How to Become 1% Better Each Day

It’s not about the life-altering changes.

Most people have a misconception that they need to make dramatic life-altering changes to live a better, more meaningful life. What I have realized is that making huge life changes overnight is likely to result in disappointment at worst and short-term contentment at best. The ‘go big or go home’ approach to change and progress is not sustainable nor effective in the long-term when the momentary wave of motivation departs.

Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Think about all the times you embarked on a strict and calculated diet. Or the time you promised to go to the gym three times a week when you can barely remember the last time you performed a push-up. Or the time you set unrealistic annual reading goals or promised to open a savings account because new and trendy restaurants have devoured your income (spoiler alert- you didn’t!) and so on and so forth.

What happened to these goals? It’s not because you didn’t want to achieve them, but your tactic was focused on the end result rather than the daily habits you needed to put in place to achieve them. A more effective way to achieve progress is to improve a bit each day until you wake up a year later noticing just how much your life has changed. Small changes are the secret to sustainable progress a.k.a the type of progress you won’t feel like quitting a week from now and will survive numerous setbacks and disappointments.

Setting to dramatically change your life overnight will likely result in disappointment at worst and short-term contentment at best. While big positive changes can be immediately rewarding, small and sustainable changes have long-term benefits and rewards.

Being 1 % better each day is a sustainable yet impressive commitment towards your personal development. By accumulating minimal mindful progress each day, your efforts will soon translate into who you are. It will become your nature. Before you know it, you will become the type of person you want to be.

Being 1% better at saving each day means you’ll have enough funds to travel within a couple of months. Being 1% better at a skill might be what makes you stand out in a job application and lands you the job! Being a 1% better writer, cook, planner, parent, spouse every single day will make you a whole new person a year from now. For this reason, 1% of progress is not to be underestimated.  The compounding effect of 1% progress alone is remarkable.

Here’s the punchline: If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

The secret to living better each day is making small but better decisions every single day. Below I have listed nine things you can start doing to live a better life.

1. Wake up 10 minutes earlier

The purpose of waking up a bit earlier is to secure a time slot at the beginning of your day to make positive progress towards a good habit. It’s the kind of practice you need to improve a bit each day.

Mornings are opportunities to start over and make better decisions.

Did you wake up to a messy room? That’s okay, you have 10 minutes to clean it up. Forgot to prepare your work outfit the night before or perhaps were too tired? You have 10 minutes to sort that out. Leaving the home without breakfast? You only need 10 minutes to whip up a quick nutritious smoothie.

Need to shower? Missed Fajr prayer? Embarking on meditation? Worry not, you have 10 extra minutes! 10-minute uses are endless:

  1. 7-minute workout
  2. Journaling
  3. Reading 5 pages
  4. Finishing homework
  5. Planning the day ahead

These 10 minutes are bonus minutes which you have earned by waking up a little bit earlier. You can rectify a situation (cleaning room/dirty dishes, etc.) or make progress towards a positive habit (making breakfast/meditating/exercising/reading/planning your day etc.). Alternatively, those extra 10 minutes can be the difference between being ‘on time’ and very late to work, school, or a meeting.

Waking up early is an ideal habit to start with. Tomorrow it’s 10 minutes earlier, then it’s 30 minutes, then it’s one hour. But being 1% better means at least 10 minutes earlier. I like to employ this 10-minute tactic throughout my day whenever I can.

2. Get used to planning

Sometimes the difference between a good day and a great day and a good life and a great life is some in-advance planning. Plan your outfit the night before. Plan your meals in advance. Plan the time you will meditate. Plan your finances. Plan a date with your partner. Plan when to do your grocery trip or go out to meet some friends. Plan when to leave the house to arrive where you want on time. Plan how much work you are planning to get done today and what task you will start with first.

By planning, you will have an intention, a goal, and some structure to start performing. You will be more organized and free up the mental load you need to get the work done.

Automating your life is always a smart thing to do because it makes action and progress easier.

Planning takes care of many of these problems:

I missed my deadline, am broke before the end of the month, got told off by my boss for not working on the report she told me about last month. Or, I forgot to pick up the laundry, refuel my car, call my mom back, schedule an appointment, buy a gift for my cousin’s baby shower, etc.

Why? Because you can just plan those things in advance.

An easy way to start planning is to do it the night before (another opportunity to employ the 10-minute strategy above!). Jot down what you have to do tomorrow, where you need to be, etc. Review your plan the following day.

Tip: Make sure your plan is simple or you’ll hesitate to follow through with it.

3. Say No

I know, just the title gave you anxiety. You must be wondering what on earth I am trying to get to here. Well, saying no is a beautiful luxury that can actually improve your life but only when you know when to use it, how to use it and what to say no to.

