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The Power of Cumulative Effects on Success and Failure

This article contains affiliate links.

Today is more of a musing discussion with a bit of “life advice” flavor. The point is directly about shooting, health, and other important skills- but the implications affect just about everything. I want to talk about the power of accumulated effort and why so many people, including me at times, go wrong with it.

As I’m writing my thoughts down to record them, I’m 113 days into the longest “cut” I’ve been on in my life. Back in November 2022, I went and had a DEXA scan done at a local gym to evaluate my body composition. Despite being lighter and appearing fitter than I ever did while on activity duty, the results of the scan still came back disappointing. I decided that whatever other goals I had in mind, dropping the excess fat and getting down to a point that I could be be truly proud of must be the priority.

It’s not just about vanity. I want to set the example for my son. I want him to see his parents live a lifestyle I didn’t see as a kid.

I also want him to grow up with a “bad ass dad” stories and the ability proudly proclaim his dad could beat up the other dads.

I also know my family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. With 40 just around the corner later this year, I plan to enter the next decade with my best chance.

As I write this, 113 days later, I’m down over 22 lbs and the lowest weight I’ve been since I was a teenager- also while being able to athletically perform at a higher level. That said, today’s episode isn’t really about me or this particular journey.

Where it All Goes Wrong

The most common problem I see in the shooting world is the completely false idea that finally purchasing the “perfect” thing will solve all of our shooting shortcomings. People waste so much time agonizing over what rifle to get, the barrel configuration, or the optimum optic choice that they never actually get out and start shooting. Sadly, they’re missing out on the most important part: actually getting better.

A lot of people, especially beginners, ascribe far too much importance to the little nuances like the “best” red dot sight, 1-6x LPVO vs 1-8x, chrome lining vs nitriding, or anything else. When you zoom out, these things really aren’t all that vital to success.

That’s not just in shooting, either. I see this same behavior in any worthy pursuit, be it fitness, cars, or any skill-based endeavor.

Culturally, I think we have an aversion to working hard and sacrificing for delayed gratification. We want the “one weird trick” that promises to make the long plod to mastery faster or easier. We believe life should be a series of climaxes, complete with rousing background music and fast paced montages while we move from one major plot point to the next.

Marketers, for their part, are happy to take our money and sell us these climaxes for the mere appearance of progress or shortcuts. Some of these folks mean well, and others are more nefarious, but they’re all selling something. Rarely is it the idea that you just need to calm down and continue the take the journey step-by-step.

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.

Treat Life Like an Investment

In his excellent book, Atomic Habits, James Clear has a phrase that’s stuck with me for years: “The aggregation of marginal gains.” The idea is that we only need to make make consistent small changes one bit at a time. While each small adjustment is minuscule in the grand scheme of things, the difference adds up over time to major changes- for better or worse.

One analogy here might be that of an investment account, or a credit card. If you continuously invest small amounts of money repeatedly for years on end, then the power of compound interest eventually takes over. The amount of money you actually contribute becomes insignificant as the interest payments on the existing balance dwarf it in comparison. By taking consistent action today, you’ve set your future self up for success.

The only thing you had to do was stay committed and not mess it up. Once you’ve reached this high point, even relatively large setbacks still leave you in the positive zone.

On the Other hand: Debt.

The reverse is true of credit cards and consumer debt. Spending just a little more than you have every day begins to add up, and the power of interest soon takes over in the opposite direction, putting you in a hole that seems insurmountable to climb out of.

Are you depositing more in your self-investment than you’re deducting, enough that interest compounds over time?

I think the error that most people make, me included much of the time, is failing to consistently make those deposits. Maybe we’ll do it for a while, such as a flurry of dry practice, range time, training courses, or a new diet. But eventually, without commitment, we also start to make withdrawals against that balance. Sometimes we can keep things in balance, depositing about as much as we’re taking out, most of the time we’re not.

Support This Episode's Sponsor

Today's episode is sponsored by Ammo Squared, a service that helps you stockpile ammunition like a squirrel stashes nuts- just a little bit at a time. Simply contribute an amount to your ammo account, tell them how to distribute it, and let them go find it and store it for you.

In recent updates, they even let you sell back unwanted ammunition or send it to someone else. I've been using it myself for over a year to build up practice ammo, and you should definitely check it out.

