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Effort, Performance And Joy

The indoor bikes at my gym have a display monitor on the front. The monitor is designed to show you how much effort you’re putting into your workout. In theory the monitor helps you to get better results. You can see how the combination of your speed and resistance increases your power output. You can measure the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned.

A constant awareness of the numbers is supposed to help you improve your performance. But I’ve found that it sometimes has the opposite effect. It’s hard not to just stare at those numbers for the whole time you’re on the bike. When you focus mainly on the numbers, you tell yourself a story about how well you’re doing compared to yesterday. You’re not thinking about the aggregate measurement of your performance over time or about the benefits of showing up day after day—week in, week out. You’re simply trying to increase your effort. You’re thin-slicing in the most unhelpful way. And you’re taking all of the joy out of working out.

Something surprising happens when you cover the monitor, avoid looking at the numbers. Suddenly you’re more aware of your body and how it’s capable of responding. You’re not limited by your perception of yesterday’s performance. You don’t have a mental ceiling about what’s possible. And so you not only achieve better results, you enjoy the ride.

We tend to believe the secret to improving performance is to pay attention to our output—that prioritising the numbers is what makes them go up. The numbers are just one sign that you’re on the right track. There are a hundred different ways you can improve them over time. But staring straight at the numbers and lamenting about what you’re not achieving right this second isn’t one of them.

Journeying is the act of travelling from one place to another—not a moment of arrival.
You get there by being committed to the journey.

Image by R Reeve

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