1% Improvement

I work best when I have a clear goal that’s slightly aspirational. Last year, I ran the Columbus half-marathon. I set a goal to get my body to run (term used loosely) 13.1 miles. I’d never run more than 6 miles at one time before, and that was in high school.

I downloaded a training program that made the process much easier. It started easy by asking me to run 2 miles on the first run. Over 12 weeks, the plan worked me up to 11 miles the week before the race. The theory, then is that your excitement, adrenaline, and fellow runners will help you squeeze out those extra 2 miles on race day.

The plan worked. And while it wasn’t always easy, it wasn’t that hard, either. The little bit of improvement each week over time allowed me to gradually reach my goal — without killing me.

33 days ago, I set a new goal: too be able to do 100 consecutive pushups and 100 consecutive situps. Even though I’ve never even come close to doing 100 of either, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. In other words, it’s an achievable goal in my mind. Aspirational, maybe. Perspirational, definitely.

I decided to break this down into 100 days of continuous improvement by improving “1%” per day. 100 was my end goal, so I started with 1 and I’m adding 1 pushup and 1 situp each day until I reach my goal.

Yes, I started with 1 pushup and 1 situp. Yes, I felt silly doing only 1. In fact, I felt silly until I reached day 10. Even my dogs looked at me with a look that said, “Really, you’re only doing 1?”

This morning I did 33 consecutive pushups and 33 consecutive situps. I’ve never in my life done more than 25. Not even in the “Presidential Fitness Test” in elementary school. And I had rock-hard abs back then!

DISCLAIMER — Don’t get hung up on the math. It’s not technically 1% improvement each day. On day 2, it was actually 100% improvement and continues to decrease in percentage each day. I’m just going for a clever theme here, so play along. — END OF DISCLAIMER

What has surprised me is that each day feels pretty much the same, even though I’m doing more each day. It goes pretty easy until the last 3 or 4, but I’m always able to do those (and even feel like I could do a couple more if I had a gun to my head).

Continuous improvement is always like that. If you push yourself a little bit each day, improvement never really hurts much. Improvement only hurts when we try to do it all at once. In fact, we often fear the pain of improvement so much that we avoid making improvement. And, of course, that becomes a vicious circle. After avoiding it for awhile, then you’re FORCED to improve (or give up, or die).

Think of the TV show, The Biggest Loser. Man, those people go through some serious pain as they try to improve their health in a short amount of time. I’ve heard more than one person say that show has motivated them to start improving their health NOW so they never have to face that kind of pain.

Continuous improvement applies to any area of life, not just health & fitness. Consider what would happen if you improved your customer service just 1% each day, or even each week. How about improving your knowledge by 1% each day? Or making 1% more sales calls this week than you did last week?

Think 1% doesn’t make a difference? If you’re competitive at all, how much does it take to win any competition? If you score 100 points and your opponent only scores 99, who wins?

Whether you’re competitive or not, is there something in your life, business, or work that you’d like to achieve? Can you break it down into 100 steps or increments (like 1 situp) and do 1% each day?

I’m starting to believe that I can achieve just about anything in 100 days. After all, if I can do 100 situps and 100 pushups, I can do just about anything. My soon-to-be rock-hard abs and I will keep you posted.


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