That ‘barely keeping it together’ feeling that we normally expect to come and go as our life becomes a little chaotic, doesn’t really go away in life. At first this was a bit concerning, as I think we have this idealized image in our head of having everything go according to plan and for us to be in some blissful state of optimal balance where our challenges and our ability complete them match up perfectly. This sense of ‘barely holding it together’ is our minds way of making sure we are just stressed enough to get the work done. It’s a signaling mechanism. If we were in a constant state of balance that means our ambition or challenges are just a bit too low. Or at least that’s what I tell myself, so I’ve kind of come to terms with and embraced this feeling to a degree.
So when you are sitting in your class for your grad program on a lovely Monday evening and the profs pull a group assignment where we essentially have to go through and report our degree of progress on the two major projects due in the class (a big writing assignment due in 3 weeks, and reading a book that will result in a big writing assignment in may), things get a bit interesting. If not, for the sole reason that now the professors and the other 20 people in the class, now know that you are that ‘slacker’ who hasn’t started a single thing on either…
(TO be fair to myself, my not starting the book yet was intentional, as I try to be an avid reader with a somewhat sucky memory, and if I read through the book now, I’d probably have forgotten most of it by the May time frame. Also if any of my profs are reading this, don’t hate me…)
It’s not because I actually enjoy waiting until the last minute to get things done; in fact I prefer the opposite. But when compartmentalizing and prioritizing work, this is how it kind of fell.
And maybe there is a degree of arrogance or a type of lassez faire ‘not caring’ coping mechanism involved but to me the real reason is perspective.
Just as we pace ourselves in a race, and sometimes misjudge, when we do projects we tend to invoke some sort of pacing strategy. Just as we enter a race and know that if it’s a mile, it will take me roughly 4 minutes and change to finish, we do the same with projects. And just like races, the degree of certainty in our calculations on how long it will take us to pull it off is related to our fitness, abilities, and experience.
What happens in a race is we have this kind of pre-race template for our expectations of how things are supposed to go. In other words we have a norm or set point and everything is compared to this. The same concept applies to almost all of life. We compare things to some norm.
So when it comes to writing, I used to plan and outline and freak out about long assignments. But then my perspective changed. It changed because I was forced to write…and write…and write. First during my master’s program where I had to crank out a lit review that ended up being 120-130pages in a matter of 2 months or so. After never writing anything longer than maybe 20-25 pages before, not that seemed really short.
Then after writing a 350pg book, my perspective for writing changed again. Now, almost everything seems really short. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to write or doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out at times, but what it does mean is that my norm has shifted.
There’s something powerful in that idea.
It’s akin to way back when we all started running, when we though 5-6mi or running was an eternity. My first real run of HS I did 9 miles then stopped and walked. I was so proud of my 9 mile run, as it was by far the longest run I’d ever done. I couldn’t believe I could run that far. And after that, 5-6mi easy runs became normal. Fast forward a few years and after doing consistent 2hr runs and now 9mi felt like the minimum I could run each day and call it a decent day. Fast forward another few years and after running a few 22mi runs, all of the sudden 15-16mi didn’t seem that long. Or as I tell my team, running 60-70mpw is a piece of cake for me now mentally because I still have that mindset of running 110+ like I did for a number of years in college.
Running 110+mpw shifted my set point. It changed my ‘norm’ for which I judge everything else off of. When 30mpw is your norm, 60mpw seems like a lot. When 60deg outside is your norm to run in, 38deg feels incredibly cold, even if the rest of the country is grinding out their runs in single digit temperatures.
You see, it’s this comparison piece that matters. And we hold the ability to shift what our set point is and what we see as “normal.”
Every once in a while we need to see god.
Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that my old High School coach meant it. We would do workouts that were supposed to be so hard that we might have visions of God afterwards. It wasn’t a frequent thing, but instead was something we reserved for taking us to another level.
What it did was shift what was normal. It broadened our horizons and changed our perspectives. In High school, it might have meant a 10 mile tempo run in 53-52minutes. For a 17-18 year old kid, that is perspective changing. Now, those normal 4mi tempos at similar paces doesn’t feel that intimidating.
In terms of physiological adaptations, we can look at this as a brief super-compensation where we go big, recover big and get a nice boost in performance. In my training with professional athletes, this often translates into a double workout day, an idea I borrowed from Renato Canova.
This past week with Tommy Schmitz was the first double workout of the year for him. It was that time where we need to press the next couple weeks to really push fitness before getting into racing. Tommy’s been at this sport for a while now and one of the ways we still press for adaptation (he had a 2sec mile PR last year to run 3:56), is by doing small bouts of really hard work interspersed into the training.
So this week, Tommy had a tempo in the morning followed by really quick 200s in the afternoon.
Similarly, in workouts, occasionally we’ll do something where we shift the perspective within the workouts. One of my favorite ways to do this is have a hammer interval, a concept that Scott Simmons popularized. Instead of doing your traditional 8×400 with a minute rest in 62 let’s say. We’d have our guys absolutely kill it on number 5. Run a 56-57 for example and then come back and try to stay on 62. Why? Because it gets you out of the mindset of surviving the middle of the workout or race. It changes your perspective.
What we’re left with is this shifting of a person’s set point both physically and psychologically.
And that’s the key. Shift what we base our comparison off of. Our minds work by constantly comparing each idea, concept, feeling to some norm. As I stated earlier, in a race, we know how we expect to feel 800m into a mile. We know how we expect to feel with going out in 2:00 or 2:10.
What we can do in life is shift those expectations based on shifting what we compare it to.
The idea then is to do things both physically and mentally to take you far outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be frequent, and probably shouldn’t be, but every once in a while do something that takes you so far outside that instead of nudging up that set point or norm, you blow it
Every once in a while that may mean going out over your head in a race to see where that limit is. I had a girl on my college team who actually went through the mile of a 5k in a PR. She died a bit, but still held on for a 40sec 5k PR. Now we know that she’s got way more in the tank if she has more even pacing AND she imagine how easy it will feel coming through the mile at just a tad slower now. Her perspective has shifted. Going out fast has a new meaning.
It’s all about what your norm is. And the cool thing is we are in control of shifting it. It could be in terms of running and workout out or in terms of life. But every once in a while, do something crazy, over-the-top far beyond what you have to this point. It shifts that set point just enough to give you a wonderful new perspective on what is difficult, tough, or simply normal.
That might mean adding on an extra repeat once you are completely trashed and done in a workout. Or it might mean staring at a wall for 2 hours while running on a treadmill. The challenge is up to you. Back in my crazy running days, I once ran a 100+ mile week on a cruise ship. I could have gotten away with less mileage that week based on the training plan, but I wanted to do it for the simple fact that afterwards it would give me something to combat that voice in my head that running that much mileage was difficult to do. It became a constant thing I’d return to if I was struggling mentally with putting in the mileage at home. In my head, I’d simply think “well, I did this on a cruise ship running around a like 180 meter track while the ship was bouncing around with crazy winds…so I’ll be okay.”
Will my work get done? Is it a false sense of confidence? Well that’s up for debate. But the fact is I’ve written 100+ pages or so in a 2 week period before. It might not have been the best quality of work, but it was 100 pages. So, cranking out 15-20 pages of a document doesn’t intimidate me the way it used to. It might suck, but get me hopped up on enough coffee, cut me off of the internet for a day, and it’ll get done.
Why? Because of perspective. Shift it.