David Strittmatter

Forget about perfection! Focus on progression and compound improvements

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement


  • We’ve to focus on consistency rather than on the goal itself
  • 1% daily improvements lead to significant aggregated increases in performance

Practical advice:

  • Ask yourself every time before you go to sleep in which area you want to improve 1% the next day
  • Maintain a habit tracker. Every time you perform your habit, you mark it as small but vital achievement
  • Focus on consistency and progress, not on short-term lows and highs

Dear friend,

Would you call yourself a perfectionist, a person who wants to get every detail exactly right? And have you ever felt limited because of this trait? For instance, you wanted to try something new but since you’re afraid you’ll never be really good at it, you wouldn’t give it a chance?

I know this feeling all too well. When I was a teenager, I wanted to try so many things: dancing, playing an instrument, drawing, coding, singing, martial arts, …

Today I’m strongly convinced that perfectionism can be a great attitude to achieve superior performance, but when I want to start something new, I’ve to radically exclude this way of thinking from the starting process.

Focus on consistency rather than on the goal itself

When we try something new, we’ve to focus on consistency rather than on the goal itself. It’s hard to be consistent because we usually do it the other way around: we focus more on the outcome than the process. And that’s the reason why most of us quit during the process before we can experience the rewards of staying the course.

Perfection is an ideal, a state that is not achievable. You will never achieve perfection. There will always be a better performance. Either you or another person will achieve a better result at a later point in time. No world record will ever be unbroken as long as people can try to break it.

It’s totally fine to aim for perfection. I do it every day. But rather than concentrating on the outcome, the goal itself, I aim at being a little better every day.

Actually, I strive to improve in every area of life, not only the new things I give a try. No matter what I’m doing, I’m never satisfied. I always want to get it a little better. Once we reach a certain level of proficiency it becomes difficult to improve. Yet, what guarantees improvement and is the essential ingredient for great achievement is consistency.

1 percent daily improvements lead to significant aggregated increases in performance

When Sir Dave Brailsford became head of British Cycling in 2002, the team had almost no record of success: British cycling had only won a single gold medal in its 76-year history. That quickly changed under Sir Dave’s leadership. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his squad won seven out of 10 gold medals available in track cycling, and they matched the achievement at the London Olympics four years later. Sir Dave now leads Britain’s first-ever professional cycling team, which has won three of the last four Tour de France events¹.

Sir Dave, a former professional cycler who holds an MBA, applied the theory of marginal gains to cycling – he speculated that if the team broke down everything they could think of that goes into competing on a bike, and then improved each element by 1%, they would achieve a significant aggregated increase in performance. For instance, they brought their own mattresses and pillows to the hotels at the competition location so their athletes could sleep in the same posture every night. They searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities. Taken together, they gave them a competitive advantage leading to seemingly unbelievable success.

The one percent rule states that over time the majority of the rewards in a given field will accumulate to the people, teams, and organizations that maintain a 1 percent advantage over the alternatives. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to improve 1% every day over a certain amount of time.

Try to improve 1% a day at whatever it is you are trying to learn. This seems like a small number. But 1% a day, compounded, is 3800% per year.

Habits are the key to consistency

As James Clear, author of the best-seller “Atomic Habits”, says, habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Habits seem to make no big difference on a given day, but the impact over months or years can be enormous. Improvements are not linear, but exponential. At the beginning super slow, but the longer we perform a habit and the more we exercise, the faster we improve.

You have to identify the critical success factors of whatever you want to master and ensure they are in place, and then focus your improvements around them.

For instance, you want to become more self-confident. Success factors are that you take small little risks every day, get out of the comfort zone, try new things out you are uncomfortable with, talk to strangers, speak up in discussions, raise your voice, make a clear point etc. Then, challenge yourself every day.

Start small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. Forget about perfection; focus on progression, and compound the improvements.

When I was younger, I was very shy, not able to speak to people I didn’t know. Today, I can talk to every person I want to talk with. I started small by trying to smile and look people in the eye when I walked around, gave a warm hello to olders, initiated a conversation with people who I got to know once but no real relationship was established. Later, I approached random people in the gym, always raised my hand in the class when the teacher needed a volunteer, shared my view and opinions whenever possible, was the first person to present, etc.

Today, I have successfully implemented a habit forcing me to make continuous improvement in this area although I feel like my self-confidence is at a very high level. Whenever I feel afraid to do something, I force myself to do it. For instance, when I was really afraid to speak to girls, I always forced myself to approach them once I feel anxious when I thought about talking to them. I ignored all the random excuses my mind made up at this very moment and then, I just did it.

If I told this my 16-year-old self, he would laugh his ass off and would never believe me. But what started with minor daily challenges, became a seemingly unshakable level of self-confidence.

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