The 1% Principle

Like many busy people, I am always looking at ways that I can move forward in a time efficient way, so I was keen to summarize Tom O’Neil’s The 1% Principle: How Small Steps Can Dramatically Improve Your Life and Potential to see if it would give me the tools and impetus to adopt some of the strategies he recommends.

As a daily list maker, some of his ideas dovetailed well with what I already do as I’ve always taken what I call a “Swiss Cheese” approach to bigger projects, breaking the tasks down so I am always moving forward, but I gained some new insights through this book.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

How to change your life in small ways for a big impact

"The vast majority of people spend more time planning their wedding day or buying a second-hand car than they do planning their life and their career."
- The 1% Principle, page 1

This how Tom O’Neil starts his book, bemoaning the fact that few of us really plan and focus on what we want out of life, and setting goals and writing them down is what he believes is the answer.

But not big, hairy audacious goals. No, more the day-to-day ways we can change our lives for the better. His philosophy is simple, and involves asking yourself “what one thing can I do today to improve my life and the life of someone near to me by 1%?”

His argument is that by taking small incremental steps we can reach our goals and change our lives for the better. This way we are consistently moving forward. He calls them mini goals which can impact different aspects of your life.

It could be, for example, to go for two ten-minute walks twice a week or phoning up about a class you are interested in. In other words, stuff that is probably on your to-do list.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Small changes that propel you forward

"If you’re not happy with the way things are in your life, you are the only one who can take responsibility and start making changes."
- The 1% Principle, page 54

O’Neil believes that you can change your life by 1% on a daily basis in the following areas: Finance, Health, Personal Development, Career, Marriage/Partner, Children, Family, Extended Family, Friends, Other People, Faith/Spirituality, Lifestyle, Joy/Happiness, Community, Challenges, and Time Management.

And that’s just under personal goals. He produces a similarly comprehensive list under business goals. So there’s no escaping how you could easily change your life by taking one of these small steps.

The suggestions are good in that they are small, achievable, and quite likely something you’ve been meaning to do.

But quite likely, they are actions you’ve been sloughing off – like ensuring all your insurance policies are up to date, or setting up direct debits for common household bills. Simple steps that would make your life easier.

Other suggestions include touching base with a friend you’ve not spoken to in a while.

This was something we actually did the other week. We’d been talking for ages about phoning some friends in Vancouver, and last weekend we just did it. Why it took us so long I don’t know, but what I do know was it felt good, which makes me think O’Neil may be on to something.

As you read through the lists of things you could do and add to your to-do list, he does caution not to get carried away, otherwise it becomes overwhelming and subsequently defeats the purpose of the exercise.

“Don’t try to completely change your life straight away – you have the rest of your life to do that. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much, setting yourself up to fail.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Moment making

"Create moments – that make memories – that build lives"
- The 1% Principle, page 105

To help the reader adapt and adopt the 1% philosophy, in part three O’Neil outlines his 30 Day Program which he’s developed to help you turn the 1% principle into a habit.

Each day has a set topic and exercise for you to complete – from what’s your passion; taking risks; to becoming resilient and happy with change.  I particularly liked his section on taking time out.

He and his wife have two young children and so they work hard to create moments, highlights in their children’s lives. As he points out these moments don’t have to cost a lot of money and can be as simple as a picnic or camping overnight on the back yard.

In another life, I used to teach a parenting course, and often I would ask what the mothers’ most memorable time was growing up. Without fail it was time spent one-on-one with a parent. Creating positive moments is something a child always remembers and I am glad he advocates for it in his book.

I like the premise behind this small 159-page book because there are times when we can feel stuck, and O’Neil shows you that you can make changes and make your way towards your end goal.

I found the section where he gives ideas of the 1% changes we could make extremely helpful as they were doable and not overwhelming. In fact, it is worth getting the book just for those suggestions.

He has an early section on the 8 laws of the 1% principle which seemed a bit repetitive and did not do much to further your understanding. Neither did some of the examples he gave early on as they were mostly sports-related, and as a non-sports aficionado they went right over my head.

But having said that, this book is useful to jump start the changes you want to make in your life, or to use with clients who are drowning in their sea of overwhelm. It gives you concrete steps to take that can inch you to shore.

As an ex-Brit I was able to follow some of his lingo – but for the uninformed – the boot is the trunk of the car; and garbage is called rubbish both in the UK and New Zealand where he is based.

He quotes Howard Thurman “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” And this book gives you the prods you may need to come alive and be who you are meant to be. Just one step at a time.

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Anne Day

ABOUT Anne Day

I’ve had a very eclectic career, from leadership roles in the non-profit sector, to working in government on women’s issues to being a magazine editor and then my own business...
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