Never underestimate the power of one per cent

By David Penney

When it comes to the factors that influence the direction of our lives, there are few things more powerful than numbers.

Whether we are aware of it or not, numbers drive our decision making every day and are an important tool for us to make sense of everything that is going on around us. 

From dates to prices to times, numbers are the lenses through which we perceive the world and how we consider different numbers can induce a range of psychological responses. 

For instance, four weeks will feel less than 28 days, 99p seems like a much better deal than £1 and enough memory for 1,000 songs on our smart phones feels a lot better than 5GB.

When it comes to numbers, perception is everything and something that was well understood by psychologist and coach Dr Rob Yeung, who introduced us to the concept of the extra one per cent in his self-improvement book of the same name.

In his groundbreaking book, Yeung explores the power of making fractional and continual improvements and how it is often this commitment that differentiates exceptional people from the rest.

Yeung’s theory understands that we all want to be better, but it can be easy to be overwhelmed and to subsequently lose the impetus for change if our bar is set to high.

If we commit to becoming one per cent better at something, that feels eminently more achievable than if that improvement target is 25 per cent, 50 per cent or even 100 per cent – and yet the impact can be just as powerful.

Often, we will mentally dismiss one per cent as being statistically insignificant and yet across a range of real-world scenarios, that one per cent can be transformational.

Take investing as an example, with the miracle of compounding, an extra one per cent return every year for 20 years is potentially a small fortune while in elite sport, that extra one per cent is the difference between an Olympic champion and a talented club runner.

Indeed, one of the most famous proponents of the importance and value of fractional and continual improvements was (and is) Dave Brailsford, the man who transformed British cycling and led the team to incredible success at the London Olympics in 2012.

His ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ philosophy meant that was nothing was off limits and so every single aspect, no matter how small, was reviewed and where possible improved, whether that was the effectiveness of massage gels to the design of bike saddles.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear explores this area further and states that by aiming to be one per cent better every day, you can be as much as 37 per cent better at the end of the year.

The truth is that improving one per cent isn’t notable or even necessarily noticeable and yet over a period of time, the difference can potentially be outstanding.

According to Clear, there are four simple laws to changing behaviours – make the change obvious, attractive, easy to do and satisfying and in his book he cites the example of improving our health and wellbeing through working out more.

To make this more likely to happen we should schedule work outs in our calendar and put our work out clothes next to our keys, start doing exercises or movements that we enjoy and for just five minutes a day and then celebrate our exercise wins.

It is a formula that can be applied across all areas of lives, and it is amazing how little things can massively improve your day and that of those around you.

Something as simple as getting up just 30 minutes earlier has huge potential to improve both our personal and professional lives. That half an hour becomes 3.5 hours extra time a week or 26 days a year. Just think what you can do with an extra month a year!

Or perhaps something equally as simple as smiling more or challenging yourself to say something complementary to somebody every day, lifting them up and lifting yourself in the process.

One thing we should never under-estimate is the power of a smile as negativity breeds negativity and according to a fascinating study of baseball cards by Wayne State University, those smiling on the cards lived an average of seven years longer than those who weren’t!

All of us want to live better lives and perform better at work but things will never get better by chance, they only get better through change and we have more chance of being successful in this quest if our goals are psychologically achievable.

Through embracing the power of one per cent we can continue to grow and develop, often without even noticing, and hopefully make the changes to our lives that mean we are more than just a number. 

The Partner Practice is an Appointed Representative of and represents only St. James's Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the group's wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the group's website The 'St. James's Place Partnership' and the title 'Partner' are marketing terms used to describe St. James's Place representatives.

Penney Financial Partners is a trading name of Penney Financial Partners Ltd. Penney Financial Partners Limited is registered in England and Wales, Number 09964340. Registered Office: Kensington House, Knights Way, Battlefield, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 3AB, UK