I had a call recently from a friend who reads this column and boy was she in a hurry. "I need to lose weight fast and get fit," she said. "Do you have a goal or a plan?" I asked. "Yes, I just want to a 100pc change from where I am now."
So the first thing I had to do here is knock the 100pc idea. You can never improve by 100pc straight away but you can get better at hundreds of things by 1pc.
So I asked her to change something first and foremost by 1pc. She was having none of it. "No, I'm serious here. That is too small. I want a real challenge."
Then I explained the power of 1pc in sports. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, the difference between first place and fourth – between gold and no medal – was 1.08 seconds, or less than 1pc. If you study a lot of the Olympic results in swimming and track and field, the difference between the gold medal winner and the person in fourth is often 1pc. Sometimes it is much less.
Towards the end of the men's 100m butterfly final at the 2008 Beijing Games Michael Phelps was seventh out of eight swimmers, but in the last 50 metres he managed to pass the five swimmers between him and the frontrunner, Serbia's Milorad Cavic. Phelps's last half-stroke took him to the wall at 50.8 seconds, ahead of Cavic's 50.9. Phelps won the gold by 1/100th of a second. You can't even blink that fast. Phelps's margin of victory over the man who came fourth was 0.15 seconds. One-third of a percent.
We can all improve 1pc in sportsmanship, teamwork, communication, perseverance or basic skills. So my friend took up the 1pc challenge and went for a jog ... for all of five minutes. Then she just got exhausted and walked back home. But she did five minutes.
The important thing here is to begin by having a winner's heart. That means trying to do something better today than you did yesterday. Everyone can't be great. Everyone can't win Olympic gold. But everyone can be better than they are right now. The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius. It does not say, "Swiftest, highest, strongest." It simply means working at getting better each day.
Motivation comes from having accomplished something. The more you get done the more you are motivated to do things. It's a self-feeding cycle. Her first five-minute jog mattered hugely.
What did she achieve in that first jog? She experienced one of the fundamental laws of physics, Newton's law of motion. It states: "Unless acted upon by an outside force, a body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion."
That's why her first five-minute jog was so important. She put on her running gear. She got out the door. She jogged for a full five minutes. She started to do one action, and because Newton's law works, once she got in motion she stayed in motion ... for a full five minutes.
The next day she told me that, amazingly, she jogged slowly for an hour. She just didn't want to stop. Once we stop, inertia keeps us stopped. Just by putting one foot in front of the other you put yourself in motion. Once you get in motion you'll overcome that initial inertia that was holding you back and you'll build momentum.
The key is to make small, targeted improvements. We can all be 1pc better at hundreds of things.
Declan Coyle is a director of Andec Communications. His motivational techniques have been used by several All-Ireland winning teams. firstname.lastname@example.org