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Thomas De Moor for X-Team

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How to Look Like an Overnight Success

Here's one of the big ironies of life: Overnight success doesn't happen overnight. This might be something that most people know deep down, but it bears repeating nonetheless.

Overnight success happens because of the teeny tiny baby steps you make over a long period of time. More than anything else, you will be successful because of your positive habits and because you apply those habits consistently.

That's the main lesson from Darren Hardy's excellent book The Compound Effect.


We Are Habitual Creatures

Before we talk about habits, let's knock willpower from its throne. You can do anything you want as long as you have the will to do it? Where there's a will, there's a way? Na-ah.

Willpower is a finite resource. If you rely on it too much, any day where you didn't do what you wanted to do will make you feel guilty, because apparently you didn't want it enough, even though you thought you did.

While willpower can give you the initial momentum to get you going, it's not the magic pill to a sustainable and successful life.

In fact, your magic pills 💊 are the positive habits you've been building for a long time. They're automatic and hardly require willpower at all. We are habitual creatures, and success comes from removing negative habits and replacing them with positive ones.

Here's the Process

Let me give you an example. You are John and you Netflix binge from 8 - 10 PM every weekday. You've read the first part of this blog post and realize your Netflix binge isn't as wholesome as it could be. So you decide to limit it to one hour, from 8 - 9 PM. You will dedicate the final hour of your day to writing.

You believe that limiting your screentime will help you sleep better, and writing an hour before bed might get you closer to your lifelong dream of penning the next blockbuster sci-fi novel 👽.

A few things happened here. First of all, you realized that you could replace your Netflix binge with a more fulfilling activity. That's good, because the first step toward change is awareness.

Secondly, you tied your new habit to a deeply rooted why : writing a sci-fi novel. Understanding your why will make it easier to build momentum and make your new behavior a habit.

Here's what will happen next. As you implement this new habit, the first few days and even weeks will feel mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and difficult. I'm sorry to say, John, but you're likely to see little progress in your writing for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes, it might feel like you're getting worse.

But one day, someone will look at your writing and ask "I didn't know you were such a talented writer". That's the Compound Effect. Positive habits applied consistently over time.


This works for everything in life. Want to get better at debugging bugs 🐛? Become an expert React programmer? A better cook? Set time aside practicing that specific skill and consistently do it, without exception. Make it a habit.

Don't be impatient, because it will take time before you see any improvement. But the fruits of your labor will suddenly and exponentially pay off. To the outside world, you will look like an overnight success. But by now, we know that an overnight success doesn't happen overnight.

Did people ever call you a natural, even though it was the result of consistently applied hard work?

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