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Why 99 Percent Sucks

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.

Lead your wolf pack

Lead your wolf pack

How to Go From 99% to 100%

Create Accountability

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.”

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by Mans Denton

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my article. I'm Austin, TX based and I love the Paleo diet, meditation, proper fitness, and entrepreneurship. If you want to know more, check out the About THM Page

36 comments… add one

  1. Was just about to procrastinate (food coma excuse ahem) but reading this put me back on track. Much needed advice, thanks!

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  2. Glad it could help!

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  3. Meh, maybe I’m a cynic in my old age or maybe I’ve read one too many interchangeable rah-rah lifehacking posts at this point but this one didn’t do it for me. 60% commitment versus 100%, sure, there’s a difference but some of the biggest lifestyle changes I’ve made I have been at 90+ % commitment over time and my life has improved. Success is measured in years not being that fired up single minded lunatic we’ve all been for a few weeks. Cheat days seem to work for a hell of a lot of people, random anecdote about candy guy be damned.

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    1. Hey, that’s a good perspective. If you spend a week focused on something and then burnout and go back to your old habits, there isn’t much good in that. Good point.

      I think using 100% makes it so that it is a habit so there is no need to go back. I haven’t eaten a single refined carbohydrate in the past year. First month you better believe I was struggling! Now, it is just habit!

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      1. I agree. As an engineer, it’s damn near impossible to be running at 100% all the time. My boss is trying to make our new motto “Twice as fast” at work right now – I’m not kidding. It’s burning us all out, and a good number of us are applying at other engineering firms (I have an interview tomorrow).

        I think as a manager, the best strategy is to find a pace that everyone can sustain for 5 day weeks throughout the year. Yeah, we have 3 day weekends and vacations to take and such, but having a fully alert, ready to work staff is preferable to one that works more hours or produces more work, but is too burnt out to truly be able to think critically.

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        1. Running at 100% is definitely NOT possible. There are some things (like yesterday) that just don’t go your way.

          I’m talking purely about the objective in your head. If you make mistakes, fine. You’re human. But being 100% committed and failing is different than 99%. If that makes sense?

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  4. I prefer 60%. I am continually good at 60%. At 100%, I burn out and return to 0%.

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    1. Interesting. I guess different things work for different people. 60% is better than 0%!

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      1. Thanks!

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  5. 100% leaves you with no gauge for your abilities. If you aim for 99% in everything you do, you’ll constantly be striving to improve just a little bit every day.

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    1. This is the most sound advice compared to the rest of this thread. I find it ridiculous that we’re trying to quantify how commited to things we are. You are either commited or not, there is no inbetween. If you think you find yourself not following through with a pledge to yourself you’re not commited, period. Maybe I’m a hard ass though.

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      1. I actually agree. My article is about how 99% is never really doing it and only 100% is. I think you are a hard ass (not in a bad way) and we’re on the same page.

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  6. Very inspiring – just what I needed to get me off my ass.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  7. I’ve generally found that the 99%ers have the commitment, but lack the ability. I know that was the case with me. The difference between my saying I’m 99% and 100% sure was in my self estimation of my competence.

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    1. Interesting perspective. I would consider them to be 100%ers and just lack in willpower a bit. Nothing wrong with that, but they have the right mindset!

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  8. Inspirational! I wish I could run into stuff like this on a more consistent basis.

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    1. It is pretty awesome, isn’t it?! Glad that it could help!

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  9. Yes, it’s nice to not think about things and just go with your head through the wall, acting like a retard and then cry about it.

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  10. I can stay motivated at 100%, but I burn out eventually. I don’t burn out at 50-75%. Not burning out means that after the first few weeks I get more shit done.

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    1. Great point! Everyone works differently. Glad you have found the best method for you.

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  11. Great read, and 100% (get it, hah) true. So much of what we accomplish, or don’t, is simply a state of mind. Knowing what you want, and devoting yourself entirely to it.

    On burning the boats, “Don’t have a plan B, it distracts from plan A.”

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    1. Absolutely, Braydon! Thanks for the comment. I love the quote you mentioned and it is so imperative to recognize that alternative options can actually prove detrimental to your goals.

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      1. The good and the bad of the “Burn the Boats” strategy is that it leaves you no other options. When you’re beaten back down to the beach because the opposing force were larger and/or had better tactics and strategies, all you’re going to do is die in place on the beach. For purposes of this blog, that’s the burn-out that many have mentioned when trying to do the 100% for an extended period of time.

