The Final 1%: Where Dreams Are Vanquished Or Vanished

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So, I was sweating, panting and grunting my way through an indoor cycling class the other day…

When, amidst the sea of exertion, our teacher, Christine Dercole, who’s pretty damn close to a walking, talking conduit of inspiration (and provider of great tribal beats), says to the class:

I want you to ask yourselves a question. When you hear me say there are only 5 seconds left in a climb, or a sprint, or a ride…do you let up and coast from 5 down to 0…or do you dig in and hammer home? Because, the difference isn’t just 5 seconds…it’s life immortal.

Well, actually, I may have added that last part, but she said something like it.

Point being, in nearly every element of life, the ability to push hard through the final 1% of an already limit-shredding experience doesn’t give you a 1% advantage…it delivers you into the realm of greatness, of transcendence. Of revelation.

The final 1% is where winners are born. Where magic unfolds…

Because you’re there, refusing to give up when everyone else is throwing in the towel and saying, “screw it, I’m done.” You’re rising up and taking full ownership of the outcome of your efforts. And, that’s something astonishingly rare in a time defined increasingly by the quest for “good enough.”

It’s just so much easier to relent, to coast, to say you don’t really care…to blame.

And, I’m not even talking about the physical manifestation of your efforts during the final push. Your body may or not rise to the challenge of your will. The weather may turn, your friends may fall away, circumstances may disappoint. Those are things you work to corral and empower, but truth is, they’re not always within your control.

What I’m talking about is what happens within that mass of matter, electricity and spirit between your ears, that thumping source of life that beats within your chest. Your ability to sustain them at concert pitch to the absolute end of the road, all to often, defines the difference between “life immortal” and a life of envy.

So, the question is…

What do YOU do in the final 1%?

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38 responses

38 responses to “The Final 1%: Where Dreams Are Vanquished Or Vanished”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  2. TheBob says:

    Sigh… or should I say oh yeah man! 1%! It’s the difference!

    Come on now Jonathan. This is simplistic feel good tripe. 1% change makes **** all difference, except perhaps on a Formula 1 car.

    I can see what you are getting at in terms of a message like ‘good enough never is’ – but cut the feel good rubbish and give it to people straight.

    You make a decision to achieve or not to achieve, even if you don’t know it at the time. It’s not 1% between Bill Gates and Comic Book Guy. It’s a lifetime of choices.

  3. bchase says:

    Awesome post. One that I will share, in some version, with my 9th grade students. It will hit home with a small few of them now, a few more later and that will help those people reach for their dreams at a higher level than they would, perhaps, other wise. Perhaps your teacher’s words will make the difference in the life of some student who currently goes to coast in the last seconds of a difficult task.

  4. Lindsey says:

    A great point. I think of spinning classes myself, when you say this, and my approach is a little odd – generally I pace myself because I am too scared of burning out (this is true in all physical endurance matters) and then at teh final 5 seconds I have SO much energy left that I go nuts because I realize how much I held in reserve. This same pattern was why I did a cartwheel in the last 1/2 mile of every cross-country race in college, and why my last mile of my half marathon was the fastest.
    Not sure what THAT says – being too nervous to give it my all for the first 99%? Hmmmm!

  5. Callie says:

    Your cycling teacher sounds like my yoga teacher. Just when I think I’ve pushed as far as I can go, she pushes for more. She reminds me to breathe through the tough spots. Most important of all, she always says: “Don’t judge the breath.” Don’t judge. Just do. “Just breathe, don’t judge” is the line that pops in my head when things get tough. Makes it easier to make it through to the end.

  6. Mc Elf says:

    Dear “TheBob”

    It’s not trite. I’ve lost count of the number of time I’ve been involved in a process and been the only one left standing at the end. It’s the last 1% of EVERY decision, every journey, every trial that makes a difference. How many students drop out of college their SENIOR year?? It’s ridiculous!! People work so hard and just when they can see the end, they decide to turn aside. FINISHING what you’ve started makes all the difference. In my experience most people quit not just before they finish, but within sight of the finish line.

  7. Vicki says:

    I really needed to read that this morning – Thanks for the post!

