The Belt Notches

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I was dressing for work the other day when it happened. While buckling my belt, I noticed it needed to be pulled a notch tighter.

You notice because your belt develops this funny little hump where it gets settled into being buckled in the same notch over and over and over again. And then—bam. It needs a new home. Strange. Different. Uncomfortable, but not in a bad way.

My belt got tighter because I’ve been making good lifestyle choices, both in terms of physical fitness and eating habits.

You don’t really notice the changes day to day. The improvements are so incremental that they would seem nearly immeasurable. But, added up over weeks and months, they are not only noticeable, but in some cases—drastic.

Most of the time, I drive right by my ex-wife’s office on my way to and from work each day.

For many months, I noticed myself always looking back to see whether I could see her vehicle parked outside. I don’t know why. Old habits die hard?

What I do know is that it never made me feel good. There were even times I saw my little son hop out of the car with her right at the moment I was driving by.

That made me cry once.

A brutal reminder of all that had been lost.

Lisa Arends at Lessons From the End of a Marriage (who everyone dealing with divorce-related matters should read) once talked to me about emotional triggers. And she said something I’ll never forget. She said they’re going to sting. And it’s going to surprise you. But then, over time, you’ll notice they don’t sting anymore, she said. That you’ll drive by and you won’t feel horrible. You won’t cry.

And that will surprise you, too.

And then you’ll know. Like passing a test of sorts. That you’re stronger now. Braver now.

That you’re actually you again.

I can’t be sure when it happened. But I caught myself once jamming to something awesome on the radio. Smiling because that day was going to be a good day. Just, feeling good.

And I realized: I didn’t look back. I didn’t look to see whether her car was there.

Then I realized I didn’t know when I stopped doing that. Weeks ago?

Because it just happened. Slowly. Unnoticeably. Incrementally.

My mind will continue to process all of the many changes these past few years have brought.

My body will continue to get leaner, harder, stronger.

And my spirit will soar because of it. Taking me to places I’ve never been.

One little bit at a time.

1% a Day

My favorite writer James Altucher writes often about improving just one percent each day.

I like it because it makes sense to me. Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his:

I have a friend who is feeling down. He doesn’t like his job. He’s uncomfortable with the people he is working with. He’s had this job for ten years so he’s afraid to bail now after putting in so much time.

He wants to make a fast change.

Every day, though, is a new day. The past is just a photograph. The present is everything we can see and feel and hear and touch and love and live. The future is a fantasy.

So today improve just 1%.

That sounds trite. What is “one percent”?

Maybe I’ll write a list of ideas today. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Maybe I’ll call someone I love. Or maybe I will shower twice and do pushups. (or, ahem, maybe shower once).

Maybe you can tell me: what are all the ways someone can improve their lives 1%?

Maybe I’ll eat 1% less junk food. Or read a book instead of some stupid news article that is filling up the inane news cycle of the week before it’s forgotten when the next news cycle hits.

Maybe I won’t argue about a stupid issue. Or maybe I will spend time with my kids.

Someone wrote a completely insane comment on my wall the other day. I delete it and move on. No need to argue.

Another person wrote a blog post accusing me of trying to control him with “Neuro-weaponry,” apparently developed by the U.S.Navy. I ignore it and move on. I don’t even like to swim.

What are some other ideas? I hope you can tell me.

1% seems like a small amount.

And it is a small amount. It’s tiny. It’s easy. It’s doable. Today.

But 1% compounds. If you improve 1% a day you will improve 3800% in a year. I don’t even know what that means. Life is not a number.

But it means your life will be COMPLETELY different.

I know this is true. My life is completely different than it was a year ago. And a year before that. And I can barely recognize the year before that. I can’t even remember two years ago actually.

Sometimes just a kiss improves my life 1%.”

Technically, it’s 3,753 percent. If you improve one percent every day for one year, you improve 3,753 percent. That’s a lot.

James is right. Our lives are not numbers. And I don’t know what it means either.

But I know I can get one percent better at something today. Probably more.

Everything changed. And sure, I’m still scared.

But not very much.

And not very often.

I’m alive. More than just surviving. Living. Progressing. And striving for achievement more than I ever have before.

Instead of worrying about tomorrow, and way down the road about things I can’t possibly control, I’m mostly concentrating on getting a little bit better today.

A slightly smaller stomach.

Slightly stronger arms.

A more-courageous heart.

A calm, capable, clear mind.

An unbreakable spirit.

I wasn’t strong enough before.

And maybe I’m not today.

But I will be. One percent at a time. 3,753 percent more one year from now. And a nearly incomprehensible amount, five years down the road.

