Ten Percent

Imagine that there was a hard-coded rule in the universe: You Can’t Improve Anything By More Than Ten Percent.

Let’s explore this alternate universe for a minute. You took a history test and got a 40%; you can try again, but you know you can’t get better than a 44%. You currently make $50k/year; you can ask for a raise and get it, but you can’t go above $55k/year. You can’t lose more than 10% of your body weight from a diet and exercise plan. You can’t move to a house that’s more than 10% better than your current one. You can’t be more than 10% more satisfied, happy and fulfilled than you are right now, in any sphere of your life, from the most mundane and minor to the most foundational.

Would that discourage you? Would it keep you from working hard for that tenth?

For many people, it might. But not you – because you know the secret. You know the power of the increment.

The question isn’t what percentage you can improve. The question is – from what?

You ask for that raise, and you get your 10%, and now you make $55k. But now $55k is your baseline. The next time you ask for a raise, even with the 10% cap, you can get $5,500 more, putting you to $60,500. The next time you improve your history knowledge, you move up 4.4 points instead of only 4. And so on.

The lessons here are powerful:

  1. Don’t let the increment scare you away. People want big, dramatic changes, but our universe is very similar to this hypothetical one. Change happens in degrees, and before you’re 100% better you have to be 10% better.
  2. 10% better at every iteration means ever-accelerating growth. The actual amount that the 10% represents will be bigger each time. Momentum is real.
  3. Start early. The more time you have to repeat the cycle of “incremental improvements -> adjust to new baseline -> incremental improvements again” the more powerful each cycle becomes. Soon a 10% improvement for you will be more than a 100% improvement would have been when you started.

10% might not seem like it will be a drastic improvement in your life, and for that reason many people don’t try it. They have an all-or-nothing approach. But that 10% is the fertile ground in which your dreams may be planted, my friend. It drags the whole universe 10% closer to your ideal. And you can’t climb a mountain without climbing the first 10% of it.

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