How the 1% Rule Influenced Me

June 22, 2023
Build good habits

I learned the theories and models about behavior change when I did my Masters. However, in the past year I got more interested in habit formation especially and practical strategies for myself, my health, my family and of course also my clients.

I came across two powerful books (and wish I had them when I was first diagnosed with MS). They give such great frameworks and easy to implement strategies how to be successful in building healthy habits. They are Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits. Both authors offer practical and effective strategies for making small but meaningful changes that lead to lasting behavior change.

But one concept that hit me especially is the 1% rule from Atomic Habits. It’s based on the principle of making small, incremental improvements—just 1%—every day.

The idea is that these tiny (or maybe even seemingly unimportant?) changes may not seem significant in the short-term, but they compound over time, leading to massive improvements. This is because improving by 1% every day for one year will lead to becoming 37 times better by the end of the year. Pretty cool isn’t it?

So instead of meditating for one hour every day, you start meditating for five minutes or even two. Instead of planning to go to the gym five times per week for one hour, you start with a small 3 or 5-minute workout conveniently in your home.

The 1% rule is about shifting the perspective from trying to achieve massive goals (that sadly often do not happen) to small achievable adjustments. Often it is truly easy to start them especially when having a cue. For example I started working out for two minutes when I heated up my oatmeal in the morning. I wanted to add strength training daily to my cardio. I started with two, then three, five and even seven minutes. When it got too long to make oatmeal on the side, my habit severed (it also coincided with a long family weekend that threw me off track as well). I learned that the cue or anchor is really important to pair it with something that you do (in my case daily) as often as you want to build the new habit. Having made the mistake of not having a good cue, was very powerful. Now I found a new cue to make sure I have my workout!

Bettering yourself for 1% daily, sadly also applies in reverse: If you get 1% worse each day for one year, you’ll also decline 37% after one year. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more. That realization was pretty a powerful to me. You often hear that sentence “that one time isn’t going to kill you” but what if it actually does? Obviously it won’t kill you but DOES matter. It may be the slippery slope from once to twice to too often and then the 1% rule is to strike in the direction which you don’t want.

When I started following the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) program, I always wondered why the diet has to be 100% and we never are allowed a cheat meal or cheat day. For me that was very hard. Some people struggle with not eating meat or cheese anymore. For me, it was the sweets. I couldn’t imagine to never eat chocolate again and therefore I did eat a few times chocolate (maybe even vegan but still too much saturated fat!)

Now I know every meal counts! One of my favorite sayings is “knowledge doesn’t change behavior”. However, knowing something that really rings true to you, can make a huge difference. It did for me!

As I continue on my journey, learning more about myself, my health, and how to be a great coach for my clients, I’m struck by the profound impact of these seemingly small, insignificant 1% changes. It’s not about grand, life-altering shifts. It’s about those tiny, consistent steps that, over time, lead to meaningful, lasting transformation. This understanding has empowered me to see the real value in each choice I make, no matter how small it might seem. And it has helped me appreciate the importance of those little victories (and the fear of the impact of the seemingly small little mistakes that add up)

Each choice is a step toward becoming 37 times better by the end of the year. That wisdom of the 1% rule can guide us in creating habits that will lead us towards our important health goals. Remember, knowledge doesn’t necessarily change behavior, but understanding the impact of our actions just might.

Make that 1% change today, and see where it leads you a year from now. You might just surprise yourself.

Ingrid Adelsberger