This article was first published on Medium.
I want to grow, but I don’t want to burn out. I’ve done that too many times. That’s why I would rather do a little thing consistently forever than a big thing in one shot.
I first heard about the “1% Rule” from a direct-response copywriter. I’m glad James has reminded me of it with his piece. There’s only one problem: it’s too difficult.
Think about it this way:
If you improve by 1% every day, in a year…
You will be 3,678% better in a year’s time. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be 37 times better, I just don’t need to do it within a year.
I’m happy to slow it right down and improve by 1% every week.
This is how it looks mathematically:
68% better in a year? Yeah, I can deal with that. Heck, at that rate in five years, I’ll still be 1,238% better than I am now. I’ll take that any day.
How to do it:
Consistency is good, especially multiple layers of consistency. For example, doing something from the following list once a week would make your life very rewarding after a year.
Doing one particular thing every week for a year compounds the benefits. Doing several things every week for a year compounds it even further.
Remember, the key is to turn it into a ritual. It has to be regular. I wouldn’t pressure myself into doing several things if I couldn’t deal with it. The equation only works if there is input every week. Otherwise, the chain breaks.
What to do:
I’ve cherry picked the things I think would give the best bang for your buck. I’ve also broken it down into categories that impact different aspects of our lives.
How many of these things can you say you’re doing every week?
- Phone a friend: in the social media age, it’s easy to get in touch with someone. Ironically, it’s meant that we’ve become out of touch with people. Calling someone is harder than it used to be. Let someone hear your voice. Listen to theirs. Let the conversation flow. How many friends have you not spoken to for a while now?
- Say a stranger’s name: our names are more important than we think they are. Saying a name creates an instant bond. It’s an acknowledgement of someone’s existence. For some people, this can make their day. Best example is to go to the supermarket and thank the person checking out your groceries. They’ve all got name tags. Say, “thank you, [name].” You’ll startle them. They’ll look at you. For one brief moment, you will have touched someone’s life.
- Make a new acquaintance: notice I said acquaintance and not friend. Friends are better countable on your hands. Acquaintances help broaden your network. The good ones become friends.
- See your folks: your parents/guardians raised you to who you are today. They most likely didn’t know what they were doing but look at you, all educated and reading articles on the Internet. That’s already better than 1,000,000,000 of the world’s population.
In case you needed some encouragement, here’s a great (or not-so-great) site. You just fill in the fields and based on World Health Organization data, it predicts how many more times you will you see your parents before they die.
While it is morbid, it’s a fantastic way to stop us sleep walking through life.
5. Cull your friends: …online. Put the machete down. I think we’re all guilty of inflating our friend count in the early days of Facebook. Now, it’s all a bit messy, what with game invitations and general spam.
Imagine if it was just used for friends to share the good times with their friends. It would be a much better place.
6. Try a different social environment: we all have our favorite haunts. Bars, clubs, libraries, sports teams, Toastmasters. We are communal.
While birds of a feather flock together, we’ll stay chicken forever until we flock to different pecking groups. You’ll meet people you otherwise wouldn’t know.
7. Ask for help: for some people, the hardest thing is to admit that they don’t know the answer. Asking for help can be difficult. We should do it more. It almost always results in a positive result for everyone:
- your problem gets fixed,
- you allow yourself to be vulnerable and human,
- the relationship between you and the person who helped you deepens.
8. Physically touch someone: touching is a social thing. It’s the most primal form of connection. Some people become so isolated that it becomes impossible to touch them in any way. That’s dangerous.
Touching someone involves directly reaching out and forming a temporary connection. In that moment, you can communicate more than if you spoke with them for an hour.
9. Try food you haven’t tried before: food is the universal way to share and connect. If you live somewhere where you’re fortunate enough to have a multicultural environment, see if you can try different food regularly.
Try and find a place where the owners are passionate about their background and openly invite “outsiders” to share it with. It’s the best of both worlds: you can experience new cultures without having to leave home.
