In our blog, How To Beat Your Brain, we mentioned a concept called marginal gains. As promised, here’s a quick run down of what marginal gains is and how you can use it to break down your goals and make more progress than conventional methods.
The concept of marginal gains was thrust into the spotlight after the London 2012 Olympics when GB Cycling performance director, Dave Brailsford, spoke about how he used the concept to improve GB Cycling performance so much that they dominated international cycling for over a decade. Dave Brailsford summed the concept up by saying “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,” (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/19174302).
This summation is pretty spot on! Essentially you can break down a problem or in our case, your goals/performance into as many sub-categories as you wish and improve on each of these parts individually. When you then look at these sub-parts as a whole, you will have a larger overall increase/improvement on your performance. In the case of GB Cycling, they were aiming for gold medals so they may have gone into more details than is necessary for some people – take sleeping in the right position for example. Yes, it may work towards achieving your goals, but it probably isn’t as important as just getting 8 hours of decent sleep if you’re currently getting 5.
Below is a simplified version for someone who is trying to loose 10 lbs of fat in 5 weeks.
Goal – Loose 10 lbs of fat
Duration – 5 weeks
Higher level factors that affect fat loss
- Activity Levels
- Food quality
- Food intake
- Sleep quality
- Positive mind set
So here we have 5 higher level factors that will influence this goal of burning 10 lbs of fat in 5 weeks. Now, you can stop here and get going or you can break down each of these 5 factors into more sub-factors within each one. Below is the breakdown for one of these factors.
- Exercise 4 times/week.
- Exercise for at least 1 hour for each session.
- Walk to work and back 3 times a week.
- Stand up every 30 minutes whilst at work (shown to significantly increase metabolism).
- Do 10 squats, 10 press ups and 10 star jumps every morning.
So from picking 1 higher level factor, here you have 5 lower level factors you can focus on to reach your goal. You see how this could go on and on!
My advice would be to pick 5-10 higher level factors and really nail them. If you want to you can go deeper, but this can make things a bit over whelming to start with, which is totally the opposite of what this aims to do. 10 higher level factors with 5 lower level factors will total 50 points for you to improve on, which is quite extreme!
The take away message should be to take what seems a complex problem and break it down into smaller chunks so you can focus in and achieve your goals. If you improve by 1% on 10 factors you will have an overall increase of 10%! Which is significant!
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