by Ollie Aplin — 9 min read
Over the years I have tried and failed to set myself New Year’s Resolutions. Those often unachievable goals set at the beginning of the year that by February are forgotten — leaving me with only guilt and frustration that I didn't stick to them. So I don’t make them anymore.
I’ve learnt that putting too much pressure on myself or a goal doesn't work. Instead, I create small, positive habits and build them into my everyday. The ones I’m going to share have taken me years to build. Good habits are hard to make. Making consistently good choices, in a world filled with bad choices, is not an easy thing to do.
You may have even tried a few of these habits yourself, but the chances are they haven’t stuck. And that’s probably because you set the bar too high or expected too much from yourself. What normally starts as a good intention on Monday can soon begin to crumble, falling apart by the end of the week. The first crack in a plan can feel like its swallowing us whole, making it easier to give up than continue.
But there is another way for you to achieve exactly what you want, with the 1% rule.
Invented by British cycling coach, Sir David John Brailsford, the 1% rule does the complete opposite of a New Year’s Resolution. Rather than starting big, you start small and gradually improve by 1% until your new habit fits seamlessly into your day.
“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.”
Let’s take flossing for example – a boring but necessary habit to stick to. This is how you might build the habit using the 1% rule:
• Week 1: Leave the floss by your toothbrush
• Week 2: Pick up the floss and put it down after you brush your teeth
• Week 3: Floss one tooth after you brush your teeth
• Week 4: Floss your bottom row of teeth after you finish brushing
• Week 5: Floss your top row of teeth after you finish brushing
• Week 6: Floss both rows of teeth
Follow this and you’ll have been flossing, more routinely for 4 weeks. And you could build up the habit tooth by tooth. Whatever habit you want to build, you just need to break it down into small wins that will help you eventually achieve the bigger ones.
But what about time? Giving a habit a completion date is setting yourself up for failure right from the word go. Habits are hard enough to build, adding more pressure with a deadline is not going to help. All that happens is a deadline that you keep moving and moving and never really reach.
Focus on the short-term gains of your habit. Every time you stick to your 1% you will feel like you have achieved something, and this will help keep you on track and making progress.
When a habit becomes fully integrated into our lives it disappears — it becomes part of who we are. Our habits become instinctive with minimal effort and much less energy than it took to start it.
The 10 habits that will change your life
Below are the habits I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to build into my everyday. They’re a mixture of lessons I’ve learned from personal experience, health issues and plenty of research. Now I’m not saying I am always on top of each one, but anytime I notice one sliding I just start again with the 1% rule and I’m back on track.
1. Schedule naps
It may not sound like much but fitting in nap times of around 10-20 minutes is vital to your health and wellbeing. The challenge here is finding the time and switching off. A power nap is not an opportunity to scroll your phone. Put it on Do Not Disturb mode and set a timer. A game changer for my naps over the last couple of years has been an eye mask and a sleep spray – I’m out like a light!
No time? I used to think so too. Schedule your naps into your week. If you know you’ve got a busy week with some late nights, book a nap or two around your other commitments. Leaving a nap to chance, will mean that its time slot will get filled with something or someone else.
2. Drink more water
We all know this one. There’s loads of evidence for the importance of drinking more water. It can help with weight loss, energy, bloatedness and headaches. But it can be hard to know how much to drink and how often.
Keep it simple and aim for 3-litres a day. Buy yourself a 1-litre bottle and aim to drink one bottle in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. And carry it everywhere, so there’s no excuse not to drink.
3. Do Minimum Viable Exercise
In an ideal world, we’d all like to hit the gym 4-5 times a week. In reality, there are times we barely make it once, if at all. We all know the benefits and we yet we still don’t do it. So give yourself a break. Ignore the gym offers and the diet adverts and start small.
Focus on creating a Minimum Viable Exercise routine. Get up and do 10 pushups, 10 sit-ups and 10 burpees. Move that body of yours as soon as you wake up. Don’t overcomplicate it, just move. If you did 10 pushups every morning, you would have done 70 in a week and 300 in a month. Now that feels good, right?
And when you feel ready there are loads of resources out there to keep you motivated. A game changer for me has been the discovery of bodyweight HIIT via Joe Wicks. He’s got tons of free workouts on his YouTube Channel – no equipment needed.
4. Wake up earlier
We often complain there are not enough hours in the day. Well, there are, they’re just not where you want them to be. Ten years ago I would try and stay in bed for as long as I could. Smashing the snooze button like it was whack-a-mole. I look back now and roll my eyes at all the time I wasted.
