The 1% Rule for Creating All Habits

She kept throwing food at me. I was 19 and bought two tuna bagel sandwiches for myself for breakfast. That was the way I rolled.

We were arguing. She took a sandwich out of my hands and threw it all over the street. Tuna everywhere.

I bet the Old Man and the sea never knew he was catching tuna so it could lie dead in pieces in the street because of my ex.

Everyone was watching and sort of laughing. I bet everyone was thinking, “He’s the man!”

No. Scratch that. More like, “What a loser.” Or, “thank god that isn’t us.”

I think I wanted to die.

Then there was the time in the movie theater. I had a large popcorn. I didn’t want her to touch the popcorn until the movie started.

I’d get very upset if popcorn was started before the movie. So I said to her when she reached for it, “No!”.

She took the popcorn out of my hands and threw it all over the theater.

If I could say “Advice to myself at 21” would I avoid her? Of course not. Without her, maybe only now would I be with a woman who threw my food everywhere.

I gradually started improving what my line was in terms of what I could handle in a relationship.

“I don’t want someone who throws my food everywhere”. This became rule #1.

Over the next 20 years I felt I got better and better. Sometimes I slipped. But mostly I got better.

But it took 20 years.

I wish I could go back and tell myself one thing: nothing is going to change for you tomorrow.

Diets don’t work tomorrow. But every diet works.

Habits don’t change in a day. But 1% a day makes every habit work. Every.

The reason is: they work if you do a little each day. If you relax and give yourself permission to only improve a little each day, then a good habit works.

It’s permission to improve. It’s also permission to fail. Because when you first start something, you’re on day one.

If you want to succeed at anything, you have to give yourself permission to fail twice as much as you thought you would.

If you insist, I need to change RIGHT NOW, then it won’t work. You’ll only get worse.

If you insist the habit changes tomorrow, then the habit will certainly fail.

Coolio, the rapper, wrote lyrics every day for 17 years before having a hit.

Commander Hadfield, the astronaut, improved his skills every day for 20 years before getting into space.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote every day for 25 years before he had a major bestseller.

Even Mozart, despite being a prodigy, wrote music for 10 years every day before becoming a true master.

Improve a little each day. It compounds. When 1% compounds every day, it doubles every 72 days, not every 100 days. Compounding tiny excellence is what creates big excellence.

You can’t be a master in one day. You have to improve a little every day.

Picasso created 2 works of art a day. That’s 50,000 in a lifetime. It adds up.

“But it’s too late for me!”.

No, it’s not. Compounding creates fast results.

If I read 5 pages a day from non-fiction books, then in a year I will have read 1830 pages of knowledge. And each page I read will build upon the pages I’ve read before.

And it’s 1830 pages 99% of people won’t read. Most people don’t pick up a book after age 20.

If I write 1000 words a day, then in one day that’s nothing. In one year that’s the equivalent of 6-8 novels.

Also you can also decrease 1% a day. We can say, “aww, it’s only one day. Don’t pressure me!”

Such an easy choice. It seems trivial. 1% up or 1% down. But it sneaks up. And then we’re old and lonely.

Every day matters.

When I was losing all of my money, and hanging around with the wrong people. And taking the wrong drugs and dating the wrong people, It’s because I was saying, “it’s just 1 day”. Or, “I don’t need to improve every day, it adds up to nothing”.

Because I couldn’t see how it was adding up at first. And that became my trademarked technique for losing everything, For losing my mind. For being lonely.

It was the one thing that worked: 1% decrease a day cost me everything. I had to get back to 1% up a day.

The 1% Rule can be applied to everything. If I spend 1 less minute feeling regret and use that to feel gratitude, how much better for my stress levels will that be in one year’s time.

Stress is 100% reverse correlated with longer healthier happier life. With more money. With more love. With more creativity.

Every habit can be built using this technique.

Thoughts are in the head. Thinking, “this seems like a good habit” is a start. Reading about it is a second start. But…

Actions are outside of the head or body. Take 1% action per day.

More than that and you’ll give-up (“diets don’t work!”). Less than that and it might take too long (“diets don’t work!”).

