The 1% Solution: an easy way to make big changes

Image courtesy of Richie Diesterheft
Image courtesy of Richie Diesterheft

If you are suffering from stress, anxiety, frustrations and limitations you probably want that to change, to change quickly and to change completely. The more intense the distress the more urgent the need to change feels.

So it’s not surprising that lots of advertising in the self-development / self-help world claims to “halve your stress”, “double your happiness”, “clear your limitations” within hours or days if you just buy their product or services.

But, what if you could easily make those kinds of changes by slowing down and doing less?

It may seem unlikely, but making tiny changes over time can make huge differences in your life.

The aggregation of marginal gains

In 2010 Dave Brailsford set himself the hard task of helping the British cycling team win the Tour de France cycle race, something that had never been done before.

As the new manager of the British Cycling team Brailsford had to come up with a way to get his team to overcome what must have seemed overwhelming odds.

He did it by making lots of small changes over time using a process he called “the aggregation of marginal gains”. He believed that if the team could improve everything they did by just 1% those small gains would add up to a big improvement.

A 1% improvement doesn’t seem like much of a difference but if you compound those changes over time they soon add up.

If you were to increase a $1 investment by just 1% every day, after one year you would have almost $38 dollars!

Brailsford set about optimising everything.

Not just the obvious things like nutrition, training, bike seats, weight of the tyres, but also the pillows that gave the cyclists the best night’s sleep, how they washed their hands to reduce the chance of infection, the best massage gel and many other apparently trivial items.

By continually optimising everything by small degrees Brailsford improved the performance of the cycling team.

In 2012 they won the Tour de France for the first time and again the year after that.

At the 2012 Olympics the cycling team won 70% of the gold medals available.

That’s a lot of improvement from making small changes

Self-development through small changes

How could you apply the aggregation of marginal gains to personal development and self help?

What would happen if you committed to making tiny changes in your life on a daily basis?

There are many ways you could apply this principle to your personal development or emotional well-being. Here’s one possibility:

  1. Take a look around in your life; what is causing you stress and distress?Make an inventory of all the stresses, anxieties, limitations, conflicts, distress and suffering in your life.That might look like a painfully long list.Fortunately you don’t have to attempt to fix that all at once, we can break that list down into bite size pieces (This is the 1% solution not the 100% solution).
  2. Pick one thing that you would like to change.Break down the difficulty into the smallest parts possible.What are the pieces that make up this challenge?What thoughts, feelings, behaviours are part of this problem. If you want a simple paper and pencil technique to reduce a problem to its various aspects use the It is … process.
  3. Now that you have disassembled the problem into a collection of tappable aspects, pick one part of the situation.Make that one tappable issue the focus of your EFT. Tap on that issue until it clears (or for no more than 5 minutes). You are aiming to do the minimum amount of tapping to make a change.
  4. The day after that, return to that list of aspects and take and resolve another one.
  5. The day after that, take care of another one … and so on … and so on.
  6. When you’ve cleared that issue, move on to the next on your (big) list of things to do.
  7. Keep going, making small improvements every day.

Tip: Make progress in writing.

Keep a journal, write down what you are working on.

You can check your progress and add new issues as they come up.

You might think that you would end up with a huge list of all your problems and things you want to change and get discouraged.

I prefer to think of this kind of list as a compost heap where you put everything that can be transformed into something that supports your future growth.

Just make progress and record what you are doing. As time goes on you might even find that by the time you get to these issues in your journal, your previous tapping has already resolved them.

Note: I’m writing this from a tapping perspective, but you can use whatever change process you prefer to work on these issues.

Advantages of this approach

There are several advantages to this way of changing:

  • It’s cumulative. Each change adds to the next one, as the changes compound, the difference in your experience gets bigger. This is the biggest advantage although it takes time for it to become obvious.
  • It’s easy. You don’t have to sort out everything you just need to work with one small piece at a time over time.
  • It’s habit forming. Rather than the once a year (usually New Year) exercise habit, diet or de-cluttering, making daily small changes becomes the new normal, a habit of changing for the better.
  • You can do it. Anybody can work on 1% of something, the barrier to success is tiny, there’s no reason to get discouraged.
  • You have time to adapt: one of the difficulties with a massive sudden change is that it is hard to adapt (ask lottery winners who have spent everything in less than 2 years), if your progress is slow and steady you have a chance to adapt and absorb the changes so they become the new normal.

Disadvantages of this approach

Like everything else there are times when this approach might not be what you need.

This way of working is designed for self help and self development where you have some time to make the changes you want to make.

If you are in crisis this may not work quickly enough to help. Get the help you need to clear the important and challenging issues.

Other ways of using small changes to improve your life

You can use the ideas behind the aggregation of small margins to change to develop all sorts of beneficial habits in your life: meditating, getting more sleep, changing your eating habits, getting more exercise.

The process is the same, make very small changes that add up over time.

For more on this way of thinking you might want to read One small step can change your life by Rober Maurer which gives lots of examples of this way of making a difference.

For more articles on how to use EFT for self help click on the link.

4 thoughts on “The 1% Solution: an easy way to make big changes”

  1. Dear Andy,
    I’ve found this advise very helpful and fits in with what I’m doing at the moment. Sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves and have unrealistic expectations, or at least I know I can. At the moment I am having a break from my regular routine, away in the warmth of the sunshine. I’m having time to reflect on the things I’ve achieved over the past year for which I have a great deal to be grateful for.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    With love, Glynis

  2. HI Andy,
    Great article. This approach was used by Mick Malthouse who was the coach of my Australian Rules Football Team back in the 1990’s and it was what took them to the Grand Final 3 times in 4 years and they won it twice (1992 and 1994). He actually made a booklet of “one-percenters” which included really small things such as – “tuck your jumper in because it’s harder for your opponent to tackle you, or tie up your boot laces to the side so the knot doesn’t affect your kick and stand on the mark because one time out of ten you might just touch it.” It is incredible how such small things add up to build big results. Most people would not believe what they could do with tapping likewise if they added it to existing routines such as every time they came to a red traffic light (my wife does this), every time they zoom their morning smoothie (I do this), and more along the lines of your article. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Steve, glad you liked it. I’m sure the small gains approach has been used by a lot of people down the ages. I will make sure I tuck my jumper in and tie my laces in the appropriate manner. Every little helps 🙂


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