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Often, when people begin heading down the slippery slope of trying to keep their promises, goals and new year's resolutions, they think, “If I only tried harder, I would be able to accomplish my goal.”

While a brute, willpower strategy may work for certain areas of your life, for others, this mindset fails completely.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar with celebrity fitness trainer Valerie Waters and she said:

“Strategy trumps willpower.”

You can have all the education and willpower in place, but if you still have junk food in your house and have difficulty packing your gym bag, you are not going to be sweating at the gym any time soon. Preparation is key. Without it, you will be resting a bowl of chips on your belly while binge-watching Game of Thrones.

From a Better Massage Gel to Winning the Tour de France

In 2010, Dave Brailsford, general manager and performance director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), began a process of tweaking every area related to cycling by 1%.

The theory was that these marginal gains would lead to big improvements.

Of course, Brailsford started with the obvious: optimizing nutrition, refining the team’s weekly training program, and fine-tuning the bikes. He also implemented a lot of unconventional improvements such as switching to more comfortable pillows, washing hands more thoroughly to avoid infection, and using a more effective massage gel.

Within 3 years, the team won the Tour De France, two years ahead of Brailsford’s 5 year goal.

The heuristic for the team was simple: There are no such things as small improvements. A 1% refinement/tweak/streamlining...all these changes make the path to winning that much smoother.

Where are your 1% gains to Create Successful Habits?

Congratulate yourself for every excuse you have for not accomplishing your goal. You have a head start for long term success. Recognizing the problem is the first step.

Specifically, these excuses represent the 1% tweaks that can be the difference in taking you from the person who says he or she will start working out regularly, but never sets foot in the gym or actually does something, to the person who looks in the mirror admiring their new physique.

Here’s How it Works:

First: Open up a word doc, note app, or use pen and paper, and, at the top, title it with “Your GOAL”; underneath write, “1% Barriers”.

Second: List all the obstacles that prevent you from accomplishing said goal. You can probably knock off a bunch quickly. Spend 5 extra minutes and dig a bit deeper.

For example, for exercising, obvious 1% barriers may include:

  • Not knowing what to do
  • Not having time
  • Being stressed out after work

Some smaller, overlooked barriers may include:

  • Having to pack a gym bag after work
  • Not having the right fitness gear
  • Intimidated by more fit gym goers

It does not matter how big, small, or silly these excuses are, write them down.

Third: Draw a line under the 1% barriers and write, “1% Solutions”.

For each of the excuses you wrote, write potential solutions. Here are a few:

  • Not knowing what to do → Hire a personal trainer, or pick one workout program and commit for 3 months, or ask a friend who works out consistently.
  • Not having time → Limit workouts to 20 minutes, 3 times a week.
  • Being stressed out after work → Go to the gym in the morning when you are fresh.

For the overlooked barriers:

  • Having to pack gym bag after work → Pack gym bag at night for the next day.
  • Not having the right fitness gear → Hit the stores or shop online.
  • Intimidated by more fit gym goers → Workout at home, or hire a personal trainer, or go with a friend.

You now have a master document for barriers / improvements for the specific habit you are trying to adopt.

It will take a few tweaks to refine the process but you will get there.

Your simple heuristic becomes: What are the 1% barriers keeping me from my goal and how can I tweak them to become 1% better?

You’ll begin seeing opportunities for beneficial 1% improvements everywhere.

While willpower may make for great motivational platitudes, beginning with removing the obstacles is often much easier and more effective to having your best year ever.

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