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Last weekend I was inspired by a story. Chris Nikic became the first person with down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run completed in under 17 hours). Completing an Ironman Triathlon requires grit, determination, perseverance and stamina that most people only begin to comprehend.  

As someone who wants to try and break into the sport and is apprehensive about even a sprint triathlon, I could not be more intrigued about how he battled such an extreme goal to make it a reality.  Over the last couple of years, Chris set smaller triathlon goals and then decided to challenge himself with the Ironman.  Regardless of what 2020 brought, he stayed the course and remained focused on what he wanted to accomplish. Nikic’s plan, with the help of guides, family, and friends, was placing a focus on getting one percent better each day.  

One percent is not a lot, but over time makes a big difference. It is manageable growth and a refusal to be complacent over time.  Continuous improvement requires moving beyond the comfort zone, and is scary at times.  But what is hard is usually worth it.  It is pretty easy to get on board with the idea of improving one percent each day.  And, the magic is in the results of compound improvement. 

As with finances, one percent on one day is not a lot.  But, 30 days of improving one percent makes a significant impact.  Getting one percent better each day is a really good goal;, and that motivating and measurable. Nikic’s story has offered me a new mindset. His methods are empowering me with new vigor and excitement for improving as a cyclist, swimmer and runner. It is exciting to realize that no matter what my starting point is, one percent is constant, and can always be worked toward.  There may be a point however, when consistent growth of one percent becomes difficult.  

One percent growth is challenging if overall personal records are the only thing considered for areas of improvement.  What if one percent represented improving by doing one thing better each time.  Today maybe it looks like running one minute longer, and tomorrow perhaps it might behanging on the pullup bar for 5 seconds more than usual, writing one more paragraph, reading one more page, or speaking words of encouragement to a classmate or teammate. What if the one percent rule could also be applied to mindset, intentional progress forward, overall productivity, warmup, or leadership. The idea and concepts of getting one percent better each day are not just for athletics but can be applied to school, relationships, finances, a job, health, a morning or, evening routine or any other area where there is room for growth.  

It is less about an exact calculation about what is equivalent to a one percent improvement but more about the mindset regarding steady growth. It is about making a small change each day to see the benefit of compound growth. If students are doing well and happy with their classroom performance, it can be tough to motivate them to want to find areas to improve.  

Likewise, when learners may have a long way to go, it can feel overwhelming. The time and energy required to go from 30 percent to 70 percent can seem impossible, and many times it feels as if growth is hardly noticed. Therefore, setting goals that require students to improve one percent or by doing one thing different each day helps momentum to build.  One percent better reminds me of a snowman building. You start with a small amount of snow (one-day growth of one percent) followed by a second day, and then a third day that builds on the day before.  It doesn’t seem like a lot, but steady growth over time allows students to be consistent and not burn out.  

What does applying a method of improvement by one percent better (one thing) look like in a learning environment? 

For a Student:

*After the minimum work is complete, add one more sentence to a response. 

*Study for five extra minutes after it seems like studying is complete. 

*Challenge yourself to learn a new vocabulary word each day. 

*Improve by one point on a test or quiz.  

*Trying out one new website a week. 

*Encourage one student in a class of yours each day. 

*Get started an extra 20 seconds earlier, and or work an additional 20 seconds longer. 

*Learn one new thing about your subject. 

*Increase reading time by 2-3 minutes. 


For the Teacher:

*Spend an extra 20 seconds of the day doing something that inspires you. 

*Teach an extra vocabulary word each week.

*Provide a three-minute lesson on an interesting person from history. 

*Encourage an extra student by checking in on him or her. 

*Spend 10 minutes researching or learning about something related to technology. 

*Send an encouraging email to a colleague. 

*Recommend an extra book to students

*Organize additional mini-lessons 

*Look at a different set of data

*Read a professional article or a few pages in a book related to the teaching position.  

*Engage in one Twitter chat a week.

Ultimately, it is the commitment to not getting comfortable and requiring work outside of the comfort zone. The commitment to improve by one percent or use the mindset to do one thing differently each day will multiply by the end of a week, month or grading period. It is motivating when a goal is accomplished.  Seeing one percent chased after and attained is inspiring and makes growth more attractive.  Every student and each teacher is starting from a different point.  The beauty of one percent is that it can be applied to anyone’s experience, allowing for growth no matter where he or she is.  One percent gives enough space for excellence, and makes it so as the Ironman’s tagline says, “Anything Is Possible”.  

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