10. Lead: people are remembered by how they lead. If there is a cause you care about, leading from the front is the best way to leave a legacy.
People are inspired by other people, especially if they operate from a place of honesty, vulnerability and passion. It can be as simple as showing your children how to have a fulfilling, loving relationship with your spouse, or as grand as leading a society to a better place.
A teacher in Florida starts his day by complimenting each and every one of his special development students.
After doing it for a few months, he noticed that children started praising one another. He didn’t have to tell them to do it, it became a habit.
Is there someone you should be acknowledging, be it your children, colleagues or friends? How much better would it make their lives hear that you appreciate them?
12. Laugh: this should be something that you do on a daily basis. Four-year-olds laugh 300 times a day. 40-year-olds? 4 times a day.
Laughing not only keeps you healthy, it makes you happy. It also makes you feel younger:
“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing.” — Michael Pritchard
13. Read: Reading switches your brain on. Whether we’re aware of it or not, as we read, our brains work to create images that illustrate the words we see. I’d like to think of that as taking my brain for a walk.
I don’t want to surrender my brain to the ravages of time and neurological disease. By keeping it active, I keep it strong, lessening the chance of these things happening.
14. Schedule nothing: Some people are so busy they forget to stop and smell the roses. They sprint through time with blinders on and miss all the signs that turbulence is ahead.
Scheduling nothing is the pit stop that allows us to breathe, recollect and recenter our mind. Everyone from Bill Gates to Jeff Weiner does it. You should too.
15. Create something: I firmly believe that every human is born creative. We all see the world through different lenses.
The problem is that we’re taught to see it the same way as everyone else.
We should use our unique vision to shape our world as we see fit. The world wants more visionaries. Work on something that brings you joy. If it comes from a place of vulnerability and honesty, not only will it make you happy, it will bring people who appreciate that into your life.
16. Learn a language: What is one of the biggest regrets in life from one of the richest men in the world? Learning a language other than English. This is what Bill Gates said in 2015.
The problem we have is that we see the summit, but not the steps. Do 5 minutes. Learn a new word. Write down one sentence. Meet up with a language group. Whatever you do, just do it consistently!
17. Be thankful: some people have a habit for blaming something or someone when bad things happen. They don’t just have an energy sucking field around them, they protect themselves from anyone who wants to steal this energy through blame.
Thankfulness is the opposite. It’s an inviting, warm force field.
Here’s the magical thing:
You can be thankful for anything. Even things which are normally bad.
There was a story last year of a woman in Arizona who thanked her neighbor for killing her son. Her son was high on crystal meth and attacked his mother. The woman’s neighbor — a perfect stranger — shot and killed her son.
She could have laid charges against the neighbor who saved her life; people have done so for far less. Instead, she laid herself bare during the most vulnerable time of her life and expressed gratitude to someone who saved her life at the expense of her son’s.
That takes courage. She grew a lot on that day.
18. Do something that scares you:
We are only scared of things because they are unknown to us.
The things we are most scared of actually can be the greatest source of growth and joy.
19. Talk to the elderly: people who are in their twilight years should always be respected. Their experience is priceless, yet they often get cast aside for being old and irrelevant. In a lot of cases, they don’t want to see us repeating their mistakes.
If you think your life is tough, talk to the elderly. If you regret some life decisions you’ve made, talk to the elderly. If you feel lost, talk to the elderly.
I guarantee that it will benefit you both.
20. Speak less, listen more: I often get myself into trouble because I say more than I should. I feel obligated to fill uncomfortable silences. The discomfort only exists in my head.
In regular conversations, try listening more instead of saying more. Let the silence slowly drip and percolate. You could find out interesting information. People will also respect you more when you do have something to say.
21. Celebrate failures: the secret to getting better at anything is to suck at it until you become good. Each attempt takes you a step closer.
Just like with being thankful, you can celebrate anything. Some people choose to emphasize the negative aspects of their failures. Why not throw a party for it instead?
