Dave Brailsford is probably not someone a lot of you have heard of. How about Bradley Wiggins or Chris Hoy? More familiar. Dave Brailsford is one of the many people who coached these celebrity sportsmen to be at the peak of their sport. He is the man behind the success of both Team Sky at the Tour de France and Team GB cycling at the Olympics in 2012.
How did he do it? How did he take teams of already high-level athletes and make them even better? (Try to avoid the obvious and nonhelpful accusation of drugs).
Brailsford came up with the concept of marginal gains. He explained it as ‘the one percent margin for improvement in everything you do’. The idea being that if you could improve every aspect of your life relating to your sporting performance by just one percent then all these small gains would add up to a clear and substantial improvement.
So, what does this mean in theory? Take all the small almost immeasurable things that everyone else rights off as not worth it because the benefit is so small and do them all. By doing them all, all those little improvements will add up.
If taking your own pillow on the road with you will improve you sleep by one percent then do it.
If cutting one percent of the weight of your bike will make you faster then do it.
If using a certain type of pre-workout gives you a one percentage advantage then use it.
All three of those things will add up to a noticeable difference though individually they might not seem like much.
So how can we use this?
Whilst we probably won’t all ever be in a position to win Olympic gold or indeed the Tour de France we can use this concept to optimise our life non the less. Imagine if you could improve your life’s key areas through marginal gains. If just by making a few adjustments here and there you could get even more out of each day and subsequently life.
Now most of us will convince ourselves that changes are only meaningful if they have large, visible and immediate outcomes. Take diet for example. No one ever just goes ‘I think I’ll eat a little less sugar, maybe stop having it in tea and coffee’ because we don’t feel this will have a visible effect. The concept of just cutting out sugar in our drinks doesn’t seem worth it. Until you think of the marginal gains. One teaspoon of sugar in a coffee or tea, three times a day, five days a week for forty eights weeks a year (allowing for weekends and holidays etc) means you’d be cutting out 720 teaspoons of sugar a year. That’s roughly 3.6kg of sugar! (For anyone who gives a fuck about calories that is approximately 14,500 calories).
Now I have over simplified it by talking about sugar but hopefully this demonstrates how little adjustments can have big impacts. Now imagine if you applied this principle to multiple things in your life. You made your sleep one percent better. Your nutrition one percent better. Your recovery one percent better. You would undoubtedly be better for it right? Arguably three percent better in fact.
So how do we start?
Think about the areas of your life where you think you could add a tiny bit of improvement. Remember it has to be tiny. Suddenly committing to going to the gym twice more a week isn’t a small change. But cutting out that sugar is. Or not using social media after 10pm is. Or drinking an extra glass of water each day is.
These small changes will all start to add up to a significant positive change.
So, ask yourself, where are the one percent improvement in your life?