How you ever heard of Marginal Gains? What about the Incremental 1%? All of these principles are essentially talking about the same thing, daily actions and habits produce significant results over time.
Let’s talk about this. Most people set big goals. Why is it then that only a handful actually succeed at reaching an exceptional level of success? Often times it is because we try to tackle these big goals immediately and all at once. We want to see immediate results, but this is why we fail.
You’ve heard the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. The same is true about goal achievement. You have a higher probability of success if you break the goal down into smaller actionable steps that build upon one another. By focusing on making small incremental improvements each day or each week, you build habits that lead to your success. The big goal feels a lot easier when you are focused on manageable improvements with specific results you can see. The wins then create motivation to keep going.
Incremental change (sometimes called 1% gains or the incremental 1%) is about making small modifications to things like activities, places, ways of working, being or thinking every day. When you make the changes in small, simple ways it is easier to stick with them until they become your new habit. Then you build on this with another small change, then another, then another.
So how exactly does this work? Look at where you are today. Then pick your big goal. Now choose one or two actions that you can start taking now to move forward. What is the very first step? Do that today. Then tomorrow, I want you to improve that first step by just 1%. The next day, you improve again by 1%. Each incremental change may seem insignificant at first, but like interest on your money they compound over time.
This concept has been written about quite a bit. The power of this concept really came to light in 2003 when the British Cycling team brought in a new performance director named Dave Brailsford. He was different from any other coach they had hired in the past because of his commitment to the strategy of “the aggregation of marginal gains”. He was searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything his team did, even the often overlooked and unexpected areas (like massage gels, hand washing, and the pillows they slept on). By the 2008 Olympics they took home 60% of the gold medals in cycling and in 2012 they set 9 Olympic records & 7 world records.
The truth is, most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone, one-time events. They are the result all the moments when you chose to do things 1 percent better or 1 percent worse.
How many times have you stopped to reflect on a moment you thought was life changing? It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. We often give the final moment the credit, instead of all the small modifications we made in our lives to get to that moment. We see this happen in all types of situations, whether you are losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal. We convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action and then we put massive pressure on ourselves to make these earth-shattering, major improvements.
So many of us are looking for that one magic button to push to achieve success. We hope that through positive thinking and a little hard work that we can just magically manifest our goals. The truth is that it is through our small, routines, habits or rituals (either good or bad) which we choose every day that produce our results. It’s all about the small choices we make every single day.
The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works. if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time the year is over. The opposite is also true, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. Small choices don’t make much difference at the time and on a daily basis you might not notice much difference. But over the long-term, all those choices and actions add up. This means that what starts as a small win or a minor setback can snowball into something much more. What that is, is up to you!
Let me give you an example. If you read a few chapters of a book each day to better yourself. That’s a positive choice that would have a great impact over the long run. You can also choose to eat a giant bowl of chocolate ice cream. A single bowl of ice cream won’t much impact right now, but if you eat a bowl of ice cream every day you would likely gain weight. Every choice we make compounds over time. These choices are what determine our results whether we achieve our goals or not.
One of the things that Jeff Olson noted in his book The Slight Edge is that “most of us, if not all, do what it takes to reach to high levels in our lives. However, once we get up to those high levels, we have a natural tendency to become complacent and stop. This is where we begin to start seeing failures. This wavy course of going up and down does not allow us to push forward to success. So, what do we have to do to keep pushing forward? It’s simple. We just need to make those positive choices and implement those positive actions, although small, every day. And as we do this, over time, success becomes ours.”
Small choices become your action, your actions become your habits, and your habits become your way of life. The choices are yours. Every choice you make will give you results. Make sure they are the results you want.
My challenge for you this week is to decide on one key area that you want to see improvement. Then ask yourself at the end of every day, “what can I do tomorrow to be 1% better?” and choose to take action every day towards making it happen.