Tag Archives: marginal gains

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

I read this blog post a couple of years ago and the concept has stuck with me.  The idea of lots of 1% improvements to take you to the next level.  I think holds a lot of value in thinking about life and fitness.  If you were to take each thing in your day and make it a little better, your whole life would be improved.  Big changes are hard, little changes are easy.  For example, Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, once mentioned that he takes a “3-breath break” from time to time.  He finds it extremely difficult to spend 10 minutes meditating and gets lost trying to count to ten breaths.  So instead of doing no meditation because it’s too hard, he simplified to taking a few 3-breath breaks throughout the day to calm his mind.  marginal-gains

Find it too hard to exercise every day and find yourself doing nothing?  How about doing a pushup or a squat?  Certainly you can do that.  How about once in the morning first thing and once before bed? Easy.  The point is you’re not going to get fitter doing 1 pushup and 1 squat a day but going from zero to one is a huge hurdle.  Once you are over the hurdle things get a lot easier.

If your email inbox is getting too full start unsubscribing from one email list a day.  Over time it will unclutter your inbox.

People struggle with making huge diet changes all at once.  Instead drink one less soda a day.  Eat one more serving of vegetables.  Order a salad instead of fries.  Instead of chicken covered in bread crumbs get grilled chicken.

I love the way this philosophy is built into CrossFit.  On any given day you are going to do either gymnastics, weightlifting or monostructural activities and going to challenge yourself to do more reps, more weight and/or go faster.  You are going to work at an intensity that is high enough for you to cause your body to adapt.  You won’t adapt all at once, you will adapt a little tiny bit across any and all of these 10 General Physical Skills: Strength, Cardio-Respiratory Endurance, Stamina, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Accuracy, Agility, and Balance. Eventually, the synergistic effect will be a level of fitness that is broad, general, and inclusive.

Expanding this out to life, we just need to make small gains every day in each area with respect to family, work, friends, and community to continue to grow and get better.

What I find happens is a snow ball effect. As you start to make small changes, the next wave of changes become easier.  You start eating more vegetables and then you start remembering to take your fish oil.  You start drinking more water and then you start exercising more.  You start exercising more and then you start meditating more.  Eventually you get in the flow of doing little things to improve yourself and find less ways to sabotage yourself.

Are You Buying a Drill or a Hole?

As a person in the fitness industry, I am often asked “what do you think of this exercise?” While my thoughts on various exercises run the gamut, I am more concerned with people’s mindset. A good friend of mine said, “A person doesn’t buy a drill because they want a drill. They buy the drill because they want a hole.” Most likely, you don’t give a shit about a certain exercise, and neither do I, what you are really asking me is, “Will this exercise help me reach my goal?” And your goal may be to lose weight, get stronger, look better or whatever. Chances are one exercise is not going to magically get you to your goal.

So instead of talking about what exercise will get you to your goal, let’s talk about your goal and really look at it. Do you think this new sit up variation is really going to help you look great for swimsuit season? Chances are no. You probably have to look at your nutrition as well as your entire fitness regimen and come up with a plan beyond ‘do more crunches.’

It’s like asking your financial planner ‘what do you think of this stock?’ Chances are your financial planner is shaking their head because you think buying 100 shares of some stock is going to make you rich while at the same time you constantly max out your credit cards and outspend your income and exceed your budget.

You have to look at the goal and the whole system. Life is not linear. There is no single variable that we can change to suddenly become awesome. It’s a lot of little things all added together that makes improvements and gets us to our goals. Sure, one good thing can lead to another but don’t fall into the trap of discarding one thing after another endlessly looking for that magic bullet that will fix it all. Success is an additive process: do one positive thing, then another and another until you succeed. Don’t stop until that happens.