1% change can transform your life

My children's school has a '100% club' for pupils that don’t miss a single register in the whole academic year. As you can imagine, very few kids make it into this prestigious attendance club. Obtaining 100% in anything is pretty damn hard - nigh on impossible, even!

What if this was flipped and it was impressive to be part of a 1% club? This is a club where you aim to make a 1% improvement to your life on a day by day basis. Making small tweaks continuously over a long period of time, in order to guide your life towards a different more desirable destination.

People often feel overwhelmed by the size of the goals they have set themselves, whether that is to get a better work-life balance, to stop their worst-case scenario thinking, to lead a healthier lifestyle, or become a more attentive partner. Travelling from your current position, in order to get you to where you want to be, seems like it could be a long and arduous journey. If you feel a bit daunted by the process of change, it can easily lead to a mindset of 'it's too difficult' or 'I can never achieve it'.

It’s with thinking like this that you can slip back into old familiar habits, keeping yourself in your comfort zone and not stretching yourself.

Breaking the goal down into mini micro-steps

Atomic Habits by James Clear advocates just that. Lots of tiny changes can make a cumulative difference. What difference does 1% make, you may ask? Over a lifetime, those little choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. I read the first chapter of this book free on Amazon and was hooked. It gave the example of how mediocre went to stratospheric in thousands of little micro-steps. British cycling used to be a non-event. In 2003, a new performance director was hired to bring British Cycling out of a century of underwhelming mediocrity.

Dave Brailsford made lots and lots of tiny changes to the cycling team - from the pillows they slept on, rubbing alcohol to the tires so they would grip more, getting them to wear heated shorts, and painting the inside of the vans white so dust could easily be detected. He called this 'the aggregation of marginal gains'.

Team GB started winning tournaments, medals, and races. Success could not be attributed to any one thing, but a combined effect of all the little changes that had taken place. Too often we think big effort equals big success. Just like the hare and the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.

Improving 1% is not really noticeable in the short term, but over a sustained period of time, it can be more meaningful. Doing the plank for one minute a day might seem like nothing, but after a year you will be noticeably stronger and fitter. The effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them, just as your money accumulates compound interest over time. Repeating a habit changes the brain.

Our brains form neural pathways for the things we do regularly in order to conserve energy. That is why we flip into autopilot mode when we drive a familiar route - we don’t need to pay so much attention. It is only when you look back over the years that the effect of habits can be appreciated.

Dan Buettner studies 'blue zones', geographic regions where many people live long and healthy lives, reaching over 100 years old (including Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Lindy in California, and Ikaria, a Greek island). Dan found commonalities amongst each of these blue zones which led to a formula for success that includes lifestyle, community, and purpose. People in these longevity hot spots do not pursue health and happiness - health and happiness come from the environment which they are in and their daily habits over their lifetime. You need to look back over their whole life in order to understand the habits that contributed to good health and longevity.

Small changes have a lasting impact

Take a moment to think about the small daily habits that you practice. It might be that you give thanks at the end of each day, kiss the children and tell them you love them, smile at the bus driver, or enjoy the first cup of tea or coffee each morning.

Likewise, unhealthy habits accumulate - the biscuit with your cup of tea, taking the lift instead of stairs, the critical voice inside our head that tells you that you are stupid or ugly. These micro-aggressions multiply over a lifetime reaching a tipping point.

Atomic Habits outlines four rules to build good habits and break bad ones;

1. Maintain awareness of what you are doing rather than blindly leading your day largely on autopilot. In order to foster good habits, you need to become more aware of what you are doing. For example, every time you brush your teeth, you could do three push-ups, or every time you make a cup of tea you could do five deep breaths waiting for the kettle to boil. Use your environment to cue positive routines and reinforce positive behaviour.

2. Make positive habits attractive. An electrical engineer student from Dublin knew he needed to exercise more, so he rigged his bike up to his laptop and created a computer programme that would allow him to watch Netflix if cycling at a certain speed. If he slowed down, the programme would pause until he peddled faster. The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.

3. Make new habits easy so you are able to take action and repeat them often. The number of times you perform your good habit is key. Stop procrastinating - just do it. For example, if you wanted to become a vegan, you could start by eating vegetables at every meal and build up from there.

4. Make habits satisfying. We are more likely to repeat behaviours when the experience is satisfying and enjoyable.

So, next time you set yourself a goal, make an intention or want to do something, think about how a small action, when repeated enough times, can have a profound impact. Small improvements can seem meaningless because they don’t deliver noticeable change, but reading one page of a book a day, meditating for one minute a day, doing 10 push-ups a day over a lifetime, does make a difference. Next time you think to yourself "what is the point?", remember one tiny change can transform your life.

Working with a counsellor can help you look at the small changes that you can make in life to achieve greater success, contentment, and well-being. Counsellors can act as 'accountability partners', motivating and supporting you to embed new habits until you are ready to go solo.

So, if you need support making changes, counselling is a great place to start.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Bracknell, Berkshire, RG42
Written by Nicola Strudley, Psychotherapist (MCoun, Snr Accr Member BACP)
Bracknell, Berkshire, RG42

Psychotherapist, Coach, Mindful Walker, PT for the brain!

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals