What if you had a way of knowing that your very next decision will make your life, or someone else’s, at least 1% better? Would it change what you decide to do?

For many of us, what we do for a profession, as with our lives in general, is broadly comprised of a combination of behavioural patterns. These patterns are made up of learned actions (rudimentary at first, and then progressively more advanced), combined into sequences that we eventually decided (or someone else told us) had useful outputs. We combined and refined those patterns until – sooner or later – we figured out how to use them in such a way that they provided value to someone else, who agreed to pay us in exchange for our agreement to repeat them (i.e. we made them into our profession).


Once we were off and running, these patterns became more sophisticated and adaptable. And now, as we gain experience, we discover shortcuts and pick up tips from others who do similar things.

Because we’ve been doing it for a while now, we’re getting quite good at these patterns, and things can feel quite familiar and fluid. We enjoy the momentum, because we’ve adapted, which has reduced friction. Before long, we’ve transferred so many of our patterns to auto-pilot that we now augment them freely, bundling in all manner of tips, tools and techniques that promise to make things go faster and faster, and off we go, a snowball rolling down a hill.

And like a snowball, as we gather more speed, we gather more snow; all well and good. But what we don’t always realise is that we might also have picked up all manner of sticks and stones on the way. Are there any sticks and stones – additional steps, tools or techniques in our workflow that might have made sense at the time of adoption, but that might not, when considered as part of the whole, actually yield a net benefit?

Stop, think, dodge

About that ‘1% better’ measurement: the reality is that for much of what we do, we can’t know for sure whether our decisions lead to positive outcomes or not. There will, of course, be some obvious ones on the macro scale – win that new client, hit the deadline, etc. But with moment-to-moment decisions, it’s a lot more difficult to tell. There are just too many variables.

That said, I wonder if it might give us an advantage if we began each day by pausing to think about those patterns at which we’ve become most adept. Might there be a few sticks in our snowball, by now internalised as iron-clad habits performed on instinct, no longer requiring our conscious judgment?

I wonder if we decided that although we don’t have that magical ‘1% better detector’, whether at the very least, having the mindset to question what’s programmed into our auto-pilot might increase the chance that we’ll catch ourselves when we’re doing things ‘just because’. I wonder if it might cause us to consider whether there might be a better way. Or a thousand better ways.

Chances are, if we keep asking ourselves that question, we’ll notch up a percent or two.

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