Change, especially the positive kind is not an easy task. There are a huge number of factors involved in any given aspect of life, and there are plenty of these aspects as it is. Well, Dave Brailsford, a trainer of the professional British cycling team, Team Sky, reasoned that given the fact that there are tons of little variables, one could improve a tiny bit in each one to make a big overall change. He said that through aggregation of marginal gains it is possible to overshoot the competition after a while. Making tiny 1% changes in things ranging from the comfort of the seats and weight of the tires of your car, to the most comfortable pillows that allowed athletes to get better rest, yielded impressive overall results – it took only 3 years for Sir Bradley Wiggins to become the first ever Brit to win the Tour de France.
By adopting this simple yet highly effective method of aggregation of marginal gains to our own life, we can start making a huge improvement in under a month. The theory is very straightforward – every day for the next 21 days you will make a small and manageable 1% adjustment to a particular aspect of your life, which will result in the development of 21 good habits that you can keep doing for years and years. All the changes are small and easy to make, yet within a few years you will be miles from where you are now in terms of physical and mental health, productivity and overall quality of life.
Day 0 – Make a firm decision right now
We all like to start things at the beginning of the week or the beginning of next month, but you should sit down right now and commit to the program. Make a firm decision to start making these small improvements first thing tomorrow.
Day 1 – Drink a couple of glasses of soda less
Looking at the manufacturer’s official website we find that a can of Coca-Cola has 139 calories, and most sugary sodas are around the same. The can contains less soda than two average-sized glasses. That means that by drinking only a couple of glasses less you are cutting down on over 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar a day, leading to very slow, but steady weight loss if all aspects of your diet remain roughly the same. You can drink more water instead.
Day 2 – Go outside and walk for 30-40 minutes
An hour of walking at a normal steady pace will burn between 200 and 300 calories, depending on your weight size – heavier people burn more calories during the same exercise as skinnier people. This means that 30 minutes will burn 100-200 calories. It’s not that difficult to find the time for a short walk, and you can even break it down into 2-3 walking sessions of 10-20 minutes during the day. Combine it with less soda and you get about 250-350 calories less every day without changing much at all.
Day 3 – Eat a fresh salad before lunch and dinner
You don’t have to replace your regular meals with salads, just make sure you eat a medium-sized bowl of fresh salad – plenty of veggies and no toppings except spices and olive oil – before lunch and dinner. Not only do you get plenty of much-needed micronutrients, but the fiber in the vegetables will also make you feel full, so you won’t be able to gorge on unhealthy and highly caloric food as much.
Day 4 – Read 10-20 pages of a book
It has been shown time and time again that reading has plenty of psychological and even mental health benefits. Not to mention that it makes you more eloquent and broadens your horizon. Even if you are a slow reader it won’t take you more than about 30-60 minutes to read 10-20 pages. Do this every day and you’ll be going through at least a book or two per month. You can start with some of these.
Day 5 – Start doing bodyweight workouts
Getting a good workout in doesn’t require anything but good will and 20-30 minutes of free time. You can do this type of bodyweight workout 2-3 times a week to reap some great health benefits, get a sexier body and boost your confidence.
Day 6 – Warm up your body and stretch in the morning
Doing 3-5 minutes of jumping jacks or mountain climbers when you get out of bed is a good way to warm up your joints and it gets the heart pumping. You can follow this with some 10-15 minutes of static stretching. You can do these after your workout on your workout days instead of in the morning. Stretching has numerous health benefits and is fairly easy to do.
Day 7 – Devote 30 minutes to learning a new skill
There are probably a bunch of skills that you would love to have right now. Whether it’s work related, general skills that can be applied to a broad range of things like team management or conflict resolution, we could all stand to learn something new. By devoting just 30 minutes a day to learning a new skill you will have learned the basics and gotten fairly decent at it within a few months.
Day 8 – Replace one of your regular snacks with fruit and nuts
We reach for snacks a lot of times during the day, whether it’s because we’re a bit hungry, sad or just bored. The next time you feel like you need a snack reach for a couple of apples, a banana, a pear or a cup of berries, combined with a handful of walnuts or almonds. Nuts have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and can lower the risk of heart disease, while certain berries have great amounts of antioxidants, and various fruit contains plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber. It’s a healthy snack and it keeps you feeling full for longer.
Day 9 – Get some vitamin D and fish oil supplements
In a perfect world we would have access to all that the body needs, but this is not the case. Most people lack omega 3-fatty acids in their diet – these keep the heart healthy, the skin looking young and your mind sharp – and hardly get enough sun exposure, which limits vitamin D production which is responsible for bone density and keeping normal testosterone levels. These supplements are relatively cheap and will ensure that you stay healthy despite common dietary deficiencies.
Day 10 – Use moisturizer after you shower, shave or wash your face
Keeping your skin as soft, smooth and elastic as possible is the key to looking and feeling young even as you get older. A lot of people, particularly men, fail to utilize moisturizers on a regular basis. This means that after washing your skin will dry out and even become flaky, becoming less soft and smooth over time. By using a good moisturizer on a regular basis you will ensure that your skin becomes fresh and soft, and remains that way for a long time.
