I recently stumbled across a blog post which resonated with my personal preferences in how I like to work towards goals. The article is: This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened by James Clear.
In the article James discusses the idea of looking for ways to make very small improvements in many seemingly insignificant aspects of life which together over time add up to surprisingly large gains. He calls this ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ and points out that despite ‘success’ often being measured as a single defining moment, the path to get there is comprised of many small decisions and habits repeated daily which eventually build upon each other to create large overall change:
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. (This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened by James Clear).
I found the article particularly inspiring because for where I am at in life now, the idea of making large changes seems too overwhelming to face so I procrastinate and put off any commitment to improvement because it just looks way to big to be attainable. However, I can cope with the idea of making a 1% change, that looks more within my grasp.
Another concept relating to habit change which links nicely with the aggregation of marginal gains is that of ‘keystone habits’ introduced by Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit’. Duhigg states:
Some habits, say researchers, are more important than others because they have the power to start a chain reaction, shifting other patterns as they move through our lives. Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. This, then, is the answer of where to start: focus on keystone habits, those patterns that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other habits (The Right Habits by Charles Duhigg).
The concepts of the aggregation of marginal gains and keystone habits dovetail together to map out a pathway to change: Figure out what habits will cause chain reactions of positive change and then work on making small 1% (ish) improvements in those habits.
Exactly which habits will be best to focus on will vary between people and depend upon what your goals in life are. Some suggestions gleaned from around the interwebs are; exercise, sleep, journaling, friendships, diet, saving money. I would also add to this prayer and Bible meditation.
When I consider what I want my life to become and how far I am from causing it be be reality, the changes required are enormous. Yet if I can make small, 1% improvements in key habits it is possible to begin shifting the path I’m on towards the life I want to be living. This approach maintains a view of the goal, while also being realistic about the reality of life as it actually is.