One day, and I don’t remember how, I discovered the work of James Clear, the author and photographer (JamesClear.com). He uses a lot of science-based research in his articles and books, and as a former statistics professor, I appreciate that greatly. By his own description, he writes about how to live better, and his theory is that “the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: start with yourself and work your way out from there.”
He had me hooked from the first article I read, “This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened.” It was an excerpt from his New York Times bestselling book, “Atomic Habits.”
I’m just going to copy the beginning of his article because I can’t improve upon it at all. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing (link above) and consider buying his book.
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 more aerodynamic.
But they didn’t stop there. Brailsford and his team continued to find 1 percent improvements (click to see also, The Pareto Principle) 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.
I probably don’t have to tell you the ending. Within five years, the marginal improvements added up and they dominated the cycling events at the Olympic Games, with lots of medals, and then again at the next Olympics, and then set all kinds of records. The team also went on to win five Tour de France victories in six years.
I’ll make this quick and painless: don’t tell me your New Year’s resolutions. Tell me ten areas of your business or personal life that you are going to improve 1% this year. And don’t forget to look in unexpected places. Here are mine:
1. I am going to stand up 1% straighter. I’m a sloucher. Probably because I’m tall. But my mom slouches too, and she’s much shorter than I am. Believe it or not, it feels like a lot of work for me to keep my shoulders back. I started working on this last year and I feel like I’ve made good progress. This is an “unexpected place” skill. You may think it’s not really that important in the whole big scheme of things, but if I am doing speaking events around the country and getting paid for them, which I am, then I have to look confident. I have to stand up straight.
2. I’m going to call people 1% more. Most people don’t like to call people, myself included. But it’s inefficient sometimes to text or email someone and try to set up an appointment to call them, when you can just call them. If it’s an inconvenient time, they won’t pick up — no big deal. Usually they will. I wrote an important email today. If the intended recipient doesn’t get back to me before end of day Monday, I’m going to call her. I didn’t tell her that in the email. I’m just going to do it.
3. I’m going to do my bookkeeping 1% better. I’m going to tackle it at the end of each month — put everything into Quickbooks instead of at the end of the year. It will help me with my budgets too. Good budgets mean better money management and less worry.
4. I’m going to do a 1% better job responding to people who follow me on Instagram. I already started this and my followers went up 63% in one week. An unexpected result. If I want to do collabs with people and prove to the media and event planners that I am relevant and increase my sales and bookings through Instagram, I have to increase my following. This is my demographic more than any other social media — mothers with young kids who care enormously that their children are healthy.
5. Speaking of kids, I’m going to talk to my (grown) kids 1% more. Actually I want it to be more than that. But at the very least, I’ll call them more and when we’re talking, talk to them longer, travel to see them, spend more get together time here, more family dinners, etc. I want to spend more time with them. It’s an important part of my new Passion Planner roadmap.
6. Ditto for my mom.
7. I want to improve my HA1C by .5. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a type 1 diabetic. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to my new insulin pump. I’ve got to do better. If I don’t, nothing else will matter.
8. Accomplish 1% more things on my to-do list every week. If I have finished and crossed off 100 things I need to cross off one more thing.
9. I need to do at least 1% more school book-selling events. Originally my goal was four by the end of the first quarter. Then I multiplied that by 10 — so 40. Now I need to do 41. More than 1% but close enough.
10. I need to sell 1% more books for 2019. My original goal was 10,001 books. I accomplished that last year and increased it to 100,001. Now I’m going to increase that 1% — a thousand more books. 101,001.
What ten things are you going to improve by 1% this year?