  8. Angela says:

    Perhaps it is 1% between Bill Gates and the Comic Book Guy. In my view it isn’t about being that 1% occasionally. It is about living your life in that 1%. I was giving a talk recently on a concept I recently titled The POWER Principle and I was talking about Excellence in the context of healthcare and disaster management. In that talk I said, “The status quo is not good enough. We must do our best. Innovation, agility and leadership are never to be underestimated.” This isn’t about doing our best once in a while or that excellence is something to dabble in. It’s about “being” excellence. That’s the 1%.

  9. Tisha Morris says:

    Perfect timing! Thanks Jonathan.

  10. Jeffrey Tang says:

    Excellent post! I could see you giving this as an actual speech 🙂

    The way I see it, to live a “life immortal,” we have to attack both the initial 99% and the final 1% with great intensity. Without the first 99%, we’ll never get the opportunity to hit the last 1%; and without that final 1% push, we simply sink back into mediocrity.

    One of my favorite posts on this blog!

  11. ami says:

    I’m with the group saying that last 1% does make the difference. Awareness of that 1% difference between Gates and Comic Book Guy keeps me motivated – and hopefully keeps successful people humble.

    Loved the post, thanks.

  12. Paul Hawkins says:

    Thank you for the reminder. While reading this post I recalled the sports related advice from childhood — keep your eye on the ball and always follow through.

    A good principle to apply to all areas of my life.

  13. Interesting debate going on here already. IMNSHO, I think it’s a matter of knowing yourself and your tendencies. The “give it all you’ve got, especially at the final 1%” approach will work as a motivating factor for some, but for the overachievers and perfectionists of the world, it could be a source of counterproductive stress on the road to burnout.

    I’m one of the latter type of people, and I’m trying very hard to reset these internal patterns that make me crazy. Trying to realize that I don’t have to give EVERYTHING in life 100%. That it can actually be harmful to live that way.

    In fact, that’s the other point I’d make here–this “final 1% intensity” approach should be used sparingly. Only in striving for the goals that you decide REALLY matter to you. Because while I completely agree that stretching your limits is the path to growth and achievement, too much strenuous stretching (i.e., trying to live that way **all the time**) will leave you hobbling around in pain.

    • Jim Horrell says:

      Hi Michelle,

      In your comment you state, “… I’m trying very hard to reset these internal patterns that make me crazy.” I was wondering if you could share what activities, exercises, and approaches you are participating in to try to “reset these internal patterns.”

      Changing ourselves and the perspective of how we view the journey of life we are on, in my opinion, can be an extremely difficult choice to make.

      One lessons I learned through the years is that you can only control a certain amount of what happens to you in life. Often times events take place which change the course of our lives forever in a direction that we were not expecting nor desiring. Yet, in the long run, sometimes it turns out what is best for us.

      I realize that in your comment, you did not ask for suggestions on how to change your internal patterns, however, I have chosen to share some ideas which of course you have the choice to try, or not try.

      Over the past several years I have learned these techniques which have helped me make some changes in my life.
      1. Take a walk in a park — Getting back to nature has helped me to put some of my worries away for a while, clear my head, and prepare my mind so positivity and hope can enter.

      2. Spend time with positive people. Just as negativity rubs off on you, positivity can do the same thing. It is not always easy to find the right positive person for you at the right time, but it can happen.

      3. Spend time with a child. Children have an inner joy and strength that they can easily release out into the world without even knowing it. My son has had 5 heart surgeries so far in his lifetime, amoung other non-cardiac operations. He also has ADHD and allergies. If you are struggling with a bad day, or a bad period in your life, the smile or hug from a child can do remarkable things to change your outlook on life. — It has mine.

      4. Read positive books. I make a conscious effort to try to read something to enrich my thinking or open up my mind to new ideas, new thoughts, etc. I have some examples of books I’ve read in the reading list by amazon section of my LinkedIn profile.

      Take care, Michelle,

      I hope you make a comment because I am interested in the techniques you use to change yourself.

