“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use, do the work you want to see done.” Austin Kleon
Repost| This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened
This article is an excerpt from Atomic Habits, James Clear’s New York Times bestselling book. Original article here
The fate of British Cycling changed one day in 2003.
The organization, which was the governing body for professional
cycling in Great Britain, had recently hired Dave Brailsford as its new
performance director. At the time, professional cyclists in Great
Britain had endured nearly one hundred years of mediocrity. Since 1908,
British riders had won just a single gold medal at the Olympic Games,
and they had fared even worse in cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de
France. In 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the event.
In fact, the performance of British riders had been so
underwhelming that one of the top bike manufacturers in Europe refused
to sell bikes to the team because they were afraid that it would hurt
sales if other professionals saw the Brits using their gear.
Brailsford had been hired to put British Cycling on a new
trajectory. What made him different from previous coaches was his
relentless commitment to a strategy that he referred to as “the
aggregation of marginal gains,” which was the philosophy of searching
for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. 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
improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you
put them all together.”
Brailsford and his coaches began by making small adjustments you
might expect from a professional cycling team. They redesigned the bike
seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a
better grip. They asked riders to wear electrically heated overshorts
to maintain ideal muscle temperature while riding and used biofeedback
sensors to monitor how each athlete responded to a particular workout.
The team tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel and had their outdoor
riders switch to indoor racing suits, which proved to be lighter and
But they didn’t stop there. Brailsford and his team continued to find 1 percent improvements
in overlooked and unexpected areas. They tested different types of
massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery. They
hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to
reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of
pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider.
They even painted the inside of the team truck white, which helped them
spot little bits of dust that would normally slip by unnoticed but could
degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes.
As these and hundreds of other small improvements accumulated, the results came faster than anyone could have imagined.
Just five years after Brailsford took over, the British Cycling team
dominated the road and track cycling events at the 2008 Olympic Games in
Beijing, where they won an astounding 60 percent of the gold medals
Four years later, when the Olympic Games came to London, the Brits
raised the bar as they set nine Olympic records and seven world records.
That same year, Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. The
next year, his teammate Chris Froome won the race, and he would go on
to win again in 2015, 2016, and 2017, giving the British team five Tour
de France victories in six years.
During the ten-year span from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won
178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and
captured 5 Tour de France victories in what is widely regarded as the
most successful run in cycling history.
How does this happen? How does a team of previously ordinary
athletes transform into world champions with tiny changes that, at first
glance, would seem to make a modest difference at best? Why do small
improvements accumulate into such remarkable results, and how can you
replicate this approach in your own life?
The Aggregation of Marginal Gains
It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment
and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily
basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires
massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business,
writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we
put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that
everyone will talk about.
Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but
it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The
difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s
how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one
year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.
Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll
decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor
setback accumulates into something much more.
In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a
choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. (In other words, it
won’t impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small
improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap
between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and
those who don’t. This is why small choices don’t make much of a
difference at the time, but add up over the long-term.
On a related note, this is why I love setting a schedule for important things, planning for failure, and using the “never miss twice” rule.
I know that it’s not a big deal if I make a mistake or slip up on a
habit every now and then. It’s the compound effect of never getting back
on track that causes problems. By setting a schedule to never miss
twice, you can prevent simple errors from snowballing out of control.
The Bottom Line About Small Improvements
Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
You probably won’t find yourself in the Tour de France anytime soon,
but the concept of aggregating marginal gains can be useful all the
Most people love to talk about success (and life in general) as an
event. We talk about losing 50 pounds or building a successful business
or winning the Tour de France as if they are events. But the truth is
that most of the significant things in life aren’t stand-alone events,
but rather the sum of all the moments when we chose to do things 1
percent better or 1 percent worse. Aggregating these marginal gains
makes a difference.