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, inherited this attitude towards failure from her father. This is from an interview with Bloomberg:
It probably came down to my father. When I was growing up, he encouraged us to fail. We’d come home from school and at dinner he’d say: ‘What did you fail at today?’ And if there was nothing, he’d be disappointed. It was a really interesting kind of reverse psychology. I would come home and say that I tried out for something and I was just horrible and he high-fived me.
22. Keep a diary: whether we like it or not, we’re constantly changing. That’s because the world is changing around us. This impacts us. Some people yearn for the “good old days”. All we can do is accept the world for what it is.
Keeping track of our observations and how we feel about them keeps us rooted in the present, which also keeps our awareness switched on. So many people switch off for years. Some event flicks the switch, they wake up and suddenly, they’re 47 years old.
That’s a terrible way to wake up.
23. Drink more water: most people don’t drink enough water. It’s one of those things everyone knows is good for us, but not enough people do.
It’s one of those things you should do on daily — not weekly — basis. Make this first thing you do when you wake up. It’s a minor change, but one that can have several positive effects on your body. Your muscles work better, your skin is more hydrated and waste is eliminated from your body more efficiently, for example.
24. Do one more:
This is a story out of Melbourne, Australia. An obese mother of two was too embarrassed to leave the house but was determined to lose weight.
She couldn’t go to the gym. She didn’t want to appear in public. What did she do? She walked circles around her clothes line. At first, she could only walk five rounds before she ran out of breath. She then steadily added one more round or minute until, after 13 months, she had shed 67 kilograms (~147 pounds).
Of course, she started eating healthier too. However, the secret is in doing one more than the previous day or week.
25. Eat vegetarian: this is only for the carnivores out there. It’s good to cut out the meats once a week. While I love my steak, I also know it’s important to cut back once in a while.
Vegetables contain more fiber, which assists with keeping your bowels functioning properly. They also contain nutrients you can’t get from meat. If you don’t care for any of that, do it so that when you do go back to your protein, you appreciate it more.
26. Lift weights: weight bearing exercises are important at all stages of life. While we tend to lift to look good at a younger age, it’s arguably more important when we’re older.
Lifting weights stop muscle mass from being lost, which in turn also protects the bones. If you don’t want to be a burden to your family as time goes by, you’ll look at starting some gentle weight lifting now.
27. Punch something: if you’re short on time and want some real bang for your buck (pun intentional), start punching regularly. It’s strength training, balance & co-ordination and cardiovascular training all rolled into one.
Not to mention that if you’ve had a bad day, punching also lets you take it out on something that won’t land you in trouble.
28. Stretching: people love hard and fast physical activities, but they don’t like stretching. Whether it’s done before rigorous exercise or exercise in of itself e.g. Yoga, stretching insulates your body from injury.
If you work in an office or environment where you don’t move as much as you should, stretching wakes your body up and keeps the blood flowing to your extremities. We all know what happens on planes when you sit for too long.
29. Dance: dancing is another activity whose benefits spread across multiple areas. Primarily, it aids with co-ordination. By listening to music and rhythm, you have to feel the beat and move accordingly. It’s great exercise too.
While doing any of the above things usually results in sweating, it’s worth mentioning sweating on its own. Sweating releases toxins trapped under your skin.
If you don’t want to move but want to sweat, go to a sauna. Go once a week and you’ll find that you come out feeling refreshed with skin that’s better than ever before.
31. HIIT: no, that isn’t a typo. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. It’s a form of exercise that involves explosive movements for concentrated periods of time before a brief rest, with a set number of repeats. The great thing about it is it’s not limited to any type of exercise. It’s the routine that defines it.
At the beginning you’ll be winded. You might even throw up. But if you keep at it, your metabolism will skyrocket, you’ll cut down on fat and your energy will improve considerably.
Plus, you’ll feel like a bad ass while you’re doing it.
32. Sleep: I’ve saved the best for last. None of the aforementioned things would have maximum effect on your body if you don’t sleep. For example, your muscles won’t have time to recover after you lift weights.