      Jim Horrell

  14. Yes!

    As a cyclist and an Accidental Entrepreneur, I’ve experienced the difference between letting up in those “five seconds” and staying the course–even intensifying effort. As you say, whether or not the sustained effort gets you where you want to go, it will produce changes in body, world, and mind. Your body will be stronger, your brain more efficient and effective at moving your forward, and the world around you more receptive to your intentions.

    What I love most is that this is such a vivid reminder of the importance of follow through, as opposed to one more rah-rah rant.

  15. Marirose says:

    That 1% is worth every mile, last piece of the pie, the final puzzle that makes the picture, what ever your goal and intent was to begin with, its the pivotal moment that completes the 99 percent -the 1% is the Nth degree. Great post Jonathan!

  16. CTK1 says:

    Thank you for this piece, Jonathan. It was exactly what I need and needed now and will probably need again in a month or two. Lucidly done, the truth is in the sweat. Really glad that Matt Chevy tweeted this link out.

  17. Ed Gandia says:

    One of my old sales managers taught us that at the end of the day, we should always ask ourselves, “What else can I do right now to advance my weekly or monthly goals?”

    He was mainly talking about making one last call — either to a prospect or a customer. Or writing one last note. Making one last effort.

    At the time, I didn’t really get it. I mean… what’s one more call going to do in the grand scheme of things?

    But I got into that habit. And to this day, I ask myself that question at the end of every workday. Doesn’t have to be anything big. The trick is to do it, even when you’re ready to get out of the office.

    I owe much of my current success to that last-mile effort. No doubt.

  18. I’ve done a lot of martial arts (I’m a 4th Dan Blackbelt in karate), so I’ve had plenty of experience of going way past what I thought I was capable of.

    I think that most people never get near the last 1%. They don’t even get near the last 10%! Most people give up much earlier.

    The reason why people give up is because they run out of gas: suddenly their strength, or their inspiration, or their creativity, or their courage gives out. That’s the moment when winners -and losers- are born.

    To carry on when there’s nothing left in the tank is hard and scary. Because it means entering unknown territory beyond what we think we can do.

    I think what’s important at such times is not to give a final push, but to keep on going with your total effort – moment by moment, without thinking about the end point

    In terms of cycling it means pedaling hard out – one revolution at a time. As a writer it means putting one word at a time onto the page – even when we run out of ideas.

    • Dennis Baker says:

      Mary is right.

      My analogy would be Professional golf. The last 1% is up in Tiger woods/Jack Nicklaus territory. The other 150 guys are pretty darn good and in the top 5%, Mini tour guys top 10%, Elite College players top 20% everybody else somewhere in the next 80%.

      Golf is a lot mental at that level and the last 1% separates Tiger from Phil. I don’t care how much “want to” or heart I have, I’m never going to get there. In that case, maybe I should quit or just enjoy it for what it is for me.

      The key is “knowing” when you’re on the right path, properly prepared for the path with the right product/service at the right time. When you’re in that Zone, it doesn’t seem like work pushing through that last 5 seconds does it…

  19. Interesting post and comments…thanks
    Is the last 1%, 5%, 10% any more important than the other 99%, etc? … what if you gave your all on the 67%? Or to take Dennis’s golf analogy, what if you won with a birdie on the 12 hole and didn’t need to make a birdie on the last. Turning it on at the end is certainly the stuff of winners, but they have always taken many steps to get in that position. For me, maybe just for me, I find the % it takes to start is always critical. It’s so easy not to do something and the start is where involvement begins … and without involvement there is no finish possible. I think I’ll go out now and climb a tree… Have a great weekend and have fun, Jim

  20. I like this because it reminds me of times when I really blitzed through the finish line in record time or with record results just because I was so excited that I could see the end or the prize or the goal that my determination was just doubled even if I were exhausted.

    Having read through the comments, I think we have to choose wisely. I can’t put that kind of energy into every single thing that I do. Good and acceptable is just fine for some things. With things that are really important, though, I want to give it my all.

    The challenge, for me, has been to know what’s really important to me and what to let go of. I can’t be brilliant or set records with everything single thing I do.

    Right now I have a big project going on and need all the reminders I can get.

    Happy Spring!

    Leah

  21. Ida says:

    Your post reminds me of 212°, the extra degree, which I stumbled upon (through you?) – now burning in my head because oh, how I love my comfort zone! Thanks, Jonathan, for another kick in the right direction.

