Incremental Progress and the Compounding Effect of Choices

One of the items on my last 101 tasks list was to lose 10 lbs and also to be 10 lbs lighter on the last day of the challenge than I was on the first day. Over the years since grad school, my weight has slowly crept up. I’m still at a healthy weight, but prefer to limit upward trends to our net worth. It occurred to me that I gained the weight slowly and so I could lose it the same way. Drastic measures were unnecessary and unlikely to be successful anyway.

My 101 tasks lists also included a couple of other diet and fitness goals, like trying a Whole 30, qualifying for Half Fanatics, and practicing yoga regularly. My success at completing each of those tasks was mixed. But this was one series of tasks that was smart (unlike some of the other tasks in a series). Not only did I set the overarching weight loss goal, I also included tasks along the way to help me get there.

After two years working on the 101 tasks lists, I hadn’t made any progress on the weight loss goal. In fact, my weight moved in the wrong direction. I realized that to lose 10 +/- a few pounds in 9-10 months, I only needed to cut 150-200 calories per day. That’s the equivalent of a 2 mile run. Or skipping one alcoholic beverage. Or ordering a fast food sandwich without mayo. All of those seemed very doable. To achieve the calorie cuts, I needed to make 1 or 2 better choices per day. I could do that. 

Some days, weeks or months are better than others. At times, I manage 10,000 steps or more in a day. I am sometimes able to make a meal plan over the weekend and buy groceries, to be ready for healthy eating in the week ahead. Even when plans go off the rails, I can usually still stick to the 1-2 good choices philosophy. Weight loss is not always linear, though. Some weeks I’m up, some weeks I’m down. After several months of this effort, I had yet to see a clear downward trend. My 1001 days ended without losing that weight. When I made a new tasks list, I included fitness and weight loss goals once again. If at first you don’t succeed…

Along the way, I saw similarities between my health and growing our net worth. Both involve daily choices. Most of those choices are small. Each has a compounding effect. There are aspects of weight loss that can be somewhat mysterious. We rarely see instant results. Whenever I’ve lost weight, it always seems like it happens slow, then fast. I’ll slog along for months and then one day wake up 15 pounds lighter. 

During this time when it feels difficult to plan for an uncertain future, I am leaning into daily, incremental progress. It is part of living in the moment. Rather than feeling frustration at not having reached some milestone or goal post, I can instead take joy in the journey. 

How do you find joy in the daily grind? What keeps you motivated to reach big, challenging goals? How do you stay focused? 

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