Picture this - I’m driving home at night on the highway with few other people on the road. There’s a light rain which seems to amplify the twinkle of light off every street light and office building. We’re leaving an introvert’s dream social date, a chill visit to my friend’s farm that involved cows and ramen (though not together). My wife is at my side. Our two kiddos are quiet from all the cowing in the back seat. And then a song that I love and haven’t heard in eons comes on the radio. I am just beginning to revel in what a nice moment this is when my brain, bless its heart, decides to interrupt me with this thought: What could you do to make this moment 1% better?
1% Better: A Tiny Change, a Big Impact
My brain and I are at odds sometimes and I felt like this was going to be one of them. “Seriously, brain?” I started to say to myself, “I’m finding joy in the current moment and you’re like ‘but we can do better!’? Give me a break.”
I thought this was my old perfectionistic tendencies resurfacing with their zombie-apocalypse, never-say-die kind of fury that perfectionism is so damn perfect at. And then I changed my mind. This thought: What could you do to make this moment 1% better came to me like a divine download. It wasn’t an ego thing. It didn’t feel like it had shame or judgment attached to it. It was the gentle invitation to take something already good and make it even better.
Martha Beck’s Influence: Small Turns, Significant Results
I decided to get curious with it (because that is my new default mode when I don’t know what the heck to do with an idea). I thought about the 1% and what a tiny little change that had to be. I wasn’t being asked to make the moment 20% or 50% better. I definitely wasn’t facing my old challenge of, “how do I make this moment impossibly perfect? I know! Let me stress about it so I suck all of the joy out of it, thus making it 72% worse!”
The 1% concept made me think of the author, Dr. Martha Beck’s discussion of “one degree turns.” Her story is that if an airplane turned just 1% from its original course every 30 minutes, you’d end up in a very different place, like Sao Paolo instead of Sheboygan. It’s an illustration that small life changes, repeated over time, can have significant overall results.
Putting the 1% Change Into Action
Okay, brain. Fine. I can probably make a tiny, incremental, 1% improvement to my already pretty darn awesome moment. I looked over at my wife, Jen, who was in her own post-farm-twinkly-light trance and I took her hand. I love holding her hand. She has incredibly strong hands from years of softball and working as a chiropractor, but her skin is so wonderfully soft (because chiropractors don’t tend to get calloused from their work either).
My neurons lit up like a tween at a Taylor Swift concert. This 1% concept was brilliant! I took an already wonderful moment and just with the simple act of reaching my hand across the great cup-holder divide, made the moment exceptionally better. I took a moment to give gratitude for this divine download and the joyful moment. I could have almost missed this if I would have dismissed the thought as silly or not worth my attention. I was glad I listened to that voice.
Fun in the Process: Making Moments Immeasurably Better
Try it. As you’re reading this, what is one thing you could do that would make this moment 1% better? Maybe it’s just adjusting your posture, realizing that you’ve somehow contorted yourself into a gargoyle with some serious head-forward posture. Maybe you haven’t taken a good exhale in a while. Maybe you just need to rest your eyes for 10 seconds. Maybe you need to go grab your cat or your dog or your chinchilla for a snuggle while you read this.
The thing with making the moment 1% better is that it’s easy. Often what we need to increase our enjoyment in a moment is within reach for us or is within our ability to control. I’ve taken this 1% concept as a challenge now, trying to incorporate it throughout my day. When I’m working and feeling stressed by a person, project, or deadline, making a 1% improvement to any aspect of my being in that moment makes the work feel more manageable. When I’m exercising (ha, that’s a good one)... that one time I exercised in 2024 and felt like my heart was trying to shake its rust off, I asked myself what could make the moment 1% better. I decided to congratulate myself for working out, since I could have chosen not to.
Exponential Growth: It’s Not Just 1%
Here’s the other thing about the 1%-- like Martha Beck’s airplane example, the end location is actually even further from where you initially started. Yes, I made a 1% change by holding Jen’s hand, but the benefit to me felt like so much more. Improving by 1% seems to exponentiate. My 1% workout congrats seemed to give me that extra boost of energy that I needed to finish the workout strong. It wasn’t just positive words to celebrate myself in the moment. There was a physical benefit as well.
I’ve come to realize that the hardest thing about making a moment 1% better is remembering to do it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the matrix of life. We get sucked into our work, our screens, our family drama, our sad sandwiches, and we can forget that there is almost always a way that we can make the situation better. I’d get a 1% tattoo but 1) I can’t commit to any tattoos and 2) one might assume that it’s a financial reference, because that’s what the 1% of wealth holders do… tattoo their bodies as a reminder of their exceptional hoarding skills. (They don't. I’ve gone off track now.)
When you’re in the mindset of making the moment 1% better, it’s fun to see where it takes you. Back to my car moment, as I enjoyed holding Jen’s hand I decided to go for an extra 1%. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze. She squeezed back. My moment was immeasurably better.
TL;DR Takeaways: Simple Ways to Enhance Every Moment
- Look at the way that you can make your moment 1% better. Not sure how? Pick one:
- Adjust your socks.
- Roll your neck in a gentle circle.
- Give yourself a hug.
- Eat really good grapes.
2. Come up with a way to remind yourself that you can always make a moment 1% better. (This is especially easy to forget when you’re in the middle of a hard moment).
3. Watch your life grow exponentially better from these small, daily 1% adjustments.
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