The 1% Rule And Working On A Life Well-Lived

So, true confession time. I am an avid voyeur of other people’s lives. I like to watch other people work through this thing called life. I admire their accomplishments. I feel pain at their roadblocks. I am inspired by their ideas.

I like my life too. I like to try out everything. Dream about better days. Make this day beautiful. I hope that I, too, live a life that piques the interest of others (intentionally or not!)  

My wandering eye has taken me across the terrain of many of the mothers I am lucky enough to know. I see the worlds they create for themselves and their children. And invariably, they seem like they are holding things FAR more together than me. They are more efficient. More organized. More in the know. Better decorators. Prompt texters.

I would love to be a little more like each of them. But it’s cool. I am me. They are them. We all dazzle a little differently.

Yet there are some aspects of my life - the ones that have to do with motherhood  - that I can’t quite let myself off the hook for. I feel like these are parts of me that it is unacceptable to NOT be good at - because, to me, they sum the basic nuts and bolts of what I want to leave my children remembering about their lives years from now.

These are the things I have to get right.

They’re going to be different for each of us. And I won’t tell you my top three because I don’t want to bias yours. But before you read any further, take a moment to think about the three factors in your life you really want to excel at in order to feel like you are nailing this motherhood game.

What do you want your children to remember years from now?

Got’ em? Good.

Now that we’ve focused on what’s important, let’s take a look at what might help us get us far better at it.

The answer, according to British Olympic Cycling coach Sir David Brailsford, is to aim for a 1% improvement in whatever it is you are aiming for. That’s right, just 1%. And then, when you’ve mastered that 1%. Try to aim a little higher. Give yourself another 1%. And so on.

As it turns out, this actually works. 1% better can change everything.

It’s a celebrated approach to performance that resulted in the British cycling team wiping the floor with their competitors in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Brailsford summed up his team’s success to believing in the power of many small, incremental (1%) improvements. Known technically as ‘the aggregate of marginal gains’, Sir Dave promoted the idea that making small improvements in everything you do  - from the way you sleep to the way you eat, to the way you think - can add up to significant advantage in the long run. In the experience of Team GB - this approach resulted in a lot of gold medals.

In exploring this theory more deeply, it seems that many people committed to exceptional performance (from the theory’s origination in the world of competitive chess to innovators in medicine and patient care) see the value of many small changes adding up to large improvements in the end.  

This theory is appealing to us at WMM because, let’s face it, we don’t exactly have a lot of time or resources. But we’ve probably got 1% in us somewhere.  

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How can we use this 1% strategy to get better at the things that matter? The things we really want to be good at. The things the kids will remember us for.

  1. What does ‘1% better’ look like? 1% is not a magazine-worthy life. 1% is coming in from work to a messy kitchen, an empty fridge, homework to finish, an equally exhausted family and digging just a little bit deeper to improve on the one part of this equation that matters the most to you. Then, you keep repeating that 1% improvement until it feels normal. When you don’t feel like this is a push, you repeat the whole process and extend yourself another 1%.

  2. Don’t just take your word for it: Ask your kids. Ask your partner. What would ‘slightly better’ in any of your big-ticket areas look like? You might be surprised to learn that everything is just fine. Or, you might pick up on some interesting insights you hadn’t expected.

  3. Build your 1% team: Sometimes it takes a village. But you knew that. Get the whole family involved in the 1% process. Tell them you are constantly on the lookout for little ways to make a difference in that parts of your life that matter. Make it fun. Get everyone on board and making suggestions. There’s no reason that the whole family can’t improve right along with Mum.   

  4. Stay committed: When you’re run down or discouraged it can be hard to envision a better anything. Yet that’s where the beauty of 1% better kicks in. There’s always something you can do, right now, that’s bite-sized and moves you in the right direction. And when that little victory is won, next comes a little boost in your mood. For today, you will have told the world you are moving forward, not backwards. 1% is possible. And habit forming!

When it comes to motherhood, certain things just matter way more than others. These things deserve your attention. By utilizing the marginal gains approach, you can keep your priorities on the horizon, and not feel like they are depleting you. A little bit, over time, adds up to a lot. Try it out today and see what you find out about what’s possible.

Supporting Resources:

Durrand, J. W., Batterham, A. M. and Danjoux, G. R. (2014), Pre-habilitation (i): aggregation of marginal gains. Anaesthesia, 69: 403–406. doi:10.1111/anae.12666

Slater S. Olympics cycling: marginal gains underpin Team GB dominance, 8th August 2012. (accessed 11/08/2017)