I’m not going to tell you how many hours you should sleep. If you know you’re not sleeping enough, getting more sleep one night a week by removing every obstacle that can get in the way is your responsibility.
33. Sing: if you believe in the law of attraction, you’ll know why singing is so important. Singing — or sound in general — occurs in waveform, i.e. vibrations. As you sing, you’re changing your emotional landscape.
Your brain also benefits; it’s been found that singing in groups emits endorphins and oxytocin, hormones that are associated with pleasure and calmness respectively. Time to join that choir!
34. Juggle: juggling too many commitments? Drop it all and literally juggle instead. Juggling forces you to concentrate on only one thing at hand, which is a welcome change from the energy sapping nature of multi-tasking.
A study in Germany has shown that juggling may also increase density in gray matter, specifically in areas associated with visual and motor activity.
35. Flow: everyone has been in a state of flow at least once in their life. It’s where concentration is effortless and every ounce of focus is placed on one activity. Most importantly, you feel a sense of bliss while doing it.
The beautiful thing about flow is that everyone achieves it in a different way. Some people walk. Some people play sport. Some people do deep work. However you get into this state, do it once a week and your mind will thank you for it.
36. Write: JRR Tolkien is said to have wrote the Lord of the Rings as a form of cathartic release. He was enlisted in WWI and fought in the Battle of Somme, where 40,000 soldiers died on the first day.
A lot of us — me included — tend not to talk to other people about stuff that gets under our skin. If we leave it there, it’ll fester. Do yourself a favor: keep a diary (see point 22) and tell it your deepest thoughts.
37. Turn your phone off: why are we so tired? Our lives should be full of energy, given that everything is becoming easier and cheaper to acquire.
The problem is that we have too many choices. This constant, perpetual evaluation process is draining us. It doesn’t help that our smartphones keep pinging us.
That’s why I turn off my phone on Friday night. It can’t disturb me. I can reconnect with family and switch off my own brain for a while too.
38. Meditate: meditation has several benefits. It clears your mind. It clears all the mental clutter. It can send you to a place of nirvana.
The great thing about meditation is that you can do it however you like. You don’t need to cross your legs in a funny way, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs and say, “omm…”.
Get comfortable. Wear loose fitting clothing. Go into an empty, quiet room. Schedule nothing (see point 14). Close your eyes. Let thoughts come in. Observe them. Then let them float down the stream.
39. Train memory: memory training has always been a great way to keep a brain fit. There are pages and pages of information and even entire organizations dedicated to helping you remember things better.
What’s interesting is that you learn about the optimal condition your brain has to be in to be better at memorizing things. It turns out that stress hormones interfere with the transfer of information from short- to long-term memory.
If you’re serious about training your memory, then it means you’ll be serious about stressing out less too.
40. Practice metacognition: Metacognition is thinking about thinking. It means letting thoughts come in to your head and observing how your emotionally respond to them.
So many people are subject to the whims of their thoughts. Metacognition allows you to objectively play with a thought while being insulated from how it can emotionally impact you.
Do this regularly and when something truly bad happens, you will possess the mental fortitude to decide how you want to feel about it.
41. Think positive:
I know, I know. So cliched. Hear me out. There’s been fascinating research into how negative and positive thoughts impact our ability to make decisions.
Our brains haven’t changed much over the years, meaning that we possess a lot of emotional baggage that interferes with life. For example, some people would react the same way if they were to see a grizzly bear or be yelled at by their boss. Only one of those things can actually kill you.
The reaction is a flight or fight response. You’re focused on getting out of that situation ASAP.
Positive thoughts do the opposite. They broaden your horizons. You think bigger. You have an abundance mindset. You’re feeling less desperate and worried in general.
42. Play a video game: Video games have been shown to improve decision making, hand-eye co-ordination and teamwork.
The great thing is, a lot of people play video games anyway, so this should be an easy one to tick off the list. Just be wary that the benefit you gain out of it decreases as time passes.
