25th April, 2017

Marginal gains are small, incremental improvements in any process that contribute to a significant improvement when they are all added together.

The idea is most commonly used in sports, like cycling, where tiny changes are made to the set up of equipment, as well as the sportsperson’s diet, posture, technique, etc. Even pillows! Each of these positive changes may only improve performance by a few milliseconds, but the idea is that the combination of all of these small but positive changes can have a dramatic impact on overall performance, without the need for a major training overhaul.

I know that many of you reading this are not Olympic Cyclists (if you are, keep up the good work! Go Team GB!), so how can we use the theory of marginal gains to improve our own performance? Here’s my first example, and it’s about the morning alarm call. How many of us would like to get up earlier (especially on a beautiful spring or summer morning) and make our mornings more productive? Unless you are a morning person, this can be pretty unpleasant to do, especially if the first thing you try in order to achieve this goal is setting your alarm clock back 30 minutes or an hour. That's great for the first couple of days but then tiredness creeps in and the snooze button is hit and you are back to where you started. Rather than go all out, why not try to simply set your alarm back 3 minutes earlier every couple of days? This allows your body to get used to the change slowly and gradually. After 3 weeks, you should be getting up half an hour earlier each day (all going well!) without having made any significant or dramatic changes to your day. That’s an extra 2.5 hours of awake time every single week to dedicate to whatever you want – yoga, brisk walks in the great outdoors, work, whatever!

The Evening Standard, in a post-2012 Olympics article by Susannah Butter, gave another interesting marginal gains example:

Marginal gain: wearing one piece of red clothing a week. Yearly gain: success in the workplace. If success has a colour, it’s red. A study by the University of Durham found athletes wearing red win more often than their opponents dressed in other colours. This certainly seemed to be the case at the Olympics, where the USA trounced the competition. Wearing this colour can also boost earnings. A French study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research found waitresses who wear red earn bigger tips.”[1]

So if you want to make a positive change to your personal or professional life this year, why not try making a number of small and manageable changes to take you closer to your goal? I’d love to hear if marginal gains are as successful for you as they have been for the Great British Cycling Team!

Good Luck.

Cycling, marginal gains

[1] http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/sleeker-richer-faster-happier-how-marginal-gains-can-change-your-life-8045909.html

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