Will Plus Skill: How a UFC Coach Inspires Business Growth

“What can I do to be better, to inspire others to be better, to actually see consistent improvement?”

As a professional, as a business leader, even as an individual, you ask yourself those questions every day. But, Ricky Lundell stopped asking himself these questions 500 days ago. Now, here he is, with 610 lbs of iron and steel savagely pressing down on his shoulders for his daily max back squat.

For almost a year and a half, that weight has increased small amounts each day. It’s now three and a half times his bodyweight. Every day has been more demanding, more intimidating, more painful, but, this is exactly where he wants to be. This is the moment he dreamed about. This is what success looks like. This is the answer to all his questions.

Coach to some of the biggest names in the UFC, like Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, and Ronda Rousey, and a world-champion fighter himself, Ricky Lundell answered how he could be better, how he could inspire others to be better, and how he could see consistent improvement. It was simple. He set a goal for himself —  to always raise the bar, literally and figuratively.

It’s a philosophy he lives by, which he calls “The 1% Improvement Movement.” His most recent application of it: 500 consecutive days of maxing back squats, while increasing the weight 1% every single day to reach 500 lbs.

He got there in 479 days.

Then, he kept going. He kept pushing himself.

Throughout his self-imposed challenge, he fought through a tangle of personal battles, from failed relationships to the devastating loss of a loved one — his training partner and younger brother, Ty. He defied critics and naysayers — people who said a 500 lb back squat in 500 days couldn’t be done, and professionals who said it shouldn’t. But, bleeding, bruised and, at times, emotionally broken, he didn’t miss a day. He saw a vision for himself, he always had a plan for tomorrow, and he never stopped.

“Yes, I’m willing to risk bodily harm to get this done. I will do this, or I will die.” said Ricky, not joking.

Why would one of the world’s most accomplished fighters and coaches risk his health, his professional career, and his personal life to squat 500 lbs? Surely, it wasn’t for fame or glory, was it?

No, it was a realization of what success, greatness, and true, lasting results actually demand.

Time.

“Most of the things in our work and life, good and bad, are a result of small gradual changes over time.” said Lundell.

And this is where he saw an opportunity to truly inspire.

“We all need to avoid the all-in-one hacks and solves. Overnight successes are rare. But, the opportunity to create real change in your life is always close by. I’m really just trying to inspire people to see that. Truthfully, that’s where I find my enjoyment in the world.”

Fellow mat rat, former Navy SEAL, and active leader Jocko Willink also writes extensively on the subject of reaching goals and overcoming obstacles in his powerful new book Discipline Equals Freedom, writing, "The shortcut is a lie. The hack doesn't get you there. If you want to take the easy road, it won't take you where you want to be."

The 1% Improvement Movement is meant to inspire not just other martial artists, wrestlers, or athletes of any sort, but anybody, anywhere.

As an accomplished fighter, trainer, and coach, Ricky is now emerging as a new class of motivational speaker, built to help, inspire, and challenge anyone, from C-students to C-suite executives, to set goals for themselves and then work to actually achieve them. He’s not your mother-in-law’s motivational speaker, for sure. Think Tony Robbins, except friendly and down-to-earth, a world-class athlete, and capable of choking out Tony Robbins in seconds.

But, despite his extreme athleticism and proven abilities on the mat, Ricky doesn’t base his motivations and accomplishments on natural talent or a blatant disregard for his well-being. He believes his power to overcome, to learn new things, and to accomplish them — it’s all found within, and that it is buried within everyone. He’s determined to help people dig in and find it.

He believes we all have a will to succeed within us, and the ability to adopt and leverage a new skill, yet we don’t always utilize both at the same time. We have a will to workout, but claim we don’t know how. We have a unique talent in the workplace, yet no will to make it our own. If you recognize what you have, and focus on developing the other, whether it’s more willpower or fine-tuning your workout, you are better able to achieve your goals.

“Overcome challenges, improve only a little, consistently, and you become greater — you develop character. You might not see it, but others will.”

Through his Instagram account, which attracted over 100,000 followers during his 500 day display of intense fortitude, Ricky proclaimed daily that his feats came from a drive to succeed. It was his grit. It was his passion. It was his will — the ability to overcome odds, to set a goal for oneself, and to achieve it, no matter what. Combining that with passion and a realized dedication for not just practicing but mastering new skills — in this case, back squats — and Ricky was unstoppable.

“The 1% idea is to constantly do something that might make you afraid. You set your vision, recognize your end goal, and stay disciplined only that small amount — the only amount you really need to fight your way to success. But, success is not the end. Instead, you use your drive, your grit, your determination, your will, to not just get there, but to acquire new skills, to set new goals, new visions; to achieve new successes. Getting to that place is a whole different thing.”

Applying Lundell’s 1% Improvement Movement at Work

A perfect real world example of the philosophy of 1% improvement not just transforming workplaces, but an entire country, and arguably the world, was in Japan following World War II.

After the Allies defeated the Axis Powers, they remained in Japan to help revitalize the economy. Using a Western, Depression-era business management theory of compounding improvement, Japanese manufacturing exploded with a new theory for operations. It was called Kaizen, or Continuous Improvement in Japanese. This groundbreaking development saw Japanese automakers surpass most of the world in production, along with advancements in quality and technology in anything electronic, from cameras and phones to microwaves and televisions.

