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Improving something by 1 percent every day simply means looking for very small positive changes that you can make every day that help you get closer to your most important goals and objectives.
In fact, this philosophy of self-development is widely regarded in the Far East.
The Japanese have a philosophy called kaizen, which can be roughly translated to “change for better” or “continuous improvement.” You can apply this way of thinking to pretty much anything.
The Japanese apply this to industry, business, management, and any product or service that you can imagine.
The idea of perpetually refining something is a large part of Japanese culture, but you can make it a part of your personal culture, too.
While it can be easy to get hung up on exactly what “1 percent improvement” looks like it just means that no matter how small or trivial a change looks to be, as long as it helps you in some way and you can do it every day, it’s good.
Here are some examples:
- A 1 percent improvement in fitness could be something as simple as doing a 5-minute walk every day (or even a 1-minute walk).
- A 1 percent improvement in business could be brainstorming new ideas for 5-10 minutes when you’re commuting or have some dead time.
- A 1 percent improvement in your morning routine could be having a healthier breakfast, going to bed 10 or 20 minutes earlier, or meditating for 5 minutes in the morning to clear your mind.
- A 1 percent improvement in giving up smoking could mean giving up one cigarette each day for a month, and then giving up another one after a month, etc.
These very small “1 percent” changes add up over time, and they make profoundly positive impacts on your life.
“The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.” – Bruce Lee
Making small, incremental improvements is not about trying to move mountains, it’s about seeing how you can make small, positive changes every day.
In Japan, companies that embrace kaizen do the following:
- Study their different processes and procedures every day, and make plans on what needs improvement.
- Cut away waste and focus on what provides the best results.
- Make it a priority to quickly learn from mistakes.
Toyota (which is the largest automobile manufacturer in the world) holds kaizen as one of its core principles.
One well-known way to change your life is what is commonly referred to as the “New Year's Resolution method.”
Under this method, an individual decides to achieve their dream job, find a perfect partner, get in the best shape of their life, declutter everything, and perhaps bring about world peace when they get the chance.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition and taking big steps, but if you already have a lot on your plate, there’s a very good chance you’re going to fall off the wagon, and all of your good intentions will topple over along with you.
Instead of thinking big, consider what small changes you can create that will compound over time.
- Instead of writing a book over a single month, spread it out into small, 30-minute blocks.
- Instead of going to a fitness book camp and torturing yourself with hour-long exhaustive exercise sessions, look for ways to add small bouts of activity to your day.
- If you build a side hustle or learn a skill for just 10 minutes every day, how far would you get in a year?
- If you spend 10-30 minutes reading at night, how many books could you get through in a year?
- Spend 20 minutes looking at what bothers you, and figure out small things you can do that will make life easier for you.
This kind of planning and thinking can be revolutionary.
Instead of gung-ho goals (which can be exciting and overwhelming), you focus on small details that add up to huge results over time.
To understand why this works, you need to understand homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a biological term that describes how your body tries to keep your physiology stable at all times, including your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood glucose, and brainwave patterns.
If one thing goes up, another thing must come down to compensate, or else the entire system falls apart.
When you make many huge, energy-intensive changes all at once, you eat into your adaptive reserves. The technical term for this is your allostatic load, and it is the point when stress turns from adaptive to maladaptive (aka, bad for you).
What happens when you try hard but don’t see results? You feel demotivated and stop enjoying the pursuit of your goals and objectives.
Making small, incremental changes is the opposite of this. Instead of draining your adaptive reserves and causing inevitable pushback, you tiptoe your way to success.
- Small, daily changes don’t have the big, juicy impact of massive action, but they fit into your daily life and compound over time to become huge changes.
- The kaizen approach is like swimming with the current instead of against it. You take things slowly, make something a little better, and reduce what isn’t working for you over time.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” – Bill Gates
Hopefully, we’ve sold you on the power of thinking small.
Let’s see how you can apply this in your life.
Challenging goals can often become paralyzing. It can be difficult to know where to start.
It can be gratifying to finally find an area of life you want to improve, such as getting more exercise, eating better, setting up a business, or improving your marriage and other relationships.
You decide what you want to focus on, but then become frustrated because you don’t know where to start.
This is where small questions come into play.
In The Kaizen Way by Rob Maurer, he claims that small questions lead to a “mental environment that welcomes unabashed creativity and playfulness.”
Smaller scope = a more playful and creative attitude.
Here are some examples from the book:
- “If health were my first priority, what would I be doing differently today?”
- “What is one way I can remind myself to drink more water?”
