Marginal Gains

We are obsessed with big.

No other example is needed than our infatuation with the large, life-changing resolution we make during New Year’s. We commit ourselves to large goals in different areas of our lives constantly: health, relationships, habits, spiritual formations, job success, and many others.

I recently came across a philosophy of change and growth from an unlikely place, but from which I believe we can learn much. The term used for this philosophy is “marginal gains” and was created by Sir David Brailsford [1],  a cycling coach for Great Britain. The basic idea is that we condition ourselves to evaluate every aspect of a given desired area and look to improve in several marginal ways. If we were to improve slightly in many areas, then when combining all of these marginal improvements, it would equal substantial growth compared to making one large change.

I liken this idea to the two ways we know in which wealth is accrued. One way is to sell one product that is worth a large quantity of money, such as cars, property, or entire businesses. But the other way in which to gain wealth is to sell a large stock of small valued items with small profits, things such as candy bars, soda, and socks that over time build up into a large sum. Thinking in these terms, I believe that unbeknownst to us, we have a tendency to view our needed change by the model of large, one-time sales and wealth accumulation. Yet unlike large sales, large changes in life often don’t work. Attempting to change something drastically in our life is hindered by habit, lifestyle, time, and a lack of discipline. It is not enough to make up our mind to change. It is also not possible to make such a huge change all at once. Rather, it requires discipline day after day to see success.

That is why the idea of marginal gains challenges me. I am forced to think in terms of how can I marginally improve in many small areas of my life, looking to make ever so slight improvements in my habits. Spiritually, for instance, I know time has taught me that to make a new resolution to give one hour of prayer everyday when I have not been giving five minutes a day will probably not work out. But instead, if I look to increase my time in prayer by five minutes monthly, devote my body to a better posture of prayer, and begin to develop a prayer list, that these small steps towards growth are much more attainable and profitable.

Paul encourages us as believers to growth when he says in Ephesians 4:14-15 “We are not meant to remain as children but to grow up in every way into Christ.” My children have demonstrated this by exhibiting this principle of marginal gains daily, making small areas of growth consistently to the point that when you add them altogether they are unrecognizable after several months.

Let us take on this idea of marginal gains and apply it to many areas and expectations of our lives. Small gains are worth our pursuit and help guard ourselves from the false pursuit of rocket transformations that in the end come up failing and discouraging. 

What might marginal gains look like in your classroom?





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s