Day 11 – Do 10-15 minutes of running/cycling/ jump rope training
If you’ve stuck to the changes you’ve made, you will already be walking a bit more, warming up and stretching and doing a couple of short workouts a week. However, in order to ensure good cardiovascular health you will need to elevate your heart rate and keep it in an elevated state for a certain amount of time. You don’t have to be exact about it – as long as you do some running, cycling or jump rope training for about 10 minutes 2-3 days a week you will significantly lower the risk of heart disease.
Day 12 – Brush and floss your teeth after dinner and before bed
An important yet often overlooked part of overall health is your oral health. Tooth decay can cause a host of problems, extreme pain being one of them, and can cost you a lot to repair if things go out of hand. A lot of food gets stuck in your teeth after big meals, and the bacteria do the most damage if you forget to brush before bed and leave them to eat away at your teeth overnight. With this simple habit you will have a beautiful smile for a long time.
Day 13 – Listen to some relaxing music and do breathing exercises for 10 minutes after work
Once you come home from work it’s time to shift mental gears from busy and stressed to comfortable and relaxed. Music is an excellent stress reliever and when combined with some good breathing exercises can help you calm down and relax your body and mind fairly quickly. Just 10 minutes of this relaxing therapy a day and you will become much calmer and happier in the upcoming months.
Day 14 – Do one thing that’s a bit outside of your comfort zone
The best way to grow and improve is to step just outside your comfort zone. You can’t just do this with everything all at once, but doing one small thing that you don’t feel that comfortable with – speaking to a crowd, singing, etc – every week will make you become more relaxed with it and eventually help you overcome your fear of it. Focus on one thing until you get comfortable and then switch to something else. Start of small – e.g. speaking to five people – and graduate to something big over time – e.g. giving a toast at a celebration.
Day 15 – Start a conversation with at least one random person during the week
A lot of situations in our daily lives can be boring and even a bit awkward. By talking to a stranger while waiting in line or siting in a coffee shop you can actually become happier. Connecting with others keeps boredom at bay, lets you share your frustrations and get a few good laughs. Approach one random person a week and spark a conversation – who knows what interesting places it will take you.
Day 16 – Get a foam roller and massage your muscles for 5 minutes before bed
Foam rollers are a great way to give yourself a good massage and reach all the tight muscles. A myofascial release, e.g. loosening up those tight knots in the muscle, is achieved, which will reduce muscle soreness, improve mobility and help you feel more relaxed. You can do it a few minutes before a workout or before going to bed to relax and prepare for sleep.
Day 17 – Watch 15-20 minutes of TED talks every other day
TED talks give you insight into a variety of different topics, can inspire you, make you think, and as with books, broaden your horizon. Here are some of the most popular ones that you can listen to every other day, or if you get a chance even one per day. Learning about different topics will come in small basic fragments, but will grow over time and even motivate you to do some further research on your own, thus gaining plenty of knowledge over time.
Day 18 – Read about body language and work on yours during the day
Spend an hour or two during the weekend to do some research on body language and then try to improve yours at various times of the day. You want to have the body language of a confident and powerful person, to know which mistakes to avoid and read other people’s intentions to a degree. With time you will be able to exhibit confidence and become more assertive, tell if someone likes you or doesn’t like you by reading small queues and much more. “The Definitive Book of Body Language” by Barbara and Alan Pease is a good read.
Day 19 – Take your partner somewhere nice at the end of the week or treat yourself to a nice night out
It is important to keep your relationships strong, and if you don’t have a significant other it is important find yourself someone you can be close and intimate with. By taking one day out of the week, or even just once in two weeks if you’re busy and devoting it to the other person you will earn a lot of goodwill with them. On the other hand if you are single, go out and have some fun. Get a couple of friends to come with you and try to meet some new people – some of that confidence, experience in sparking up conversation with strangers and positive body language might come in handy. This will help you relieve stress and keep your relationship strong or help you overcome the fear of rejection and improve your love life.
Day 20 – Shut off all the lights and electrical equipment before going to bed
Lack of sleep is a common problem in the modern world and it can have a lot of negative side-effects. There are a lot of things that can get us distracted like computers and phones, but we also seldom create good sleeping conditions. Your room needs to be dark when you go to sleep – no music, background movies to help you dose of, just a couple of more YouTube videos or lights of any sorts. If you make this a habit, you will slowly begin to have more regular sleep patterns and sleep for the full 7-9 hours that you need to feel well-rested, focused and energetic.
Day 21 – Take the day off from mundane life and get some quiet time for yourself
Once or twice a month choose a day to be your rest day. Distancing yourself from everyday worries and other people and simply doing nothing can do a whole lot of good for you. It can be a weekend at the countryside, a fishing trip, sitting around the house watching an entire season of your favourite show or whatever else lets you get some privacy and relax. A completely relaxed day or two like that every month will go a long way towards improving your mental and physical health, which can be severely degraded by stress.
Slow and steady wins the race
If you follow this comprehensive guide and make a tiny lifestyle change every day for the next 21 days, you will end up with a host of very good habits that can help you make a huge overall improvement in terms of health, fitness, productivity, relationships and happiness. It’s all about sticking with these small changes for the long run and steadily improving over time. At one point you’ll look back and be amazed at how big of an impact these 1% improvements have made.