the aggregation of marginal gains

I was at the gym a couple days ago when the TV showed a replay of the famous 2002 “Holy Buckeye” play from Ohio State University’s 2002 championship season. If you don’t bleed scarlet and gray, you may need a refresher of the toss from Krenzel to Jenkins.

As I watched this replay on its 15th anniversary, I thought to myself, “Wow the game looks so much different in 2002.” Take for example two similar plays, the first in 2011 and the second in 2015 (this is pro so it’s not quite apples to apples, but I’m a Packers fan).

It looks like a totally different breed of humans playing the game now. Every player on the field is an action figure – check out the punter for the Raiders.

But without this frame of the play 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Like the progress of so many things, it was gradual and consistent. The incremental changes in athleticism were happening all the time, slowly, and it wasn’t totally noticeable at any one given time.

This idea is called the “aggregation of marginal gains” and is really well covered by my friend James here, so I won’t belabor the point. But it’s used as a strategy by high performers to operate at a higher level once major changes or wins have been achieved.

It’s easy to get frustrated day-to-day because we feel like we’re moving slowly. Especially when we get stuck looking at what other people are doing during this moment in time, it’s tempting to think we’re in a rut because today feels like yesterday feels like the day before.

But when you look back further and compare your current position in life with your position months or years ago, you see a much clearer picture of the progress you’ve made, and it’s probably much more impressive than you think.


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