I was burning through a fitness blender yesterday followed by blistering 4:30 minute half mile intervals (ha ha) and it occurred to me that life wasn’t meant to be easy.
(I recognize that for far too many people life is far too hard and it would be great if it could be significantly easier. It would also be tremendous if we went out of our ways to make it easier for the people around us. Friend, family and stranger.)
But, specifically for me at this juncture I recognized that I am just not happy when it’s too easy. I don’t want to just hang out at the beach.
There is a tremendous pleasure in taking on a really difficult project and seeing it to completion. Most people have heard of the concept of Flow, but not as many have read the wonderful book Finding Flow, by social scientist Czichzentmihalyi.
In this book he alerts us to the remarkable finding that people self report that they are happiest while in the midst of work. Later, however, when asked to report what activities they believe will make them happy, they say they prefer to sit and watch something, or hang out and relax.
But, they don’t actually report the same level of satisfaction while in the real-time activity.
It makes sense, right?
We are happiest when fully engaged.
But we are sold this idea that we need to be relaxing.
Who sells this idea? Everyone who can make money if you choose to watch cable, drink beer, or make netflix binge watching the destination.
Every now and again that’s a fun thing to do because it’s a contrast to a purposeful life.
I’m working on getting fitter right now. There is no focus on weight or even health, although that’s good, but actual fitness. Why? I love working hard when I’m doing it and after.
I just think I hate it all the rest of the time.
It would be great to increase my capacity to train hard at this point in my life.
Recently I read the book by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness called Peak Perfomance.
The important nugget in the book is their growth equation:
Throughout the book they redefine stress and rest and growth. As a result I have redefined them for myself as well.
What is stress?
Reframe stress as a challenge. Challenges are good for us physically as well mentally.
Put yourself out at the edge of your ability and work on getting better. When I chug around the block at a 4:30 minute half mile pace that is a challenge for me especially by the third interval. I hope in the near future that I’ll be discussing a 4 minute pace, but I’m not right now.
When I hit publish on a blog post that is stress for me right now. What will people think? Did I write it well enough? Tell too much? Too little?
This is where I have to dig deep into my Stephen Pressfield mindset and hit publish.
What is rest?
Well, it’s not just sitting on my butt. I like the example in the book of the Norwegian cross country skiers. On their rest days they ski. Very slowly. I’ve started to adopt this for myself. On my rest days I go for slow contemplative walks in the woods. I get a lot of steps on my fitbit, but at a super slow pace.
You can take this philosophy and apply it beyond sports. I am thinking about this in terms of work.
The book covers much more ground than this when discussing rest.
What is growth?
This is such a good question. We know objectively what growth is in many ways. If you hit a personal best or your team wins a championship that is an obvious sign of growth. But what if it leads to burn out? Or can’t be sustained?
What if you never win or get better, but the actual effort is satisfying? Is that growth?
What if it leads to excellence in something else, or deep insight?
These are all important questions. In the book the authors are trying to help us reach higher levels without burning out. That is an incredibly valuable effort and important even for us amateurs.
There are also natural endings or ascensions in life. Sometimes we are just done with an activity and ready for the next one. This is also growth and requires of us the wisdom to move forward.