How To Make Small Changes For Big Impacts

Juan Carlos Medina, Contributor Jan. 8, 2024 Forbes

The theory of marginal gains is a concept made famous by British cycling coach Dave Brailsford in 2010. He believed that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, those small gains would add up to remarkable improvements over time…and it worked!

By applying this concept, Brailsford was able to take his team from being virtually winless to winning 16 gold medals in the Beijing Olympics, while also producing two Tour de France winners in less than five years! But why stop at cycling? I believe that if you apply this concept to every area of your life, especially your finances, you can achieve the financial and overall wellness of your dreams!

How Does This Work?

The aggregation of marginal gains is all about making small incremental changes that significantly impact your life over time. Every positive action that you take or negative action you avoid is like earning compound interest towards your future self. This works because these small changes don’t drastically change your day-to-day, but over time, they add up to create much more significant changes that become part of your new normal and positively impact your future you! Here is how to apply it in just two steps:

Step 1: Avoid the Marginal Losses – Improvement by Subtraction

Marginal change comes in two forms: gains or losses. The beauty and danger of making marginal changes is that small changes seem almost imperceptible at any given moment but can have a massive effect over the long term. Improvement by subtraction is a way to reduce marginal losses by focusing on doing less of what does not work. The great thing is that addition by subtraction is proven to be more of an accessible and practical first step to take, compared to improvement by addition.

For example, let’s take the concept of “Lifestyle Creep.” This is where we tend to slowly and steadily spend more as income increases. Instead of sticking to our savings or debt pay-off plans, we opt to eat out a little more or get that nicer car, phone, or shoes. These small choices do not seem to impact us much initially. However, these choices add up and begin reinforcing behaviors that run counter to achieving our financial goals.

Left unchecked, this type of behavior and resulting micro decisions can creep into virtually every aspect of our lives and slowly wreak havoc. This is where addition by subtraction comes in! The idea is to become aware of the habits that detract from your goals and gradually eliminate them one action at a time. Here are some examples of how to apply the concept of avoiding marginal losses to improve your finances and other areas of your life:


Think about your current spending habits, whether it’s Amazon, eating out, or subscriptions, and consider the following if it pertains to you:

· Eat out one less time a week and redirect savings to your financial goals.

· Make one less Amazon purchase a week and redirect savings to your financial goals.

· Buy one less drink out a week and redirect savings into your financial goals.

Use a calculator to see how these incremental savings can add up for you over the long term.


Think about your current health habits and start with the patterns not currently aligned with your goals. You could try the following:

· Have one less high calorie drink a week (soda, alcohol, etc.) and replace it with water.

· Spend 15 minutes less a day on your phone and replace it with a nap or a walk.

· Replace one unhealthy meal a week with an easy, delicious, and healthy one.


Think about your current relationship habits and consider the following marginal changes and the way they could help over time:

· Spend 10 minutes less a day on social media and redirect them to being present with your loved ones.

· Make one less derogatory comment, insult, or belittling remark.

· Let go of and forgive one past transgression and commit to growing from it.

Professional/Personal Growth:

Think about the habits that impact your personal or professional growth. Which of the following actions might help?

· Spend 10 minutes less a day scrolling on social media and redirect them to learning something new.

· Eliminate one toxic friendship, relationship, or encounter from your life.

· Complain one less time a day.

Try implementing just one of these or one in each area. Remember, the key is to make it incremental to be sustainable and then build from there!

Step 2: Apply Marginal Gains – Improvement by Addition

Now we focus on applying marginal gains by incrementally adding good habits to our day to day. This behavior is called improvement by addition. Like the approach for avoiding marginal losses, the key is to make these additions incremental and build on them over time. It is like earning compound interest on your future self! Here are some ideas on how to apply the aggregation of marginal gains to improve your finances and other areas of your life:


Think about your current financial habits. What is currently working that you can do more of or what can you add to make it even better? Here are some ideas to consider:

· Save $1 or more a day into your savings account and set it on automatic. Set a goal of building up to 3-6 months of expenses. It can all add up over time!

· Sign up for the contribution rate escalator in your retirement account to automatically increase your contributions by 1% each year or set a date to increase your savings by 1% into your retirement accounts each year. Simple incremental moves can have big impact.


Think about your current health habits. Which areas would you like to see more improvement? Consider implementing some of these incremental changes to get you started:

· Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual. Increase this steadily until you are sleeping 7-8 hours a night.

· Have one meal a week with only whole foods. Increase it incrementally by one or more a week (whichever periodicity works for you).

· Exercise just 10 minutes a day using only your body weight.

· Practice meditation for 10 minutes a day and build from there. Try an app like Headspace, Calm, or Waking Up. Start once a week and increase from there.


Think about your current habits or choices around your relationships. Which of these items might help you strengthen them or improve their quality?

· Surround yourself with individuals that have similar future goals to yours or have already attained them!

· Spend 10 minutes a day truly present with your family.

· Say “I love you” one more time a day to those that you love and care about.

Personal/Professional Growth:

Think about the actions you take towards personal and professional growth. What would help you get to the next level? Consider implementing one of these to get started:

· Spend 10 minutes journaling. Start with once a week.

· Spend 10 minutes a day or more learning something new. Pick a medium: book, podcast, class, blog etc. Consider starting with personal finance and personal development!

· Start and end every day saying one thing that you are grateful for and grow from there.

Our finances, our health, our relationships, and our careers have been increasingly interconnected. Each pillar of our life impacts the other. Making marginal gains in just one of these areas by subtraction OR addition have the power to create a positive ripple effect that can have a life changing impact on every facet of your life. The best thing of all is that it is simple and easy to do so what are you waiting for? Go for it!

Juan Carlos Medina, Contributor

© 2024 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved

This Forbes article was legally licensed through AdvisorStream.

Form CRS