The 99% principle for personal problems

Often when people are dealing with an issue – emotional, mental, or physical – there’s genuine progress and the issue becomes less and seems to go away.

Until it comes back, seemingly as bad as before.

Maybe the person developed a coping mechanism that worked, but only under specific circumstances. Maybe the person managed to eliminate one of the triggers for the thing, but it turned out that there were other triggers. Maybe the progress was contingent on them feeling better in some other way, and something as seemingly trivial as sleeping worse brought it back.

I’ve been there many times. It is often very, very frustrating. I might feel like all the progress was just me somehow perpetuating an elaborate fraud on myself, and like all efforts to change the thing are hopeless and it will never go away.

And I know that a lot of other people feel this way, too.

Something that I tell my clients who are experiencing this despair is something that I got from Tucker Peck, that I call the 99% principle:

The most important step is not when you go from having the issue 1% of the time to 0% of the time, but when you go from having the issue 100% of the time to 99% of the time.

It’s when you go from losing your temper or going into a fawn reaction in every disagreement, to staying cool on some rare occasions.

It’s when you go from always procrastinating on an unpleasant task, to sometimes tackling it head-on.

It’s when you go from always feeling overwhelmed by anxiety to having some moments where you can breathe and feel a bit more at ease.

When you manage to reduce the frequency or the severity of the issue even just a little, that’s the beginning of the point where you can make it progressively less. From that point on, it’s just a matter of more time and work.

Of course, not all issues are ones that can ever be gotten down to happening 0% of the time, or even 50% of the time. Or even if they can, it’s not a given that the same approach that got you to 99%, will get you all the way to 0%.

But even if you only get it down somewhat. That somewhat is still progress. It’s still a genuine improvement to your life. The fact that the issue keeps occurring, doesn’t mean that your gains would be fake in any way.

And also, many issues can be gotten down to 0%, or close to it. Over time both the frequency and severity are likely to decrease, even if that might be hard to remember in the moments when the thing gets triggered again.

For many issues, it can be the case that the moment when it finally goes to 0% is something that you won’t even notice – because the thing had already become so rare before, that you managed to forget that you ever even had the problem.

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