Get One Percent Better
Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time. — Albert Einstein
By John Millen
Think about a time you’ve tried to achieve change, perhaps to lose weight, exercise more often, increase sales, or develop new skills at work.
Most of us want to improve our business or personal lives. So we often set big goals, and start strong with great effort and enthusiasm. Over time we plateau, we back off the effort, and we may even reduce or abandon the goal.
The secret to long-term change, it turns out, is small, sometimes imperceptible, changes of habit.
As John Wooden, the late Hall of Fame college basketball coach, said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.
“Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts,” Wooden said.
James Clear argues for the power of small changes in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
Clear calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.”
Clear cites the effects of simply improving 1 percent every day. If you were to improve at an activity 1 percent, you would improve results by thirty-seven times in a year!
Think about that in the context of what you’re trying to improve: one more sales call per day, one healthy meal per day, one short walk per day. A 1 percent consistent, positive movement can improve your results by thirty-seven times in a year!
“This can be a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life. We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment,” Clear writes. “It is only when looking back over two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”
I have a client, the CEO of a Fortune 1000, who is leading a massive change initiative. He often refers to Kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. He asks his leaders and associates to take personal responsibility for change by improving their own work and skills every day, which will contribute to the whole company’s success.
It’s bringing our attention to the micro, to the incremental, that creates lasting change.
I learned the power of consistent improvement when I trained for a marathon some years ago. While I’ve had a life-long devotion to fitness, 26.2 miles at once seemed daunting. But as I followed a training plan that slowly added mileage each week, I soon found myself happily crossing the finish line of my first marathon.
In the same vein, my wife was an inconsistent exerciser until I gifted her with a Fitbit for Christmas several years ago. With a specific goal of 10,000 steps per day, she became obsessed with making her daily quota and remains a devoted daily exerciser.
Develop a simple habit or process that you can repeat every day. This is the secret to long-term, sustainable change.
What can you improve 1 percent every day that will improve results in your life or business by thirty-seven percent after a year?
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