Weekly Round-Up of Life Hacks: The 1% Rule to Success

We all strive to improve and get better. Sometimes that means losing weight, getting a big promotion at work, eating better, going back to school, exercising more, or just generally living a healthier lifestyle. Most of the time, those changes come by way of major changes and adjustments. And that, of course, is hard to do. It’s the reason why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail by mid-February...we bite off more than we can chew.

Research and common sense would suggest taking the exact opposite approach. Instead of major, life-altering changes, do something minute. Almost imperceptible. Over time those kind of adjustments can really add up and lead to some amazing things.

This week, I want to present the 1% rule. A recent article by James Clear on Lifehacker introduced me to Dave Brailsford and the “aggregation of marginal gains”.

What is the 1% Rule?

Brailsford took over as the General Manager of Britain’s professional cycling team, Team Sky. He implemented a radical approach to “fix” the team, and helped lead them to the first British victor of the Tour de France within 3 years of taking the job.

He didn’t think in terms of becoming the best cyclists in the world. He didn’t even think in terms of becoming a top-ranked squad. He looked at making tiny - very tiny - improvements in every area possible, believing that they would all add up to something remarkable. And he was right. He strove for a 1% improvement across the board and in various ways.

This concept works because it focuses on making smart, correct choices on a daily basis, rather than making one monumental choice and then failing on its delivery or execution. You can’t decide to “win the Tour de France”. Want to, yes. Dream it, of course. But how do you set out to do that? It’s too big. Too colossal. If your team has never won before, how do you make it happen?

What you can do is set your sights on getting a little bit better at everything, not just the areas that would seem to make sense (like getting faster on a bike). Brailsford called this “the aggregation of marginal gains”.

Apply the 1% Rule to Everything

A 1% improvement is easy. Ridiculously so. 1% better of, say, not exercising could easily by exercising for 1 minute. Or 30 seconds. Quite literally. And the benefit of exercising for 30 seconds each day over not exercising at all should be obvious.

Likewise for sleeping. If you’ve ever sworn you’d start going to bed or getting up earlier and failed to do so, you likely started too big. Attempting to go to bed or rise an hour earlier in one fell swoop is very difficult, but could you manage 5 minutes? Of course. And over time, that adds up. The trick is to continuously apply the 1% rule over time. 5 minutes earlier, then 5 minutes earlier than that a few days - or a week - later.

Diet is something we all struggle with at some point. Wanting to eat better. Make healthier choices. Giving up your favourite junk food cold-turkey is nearly impossible for many people, but could you reduce your intake by 1%, slowly and repeatedly, over time? Yes. 1% fewer calories. 1% less soft drinks. 1% more vegetables. Slowly and repeatedly, day after day. It seems insignificant, but it adds up to a major change.

The 1% Rule at Work

We can apply the rule to our productivity at work. Increase the amount of time you focus on a given task, uninterrupted, by only 1%. Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media or checking your email by just 1%. 

Consider yourself an introvert? Too shy at work or social situations? Try being 1% more outgoing...make an effort to speak to someone - anyone - for just a minute or two. Or less. About virtually anything. Give your opinion or idea in meetings just 1% more than now. Taking on too much at work? Learn to say “no” 1% of the time.

See the pattern? Small, microscopic adjustments add up when consistently applied.

Start Small and Keep At It

Like any other change you want to make in life, the obstacle is consistency. Day in, day out. By making a small, seemingly insignificant change, you’re setting yourself up for success by making it easy to stick with it. Small, steady, and repeatedly applied wins the race.

“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It's your masterpiece after all.”

-Nathan W. Morris

One percent. That’s all it takes to start you down the path to something extraordinary.


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