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How do you achieve a goal that society tells you is impossible? How do you create the motivation to defy surmounting odds against you? How do you make sure you’ll succeed when failure is just as easily attainable? Nik Nikic, father of Chris Nikic, the first individual with down syndrome to complete an Ironman, has the answer: “A slow and steady diet of patience and consistency.”

Around the year 2018, Chris Nikic was living a life that the average child with down syndrome has become all too familiar with. He was isolated living at home and not included in the community as he should have been. When Chris turned 18 his father, Nik, decided Chris’s future would not be what society expected it to be: living alone or with family, no job or great achievement to speak of, just sort of existing. Nik got Chris off the couch and decided the two of them would get in shape by training for a triathlon. Chris hadn’t always been an active person, hence the motivation for Nik to create a goal that would combine fun with movement. 

Chris always had big dreams, but for someone with down syndrome, his “big” dreams were considered huge. We’re not talking about becoming a famous writer or public speaker, though Chris did in fact become both of these in his adult life, we’re talking about owning a house, getting married, and buying a car. Due to the size of his dreams, Nik felt that Chris needed an equally big goal to match his desires. The conclusion: completing an Ironman. An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile run, raced in that order. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. Both Nik and Chris believed that achieving this goal could be the inspiring story that would lead Chris to become an acclaimed public speaker. 

Chris’s training regime was a thirty month journey. At the very beginning he would swim one lap in the pool, run 100 yards or ride his bike around the block one time. Every day that passed, another set, or lap, or yard was added to his regime. Eventually, one lap turned into twenty, one set turned into thirty, and one hour turned into eight. It goes without saying that this training regime was slow and steady, but most importantly, it was successful. Chris became the first person with down syndrome to complete an Ironman. From there he wrote a book and became a renowned public speaker, inspiring the down syndrome community to resist society’s low expectations for them and their capabilities. He also went on to purchase his own home, his own car, and is now looking for a partner to share the rest of his life with.

When asked where the 1% approach came from, Nik Nikic responded with the name, John Wooden. Wooden was an American basketball coach and player who won ten National Collegiate Championships in a 12-year period. Nik recalls, “I asked myself, how did he become so successful? I realized he became a little better every day and would make small, incremental changes until success was reached.” This is exactly how Nik approached Chris’s training regime for his first triathlon and Ironman. He simplified the approach for Chris so training wouldn’t be a burden, but “motivational movement” that pushed him closer and closer towards his end goal.

Nik shared that the biggest roadblock people face when trying to implement the 1% Approach in their lives is trying to achieve something great too fast.

There are rare people who have a disciplined mindset who can achieve their goals in a short time and sustain them over the course of their lives - most of us are not built like this. - Nik Nikic

For most of us, when January 1st comes around we set a goal for the year and if we don’t achieve it within the first three months we’re finished with it. Oh well, better luck next year.

With the 1% approach, it’s not just about achieving a goal, it’s about achieving a lifestyle. The 1% builds properly if you’re consistent in your efforts. Adding just 1% to your ultimate goal every day will stimulate growth naturally. However, a lack of consistency will result in actually falling farther away from your goal than when you started.

The 1% Approach can be applied to all aspects of life. It doesn’t just work when you want to get into shape or run an Ironman. If used properly, this Approach can be applied to career, marriage, relationships, mental health struggles, etc. It all comes down to building a mindset. Here’s how: 

  • Create the mindset that adding on “one more” to whatever goal you’re trying to achieve is no big deal. You’ve got to have a tangible dream that doesn’t allow you to take days off, but add days on. 

  • If your goal and your dream don’t match, the process is useless: your goal and your dream have to be aligned. In Chris’s case his goal of completing an ironman aligned with his desire to become a public speaker and share his story of defying the odds as a man with down syndrome. 

  • You need to see on a daily basis that what you’re doing is contributing to your dream and your goal - this happens when you’re consistent with your practice. 

  • Set one goal for the entire year. Make it reasonable and make it something you don’t think you’ll be happy without. 

Chris Nikic's success with the 1% Approach has inspired not only the down syndrome community but everyone who hears his story. His future has become about helping others in addition to achieving his personal goals and pursuits. He is proof that the 1% Approach works, you just have to believe in the process and fight to improve one day at a time. 


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