An Aggregation of Marginal Gains

The main bowling alley in our City has recently become a supermarket.  As much as I like a bargain I would have preferred not to lose the place that has so many fond memories.  My wife and I spent many an evening shooting pool and hurling balls down the alley at those ten stubborn pins.  I was never a very good bowler, no technique and no real understanding of spin or other bowling tricks.

Whilst at the bowling alley we would spend more time around the pool table, or more often than not, I would be receive a battering from my wife on the  Air Hockey table.  She’s a stealthy genius with that puck.

I’ve found that the bowling lane is more of a crucible than we would first imagine. We all know that a bowler’s ultimate goal is to knock down all ten pins at the end of the lane, that part is kind of obvious.  It’s what a bowler practises, it’s where the focus goes.  But we would be fooling ourselves to think that this one ultimate goal is all there is to consider. Why?

…Because there are those lane markers to consider.

Lane Markers
Important Lane Markers on the bowling alley

When aiming for that perfect strike a bowler will line up the ball with ten individual markers half way down the lane.  If we take out sheer luck and overarm shots, the bowler needs to hit those markers to be in with a chance of hitting those ten pins effectively.  There is a victory in hitting those halfway markers, it is a small win. A progress check. A marginal gain.

It all sounds good so far, but here is the annoying part…there are no points for hitting the lane markers. We don’t get a few points to add to the total. It’s not as if we get a two pin bonus for hitting those markers that gets added to our strike total.  It would be great if we did, but we don’t.  However, and it’s a big however… those lane markers are crucial.  You see, there is the immediate goal of hitting those markers and then there is the ultimate goal of clearing the pins at the end of the lane.  Hitting those markers prepares the bowler for a strike at the other end of the lane.

The lane markers that we hit in life are more often than not, unseen by others.  They go unnoticed by everyone around us.  They are mostly unrewarding, with little or no praise and recognition. It can feel like we consistently hit those lane markers, those marginal gains, those small victories for no reason.  But we must not be tricked into this thought pattern, they are crucial to our success.

The London 2012 Olympic games have just hit a fabulous crescendo and we remember and celebrate our great athletes.  But no one ever sees the Olympian getting up a 4.30am in the morning.  Consistent early rises over the last four years.  During the last few years, I haven’t been thinking…”oh dear, Sir Chris Hoy is getting up now”.  These 4.30am get ups were unseen, seemingly unrewarding but they were mental victories in the life of an Olympian.  The TeamGB Cycling Team attributed their London 2012 victories to: –

“an aggregation of marginal gains”

The small unseen triumphs make the final win possible. It might only be you that knew those lane markers were hit.  It might only be you that notices the aggregation of marginal gains.  But in the consistency and accuracy of the unseen, unrewarded wins we will be triumphant when it matters most.

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