In 2010, David Brailsford (Head of Great Britain's professional cycling team) faced a tough job. No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but that's what Brailsford was asked to do. His approach was simple: “Aggregation of marginal gains”
He explained his approach as the "1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do" believing that those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.
They started by optimizing the things you might expect: nutrition, ergonomics and the weight of the bike parts. But they didn't stop there, embracing those areas often overlooked, like which pillows offered the best sleep and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.
Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then the team would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time. He was wrong. They won it in three.
Obviously this is a very intense example, where the difference between winning and losing is such a fine line that the minutiae really matter. But in normal life, what can we learn from this example?
It's so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment or decision, hence why often New year resolutions don’t stick, because a massive shift has such a finite sense of success or failure, without room for something a little more realistic in-between.
“I won’t drink alcohol this year”. “I won’t eat any sugar”. “I will stop spending so much money”. “I will give up coffee”. These sweeping statements are often made even harder to accomplish when the reason you generally choose them is because they represent issues or bad habits you do too much of in the first place! It’s so easy to say you won’t eat any sugar this year, if you don’t have a sweet tooth!
Don’t underestimate the value of making small but better decisions on a daily basis. Almost every habit that you have—good or bad—is the result of many small decisions over time. And yet, how easily we forget this when we want to make a change.
So being realistic is the key to your success. If you go to bed too late and are sick of being exhausted, try going just ten minutes earlier every night for a month until that becomes the norm. Then try ten minutes earlier than that for the next month. Before the year is out you have shifted your bedtime to at least an hour earlier without it feeling like a punishment or unachievable goal.
If you drink 4 strong coffees a day and know they aren’t doing you much good, instead of trying to stop cold turkey, start by replacing one of them with something that’s healthier for you: water, a fresh juice, a delicious cup of Chinese tea! After a couple of months, try doing the same with another of your daily coffees. That way before the year is out you have reduced your caffeine intake but also replaced it with a positive hydrating, nourishing alternative, a BETTER choice rather than just removing the ‘culprit’ which can just leave you feeling bereft.
These more subtle changes are like pebbles dropped into the lake. The gentle successes empower you to make better choices every day and like the ripples caused in the lake, they begin to positively affect every aspect of your life.
First it is an intention, then a behaviour, then a habit, then a practice, then a second nature, then it is simply who you are…..