Have you ever compared your life to the movies?
You’re not alone. In fact, I’d venture a guess that from time to time most of us imagine we’re the star in our very own blockbuster. Making friends, fighting enemies, falling in love, and tackling challenges on a journey towards a better future.
While there’s certainly no harm in the occasional Hollywood daydream, it can cause some real trouble when you start to blend your real life with life on the silver screen. Because for all the things that the movies do right, there is one area where they have a terrible track record in mirroring reality:
Even if it has what might otherwise be a plausible plot, television and movies are terrible are scripting human progress. And I think they know it too. Watching most shows, it feels as if writers intentionally craft the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of their characters in a way that would never possibly happen in the real world.
Why? It’s simple…
Real human progress is boring.
Hollywood lives off the big and bold. The overnight success. The life-changing phone call. The two-minute montage that takes the athlete from poverty to pro. I know you’re familiar, because it happens in nearly every movie and TV show you watch.
But real life isn’t so simple. It’s not determined by a handful of big, bold decisions you make. No, real life is determined by the minutia. The little things you do day-in and day-out that bring you that much closer to the life you want to live.
In the real world, big change doesn’t come in the span of scene. It comes 1% at a time.
1% Makes All the Difference
Author James Clear writes about the power of 1% in his bestseller, Atomic Habits.
In his book, Clear tells the story of the rise of the British cycling dynasty. For over a century, Great Britain had been a decidedly mediocre cycling organization. They had never won a Tour de France, and had won but a single Olympic gold medal since 1908. They were so bad that top bike manufactures literally refused to sell them equipment, out of fear it would give their brand a bad name.
But that all changed in 2003 when Great Britain Cycling hired a new Performance Director by the name of Dave Brailsford.
From day one, Brailsford adopted a philosophy he referred to as “the aggregation of marginal gains.” Simply put, he did not believe in big, grandiose overhauls, adjustments, or goals. He did not march into that first team meeting and state the Great Britain was going to sweep the next Olympics. He simply asked his team where can we make small improvements day by day?
Brailsford focused on the micro 1% improvements. They redesigned the team’s bike seats to make them a little more comfortable. They got new heated bike shorts to help their muscles relax. They found more aerodynamic fabric for their uniforms, and started rubbing alcohol on their tires for better grip. They even painted the inside of the team trailer white so that they could ensure no spec of dust or dirt would go unnoticed, potentially leading to mechanical issues during a race.
Little by little, Brailsford adopted slight changes and variations to the British cycling program. And when it came time for the team to compete at the 2008 Olympic Games, the results of these small incremental changes were astonishing.
Great Britain won 60% of the gold medals available at that year’s Olympics. And four years later at the 2012 games in London, they set 7 world records and 9 Olympic records.
In less than a decade, Great Britain went from the joke of cycling to a dynasty that could not be beat. In the movie of this story, this tale would be told with a big, bold character monologue and a subsequent 3 to 5-minute montage.
But in real life? It was 1%…day-by-day, year-by-year.
1% Makes Bad Movies But Amazing Individuals
The reason Hollywood shuns 1% improvements is not only because they’re boring. It’s because you can barely even notice them.
Passengers aboard a 737 flight from Los Angeles to New York would never notice if their flight path was off by a percent or two. But if the nose of the plane moved but a few feet at takeoff, that New York bound flight might very well be landing in Washington D.C. four hours later.
Subtle change at first, massive difference in the end.
If you’re still struggling to visualize how 1% can make such a difference, take a look at the following graph:
As you can see, after one year of daily 1% improvements, you’ll finish nearly 38 times better than when you started. But if you decline 1% each day, you’ll end up close to zero.
It’s the magic of compound interest at play…only making itself visible after time. And it’s how the blogger committing to a 1% increase on their daily output will be churning out an extra 3 blogs/week by the end of the year. How a commitment to saving just 1% of your paycheck can lead to hundreds or even thousands of dollars saved a year. And how 1% improvements in your morning jog can take you from couch to 5K in a matter of a few months.
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” — Mark Twain
To some, 1% may feel like a rounding error. But it’s all that stands between you and greatness. It’s this 1% that pushes me forward every day as I build my community dedicated to non-alcoholic drink and mocktail recipes, even when some days it feels like no progress is being made at all.
Though it might not make for a great Hollywood plot, always remember that in the movie of your life, it’s best to give 1% a starring role.