Hey there, Dean here. I write and publish articles on productivity, self-education, psychology, health, finance, entrepreneurship, philosophy, and more. You can read more about me here or join my free 10x Performance email course here.

Your Bucket is Leaking: Why Most People Failed to See in the Pursuit of Greatness

Your mission is to fill this bucket up with water.

Leaking bucket illustration by Dean Yeong


After a long time of observation, a pattern emerged.

You and everyone else on this planet have certain desires and goals to achieve, and we all focus every tiny ounce of our energy on this huge dreamed destination of us.

  • Some of us just started out their career, they want to become a better photographers or designers.
  • Some of us are on the journey for some times already, while making a great impact on their industry, they want to make more money now.
  • And almost every single one of us hopes we could do more, so we could hit our next milestone and check off our next goal quicker.

I get that, we all want to get there faster. So we could move on to the next, better, bigger goal.

How British Won Tour De France

In 2010, Dave Brailsford was facing a tough job. No British cyclist had ever win Tour de France. As the program director and manager for Team Sky – British national cyclist team – Dave was asked to fix that.

Most people think he was in a mission impossible, but he never thought so. He believes this goal is achievable in 5 years, by using this training philosophy of what he called “the aggregation of marginal gains”. Brailsford believes that by improving every aspect by 1% over a certain period of time, the overall total improvement would be astounding.

Besides looking at the traditional aspect of success for cyclists such as physical training, bicycle performance, and competition tactic, Brailsford went beyond that. His approach focused on a more holistic strategy, embracing technological development as well as the athlete psychology. They searched for 1% improvements in every tiny area that were overlooked by almost everyone else.

At the same time, Brailsford is noted constantly measuring and monitoring key metrics of the athlete performance, and then developing solutions that targeted any observed weaknesses.

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together” – Dave Brailsford (2012)

Yet, he made a mistake. He estimated that they could win Tour de France with his strategy in 5 years. But he was wrong.

Under Brailsford’s leadership, Team Sky Rider Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist who wins the Tour de France in 2012. That same year, the British cycling team of the Olympic who coached by Brailsford dominated the competition by winning 70 percent of the gold medals available.

Team Sky repeated their feat by winning the Tour de France again in 2013, 2015 and 2016, with rider Chris Froome. Many have referred to the British cycling feats in the Olympics and the Tour de France over the past 10 years as the most successful run in modern cycling history.

James Clear uses this story to illustrate the power of marginal improvement. Indeed, it’s powerful. Small achievement slowly compounded into a huge leap forward.

By improving 1% every day, you’re getting 38 times better after a year.

These small improvements are more achievable because tiny actions have less resistance. It’s easier to get started and easier to stay on track with.

Your Bucket is Leaking

Great! So I will just need to focus on small actions and I will get there sooner or later!


Marginal gains and losses graph

The power of tiny marginal gains applies the other way around and we may call it tiny marginal losses. On the flipside, small declines on result over time produce devastating damage to any progress. Unfortunately, this is the part that no one likes to talk about.

  • People tend to focus heavily on sales and marketing when running the business while ignoring team management and customer retention.
  • Everyone gets excited and pumped when talking about making more money but fall to sleep right away when discussing budgeting and saving.
  • People keep trying out new exercise routines and workout programs while they should really managing their diet instead.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic here, however, I like to take the courage to remind you what most people don’t want talk about. I like to remind you the compounding effect on small destructive habits on your performance and results.

Most of us have small bad habits and behavior, some of them are harmless, but some of them, over time, contribute to our failures. Small bad habits are just like tiny actions, we are not aware of them until it’s too late to fix it.

Small bad habits kill your progress

You bucket is leaking, that’s why you can never fill up. Probably you can, but it takes large effort to do that with a longer time. There are enough challenges and setbacks on the journey of achieving high performance, don’t let these leakages slows you down.

To move forward, avoid moving backward.

Enjoyed this article? Then you’d like this…

Top performers succeed not by the lack of challenging problems, self-destructing habits, and limiting beliefs. Instead, they succeed by thinking and doing things differently.

Here, I’ve compiled the best lessons and insights in a self-pace email course to show your how to do just that.

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1 comment… add one
  • It took me some time to put these in words. An overly simple, but important, idea that most people didn’t notice. Glad that you like it!

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