In the classic management book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, there’s a story about cottage cheese. And no, it’s not about the health benefits of cottage cheese or how eating cottage cheese somehow makes you a better manager.

The story is about a triathlete named Dave Scott, who was training for an Ironman competition. He was obsessed with winning this competition and he took his training and diet very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he rinsed his cottage cheese to get rid of excess fat before eating it.

Now, that sounds absolutely insane. Could rinsing your cottage cheese really have any effect on your performance as an athlete? It’s so minor that most people wouldn’t even consider doing it.

No one knows whether the cottage cheese made a difference in Scott’s performance as an athlete. What we do know, however, is that he won that Ironman competition and then went on to win five more. 

Was the cottage cheese the deciding factor in all of those wins? Well, yes and no.

Success comes down to the little things

Scott didn’t win all of those triathlons because he was taking in slightly less fat than his competitors. He won those triathlons because he was ultra-disciplined and regimented. The cottage cheese was merely one tiny part of his structured routine. When you consider how serious he was about cottage cheese, it’s easy to imagine how serious he was about the rest of his training regime.

So, it wasn’t about the cottage cheese. It was about the little things.

Scott understood that success is the sum of a million small efforts. All successful people understand this. Success is not something that happens overnight—it’s something that happens over time, and only if you show up everyday and put 110% effort into everything you do. Including the little things!

These small things don’t provide immediate results. Do you think Scott saw a boost to his performance every time he rinsed his cottage cheese? Of course not. But he was able to win six Ironman Triathlons thanks to the sum of a million small efforts—one of which was rinsing his cottage cheese.

What does this mean for you?

No matter where you are in your life, the key to consistent improvement is focusing on the small things. It doesn’t matter if you own a business or work a 9-5 job—there are small things in your life that you can improve, which will help you achieve your long-term goals.

I’m in the world of real estate. For me—and for any other real estate professionals out there—this means doing a few additional calls on that late weeknight when I really just want to go home. It means following up with all of my leads, even if I don’t think that someone is going to be interested. It means staying up a little bit later to finish reading a book that will give me the insights I need. 

Over time, those are the little efforts that will bring me success.

These small wins are everywhere. Maybe it means waking up right when your alarm goes off instead of hitting the snooze button. Maybe it means sending a thank you card even if no one else is doing it. Maybe it means spending a few more minutes with a client when you really want to cut them off and go home.

It’s about putting in that extra ounce of effort even if you don’t think it’s necessary. Even if everyone else thinks you’re crazy for doing it. (And we all thought Dave Scott was crazy for rinsing his cottage cheese. Now we know better.)

When these situations hit you, you’ll know. There will be a little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you should do that thing, or go that extra mile. It’s just a matter of listening to it, staying disciplined, and putting in the effort.

So, in your life, where can you put that extra ounce of effort? Where can you find those small wins? How can you rinse your cottage cheese?