Do you know how the compound effect works? How about compounding gratefulness?
Investment strategies based on wishful thinking usually end in greater debt and disappointment. For example, purchasing a daily lottery ticket will rarely result in enough winnings to even pay for that decision. But that doesn’t stop millions of dreaming of picking the “big one.”
Likewise, a diet strategy based on periodic fasts and challenges will ultimately only lead to yo-yo dieting which tends to lead to higher weights, not lower. I speak from experience.
When it comes to gratitude, we can’t just make ourselves more grateful by making a conscious choice to stop worrying and be thankful.
What’s needed is a complete reversal in how we approach change.
Incremental choices lead to compounding growth.
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy teaches us that small, seemingly insignificant decisions made over a long period of time will lead to massive change. It works in finances, diets, workouts, and relationships.
The book of Proverbs teaches us a similar concept:
“Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.”—Proverbs 21:5 TLB
In the Parable of the Talents, the master rebukes the lazy servant who buried his talent instead of investing it. He said, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (Mt. 25:26–27 NIV).
Don’t despise small investments.
Making the decision to be thankful for only one or two things each day seems very small and insignificant. Surely we should do more.
In this Gratitude Challenge, I started out thinking that we should increase the number of things we’re thankful for incrementally over 90 days. That may be true, but I tried to ramp it up too quickly.
If you found one unique thing (or person) to be thankful for every day for a year, that would be 365 different reasons to be grateful. Imagine doing that for 10 years!
Daily choices add up to big results.
Brian Doyle faced a near-death experience that served as a wake-up call to see his life and relationships more gratefully. He decided to genuinely thank one person each day for one year—no repeats allowed. This small incremental choice gave him confidence and hope and led to restoration.
Hailey Batholomew found herself depressed and searching for meaning in her life. Through an encounter with a monk, she decided to create a grateful photo every day for one year. As a result, she overcame depression and found a greater purpose for her life.
Compounding effects start very small.
If you track your progress—which I encourage you to do—your initial results might seem ridiculously small and frustrating. Compounding interest is not additive, but logarithmic. In the early days, months, and even years, you will barely see the difference. Give it time.
I’ve been working out with a personal trainer for six years. Due to injuries, I haven’t always been consistent, but when I’ve gone three times per week for months on end, I’ve noticed massive results that astonished me. No single workout feels like I’m making big progress, but when we quarterly test my maximum weights on the bench press, we see that I’m in the top 10% for my age and size. That’s gratifying and makes me want to keep working.
The same thing can happen with gratitude—except it’s not a competition. After 30, 60, or 90 days, notice how you’re more likely to stop and thank a server or tell your spouse something you’re grateful for. Pay attention to your mindset. Do you get frustrated as easily?
Compounding growth requires a recalibration.
Diets don’t work when we’re focused on hitting a specific weight target. We often let ourselves off the hook once we hit the goal and we’re no longer motivated to keep trying. What’s needed is a new approach to food.
Likewise, gratitude won’t work if you’re focused on just saying thanks for 90 days. After all, you might stop once you reach the end of 90 days. But, you will see results when you develop the habit of thanking people and seeing things to be grateful for every day.
Habits endure when goals disappear.
In either case, the way to reprogram our brain is through small, daily choices.
For example, it could be really small. Let’s say you have a credit card you’re trying to pay down. Instead of paying the minimum amount, add an extra $2 or $5 to the payment. If you do this every month, you will significantly decrease the time required to pay off the card. More importantly, you’re signaling to your brain that you’re doing something extra.
Roger Staubach, the retired NFL quarterback, famously put in one extra rep than required whenever he worked out. The cumulative effect of one additional repetition resulted in a Hall of Fame career and an unrivaled work ethic.
Multiply your gratitude.
G.K. Chesterton called gratitude “happiness doubled by wonder.” If we learn to daily become aware of the people and things for which we can be thankful, we will multiply our faith.
In the Parable of the Sower, in Matthew 13, Jesus describes the harvest yielded from the four types of soils. He implicitly makes another point. The sower’s job is to sow. Every day. Abundantly. The yield is up to God, but we will never get a harvest if we don’t sow.
Small changes can be difficult.
Most of us are resistant to change. When my wife and I started to pray together every day, it was a challenge at first. We didn’t think we had time. There were often distractions and reasons to prevent it. Yes, we were making a spiritual change so opposition should be expected, but we ultimately had to decide these ten minutes are too important to compromise. Now we feel like our day is incomplete if we don’t pray together.
That’s why starting with something very small can be the best choice. While it may seem insignificant, treat it as if it’s vital. Schedule it. Create a visual reminder. Maybe tell some friends what you’re doing.
WARNING: If you post it on social media, make sure you also have people privately who hold you accountable. Sometimes when we announce big goals online, it feels like we already accomplished it.
The Compounding Stealth Project: Write down one thing every day you’re grateful for about your spouse (or someone significant in your life). Don’t tell your spouse what you’re doing. Give them the book on their next birthday or after one year.
Father, I thank you for how you created the world for growth. You made seeds to be planted and to return a harvest. I thank you for the seeds of faith, hope, and love you’ve placed in my life. Teach me to sow seeds of gratitude in my life through my daily words, thoughts, and deeds. Protect me from all the ways my joy might be robbed. May your hand be upon me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.