“So, Matt. What’s your five-year plan?”

Oh, nothing much.

Just improve 7.85 billion percent.


27 thoughts on “The Belt Notches”

  1. Love this. To have witnessed an actual arc, a journey, a from here to there with much learned along the way, right here on the interweb? Magical. Even if every now and again there’s a one step back, to have witnessed a forward motion is amazing. (You have got to put this in book form, you know.)
    Now I’m off to find my one percent (or maybe 1.5%… you know I fancy myself an overachiever.)
    You go, blog man. You go.

  2. Oh, I love this! That 1% does seem do-able doesn’t it? I’ve been struggling with the self-concept thing lately and goodness, if I could love myself just 1% more each day what an improvement that would be :-). I’m in!

    1. I was just having a conversation over lunch. I don’t want to make too much of it because I’m almost embarrassed about how NOT WELL I was 12-18 months ago.

      But when I think back on all that I feared and felt then, versus how I feel today, it’s impossible to feel anything but gratitude for the healing power of time and a little bit of willpower.

      I don’t think it would be accurate to call the past year “good.”

      But I’ve certainly found a way to grow.

      Thanks for reading, Robin.

  3. What a great post, and great perspective, great practice. Lately, I have found myself saying, “I’m a very patient person…” and I agree, these incremental and sometimes seemingly invisible movements add up in ways that are surprising. I have a ‘drive by that car and wishing I’d not notice” story too..almost there but not quite. Not the same situation as you, but the resulting emotions so similar. Good for you – love that it’s behind you now! I just discovered James Altucher and looking forward to reading more of him! Great post!

    1. Thank you very much, Bonnie.

      So glad you found Mr. Altucher and plan to read more. That guy is a difference-maker.

      Hope you have a great day.

      And I bet you’ll remember this moment when you realize you “drove by the car and didn’t look back” someday.

      Going to be beautiful.

  4. I’m so glad to see you turn up in my Reader! I missed your last couple of posts, but I had a very *stern* talk with the follow button, and we’re good.

    Since nothing alive is ever static, we’re either improving or declining. I’d definitely rather be on the upswing. I’m so happy to hear how well you’re doing.

    I love the math in this post! Very fancy. Also “Neuro-Weaponry,” but I’m afraid to Google it.

    James Altucher needs to put you on the payroll. He’s great, and people SHOULD read him. But seriously. The man needs to cut you a check. I’ll have my people call his people.


    1. I like that. Nothing alive is ever static. I think that’s why the graphic at the top is so important. You can get awfully far away from Totally Shitty, by getting a teeny bit better every day.

      And, thank you. Things are, just, better now.

      The math existed 11 percent to be informative, and 89 percent to be fancy.

      Seriously about James, though. I do reference him a lot. But it’s NOT to help James. He doesn’t need it.

      It’s to help people who might benefit from his work the way I feel I have. Anytime someone clicks over and feels something, it’s a win.

      But still. If you’re people are going to call his people… I’ll take it.

  5. That’s a ruddy good idea… Apart from when you have arthritis, and back ache, and your knees are going, and every day your body is failing you by one percent. And it’s all you can do to break even some days in an ultimately losing battle. So make those strides, while you are still young.

    1. Auntie!

      “You” are so much more than just your physical body.

      I submit you can improve by well over one percent mentally and spiritually every day, forever–more than enough to compensate for physical wear and tear.

      They say you never stop learning and growing.

      I don’t know who “they” are. But I believe them.

  6. That send off made me chuckle after nodding along the rest of the time. A change in your life doesn’t have to be a big huge one time thing. It can be a series of small things. Every little bit helps.

  7. Recently, I often don’t know what to answer when people are asking me what I am doing or up to.

    “Just improve 7.85 billion percent.”

    That sounds much better than:



    Although I don’t understand the math behind it… (wait, yes… I don’t.)

    “They can’t show their work, so don’t ask” (Garret LoPorto) – another good one.

    Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration, Matt!

    1. Hey Steph.

      I’m no mathematician. I used a percentage-change calculator to get my answers.

      But essentially, if you increase 1 by one percent, you get 1.01. And then you keep building on that that, no different than compound interest.

      When you increase it by one percent every day for five years (1,826 times), the percentage change is 7.85 billion percent.

      I was mostly trying to be clever, and probably failing. I don’t think I can really improve 7.85 billion percent without being elected President.

      But what else do I have to do?


      1. Thanks for giving me a hint of understanding for the thing with the percentage calculation.

        My comment was not meant to question your cleverness. I was merely honestly stating that I didn’t understand the math. I hope you know that. 🙂

        And who says you can’t be president?!?

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Matt Fray

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