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        1. Hey Dale, that is definitely a major concern. Burn out is definitely problematic, but each person has to see what is best for them. The 100% mentality works best for me because it is actually EASIER. Great point, though.

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  12. You wrote – “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.”

    I think that is one part of your article I tend to disagree with. I think with strong enough goals, ambitions, or resolutions, there should be no need for accountability. The truth is, other people, for the most part, either don’t care, or don’t want to hear about their peer’s goals or ambitions. It’s something i’ve noticed.

    I believe that there is no need for external accountability. Why? Because in the long run this stuff never works. People shouldn’t be relied on for that sort of thing. The only person who can keep you accountable is… well, yourself.

    Nice article by the way.

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    1. Hey Nicolas, thanks for the comment. Very interesting perspective. I’m always of the opinion that internal motivation is so much stronger than external motivation. Rarely do I focus primarily on building accountability.

      I do think accountability through close friends and family can be extremely effective for people who are new to self-improvement, though. In the long run, you are absolutely right – it never works. Your friends or family aren’t going to sternly say “no” to things you enjoy – in fact, they’ll probably tell you to live a little.

      Great point, Nicolas. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. “When you commit 100% to something, you define yourself with it.”

    That’s pure truth right there. Now I’m not really one to talk here . . . I’m an all or nothing kinda guy. So when I’m on it’s 100% all out. But when I’m off, I’m really fucking off. It’s cyclical for me.

    Still, during those cycles of 100% you can bet I’m defining myself by it. It’s powerful. It’s making yourself who you want to be. And it’s effective as hell. During those times, 99% just ain’t gonna cut it.

    No chance.

    Cheers!

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    1. Haha, this is why I love your blog, man. You’re just like me. I tend to be all or nothing in a lot of ways, which is why 100% commitment works so well for me. If I’m going to do something, I’m doing it fully. No exceptions, no questions asked.

      I totally know what you mean when you’re off, though. I have had days where some emotional factor caused me to break and then it’s downhill from there.

      Love your perspective, as always Trevor!

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  14. Hey mans, really enjoyed this post. I sense the 100% vs. 99% is a bit like a total YES vs. MAYBE!

    Having 100% Commitment is making the thing a must, not a should. Why is it so difficult? Because it takes lots of energy and time and resources in general. That’s why we can’t have too many commitments obviously.

    But right – if you want to make THIS one thing happen, say 100% YES to it.

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  15. Hey Myrko, you got it absolutely! There will be times when you say YES and end up not doing it, but the point is to really attack things full force with a 100% mentality.

    You’re absolutely right about how many resources are required. I’m not special at all, but I’ve been able to build up over a looong period of time. That’s the only reason I can work with 100% commitment on multiple things. It all starts with one thing, so do THIS 100% and say YES to it!

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  16. Hey there,

    Great article. I just think you should add a note about time.

    Because 100% commitment maybe confused with a 100% of the time, as I got wrong at a first glance.

    Because you mean, to always fulfill your commitment. If it is go to the gym twice a week, that means you are going to the gym twice a week. Not that you should go everyday to the gym… you know what I mean?

    Anyways, I am a beginner at leadership and self-discipline, so I think that clarification could help my peers too. Ah, not say English is not my first language.

    Again great article!

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    1. Hey Ricardo, thanks for the note! You’re absolutely right about time. Commitment is really what we’re after. It really is more of an internal commitment to do whatever YOU think is right to be a stronger person. Ironically, having a 100% commitment to one person might be the exact opposite for someone else.

      It’s just about recognizing whatever you see to be important for your own success and wellbeing and then making a commitment to it wholeheartedly.

      I know exactly what you mean and you’ve brought up a great point. Thanks again, Ricardo – your English sounds perfect to me!

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  17. I totally agree! I am using this principle and it works, quitting smoking and alcohol requires 100 percent.

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    1. Great Tadas! Keep it up :)

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  18. Hey!
    I had to check out your blog after meeting you today, and I chose this one to read first! I absolutely love it. I am actually struggling with the whole 90% of the time thing right now (not that I’m caving to sugar or anything) but I am falling back into my addicted behaviors toward certain foods!
    When I was 100% hard core set in my ways, I felt so in control.
    This reminds me how to go back to that:)
    Thanks!

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    1. Glad you like it! So long as it isn’t a craving, there is a difference. It means you are not a slave to instant gratification :)

      Reply

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