1 Percent

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Nov 10, 2021
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James Clear's bestseller, Atomic Habits, espouses making a 1 percent improvement every day. Over a year's time, Clear asserts, the cumulative life improvement is extraordinary. Clear described a record-setting British bicycle racing team. Daily they'd make small improvements, e.g., riders used special pillows for better sleep, polished their bikes with a special material that reduced air friction, swapped heavier bike frame materials for lighter ones, etc.

But here's my quandary: how to measure a one-percent improvement? "One percent" is a measurement. One grabs the requisite measuring instrument to calculate the gain— a gain of half a percent, or maybe 1 1/2? But swapping out good and bad behaviors, or making incremental improvements, rituals or circumstances . . . doesn't seem quantifiable. Hypothetically: I quit sodas on Tuesday and add daily spinach on Wednesday. Do those two improvements constitute 2 percent? Seems like fuzzy logic.

I shall certainly appreciate any help availed me.

—Confused Old Geezer
 

lev888

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Jan 16, 2018
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2,677
James Clear's bestseller, Atomic Habits, espouses making a 1 percent improvement every day. Over a year's time, Clear asserts, the cumulative life improvement is extraordinary. Clear described a record-setting British bicycle racing team. Daily they'd make small improvements, e.g., riders used special pillows for better sleep, polished their bikes with a special material that reduced air friction, swapped heavier bike frame materials for lighter ones, etc.

But here's my quandary: how to measure a one-percent improvement? "One percent" is a measurement. One grabs the requisite measuring instrument to calculate the gain— a gain of half a percent, or maybe 1 1/2? But swapping out good and bad behaviors, or making incremental improvements, rituals or circumstances . . . doesn't seem quantifiable. Hypothetically: I quit sodas on Tuesday and add daily spinach on Wednesday. Do those two improvements constitute 2 percent? Seems like fuzzy logic.

I shall certainly appreciate any help availed me.

—Confused Old Geezer
You are correct. Take the racing team, their record speed and the speed they beat. Calculate the percent of improvement. I'd say it will be 1-3%. Now calculate the daily % change given the number is days they trained. The result will be much less than 1%. And obviously the real improvement will not be the same every day.
 

JeffM

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I have not read the book, but what you are describing is, at best, a metaphor for the potentially large cumulative effect of a sequence of numerous incremental improvements. A best seller means that a lot of people bought the book rather than meaning that the book makes sense. A lot of people believe nonsense.

An improvement of 1% a day over a year represents a 37 fold improvement. So if the bicycle team’s initial average speed was 30 km per hour, their average speed after a year would have increased to almost the speed of sound. It sounds a mite implausible to me.
 

lev888

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Jan 16, 2018
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A few years ago at work this daily 1% improvement nonsense was included in a presentation in front of a roomful of software engineers. Fun.
 

Mr. Bland

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Dec 27, 2019
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For my car, I identified various ways to improve the fuel efficiency. I gave the engine a tune-up, adjusted certain angular surfaces to reduce air resistance, used a more suitable tire radius, etc. All-in-all, I calculated a 118% reduction in fuel usage. By the time I'd driven it an hour down the road, I had so much extra fuel it started overflowing out the gas cap.
 
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