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The Ten Percent Advantage: How to Make Progress Every Day

The secret to making progress in life is to aim for incremental gains. Build momentum and keep it going.

By Gustavo Razzetti

July 2, 2018

The antidote to inertia is building momentum

When you are exhausted, change feels hard (or even impossible).

Most people wake up in the morning full of dreams — they want to change themselves completely. They wish to become wiser, more creative, more successful, smarter, valuable; you name it. Sounds familiar?

“Change has to be hard because you’re fighting against inertia.” ― James Thornton

The problem is wanting to do everything at once.

An intense, motivational boost can backfire — you shift from over-enthusiasm to total frustration.

Dreaming big fuels your motivation, but it’s not enough. To achieve your goals requires building momentum — to progressively develop your capacity and strength without emptying your mental tank.

The ten percent rule helps you make progress without exhausting yourself.

You Are Killing Your Chances to Succeed

The problem with goals is that people are unrealistic — everyone wants more things, they want it big, and to have overnight success.

People don’t just want to create a song or video they’d love — they dream of becoming viral. However, as Felicia C. Sullivan wrote here, “being big” or “going viral” are not the only ways of being relevant — there’s a value in playing small.

I’m not advocating for you to lower your bar. The problem is not setting audacious goals per se, but using the wrong approach.

Rather than worrying about the end result, focus on how to make daily progress. Success is a byproduct of self-discipline — it requires a method, not just a positive attitude.

Self-control is critical to developing new habits and overcome resistance.

However, self-control is an exhaustible resource as Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote in Switch.

The authors explain that, by pushing ourselves too hard, we exhaust the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to stay focused, to avoid temptations, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. We are draining the mental muscles to make a significant change.

People make change harder because they wear themselves out. “What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” — the authors reveal.

You might be killing your chances to succeed without knowing. Too much effort can kill your drive, minimizing the prospects of accomplishing the change you want.

Build Momentum with the Ten Percent Advantage

The ‘change gap’ paralyzes most people and organizations.

The tension between the ‘current state’ and ‘desired state’ creates anxiety and fear. Most people feel paralyzed — they focus on ‘the gap’ (how much they need to accomplish) versus on moving forward.

The Ten Percent Advantage is a change approach recommended by Sakyong Mipham.

The advice is simple: focus on making little everyday progress.

If you aim for small gains, you won’t exhaust yourself. Making continuous progress will generate momentum; thus, building confidence and helping you focus on the ongoing success rather than on the ‘change gap.’

As Mipham says: “For 10% of my mind, I can do that. And bit by bit, if we do that 10%, that little bit, it gives us an advantage on the day. At least 10% of our mind and our life is moving forward.”

What is the 10% change that is going to move your life forward?

When you wake up in the morning, identify what you want to improve — determine what’s the 10% change you want to generate to move your life forward.

Mipham encourages us to approach change with a sense of humor. “Well, 10%, you know I can handle that. Let the other 90% be upset and irritated. But your 10% is okay.”

Building new habits or letting go of old ones is never easy. Trying to quit smoking overnight is usually an ineffective approach. Reducing the number of puffs per cigarette or the amount you light by 10% (on a daily o weekly basis) makes the goal more attainable.

Aiming for less is also a humbling act. You acknowledge you can’t change everything at once. Instead of trying to become perfect, you focus on perfecting yourself, ten percent at-a-time.

Humility favors the brave; unrealistic ambitions drain your chances to succeed — mental exhaustion makes the weak weaker.

Sports trainers and coaches apply a similar method. The 10% percent rule helps people improve physical performance without risking injury.

This approach works for both novice and hardcore athletes. It allows them to get the most out of training sessions while reducing the risk of injury by setting a weekly increase limit. The guideline is to increase no more than 10 percent per week in whatever aspect you are trying to improve — distance, intensity, weight, or length.

For example, if you are running 20 miles per week and want to go for more, add more 2 miles next week to your total.

When it comes to training your mind or body, there’s a clear case to aim for progression —it improves your performance without killing yourself.

Momentum Is the Antidote to Inertia

“Life is hard. But we find joy in making the effort, in choosing to do something, in action.”— Peter Doobinin

Incrementalism drives momentum, thus helping build achievement.