When to say no:

  1. Opportunity is time-consuming and you have better use for that time
  2. Opportunity does not match your desired identity
  3. Opportunity does not spark joy

These three pointers give me a better idea about whether I should take or reject an opportunity. Often opportunities will conflict between these pointers. The key is to decide which of these values is more important to you: your time (point 1), your desired identity (point 2) or your sense of contentment (point 3).

Let’s put these pointers to play.

Scenario 1: Your friend asks you for a favor when you’re busy

Opportunity: Helping a friend

Desired identity: Being a good friend

Verdict: While you might be busy, your desired identity is to be a good friend. Saying no is therefore not a good option.

Scenario 2: You are offered to lead a challenging project at work.

Opportunity: Leading

Desired identity: Standing out, proving yourself to yourself and boss.

Verdict: Saying yes is the desirable outcome. But let’s suppose you are already engaged in another demanding task at work. Here you have to decide which matters most to you: realizing your desired identity or your time.

Scenario 3: Your old friends are reuniting at a high-dining restaurant in town and have invited you to join.

Opportunity: Meeting old friends

Desired identity: Saving money at restaurants and dedicating spare time to practice a skill.

Verdict: Saying no could be a viable option that you shouldn’t feel guilty making. Unless you suffer from serious FOMO of course.

Not-so-great reasons for saying no:

  1. Opportunity matches your desired identity but makes you nervous
  2. Opportunity is in line with your goals but you are afraid of what other people might think
  3. Opportunity is time-consuming but ultimately rewarding
  4. Opportunity is what you have been waiting for/always wanted

Be intentional about what you say no to. Each time you say no for a good reason, you have made progress towards living a better life. Wasting time on things you don’t care about, or better, don’t complement your values, is counterintuitive to living a better life.

4. Start early

Start 15 minutes earlier than planned and you will notice remarkable results. Your job starts at 8 am and you usually leave home at 7:30? How about 7:15? Have a more peaceful stress-free commute. Listen to a book while you’re at it. You will arrive early and have a few extra minutes to work on your to-do list.

Planning to start working out after an hour? How about 45 minutes? By the time it’s actually time to work out, you will have completed a good portion of your workout. Plus, you will be less likely to change your mind when the clock strikes.

Build the momentum by starting early and seeing what you can do in the 15 minutes you have saved. The more you practice this habit, the more you will generate the success adrenaline which gets you feeling excited about the progress you’ve made and will help you maintain the habit streak.

Being 15 minutes early is also an excellent social skill, especially if you have acquired the “always late” reputation. It’s safe to say that being late is up there with the least admirable traits one can have and it’s easy to change that by using the 15 minute rule.

5. Sort your Finances

This is probably my favorite tip for living 1% better. We often underestimate the impact proper finance management has on our lives and our stress levels. Most people have no idea how much they spend on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. It’s daunting to live in this mindless manner because you will always end up worrying about how much you spent, how much you can afford to spend, and wondering whatever happened to all your money! Living mindlessly in this manner might feel normal but living better requires proper finance management.

A simple way to start is to record 1) how much you make in a given month, 2) how much you spend on fixed expenses (think Netflix, internet bills, fuel, and other recurring expenses) and 3) how much money you need to live comfortably for a month (eating out from time-to-time, grocery shopping, light shopping, etc.) Whatever is in access is your saving money. Depending on your age, income, and responsibilities, your saving money can be diversified in many different pools. You can categorize your saving money into two simple categories: 1) Fun Saving and 2) Smart Saving.

Fun saving: saving to buy a gift, the dream bag you’ve been eyeing for a long time or a trip to Italy. Fun saving is just that; fun! I like to plan the things I want to purchase in a given month and manage my expenses and savings accordingly.

Smart saving: saving to have enough reserve for future planned and unplanned expenses. This is the saving money you will need for larger spendings like moving out, furnishing a new home, possible business ventures, funding children’s education, maintenance, insurance, etc.

There a million different saving strategies but I like to follow this strategy:

Total income: 100%: Spend 35 % on everyday and recurring monthly expenses, save 30 % for fun saving, save 35 % for smart saving.

Working out a practical, manageable and rewarding finance system will contribute to a better life for yourself.

6. Dress Well

Studies have shown that how we dress massively affects our confidence levels. While it is silly to think that pieces of material can affect how we feel, behave and are perceived by others, the point is not dressing well but the derived confidence we gain from doing so. Because dressing well enhances our confidence (and dressing poorly does the opposite), it is a no-brainer that we should put some effort into how we present ourselves to the world. This does not mean you have to make huge spendings and dress head-to-toe in premium designers. The idea is to look polished and put together. It’s simple; when you look good, you feel good.

*Insert cliché Coco Chanel quote on dressing well*

But seriously, when your confidence levels are elevated, you are more likely to socialize, excel at your job, impress in an interview and break out of your comfort zone from time to time. Looking polished and put together every day is a commitment to being confident and prepared for any opportunity life has to offer.

