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The 2 Types of Growth: Which One of These Growth Curves Are You Following?

The 2 Types of Growth: Which One of These Growth Curves Are You Following?
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We often assume that life works in a linear fashion.

People will say, “You get out of life what you put into it.” The basic idea is that for each unit of effort you put into a given task, you get some unit of return. For example, if you make $25 per hour and you work for two hours, then you’ll make $50. If you work for 4 hours, you’ll make $100. Put more in. Get more out.

There is just one problem: most of life doesn’t actually follow this linear pattern. Don’t get me wrong, hard work is essential. However, if you expect your life to follow a linear trajectory, then you may find yourself feeling frustrated and confused.

Instead, most areas of life follow two different types of growth. This is something I learned from my friend Scott Young. Let’s talk about these two patterns now.

Which one of these growth curves are you following?

Type 1: Logarithmic Growth

The first type of growth is logarithmic.

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Logarithmic growth increases quickly in the beginning, but the gains decrease and become more difficult as time goes on. Generally speaking, logarithmic growth looks something like this:

logarithmic-growth-curve

    There are many examples of logarithmic growth in daily life.

    • Fitness and Strength Training: The “beginner gains” come quickly at first, but then it becomes more difficult to get stronger each week.
    • Literacy: Children and young students make massive leaps as they learn how to read. Meanwhile, college students and well-educated adults have to put in a focused effort to expand their vocabulary beyond commonly used words.
    • Language proficiency: Learning how to speak even a rudimentary level of a new language opens up a whole new world. However, there are only meager gains left for fluent speakers to discover.
    • Weight Loss: It may be relatively easy to shed five pounds within a week or two, but then the progress slows. Each successive pound of fat loss is more stubborn than the last.
    • Musical skill: Improvements come quickly for a novice guitar player. Improvements come very slowly for a concert pianist.

    There are thousands of other examples. In fact, most skills (writing, programming skills, juggling, running, etc.) fall into the logarithmic growth category.

    Type 2: Exponential Growth

    The second type of growth is exponential.

    Exponential growth increases slowly in the beginning, but the gains increase rapidly and become easier as time goes on. Generally speaking, exponential growth looks something like this:

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    exponential-growth-curve

      You will also find exponential growth opportunities in daily life (although I think they are less prevalent).

      • Investments and wealth: Thanks to the power of compound interest, your retirement savings start out as a small treasure in the early years, but balloon in size during the final decade or two of savings.
      • Email subscribers and website traffic: New websites receive just a trickle of traffic here and there, but as the weeks and months roll on those trickles can build into a raging river of visitors and subscribers.
      • Entrepreneurship and business growth: The assets that you build for your business stack on top of one another and revenue compounds throughout the life of a successful business.
      • Social media followers: When you only have 100 followers, getting another 100 followers may take six months. Once you have 1,000 followers, however, getting the next 100 may only take one month. Once you have 100,000 followers, getting another 100 probably takes one day. Your growth rate snowballs.

      The Challenges of Each Growth Curve

      Neither type of growth is good nor bad. These growth patterns are simply the way certain things work. However, it is important to understand the growth pattern of your task so that you can set your expectations appropriately.

      Don’t expect exponential returns when you’re playing a logarithmic game. Similarly, don’t expect quick wins when you’re building something that has an exponential curve.

      When dealing with logarithmic growth, the challenge is to avoid feeling discouraged as your improvements decrease. Improvement will come easily in the beginning and you will become accustomed to enjoying small wins each day. Soon, however, those small wins will become smaller.

      Logarithmic growth requires you to have the mental toughness to play a game that will, by definition, become more challenging to win as time goes on. You will feel like you have plateaued. You will question yourself and your abilities. If you want to succeed with logarithmic growth, you have to learn how to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work if you want to maintain consistency as your improvements dwindle.

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      When dealing with exponential growth, the challenge is to continue working through the early period when you have little or nothing to show for your effort. Exponential growth requires you to be remarkably patient and diligent (often for years or decades) before enjoying a significant payoff. There may be 10 years of silence before you hear the sound of success.

      Equally important, you need to give your best effort even when you’re getting average results. Exponential gains only result from sustained effort in the early years.

      How to Accelerate Your Progress

      Once you understand the type of growth curve you are dealing with, there are two ways that you can accelerate your progress on a given curve.

      Option 1:

      The first option is to break the task down into smaller tasks that can be mastered more quickly. In other words, by getting very specific with the task you are working on, you can increase the rate of growth (i.e. smaller tasks have steeper growth curves because they are easier to master). This strategy works especially well for accelerating your progress on tasks that experience logarithmic growth.

      smaller-growth-curves

        Dave Brailsford’s aggregation of marginal gains is a great example of this. By improving every small task related to cycling by just 1 percent, Brailsford was able to guide his British cyclists to massive success. Mastering these small tasks led to incredibly fast growth.

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        Option 2:

        The second option is to play a different version of the game. More specifically, play the version of the game that has the highest growth curve. This strategy works especially well for tasks that experience exponential growth.

        Take entrepreneurship, for example. You could build a candle shop. All of the statements about exponential growth hold true for a candle shop. Given enough time and a good product, you could eventually produce candles at scale, develop new product lines, and otherwise build assets that lead to exponential growth years later.

        However, if you played a different version of the entrepreneurship game and started a software company, then you may reach the exponential growth threshold much faster. There are a variety of reasons for this: reduced overhead and manufacturing costs, faster industry growth overall, higher margins, and so on. The end result is that both companies have exponential growth curves, but one has a much steeper slope.

        highest-growth-curve

          The Bottom Line

          Most things in life have some type of growth curve and very rarely is that curve a straight line.

          Understand the type of curve you are dealing with so that you can set your expectations appropriately. And if you aren’t happy with the type of growth curve you’re on, then start playing a game with a different curve. (1)

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          This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

          FOOTNOTES
          1. This article contains many of my own insights, but I want to make sure that all the credit for the two types of growth concept goes to my friend Scott Young. I am simply building upon his work.

          Featured photo credit: Stefan via flickr.com

          More by this author

          James Clear

          James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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          Last Updated on July 21, 2021

          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

          The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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          No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

          Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

          Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

          A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

          Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

          In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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          From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

          A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

          For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

          This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

          The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

          That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

          Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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          The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

          Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

          But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

          The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

          The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

          A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

          For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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          But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

          If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

          For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

          These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

          For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

          How to Make a Reminder Works for You

          Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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          Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

          Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

          My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

          Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

          I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

          More on Building Habits

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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          Reference

          [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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