- “How could I incorporate a few more minutes of exercise into my daily routine?”
- “What is the one thing I can do today to improve my productivity?” (Career)
- “What can I do today to reduce the balance on my credit card with the highest percentage?” (Finance)
- “What is one type of healthy food that I can introduce to my diet?” (Health)
- “How can I get an extra 5 to 10 minutes of relaxation during my busy work day?” (Leisure)
- What is one thing I can do to show my appreciation to my spouse?” (Relationships)
- “Who is struggling in the world right now and what is one small thing I can do to help them?” (Service)
- “What is one quick habit I can build that will help me relax daily?” (Spirituality)
When you’re stuck with a big goal, ask yourself small questions about what small actions you can take to get you a step closer today.
Even if it seems like a tiny step forward, you are still creating forward momentum.
If you're looking for simple daily habits that will help you make consistent, constant improvements throughout your life, then watch this video:
Making time for important activities is easy, but what happens when the time comes and the motivation goes?
Mini habits is a term coined by Stephen Guise. He has an entire book that can help you understand this term in detail. It’s called (you guessed it) Mini Habits.
Here is a common scenario mini habits can help you with:
- You’ve decided to start a business as a solopreneur.
- You devote one hour a day to working on it.
- Everything goes perfectly for the first week or two.
- You feel the rush of working on something new and life-changing.
- Your boss at your day job asks you to work late, and now you don’t have the time or energy to work on your new business.
- This situation repeats itself over and over again, and now the first week of bountiful progress you made amounts to nothing.
Instead, you could do something smaller:
- You start a business as a solopreneur.
- You spend 10 minutes a day working on it.
- You ask yourself what is the most pressing thing you should do in those 10 minutes.
- There are ups and downs, but over the months you start to make very real progress on your business.
- This progress becomes very motivating, and you find yourself spending more and more time on your business without having to force yourself to do so.
- You keep asking questions about small things you can improve.
Some other examples:
- You spend 5 minutes a day walking or jogging in place (fitness mini habit).
- You write a single paragraph every day (writing mini habit).
- You get out of bed 5 minutes earlier (anti-procrastination/self-discipline mini habit).
- You compliment a stranger every day (social skills mini habit).
- You eliminate a single sugary drink or junk food item from your diet (health mini habit).
Over time, these mini habits naturally expand. Instead of forcing yourself to run a mile, write a book, or eat clean, you organically grow your way in that direction instead.
Applications like Todoist can act as technological taskmasters that support healthy habits and actions.
If your life is feeling a bit packed, it’s easy to let things slip through the cracks.
Apps like Todoist give you a space to note down everything you need to do in a day, and then break those down into small steps.
Having all of this in one place can be tremendously helpful when you’re practicing the kaizen principle.
It can help you ask questions about your daily routine and enable you to see where your time might be spent either more efficiently or more fulfillingly.
For more about Todoist, how it can help you, and how you can master it, check out Todoist Master.
There are some huge benefits to be had from applying the 1% daily improvement principle to your life.
- You focus more on the process and less on the outcome: When you seek to improve something daily as part of a larger goal, you start to look at the process more and the outcome less. As James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) states here, winners focus on the process, because the goal doesn’t get you anywhere.
- You become more patient and consider the long term: It takes time to build lasting success. If you want to own a successful business, you have to maintain effort over time.
- You become more creative/innovative: When you spend time every day thinking of creative ways to make things that are important to you a little better, is it any surprise that this way of thinking starts to spill over into other areas of your life?
- You become more engaged with life: When you seek out small improvements, it’s hard to not feel motivated and engaged. Instead of dreading the effort you’re going to have to put in, you feel excited about where you can go.
It’s hard to oversell the benefits of the kaizen philosophy and the power of mini habits. It doesn’t take long to see practical benefits from following this approach, and it benefits you no matter who you are or what situation you’re in. What’s not to like?
Here’s a summary of everything we’ve covered in this article:
- The kaizen philosophy is about seeking small improvements in things you do every day to achieve your goals.
- You start by asking yourself small questions to get started (what little thing can I do today to help me make progress?).
- You combine this with mini habits, which are straightforward actions that don’t take a lot of time.
- Over time, this results in huge improvements.
- Finally, you reap the benefits and can be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come!
And if you want more resources about self-improvement, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 27 Best Personal Development and Self-Help Books
- Kaizen: The Complete Guide to Continuous Improvement
- 9 Reasons Continuous Learning is Important for Your Life
- 23 Exercises & Activities to Practice Daily Self-Improvement
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.