Embracing the Power of 1% Gains: The Power of Thinking Small


It's tempting to want to make big changes to your life, career, diet, routine or anything else that you're unhappy with or want to improve. I'm going to put forward an argument that thinking small can lead to more transformation than thinking big. The impact of 1% gains compounded over time often beats sporadic "big bang" changes people and companies often try to do. It's analogous to the slow and steady tortoise that beats the fast but inconsistent hare.

Sir David Brailsford, the former performance director of British Cycling, famously leveraged this concept to revolutionize British cycling  - taking Team Britain from serial losers to serial gold medalists at multiple Olympic games. It begs the question: How can we apply the same principles to achieve significant accumulative gains in our own life?

The Magic of 1% Gains

It may seem too good to be true, but small, consistent improvements can have a dramatic effect on your success in anything. The concept of 1% gains is based on the idea that if you focus on getting just a little bit better each day or each week, those small improvements will compound over time, leading to significant overall growth.

Let's look deeper at the story of Sir David Brailsford and the British cycling team. When Brailsford was appointed as the Performance Director of British Cycling in 2003, the team was struggling with a history of mediocrity. However, Brailsford had a plan – he believed in the power of incremental improvements and set out to apply this philosophy to the team.

Brailsford's approach focused on what he called "marginal gains," where every aspect of the cyclists' performance was scrutinized to identify opportunities for improvement. Everything from the riders' nutrition and training routines to the ergonomics of their bikes and even the pillows they slept on was assessed (he even had special mattresses transported with the team so they wouldn't sleep on the varied hotel mattresses). By making small, incremental improvements in each of these areas, Brailsford believed that the team could achieve significant overall progress.

The results were nothing short of astounding. In just five years, British cyclists dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning 14 medals, including eight golds. They continued their success at the 2012 London Olympics and have since remained a force to be reckoned with in the world of professional cycling.

Applying 1% Gains to Your Life

Inspired by Brailsford's success, let's consider how you can apply the 1% gains philosophy to your own life and career. Start by identifying various aspects of your work or personal life where you can make small, achievable improvements. It may not seem like much, but over time, these small gains will compound, leading to substantial growth. After 52 weeks, a 1% improvement each week can result in an overall improvement of more than 68%! Remember, compounding is the most powerful force in the universe.

To maximize the benefits of this approach, it's crucial to maintain consistency and discipline. Remember, the one thing that all great athletes have in common is that they're able to train hard even when they don't feel like it or are demotivated. Doing what you said you were going to do even when you really don't feel like it is possibly the most life-transforming skill that you can develop. It will also make you incredibly resilient, stoic and self-aware (since you'll learn how to manage your emotions).

Starting is Hard: Make that Leap Easier

One of the biggest benefits of this approach versus trying to make big changes to your career or life is that the inertia to just start something big or do something big is massive. So massive, in fact, that most people don't even know where to start. They get so overwhelmed that starting becomes the hardest part and they never end up starting.

Let's take an example. Say your goal is to quit your current job so that you can start a startup. If you only think about big changes, the thought of resigning and going 100% into building your new company on Day 1 is far too scary. You'll never make that leap. You need to make that significant leap so small that it becomes a manageable step. By thinking incrementally (or thinking small!), you could instead set the goal to start working just 2 hours a week on your new startup and then slowly increase that over time. As you make progress and start to find traction, you'll then see the path to quitting your job and switching full time to your startup.

'You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.' - Martin Luther King Jr.

Whether it's running a marathon, getting a promotion or building a tech startup - the key to achieve any goal is to focus on the first step. Ignore the staircase. If you need to see the whole journey before you take the first step, you may never take the first step at all!

Focus on the 1% gain. What can you do next week to be 1% better at work? What can you do to be 1% healthier? Can you make a small change to improve your diet by 1%? Start with this. Build momentum. And before you know, you'll find yourself running up the staircase and landing on the top!

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