In his post, Enjoy It Above All, he references my post about sprinting to the finish line. The danger in that, as he illustrates through an example with him literally sprinting to the finish line, is that you may burn yourself out and lose motivation. When he pushed himself too hard on his regular runs, he ended up becoming demotivated and then giving them up.
Should Ben be sprinting to the finish line every time, or should he take it easy and stay motivated? I think that's a false dichotomy that ignores the much more important question-- what else is at stake?
The problem with taking it easy is that you're not building good habits. Instead of creating a pathway in your brain that pushes through discomfort, and tries to enjoy it as much as possible, you're creating a pathway that yields to discomfort. That's dangerous. Instead of learning to love, or at least be neutral on, things that are hard, you're allowing yourself to dislike them. That's dangerous, too.
I go to the gym three days a week. I've heard rumors of people loving the gym, but I've never been able to understand it. Let's just say that I work hard to be neutral on it. Today I was there, and I had just broken my personal record for deadlifts and military presses, and was slated to do 140lb lat pulldowns, which was also going to be a personal record.
I was dead tired from the first two exercises and completely worn out. For the first time since my first week working out, I had that impulse to just go home. In less than a second, a mess of justifications for leaving flashed across my brain. I had already pushed myself enough. I had a flight to catch later. I was too tired.
I've trained myself, though, to see personal weakness as opportunity. Aha! Now I have the chance to set a precedent. When things get hard and I don't want to keep going, what do I do? The reason I was disappointed in myself for quitting the Peru Hike wasn't because I thought that continuing was a smart idea; it was because I didn't like setting that precedent of giving up.
So I did the pulldowns. They were really hard, and I struggled on the last few reps, fighting for each inch. Then I did barbell curls and took a shower, barely able lift the shampoo bottle.
If I had quit early or lifted less weight, would it be easier for me to go to the gym next time? Absolutely. But is that the point? Is making it easy on myself really something I want to move towards? If it's the difference between burning out and continuing, then going easy is obviously the right choice, but I'd argue for the third option-- going hard and not quitting.
This is, of course, harder, but it's also just a skill. Just as I could barely deadlift any weight when I started, there was a point in my life where I could barely convince myself to do anything I didn't want to do. In both cases, though, I worked on it and built myself up slowly. Now the weights I once struggled with feel comically light, and I'm pretty good at making myself act in spite of my impulses.
By developing systems to get yourself to do, and even enjoy, difficult things, you build your grit. By pushing yourself when others would give themselves permission to slack, you're building grit, too. That's probably more valuable than the weightlifting itself, or running for that matter.
Photo is of Leo, Carl, and Ben in Japan. They apparently started a gang called the CVs.
I'm in Austin-- should we do an Austin meetup?
I needed to read this today. I've been running for ~3 weeks and had almost rationalized myself out of doing it this evening.
Also, I'm down to meet up in Austin.
I've been a competitive runner for most of my life. The lessons from distance running that I carry through to most other components of life are numerous and profound. I recently read a bumper sticker that made me smile. It read, "My Sport is Your Sports Punishment." It illustrates the most important idea I think Tynan is conveying through these posts (this one and Sprinting to the Finish). The limits we pose on ourselves or the mind frame we are in, in either case of finishing easy or pushing ourselves through to the end, is just that, are all in our minds and a matter of perspective.
Grit is generally seen as a very positive attribute one can possess and often the difference between people having an overall feeling of success and happiness and those who do not. Many people look at others who are accomplished and think that it 'just happened' to them from some stroke of luck or something, and fail to see all the hard work, persistence, strong finishes, continuing on when the mind and body scream to stop, or otherwise known as grit.
Check out the RadioLab podcast call 'Limits' from April 5, 2010. It is an inspiring look at human limits, of the body, mind and beyond.
It's interesting that you've reframed the grit concept this in the context of lifting weights/workout. I think I agreed with you generally in the initial post you put together, but this one has almost made me rethink the value of "grit."
I've been working out pretty consistently for the last ~8 years and I've come to believe that there's a clear dichotomy between general health/longevity and high-performance training. If you want to be a high-performance athlete then it makes sense to push yourself hard to the end of every workout and training session. However, the long term risks of fatigue/burnout are very real from that sort of mindset.
The people that seem to come out better in the long term are the ones that use smart, periodized training and always leave something in the tank at the end of their workouts. Progress is much slower, but it's steady and they aren't putting undue amounts of stress on their bodies that they'll have to pay for down the line.
While pushing hard and grinding out a session feels good in the immediate afterglow, the cumulative effects of training like that for years can be serious and not easily undone.
I'm not sure if that's the case with developing grit in terms of work as well. I don't have as much experience in that arena.
Re: Your recent sleep article, I've found that in many instances where I'm trying to grit it out, the quality of the work is highly subpar and I end up having to redo it anyway.
I love the concept of grit though. I hope you keep developing it.
Good 'rebuttal'. I don't think there's anything here that I exactly disagree with. My post never says 'only care about enjoyment and go easy on yourself all the time' - what it says is enjoying something is an incredibly important aspect of excelling in something.
In fact, like I mention in my post, the end for me is and has always been improvement and progress. Enjoying something is just another means to improvement and progress - just as is pushing yourself. And sometimes, when the two conflict, choosing long term enjoyment over short term exertion might ultimately lead to more progress as it encourages us to continue the activity and keep pushing ourselves as opposed to growing to resent it.
