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How “5% Better” Has Changed My Life

Perfectionism isn’t your only option.

By Haley RymelPublished 5 months ago 8 min read
How “5% Better” Has Changed My Life
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Are you stuck in a rut? Feeling like you could be doing better but just can’t seem to get over the hump? You’re not alone. Most people go through life feeling this way at some point or another. The good news is that there’s a solution, and it doesn’t require any superhuman effort or talent. All you need to do is live “5% better.”

How 5% Better Changed My Life

I’m a moral perfectionist. It’s something that I’m working on.

I was raised in an evangelical environment that bordered on a cult. If I was not perfect, then I was worthless. My failings were seen as proof of my sin and a personal affront against god. Every moment, every thought, every decision, needed to be perfect, or else punishment would occur, even if I didn’t know that my actions broke any rule.

I escaped the not-quite-a-cult and moved on with my life. The moral perfectionism was still in play though. I needed to unlearn a lot of harmful behaviors and ideas that I had been indoctrinated with as a child.

My quest for self-improvement, self-help, and learning quickly began to copy previous perfectionist habits.

I still struggle with the idea that if my progress isn’t perfect, then it isn’t worth it.

Here’s the thing. Like everyone else, my life is busy and messy.

By Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

I’m a single mom to a wonderful little boy, whose father no longer contacts him. I am 100% responsible for all of his needs, my needs, and the needs of our pets. I work full-time, plus some, to take care of every financial problem, and I’m pursuing an additional university degree. That’s before considering my relationships, hobbies, or any activities that I’d like to do.

It is, literally, impossible to handle every responsibility in my life perfectly.

So, I could keep fighting against my life, my brain, my energy levels, and my mental health. I can be stressed as I try to keep every ball in the air at the same time, trying to be everything for everyone.

OR, I could strap in for the ride, accept that no one expects perfection, and figure out how to improve any situation by 5%.

This allows me to enjoy my messy, chaotic life while knowing that I’m still building my future.

My Personal Results:

  • reduced anxiety
  • reduced negative self-thought
  • progress towards goals that I previously believed to be impossible

Why 5%?

It’s a doable goal that focuses on getting a little bit better at something.

It’s not an expectation of perfection — this allows for people to be forgiving towards themselves if they fail.

Where does the idea for 5% better come from?

Thankfully, I stumbled across the 10% Happier podcast by Dan Harris. 10% Happier is a meditation podcast, but the gift it gave me was more than meditation.

The idea behind 10% Happier, is that we don’t need to fix everything to have a better life. Increasing your happiness by 10% would be life-changing for many folks. These small changes bring us to a 10% compound over time and allow for new habits to form on top of the small changes.

I still don’t meditate every day. But I do focus on small changes that compound over time.

What’s 5% look like in real life?

I break my 5% goals into two categories: short-term and long-term.

Short-term goals tend to be something that can be wrapped up in 1–7 days. (What can I do to make [goal] 5% better today?”

Long-term goals are anything that will require working over time. (What can I do to improve my total experience by 5% over a year?) Most of the time, my short-term goals work toward a long-term goal.

By Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

For me, short-term progress looks like this:

  • Relationships: Human relationships, don’t make a ton of sense to me. So I view the important people in my life like relationships in video games. Regular contact and shared experiences create bonds.
  • House Cleaning: I hate tasks that need to occur daily. So if I’m in the mood to clean and don’t have an immediate task, then I focus on making one room 5% cleaner. Sometimes this means picking up for fifteen minutes, or deep cleaning one item that won’t need additional attention for quite some time. On days that my ADHD has taken control of cleaning, no one room may look cleaner because I hop between rooms and tasks. But I know that all of the tasks add up to the house being roughly 5% cleaner. Progress, not perfection.
  • Healthy Eating: I grew up on canned vegetables and casseroles with next to no seasoning. Learning to eat healthily has been a journey. If I realize that a meal that I’m making is a nutritionist’s nightmare, then I look for ways that I could make it 5–10% healthier. Angrily munching on some raw carrots won’t make me perfectly healthy, but small consistent changes are what progress is made of.
  • Work: You know that perfectionism? Yeah, perfectionism leads to burnout, which then leads to me hating myself until I’m so stressed that I finish everything in about 12 hours. It’s a cool party trick, but also a guaranteed route to panic attacks. Now, I look for two types of opportunities: if I’m in the mode where I am cranking out work left and right, I look for ways to pull back; if I’m burned out, I look for one activity that I can finish right now.
  • Learning: There’s an unattributed idea that self-help gurus quote, “Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.” I’m not sure the validity of that claim, but reading just a little every day (newspaper articles, a book, work-related articles), does add up.

