What Happens When I Only Change 1%?

I made one very small decision beginning on January 1st that will influence every other decision.

This month people have made all types of resolutions, most of which are not kept until December 31. In fact, research from the University of Scranton says just 8% of people keep their resolutions. I want to be in that 8%. Don't you?

Here is a peek into my world...I love change. I often make big changes in my personal and work life. However, sometimes getting to the finish line is tough. To be candid, sometimes I just lacked interest and/or discipline to finish well. What would it look like to not make any big decision; rather, what if I made one very small decision throughout each day and try to manage that this year?

In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. (In other words, it won’t impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t. This is why small choices don’t make much of a difference at the time, but add up over the long-term.
— James Clear

What is that one very small decision I made this year?

Intentionally choose to make each area in my life 1% better.

Examples of this include:

  • Preparing 1% more for a meeting.
  • Spending 1% more time choosing a book to read.
  • Writing 1% more notes each month to leaders.
  • Investing 1% more in key relationships.
  • Reading 1% more of the Bible each day.
  • Hanging 1% more with my wife and kids.
  • Running 1% more on my treadmill.
  • Dialing 1% more to chat with my family. 
  • Choosing 1% more to cut from my job. 
  • Thinking 1% more each day about ideas.
  • Sleeping 1% more each night.
  • Writing 1% more training content each day.
  • Saying 1% more "thank you but no thank you" to opportunities.
  • Saying 1% more "yes, let's do it" to opportunities.
  • Relinquishing 1% more to achieve improved collaboration.
  • Exploring 1% more new territory that involves risk and requires courage.

In only 21 days, I have already seen positive results:

  • A sense of relief
  • More clarity
  • Increased joy
  • Higher productivity
  • Greater focus
  • More control

I was encouraged last week when my friend emailed me this story:

In 2010, Dave Brailsford faced a tough job.

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), Brailsford was asked to change that.

His approach was simple.

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time.

He was wrong. They won it in three years.

In 2012, Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. That same year, Brailsford coached the British cycling team at the 2012 Olympic Games and dominated the competition by winning 70 percent of the gold medals available.

In 2013, Team Sky repeated their feat by winning the Tour de France again, this time with rider Chris Froome. Many have referred to the British cycling feats in the Olympics and the Tour de France over the past 10 years as the most successful run in modern cycling history.

Water boils at 212 degrees. Not 211 degrees. That one very small degree changes everything. Water boils. Steam is produced. That same steam can power a locomotive. One degree made all the difference. It often appears moving further faster involves only a little than we might think.

For me, improving 1% influences a new routine. 

Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Routine also allows the mental work to shift to the basal ganglia, which allows mental space to free up to concentrate on something new.
— Greg McKeown

What if you decided to embrace the 1% approach? It might actually help you achieve more in less time and feel great! Very small decisions can have a great impact.