Momentum is the force that something has when it is moving. It’s the strength that allows you to keep going — it grows stronger and faster with time.

Momentum is not just gaining speed; it’s when your preparation starts to make sense — your effort becomes visible in the form of achievements. Momentum is a rewarding and joyful feeling.

Akilnathan Logeswaran said: “The beauty of the unexpected lies within the surprise of the momentum, not only at its tipping point but also within all the moments waiting.”

Sports science uses the term Psychological Momentum to define, not just the energy, but also the emotional change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event that modifies the perceptions of the competitors, performance, and the outcome.

Positive momentum is associated with periods of competition, such as a winning streak.

The Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sports, created by Jim Taylor and Andrew Demick, includes six key elements to build a momentum chain.

A precipitating event, like a goalie stopping a penalty kick in a football (soccer) match, reshapes players’ perception of the possible outcome. This event triggers an emotional reaction that renews optimism and trust.

This vibrant mindset translates into a ‘change in performance’ that becomes visible to both players and external observers. In sports, momentum is fluid, not fixed, though — it can quickly shift from one team to another. Self-control, once again, is critical to maintaining calmness and focus.

The ten percent advantage makes building momentum easier. Every 10% increase, either daily or weekly, becomes a precipitating event on its own — it will trigger positive emotions.

As you continue to make progress, you associate every “incremental 10%” with a change in performance. This constant rhythm will turn into a chain reaction, as Sakyong Mipham describes it: “Bit by bit, it starts to make sense. (The progress) begins to leak into other aspects of your life.”

Momentum is not just an energy booster; it’s the antidote to inertia. A consistent cadence keeps yourself in ‘the zone.’

Making Progress Ten Percent at A Time

Change doesn’t have to be impossible. It just requires adjusting your behavior. The Ten Percent Advantage allows you to be in charge of your destiny by focusing on small gains as you build momentum.

1. Prioritize your first steps:

The first step towards effective change is focusing on one or two things you want to improve. Helping companies accelerate change, I see the desire to change everything overnight way too often. Executives resist when I push back until I help them realize that the ‘laundry list’ is getting their teams anxious and exhausted.

Keep change simple. Focus. The first steps are meant to start building confidence, not to change everything overnight.

2. No step is too small:

If you start small, a 10% increase might seem insignificant. Once again, focus on gaining momentum. Soon, those incremental ten percent — building one on top of another — will become visible.

The most effective behavior change is organic and invisible — you will notice the team winning the game, not the small changes they were making to get there.

3. Celebrate small wins:

Acknowledging progress is vital to consolidate the momentum and keep yourself going. Either if you are working on your own or with a team, create a ritual to celebrate your wins.

In a previous job, we had a giant gong to celebrate progress. Every time you heard the drum, it meant that either an individual or a team had accomplished a quick-win. The more times per day the instrument was played, the more energized we all felt. Celebrations are contagious — everyone wants to earn their turn to play the gong.

4. Focus on the gain, not on the gap:

When you are looking too far ahead — you focus on the future and stop appreciating what’s happening in the here and now. You focus on the gap — what needs to happen in the future — versus what you have to do now.

Focus on your daily 10%. Spend your energy on how are you going to achieve your small increment rather than worrying about the goal. You win a match scoring one-at-a-time.

5. Teams that change together, stick together:

The Ten Percent Advantage is an excellent approach that level sets collective expectations regarding speed and what’s possible. Coaching teams, I see a lot of people that get stuck because of being too extremist — some tend to overcomplicate things, and others feel that any transformation should be a piece of cake.

Having a shared approach on how (and how fast) the team can improve, helps drive alignment, and focus the attention on the here and now.

The Ten Percent Advantage will move you from over-enthusiasm to a more realistic and pragmatic approach to drive change in your life and work.

Use it as a guideline. Sometimes 10% could seem too little; others it might feel like too much. Listen to your body when practicing sports or stretching your mental muscles.

Pain is an indicator of initial resistance — you are breaking inertia or challenging your performance. Conversely, too much pain signals that you are pushing yourself too hard.

Find balance — drive change without wearing yourself out.

Which behaviors do you want to modify in your life or organization? How can you apply the Ten-Percent Advantage?

What do you think?



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