But, in today’s culture of blazing fast startups and radical innovation, the path of 1% improvement for any modern, fast-paced organization seems impractical. Instead, we all want to hack our way forward as fast as possible, or uncover that magic bullet for instant success. The fact is simple that all along, when you look for the quick one-and-done fixes, you’re actually doing nothing of value for yourself or your company. You’re learning little, you’re achieving nothing. The danger of seeking quick solutions is that we bypass or neglect the work and professional improvement that is supposed to happen along the way.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Confucius

By embracing the philosophy behind Ricky Lundell’s 1% Improvement Movement, slow, deliberate, purposeful change allows you, your team, and your business to create small, but substantial, improvement over extended periods of time for increased output, learning, collaboration, productivity, and growth. With it, you’ll be able to set big, seemingly unreachable goals, and then not only meet them, but potentially surpass them. Put simply: you’ll work smarter, not harder. You’ll create a habit.

Another advocate for 1% Improvement is Brett McKay of The Art of Manliness podcast who said, “Instead of wasting your time searching for the “one thing” that will change everything, Kaizen calmly directs your attention to the task at hand and offers this needed reminder: You already know what you need to do. Get to work and find small ways to improve along the way.”

Taking influence from McKay and Lundell, we must always remember that fast change can be jarring and uncomfortable to any company culture, or in his case, the human body. Instead, that’s why we focus on a continuous change through small steps, over long lengths of time, easing everyone down the path of improvement together.

Members of the team here at Digital Surgeons have embraced Ricky’s inspiration, including Adam Chambers, Technology Director, who says, “Moore's law dictates that technology will always grow at an overwhelming rate. Concentrating on 1% learning and exploration is the only way to grow without going crazy! Developers, as an example, want to learn everything all the time. It’s in their nature to want to be on the latest and greatest in technology. But, to actually get anything done you have to be strong and realise that the newest and shiniest thing isn't always the right thing. It’s not just the flashy, new skills you pick up, it’s the will to stay focused on your goals.”

That’s why, to save money, time, and sanity, Digital Surgeons engages in the 1% Improvement Movement by aiming to only use existing resources, whether it’s staff or equipment, and focusing less on big spends or overhauls and more on optimization and iteration with the tools available through continuous education and sharing of information. “Sure, move fast and break things, but only break one small piece at a time, and then go and learn from it,” Chambers continued.

Of course, planning and tracking 1% improvement in your day-to-day is not always going to be easy, especially since incremental change is not usually quantifiable in most professions. But, as a philosophy, you can use it as a daily reminder for yourself to look for opportunities of insight and learning. This may come to life through actively — not passively — reading professional blogs, books, or publications during breaks, by reminding yourself to ask probing questions to a coworker with the intention of understanding their craft just a little better, or by setting aside a small block of time to shut off distractions and proactively reflect on the work you're doing, all while keeping in mind areas of self improvement.

Or, as Ricky displays through his daily social posts, 1% can be used as inspiration and motivation for those around you, and for the world itself. In this way, you can use 1% not only as functional, tactical, or educational development mantra, but as a badge of honor — a rallying cry — for personal achievement by which you can reassert yourself daily that you are a success and you are only going to be greater.

Whether your growth is clearly defined or not, just remember to follow a few simple steps:

1) Set Your Goal: Don’t be afraid to dream big. Set big audacious goals. Go for significant change. If it doesn’t scare you a little, it isn’t worth going after. If it doesn’t grab anyone’s attention, they won’t follow you.

2) Make Your Plan: Determine what small, necessary steps it will take for you to reach your goal. Learn to love the process; the little steps to success itself. According to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, “The biggest mistake a lot of people make in setting goals for themselves is that they focus only on the outcome, not the process.” So, keep in mind it’s going to be a long road, but every step matters in your journey.

3) Lead the Way: Your role is to help everyone focus on clear, achievable everyday steps that don’t overwhelm them. Don’t just point them where to go, show them the way. A champion of 1% improvement in the workplace, Christopher Kelly, President of Convene says, “The essence of leadership is making the impossible seem achievable. Rather than setting stratospheric quotas and offering rousing speeches to the ranks, effective leaders approach big goals by taking tiny steps forward. A little bit of progress on a daily basis leads to a radical change in fortunes when put into practice regularly.”

4) Don’t Give Up: Make those small, barely noticeable or notable changes every day. Sometimes you may falter, but never give up on fighting for that goal.

Consistency is key. As Ricky says, “What tends to happen, and I think it’s very relatable to work, is when you go to the gym for squat day, you squat and then for the next six days you don’t, because you’re ‘recovering.’ But, for those six days, your body thinks, ‘I don’t squat.’ So, it’s more surprised that you’re squatting than it is when you’re not. Your body is changing based off the amount of consistent work put on it. You think that rest days are helping, but what rest days tend to do is train your body that, the majority of your life, you’re not doing anything at all.”

Remember: your will to succeed — to truly be better — will carry you and your team through. It’ll be the fire in your belly that lights the way for all others to follow. You only have to find the confidence. Look at the machine that is your body, your workplace, your career, your life. Ask what small thing you can do to improve it, to make it work better.

“To succeed, you have to draw a line in the sand and know who you are. Take a stand. Whether you're improving your personal life, getting better at work, or starting a business, you gotta know who you are, what you are willing to do or not do, and where you want to go. I didn’t know if I could squat 500 lbs, I honestly didn’t know, but I started to will it and then I made it my new skill. I was told by all the experts that it was impossible. But, I perfected my back squat,  tackled the challenge one day at a time, and as the original 1% man, the opposite happened. I did it.”

Taking a lesson from Ricky and incorporating 1% Improvement in your life? We want to hear about it @DigitalSurgeons.

Thanks to Mark Myrick for designing the header of this article.