The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

“In the end, winning is sleeping better.”
–Jodie Foster

When the technical expert, Giorgio Piola, was asked how the Mercedes’ Formula 1 team keeps winning, year after year, he said there was no single one thing but that they make the car as simple and clean as possible and they aren’t afraid to experiment and take risks. He said the cars are “very efficient, very clean and appear almost too simple.”

Their success is an example of the aggregation of marginal gains.

Marginal gains are a series of seemingly insignificant, almost microscopic enhancements to performance, even the smallest of changes was considered, tested and implemented.

This is the strategy that I’ve been using for over 20 years to help executives and business owners become more successful personally and professionally. Before our first coaching call, I ask my coaching clients to make a written list of all the petty annoyances they can think of (most people have about 60-100).

These annoyances typically include such things as: the black gunk around the shower, the burnt out light bulb, the stain on a favorite shirt, the missing buttons, the broken electronic devices, the slow computer, the overflowing inbox, the junk piling high in the garage, the dirty car, the chipped tooth, the excess weight around the middle, the squeaky door hinge….all these little things seem insignificant so we don’t bother to resolve them. After all, how could that leaky bathroom tap possibly matter to one’s career success?

It boils down to energy.

Everything is about energy. If something drains your energy, even in the tiniest of ways, it makes a difference. True, you can get by with one or two of these annoyances, but 60-100 is pretty much the national average. Get rid of 60 tolerations and all of a sudden you start to feel better about yourself. You aren’t as tired in the morning, you arrive at work with a smile on your face, you get that promotion, start to make more money and can now afford to hire a house cleaner on a weekly basis. That’s an example of how marginal gains build. Life gets better and better and easier and easier. And it all started with clearing out the black gunk in the shower and sewing on that missing button.

The cumulative effect of tiny marginal gains is powerful so go right ahead and clear all that junk off your fridge!

Left to our own devices, we tend to backslide, and let these pesky things accumulate in our lives before we realize it and one day we wake up feeling exhausted and discouraged. That is why I’ve created an automated life coaching course so you can get regular weekly assignments, each one seems relatively easy and appears almost insignificant, but added together week after week, they have the amazing power to transform your life, one tiny step at a time.

I was just chatting over a lovely lunch in London with one of my colleagues about making tiny changes to improve one’s health. And they are tiny steps. He had advised a client, who was reluctant to go to the gym, to just buy a pair of sneakers one week. Then the next week, to drive past the gym she might want to join. Then to go into the gym and ask about a membership. Before you know it, she was regularly working out at the gym and with a host of additional tiny changes, has lost 30 pounds. Another example of the aggregation of marginal gains.

The secret is being willing to start with the smallest and easiest possible step.

So instead of thinking, “I hate working out, I’ll never be able to do this”, you start with something you like. I like shopping, and yes, I can buy a pair of walking shoes this week. Yes, I can wear my new shoes around the house for a week. Or yes, I can take a five-minute walk to the end of the street and back. Yes, I can now walk for ten minutes every day. You get the idea.

The key is to start and then keep raising the bar one tiny bit at a time so that it always feels easy and fun and never difficult. This works because you are activating the power of momentum. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. The reverse of inertia –a body at rest (eating chocolates on the sofa) tends to stay at rest!

The secret to success is to get yourself out of inertia and into momentum.

The good news is that it only takes the tiniest bit of movement to create momentum. Yes, clearing that fridge door might just spur you on to tackling the next tiny bit of clutter a day or so later. Before you know it, bit by bit, you’ll have tidied up the whole house. What surprised me is the contagious effect.

I started clearing out my office which is above the garage and not even attached to the house. I did clear the kitchen fridge door off in the house, but that was it. Then, my 12-year old, who has pack-rat tendencies much like my own, without prompting and more amazingly, without asking for any help from me, decided to tidy up her playroom and cleared out all the old children’s books she no longer wanted –three boxes of books and other knickknacks. All she asked me to do was to help her move the empty bookcase and find the cardboard boxes. A minor miracle given she used to cry if I tried to part her from a toy. Another win for marginal gains.

Then my husband decided to clear out the garage and mow the lawn which, by the way, is the trick to making the whole garden look tidy!

You don’t have to force people, just focus on your own stuff and get out of the way.


“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

–Lao Tzu

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