43. Let your subconscious speak: My wife says it’s from her heart. I say it’s from my gut. We both agree that it’s an inner voice. As grounded in logic and fact as I am, I can’t help but feel when something isn’t right.
Some people will base every decision they make on scientific method. They then wonder why the result is so disastrous. Let your inner voice make a decision once a week and see what happens.
It usually sees reason beyond what our eyes can see.
44. Play: When children are born, play is natural to them. They learn through playing. Only as we get older, do we get shoved into an industrial meat grinder. We get told what to learn and how to learn it.
In his breakthrough book, Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown has a chapter on the importance of play. As we get older, play is seen to be unnecessary, trivial or even a distraction. He argues that it is in fact an essential activity to performing at your peak.
45. Pray: I’m a Buddhist who went to a Seventh Day Adventist Christian school and read the Bible. I pray for protection, I pray to thank, I pray to remind myself that I am small.
I believe that you don’t have to be religious to pray. I feel like there is a god out there, but humans in an effort to make it more tangible try to define it. Accepting there is a higher force that does look out for you every now and then works for me.
46. Raise: there’s something immensely rewarding about raising another living being from infancy to adulthood. Some people choose children. Others choose animals.
The raising often helps the raiser grow more than the “raisee”.
It just reminds you that life should be as simple as the early years of a kid’s life. They know what’s important: food, love, family, friends. As adults, so many other things get added on that weigh us down. Raising a child reminds us to focus on what’s truly essential.
47. Donate: over $300 billion dollars has been donated to charity in the United States in a year. While it’s easy to assume that most people are greedy, with that much money passing through, people are definitely getting something out of giving away their hard-earned money. What is it?
It’s the belief that you’re a better person. We would all like to think that our money is going directly to that child in Africa or that victim of child abuse. While we’ll never know, the organizations we donate to are working tirelessly to solve these world problems.
48. Focus on Purpose: we’re all looking for meaning in our lives. When we’re going through the motions, we can often lose sight of what’s important. We’re lost; our spirit usually tells us that we’re not doing the right thing, but we don’t listen.
In a previous piece, I talk about the most important question of your life. It’s not “what is the meaning of life?” It’s “what’s the pain I can stand to bear every single day?” This is what makes you grow. Your life’s purpose should focus on this. Ask yourself weekly to make sure you’re still on track.
49. Do something really slowly: Thich Nhat Hanh is dubbed “the calmest man in the world”. born in Hue, Vietnam, he became a Buddhist monk and has dedicated his life to exploring spirituality.
He is said to take one hour to drink a cup of tea. My mind raced when I first heard that he did that. “so he lets his tea get cold then?”, “does he add water?” “what does he get out of drinking it so slowly?”
He does it to stay present and be mindful. Even he has problems that threaten his tranquility. By drinking tea slowly, he lets these small things fall away and his mind catch up to his spirit so they’re both in the one place.
When you don’t forgive, your spirit stays tormented. Some people feel like they have to hold on to it because a matter hasn’t been settled yet. All you’re doing is hurting yourself.
As they say, forgive and forget.
51. Conquer anger: anger is an emotion that inspires action. Unfortunately, it sometimes inspires the wrong sort of action.
The Dalai Lama says:
The true hero is the one who conquers his own anger and hatred.
We all get angry. It’s human. It definitely happens at least once a week. If you catch yourself feeling angry, try to separate yourself from the emotion and observe it.
Ask yourself why you’re feeling angry? What are you losing? Why are you feeling threatened?
Often, your anger tells you a lot regarding how you feel about yourself. Act on it, but only to improve yourself.
52. Accept: Accepting is like forgiving except it applies to far more things. The world is unfair; as long as you hold on to the notion that things should be a certain way, you lose your personal power.
In some cases, self-denial hurts other people. Accepting can bring you and someone else peace. Accept that your child isn’t exactly as you hoped they would be. Accept that your body isn’t what it used to be. Accept that you have less control over what happens in the world than you think you do.