Win the Day
Written by Justin Wright
Each day of your life starts with a scale. No, not the scale in your bathroom. It has absolutely nothing to do with your bodyweight. This scale measures the positive and negative decisions, actions, thoughts, and ideas that you have each day. Every move you make and every thought you have adds just a little bit to either side of that scale.
Where is your scale tipping at the end of the day? For forward progress to occur, the positive side must outweigh the negative side. Most of you probably understand this in practice, or at least in theory. Where mistakes are made is understanding how much the scale needs to tip for a day to be successful.
A Game of Inches
To quote Al Pacino in his famous speech from Any Given Sunday, “life is just a game of inches.” When most people think about success or failure, they focus on large targets or big goals. Being forward-thinking and having an understanding of what these targets look like is important, but it can also be paralyzing to think on this scale. As we have discussed, when motivation is present it can be initially easy to work towards big goals that seem distant in the future. Once this motivation runs out, however, progress can be challenging. Some days it can even seem impossible.
The goal is not to have landslide victories each day. It is entirely plausible that some days will be fantastic and you will make tremendous amounts of forward progress. The reality is that most days will be boring, uneventful, and downright difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once momentum fades away and the daily grind begins, many individuals lose the drive to continue. Accomplishing goals is about baby steps and consistently checking the boxes, not about major leaps forward.
I want you to conceptualize your day as a standard balance sheet: one side is positive choices and the other side is negative ones. Every positive thing you do, good decision you choose, and forward step you take adds a plus to that column. Every poor choice, bad habit you succumb to, or negative thought you have adds a minus to that column. Just like your bank account or cash flow in a business, the goal is to have a positive balance. Your goal is to win the day, one point at a time, one day at a time.
As long as you maintain a positive balance, on average, then you will be guaranteed to make progress each week and each month. What do you think will happen at the end of a year if you are consistently tipping the scales in a positive direction day after day? The beauty is that this is all possible with very little effort. As long as you are working towards your goals and your habits every day, the daily effort required is insignificant. It is the compounding effect over time that drives major results.
Small Wins Become Large Ones
It is relatively easy to take advantage of this compounding effect and make substantial progress towards your goals over time. The key, as already mentioned, is to be consistent with your efforts. It doesn’t actually matter how much you do each day, as long as you are doing something each day.
Let’s look at two examples: Person A has a goal of writing a book and Person B has a goal of losing 40 pounds. Person A could focus on only writing when they are inspired and have time to sit down for an extended period, or they could instead focus on writing a little bit each day. If they have a particularly busy week, they may never be able to “find the time” to write a chapter, or even a page, during that week. What if they focus instead on writing just one sentence a day?
By the end of the week, in turn, they will have written a good-sized paragraph; this action compounded weekly will ultimately lead to a finished product.
The same is true with Person B. Maybe they don’t have the ability to get to the gym every day, but they hold themselves accountable to making positive health decisions as often as possible. Even if all they do is choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator, that one change will add up over time. Eventually, these small changes will allow Person B to successfully lose the 40 pounds. It isn’t about sweeping gestures, quitting cold turkey, or drastically altering your life.
Lasting change comes from the small decisions to make a better choice, the small sacrifices at every turn.
You likely put far too much pressure on yourself to do things perfectly, to be “on” all the time. How often do diets fail because we can’t hold ourselves to that standard? How often do we fall short of goals because the target seems so far away? How often do we lose momentum as soon as the road gets difficult? When those moments happen, focus on what’s right in front of you. To take it back to Any Given Sunday, focus on “the six inches in front of your face.” Pacino describes this concept passionately because, as he says, this is exactly how winning is done.
The Inverse is Also True
Just as small wins compound over time to become large successes, large failures are likewise the product of many minor errors. Every time you make a conscious decision to be lazy, to take the easy way out, or to avoid working towards your goals then you are adding to the negative side of the scale. If you have that same weight-loss goal as Person B above and continue taking the elevator, eating pizza every day for lunch, and rarely exercising, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you fast-forward to one month from now and haven’t lost any weight. Every decision you make matters, and all of these decisions add up to help define the person you will become in the future.
Take stock of your current habits, and focus in on the ones that are not serving your best interests. Awareness is the first step required for change; if you gain a better understanding of the actions that are holding you back, it becomes easier to dictate your own future. The biggest things to become aware of are the opportunities throughout your day when you are faced with a choice: the choice to add to your daily scale. If you consistently choose to focus on the positive, to make better decisions, then success is inevitable.
You Only Need to Win by One Point
Look at any sport that you have ever played or have ever watched. Games often come down to the final seconds, and there are countless times in the history of sports where the margin of victory is unbelievably small. That is the same margin of victory you are seeking in your daily life. You only need to win by one point to win the day. For every three bad decisions you make, you have the rest of your 24 hours to make four good ones. Some days you may win by many points, but understand that it is okay to have your fair share of buzzer-beaters. What matters most is the consistency of your efforts.
One concept that has stuck with me over the years is to “never make two bad decisions in a row.” We are all human, we all make mistakes. Mistakes on their own are not inherently bad, it is when we allow these mistakes to snowball into catastrophes that we are negatively affected. When you make a mistake, which you will, double down on your efforts to follow it with something positive. Did you eat that pizza for lunch? No worries, eat a healthy dinner. Did you miss your workout today? Cool, you better show up tomorrow.
Far too often we beat ourselves up for every bad decision we make. What we should be doing is giving ourselves credit for what we do right when given the choice to slip. Every time we evade a bad habit, or reinforce a good one, is a victory that should be praised. Understand that one percent better every day is more than good enough, because that one percent grows exponentially over time.
Every day, your slate is clean, your scale is empty, and you are given a series of choices. The secret to success is surprisingly simple: tip the scales in your favor, one decision at a time, and focus on consistently adding points to your scoreboard.