Commitment and Compounding

Commitment makes all the difference between good intentions and progress.

Lex Friedman has a great interview with Tim Urban of Wait But Why fame. At one point the conversation turned to how to read more books, procrastination, learning, and goals. People that do great things in life, Tim Urban explained, have the same number of days that everyone does, and they are not doing magical things. What they do is commit to making progress every day. This progress compounds. (Urban calls it “compiling” in the interview.)

The idea is not new. I bet Aristotle told his disciples something along the same lines. But not many people make this kind of commitment.

Consider reading. If you read a book for 30 minutes a day and read around 15 pages every day, that’s 15 x 365 = 5,474 pages a year. Let’s assume a book has an average of 300 pages, that’s 18 books a year. Let’s round the number down to 15 books a year. If you stick to this routine for the next 10 years, you’ll have read 150 books.

If you put some care into choosing those books and don’t pick just the new and shiny, even after only two or three years of commitment, you’ll know more about the subject than most people you know. Also, you’ll realize that reading is not only about information, but only the first steps of the ladder of understanding.

Information is having a library of books on shipbuilding. Knowledge applies that to building a ship. Access to the information— to the books—is a prerequisite for the knowledge, but not a guarantee of it.

Once you’ve built your ship, wisdom is what allows you to sail it without sinking, to protect it from the storm that creeps up from the horizon in the dead of the night, to point it just so that the wind breathes life into its sails.

Moral wisdom helps you tell the difference between the right direction and the wrong direction in steering the ship1.

If reading is not your thing, you could try audiobooks. You can listen to books while you drive, while you exercise, etc. There are plenty of sources. For example, a subscription to Audible is around $15 per month and lets you add 12 audiobooks a year to your library. You can listen to a book of ~300 pages in approximately 10 hours. If you commit to 30 minutes a day from Monday to Friday, that would make 0.5 hours x 5 days x 52 weeks = 130 hours a year, or around 13 audiobooks a year.

Anything you commit to doing every day can make a huge difference in your life. Start today, not tomorrow.

  1. Maria Popova, The Marginalian, Wisdom in the Age of Information↩︎

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