Why 100% is easier than 95%.
And the key to making habits stick.
In most situations in life, doing less is easier. Cleaning 95% of your laundry is easier than cleaning 100%. Running 95% of a mile is easier than running 100%. Doing 95% of a project is easier than doing 100%. It is a simple math equation, and for most things, it’s true. Emphasis on most.
There are certain things in life in which the opposite becomes true and doing 100% is actually much easier than doing 95%. There are areas where going “all in” is substantially more attainable than going “mostly in.” For example, not eating any chips and salsa (aka 100% all in) is much easier than just eating a few chips (95% in). Because we all know the moment we have that first chip, we’re bound to just keep going. The 95% slips to 90%, the 90% slips to 80%, until eventually we’re full and dinner hasn’t even come to the table yet.
It’s not just certain foods that create this scenario either. It’s habits we’re trying to build. It’s habits we’re trying to break. And it’s identities we’re trying to create or diminish.
These things in our life that require us to be 100% committed tend to have a snowball effect. We give them an inch and they take a mile. You know this to be true if you’ve ever told yourself that you’re just going to have one drink and you end up having several. You know this to be true if you’ve ever told yourself that you’re going to work out three days per week, and you end up failing one week only to fail the entire next month. You know this to be true if you’ve ever tried to do or stop anything in moderation. Because when it comes to habits, moderation can actually be our enemy.
It would seem logical to think that the blame is on ourselves when we fail at moderation. We are, after all, the ones that are doing the thing, whatever that thing is. But this would be inaccurate, or at best incomplete. What we’re battling is our willpower, and as much as we don’t want to believe this, our willpower is actually limited. Very limited.
We tend to think that we have an unlimited supply of willpower if we simply try hard enough. If we just grit our teeth, clench our fists, and buckle down, we will be able to will ourselves to victory. But what inevitably happens every single time? We lose. We lose because the war against willpower isn’t actually winnable. The deck is stacked against us. Willpower is like a gas tank. With every big and small decision we make as we go through our days, we steadily consume that gas tank of willpower until it’s gone. And once it’s gone, it’s not coming back for a while. All it takes is one situation when our willpower tank is empty — a scheduled workout that we’re too tired for, a tasty snack in the fridge, an extra glass of wine in the bottle — and before we know it we’ve broken whatever promise we made to ourselves.
And therein lies the key.
When we are trying to create or break a habit, 95% doesn’t cut it. We have to be 100% dedicated to that habit. Because when we do that, willpower is removed from the equation. When something isn’t an option, we don’t have to rely on willpower to do it.
Where in your life do you need to be 100% all in?
It’s different for everyone. But it starts with asking yourself what you struggle with control over. It’s in these things, in these moments, that we need to change our frame of reference from “some of the time” to “all of the time.” When we do this long enough we fundamentally shift our identity. And once our identity shifts, we have won the war.
Do you want to be someone who runs sometimes, or do you want to be a runner?
Do you want to be someone who eats healthy sometimes, or do you want to be healthy?
Do you want to be someone who writes sometimes, or do you want to be a writer?
If you’re struggling with something, don’t fool yourself into believing moderation is the key. If it requires your willpower, you will lose. Go 100% all in until it’s a part of your identity. If 95% is a struggle, give 100% a try. It might just be easier.