How To Use Small Gains To Optimize Your Life

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1% is a small percentage.

Mathematically, this is 1 out of 100. As a decimal, 0.01.

If there were a sale for “1% off designer shoes”, we would scoff.

If our stock portfolios posted “1% dividends”, we would wrinkle our eyebrows.

If our government taxed us “1% of income”, we would jump for joy. (Also, we would start looking to see if hell had frozen over.)

In many ways, 1% seems trivial – too small to worry about.

At the exact same time, a 1% difference is all that is needed to give you an exponentially better existence, while making small changes to your daily routine.

The Power of 1%

Stop and think – What areas of your life would you like to improve?

Don’t assess how much you would like them to improve – only ponder if you would like them to improve at all.

Perhaps you want to lose fat.

Thinking about the long road ahead and the big number – “10/25/50/100 pounds” – makes that task seem incredibly difficult.

Maybe you want to be rich.

Again, the number required for “rich” ($1,000,000?) is enormous and seems insurmountable.

In order to achieve large and monumental goals, we need to do two actionable items:

  • Minimize the change.
  • Focus only on 1% improvements – “small gains”.

Minimizing the change refers to being invested in the process and not the outcome. Making a million dollars seems like an impossible dream. It seems so impossible, we are likely to give up on it, even if it can be obtained.

Instead of making the change so LARGE – ONE MILLION DOLLARS – we make the actionable steps much smaller.

Don’t have a goal of “one million dollars”, instead, have small goals of:

  • Contributing an additional $20 each year towards your investment income.
  • Making an additional $50 on each car payment to pay off your debt faster.
  • Eliminating your cable bill, opting for a cheap streaming service instead.
  • Dining out less and making your meals at home.
  • Creating an alternative revenue stream, or a side hustle.

All of those options don’t have to be carried out at the same time. Choose one and focus on it. Keep your current lifestyle the same. As you increase your revenue over the years, invest the additional income.

The changes above are each doable – and small. Over time, the small gains in money you will make begin to add up, allowing for a continuous 1% improvement.

The Law Of Compound Interest

During my career as a classroom teacher, each year, I would give my students a lesson on compound interest. I call it “How To Become A Millionaire Without Working As An Adult”.

I show them in real-life terms what would happen if they made a few thousand dollars each summer from the age of 15 to 18, and invested it intelligently for 40 years. At the age of 60, they would be millionaires.

In a class of 30, nearly all of them miss the message and instead are trying to sneak text messages to their friends. But I’m fine with that – if I can get the attention of just one student, and cause that person to be a millionaire one day, I have done my job.

Compound interest is incredibly powerful.

If we have $100, a 1% improvement gives us $101 – an increase of $1.00

If we have $101, however, a 1% improvement gives us $102.01 – an increase of $1.01.

With $102.01, a 1% improvement gives us $103.03 – an increase of $1.02.

While these differences may seem trivial, the “increasing increase” becomes substantial quickly.

If these increases were continued for 365 days – one calendar year, the original investment of $100 becomes…………

$100 * 1.01^365 = $3,774.34

The original $100 has made 37 times its initial value by improving itself 1% each day for one year.

Those original small gains are now sizable gains, as each percentage increase is worth more at every step along the way.


Small Gains In Fitness

You don’t need to go “all in” to make positive changes to your life.

Instead of focusing on how far you need to go to accomplish your ultimate goals, minimize the change. Instead, think of small, daily steps you can take to make your small gains towards your mission.

Want to lose 100 pounds?

  • First, eat at the same times each day and stick to your plan.
  • Second, make half of your plate veggies, for the fiber, fullness, and vitamins.
  • Once that is in line, count your protein macro, ensuring you have enough to maintain muscle mass.
  • Then take a close look at your carbohydrates and make sure you aren’t overeating them.
  • Etc.

After each small improvement is mastered, and that habit is in place, keep that habit and move onto the next habit.

Want to bench press 300 pounds?

  • First, create a training plan which emphasizes bench press that you can stick to long term.
  • Create progression parameters for each day – have certain criteria and once you hit the criteria, move up in weight.
  • Begin to use accessory moves (incline bench press, floor press, push-ups, dumbbell bench press, etc.) which will strengthen your pecs and provide you with more power.
  • Take a close look at your sleep and make sure you’re getting a solid 7-8 hours every night.
  • Etc.

Large goals take time, effort, and consistency to master. They do not come easy – they come only with hard work and dedication. Those large goals are not determined by the daydreamers. Those goals are determined by the doers – the people who can take each specific habit one-by-one and integrate them into their lives.

Minimize the change and begin making small gains. Take baby steps towards the new you.

The Key Components Of The Small Gains Philosophy

The keys to making small gains over time don’t completely lie in your plan or your goal. They lie more in your mindset along the way.

Keeping on your daily habits can be a chore. Especially when the initial gains are so small, they might not even be noticeable.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind to make sure your small gains are staying on the right track.

Accept your failures

Assuming your goal is reachable, your ability to achieve it will not be determined by anything other than your willingness to fail and continue course.

Failure is a part of any process oriented activity. You will have days where you screw things up royally. You will have days where you move backwards. You will have days where you doubt your ability to follow through and accomplish your goal.

By focusing on the daily habits and not the big picture, you can keep these failures in the proper perspective. When you fail, learn from it. When you find success, exploit it and use whatever measures provided you with that success.Failed-Meme

Keep the faith

It’s difficult to keep on doing something that isn’t providing you fruit. We all want what we are trying to get – and we want it now.

Any large goal isn’t going to be achieved in days. It might not be possible to achieve it in weeks, months, or even years either.

At the start of the small gains curve, the gains are very small. You might even call them minuscule. Make sure to understand that you ARE making progress and improving, even if it seems impossible to measure.

Being a millionaire isn’t as difficult as you might think. The definition of a millionaire is someone who has a net worth of $1,000,000. That’s not an income of one million, but a net worth of one million.

Assuming you get a job, you live below your means – always – and you invest intelligently, there is no reason you shouldn’t be a millionaire at the age of 60.

But even when your car breaks down, your furnace needs replacing, or your kids end up with at the dentists’ office with missing teeth, you need to continue the course. Never give up.

You will get there one day. Even if it’s not today.

Reflect Often

Reflection is necessary in order to keep your daily habits in front of you, and make sure you don’t lose sight of them.

When trying to implement a new habit, each week, ask yourself:

  • How difficult was my new habit to implement?
  • What challenges did I face when implementing this habit?
  • Did I fail in implementation, or did I show good compliance?
  • What happened on the days I failed to cause this failure?
  • Is there something I can do to minimize this failure in the future?
  • When I succeeded, what was different about those days?

Reflection is important. With reflection, there’s a good chance you will see each habit as doable and possible, increasing the chances you will make the habit permanent.


Become A Student Of The Game

Whatever your ultimate goal is, become a student of the experts in that field.

If you want to improve your fitness and health, follow those who have been in your shoes – and figured things out for themselves. Try to adopt some of their philosophies and see if they are beneficial to you.

If you want to improve your finances, follow the teachings of other, self-made men (and women) and try to apply their principles to your life.

If you want to improve your writing, read blogs of authors you find interesting, analyze their words, and try to understand why you find their pieces so compelling. Use those pieces in your own writings, and see how your readers react.

Greatness isn’t made with big, giant leaps forwards.

Greatness is made with itty-bitty, never-ending steps towards a goal.

The key to being the best you can be lies within.

Minimize the change and begin making your own small gains – today.

Yours in gains,


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