Waking up earlier is not just a case of setting the alarm clock an hour earlier. It’s about changing your body’s internal clock. Otherwise, that snooze button is going to take a pounding. Use the 1% rule to full effect here and wind that clock back bit by bit.
5. Meditate before work
I first started meditating to help me cope with anxiety and panic attacks on public transport. It was so effective I soon realised it’s potential for other areas of my life.
I found I was waking up in the morning and immediately thinking about work and all the things I had to do that day. Sometimes I felt stressed even before I sat down at my desk. I knew it was a bad way to start my day so I decided to build a short daily meditation into my routine.
Meditating calms my mind and boosts my focus, allowing me to ease into my day. There’s plenty of great apps that can help you to do this but I always come back to Calm. It’s perfect if you are new to meditation. Start with just a few minutes and you’ll quickly notice a shift in your mood, energy and state of mind.
6. Learn new stuff
I’ve never found it easy to read a book, for the simple reason I told myself I couldn’t find the time. But there’s a time in the day that’s perfect for reading. Sitting on the loo.
Over the past few years, I’ve read some amazing books in the bathroom, it’s become my private library. I’ve learnt new things, taught myself business strategies, you name it I’ve read it.
It’s the perfect way to build a habit as you only have a fairly short amount of time. Focus on one book at a time too, the last thing you want is choice.
7. Keep a journal
I’ve been journalling now for just over 10 years. It has so many positive effects on my life, keeping me on track and giving me an outlet for life. It is the one thing that if I don’t do, I soon notice the impact on my life as a whole.
Since creating MindJournal it has become so much easier. I now journal more often with more understanding and clarity. However, like with everything else on this list, I still have to find the time.
So whenever I realise I have been letting my journaling slide, I follow the flossing example. I might leave my journal by my bed, read previous entries, then pick up a pen and just fill in the Daily Check-In. And I keep going until I can once again feel the positive impact it has on me. Once I have that back there's no stopping me.
8. Have fun
This may sound ridiculous but with busy work schedules, responsibilities and commitments it’s so easy to forget to have fun. To stop and think about yourself and what you love doing.
Like with all new habits, start small. In each MindJournal entry, there is a space to plan your ‘Happy Hour’ — an hour in every day that is just for you. Meet up with a mate, go for a run or watch your favourite TV programme. Whatever it is that brings you happiness.
Some might argue that fun that’s planned is not very fun. But if you don’t plan to have fun, you might not have fun at all. Keep it simple and doable – and make it just for you.
9. Practice gratitude
We all have those days where it feels like nothing is going right. I’ve learnt to deal with these feelings by practising gratitude. By recognising the good in your day, the negative things will affect you less. Focusing on the positive things in your life will elevate your mood, and you’ll feel more focused and motivated to handle what’s being thrown at you.
Here are some simple tricks you can use to start bringing more gratitude into your everyday.
• Start or end the day by writing down three things you’re grateful for (there’s also a space in your MindJournal for this)
• If you feel yourself getting into a cycle of negative thinking, stop and think of three things you’re grateful for in your immediate surroundings.
• Ask other people what they’re grateful for. This will give you some gratitude inspiration. You may even hear things that you’ve forgotten about yourself.
10. Give yourself a break
Probably the most important, yet overlooked habit on the list. And something we’re all guilty of not doing more of.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. If some of these habits slip, don’t beat yourself up. By even attempting to create a new habit you have achieved something you should be proud of.
All habits require patience and time to integrate into our lives. You can’t force a new habit. Trust in your process and give yourself a break every once in a while.
A few things to remember
Habits change over time and adapt to who we are and where we’re are in life. Some of the habits I’ve listed above, might not feel right for you. And that’s fine. Treat them as an opportunity to experiment, and to build your own.
Use the Done App to plot down your weekly habits and how many times you aim to achieve each one. Then track your progress each week. Focus on one habit, follow on the 1% rule and DON’T set any deadlines.
Use a separate calendar in iCal or Google called ‘Habits’ for any scheduling you think may help with your chosen habit. This can be particularly helpful for things like napping, fun and exercise.
Keep a journal to track how your habits are progressing. It will help relieve any stress whilst working on your habit and help you recognise and be proud of the progress you are making. Alongside the 1% rule, journaling has been the number one reason my habits have stuck. If you don’t have a good enough reason to stick to something – you’ll always find a reason not to.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Use this list to challenge yourself to see what you’re really capable of. You might just surprise yourself. Good luck!
Written by Ollie Aplin
Designer, writer and co-founder of MindJournal. On a mission to help guys feel more, do more and be more. Got a sweet tooth and often use words that don't exist. Start a conversation firstname.lastname@example.org