How to become the top 1% with One percent improvements

One percent gains to become the top 1%

The Pinnacles Mountains in California move 0.59 inches per year. Almost nothing, except it’s added up to over 195 miles over the last 23M years.

However, if the Pinnacles accelerated movement by 1% each year it would have taken them less than 7000 years to clear the edge of the known universe.

This is the power of exponentials, this is the power of 1%.

So how do you become part of the top one percent in every area of your life? How do you become the top one percent parent? The top one percent income earner? The top 1% human?


The world’s best cyclists… the British?

In the early 90’s, no British cycling team had won a Tour de France. Ever.

Their new general manager, Dave Brailsford, was hired to turn things around. His method? Improve everything by 1%.

Dave’s team went to work optimizing for everything related to cycling, aiming for 1% improvements in leg force, response time, wind resistance, etc.

But they didn’t stop there, they also optimized the athletes on more personal items such as improving sleep by 1%, improving their massage oils by 1%, and improving diet.

Every day they made small, meaningful, marginal gains, hoping to win the Tour in 5 years.

Instead, it took 3.

By searching for one percent improvement in every tiny area for 3 years the British cycling team went from absolute nobodies to an absolute dynasty and won 59 World Championships from 2003-2013.


Applying 1% improvements to your life

One percent improvement can be applied in many areas of our lives – not only what we are directly trying to improve. For example, while reducing wind resistance was clearly important to the British racing team, better sleep positions might seem less so.

It might feel that improving your life by one percent at home has less affect on your business than, for instance, improving your share value by one percent.

However they’re both critical to success. Try and convince me that a horrible home life won’t detrimentally affect your work. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

As humans, we are interconnected beings and it is truly difficult for us to compartmentalize ourselves completely, not allowing one area of our life to spill into others. Therefore, look across a broad spectrum of improvement areas for your one percent improvements and you’ll notice success spill into unforeseen areas.

Where to start, some practical 1% improvements

Optimize your sleep. I recommend starting with sleep, as it affects every aspect of your life. First, get your room as dark and silent as possible. If you wake up with a sore back, you might need a new mattress. Mercilessly remove lights, especially LEDs, from your room.

Also, I suggest purchasing  a sunrise wake-up alarm. They’re worth their weight in gold and have phenomenal benefits to productivity. By mimicking the sunrise you’re lightly brought back to consciousness, rather than being jolted awake. This one item has improved my daily productivity by at least 30%.

Also optimize your pillow (this buckwheat pillow is fantastic) and mattress (memory foam pads are good cost / benefit here) to be optimally comfortable.


Optimize your morning routine. Over the past month I’ve altered my morning routine and noticed a distinct loss of 1-2 hours in the AM. Work on creating a consistent morning routine that will build morning momentum and set you on a driven path for the day.

For example, my routine:

  • Wake to sunrise alarm, turn it off and immediately jump out of bed
  • Morning hygiene (brush teeth, wash face)
  • Breakfast
  • Walk dog
  • Exercise at gym
  • Shower at gym
  • Work

By doing this often I can now get ready for the day on sub 5 hours of sleep nearly as fast as when I’m fully rested. My subconscious does the work while my conscious is still practically asleep.

Pitfalls and dangers of 1% gains

It’s slow going initially. We often don’t feel the impact from 1% gains initially because they are so small that if you do the compounding over the first 30 days, there’s about a 33% improvement.

Not huge, but then it gets interesting.

If you were able to obtain a 1% improvement, compounded, 365 times – a feat in itself – the improvement is 3,700%!

Let’s put that in perspective.

  • If you invested $24,000 (a new Prius), you’d end the year with $888,000 (a new house)
  • If you ran a mile in 10 minutes at the start of the year, you’d run it in 0.27 minutes (16.2 seconds) at the end.

While those examples might not be possible, it goes to show that the improvement from constantly seeking 1% gains is incredibly valuable and nearly unfathomable.


The timeline is so drawn out it’s hard to notice improvement. Because improvements are so small, it’s difficult to realize that we are actually making any improvements at all.

Like boiling a frog, improvements are made so slowly over a long period of time that we sometimes have a hard time noticing them.

Cures to the dangers of 1% gains

Thankfully, both dangers have cures.

First, you have to commit. By understanding that it’ll take a while, but is worth it, you must continue to strive forward towards improving even if it does not feel like you’re making improvements. It’s common to give up when it seems like nothing is happening, but have hope and you’ll succeed!

Second, gain perspective. The cure to the second problem is that we must, at times, take a step back and look at the details between where we started and where we are now. If you measure results daily in quantifiable terms, the data will help you know if you’re improving or not and help give perspective.

For example, I tracked my workout routine for a year in a spreadsheet. When I took a step back to review, I was really impressed with how much strength I’d gained and that alone helped keep me driving towards my goal.

Getting started, your first 1% gain

If you’re ready to start tackling marginal gains, I recommend spending a week trying to optimize everything in your room for better sleep, as stated above.

But to make it easier, right now commit to going to bed at a certain time 15 minutes earlier than usual. Get momentum on your side and watch the compounding effects start building.


Stay driven my friends.


What’s your best 1% improvement tip? Let me know and I may include it in the post.

About Garrett Dunham

Garrett Dunham is a Silicon Valley born-and-raised entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and startup advisor. His companies have been featured on the New York Times, NBC, TechCrunch, Fast Company, and Venture Beat, among others. He spends his days mentoring startups at Start-up Chile and Singularity University, building products, and blogging about entrepreneurial success and self optimization.