The Compounding Power of One’s Efforts

I’m fond of a good saying. Here are a few that I like:

“Watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

“The oak sleeps in the acorn.”

“If one has the faith of a mustard seed, one can move mountains.”

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

These sayings all essentially say the same thing, namely: doing small things now can create big things in the future.

It reminds me of a conversation I was having with a new piano student yesterday. I was explaining to him how I’ve observed that very often new players get easily discouraged when they start to play. It seems to me that they often judge themselves for not getting it on their first try. It’s as if they see nothing but the immediate results and, not being happy with those, assume they are condemned only to experience further dissatisfaction. They don’t realize the incredible cumulative effects of practicing over a long period of time. If they persist, they will improve. What starts out requiring a lot of thought and mental strain will grow easier.

With enough effort, what started out hard will become effortless and automatic.

The brain is an incredible learning machine, yet for most of us (unless you are some sort of precocious genius), there is only so much we can absorb at one time. When a piano student picks up a piece of sheet music and attempts to play it, unless they have a lot of experience, the music will likely challenge them. If they are impatient with themselves, they can easily end up overwhelmed or frustrated.

On the other hand, if the student accepts that, yes, there may be only so much they can learn in one day, and is content with that, giving their best regularly, over time, their abilities will grow. In fact, their accomplishments may astound them.

It’s about seeing the long view of how results occur. I think a lot of people interpret frustration, lack, or perceived limitation as if it is fixed or permanent (I have been guilty of this many a time!). It doesn’t have to be. In the case of the new piano student, their inability to play is temporary, as long as they keep working at it. If they are to be successful, they ought to keep in mind the big picture. Like a would-be gardener, they should not get frustrated that the seeds they planted three hours earlier have not yet produced a lush harvest! With careful and consistent attention, they can cultivate their own garden, and get much satisfaction from it.

Much of the personal finance literature I read emphasizes the same mantra, using different words: start saving early, save often, invest and take advantage of compound interest. This is another way of saying the very same thing: your small consistent actions now will someday produce significant dividends.

When it comes to saving and investing, the same thing seems to happen as with the would-be piano player: people often get easily frustrated or quit trying before they’ve really got going. Why is this? It’s because they doubt the future power of their present efforts! Instead of believing in the great possibilities that will come from planting today’s seeds which will some day be harvested, they interpret the unsatisfying conditions of the present moment as if they will continue forever. They therefore condemn themselves to a future of more of the same frustration, doubt, lack, and limitation.


Again, it doesn’t have to be this way.

It seems to me that the key is to believe that through our positive actions in the present, we will help bring joy, satisfaction, and expansion to our futures. The sky’s the limit when one has faith in the compounding power of one’s efforts.

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