Many people’s approach to self-improvement centers around setting exceptionally high goals from the outset and taking drastic measures to achieve that objective in a short period. While this approach may sound attractive and yield moderate short-term returns, for most people, this often leads to burnout and failure. The lack of immediate results and often unreasonable initial expectations result in a complete end to their previous endeavors.
Now there is a much more practical approach, which is admittedly less exciting and sexy, but in the long term, far more successful. This approach focuses on making small, manageable changes, implementing positive daily habits, and doing these things consistently over and over and over again. Unfortunately, this will not set the world alight (to start with). You’re not going to lose 50 pounds in 2 weeks or learn to play the guitar in 48 hours, but you are going to lay the foundations for sustainable and habitual change.
According to James Clear (award-winning author of ‘Atomic Habits’), ‘Continuous improvement is a dedication to making small changes and improvements every day, with the expectation that those small improvements will add up to something significant.’ Within the book, James cites the power of getting 1 percent better every day compared with 1 percent worse, illustrated brilliantly in the image below.
Initially, there is very little difference between CHOOSING being 1% better and 1% worse (better is a choice we covered in a previous article). Still, over a year, the difference is staggering. Athletes continually coin the phrase ‘those extra one percenters’ for a good reason. That 1% compounds and over the year amounts to be 37 times better off than if you had done nothing.
Three steps to sustainable self-improvement
Using James Clears methods as a template (I mean, he is a world-leading expert in self-improvement after all), you can achieve this continuous 1 percent improvement through 3 simple steps.
Step 1: double down on what works.
It seems obvious enough, but people often waste or ignore the resources and knowledge they already have access to because it doesn’t appear novel or exciting. Unfortunately, the underpinnings of excellence are often built on rather boring fundamentals (unfortunately, this doesn’t sell nearly as well as a magic weight loss pill).
Step 2: less minor losses Sometimes doing things better means doing fewer things wrong.
We don’t always need to do something new, just other things less often. Fewer mistakes, fewer distractions, fewer missed workouts, fewer takeaways. This leads to better results.
Step 3: Backwards is best.
Measuring backward means basing decisions on what has happened previously; it makes decision-making simpler and can often clarify thought processes. For example, if you are trying to improve in the gym, you may have done 15 push-ups per set; this week, try and do 17 per set. Self-improvement is much simpler than people think; the issue is people want instantaneous, mind-blowing results which don’t exist. The basis of continual development is boring, but the results are not. By implementing small changes into your days, you strive towards long-term excellence.