The owners of my apartment told me a story about the previous tenant’s willpower. He used to maintain a strict diet and exercise regimen every day of the week except for one. On his “cheat day”, he allowed himself one “sweet of the week”. It lasted for a few weeks, but it wasn’t long before this “sweet of the week” quickly turned into a “sweet of the weak.”
Although I never knew him, he sounded like a good guy with one fatal flaw. I see it all too often with those who want to improve something in their life: he didn’t commit 100%. Pushing myself, whether it be with food, exercise, meditation, drinking alcohol, or work, has always been a 100% commitment because it is actually easier than 99% and it provides family and friends with a role model for personal growth.
Commitment, Belief, and the Paradox of 100%
If you have ever seen an Olympic race of any kind, you’re well aware of how small the difference is between the gold medal and last place. I used to think that the difference between first and last in the Olympics was so minute because some people could just work a little harder and get a little faster. Until experimenting myself, I could have sworn that the difference between average and great was the difference between 99% and 100%.
I was wrong.
The difference between 99% and 100% is never actually that mathematical comparison. As the “sweet of the weak” indicates, most people who don’t commit 100% to a task do not end up with 99%. They commit only 80% or worse, which is a far cry from the discipline that they need in order to be successful. Suddenly, it is always “1% time” to break your commitment.
When you commit to 100% for anything, you make it non-negotiable to your subconscious mind. You are ensuring that whatever task you are trying to maintain goes from a “should” to a “must”. Doing anything differently is not an option because it wouldn’t be you. When you commit 100% to something, you define yourself with it.
When you commit to 99% for anything, there is always room for negotiating. You may believe in the benefits, but you realize that “eating a single donut isn’t going to kill me.” Sure, it might not kill you, but sticking to your practice will not last long.
Burning the Boats
Many ancient Greek armies landed on foreign soil during military campaigns and used a 100% approach to their fighting style. Rather than committing to fight hard, but retreat back to their ships if needed, the Greek commanders used to burn the boats.
Without any escape or route home, the men had to win or die. It was that simple. No matter what you are doing in life, burning the boats is still applicable. Mentally, you must ensure there is no way out. Dedicate yourself completely to the task. It is what you do. It is you.
Why is It Easier
From an abstract point of view, 100% is easier because it ensures there are no exceptions. If it is non-negotiable, there is no excuse good enough to avoid something. With 99%, there is always a small space for short term gratification to overcome your long term goals.
Some habits require commitment due to addiction, which is where 100% is even more important. If you are trying to remove smoking, drinking, chocolate, or even porn from your life, there is a physiological change in your brain.
Addictions cause a “numbing” of the reward circuitry in your brain. Dopamine becomes de-regulated with addictions, your brain becomes re-wired. Every time you feed your addiction, you make your brain a little bit happier, but a little bit unbalanced at the same time.
Allowing yourself one dose of your addiction of choice rather than quitting cold turkey will reintroduce the sensation and desire for more every time. Scientifically and in an abstract sense, the habit is never fully developed with a 99% mentality. Maintaining a 100% mentality can also improve your flow state.
There Are No 99% Leaders
The 100% commitment mentality is also an incredible tool for leaders as well. Numerous data-driven studies performed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in “The Leadership Challenge” show that credibility is the foundation of leadership. In other words, do you walk the talk? Do you commit to the principles you espouse?
You can talk as much as you want, but until you display an unyielding discipline in the pursuit of success, nobody is going to follow you. This doesn’t just apply to CEOs and politicians – this applies to you. If you can’t commit 100% to a Paleo lifestyle, how do you expect to save your dangerously over weight spouse?
Without a 100% commitment for yourself, you give others a terrible example. Not only is your commitment not important to you, but it indicates that it isn’t that important in general.
People reading this blog are leaders in some way and being a role model will help improve the world. If you aren’t going to commit 100% for yourself to be successful, commit for other people who are counting on you to guide them.
How to Go From 99% to 100%
Accountability to other people is one of the best methods to go from 99% to 100%. If you are starting something new, discuss it with your family, discuss it with your friends, produce some relationships and tell a stranger, blog about it, or shout it from the rooftops.
The best place to create accountability is where you are tempted to break your commitment the most. Going to dinner with a friend? Tell them about your diet before you order. You’ll look like a fool if you don’t stick to your guns, which will help you do it!
I tell everyone that I don’t drink alcohol. In some ways I wear it like a badge of honor (explained below), but I also want other people to hold me accountable to what I say.
Start Small and Grow
A psychological theory called “Ego depletion” states that most humans have a limit of willpower at any given point. If you try to change too many habits at once, you’re going to fail at all of them. Identify what is the most detrimental habit in your life that needs to be corrected. Start with a single habit and build that for the next month. Once you have fulfilled your 100% commitment to that task, move on to the next.
While psychologists might consider willpower to be a finite resource, that doesn’t mean it is not a muscle like any other. Just like working out in the gym, if you try a huge weight at the beginning, you are going to fail. Working towards small goals and growing your willpower muscle will allow you to be 100% committed to more practices.
Be Proud of Your Commitment
There has to be a certain level of pride associated with your commitment. Taking steps to improve your life is an achievement in itself, but eating a certain way or not drinking alcohol etc. should be something that makes you proud.
Having pride will actually make it far easier to commit 100% to something. A good friend tried to quit drinking alcohol, but considered his choice “lame,” which he told to friends when asked why he didn’t drink. When changing his mentality and considering his choice “awesome”, it was much easier. Having pride in your commitment can improve you psychological capability to stick to the habit.
Make it Easy on Yourself
Trying to maintain a new habit is hard enough, but it becomes even harder when you don’t make your life easier in your moments of strength. If you want to stick to a certain type of diet, don’t buy the guilty pleasures and leave them in your home. Just don’t get them. Period. If your significant other or roommate has them, try to lock them away in a place you can’t get to. If you are just starting out, you need every bit of help you can get!
Don’t Feel Guilty
If you are not able to maintain whatever practice you are committed to, do not feel guilty. In feeling guilty, you will try to console your depression or anxiety, which will probably lead to continuing the cycle. As any addict will attest, feeling guilty will only make it worse. If you can’t succeed the first time, start again and do not judge yourself.
No Exceptions Discipline
Nobody is going to be perfect, but taking a 100% commitment approach will be far more effective for reaching your goals. Not only will you find it easier to stick to, but you will show the path for many others. There are psychological and physiological advantages to burning the boats – flame on!
I’ll leave you with this quote from Jack Canfield’s book “The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”:
“Successful people adhere to the “no-exceptions rule” when it comes to daily disciplines. Once you make a 100% commitment to something, there are no exceptions. It’s a done deal. Nonnegotiable. Case closed. Over and out.”