Support This Episode's Sponsor

Today's episode is sponsored by Ammo Squared, a service that helps you stockpile ammunition like a squirrel stashes nuts- just a little bit at a time. Simply contribute an amount to your ammo account, tell them how to distribute it, and let them go find it and store it for you.

In recent updates, they even let you sell back unwanted ammunition or send it to someone else. I've been using it myself for over a year to build up practice ammo, and you should definitely check it out.

The Path to Success and Failure

Growing up, I always disliked the sentiment of, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It always felt like a bit of a rationalization for not winning. Perhaps that feeds into the whole “gotta have it now” cultural element.

As I’ve gotten more experience, and had a fair number of setbacks, I better understand where such thinking comes from.

Success is almost never built in an instant. Champions aren’t champions because they had a couple of months of really good training sessions. They put in years, if not decades, of daily contributions. They showed up, consistently checking the box for the day, and eventually the moment to show off what they developed arrived.

There are obviously people with natural talent, I’m not going to discount that. The difference for this group is that training sessions simply have a greater effect. They’re working with a better interest rate, if you will, and those gains compound faster. In no way does that discount the work and sacrifices they still had to put in. Nor should it discourage you from putting in the work yourself.

Likewise, I rarely think failure happens all at once. It’s more often than not the end result of a series of poor decisions. The opportunity to turn things around probably presented itself many times, and every time the decision was to ignore it or do the opposite. Sometimes people are holding out hope that one of those “easy” paths finally works, and they’ll keep waiting.

So What Do We Do?

More often than not, I’ve had the biggest struggles when I try and make large changes all at once. Usually, when I made those goals they were big and sweeping. Some examples might look like:

  • Lose 30 lbs/get below 190 lbs
  • Shoot 4 MOA precision from the standing rifle position 
  • 1/2/3/4 plate strength goals (135 OHP, 225 bench, 315 squat, 405 deadlift)
  • Consistent sub 1-second a-zone hit from concealment at 10 yards

Each of these are good goals in of themselves, but by focusing only on the objective, it makes it harder to actually achieve it. Instead, the secret I’ve learned is to focus on the process.

Journey, Not Destination

Losing 22 lbs (so far) wasn’t because I was telling myself I need to get to a certain body fat percentage. Nor was it chastising myself or getting mad every time the scale ticked in the wrong direction. It happened because I committed to checking the box each day and following my planned meals and macro goals. The rest happened by itself.

Hitting strength goals happens because you show up and do the work and make the investment frequently picking up heavy weight. You must accumulate stress in the body consistently to see those gains happen. Done right, you might even miss a day here or there and it all works out fine- because you’ve got those gains compounding in your favor.

This doesn’t take committing to some crazy lifestyle change, either. In fact, you’ll probably be worse off for trying. If you’re a busy parent and working professional, don’t try and “squeeze” 30 minutes of dry fire into your schedule every day right now. I’ve found that trying to do that leads to frustration and burnout.

But, could you do 10 minutes twice per week? Making a deposit at a lower rate is better than doing nothing, and even small deposits add up.

I’ll bet that if you can commit to a small investment like this a few times per week, regardless of the activity, then you’ll see results.

Small improvements at first, and then bigger ones down the line. Then, as if by magic, you’ll start prioritizing those investments because they feel good to do- and you’ll make bigger deposits and see better results. Success begets success.

But the opposite is also true. If you continue getting lost in the nuance, waiting for the perfect “thing” to come along and take you to the next level, then you’re going to continue struggling.

Forget the Climax

Forget the big moments. They are fun, for sure, but they are infrequent and difficult to experience repeatedly. The climaxes are the result of checking the box frequently and doing what you need to do.

Whatever it is you’re trying to pursue, break it down to the smallest possible investment of time and effort that you think you can sustain and then make a habit out of it. Let the gains compile over time and you might be surprised where it leads.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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W Perez
W Perez

I would say this one is one of your better pieces. I think it had the potential to affect lives in a positive manner


Motivating Matt! Insightly you have discovered the secret to sustained success! It is indeed the journey and along it we learn from both success and failure. The work involves ‘staying the course’ – forming habits of consistency that steer us along the path we choose to follow. Happiness is when we learn to enjoy it!

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