6 Steps To Transforming Your Life Using Marginal Gains

How every little change can and will make a difference.

What if you could make the smallest of changes in your life and completely turn it around?

Would you like to get that promotion? Meet that special someone? Get fit and healthy? Sort out your spiralling debt? Or even just feel better getting out of bed in the morning?

If you want to change something, anything in your life, there is a way: Marginal Gains.

This article will explain how and why it works, and explain how you can start making positive changes today.

Marginal Gains is a method which focuses on the power of incremental change.

The premise is that numerous small actions can generate a cumulative, amplifying effect. This greatly magnifies the individual effect of each action. Importantly, the actions are small enough to be easy to identify, recalibrate, and implement.

What’s more, the methodology has been repeatedly proven.

The most famously publicised success of the method was when Sir Dave Brailsford became Performance Director of British Cycling. Speaking about the approach, he said:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”

So, what was the result?

Great Britain dominated the cycling leader boards at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, winning eight Gold medals at each. As well as this, between 2003 and 2013, under his stewardship, British cyclists from across the sport won 59 World Championships.

The method has been picked up by Google, hospitals, educational systems, business, and even eating contest competitors! (full BBC Article here)

So how can Marginal Gains work for you? The follow 6 Steps explain:

As with any new approach, idea, hobby, or relationship, you must make the decision to commit to it.

You have to want to change. You have to understand why you are doing it. You have to know what your endstate is.

If you do not make a resolute commitment to improve whatever it is, the batterings of circumstance and the difficult days, which there inevitably will be, will see you stray from your course.

It doesn’t even matter how big or small the change is. It could be to go to bed earlier, or attend to £40,000 worth of debt you are carrying.

You have to commit to making a difference to improve your life. Once you have done so, the process begins:

Now comes the start of understanding what is what is your life. And you start with the enjoyable bit.

Consider everything that is positive in your life. The things that make you happy, and I mean everything.

It could be that you like your hair, or you’re proud of how well you are doing with learning an instrument, or that you are a good cook. It could be that you have a loving partner, a supportive network of friends and family, or love your car.

Everything that is good in your life needs writing down.

The next part, is deciding on a scale, and attributing a value to it. This is entirely personal. You may consider your snazzy haircut as a huge boost to your happiness, others may not — so you decide the value for the element of your life.

Either way, you set the value and plot it on a chart as shown below:

Step 2: Understanding the Positives

As the blocks build, they stretch away from the centre line. That centre line is the start point, and represents an average mood. Neither good nor bad.

In this instance, the person here has given value to the positive things in their life: Partner, Family, Pet, and friends. That, according to the value, puts the good stuff at +30. Not bad going!

The next step is the less enjoyable element: plotting the negative things in your life.

This is always an uncomfortable process, and requires some potentially challenging introspection. You have to rationalise all the negative things in your life.

Again, big or small, make sure you capture everything — this is process of Marginal Gains (remember that from the start!), so it all counts.

Consider all of the things which make you unhappy, or stop you from being happy. And here is the critical part of Step 3: if an element is neither making you happy nor unhappy, put it on. You can turn a neutral element into a positive using the same process.

Let’s follow the example:

Step 3: Understanding the Negatives

The example shows that a large debt is having a significant negative impact, along with health and fitness, appearance and their current job.

Also, conflict has featured. This could be an argument with a friend, family member, partner or colleague which is unresolved and impacting them.

Unfortunately for this person, the cumulative impact of ‘bad stuff’ is -55 on their chosen scale. It then becomes a simple matter of Good (30) + Bad (-55)=You (-25). In this instance, the negatives affecting happiness far outweigh the positives. So what now?

Remember Step 1? Stay committed, this is where the change happens.

This is where the Marginal Gains method comes in to force in your life. As Sir Brailsford said:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together”

Except its not about what goes into riding a bike, its what contributes to your life and happiness.

You need to address each component you identified and decide how to change it. Just a little.

In the example given, two of the positives were family and friends, so reach out to them a see them more, be more engaged. You will generate more positivity from it. Even one phone call a week, or a meeting a month will improve your happiness.

Similarly, have a plan for addressing the negatives. For the debt, create a budget. For health and fitness, write a plan on how to get moving more. You don’t necessarily have to follow either, even making the plan is a positive first step.

Steps 2 and 3 identified the important things in your life and how they affect you. You need to work out a plan, using the smallest of changes about how you can exploit the good, and reduce the bad.

Once you have the plan, the change can begin to manifest itself..

This step is simple. Follow your plan.

Remember Step 1 again? You’re committed to making a change, right? Well implement your plan. Small changes, and see how they add up.

Step 5: Reduce the Bad, Amplify the Good

Our example shows that spending more quality time with the partner, dog, family, and friends has increased the value those things add. The positive effect of those good things has been amplified to 40. It may not seem much, but it all counts.

You will also see that the debt has reduced, maybe the new budget has kicked in and things are heading in the right direction?

The negative effects of health, fitness, and appearance have reduced. Maybe walking an extra 500 steps a day turned into 1,000, then 2,000, then jogging caused some weight loss and sleeping better? The small things accumulate, and affect each other positively.

The conflict and job have also reduced in negative impact. Perhaps the resolution of the conflict with a colleague has made the job more bearable? Whatever the small actions taken, they have had an effect.

So what is the compound effect? What have the Marginal Gains delivered?

Through a series of small, progressive changes, this person’s positive elements have been magnified, and the negatives reduced. They now sit at a +5 above the central line. As such, life for them, is generally good. All because of the incremental improvements from small changes in their life.

So what next?

Once you have the mindset established and have enjoying even the smallest amount of positive change, back to Step 1 and follow through to Step 6 again. And again. And again.

Each time reconsidering the positives and negatives, understanding how they affect you, planning to change them in small ways, and then implementing the plan.

Make it how you approach every decision: will this action positively or negatively affect me?

There could be no end to how much you change things for the better.

Embrace the power of Marginal Gains: take control of the little things, and transform your life.

Oh, and one last thing: Good luck!

Thank you for making it this far! I know that your time is precious and I am grateful for you spending some of it on my ramblings. If you enjoyed this, please see more of my content at www.thenowman.com

If you enjoyed the article or have any comments, recommendations, or tips for improvement please do comment below.

Thanks again, happy reading, and good luck with your writing!

Leader | Writer | Army Officer | Husband | Dad. Not in that order. Focus on Leadership, Personal Growth & Self Improvement.

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