The 1% That Makes All the Difference

Change your rate of success at anything with this approach.

I have always loved watching interviews with PGA golfer Paul Goydos. He’s funny and his insights are dead on. Seven or eight years ago, he was being asked in interviews what made Tiger Woods better than most players. He said, essentially, if we go out on the golf course and hit the same shot, my ball is going to fall at about the same point as Tiger’s. If we putt the same putt, you won’t see much difference between us. “The difference between Tiger Woods and me,” he explained “is not this huge chasm. It’s that he’s a little bit better at a million small things that you can’t see.”

When you add up all of those slight differences, what you get is one player who is maybe 1 percent better than the next, and that’s how he wins. All it takes is 1 percent to jump from missing a goal to hitting it, from missing the promotion or getting it, from losing a game to winning it.

The 1% that makes all the difference is the 1% improvement you achieve next, because it could change your life.

Regular, consistent, steady improvement is the difference between people who win some of the time and the people who win most of the time. Serial winners don’t run from the awkwardness or grinding effort of growth. They embrace it. They know that as soon as they stop improving, somebody else will run past them and cross the finish line first. It happened to Tiger, right?

I hear the same three questions when it comes to personal development, career development, or growing a business. Here are my answers:

Where should I be trying to improve?

This is one of the most common questions I hear from the people I coach. Let me redirect you to Paul Goydos’s quote above. Where? Everywhere! Being slightly better in every area is what defines successful people. You should be trying to regularly improve in small ways in every area of your work and life, even if you think you’ve got something mastered. There is always something new to learn—and that’s what makes life interesting and exciting.

What will make the biggest difference?

I have no answer to this question. The real reason you need to work to improve in all areas is that you never know which area will make the difference between achieving what you want or falling short. If you have a major weakness that is holding you back from something you really want, then yes, you obviously need to focus on that area for a while (although generally I think it’s important to focus on your strengths when choosing your goals). If you want to become a professional speaker and you’re lousy at public speaking, you need to devote time, effort, and resources to making big advances on the stage. But if you don’t improve in other areas—marketing yourself, networking with potential clients, developing the business side of things—you’ll have talent and skills but no career or money. Shift your primary focus as necessary, but don’t ignore any one area.

How do I improve?

This is a question with about a million answers. I devoted most of a chapter to it in my new book Serial Winner, and I only scratched the surface. The truth is you should be trying to improve how you improve by looking for new ways to learn or grow. I’ll share a quick rundown of key ideas:

  • Use measurement and competition. Measurement allows you to set goals and helps focus your efforts. Competition (even with yourself) helps drive you.
  • Learn from people who have already won in the area in which you’re trying to improve. Gather as many winning ideas as possible.
  • Put your own twist on what you learn. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, make adjustments to make them work for you.
  • Stay in control of your time. Keep space in your schedule devoted to improvement. The biggest excuse for not improving is, “I don’t have time.”

How are you going to improve today? This week? This month? Set goals now and start making 1% progress tomorrow.

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