How a 1% a day improvement leads to a massive improvement in performance. (the concept and practice of marginal gains)

Team GB Cycling pursuit team

Before I talk about the concept of marginal gains how do you want your day to go? Would you like it to be worse than yesterday, the same as yesterday or better? How ever you responded I have the solution you want; this is not my original idea I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I do incorporate into my life so here is the answer. It takes no effort to get worse results than yesterday, to get the same results as yesterday takes the same effort as yesterday, but to improve takes more effort than yesterday. So, if you are still interested in the idea of how a 1% improvement each day leads to massive increase in results carry on reading and I will tell you more.

 First of all, I would like to introduce you to Sir Dave Brailsford former Performance Director with British Cycling and currently manager of Team INEOS. In the 1990’s British Cycling was almost a joke. The men’s Olympic team had only ever one Gold, Chris Boardman in 1992, and no British Cyclist had ever won the Tours de France. However, in 2004 Olympics GB won two Golds and toped the cycling medal table in 2008 and 2012. A British Cyclist won the Tours de France in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. This remarkable change of fortune is credited to Sir Dave and his coaching philosophy and methods. The core concept of his method was that of “marginal gains”, by improving all the facets of an elite cyclist’s preparation by just 1% would produce a significant increase in performance.

A single percentage point does not seem much, it is after all only one out of a hundred but the power in this small increase is how it compounds. Over the year 1% increase daily in performance results in an increase of nearly thirty-seven times over the year! Now I know a one percent increase improvement may not be possible every day, but you only need to increase your performance by 1% for 71 days to double your performance.

Getting a cyclist to win the Tours de France is a complicated and a team effort. It requires optimisation of the bike, the athlete, and the team. All the professional teams were looking at ways of making their bikes to perform better and keeping their cyclists at the top of their game. What Dave Brailsford did was to look holistically at all aspects of the team. For example, team GB monitored how well their cyclists slept, then found the best pillows and mattress for each cyclist, they then took that mattress and pillow with them on tour. He even got a top surgeon to teach the team how to wash their hands properly. The idea was that good hygiene meant less infections, meant less illness, which meant less days off ill and so more days training. These small increases soon added up and Team GB went from a joke to the best in the world.

So how are you going to implement the one percent improvement into your work and life? It does require a mind shift because we convince ourselves that only a massive improvement is worth while. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure to come up with massive break throughs, but I hope I have convinced you that its not large changes that make the difference, but small incremental ones repeated. It is less intimidating to make change incremental, just 1 % at a time, and to give new habits time to bed in. A while back I wanted to write my journal everyday. I found it very difficult to keep the habit up until I set up a system to do it. My first task was to make some me time when I could think undisturbed and write. So, I started to wake up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. I then write my journal whilst drinking my first cup of tea and everyone else is still in bed. If I wake up late or I have a very busy schedule I make sure that I just write the date and time in my journal so that I keep up the habit. This has resulted in me never missing a day of putting something in my journal, a result I don’t think I would ever have achieved if I had started off with the intention of writing in my journal daily forever. The next task I am working on is writing for an hour a day. I am trying to come up with some ways of helping me carve an hour out of my day when I can do this regularly. Come back in six months time and ask me what I have achieved.

Over to you now. How do you want your day to go, better than yesterday or worse? Can you implement the 1% into your life, what small thing can you change or started doing to help you achieve your goal? Let me know how you are getting on and maybe we can work together to bring your dream into realisation.