The Power of Habits
A Mathematical Proof
May 20th, 2022
About three years ago I quit my 30-year-long University employment. I’ve been teaching all these years, first in the Vienna Conservatory and then in the Music Institute of the Catholic University of Valparaiso in Chile. I was an employee for 30 years; my working hours were clear, if not always regular.
When I quit and became self-employed I was shocked to find out that I had no idea how to manage my time, how to prioritise, how to know when I’ve done enough and call it a day. I was stressed, overworked and very inefficient.
It became clear to me that I needed to establish some rules: a morning routine, a work schedule, resting time, exercise time, family time, weekends…
That’s when I started looking into my habits. What am I doing repeatedly? What should I be doing every day and don’t? Am I using my time in a way that moves me in the right direction? Or, expressed differently, am I improving? Or are my chaotic schedule and messy priorities actually taking me two steps back with each step forward? In other words, am I getting worse with time instead of better?
It was a real question; I was doubting myself. I really didn’t know if I was moving in the right direction.
Among my explorations into habit creation I came across the idea of exponential growth. Kind of common sense, really, but mind-boggling when you dimension its depth. The above calculation illustrates how it works. If your mathematics are as precarious as mine and those equations don’t mean anything to you, I can explain.
If you improve anything by 1% each day, it will get 37.8 times better by the end of a year. That is, it will become a staggering 3780% better.
If, on the other hand, you get worse at anything by 1% a day, you’ll end the year with 3% of your original ability.
It is mind-boggling, isn’t it? You may think that even one percent is a lot. You don’t expect to improve by 1% each day even in tasks that you practise and try to improve on a regular basis.
But, you know, it doesn’t really matter. These equations only make the idea of exponential growth (or exponential regression) crystal clear. It doesn’t matter if you improve by 0.1% a day whatever it is you are interested in improving. You’re still on a path of growth. You learn, you improve, you are alive.
And if you slacken, let go, just go through the motions without much attention, you don’t just stay in one place, you actually get worse. Maybe just a little bit, maybe a 0.1% each day. You’re still on a downhill path. And that, too, is exponential.
Gurdjieff talked a lot about “the work”. You must invest constantly in the intention to improve and grow. It doesn’t need to be spectacular, but it must be constant. This will put you on that path of exponential growth, and the result may be spectacular after all. But if you don’t sustain such an intention, you are by default on a path of regression, a tiny step at a time, but the end result may be spectacularly devastating.
We can see this path of devastation all around us. When we get older, if we don’t do anything to stay mobile and active, we regress. We do a little less each day, each year, and we end up stiff and fragile. Most of us tend to accept it as part of ageing; we think of it as inevitable. But it is not. It’s a matter of choice.
I work with mindful movement. I have created a daily practice that is all about that tiny improvement each day. It’s about staying on the path of growth. And when you take that path actively, when you make that choice, you don’t have to be rolling downhill with age. You can keep growing for as long as you live.
Take a look at those two equations. Which one represents where you’re heading in your life? There’s a choice to be made here. It doesn’t mean you must be working hard. It means you can choose to stay on the path of growth, and take a little step each day. Nothing spectacular, just constant. This is “the work”.
Or you can choose not to do anything. Take a look at the second equation. This is what it would mean.
✼ ✼ ✼
Do you have a movement practice that puts you each day back on that path of growth? I have created one, and people who stay on it for a while notice the difference.
Take a look at what they say. Take a look at Persistent Growth.