It doesn’t happen in one day. There are no goals. There’s only practice. Practice never makes perfect. Practice makes happy. Practice makes habits.

I started writing 23 years ago. Every day I read a little. Every day I wrote. I wanted to get better.

I was very bad at the beginning.

I just looked at some fiction I wrote 23 years ago. WOW! Very bad.

Every day I wake up and think, how can I be a little better? Just a tiny bit. Because I know it will make me feel good today to practice. And I know it will add up.

  • Can I read a little more
  • Can i write a little better
  • Can I walk a little more
  • Can I improve my emotional relationships a little more
  • Can I eat a little better (just a tiny bit. One time I switched from all-meat to all-raw. Blehh!)

After Tracey threw the popcorn at me in the movie theater I thought to myself, “That’s it. I’m over this.”

I went to the popcorn guys. I got another larger popcorn. I sat on the other side of the theater. Betty Blue was the picture. I can remember.

Did I break up with her? No. I was a chicken. We stayed together another two years. I didn’t have the strength to change my life in one day.

Or I could measure it in broken windows. Three broken windows later we broke up.

Time is relative.

But every day I got better. Now I’m happy

Unless Claudia throws popcorn at me (“wait until the movie starts!) at the movie theater later today. Then I’m back to square one.


Read More: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On the Planet in 4 Easy Steps. 

  • James, I guess those 23 years of writing really paid off for you. I really look forward to reading your blog everyday! Thank you for being so raw and honest with us.

  • Barbara

    Hmmm. Average work day is 8 hours. 8 x 60 minutes = 480 minutes. 1% of 480 is 4.8. So if I add 5 minutes of truly productive time a day… (and then consider that most people only have 2 hours of actual productive time a day), I’d gain 25 productive minutes a week. That’s do-able.

    • Damn, that’s a really good way to think about it. Thank you. I’m going to use that in a talk.

  • Practicing some small habits which don’t give the outstanding results right away doesn’t seem appealing until you realize the thing that you emphasized James, which is the invisible power of tiny improvements. Sum up all the numbers you’ll reach in a year and it’s mind-blowing. And the time will pass anyway, so you better just do it!

    Write a little bit every day and at the end of the year you’ll end up with a book or two. Put some money aside regularly and after 12 months you’ll have enough for a wild journey.

    The new habit I started to practice is coming up with 10 ideas a day which you inspired me to try. The time-cost of this exercise is close to nothing and once I think about all the amazing stuff I’ll figure out during the first months of sticking to this habit, I’m excited!

    Thanks for the inspiration James, you change lives for better!

  • I shared your bit about “There are no goals. There’s only practice. Practice never makes perfect. Practice makes happy. Practice makes habits.” Love this! I’m quitting my browser to get back to editing my romance novella. Ciao!

    • Please let us know when you finish the romance novel. Can I ask: do you outline in advance? What is your process?

  • Zachariah Hyatt

    James, thank you. You make it easier to keep going.

  • Robert Conrad Bingham

    Ok. My question may seem simple, but how do you measure 1% when it comes to being say, a better husband, or employee. It’s easier with things that have numbers already attached to them.

  • Colleen Monaghan

    This will be my new motto: Practice makes habits.

  • Consistency and patience. Those are the two hardest skills I have had to learn to use. Once I learned it was a lost cause to try and fix myself, or anything for that matter, in a day, that’s when I finally started to see gains in my life. It’s still something, however, that requires a ton of effort. It’s very easy to focus on your failures as something you need to fix. Far more productive to just give yourself some credit and try to be better each day.

  • ” Practice never makes perfect. Practice makes happy. Practice makes habits.”

    Great stuff James, I love your mode of thinking here. It’s so true that making tiny positive changes will completely shift how you think, how you act, and how you react. Thanks for the clarity.

    Jordan of http://yoreoyster.com

  • It doesn’t happen in one day. There are no goals. There’s only practice. Practice never makes perfect. Practice makes happy. Practice makes habits. Noted. :)

  • Cammy Joseph

    I’m glad I found your blog. “Habits don’t change in a day. But 1% a day makes every habit work” will be my Mantra.