Full disclaimer: I love Caramel Macchiatos. So, in no way am I attempting to attack Starbucks with this blog post. Coffee shops are my office away from the office. We all love our lattes and frappuccinos. A lot. 

If you follow the topic of personal finance you’ve no doubt read some form of villainization for the incremental impact regularly purchasing lattes can have on your bank account. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory, but it’s an effective one for developing an awareness around conscious spending – and the concept of incremental gains.

And we all love lattes. 

What Are Incremental Gains? 

Incremental gains are daily behaviors whose results add up over time to much greater consequences – think habits. 

“We are the sum of our actions, and therefore our habits make all the difference” – Aristotle

I’ll share a real world example from my own life. When I would get my kids to bed around 8pm I would habitually make myself a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and then read my favorite blog, www.io9.com. This occurred for YEARS, without ever so much as a second thought. In 2018 I joined a body transformation challenge at my Orange Theory gym, and to go all-in I created a nutritional plan. Of course, cereal wasn’t on the menu. But the awareness created around nutrition led to a whole life audit. Out went the cereal and late night blogs, and my new 8pm routine became 60 minutes of continuing learning around coaching and brand development. Think about the opportunity costs between those two options, of saying yes to one and no to the other. After two months of the transformation challenge, I had decreased my waistline and increased my toolkit for bringing value to my clients. That’s the law of incremental gains in action. 

It’s very possible you are not even aware of the incremental gains in your life. After all, our brains crave autopilot mode. Below I’ve listed some times during the day you can audit for incremental gains. The list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, but I’ve spoken before about the power of transition points and this list possesses some powerful opportunities for you to create some daily behaviors that can add up to powerful change(s) over time. 

  • What you do when you wake up
  • What you do when you get to work
  • What you do just before lunch, then the first you do when you get back
  • What you immediately do after work 
  • What you do right after dinner 
  • What you do right after the kids go down to bed (if applicable)
  • What you do once you lay down for bed

Immediate Areas for Incremental Gains

Here are four areas of your life you can consider in conjunction with the questions above. For example, what can you do when you first wake up to improve your mindset for the day? Or, what can you do right after dinner to improve your personal relationships? 

Energy

Energy is chief among the resources you must effectively manage for peak performance. There are a few small changes you can make during the day to ensure you’re running as strongly in the afternoon as you are in the morning. 

Sugar | This is not an indictment on carbohydrates, but I do want to address the impact that sugar can have on your performance. The standard Starbucks flavored drink will range from 40-70 grams of sugar, much more than a can of Coke. That’s enough sugar to impair cognitive performance and lead to a crash in energy once you come down from the sugar high. Make the shift to black coffee with stevia and milk, or if you have to get a latte make it a Skinny Vanilla with no sweetener and then add your own stevia. Keep apples and almonds around your work space for when you’re craving a snack. Pack your lunch and keep it high in protein and healthy fats. 

Activity & Sun | Instead of checking social media between tasks, take a 15 minute break to get up and walk outside. Separating from your technology and getting in touch with nature for even a few minutes can lead to decreases in depression and anxiety, boost performance, and lower your risk for chronic disease. Regularly standing and stretching out your muscles will significantly decrease your risks for illness and chronic disease

Learning

Do you want to stay in touch with your larger purpose and build towards a future you desire? Keep learning. Do you want to fulfill your inner ambitions and keep moving up the career ladder? Keep learning. 

I’ve witnessed this with my clients time and time again. I had one individual as defeatist as any who absolutely knew there was zero time in their crazy schedule to read a book. He finally placed one beside his tooth brush and made the commitment to read for 10 minutes a day standing there at his sink. He then proceeded to read a dozen books over the next 6 months, got his career back on track, and reported an increased sense of overall well-being. 

If you’re hellbent on not being a reader then take a specialized online course on Udemy or Coursera. Most lessons can be completed in 5-10 minutes per day. Or, find 2-3 podcasts that focus on a topic you want to improve in and listen during your commute. 

Regardless, determine the skills that your future self must possess and make incremental progress a habit. Learning is fundamental to one’s success, and there’s no excuse for this not to become a daily habit when considering the wealth of resources we’re surrounded by via technological access. 

Mindset

When you wake up, you most likely grab your phone and check your social media or email. This triggers a release of cortisol sending you into fight or flight mode, and it also prevents your mind from ever getting into a strategic place for approaching your day. Instead of approaching your day from a place of “what can I accomplish”, you’re now in a space of “I’m behind or missing out on so many things.” There is a cascading effect throughout your day that leaves you stressed and exhausted. 

Instead, when you wake up choose to take a moment and sit still. Thank your god or the universe for another day of life and state 2-3 things that you’re truly grateful for. The change in neurochemical release and (lack of) stress is incredible, and this simple habit will leave you in a mindset of abundance that will have a profound impact on your level of performance through the coming day. 

Another change you can make today would be in how you return from lunch. Don’t be a victim of your morning’s circumstances or allow others in the afternoon to determine what experience you’re going to have – make that decision for yourself. When you first sit down at your desk ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How do I want to feel this afternoon? 
  • What do I need to do this afternoon to feel this way? 
  • What do I have on my calendar this afternoon that could jeopardize how I want to feel? Is there a different way I could view this event in advance?

Relationships

I’ve touched before on the necessity in being mindful of the roles we fulfill in our own lives and for others. You cannot stumble through your day and your interactions with the most important people in your life. With a few small actions you can completely alter the depth and quality of your most important relationships. 

Leave a daily note for your partner and/or kids. Put a pad of sticky notes beside your toothbrush and write one each morning. If it’s for your kids, go leave it beside their toothbrush or add it to their lunchbox if you pack that for them. If it’s for your partner, go leave it somewhere where they’re sure to find it. 

Do one nice thing for a coworker everyday. Make this the last thing you do before lunch each day, and know there is a significant amount of research detailing the impact this will have on your own happiness and performance. Send an email applauding someone for a success, and deliver a short handwritten note thanking someone for their support. This doesn’t have to be a grand sweeping gesture, just a small action made with no expectation for return. 

Summary – The Latte Gains Plan

I normally finish a post with a series of formulas that capture the content of the article, but we’re doing something different this time around. 

THE LATTE PLAN

Your new go to, a low-to-no sugar option (such as a skinny vanilla latte with stevia) will become the trigger for a series of daily habits that will lead to a future self you can invest in. 

A) While in line for your latte, send a text or email complimenting another person in your life. Express appreciation for something they’ve achieved or simply gratitude for your relationship with them. And as you send it, say to yourself “I expect nothing in return”. 

B) When you get to your desk put a time on your calendar (or set an alarm on your phone) to spend 15 minutes reading a book or taking an online course. If you’ve already done this and want to create a sense of accountability, write down a quick note on what you learned that morning. 

C) When you finish your latte take a 15 minute break to walk outside. If it’s at all possible, leave your phone at the desk so you can actually be present while outside. Seriously, look up for once and enjoy the sky and birds. Try to look people in the eye as you pass them. And – crazy – notice all the people staring at their phones and think about what impact that’s having on them. 

D) When you get back to your desk take 2-3 minutes and write down two things that you’re grateful for, and be sure to include the all-important “because”. 

Caramel Macchiatos rock. 

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