If you don’t like putting a lot of effort into how you dress, I would recommend wearing neutral shades and avoiding loud pieces. Dressing in neutral tones will easily give you a more polished look. Also, get rid of any naturally wrinkly clothes you have in your wardrobe. If your clothes turn wrinkly 10 minutes after steaming them, they’re not worth it. Clothes that no longer fit you or have faded in color are also things you should consider getting rid of. 

7. Make Time for the things you Care about

I realize that many of these points revolve around time but that’s just because time is our best asset. Without proper time management, we will not be able to make any real progress towards our goals. Living better means doing what we care about.

Often, we care about certain hobbies or goals so much but don’t actually make time for them. If we don’t dedicate purposeful time for the things we care about, it’s likely we won’t do anything about them.

If you care about creating and fostering good friendships, you should consider making time to meet your friends. If you want to stand out at your job which often means willingly staying later to finish your work, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally sacrifice some personal time to do so.

If you care about getting fit, you cannot expect to magically become fit without dedicating some time to: 1) creating a fitness goal 2) creating meal plans which match your desired fitness goal, 3) researching gyms in your area, 4) making time to go to the gym, etc.

Because we care about aligning our lives and goals, my spouse and I like to dedicate time each day to actually talk about our days and the progress we’ve made towards our goals. This is different from the time we spend binge-watching Spanish shows on Netflix. Cable Girls is back you guys!

Similarly, I’ve made it a habit to spend at least an hour each day writing. Whether I’m drafting an article, summarizing key points from my current read or journaling, I make sure not to miss a day of writing, especially on weekdays.

On Saturday nights, I like to dedicate an hour or two to meal prep for the coming week because I care about eating clean and healthy meals.

Whatever it is that you care about, dedicate some time for it. Not only will you make progress towards your goals and hobbies but you will feel proud of yourself for making specialized time for them in the first place.

Bonus tip: Use a habit tracker and record the days you have managed to stick to the dedicated time slots.

8. Focus! Stop mixing work and play

Cringe-worthy title, I know… Forgive me. But there’s this thing we all like to do which ruins everything we do. Did you just check your phone? Gee, thanks! To be honest, I’m proud you made it this far dear reader. I can fortune tell from your dedication that you are destined for great success. Are you a Libra? Yup, your cards are definitely aligned for capital-G Greatness.

But, really. We like to ruin things, don’t we? We watch YouTube videos at work, check Instagram during meetings and take 45-minute breaks for every 10 minutes of work. WhY dO wE dO thIS?! Why can’t we just focus! Contrary to what you might be thinking, it’s not because you don’t want to focus. You just can’t help it. Feeling bored for five seconds or anxious for one minute feels impossible to you. Your reflexes are trained to grab your phone whenever it’s around and call for madame gratification instantanée. What? you were beginning to feel bored so I decided to make instant gratification sound like a beret-wearing French lady. I think you should get used to her.

Madame instantanée promises to cure all your problems. She lures you into her unlimited streams of distraction, flashing photos, useless notifications and all. She makes you feel happy, like you’re having tons of fun. Except that you have a deadline in 25 minutes and your boss will be real pissed if you missed it, or worse, delivered below-average work. You will not make any notable progress towards your plans if you continue to be charmed by the French lady.

As James Clear put it, it’s easier to remove temptations than to resist them. When you’re working, put your phone to silent and tuck it in a drawer until you’re done. If you’re on a diet, remove the 85 condiments and processed foods from your fridge. Stuff it instead with unappealing looking greens -that’s when you know they’re healthy-, which is ironically what you want to become too!

9. Fail, Try Again

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the secret to living 1% better is making better decisions, even if it means the slightly better decision. You will have many moments in your day where you have to choose between making the best decision, a good decision, an okay decision, and a purely bad one. James Clear calls this “the decisive moment”: the point throughout the day where your choices affect how you’ll spend the remaining time.

It is practically impossible to experience a perfect day every day. You have to work with the force of life not against it. One day you will wake up early and feeling motivated. Some days you might barely be able to crawl out of bed to hit the snooze button.

You will make a big deadline only to miss the next one. You will go to the gym for one consecutive week and have no time next week. You will experience failures and setbacks. You will be upset. Someone will trigger you to react in some way. You’ll plan to save a certain amount only to end up splurging on a cure-all skincare kit that all the influencers are raving about.

It’s fine, life will get in the way. Now take a big deeeeep breath in. Hold. Keep holding. Keep hol- okay, now let it out, sloooooowwlly.

Great, I’m proud of you. Now, does this mean you have to quit all your plans and give up? Surely that can’t be the only option. Perfection is not the point, progress is. It’s important to have a back-up plan for minor or major setbacks you will experience. The goal is not to be perfect but 1% better. Always have this in mind. You owe it to yourself to try again. And again. And again. Until you’ve reached the level of mastery over your life.

If you’re made it this far, leave me a comment down below with your favorite takeaway from this read 🙂