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1% Better Every Day: James Clear (Full Transcript)

James Clear at ConvertKit Craft Commerce 2017

Here is the full text of Atomic Habits author James Clear’s talk: 1% Better Every Day

Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to Get 1% Better Every Day by James Clear


Let me tell you a story. So it’s a story about a strategy and approach philosophy… one that I’ve been thinking a lot about. And it starts with a guy, that maybe you haven’t heard of. His name is Dave Brailsford.

And to set the stage for this, I want to tell you a little bit about British Cycling.

So about 15 years ago, early 2000s, British Cycling hires this guy named Dave Brailsford. And at that point, last like 100 years, British Cycling had been incredibly mediocre. They had won a single gold medal back in 1908. They had never won the Tour de France, which is the premium race in cycling, the premier race.

And so they hired this guy named Dave Brailsford to change that. And in fact at the time, they were so mediocre that when they went to buy a new set of bikes, they’re getting like 200 from a top manufacturer in Europe, they actually weren’t even given quotes from the manufacturer because they didn’t want other teams to see the British riders using their gear, for fear that it would hurt sales.

And so they brought Brailsford in, and they said: “What’s your plan for changing this?”

He said: “Well, I believe in this philosophy that I call the aggregation of marginal gains.”

The way that he described it is the 1% improvement in nearly everything that you do.

So they started with a bunch of things you would expect the cycling team to start with. So for example, they put slightly lighter tires on the bike. They got a more ergonomic seat for the riders to sit on. They had their outdoor riders wear indoor racing suits because they were lighter and more aerodynamic.

They had each rider wear a biofeedback sensor so they could see how they would respond to training and then adjust it appropriately for the person.

But then they did a bunch of things you wouldn’t expect a cycling team to do. So they split tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the best type of muscle recovery. They taught each rider how to wash their hands to reduce the risk of infections, they wouldn’t get a cold after and get sick.

They also figured out the type of pillow that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider and then brought that on the road with them to hotels when they were competing.

And Brailsford said if we can actually do this right, if we can execute all these little 1% improvements, then I think we can win a Tour de France within 5 years.

He ended up being wrong. They won in two years and then they repeated again the third year with a different rider. And then after one year break they won two more; so they’ve won four out of last five now, have gone to British cyclists.

But it was at the Olympics in London in 2012 and this kind of strategy really came to a fruition. They won 70% of the gold medals available.

And so this idea that small improvements, tiny habits, little choices are not just a cherry on top of our performance, not just like a nice thing to have but actually can be the key that unlocks significant success. That’s an idea that I want us to carry with us as we go through the rest of this presentation.

And one way to think about it is just kind of basic math, like if you just look at the numbers. If you were able to improve by 1% each day for an entire year and those gains compound, you would end up 37 times better at the end of the year.

And if you were to get 1% worse, you would little yourself almost all the way down to zero.

And what’s interesting here is that everybody wants a transformation, right? Everybody wants a radical improvement, want rapid success. But we fail to realize that small habits and little choices are transforming us every day already. That these times when you make a choice is slightly better, slightly worse, a little mistake or a small error, 1% better or 1% worse that these things compound over time.

And habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

And so if you can learn to master those, then you can make time work for you rather than get against you, right?

Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.

And so throughout the rest of this presentation I want to talk about how we can do that. Today I’m going to teach you how to build the habits that you need to get the results that you want.

And in order to do this, I’m going to take you through a framework for building better habits. And I’m also going to share a personal example of how I use this. So my writing habit.

If you don’t know I write at Jamesclear.com, write about how to build better habits, improve performance and generally live better. Over a million people visit the site each month. There’s over 400,000 subscribers on the weekly email newsletter. And it all came out of the simple writing habit.

So for the rest of this talk, there are four stages of habit formation. I’m going to take you through each of those four.

All right. So the four stages are: Noticing; Wanting; Doing; and Liking. Noticing; Wanting; Doing; and Liking.

You cannot perform a habit or take an action if you do not notice something. I need to see a coffee cup sitting on the side in order to pick it up first. But if it’s not in my realm of knowledge, if I don’t know it exists I can’t do anything about it.

But then I need to want it. I need to want to drink coffee and pick it up. If I don’t desire it or crave it, then I will not take the action.

Then there’s doing. You actually do the habit. And then I need to enjoy the reward. You need to enjoy drinking the coffee to repeat it again.

So noticing; wanting; doing and liking.

Let’s talk about each one, and as we do this, I’m going to give you a little bit of research about why it works. I’m going to give you practical action steps, at least one for each that you can use to implement in your life.


So one of my favorite things about noticing, one of my favorite strategies for discussing it, it’s called Implementation Intentions. And there are hundreds of studies on this, over 100 studies on implementation intentions, if you feel like digging out and getting into the research. But if not, I’ll just give you the simple version here.

So one of my favorite studies is about exercise. And they had three cohorts in this study. So they had first cohort, they said I just want you to track how often you workout over the next few weeks, right? So that’s the standard cohort, the control group.

Second group is that we want to track often your exercise, we’re also going to give you a motivational speech, presentation, talk about the benefits of heart health, why habits are good for you, so on. So this is the motivated group, all right.

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