So I think we both agree - we should push ourselves as much as possible without leading to burnout. But the danger with taking a 'always go the extra step always' mentality is - at what point is burnout approaching and when should we rein ourselves in? If three times a week, why not four, or five, or six, or seven? Say someone running to lose weight (since in other cases the marginal benefits of increasing quantity are debatable) - should they start out running ten hours a day, seven days a week?
We build up gradually to things. No one starts out running a marathon on their first day of running. No one expects you to climb Everest on your first day of mountain climbing. I think there very much is a real thing as overexertion, and just as in running a marathon or climbing a mountain, pushing ourselves too much, too early, can easily derail us much more than pacing ourselves responsibly.
So yes, like Adrienne said, balance. I'm a big fan of the maxim 'everything in moderation'.
PS: I have no recollection of taking that picture. No idea what Leo's gang sign is in reference to, but I think I was trying to make my head look smaller.
I think it's an individual decision to make, but I think that the general principle of erring on the side of pushing yourself is a good one. Getting back to my original post, I think it's better to finish strong rather than allow myself to slack a little bit.
Determining whether how much you do an activity should have more to do with the task and your goals than your preference. The sweet spot for weightlifting seems to be a good hour every three days. I'm gaining muscle faster than I had hoped for, so I'm not looking to increase it.
SETT, on the other hand, can basically take up an unlimited amount of time and benefit from it, and is my top priority, so I go as hardcore as possible--- 7 days a week ~12 hours a day. If I felt like I was getting burnt out, I would cut back the minimum possible and try to slowly work back up.
I'm pretty much never a fan of moderation because I think it's a formula for mediocrity. I'd rather go really hard on the most important things, do the minimum on the others, and then switch priorities as necessary.
I like your approach to things, but is it possible that your somewhat unforgiving mentality might have downsides? Is the desire to take a break always a bad thing?
Definitely not always a bad thing, but I think that when in doubt it's better to err on the side of being too hardcore. I know that part of my subconscious is wired to want to take things easy, so I have to combat that.
Also-- some things are just for fun. Like I just play violin for fun-- I don't practice hard or push myself.
Hey as long as it doesn't kill or maim you, the benefits of being hardcore will probably outweigh the liabilities.
Great post as usual, Tynan! Have you seen this great TED talk on grit? It's definitely a characteristic I've noticed in successful fitness peeps, and now there's research to support it:
One is as happy as one sets out to be. It's not just a 'saying'.
One's Time is best spent being (keeping) Healthy, Wealthy and Wise ('Wise' in the traditional sense.)
Suggest setting a personalized median to Health & Wealth and Aiming high on Social Goals - Kindness, Sharing, Caring, Encouraging and Laughing with fellow humans, without discrimination.
If one is skewing time in favor of work as a one-man show, know: Rome is built in the same number of days by 1 person working 12 hours a day as it is built by 12 people working 1 hour a day.
Have fun : )
"The problem with taking it easy is that you're not building good habits. Instead of creating a pathway in your brain that pushes through discomfort, and tries to enjoy it as much as possible, you're creating a pathway that yields to discomfort. That's dangerous. Instead of learning to love, or at least be neutral on, things that are hard, you're allowing yourself to dislike them. That's dangerous, too."
I think I need to print this out and put it on my wall
Around ten years ago, a friend of mine bet me that he could run a mile faster than I could. We each had a month or two to train, and then we met at the high school track near my old house. He ran first, and did the mile in seven and a half minutes. That was actually faster than I'd run a mile before.
What would my strategy be? Well, the oval track was a fourth of a mile long. I figured that I'd run my usual pace for the first three laps, and then for that last lap, I would just murder myself on the pavement. May as will give it everything I've got, since there's nothing after the finish line.
When I hit he finish line, I had to grab the bleachers to avoid falling down. My legs were shaking, my head was pounding, and I was gasping for breath. I had won, running a 6:59, my fastest mile ever.
A few nights ago it was eleven pm, and my non-negotiable computer-off time of midnight was drawing close. I'd had an amazingly productive day, and the thought crossed my mind that I'd already gotten enough done during the day, and could afford to take a break for the last hour.
I wrote this as a guest post on the Beeminder blog — comments can live there.
It’s dark. Warm. Safe. You’re in bed, about to fall asleep. Pre-dream hallucinations of commanding a mighty bear army are playing across your sated mind. Zz — wait — what about that CrossFit Beeminder?!
You forgot. You got behind. You skipped CrossFit yesterday, but Beeminder said that was okay as long as you did it today instead. You meant to, but life happened. At this point, you think, “I am sumptuously swaddled in my favorite luxury bedding material, it’s late, and there is no way I’m going out in the street to do the workout-of-the-day in the dark, by myself, in my pajamas. And Beeminder will just charge me $5 this time. Okay, deal. Zzz.”
But I think there’s a better way to use Beeminder. When this happened to me, I didn’t even have to think about what to do; I just found myself out there grunting my medicine ball against a telephone pole and jumprope-sprinting into gloomy rosebushes.  It wasn’t even worth considering losing my wager over the tiny matter of some physical discomfort. What wager? Not money — just the certainty that I will always do what I promise myself I will do.