Linear Is Exponential

Linear Is Exponential RealLinear is exponential. In life. In finance. And in everything in-between.

Given that my perspective is often financially based, I’ll start there.

Imagine you’re able to save $500 a month. That’s $6,000 per year or $240,000 over 40 years time. This is supposing linear terms. If you diligently put the saved money under your proverbial mattress – a non-interest bearing safe haven – you’d have just under a quarter of a million dollars at the end of 4 decades.

On the other hand, you might choose to invest that same $500 per month; with your investments conceivably averaging 7% annualized compound gains. The same $6,000 per year turns into about $1.27 million 40 years later – $1 million more.

Your contributions are linear, but the outcome is exponential.

Of course this works the other way as well. If you’re creating debt and paying interest, the math moves against you.

In everyday life it can be easy to cast aside the benefits of a saved dollar here or the drag of an extra $5 there. Yet keep in mind that pennies today can equate to thousands tomorrow.

In turn, this applies to your life as well. Forget the money – if only momentarily. Let’s say you want to lose weight. What’s your course of action? You could stop eating and try to run back-to-back marathons, but for some reason I think you’d be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, we all know the remedy: eat better and exercise. And not just today or tomorrow, but frequently – over and over again – until your consistent, linear efforts pay off in a way that no single marathon ever could. Even if you’re just barely improving, it’s important that the ball is rolling. It might take months, but the same amount of effort (progress) each day leads to results.

I’ll give you a personal example. I’m not sure if you know this, but I wrote a book. It took me a month: June 4th to July 4th. Now I didn’t set out to write a book in a month. For that matter, I didn’t set out to write it in a year or a day – none of that. Instead, I knew that if I put some time aside each day and wrote, that I’d get there eventually. I didn’t fret over having this much finished by that date or creating arbitrary rewards or penalties for meeting artificial deadlines. I just wrote. And my linear efforts – writing for a few hours each day – lead to exponential results. A conscious and consistent decision allowed for something that I never considered possible until recently.

The important part is the linear bit – just getting started. The exponential component tends to come along as the process evolves.

Yet be cautious. Much like the debt example, this pull works both ways. If you begin down a negative path – say wasting afternoons or treating others unfairly – these linear actions tend to result in the accumulation of exponentially less desirable outcomes.

Or expressed using Samuel Johnson’s words:

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

My sentiment is the same (perhaps Johnson’s quip is a bit more illustrative). In everything you do or hope to do, remember: “linear is exponential.” Consistent effort leads to larger and larger returns. Conversely, persistent negatives could very well dig an insurmountable hole.

Sometimes I’ll write a long treatise and other times it will just be a quick note. In either event, my job is to cut the fluff and give you the reading goods. My hope is that in consistently doing so your enjoyment (and perchance my readership) will grow exponentially.




15 thoughts on “Linear Is Exponential

  • September 18, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Awesome post here Eli! It is amazing how compound or exponential growth affects the final outcome right?

    The moral here I feel is the best time to start was 20 years ago, the second best time is today :)

    What did you end up writing? I suppose I should read the linked post and will now.
    Keep up the great work too!

    • September 19, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Thanks Jef! I truly appreciate it. Yeah, the idea is any consistent action you take today (financial or not) will end up with exponential results in the future – good or bad.

      The book is called “You Don’t Have A Money Problem” and connects personal finance to investing, along with giving you a framework to think about your role in the process.

      I’ll make you a deal, I’ll keep working if you keep reading :)

      • September 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm

        That’s fine Eli, more than happy to support people with great ideas and who have a genuine interest in helping others out..

        Sounds like a plan to me then! :) haha

  • October 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Great read.

    It’s the same when you take on a new sport or activity. I teach tennis and chess on the side and it’s always amazing how at first a person can be clunky with the racquet or not even know how the pieces move and then after eight or nine weeks of consistent practice, they’re striking shots and recognizing combinations that amaze even themselves.

    The important thing is to stay consistent and let those small incremental gains build upon one another until you’re moving in leaps and bounds.

    – Ryan from

    • October 2, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Thanks Ryan, I really appreciate it. Great analogy and good takeaway. I find that in the beginning it’s quite easy to improve rapidly, but eventually you get to a point where getting slightly better requires exceedingly more effort. I like to say: “once you have a certain skill set, it’s all about a certain mind set.” Developing the skill is the important part, just getting started. Thanks for stopping by!

      • November 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm

        Reminds me of “The more you know about a given subject the more you realize how much you have left to learn.”. I had co-workers who spent decades in the field telling me this.

  • October 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Great post – if you haven’t had a chance yet check out a book called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Essentially the same premise as this post but I always try to read it a couple times a year since it’s such a quick read, yet a powerful idea.

    • October 9, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Matt, thanks for your comment. I’ll have to look into that book. All the best.

  • October 21, 2014 at 11:24 am

    I find the effort we put in to our desires delivers the most fair outcomes in life. We have always done well financially but 6 years ago we decided to really max out everything we could. We have worked extremely hard for 6 years and our financial situation is not only good but amazing today. Because of that effort we no longer worry about retirement. We no longer worry about any emergency. We no longer worry about money. When you get serious about saving and investing and do it consistently…it will literally change your life.

    • October 21, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Hi Lance, thanks for your comment. I think your sentiment is on point. For a lot of people getting started is the difficult part. Once you begin to see results it sort of snowballs on itself. I especially like the “don’t worry any more” bit. Thanks for stopping by!

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