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I ran track from the age of 7 until I retired at age 24. The sport had brought me to Monaco, London, Mexico, Germany, and all around the United States. The sport paid for my education at Iowa State and created some of my best high school memories. But none of this would have happened if I did not adopt the mindset of getting 1% better.

Track and field is a numbers sport. There is little room for being subjective because the results are all numbers. You either ran fast, jump far or high, or you threw far. Or maybe you didn't!

I ran the 100M dash, and a hair difference would decide races. When you see the world from that perspective, you understand that 1% can make a huge difference. Here is how you can apply this methodology to anything you do.

There is a surprisingly narrow gap that separates the good performance from the great performance. And that narrow gap is separated by small habits and daily rituals. - James Clear 

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Know Where You Are and Where You're Going  

The one thing that always makes a track season hard is that it's not just about running fast but also sprinting well at the right time. You can run a world record time before the Olympics, but if you don't win the Olympics, it will feel like that year was a waste.

To beat this, you must know where you are and where you're going at all times. It's not enough to want to be successful, because everyone wants that. You need to know where you are and figure out how close you are to the plan.

As a sprinter, my coaches timed everything. They were always trying to figure out where I was. The times I would run would tell them if I was a bit ahead of schedule, if I was tired, or nearing injury. Based on where I was, we would adjust the plan to keep aiming for the target.

As I said before, the track is a quantitative sport, so it is a bit easier to stay on track. If you're working towards something more qualitative, it may be harder to know where you are. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and solicit the most accurate feedback that you possibly can.

Once you know where you're going, you may see that you have a long way to go, but when you adopt the mentality of getting 1% better, it will not be as far as you think.

...you must know where you are and where you're going at all times. It's not enough to want to be successful, because everyone wants that. You need to know where you are and figure out how close you are to the plan.

Why 1% Better Beats Big Leaps 

Most people want to make big leaps. Living for that big event instead of the work that leads up to it. Here is what people focus on in life: 

  • Draft day 
  • Graduation 
  • Weddings
  • Giving birth 
  • Dream jobs
  • Being rich 
  • Being happy

A lot of these things are results. You get married by taking care of someone and loving them well for an extended period. You graduate by showing up to class daily and doing your work. You get drafted to a pro sport after years of working on the same fundamental skills. You get rich by putting in a lot of work each day on the right things.

Most people focus on the events, but they let each day slip through their fingers. I have a pastor who is excellent at memorizing scripture. He has learned numerous books in the bible. When people hear this, they chalk it up to some superhuman effort. 

What they then do is let the days slip by. They don't see how 10 minutes - 30 minutes each day will lead to memorizing multiple books with enough time. Each day provides an opportunity to get a little bit better at memorization, but the only way to make a big leap is to stick with it for a long time. 

Most people want to make big leaps. Living for that big event instead of the work that leads up to it.

1% Better Focuses On The Process 

1% better sucks because it's less about the results' glamour and more about your day-to-day grind. Successful people relish in what is right in front of them. They always have a grande vision in their minds, but they don't let days slip away. Each day presents an opportunity to get closer to something that started off being far away.

What people forget about in the process is that everyone starts far away. When I started running track at age 7, I was just as now from the Olympics as every seven years old. It took showing up for many practices and focusing on getting 1% better to bring a dream alive.

When you get out of the result and get into the process, the work becomes more fun. You have little control over the outcome. For example, I can understand 1% better, but I can't control if someone else gets 1.4% better each day. I can only focus and worry about things that are in my control.

There is no such thing as a bad day for me. There are bad moments, but I won't let my opportunities to get 1% better getaway. My focus is always on getting my habits done. If I get them all done, I took advantage of my opportunities, and the day was a win.

If you put together enough of these small wins over time, success is sure to be yours. You are sure to be a dominant figure in this world. Most people never get there because they quit during the process. They see the work and lose sight of the result that they are working for.

1% better sucks because it's less about the results' glamour and more about your day-to-day grind. Successful people relish in what is right in front of them. They always have a grande vision in their minds, but they don't let days slip away. Each day presents an opportunity to get closer to something that started off being far away.

How I Became an Olympian by Getting 1% Better

When I started high school, something changed in me. I knew where I wanted to be. My goal was to get a scholarship because I knew it would give me the best chance to become an Olympian and set up a better life for myself. But in knowing what I wanted, it made me appreciate each day.

I loved to train. Every session, I taught as if it were my last. I would leave everything I had in the weight room or on the track. I did not talk much about getting a scholarship or my big goals. I mostly kept them to myself because day to day, they did not matter.

What mattered was figuring out what needed to be improved and then being deliberate about enhancing it. No excuses or running from my problems. I had to lean into the areas where I struggled and make sure that I got better in those places.

After a few years of this, I realized that it was an unstoppable formula in the long run. In the short term, I had a tonne of issues and setbacks. I would lose tight races, but in the long run, I always got what I wanted. The process and my habits never let me down because they are cumulative.

When you show up each day and work on your block start, year in and year out, you eventually add up so many 1% efforts that success can't help to turn in your favor. And It did just that.

In 2012 I went from being an average sprinter in the NCAA to be an All-American and one of the best. I went on to go to the Canadian Olympic trials, and I ran the race of my life, and I made the team. I ran fast when it mattered because, for ten years, I knew where I was going.

I loved to train. Every session, I taught as if it were my last. I would leave everything I had in the weight room or on the track. I did not talk much about getting a scholarship or my big goals. I mostly kept them to myself because day to day, they did not matter.

Conclusion 

Know what result you want.
Figure out what habits you need to get there.
Focus on those habits every day until you get there. The process will be your best friend.

Ian Warner

About the author

I went from a broken leg to a 2012 Olympian. I have spent the last 15 years building positive habits as a track athlete and entrepreneur. I founded Habit Stacker and dedicated my life to helping people to develop winning habits. I have helped over 5,000 people...

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