Do you remember that movie, "What About Bob?" from the early 1990's? That show really threw the whole "baby steps" movement into the limelight while it poked fun at mentally unstable people who need to take tiny, seemingly inconsequential steps forward in order to eventually make meaningful progress. It was one of those movies you love to hate and hate to love—but it stuck with me. Decades later, we still talk about "baby steps"—though I'm beyond grateful we have a much more reasonable appreciation of what people with mental health issues deal with.
The concept of baby steps, though, is a good one—which is why I think the movie, despite its faux pas, was so memorable.
Sir David Brailsford, renowned for his remarkable work with the British Cycling team in the early 2000's, has a fancier term for baby steps. He calls it the aggregation of marginal gains. It's a bit of a mouthful and makes you sound snooty when you say it aloud, but I like it better than baby steps because of each word's meaning, and the power they have when brought together.
Aggregation: a cluster of things that have come or been brought together.
Sometimes forward progression isn't forward, but sideways. Sometimes, to move forward, we actually have to take a step back. Our journey isn't always so simple, but more a collection of simple actions that together make something significant. It's not the single step that gets us where we want to go—it's the series of them.
Marginal: close to the lower limit of qualification, acceptability, or function: barely exceeding the minimum requirements.
Hardly noticeable. So small so as to be completely unremarkable. I needed to think about that for a minute. Recently a coach suggested I make a "gold star chart" for myself so I could have a visual representation of my accomplishments. The purpose is to help me recognize what little things I've done, so I can better appreciate my success in bigger things. (Because I tend to discount any recognition as not being "real" recognition. Like, "it's just local TV," and such.)
I couldn't imagine myself doing the gold star thing, but after some brainstorming, I came up with this tree and this, I think I can do. The hard part so far, is to allow myself to put "small" things on there; things I don't normally congratulate myself for.
But even those teeny tiny steps take me somewhere. They add up to something meaningful. They add up to progress.
Gain: obtain or secure (something desired, favorable, or profitable).
This one's more obvious. Or is it? Do you know what you want to gain? Do you recognize when you have gained something? And I'm not talking pounds here. Unless it's the British kind. ツ
Or are you maybe a little like me, and you have a hard time recognizing when you've made progress?
I think Coach Elli was right on the money when she suggested I focus on the tiny things so that eventually I'll be able to see how those small improvements led to a larger, significant accomplishment.
And that's the point of the aggregation of marginal gain: that seemingly small and inconsequential improvements can lead to great rewards.
When Sir Brailsford took over the cycling team, they were the laughingstock of the sport. No British cyclist had won the Tour de France in over 110 years and bike manufacturers refused to sell them bikes for fear of being associated with such mediocrity. The team had seemingly tried everything, from changing up their training regimens to sinking enormous resources into cutting-edge technology. Nothing worked.
Then came Sir Brailsford with a (seemingly) bizarre approach. The team broke down literally every single element that contributed to their performance, or lack thereof. Athletes got sick often? Learn how to properly wash your hands. Gears stuck despite every attempt to fix them? Paint the storage trailer white so they dust can be more easily seen.
Nothing was too small to be considered for improvement.
In the two decades since Sir Brailsford joined the team, the British cyclists have won the Tour de France six times. In the past four Olympics, Great Britain has been the most successful country across all cycling disciplines.
The athletes had always been stellar, the best of the best. The equipment was top notch. Their drive and desire for success was never in question. Yet it wasn't until they focused on improving every aspect of their sport, however small, however tiny the impact, that they found the success that had eluded them for a century.
So what about us? What about YOU? What small, painless, changes can you make in your life that will help you get where you want to go? Because even a 1% improvement makes a difference. Especially if you improve twenty different things just one percent—that's a 20% improvement!
I'm still figuring it all out. I'm going to add little accomplishment leaves to my tree, and continue to keep my eyes and mind open to areas where I can make even the smallest of improvements.
I truly believe that...
"...by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes" (Alma 37:6-7)
What small changes will you make to become the person you were meant to be?