The unbelievable power of 1% per day

The unbelievable power of 1% per day

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur... Don't look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens- and when it happens, it lasts.” - John Wooden, named The Greatest Sports Coach in American History by ESPN.


We are taught so often to think of big, revolutionary goals and ambitions. 

“Second place is the first loser.” 

“No pain, no gain.”

“Dream big.”


There’s just one problem. 

Thinking too big in combat sports leads to injuries, burn out and quitting. 

In fact, most experts estimate that 99% of people who start Jiu-Jitsu quit before they earn their black belt. 

And who hasn’t heard the famous saying “blue and through”?

Today, I want to show you the incredible power of thinking small and suggest there is a much better way to go about your Jiu-Jitsu journey. 

Setting small goals, asking small questions and making small changes, done consistently, all have the power to make your Jiu-Jitsu journey far more enjoyable, far more relaxed, and much more productive for building skill and learning in depth. 

Here’s an illustration:

Let’s say you are a blue belt and so you have some basic skill and understanding. 

Let’s call what you’ve learned so far “1 unit of fundamental Jiu-Jitsu.” 

If you were to commit to improving that “1 unit of fundamental Jiu-Jitsu” by 1% per day, every day, for one year, that would look like this mathematically: 

1.01(basic units of skill improved by one percent) ^365 (days in the year) = 37.78 (units of skill after one year of daily 1% improvement)

That’s the equation for 1% improvement each day for a year. 

Which means at the end of that year, you would be nearly 38 times better than you were at the beginning of the year. 

Plus, you’ve figured out one of the best ways to enjoy your Jiu-Jitsu journey is to ask yourself small questions and solve small problems every class, like a puzzle you’re really excited to solve.

For example, you might ask yourself during one class: “what is the smallest thing I could improve about my ability to maintain the mount tonight in live training?” - or - “What is the smallest piece of that guard passing technique I could pull off tonight?” 

And when I say small, I mean ridiculously small.

Make your questions and goals so small they seem ludicrous to ask out loud. 

Now what is so powerful about small questions like these? 

First, they guarantee you improve at least 1% for that day. 

You’re making a small change, but it’s a change nonetheless. 

You are incrementally and explicitly improving yourself in a measurable way. 

The next reason small questions are so powerful is because when you set easily achievable goals, you get momentum

Instead of falling into the trap of convincing yourself you’re in a plateau, or you’re failing, or frustrated because you just can’t make something work, when you ask yourself small questions and seek small improvements, you guarantee yourself a sense of victory. 

When going to Jiu-Jitsu class is predictably a time and a place where you know you’re going to achieve a sense of victory, you won’t have to play mind games or discipline yourself to show up. 

You’ll be eager to show up to class! 

You’ll be chomping at the bit, tapping your foot waiting to see the clock strike "class time"!

That in itself is the biggest victory you will ever need to achieve in this art because the only way you can really fail is to quit. 

But if Jiu-Jitsu is something you look forward to, a never ending series of rewarding challenges that you decide, an adventure that you get to choose and define, you could never imagine quitting because it has just become a part of your life which you truly enjoy. 

So now that you have an idea about why this is so powerful, let’s really turn up the heat and see what happens after two years of consistent 1% daily improvements: 

Okay, so year one went fantastic, and you decide to keep the momentum going and put another year on the calendar of 1% improvements. 

Here’s what two years, or 720 days of improvement would look like at 1% per day: 

1.01^730 = 1,427

Now I’m not sure how many math geeks have already figured out that at this point, you are literally increasing your rate of skill acquisition exponentially!

Here’s something really exciting about this: you don’t even have to show up to class to make a 1% improvement!

If you have a roommate or significant other or friend you can invite over to help you train, you can ask yourself a small question and make a small improvement in as little as a couple minutes. 

Here’s what I mean: think about the structure of a Jiu-Jitsu class. 

You show up to class and spend the first 15-30 minutes warming up. 

Then you all huddle around the instructor and he or she demonstrates the lesson for the night. 

You might spend another 30 to 40 minutes alternating between observing the instructor and then drilling the pieces of the lesson. 

Finally, you’ll spend the last segment of class rolling or doing positional training. 

But the first 50 - 75% of the class, you’re receiving information and warming up more than you’re actually making any conscious improvements to your game. 

Now imagine this instead: you can’t make it to class on a certain day, but you’ve got a training partner at home. 

You log in to and watch a video from your dashboard for about 5-10 mins. Then you practice what you just saw, and ask yourself small questions about the lesson with your training partner. 

“What is the smallest piece of this lesson we can practice at maybe 10-20% resistance to get the feel of it and make sure our form is perfect?”

Then, you might spend a couple more minutes doing isolated positional training with what you learned and take turns being the attacker and the defender. 

All the practice for that day might only take 20-30 minutes, but it was so focused you ended up getting more out of it than you would have at class. 

You can definitely count that as your 1% for the day.  

You could even count it as 1% improvement if you had to train alone on a given day, doing solo drills and asking yourself something like “what is the smallest piece of this technique or movement I could improve tonight to be better than I was yesterday?” 

Maybe it’s perfecting your form for shrimping, or perfecting your form for moving your body and creating space in the open guard. 

Whatever you can do to improve by whatever small increment counts

It counts. 

And it adds up so much faster than you’d think. 

The power is in the consistency and it’s so easy to be consistent every day when you make your goals small.

Okay, what about three years?

But what about three years, or 1095 days? What would happen after three years of 1% improvements every day

1.01 ^1095 = 53,939

By year three, if you were to maintain 1% improvement each day, you would be so far beyond where you started that it’s difficult to quantify. 

You’re off the charts at this point, and probably even further than you’re imagining because your ability to learn and notice how to improve will also be increasing as you go along on this journey. Said another way, it’s not just your skill that will be improving, but your ability to build skill faster!

This is the power of thinking small.

By now I’m sure you see the power of this. Instead of setting crazy big goals, or asking yourself big, stressful questions (like how many hours you’d have to train to get your black belt in six months), or any of the insanity that finds its way to the online forums…

Ask yourself small questions. Set small goals. Seek small improvements. Don’t ever let a day go by where you don’t claim your 1% improvement for that day. This is not measured in hours, it’s measured in minutes. It could be as small as “what is the smallest detail I could fix for my Americana?” 

That question might lead you to fixing an error you’ve been making for weeks, months, or years. And that small fix might only take a couple seconds, but can spiral out in the form of consistent improvement forever, and in more than one area of your Jiu-Jitsu.

Or who knows, maybe the question you ask is about how you apply pressure with the Rear Naked Choke and a light bulb goes off, and you realize the same lesson can be applied to the Triangle Choke, or other chokes you use. 

Those few seconds you took to ask that small question could lead to exponential and universal improvements for all of your Jiu-Jitsu.

That is how you give your best effort each day. 

Your best, honest effort to achieve that 1% is all you need to reach the highest levels of skill. And if you do that, not only will you protect yourself from the injuries and burnout that come from excessive fear and ambition, but you will enjoy the journey. And if you enjoy the journey, you would never dream of quitting. And if you don’t quit, you may push the boundaries of what people even believe is possible. 

You’ll certainly push your boundaries, and find there is more to you than you ever knew. 

Have you claimed your 1% improvement today? If not, here’s a great place to start

P.S. One more benefit of 1% improvements I want to mention is this: how do you make sure you stop at 1%? You can’t. And imagine that math above and how crazy it gets when you find yourself getting lost in the joy of practice and averaging even 5% improvements at a time? Or more?

Happy training. : )

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