Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Difference Between 14% and 15%

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 10, 2014

I was talking to a friend at the gym the other day. “How much strength do we all have?” he said. “Think about it: a ninety-five-pound mom can lift a Buick if her baby is underneath it, right? Then why is it so hard for that same woman to lift a 25-pound dumbbell here at the gym on a Tuesday morning?”

Russell Crowe in the arena in "Gladiator"

The answer, my friend said, is that the muscles can but they don’t want to. They resist. They’re afraid of success, afraid of failure, afraid of pain, afraid of the unknown.

“What we’re afraid of,” my friend said, “is going from using 14% of our potential to using 15%. For some reason, that increment is totally terrifying, even though there’s another 85% untouched beyond that.”

Why is it so hard to get that 1%?

We can all agree, I’m sure, that we experience a huge rush of exhilaration when we actually do it.

Isn’t that what CrossFit is all about, or extreme sports, or any physical activity that pushes the body and the mind beyond their perceived limits? CrossFit, from what I’ve read, enlists camaraderie, competition, novelty (new exercises, new environments), games, challenges, etc. to inspire its members to go from 14% to 15%. Success becomes addictive. You do it once and you want to do it again.

Yet the body resists. The mind resists. The world seems to have been made this way.

Gravity doesn’t want us to fly. Death refuses to let us live forever. Fatigue conspires to keep us from true awakeness.

The ancient Greeks would describe these forms of resistance as “the jealousy of the gods.” The immortals possess certain powers and gifts, and they don’t like it when we mere humans aspire to them as well.

And yet we sense all the time, don’t we, that the gods also want us to go there? They want us to succeed. The spirit inside us drives us to go after that 1%. When we observe, even in animals, that push to exceed ourselves, don’t we perceive as well an element of nobility? We see it. It produces an emotion. A bull in a ring, an athlete on the track, a dancer onstage.

Some athletes, some artists have trained themselves to go from 14% to 15%. I’m sure they’re feeling pain; I’m sure they’re experiencing fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the unknown.

But they’ve taught themselves, one way or another, to advance into that zone.

That’s why they’re faster than we are, or stronger, or smarter or tougher.

There’s a scene in every gladiator movie ever made. The howling mob and the patrician spectators are seemingly on a higher social level than the warriors in the arena. The onlookers are free; the gladiators are captive. Yet always there’s a moment when through courage or will or endurance one of the men in the ring achieves a moment of nobility—and elevates himself in station, even if only for a single instant before his death, beyond those who are superficially his betters.

Which brings me back to what we were talking about last week—personal interior cultures.

Some grunt and groan; others make the act look effortless. Some do it with fireworks and histrionics; others pull it off with aplomb. Each has a different interior culture.

But the object of all these cultures is identical:

To find some way to go from using 14% of our potential to using 15%.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

20 Responses to “The Difference Between 14% and 15%”

  1. September 10, 2014 at 6:16 am

    That 1% is a rat-bastard and definitely separates the men from the boys, the professionals from the amateurs, or whatever analogy you want to use. Time again, we have look deep inside ourselves and discover who we really are.

    • Mary Doyle
      September 10, 2014 at 6:24 am

      I love that Marcy – “rat bastard” – so very, very true!

    • September 10, 2014 at 7:03 am

      That’s the best even expression. Thanks Marcy

  2. Mary Doyle
    September 10, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Thanks again for hitting the nail on its proverbial head Steve. More and more I find that the real payoff for me in pushing through is the sense of peace I get from knowing I’m doing the work.

  3. September 10, 2014 at 6:33 am

    I know from marathon training that the only way to force yourself to complete those 20+ mile training runs is to learn to ignore your survival instinct. Your brain is telling you to stop and conserve some energy. There might be a predator stalking you at any moment and if you are energy depleted, you are easy meat. That’s the only explanation for why we feel the pain of fatigue in the first place.

    • September 10, 2014 at 6:44 am

      Steve- Good point, I see we were thinking along the same lines regarding nature…

  4. enrique
    September 10, 2014 at 6:40 am

    I would say that the difference starts with attitude towards pleasure/pain….

  5. September 10, 2014 at 6:42 am

    I like your allusion to “jealousy of the gods.” It makes total sense.

    I would also attribute it to nature, it has ingrained in us to look for efficiencies, to try to put in the least amount of energy while still getting the same results. It’s like we’re saving our energy for a “real” crisis or opportunity down the line.

    But mindfulness teaches us that you can’t get “there” without being fully “here” first. You can fool the outside world sometimes, but inside we know when we’re giving that extra 1% or not. And in the long run all that matters is what we think of ourselves.

    • September 10, 2014 at 7:48 am

      Exactly Alex. Totally agree that we know from inside why we were(or were not) successful.
      And I too loved the term “jealousy of gods”.

      • September 12, 2014 at 5:22 am

        Vitap-glad you agree. We can’t lie to ourselves.

  6. September 10, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Thanks, Steve.

    In the Talmud it says that a donkey driver (the taxis or truckers of the day) who is paid 1 zuz to go 10 miles gets paid 2 zuz to go 11. Why the increment (doubling) pay just for the extra mile? One would think that 1 zuz for 10, 2 zuz for 20, and anything else, pay by the fraction (smaller coins). But the rabbis explain that that one extra mile is beyond the norm, and for going beyond the norm, the pay doubles.

    Similar idea, I think.

  7. September 10, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Thumbs up. That is all.

  8. Sonja
    September 10, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Great stuff as usual, Steven. I’m taking it all in…: )

  9. September 10, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I just have to say, “Yes!” That discipline of getting that 1% more is what I’m up to. I love it when I’m in action. When I’m not in action, I sometimes bemoan that fact. Or I’m sleeping.

  10. Jackson Sandland
    September 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Steven,
    Thank you for your insights. I am a devoted reader. The War of Art completely changed my approach to the work of art. I can wotk with impunity now!!! Jackson

  11. September 12, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Inspirational as usual. I have sold 43 books in one month. I’m not even on Amazon yet. But my mind tells me that’s not enough it’ll never be enough and so on. I love the term-rat bastard.

  12. September 13, 2014 at 11:42 am

    As a 60 year old CrossFit athlete I’m acutely aware of what it takes to move that 1%, but more importantly, how much more meaningful it is, especially when your physical capability doesn’t have the unlimited potential of youth. It’s still hard, but man, is it worth it to “turn pro” with your health and fitness.

  13. September 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Sometimes it doesn’t seem like 1% more. Sometimes it seems like 100% more. It doesn’t matter though. I’ll do either one to reach my goal.

  14. September 15, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Become fully integrated in your authentic self, strip away the false self you ‘believe’ you are, and the adopted projected self to disguise that false self, and you arrive at your true self … and suddenly much becomes possible, call it mindfulness. Then the rat bastard scurries away, and you ease through from 14 to 15 …

    The analogy here is for how we can find the will magical moment of breaking through and writing 2500 wds instead of 1200.

  15. Henry Karugu
    September 24, 2014 at 4:24 am

    This is seminal truth Steven thank-you! I like the 1% rat-bastard expression.1% can indeed be a major cause of huge resistance!