James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, argues for the power of trying to be just 1% better every day, how small adjustments add up to larger changes over time.
He compares it to what happens when you shift the nose of an airplane by a few degrees. You won’t notice the shift on take-off, but a plane leaving Los Angeles bound for New York will actually end up in Washington D.C. When that small change is magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles apart.
Similarly, a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination. Making a choice that is one percent better or one percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be.
Success is the product of daily habits — not once‐in‐a‐lifetime transformations.
The difference that tiny percentage can make over time is astounding: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty‐seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.
Think about it this way: if you want to write the first draft a novel and you commit to writing 1% of a 60,000 word draft each day (which totals out to be 600 words per day, a little over a full page single-spaced), you’d finish your entire first draft in 100 days. Or if today, you smoked one less cigarette than you did yesterday. Or if you said to your significant other, “you may be right” instead of trying to win every argument.
My goal this year is to work on my ability to relate. My marriage bottomed out in miraculous fashion last year. I lost friends because they picked sides in the divorce. I ended friendships because they were no longer healthy for me. I even ended my relationship with my family due to a myriad of reasons, but a big one being that they hadn’t supported my divorce to an embezzling drug addict either.
I’m an introvert who is also fiercely greedy about my time. I simply don’t have a lot. I’m a single parent half the time. I work full-time. I write definitely what seems like full-time. I have a partner that I also pretty much live with, though we happen to have two houses.
The fact that I don’t have a lot of time and I’m greedy with it makes a lot of problems when it comes to relating. I’m supposed to have a “tribe,” right? But that requires time. Time to start. Time to maintain. I also struggle monumentally with saying no, so it’s just easier when no one asks.
I’m also judgy AF. Picky even. Which is just a nice way of saying, “I am commitment phobic — even about friends.”
Here’s an example.
Let’s say I know a woman named Catherine.
She’s nice. She’s funny. She has more free time than me. We have a lot in common. She also is super into God.
We might hang out a few times, but then I’d start fault-picking. I can’t believe she thought such-and-such about such-and-such. Or she has more free time than me because she doesn’t have a job. I don’t have time to hang out with her! I work! Or How can we really relate to one another if she’s so into God?
It’s stupid. It’s like I’m always searching for some perfect friend, which frankly doesn’t exist.
But, when it comes down to it, the qualities I need in a friend are simple: able to hold my confidence and able to support me and be encouraging. Oh, and they have to want to be friends with me. I have literally chased emotionally unavailable people who had none of the above qualities in the hopes they’d be my friend because…I don’t know…I like a challenge? Or, more like, emotionally unavailable people, in general, are comfortable for me. They’re familiar. I seriously struggle in handling emotionally available ones.
So how can I be 1% better today?
I can text a potential friend or a friend I know that has the qualities I want. I can make a phone call. I can work on being a friend.
If they ask me to hang out, I can say, “let me think about it” before saying yes and be sure that I am only making a commitment if it’s feasible for me.
Tomorrow I can send another text message, make another phone call, maybe even be the one that sets something up.
If I keep going, trying to be just a little better every day, I’m bound to improve. By 37% the maths tell me. And since I’m pretty much at 0% in the friends department right now, that’s a hell of an improvement.
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