Incremental Gains and the Importance of Persistence

Incremental gains, sometimes referred to as the ‘principle of marginal gains’, is a concept rooted in the belief that small, continuous improvements, when combined, lead to significant overall growth. This principle has been applied in various disciplines, from sports to business, and has proven to be a powerful strategy for progress.

A deeper dive into the concept of incremental gains is relevant to both beginners and advanced learners. Individuals at different stages of expertise can maximize their progress by focusing on these small but meaningful improvements and providing actionable strategies to optimize personal growth.

Steve Tarani
As someone who has dedicated their life to walking the long and winding road toward both hard and soft skills mastery, I can attest to the power of incremental gains. (Steve Tarani)

The concept of incremental gains is based on the idea that focusing on small, manageable improvements is the key to achieving substantial progress over time. These minor adjustments, when compounded, can result in significant overall growth. This approach helps individuals and organizations avoid the trap of seeking quick fixes or massive leaps, which are often unrealistic, unsustainable, and short-lived.

The power of incremental gains lies in its consistency and adaptability.

By breaking down a goal or task into smaller, achievable steps, you can create a more realistic and sustainable path to success. This process also allows for flexibility, as it is easier to make minor adjustments to your approach when faced with obstacles or setbacks.

The process of incremental gains is especially relevant for those new to a particular field, study, or skill. Beginners often experience rapid progress, as they have not yet developed habits or biases that may limit their growth. This initial phase, known as the “beginner’s gains” or “novice effect,” provides a unique opportunity to capitalize on the potential for rapid improvement.

As a beginner, it’s essential to adopt a personal growth mindset and view every challenge as an opportunity for learning and development. By embracing the learning process and being open to feedback, beginners can accelerate their progress and make the most of their initial gains.

Incremental improvements will pave the way for more advanced techniques and strategies, preparing them for long-term success.

Advanced learners have already acquired a solid foundation, developed sound fundamentals, and established skillsets in their chosen endeavors. However, the concept of incremental gains remains equally important for these individuals, as the road to mastery is a never-ending journey. The more advanced you are, the more time and effort are needed to be expended for granular gains. As skills become more refined, the focus shifts to identifying and addressing weaknesses and making small, deliberate improvements to enhance performance.

The focus of incremental gains shifts towards further refining and perfecting techniques for advanced learners as they are already intimately familiar, comfortable, and confident with their existing skills. In the context of self-defense, this might involve working on specific areas like improving reaction time, honing accuracy, or developing strategies to overcome specific threats. Identifying weaknesses and addressing them through targeted practice will result in incremental improvements that contribute to overall growth.

(Photo: Jim Davis)

As seasoned learners continue their journey toward mastery, they must also recognize the value of lifelong learning. Anyone who has adopted the mindset of “the eternal student” clearly understands that the more you learn about something the more you realize how little you truly know about it.

For long-term success, it is essential to embrace the idea of continuous improvement and dedicating time and effort to refining your skills, even when progress appears to be slow. Incremental gains are critical in pushing through plateaus and maintaining motivation throughout this process.

How To Incorporate Incremental Gains Into Your Training

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced learner, implementing incremental gains in your pursuit of skills development in terms of both technical aptitude and personal growth requires a strategic approach. Following are five practical strategies that can help you incorporate this principle into your routine:

1. Set Specific, Measurable Goals

Having clear, measurable goals provides direction and allows you to track your progress. Break down your larger objectives into smaller milestones, and ensure that each goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). This approach will make it easier to focus on incremental gains and celebrate your achievements along the way.

2. Develop a Consistent Routine

Consistency is key to maximizing incremental gains and is both the path and measurement of mastery. Develop a routine that prioritizes regular practice, evaluation, and adjustment. Dedicate time to refining your skills and strive to maintain a growth mindset even when you may perceive progress as slow. Remember that each small improvement contributes to your overall growth.

3. Seek Feedback and Embrace Constructive Criticism

Solicit feedback from like-minded mentors, peers, or instructors, and use this input to identify areas for improvement. Embrace constructive criticism as an opportunity for growth, and apply the insights gained to make those precision adjustments to your practice routine.

4. Keep a Journal or Log

Documenting your challenges, discoveries, successes, failures, and insights can be a powerful tool for optimizing incremental gains. Keep a journal or log of your experiences and accomplishments to help you identify patterns, provide a tangible measurement of your improvement, and stay motivated.

Book for journaling incremental gains in training
Reflect on your entries regularly to gain a deeper understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. (Photo: Jason Mosher)

5. Remain Patient and Persistent

The road to mastery requires patience and persistence.

Recognize that progress may be slow, and setbacks are inevitable. Embrace these challenges as opportunities for growth, and remember that incremental gains, when combined, will result in significant overall growth.

Errors and mistakes are your best teacher. If you’re not failing you’re not learning. It is said that the master has failed more often than the novice has tried.

Incremental gains, as a concept, holds immense value for those seeking measurable growth and improvement in their chosen skill. Embracing this principle and applying it to your practice, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned learner, can greatly optimize your progress and lead to sustained long-term success.

As someone who has dedicated their life to walking the long and winding road toward both hard and soft skills mastery, I can attest to the power of incremental gains. By focusing on small, continuous improvements, and remaining consistent in your efforts, you can achieve exceptional growth and success in any endeavor.

Take small, deliberate steps on your journey toward mastery. Keep pushing forward, embrace the learning process, and celebrate each incremental gain as it brings you one step closer to your ultimate goals.

Steve Tarani is a former fulltime CIA protective programs employee, small arms and defensive tactics subject matter expert who served on POTUS 45 pre-election executive protection detail. He is the lead instructor for NRA’s non-ballistic weapons training program offered nationally. Tarani is also a DoD and FLETC-certified federal firearms instructor who has been on staff at Gunsite Academy (AZ) as a Rangemaster for over twenty years. Formerly sworn, he is also a former federal contractor and service provider for the US Defense Intelligence Community, US Naval Special Operations Command and other government agencies. Tarani additionally serves on the National Sheriffs’ Association Committee for School Safety and Security.

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