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How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything

Small habits tend to echo across all aspects of our lives. Leverage this fact to level up fast.

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In a commencement speech at UT-Austin that went viral in 2014, Admiral William McRaven encouraged the graduating seniors, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.”

Really? Making your bed? That’s it?

Maybe a made bed doesn’t change the world in and of itself, but as McRaven pointed out, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another.”

Maybe it’s a coincidence that during my 12 years struggling to succeed as an entrepreneur, I was an intermittent bed-maker at best. But after watching that speech, I became a habitual bed-maker. And just like that, my agency rocketed to seven figures. Coincidence?

Just kidding... kind of. But I’m a consistent bed-maker to this day. Sometimes I slip up, but nine times out of 10, my bed looks freshly done. And as McRaven put it, “if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made.”

Related: 3 Wonderfully Uncommon Reasons to Form Better Habits

Every single thing does matter

If you were to watch over anyone for a few weeks or a month, you will undoubtedly find that the way they do one thing is the way they do everything the vast majority of the time.

Yes, they may slip up here and there, but a healthy diet? Consistent bedtime and rise time? Meditation and exercise rituals? How clean or cluttered is their car? Kitchen clean, bed made?

Yes, people have strengths and weaknesses, but in general you can draw some fairly accurate conclusions from a snapshot of a person’s life. If all you can see is that person’s car, and the car is dirty and cluttered, chances are excellent that their house is dirty and cluttered, their desktop is dirty and cluttered — and most of the time, their mind is chaotic and cluttered.

Why do job coaches stress interview attire? If you see a person who is meticulously dressed in high-quality clothing that matches and fits well, you can deduce with reasonable certainty that this person cares about his car, his diet, his home, his routines. He may have an “off” day here and there, but in general you are looking at a put-together person. 

Another example. You decide to finally buckle down and start going to the gym consistently, only to crap out after two weeks and return to your couch-potato ways. Take a good hard look in the mirror. What else do you commit to and pursue for two weeks before throwing in the towel?

Our habits tell us who we are. How we do one thing often tells us a great deal about how we do everything.

Related: How to Form Better Habits as an Entrepreneur

Not all hope is lost

So does this mean some people are doomed? Maybe you’re in a panic right now, thinking about your greatest weakness and wondering if it defines you. If you do one thing poorly, are you destined to do everything poorly and ultimately fail?

Absolutely not. In fact, a tremendous hack is hiding in the truism that how we do one thing is often how we do everything. (I keep repeating this in case you haven't noticed; that's on purpose).

Here’s the hack — if you successfully change one thing, adopt one good habit and stick to it, it cascades down to the rest of your life. 

If you want to improve your life, start by improving one thing. It doesn’t even have to be the most important thing on your plate. In fact, it’s probably better that it not be related to the most pressing issue on your plate. It’s easy to freeze like a deer in headlights when you tackle the big things.

So start small. If what you really care about is your physical fitness but you can’t force yourself to exercise, start by making your bed consistently. Building up discipline in one area of your life will establish you not just as a habitual bed-maker — it will start to change your identity into that of a person who has discipline. A person who has discipline can ultimately ease their way into a fitness habit, no problem.

If your most pressing issue is to make more money and grow your business, start by improving your diet. Crazy, right? What does your diet have to do with your business life? That’s irrelevant. Succeeding in one discipline gives you the grit to succeed in other disciplines. The increased energy and better digestion can’t hurt either.

Related: 5 Morning Habits That Will Start Your Day With Purpose

Action Steps

  • Untidy? If your home, car and personal appearance tends to be untidy, follow the Admiral’s advice and start by making your bed. Eventually your bed will start to look foolish in its untidy surroundings and you will start getting the rest of your act together.
  • Bad diet? Switch the sugary drinks with water. This alone will work wonders. Drink sugar-free fizzy water if that helps. I am addicted to LaCroix. Highly recommend it.
  • No exercise routine? Walk. Forget about starting a butt-blasting weight routine that will burn you out in two weeks. Start with a daily walk and work your way up to it. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you pick something sustainable. If that is walking for you, there’s no shame in that.
  • Can’t focus on your business? Wake up 10 minutes early and try a daily meditation routine. Clearing your mind is a great first step to approaching your most important tasks with clarity. 
  • Can’t finish what you start? Pick one thing on your back-burner — anything — and finish it. Develop a taste for the thrill of completion. Trust me, it’s addictive.

The reason I encourage my students to go out and make a sale as fast as they possibly can — to fail fast, break stuff, rebuild better, and get the cash register to ring — is because nothing succeeds like success. 

Once you put a W on the board — even a small one — you develop a lust for victory. So many people choose not to compete because they are afraid they are going to lose. But once they discover that they can win, even in a small way, it gives them courage for the fight. They become hungry for more, and that drives them to do great things.
Dylan Ogline

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Dylan Ogline is an entrepreneur, investor and author. He is known as a pervader of work and lifestyle optimizations. He is founder of digital marketing agency Ogline Digital. A student of Stoicism, he enjoys playing hockey, reading and traveling the world.