Small Wins, Marginal Gains: That’s How You Change Behavior in The Long Term

Habit is persistence in practice.” — Octavia Butler.

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Westend61/Getty Images

“Habit is persistence in practice.” — Octavia Butler

A few repeated actions, done everyday, so discreet that they could easily go unnoticed.

A micro-habit is a small, simple action that doesn’t require much motivation, but will help you build up to a larger goal habit.

That’s how long-term habits are formed.

That’s how you change behavior—not with a radical pursuit of good habits.

If you improve every area of your life in small steps, you will become unstoppable.

The one percent margin for improvement in everything you do is one of the best ways to build new habits.

It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.

Everything meaningful takes time.

Overnight success is a myth.

You can’t achieve extraordinary results without putting in the work consistently.

Almost every habit that you have built over the years — good or bad — is the result of many small decisions you have made over time.

Improving by just one percent isn’t noticeable, but it makes the most difference.

Jim Rohn once said, “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day, while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. ​There is power in small wins and slow gains.”

The differences between expert performers, creatives, and normal professionals reflect a life-long persistence of deliberate, purposeful effort to improve performance.

Tiger Woods started when he was two years old.

Serena Williams started playing at three, Venus Williams at four.

They committed to deep, sustained immersion in purposeful practice.

Small gains every day.

Commander Hadfield, the astronaut, improved his skills every day for 20 years before getting into space.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote every day for 25 years before he had a major bestseller.

Mozart had clocked up 3500 hours by the time he was six and had studied his chosen profession for 18 years before he wrote his Piano concerto No. 9 at the age of 21.

Einstein spent almost all his productive life working on the theory of relativity.

Nobody wins in huge bursts.

“Landing on your butt twenty thousand times is where great performance comes from,” Geoff Calvin says.

One mistake people make over and over when they want to get more done or achieve a goal is trying to do too much all at once.

Productivity is a process, not an achievement.

The most productive people you know or have read about do not rely on huge bursts and then stop working.

They grow constantly in tiny, almost invisible increments.

This is the Japanese process of kaizen, or continuous, gradual progress.

Kaizen can be used to build new habits or change bad ones.

The same process applies to starting a business or learning something new.

It is better to make an imperfect, incomplete start with a new app or project and become one percent more efficient tomorrow than to wait until you have fully researched your options or understand the industry to take action.

Instead of trying to do everything within the shortest time, focus on one percent increments.

Habits don’t change in a day.

But one percent a day makes every habit work. 

If you relax and give yourself permission to only improve a little each day, then a good habit works.

​Practice makes habits.​

If you insist on changing your habits within the shortest possible time, you are bound to fail.

​Pick the easiest change, improve it each day by one percent and don’t stop until it’s routine. That’s how change happens. ​

Do not underestimate the power of micro-improvements.

Improving by one percent every day or week is achievable — regardless of your circumstances.

If you’re currently encountering resistance with your goals, remember the words of Karen Lamb: “A year from now, you will have wished you’d started today”.

Want to set a micro-pattern?

Dig deeper

You can’t achieve big goals without breaking them down. Seek improvement one day at a time. I will be launching a new simple course to help you master the Kaizen principles for making good habits last for good. All the micro life and work habits you need to live a better, smarter, and more fulfilling life. Sign up to be notified when it launches.

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