James Clear’s Atomic Habits: Small Improvements

Small improvements that make a big difference: looking at the aggregation of marginal gains by James Clear by Bodyshot Performance.

It’s the second in our four-part series on building healthy habits from the work of James Clear. Last week, we discussed identity: who do you want to be? Next, I want to explore the idea of being just one percent better. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about how making small improvements in many areas can have a major impact when put together. We call this the aggregation of marginal gains.

The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains

The aggregation of marginal gains is a concept made famous by Sir Dave Brailsford, former principal of the Sky Cycling Team. When he first started working with them, they were performing badly and not winning any medals as a result. But he didn’t just come in and start making wholesale changes. Instead, he set out to make one percent improvements in all the areas that matter to a successful cycling team. And that’s exactly what he did.

So, he made a small improvement to hygiene, enlisting surgeons to show them how to properly wash their hands and reduce illness. He had chefs visit to show them how to prepare food in the healthiest possible way. He improved the athletes’ bedding to optimise their recovery. He even had the walls inside the bike trailer painted white, to show where dirt was accumulating. This further reduced the risk of colds and other types of infections.

A One Percent Change

“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 one percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Sir Dave Brailsford

Sure enough, these small improvements, the firmness of a pillow and the duration of hand-washing, made a big difference. How do we know? Because the Sky Cycling Team became hugely successful after that, which they partly attribute to the work of Sir Dave Brailsford. 

Hopefully by now you’ve identified the person you want to be and the healthy habits you’re going to build. This next step is about where you can make a one percent change to get closer to that goal. So, what areas can you improve slightly, so that when aggregated, these differences make a significant impact?

Wellbeing Resources

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