I seem to always be blabbering on about how important it is to apply attention, intention and in-tension to the ‘macros of life’…those pesky ‘elephant in the room’ macro-habits that will, fundamentally positively or negatively shape our physical and mental wellbeing. Depending of course if we stack our deck of habit-cards in our favour, or not.

Making profound, wholesale changes to areas of our life, especially changes that conflict with those ingrained habits that we have been doing for decades, is a daunting experience.
Daunting due to the scope of the task.
And daunting due to the amount of ‘exertion’ required – the self-discipline, the process of un-learning & re-learning, and the uncomfortable uncertainty of doing something ‘new’…the ‘exertion’ that’s going to be required if our approach & execution is to remain steadfast, rather than a undelivered promise, similar to the ones we can make each New Year.

So, how can we train ourselves, how can we gently, kindly but with measured intention and in-tension develop our resilience-skills with the view of tackling some of the bigger personal projects we’re “keen” to ‘sort out’ at some stage in the near future?

Rather than taking on the whole ‘daunting-task’ at hand into our cross-hairs at once, what about if we demanded a little less from ourselves and focused on getting a little bit better each & everyday, improving incrementally…say 1% better each day?

Would this perceivably less-demanding approach be more attractive, but possibly less effective?

I mentioned the importance of positive stress testing a few weeks back, this week I’m going to suggest applying this process with another ‘technique’ called ‘marginal gains’.

The idea being that applying a little bit of positive stress (focused exertion) to a small project/task  – and then incrementally building upon those small projects as you get better, stronger, and more confident.

What are Marginal Gains?
“The philosophy of marginal gains is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together”.

Marginal gains ‘gained’ huge exposure when a chap by the name of Sir Dave Braislfordbecame performance director of British Cycling. HIs approach, with the view of creating a world dominant cycling team – something which the Poms had never achieved.
So he set about breaking down the objective of winning races into its component parts. Brailsford believed that if it was possible to make a 1% improvement in a whole host of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being hugely significant.

He was on the look-out for all the weaknesses in the team’s assumptions, all the latent problems, so he could improve on each of them.
For example:
He made improvements to the testing wind tunnel
Noticed the floor in the mechanic area was dirty, so had it painted pristine white, in order to spot any impurities
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
When he became general manager of Team Sky, he redesigned the team bus to improve comfort and recuperation.
They started to probe deeper into untested assumptions, such as the dynamic relationship between the intensity of the warm-down and speed of recovery. As they learned more, they identified (more weaknesses) and created further marginal gains.

Each weakness was not a threat, but an opportunity to make adaptations, and create marginal gains.
And rapidly, they began to accumulate.

[The difference a tiny improvements can make over time is astounding.
Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty‐seven times better by the time you’re done.
Conversely, if you get 1percent worse each day for one year,
you’ll decline nearly down to zero]

To cut a long story short:
Team GB used to be also-rans in world cycling. Indeed, one pundit described the operation as “a laughing stock”. But in the last two Olympics, Team GB has captured 16 gold medals and British riders have won the Tour De France three times in the last four years.

This is the power of a questioning mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement.

>>>>>>check out this 4min interview with Sir Dave Braislford<<<<<<<<<<

Obviously as the results show, this approach can have such a dramatic effect in the field of sport…what could it do beyond sport…something like…how we execute our approach improving our own mental and physical health & wellbeing, our mindfulness, or our career?

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As I’ve eluded to in previous posts ‘humans’ are self-motivated and fulfilled by getting stuff done, it’s by over-coming barriers, hurdles and working our way around, through and over obstacles is where we achieve that sense of accomplishment & confidence…it’s where we begin shine.

What’s In It For Me?
So if we were to audit our own weaknesses, and or, areas for improvement, and apply the 1% betterment strategy to those said areas – where would we see our ‘gains’, our ROI on our investment, in our invested-exertion?
Aside from improvement to the specific task your were focused on, you will see marked improvements in your:
– Self control
– Resilience
– Pride
– Motivation & Commitment
– Discipline
– Stress levels reduced
– Mindfulness, and ability to be more ‘present’
– Self awareness…you’re learning how you operate.
…bloody handy ‘life-skilling’ I’d say

Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
—Jim Rohn

So what are some examples, & potential ‘health & wellbeing outcomes’ of how we can 1% positively stress test ourselves by applying the marginal gains approach?

