1% Better: The aggregation of marginal gains

The philosophy for searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do.


James Clear, author of Atomic Habits writes, “too often as athletes, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.” Whether it is making a team, becoming a starter, or winning a championship or achieving any other goal, “we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that will blow everyone away. Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable – sometimes it isn’t even noticeable – But it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.” Clear mentions how “In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. (In other words, it won't impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don't.”


What are Habits, Why are they important?


Habits are a behavior that has been repeated enough times to be performed more or less automatically. They are the compound interest of self-improvement and what I believe we should focus for, in our quest for obtaining any size of goal. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of you habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make a little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, three, or perhaps four months later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent. Making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, by over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be.


Some habits when performed consistently present clear feedback: like committing our self to a structured, consistent workout plan. We will see the results physically manifest when we look in our the mirror, after a couple of months showing up and pushing our body every other day. Some habits aren’t as clear, like the awareness, mindfulness and stillness acquired through committing to a consistent meditation practice. It may take awhile to feel the difference of the benefit of making meditation a consistent habit. We may experience a ‘negative’ stimuli outside of us – that would of previously initiated a unconscious response (cursing, yelling, shutting down) where as now, we find ourselves taking a deep breath, observing the initial emotional response and choosing the response that best represents our highest self. Powerful!


“Success is the product of daily habits – not once in a lifetime transformations.”  

James Clear


To those watching the 2015 World League Bronze Medal match, I was an ‘overnight success’ for Team USA, starting and winning a Bronze medal in my second match ever with Team USA. But for those who really know my story, it was a six year journey in the Team USA gym. In those 6 years, I rarely trained with the top 14 players and I went all six years without making a traveling roster. I did find ways to grow each and every day, investing in intentional and consistent work on and off the court – getting extra repetitions once practice was over, studying film, reading mindset books and training my awareness through a mindful meditation practice. Those six years of marginal gains, made sure I was able to make the most of my opportunity when the starting libero went into the bench, injuring himself. Like Clear writes, “all big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger” – allowing you to grow into your best version. This is why when working with our NEB athletes, I made sure that they were ready to commit to a full year of working with me, to be intentional, consistent and to make small gains over a course of 12 months.


If you’re ready to begin investing in yourself and commit to the intentional work each and every day to grow into your best version – maybe I can help. I am currently working 1v1 with private clients, the same way I am working with NEB athletes such as Zoe Fleck (UCLA Libero) Mason Briggs (CSULB Libero) and Eric Loeppky (Team Canada OH). Email me at dustinwatten@gmail.com – let me know where you are currently, your biggest goal and a roadblock you face today. Me and my team will see if you’re right for our program and working with me 1v1.




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