for the crash diet that promises that we will lose 10lbs in 2 weeks.

We choose to go from not exercising at all to trying to exercise every day.

And we fill our to-do lists with more in a day than we could ever possibly do in a week.

There are 2 keys reasons why we seek results so fast.

The first is because these are likely "nagging goals". Goals that we have attempted several times in the past and failed more times than we'd like to admit. But because they are still important to us, they nag at us to get them done. [5]

Because these goals are nagging at us, we want to get them done as soon as possible so that we can finally get them off our mind. And we remember that we were capable of following our plan last time - at least for a while - so we feel like "if we can just summon the willpower, we will be able to do it this time!"

The second reason is called the planning fallacy. We believe that our future selves will have extraordinary time, extraordinary focus and extraordinary willpower to get things done. This phenomenon is so bad that we usually cannot even live up to our worst case scenarios. [6]

When we set our plans for the future, we do not think about the fact that we will be tired, we will be tempted and we will be low on willpower in the future. So we plan for the best - even when we may think that we're planning for the worst. 

So not only do we want big results, fast - we genuinely believe we can achieve them!


The key reason that we don't take advantage of the Slight Edge, is because we look to the present and the future, rather than the past. 

When think about the present, we think "just this once".

When we think about the future, we think "we want those results - and we want them fast!"

But when we look to the past, we can clearly see that if we had just saved $1/day for the last 10 years, that number would have been huge today!

If we had spent 20 minutes/day in the last year exercising, we would have more than reached our fitness goals today!

And if we had been persistent and patient - rather than constantly taking days off and trying to make up for it with Herculean efforts - we would have finally reached our goals today.

If you truly want to take advantage of the huge results that you can get from the Slight Edge, look to the past. You will see that "just this once" wasn't really "just this once". You will remember how burnt out you were the last time you tried get results fast - and how that strategy will never work.

Then you will be able to see with clarity that if you can spend just 20 minutes/day of the next year slowly and persistently working towards your goal, you will achieve it many times over.


Great results do not happen overnight. They come from small changes that are applied consistently over time. Unfortunately, when trying to achieve a goal, most of us take the opposite approach.

We want results NOW and believe we deserve to take a day off from our goals "just this once". But this leads to an endless cycle of boom and bust - without us ever reaching the finish line.

To avoid this fate, simply look to the past. Face the brutal facts that "just this once" never happens just once and trying to summon super-human willpower to achieve quick results never works. Then, choose a small change that, over time, will lead you to extraordinary results.

Remember, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.


  1. Stossel, J. (2015, April 24). And They're Off!
  2. Olson, J., & Mann, J. (2013). The slight edge (8th anniversary ed.). Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press.
  3. Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. Print.
  4. McGonigal, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery.
  5. Mcgraw, K., & Fiala, J. (2006). Undermining the Zeigarnik effect: Another hidden cost of reward. Journal of Personality J Personality, 58-66.
  6. Buehler, Roger, Dale Griffin, and Michael Ross. "Exploring the "planning Fallacy": Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67.3 (1994): 366-81.