No More Swinging for the Fences: Living by the 1% Rule

I have always been a swing for the fences kind of girl. I aim big and, typically, I get to where I intend to be. Aiming beyond your target is a useful tool for meeting goals. As they say, shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you still land among the stars.

The problem with swinging for the fences, though, is that sometimes you just wear yourself out. It takes a lot of strength and focus to try to knock every goal out of the park. And occasionally, you get so exhausted from all that effort that you end up losing steam.

This has been my experience when it comes to establishing better habits for myself. Although the swing for the fences approach has worked well for me in my career, it hasn’t been as useful in my personal life, where the objectives are less defined and often feel like moving targets.

For me, swinging for the fences when it comes to creating good habits and positive change in my personal life often looks like this:

Wanting to eat healthier, so choosing to abstain from any foods that have carbs, fats, and sugar.

Wanting to exercise more, so planning to work out 2 hours a day 7 days a week.

Wanting to be better about dusting my furniture, so deciding that I will dust every single day.

No matter what the goal is, I always seem to set the bar too high. Like a pendulum, I swing way too far in the opposite direction. I move swiftly toward my goals, yes. And typically, I see immediate and gratifying results (oh, how that dopamine gets me going!).

But the thing about these home-run, fence-swinging objectives is that they simply are not attainable in the long term. At least not for me. Occasionally, the pendulum swings violently back in the other direction and I end up in a worse position than I was when I set the goal in the first place.

So, I am giving up on swinging for the fences. At least when it comes to setting these positive behaviors in my personal life.

I’m living by the rule of 1% instead.

The rule of 1% says that if we resolve to make positive changes or steps in the right direction toward our goal by only 1% a day, we will see better results over time that will actually last. It is based on the principle of aggregate marginal gains, which tells us that small gains, built up consistently over time, will yield a remarkable result. In this way, incremental progress leads to significant changes that don’t feel sudden, overwhelming, or impossible to sustain.

The best part about the 1% rule is that, over time, the 1% daily improvement begins to compound. As James Clear demonstrates in his book Atomic Habits, a 1% daily increase in positive behaviors toward our goals will yield a 37% difference by the end of one year. Although the daily progress might feel small or even insignificant, those tiny changes compound over time to create incredible change!

Returning to my swing for the fences goals from above, here’s how I am utilizing the 1% rule to begin making small positive changes:

Instead of eliminating all carbs and sugars from my diet, replacing one of my favorite meals or snacks with a lower-calorie or carb-free alternative.

Instead of working out for 2 hours a day 7 days a week, designating three days a week for doing 15-20 minute high-impact training, and designating 1–2 days a week for light exercise like yoga or walking.

Instead of dusting every day, setting aside one day a week to do this chore.

Little by little, as I make these small changes, I will see new habits start to form. These habits will be easier to maintain because they have developed naturally over time. They won’t feel overwhelming or depressing—sucking all the joy or leisure time out of my life. And as I make these positive changes, I will find myself making more positive choices that will lead me toward my goals.

There is a time and place for swinging for the fences. But from now on, I’m going to allow myself to appreciate (and even aim for) the base hits, too.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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