  22. Geoff says:

    I lift weights at the gym, and this is a perfect analogy for the last rep of a set, the ‘one to failure’ (ie your muscles just can’t do more). This is where I have felt all my true progress comes in. I have read reputable sources state the last 1 or 2 reps is where your body progresses.

    Even if I work a given lift up to a relatively heavy weight over a few weeks, unless I push for that 1 extra rep or perhaps just 5% more weight each week, I don’t grow. Going to the same 10 you did the week before feels tough, but it reeks of the “good enough” as Jonathan put it.

    Gotta go that 1 extra that most people don’t, it’s that simple…

  23. irene becker says:

    As a coach who helps clients transform challenges, changes and career transitions into enhanced passion, purpose and results, I applaud your posting and your outstanding work.

    Kudos! It is indeed too often at the last 1% that we loose touch with our true power.

    Best, Irene

  24. Mick Morris says:

    I’d like to think that I sprint at that 1% point, but I know it is not always the case. But next time I am sure I will be thinking about this post and won’t be able to do anything but sprint

  25. Sudhir says:

    This looks like good Pep talk Jonathan but I am not sure that most people even reach such levels before giving up. I wuld suspect that in 95% of the situations, 75% of the people give up by the last 50% or 75% and not the 1% mark.

    Point taken that going beyond what is the usual level of effort may produce discontinuous outcome but context is needed of where we are today before applying this rule to everyone.

    Sudhir

  26. Disagree with comments saying this is motivational hype. Think it’s especially helpful to peeps (like you) who live in top 10% of peeps passionately pursuing personal excellence. This is where the 1% comes in. When you’ve been through the ringer to get into the top tier, it can be tempting when you hit the wall to say, “but look at what I’ve done!” Justification.

    I hit an enormous personal challenge this morning (at the end of a proverbial sweating, panting & grunting workout) and am thankful I stopped by for my JF wisdom fix. Those 1% moments of throwing yourself across the finish line instead of calling it good DO matter.

    Thanks, Jonathan!

  27. Marelisa says:

    This post made me think of the race during the Olympics in which Michael Phelps defeated Milorad Cavic by one one-hundreth of a second. You’re absolutely right Jonathan, you have to step it up when you’re nearing the finish line instead of starting to let up.

  28. Truly inspirational.

    The margin of victory in timed Olympic events is so small and shrinking and it’s all about that 1% of extra effort, right?

    How many times have you seen a runner slow down (almost imperceptibly) at the tape?

    It’s easier for me to find that extra in what I do when I can find the fire behind it. Thanks for the reminder.

  29. When I was in math class as a kid, my teacher pointed out that a 1 degree measurement miscalculation didn’t seem like much in terms of the short term – at the axis point. But over time, as the rays were extended from the axis point, the 1 degree differential ended up being a huge expanse of space – a chasm, if you will.

    If Bill Gates and Comic Book Guy met up on the same road and turned 1 degree down different forks in said road, at first, their lives might be incredibly similar. They’d even still be able to see each other for a while. Over time, though, the distinction is so drastic they wouldn’t be able to see each other for all the space between them.

    Kaizen is about small, incremental changes. The 1% is even a BIG leap in those terms.

  30. Persistence is a beautiful thing and you see so many people without true hardy persistence nowadays. You can really do well with it.

  31. […] mediocrity at best and complete failure at worst.  Jonathan Fields points this out clearly in The Final 1%: Where Dreams Are Vanquished Or Vanished.  We have to finish strong.  We have to rise up when the going gets tough and press on to […]

  32. […] of this societal influence, it is our nature to exude complete effort in this final 1-5% portion. Some people might say otherwise, but the reality is that the last 1% is no more important than the other 99%. The only real […]

  33. I saw this wasn’t stumbled much so I stumbled it.

    Great words Jonathan, I’m Jonathan too. Really loved this post.

  34. […] to close. Even when they’re dead beat, they know how to finish.This is an excellent quote from Jonathan Fields’ blog which is from his cycling teacher :”I want you to ask yourselves a question. When you hear me […]