1. Time Restricted Eating (TRE) : The Goal “Eat Less Calories”
We can all tend to eat too much, and pretty much find ourselves consuming some form of calorie from the time we get up, till the time we go to bed…or near-about.
Reducing our ‘eating-window’ time frame not only hugely benefits our gut health, reduces inflammation & improves sleep, but improves our self-control which can then be applied to other challenges.
Audit your current consumption time frame, and then begin to slowly reduce that ‘eating & drinking window’ down to 12 hours, then to 10 hours, 9 hours etc till you find a ‘window’ that suits your lifestyle.
Your immediate focus is the ‘eating-window’, once you’ve achieved your desired time-frame, then you can work on food quantity and food quality. Even without changing food quantity or food quality, I can guarantee you will see & feel profound change.

2. Put The Phone Down: The Goal “Create Time”
I can confidently say that we all spend way too much time on our phones and devices. So here is a perfect opportunity to again apply and exercise self-discipline, by actively reducing the amount of time we pick up our phones.
Challenge yourself put your device(s) on airplane mode and not to look at your phone for the last 1-2 hours before bed, and 1-2 hours when you first wake up.
Another option is to be disciplined and leave your phone at home when you exercise, or go for a walk, or dare I say…when out socialising
Our devices are, I think, detrimentally impacting our ability to focus and connect, practicing this self-discipline alone will have profound impact on your time and wellbeing.
TIP: If you think about it, this is a form of TRE – so could even sync your TRE with wth device usage or TRDU (Time Restricted Device Usage…can you tell I just made that up?)

3. Go to Bed Earlier, Get Up Earlier: The Goal “Improve Every Aspect of Your Wellbeing”
A consistent (meaning 7 days a week) ‘go to bed time’ and ‘wake up time’ routine is an absolutely essential tool to optimise our sleep. Improving our sleep routine discipline will also encourage us to limit or reduce our exposure to our TV’s and devices that emit sleep disruptive blue-light. Some of us are larks, some of us are night-owls, everybody else fits somewhere along the spectrum…find your spot on the spectrum and try to stick to it as regularly, and when & where possible.
TIP: You could sync your sleep schedule with your phone usage & TRE

4. Elimination Diet: The Goal “Learn What YOUR Body Doesn’t Like YOU Consuming
Suffering uncontrollable cravings, being continually/regularly hungover (+ the associated grumpy, fatigued, unmotivated outlook associated with alcohol consumption), gut & bowel problems, inflamed, reddish skin, fluctuating moods, inability to sleep, sluggish and poor energy levels, ‘could’ all be a result of the foods and beverages you’re eating, or in some cases, not eating.
A simple and very effective way for you to learn what YOUR body likes and dislikes (not your tastebuds) is conducting an Elimination diet <<<< I’ve attached a link for more information, but if you require other, simpler approaches to an elimination diet process do not hesitate to let me know.

5. Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol: The Goal “Enhance Your Outlook” 
It will come to no surprise to those that read my weekly word salad that I am an advocate, verging on evangelist, for a reduction or elimination of alcohol. This one habit-change is life-changing – improving every aspect of your mental and physical wellbeing.
If your goal is achieving effortless self-care, then removing or vastly reducing your alcohol intake is a major key. If you wish to continue to battle with your demons, be challenged to enact betterment change for the longterm, and be victim and slave to your past…then continue consuming alcohol…too evangelical?
Give your mind and body a rest and initiate periods free from alcohol – start gently, and be patient with yourself.

6. Prioritise Education over Entertainment: The Goal “Reduce Noise, Distraction & Opinion”
Reducing our exposure to ‘news’, social media and opinion will only harvest a calmer mind, but also deliver you ‘more time’ to pursue the things you want, and things that matter. As we get older we should encourage ourselves to rethink and unlearn, two things ‘news’ opinion, social media and mindless-over-exposure to content will void us of that motivation.

As Adam Grant said in his excellent book Think Again: “if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again”.

