Gradually, then Suddenly: Hemingway’s Warning About Habits

Have you ever looked up and wondered, “How did I get here?” You suddenly realize your health, finances or a relationship is a wreck. Read on to see how to prevent ruining your happiness “gradually, then suddenly.”

gradually, then suddenly
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It happens to all of us. It’s the way habits works. It’s the way canyons, beer bellies and bankruptcies are made. One drip at a time.

What is Gradually, Then Suddenly?

I borrowed this idea from Steven Dennis and Seth Godin. Although unnoticeable, gradually eventually leads to suddenly. It builds momentum. It succumbs to the compound effect.

While we’re coasting along doing our thing, great and magical forces are at work using the effects of our labor to fortify the foundation for our future habits. These effects compound our daily acts, both good and bad, into a grand result that can take us by surprise.

Whether it’s a savings account or a credit card balance, the effects of our habits always happen gradually, then suddenly.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”

That’s my favorite line from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

In 14 words, Hemingway sums up Darren Hardy’s Compound Effect and Seth Godin’s Drip. He summed up creeping obesity, laziness and doomed relationships. He told us how weeds ruin yards and how termites destroy homes.

The First Way: Gradually

Hemingway’s first way is the drip.

Gradually is the deposits into our savings account or the meals you charge on your credit card. It’s the calories you consume or the calories you burn.

Gradually is the time you spend connecting with loved ones or the time you spend on the Internet. The best way to connect with your loved ones is to share this blog with them.

Gradually is the deposits you make into your Happiness Accounts.

Every puff on a cigarette gradually kills. Puff by puff, drip by drip.

The initial effects happen gradually. The first way is the delayed consequences. We don’t notice gradually. We don’t realize the gradual change occurring until it becomes something dramatic, like a canyon.

You don’t notice gradually until it becomes…

The Second Way: Suddenly

Hemingway’s second way, suddenly, is the first day we put on a swimsuit and realize how it doesn’t look so good anymore.

Suddenly is getting that credit card bill that says the $15,000 line of credit is maxed out. True story.

Suddenly is also when you’ve saved up enough money to book that trip to Universal Studios Orlando. Mmmmm…butterbeer.

Suddenly is when you arrive home to an empty house, except for that note saying “goodbye.”

Suddenly is the Beast getting comfortable, because it’s got you.

Suddenly is a trip to the ER, because of chest pains.

Stay Mindful of What You’re Doing Gradually

Take some time at how you spend each day. Where will the things you do every day or every hour take you? Where will you be when you get where you’re going? More than anything else, the little things you do every day will determine what you become.

Pay attention now to how you spend your time, money and calories. One way or another it is adding up and it is compounding, drip by drip.

Gradually will one day become suddenly.


When was a time that you suddenly realized the gradual results of a habit?

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