Aggregate Marginal Gain: Small Steps to Big Change

ImageI am a journaler. When I have a moment alone to read or pray, I have to write things down. Sometimes I feel like my thoughts don’t count unless they come out of my brain down onto paper or onto the computer. When we moved, my husband was frustrated with me for wanting to cart a box of journals I had written that I never read across state lines. I just couldn’t get rid of all those old thoughts and memories. Surely they will be meaningful at some point in my life, right?

When we moved I perused through a few of my journals as I packed to see what I had been dealing with 10-15 years ago. Recently I ran across some more deep thoughts from the last year or so. Here is the sad truth. I…have…not…changed. Much.

Have you ever noticed that there are some things that you continue to have to ask God to improve on? The same things have been coming and going in my life for years. Patience, self-control, fear, selfishness, envy, patience, self-control, fear, self-control, selfishness, self-control, envy, self-control, etc.

The problem I have is in the little things that I have been begging God to change in me. Things like how I get distracted when I pray, I eat things that I am not hungry just for fun, I get easily frustrated with my kids, and so many other things like that. They are in my journal today and they were in my journal 10 years ago! I beat myself up unmercifully. Then often I just give in and give up trying to chase all these dreams of change.

I recently came across the term “Aggregation of Marginal Gain”. Apparently in the last summer Olympics the coach for Great Britain’s cycling team, Dave Brailsford, used this method of “identifying small performance factors that, when aggregated together, can have a significant cumulative impact” as stated from this article. He improved every aspect of his cyclist’s game by a margin of just 1%. He made small changes to every thing they were doing. They optimized things like his nutrition, seat, tires, training schedule each by a small about, but all those changes added up to a big result. This method is now also being used in other sectors. I’ve seen it mentioned in articles on finances, business management, and school improvement.

I think I can look back at my life and see that I am not really the same after all these years. I am changed, but it has been in the small advances, changing small things a little at a time. I would never have run a half marathon or written a book if it hadn’t been for all those small changes. A big vision or dream is important, but breaking it down into the small steps to get there makes success more attainable.

The other thing I took from this concept was hope. I realized that even if my success for the day isn’t huge, it is still part of the bigger picture. All my successes add up. On the other side, I should be cautious of small negative changes. They can add up as well, but I can cut them off before they do.

In parenting our kids through public school, I think this is a great concept to consider. If you are looking for a big change for your child, consider helping them with many small advances to see if it leads to overall success. For example, if you are talking about grades or behavior at school, perhaps it means tightening up 1% on the amount of sleep they are getting, the amount of time studying, lessening the amount of video gaming, increase the amount of reading time, upping the nutrition level of their snacks. All these small changes could give your child what he needs to reach the next level. I think small successes along the way give hope and energize the next change.

Schools and teachers are also using this method. If you are involved with your school or parent group, perhaps taking this hopeful technique to them and sharing how to break down your mission into small improvable pieces, it would give direction and small steps of success to make some of those looming goals possible to achieve.

This will surely help me with my new year goals of writing more and self-control with food, making some marginal lifestyle changes that will aggregate into overall success! Where could you benefit from using this method? Leave a comment.

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About Shawna Wright

Shawna Wright has three daughters currently in 4th, 7th, and 9th grades. While she graduated college with a degree in Chemical Engineering, she chose to stay home and begin raising her family. She and her husband, Michael, purposefully chose to put their children in the public school system with much prayer and perseverance. Shawna volunteers in the local school district. She is also a hobby web designer, writer, speaker, graphic artist and Director of Communications at her church. Her heart's desire is to be a light in her community and help her own children to be lights in theirs.
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