The Struggle for Less

By | 2016-05-19

Like most athletes and a good proportion of the people with whom I associate, I’m pretty Type A. I generally internalize my nature so as to avoid being a hypercompetitive d0bag, but the instincts are there. Give me a goal, however arbitrary, and I’m likely to strive for it. Show me a benchmark, however meaningless, and I’ll probably try to exceed it.

Take, for example, my the activity tracking function on my beloved Garmin Fenix 3, for which my daily step goal is dynamically adjusted based on recent activity levels–put another way, the more I’ve moved recently, the higher my goal.  It stands to reason that if I’ve been particularly active recently, I might need some rest, not more activity. Yet the goal keeps creeping upward, and I feel compelled to achieve it, however arbitrary or potentially detrimental to my athletic performance.

On any given day or week, and in addition to the aforementioned step goal, I find myself assessing and analyzing (1) time spent training (overall and by sport), (2) training stress score (daily/weekly), and (3) distance covered.  While certainly relevant, none of these metrics have any direct bearing on my co-equal goals of running faster and getting stronger, but I some part of me is inclined to fixate on them.  As a result, I sometimes lose the forest among the trees, and I focus on whether I’ve put in my 12 hours per week rather than how I performed during each of those hours.  It’s destructive.  It’s detrimental.  It’s a really hard habit to break.

Since I first started writing and thinking about this post in February, I’ve ebbed and flowed in my progress towards resolving this shortcoming.  My compulsion to do more won out more than I’d care to admit, but I think I’m finally getting it in check.  Being busy with work and thus pressed for time has proved advantageous in this respect–when I simply can’t train as much as I’d like, it’s easier to focus on results.  And, objectively, it’s about the results.  I like working out, but not as much as I love seeing improvements.

The lesson here, if there is one, is to focus on the outcomes from day one.  Don’t let yourself get caught up in the inputs–how much you’re training, how long, how far–and concentrate on the progress.  If an extra easy run impacts a key workout, skip it–they’re junk miles.  If another day of lifting makes you too sore to hit a new max, skip it–you’re just tiring yourself out.  Unless you’re truly doing it for the love of the playing (which is entirely, perfectly legitimate), sport is about results.  All that matters is who’s fastest/strongest on game day.  Unless your goal is to train more than you ever have, the time you put in is relevant to but not determinant of success.  If you don’t know why you’re doing a particular workout, if it doesn’t serve an explicit purpose, consider resting.  I’m stronger, faster, and leaner than I was when I let the compulsion take control, and that’s all the reinforcement I need.

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