In an ever-changing world, it seems that everyone is heading somewhere, everyone has somewhere they want to be, or somewhere better to be and in many cases someone they wish they could be.
This striving for greatness, to be better than we perceive we are is what makes us human, it is how we have evolved to dominate our planet, seeking to build and yearning to discover in everything we do.
While everyone around us seems to be heading on a journey of self-growth and personal development, for some of us this can feel a little intimidating. Not all of us have it all worked out, not all of us have a plan.
Sometimes I have to travel for work, this is not as fun as it sounds, believe me. It mainly consists of sitting on the train people watching. I see the guys in their polished shoes, impeccable suits and gleaming cuff links, I see the women in their pretty shoes and perfectly matching handbags and I wonder, how are they so put together. Why am I the only one frantically trying to air out the sweat patches, self-consciously tugging on my clothes in the hope that simply pulling on the creases will make my shirt suddenly appear ironed. How is it that other people can casually open their bag to take something out without having gravity suck out all of the contents on to the floor every single time. What do they have that I just don’t?
I spent ages trying to figure this out, trying to find the secret to their success. Wondering how some people seem to have it sussed while others are just grateful to make it through the day in one piece.
Did they just go all out, balls to the wall hyper motivated and overachieving in everything they do? Is that their secret? Or are they laser focused on one part of their lives, while behind the scenes everything else is in chaos. Is hitting something hard, throwing your all into it and making it work, out of sheer determination, the key? I wasn't convinced.
So, one day instead of staring at other people on the train I did some research and stumbled across an article about Sir David Brailsford, the former Performance Director of British Cycling and now the head man at the ultra-successful Team Sky professional cycling team. Hear me out, I am heading somewhere with this.
Now, Dave Brailsford had been widely credited for single handedly transforming the success of the teams and the article was outlining how he did it. What did he do to change a mediocre performance into one that put them at the top of the Olympic table three consecutive times? How did he then create a team that won the Tour De France six years out of seven and with three different British riders (until then no Brit had won it, not even once!)
Sir David puts the success down to marginal gains. No it is not a type of super juice or protein powder it is quite simply, an approach. An approach that meant looking at the small things that could make a difference instead of trying to change everything in one drastic unsustainable movement.
The small things he looked at were the elements that were often overlooked as they were perceived to be too small to be relevant. He knew that small things when combined, become the building blocks of a great performance. For example, knowing that the athletes needed to be fresh and ready on race day he didn't do a complete diet and self-care overhaul, he simply made small adjustments to the athletes sleeping arrangements and frequency, even to the extent of taking their own bedding to each hotel.
Additionally, he knew that ensuring the bikes were in the very best condition possible provides a competitive advantage but there are only so many upgrades that can be made to a bike. So instead, he focused on the small almost minùte changes that he could make, from perfecting the wheel alignment to the complete elimination of dust and debris.
These small changes or 'marginal gains' when combined became so powerful they created momentum and set a course for slow consistent change and with it ultimate lasting performance.
Reading this article had me inspired, I dug in my bag for a pen and notepad, I obviously had to stop at this stage and gather the bag contents from the floor again, but once that was done I started reading up on marginal change and how it can be implemented in our own lives. Can it be woven into the fabric of our playtime and our work time? How we can apply marginal change to solidify a habit, to create a course of action and gain momentum? I was scribbling notes frantically sure I was on to something.
All of the information I found seemed to lean towards committing to achieving a 1% margin of improvement in everything we do. Sounds a little intense I know but stop and think for a moment. Consider the perspective that every habit you have built over the years, good or bad, is the result of many small decisions. Decisions so tiny they are imperceptible, so seemingly irrelevant that we do them without thought.
What if we made sure that our decisions were instead, mindful. We could ensure that many of the habits we are forming are good habits over unwanted ones. Jim Rohn (American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker) once said “Success is a few simple decisions, practiced every day while failure is simply a few errors in judgement repeated every day. There is power in small wins and slow gains."
With this fresh perspective I had a think about what areas of my life I could be more mindful in my decision-making process and where I can implement micro changes to re-calibrate my focus, realign what is important and really focus on what I want to achieve.
Obviously being a little bit more put together was one of them. I wanted to be a little more polished like those on the train, but I know myself well enough. A makeover and a new wardrobe were not going to fix it, I could make a ball gown look untidy, so the change had to be small, it had to be a minor routine change to make it last. By the time I had successfully chewed the end of my pen off I had it!
I decided that if I set my alarm 20 minutes earlier each morning then I would have time to 'adult' effectively before I woke the rest of the household even if it was just to run an iron over my shirt or tame my hair into something other than a bird’s nest. Yes, that seemed like a change that I could probably stick to.
Another area of my life that I wanted to develop was still sort of along the self-care lines, but more development based. I wanted to make time for progressive reading. Reading to gain insight, advice, or knowledge. Reading that would benefit not only my own peace of mind but also my career. I was not prepared to give up my hour of reading fiction at bedtime and dedicate it to learning. Nope that was not going to be sustainable, I love story time too much for that. Instead, I compromised.
Stories are way more important to me than music is, so I resolved to switch my Spotify membership for an Audible membership. Then every time that I would usually listen to music whether it is in the car, on a train, cooking the dinner or walking the dog I would be listening to a narrator read a book to me from my ‘progressive’ reading list instead. Perfect, this was small, manageable and achievable.
A year later I can proudly and honestly hold my hands up and say this one works people! If you try any newfangled self-help fashionable fad this Autumn, please make it this one.
I still do both of these things, I actually changed my morning routine from getting up 20 minutes earlier to 30 and then to 45 minutes so I have time for a cup of tea in peace while the house is silent and the opportunity to pack my bag properly, so I can finally avoid the dreaded bag spill.
I am always working on finding other areas where I can make micro changes, especially when it comes to blending my work with my home life. Some of them are small and focus more on doing something thoroughly, others are about taking time out and some are career oriented.
What about you, what micro changes could you implement in your life? What do you do on your lunch break or on your commute to work? Could you be spending 20 minutes of this time learning something new, sketching, writing or researching? Just 20 minutes, 5 times a week would result in 100 minutes a week of time you have spent progressing something. Over the course of a month you will have bagged over 7 hours of development time and in a year, nearly 90 hours. Could you learn a language? Or perhaps work your way through the top 100 must read books of all time? Could you develop a skill that could help you in your job?
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