7. Walk more: The Goal Increase Movement and Opportunity to Practice Breath Work.
Walking is the best for of active meditation. Leave the phone at home and use your walks as an opportunity to practice your breathing, and engage with the joy of the natural elements. Audit your day and see where you can instigate more opportunities to get outside and walk. (again leaving phone at home, or well out of arms reach)

8. Learn a new training technique: Demand More of Your Body – It’ll Thank You.
Strength training is another terrific form of active meditation. Combining movement with the view of increasing your lean muscle mass is not only critical for our longevity, but also instilling positive stress to improve our physical and mental resilience.
If you’re new to training, download a timer, and commit just 4-8 minutes a day, and build from there. Again, if you need some advice or recommendations, or you’d like me to dedicate a post to actual exercises and programs do not hesitate to let me know.

9. Cook More / Learn New Recipes: The Goal Teach Yourself Nourishment & Satiation 
Home cooking, learning to cook, dedicating more time to sharing food with those that we love is the best way to ensure the traditions of cooking and eating well are persevered – as I tend to think this essential ancestral lifestyle habit is beginning to wane.
There is no better way to ‘habit-stack’ an activity that encourages present-mindedness, nutrition, self-care, connection, breath-work…peeling spuds takes on a whole new level of nowbeing   

10. Journalling: The Goal Time For Reflection, Accountability and a Daily Reminder of your Task(s) At Hand.
Taking some time each day, at a time that suits your schedule, to sit quietly and reflect, write and air your thoughts, dreams and aspirations will have a profound impact on your life. Journalling has been to referred to as self-psychoanalysis. It’s a tool I’ve been using for years and it provides me with the perfect platform to not only ask myself some big-arse ‘hairy’ questions, but to remind myself to keep my attention on the areas that require my intention.

Some Key Take-Aways
– Start small and make your increases gradual.
– Avoid the temptation to get impatient and start rushing forward and taking bigger leaps.
– Take it slow, steady, and consistent…practice patience
– Simply try to do a little bit better than you did the day before – acknowledge your improvements and ‘celebrate the small wins’

The bottom line is this…dramatic changes will be realised if you implement small, simple achievable, scalable actions that are repeatable. It’s the cumulative gains of each of these 1percenters that end up being hugely significant.

Action
Set yourself some challenges each day for the next 30-60 days.
I’d encourage identifying a couple of ares of your life that you’d like to improve – this could include health, fitness, career, socially, or mindfully.
Be realistic and dedicate, allocate and commit the time for you to execute.
Seek ways to make the good habits seamless to apply, whist actively creating as much friction between you and the habits you’re trying to reduce or eliminate.
Create a Daily Routine – One of the best ways to initiate this approach is to structure a new daily routine that includes your chosen ‘margin-gain’ actions. Dedicate 2% of your day (30min) to execute your outcomes.

Fin
I think, as we grow up and get older, we all have the propensity to slowly self-layer ourselves with the 1 percenters – a lot of these 1 percenters happen to be thinking and doing habits that are contrary to our mental and physical wellbeing…forms of medication & distraction that keep us comfortably at arms length from ourselves.
Do we stay as is, or look at ways to challenge and improve ourselves – no matter what age we are?
I guess this then begs the question ‘do each of us, those of us in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc create time in our day so that we can audit and identify the parts of ourselves that we the view to implement change?’

Our ‘weaknesses and strengths’, our ‘good habits and bad habit’, our ‘positive thoughts and negative thoughts’, our joy and our suffering…are all just different sides of the same coin.

We can view and approach our “weaknesses” not as a threat, but as an opportunity to adapt. Adapt by seeking and leaning into our weaknesses and executing a feasible strategy to befriend and improve…1% at a time.
This is the power of a questioning & growth mindset and a commitment to continuously improving your futureself by taking action NOW. 

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Did you find this article useful?
I’d love your feedback, so please do not hesitate to let me know your thoughts.
You would of noticed this post was much more succinct that my usual word-salads – if this shorter format is preferred, please, I’d love to know.

And of course…if you or a friend or family member would like some advice on bespoke habit strategies & pragmatic ‘structures’ to improve your sleep, stress management, strength, levels of sobriety, or nutrition…do not hesitate to let me know.

Thank you
Luke 🙏