Focus On The 1%

I’m a big dreamer. I’m a doer. I set very lofty goals and corresponding high expectations. Hence, the 50-mile race dream. 

Recently, however, I watched a very inspirational TEDx event titled, Don’t Dream Big. 

This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Definitely misaligned with how I’ve approached life so far.  

Dreaming big is reinforced in mantras and quotes all around us. 

“Shoot for the Moon, Even if You Miss You’ll Land Among the Stars” – Leslie Brown

“Dream Big, Dare to Fail” -Norman Vaughn

“Think, believe, dream and dare” – Walt Disney

“Work Hard. Dream Big. Never Give Up” 

As I began to watch Eric Butorac share his story, I was intrigued. I had never heard of this guy before. His tennis story was completely foreign to me and we are a pretty devoted tennis family. 

I encourage you to watch his video.

In short – he worked his way from being a Division 3 college tennis player in his 20’s, to an internationally ranked No. 3 doubles player for a period of 6 years, making it to the Australian Open. He also succeeded Roger Federer as president of the ATP Player’s Council and at the conclusion of his term, was succeeded by Novak Djokovic. 

How did a guy, with no lofty goal to turn pro, let alone the aspiration to play in a Grand Slam tourney, become an internationally ranked tennis star and a leader in the professional tennis community? 

By not dreaming big. 

Rather he focused on improving consistently, deliberately, and steadily, every day. 

He focused on getting 1% better with every effort. 

He systematically tracked his progress and monitored his statistics. His measure of success was small, but incremental, improvement.  

This work ethic and philosophy eventually landed him on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe stadium playing in the 2014 finals. 

Boom! Mind blown! 

I’ve been processing this philosophy and trying to apply it to my own internal benchmark of success. 

By shifting my perspective from measuring myself against progress towards the ultimate achievement, where the gap can oftentimes feel oppressively vast, how does my outlook change if I gauge my progress on incremental goals and steps?

Let’s put this theory to work on weight loss, since I’m in the middle of a weight loss program. 

Last June, there is no way on this planet, I would have ever believed I could lose 30 pounds. If you told me I would easily be fitting into a size 6 in less than a year, I really would have thought you were an alien from another galaxy. Size 10 has been my standard – sometimes creeping up to a 12. I remember in college working out at a new gym and telling the trainer “I’ve never been a size 8. If you can help me do that, I’ll love you forever.” It didn’t happen. Lost love. 

Fast forward, 20 years later, in my 40’s, I’m in the best shape of my life. 

30 pounds was not my goal. In fact, when I started out, I didn’t really have a goal, I just knew I needed to make a change to my lifestyle. 

I gave myself time, 8 weeks, and the intention to just see what would happen if I made different eating choices. My exercise routine stayed the same.  

I weighed myself every week through the summer, and miraculously, with fundamental and consistent diet changes, I started dropping weight. 

I was elated. Every pound dropped was a success. I felt proud of myself and my accomplishments. 

I was measuring myself on incremental improvement from where I had been, rather than how close I was to an ultimate destination. 

There is a fundamental difference there. 

Dropping one or two pounds can feel like a success, when we compare it to where we were last week. Or it can feel like meager, inconsequential progress if we position it next to a lofty weight loss goal. If I told myself at the beginning of summer, I wanted to lose 30 pounds, a 1-pound change would be discouragingly minute in comparison to the ultimate destination. My bar would have been 30 pounds, not 1 or 2. I would have been setting myself up for disappointment every week. 

Oftentimes, weight loss goals are arbitrary. So many of us say, I want to lose 5, 10, 20, 50 pounds – or whatever the case may be – but who really decides that? Where does that number come from? Who says what is healthy? What is healthy for one person, might not be the definition of healthy for another. What one person thinks is aesthetically pleasing, may not be the archetype for someone else.  

For the vast majority of people, weight loss goals are purely subjective. When we measure small progress toward these lofty and subjective goals, it is easy to become discouraged and give up. 

If we shift our perspective to measure our progress on where we have been, rather than where we are going, we open up new possibilities for success. 

I’m taking this into consideration for my 50-mile race goal.

50 miles seems daunting and overwhelming. When I measure my progress towards completing 50-miles on my own two feet, I begin to question my sanity and wonder 1) How in the heck did I come up with this crazy idea? 2) Why on God’s green earth, did I put my dream out there in a public forum to document my journey? 3) What happens if I can’t do it? (injury) 4) What happens if I decide not to do it, after I’ve already made a commitment to myself and the world?

These are negative questions. I feel uneasy and almost sad inside when I read them. I feel like the opportunities for failure are overwhelming.

Let me shift into 1% thinking. 

I completed a half marathon last year. 

I’m lighter, leaner, and stronger today than I was when I completed my last half marathon. 

I will begin training for my long-distance race this summer. A half marathon is my first milestone on the plan and it’s completely doable. I’ve done so many of them, I understand the training and what it takes it get there. It’s going beyond that 13.1 that feels daunting. 

1% of 50 miles is 0.5 miles. 

Can I regularly increase my distance by 1/2 mile? Of course I can! That is absolutely doable. With 52 weeks in a year, it would take me about two years to increase my weekly distance by .5 miles and cross the finish line of a 50-mile race if I start from a baseline of zero. Put in those terms, any healthy person who has never run a step farther than half a mile before, could cross the same finish line. Incremental progress is manageable. 

My energy just shifted from negativity and failure-bound, to one of optimism, hope, and excitement. 

I can measure my success on improving .5 mile every week, rather than closing the incredible distance to 50.  

Does that mean I’m going to feel amazing every week and make linear, uninterrupted progress? Does that mean I’m not going to have setbacks? Does that mean I’m guaranteed to actually complete the entire race if I follow this 1% plan?  

Nothing is guaranteed. 

But at any time, if I improve incrementally, if I run just 0.5 miles more than I have ever run before – that is its own success to be celebrated.

Apply this concept to saving money. Growing a business. Playing a musical instrument. Academic achievement. Communicating with our spouse. Developing a closer relationship with God. 

The list is endless. We can always make, and then appreciate, small positive changes. 

Does the focus on incremental improvement eliminate the need for the big goal? I don’t think so. I think these larger than life goals give us energy to strive for something bigger than we ever thought possible. But sometimes the destination of where we end up, is different than the goal itself, and that is ok. That is good enough. That is still a success. 

I have some adorable shoelace charms given to me by a dear friend that I wear on a pair of running shoes. 

Run as far as you can, then take one more step. 

And really, it’s that simple. That’s all I have to do. 

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