Are you motivated by spite? Think about how much better off you’ll be by your small changes, than someone like you who did focus on regular small changes. Your motivation doesn’t need to be perfect either.

By Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Long-term progress can look like this:

  • Working Out: I’m not going to work out every day. I know the benefits of working out beyond how I look, and as I grow older, these benefits are more important to me. If I can’t make it to the gym, I find something that I can do. It may be gardening (a great workout), or it may be stretching and doing squats while I make dinner. This is one of those situations where spite motivates me. I know that squats, pilates, and stretching will leave me healthier and better aged, than if I did nothing, especially compared to specific people who I dislike in my life. (I’m not sure if this is a healthy coping mechanism, but it can be an effective one.)
  • Gaining New Skills: I want to be able to do things that I couldn’t before. I collect skills as a hobby. This can be a new work-related skill, or it can be something like learning to play an instrument or learn a new language. These are skills that I don’t need to progress in every day, so I focus on my growth over time. In a year, will I be 5% better at this?
  • Establishing Long-Term Habits: I focus on long-term habits, instead of short-term habits. Messing up on a short-term habit can make me unmotivated to pick the habit back up, because I’ve already failed at it. By looking at habits as, “in a year, can I be 5% better about drinking enough water?” It keeps me from a cycle of self-punishment and keeps me focused on the real benefits.
  • Unlearning Toxic and Biased Behavior: The culture I was raised in taught me a lot about hate. Hating myself and hating others. Criticism was the love language I was raised with. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of additional homophobia, racism, misogyny, etc. that I was indoctrinated with. While these a beliefs that I staunchly oppose, there are biases and language that I actively need to work on. Regardless of how much I wish I could hyper-focus, and read every book on subconscious biases, this work takes time.

Go on, get out there and live 5% better.

Living “5% better” doesn’t require perfectionism or a Herculean effort. It can be as simple as making one change in your daily routine, or slowly implementing new habits over time. By focusing on long-term progress instead of short-term goals, you’re more likely to stick to your resolutions and make lasting changes in your life. And finally, remember that it’s okay to stumble along the way — everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Just pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

Take some of the patience, mercy, and grace that you give to others in your life, and apply it to yourself. You most likely don’t require perfection from those around you, so why would they expect perfection from you?

Focus on making your life 5% better, and you’ll be amazed at what you’re able to do.

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About the Creator

Haley Rymel

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Comments (6)

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  • Dapo4 months ago

    You have an impressive on-going 5% be better idea. Its quite a great approach you came up with. I hope it will push up to 10% and more as you kids grows up and you knock of these goals off the list. Being a single mom is tough. Try a 15-minutes meditation rally up your courage and return to The Bible, its scriptures are useful, they'll set you at ease and free you. Thumbs Up!

  • Conner Skaggs5 months ago

    I really like the idea of getting 5% better. It's achievable and it's enough of a difference that you can feel happy with the work you put in and move on. This was a great article! Feel free to read some of my content if you get the chance, I write about positivity, getting to know yourself, self-improvement, etc... Thanks!

  • Annie Edwards 5 months ago

    I can’t even begin to accurately verbalize how much i resonated with this (the ADHD and going from task to task, the overwhelm, feeling bad, etc). This is truly life changing advice; better than what you see from well known motivational speakers. I LOVE THIS!!! I can’t wait to start today with your advice :)

  • Thanks for sharing 😊 It was a great read. All the best and happy writing.

  • Frank Lomax5 months ago

    This reminds me of my daughter's life experience ( single parent - two young children). Enjoyed your writing style.

  • DragonFly5 months ago

    Great information!

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