I have this tendency to throw myself whole-heartedly into things. (Usually too many things at a time…) And this tendency often ends up with me getting burned.

Case in point: With my baby turning into a toddler, a full-time school schedule, my commitments to my league, and a growing business partnership, I thought it would be a great idea to start up Iron Octopus Fitness. Because why not?

Perhaps I can also take over the dictatorship of a small country. IN MY SPARE TIME.

I’ve been operating at this level and with this mindset for so long that it subconsciously carries over into other things:

  • I will eat all the cupcakes. And that bag of chips. And I should probably stop and buy donuts on the way home. At least two. I’d hate for one to be lonely.
  • I will do all of my school work on one day. It’ll be nice to have it out of the way and if I just keep my nose to the grindstone for a whole day, I won’t have to worry about it again for a week.
  • I will workout as many days as possible. I need to be better/faster/stronger so I will attend all of the available practices (4 per week) and cross train as much as I can.

While it may be obvious why some of those things aren’t good, what’s wrong with the others? Of course, we shouldn’t always eat all of the junk food in the pantry, but why can’t we do all of our hard work on one day? Or why shouldn’t I cross train as hard as I can?

The answer comes down to stamina. If you’re constantly on, it’s hard to turn off.

I realized this just the other day as I was planning my tasks for the week. Just normal stuff like when to grocery shop, write blog posts, check email, do school work, etc. I have this tendency to front-load my work, so that I’m doing most of it on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I rationalize with myself that if I get everything done early that I’ll have more time to relax on Thursday, Friday, and over the weekend.

But you know what happens instead?

I find MORE stuff to fill the spots  on those days when I’m supposed to be “resting”. And I end up vaguely flitting from one thing to the next, half-assing most of the tasks along the way.

half ass

And I get A LOT done. I do. But it’s not all good. Some of my school assignments are mediocre. Some of my cross training sessions are lousy. Some of my blog posts aren’t that great. (Not this one, of course.)

And when I don’t give myself time to focus on something and then relax my focus, I only ever produce something that’s okay.

It’s pretty common in our society to adhere to the “If a little is good, a lot must be better” mindset. But is that really true?

Let’s take an example of two skaters: Tweedle Devious and Aimee-T-Ville Horror.

TWEEDLE attends all 4 practices that her team offers every week. She rushes out of work and barely gets to eat before she arrives at practice thoroughly frazzled. Tweedle usually still has work or something else on her mind and often spaces out during pacelines and drills. Occassionally, she has practices where she can focus on everything the coach is saying, but most of the time it goes in one ear and out the other because of all the other stuff she has going on.

AIMEE attends anywhere from 2-4 practices per week. This is usually determined by what else is going on in her life. Although, honestly, she makes 2 practices per week much more often than she makes 4. On the days that Aimee plans to go to practice she makes sure she has scheduled time before practice to eat, relax from work, and take a breather. (She actually has a little routine down, so this whole process takes about 30 minutes for her.) When Aimee is at practice, she is super focused and makes all of her practice time as deliberate as possible.

Which skater improves faster? Tweedle or Aimee?

Which skater is less likely to suffer from frustration? Burnout? Injury?

For the purposes of this example, we were only talking about practice time, but this general principle can apply to cross training, league business, life, you name it. We, humans, are not made to go hard 100% of the time 100% of the time. (Does that make sense?)

Doing more does not make us better.

I could spend all day on my couch binge-watching every episode of House, M.D. while fiddling with a Rubix cube. Neither of those things makes me good at A) diagnosing random medical issues or B) successfully completing a Rubix cube.

Doing things better makes us better.

If I instead spent 60 to 90 minutes at a time solely focused on learning the intricacies of the Rubix cube — without any distractions — followed by time to relax and watch House, I’d be much more likely to improve my Rubix cube performance. (Although I doubt anything will make me better at diagnosing random medical issues. Maybe becoming a doctor, but let’s not let things get out of hand.)

Believe it or not, when we DO MORE we actually get LESS DONE. Because I’m a total nerd and I like to throw out data, it takes the average person 45 minutes to get fully re-focused on a task after getting distracted. 45 effing minutes! That means that a 45 minute task that you check your email halfway through ends up taking twice as long.

“Yeah. Yeah. Great, Prime. But I’m playing roller derby here, not preparing to be audited by the IRS. Why does it matter?”

If you commit yourself to doing things related to derby better, you will get better. (And you’ll have time to get audited by the IRS.) When you commit yourself to doing things related to derby more often, you often just have more to do.

Want to put it into practice?

  1. When you’re at practice: set your focus and check-in with yourself frequently to make sure you’re not just going through the motions. Take your water breaks, if you’re working deliberately all practice YOU WILL NEED THEM. Think of them as practice for quick physical and mental bout recovery.
  2. During your cross training: engage your brain, not just your muscles. Figure out how to get the most bang for your buck during your workouts, so you can do more in less time. (This often looks like incorporating weight lifting and high intensity intervals.) Often visualizing the muscles your using can help your mind and your muscles “talk” which can improve your overall strength and movement patterns.
  3. Doing league business: ugh. Amirite? Set aside time during the day (or every other day depending on how involved you are) to only work on league business. And then don’t do it at any other time. This is easier said than done, I’ll admit. I’ve been trying to only check my league email once a day at 4pm. Most days I fail, but I’m getting closer to success.
  4. Watching bouts: go in with a plan in mind. What are you going to watch for specifically? If you want it to be a valuable learning experience, you have to watch intentionally and deliberately. That doesn’t mean you can’t watch derby for fun, just realize that it’s not the same thing.
  5. Take a break: recognize when you need time to chill and take it. For most cognitive tasks, like bout watching and doing league business, we’re maxed out at 90 minutes. In fact, recent research suggests that the most productive people take a break every 57 minutes. Get up. Walk around. Do some burpees. Take a power nap. But seriously, take a break.

(DISCLAIMER: I’m not about to advocate that you don’t go to practice, but sometimes you really shouldn’t go to practice. You’d be better off staying home and sleeping. Remember, the Exxon Valdez was crashed by a sleep deprived captain. Chernobyl was being overseen by sleep deprived workers. Injuries happen when you’re tired. Understand what that looks and feels like for you and adjust accordingly.)

This isn’t about working smarter, not harder.

This is about working smart and hard. But most importantly it’s about working deliberately.

“…Aesop had it wrong in his classic fable about the tortoise and the hare. It isn’t the tortoise, slow and steady, that wins the race. Rather, it’s the hare, who balances intense bursts of energy with intermittent periods of recovery.”

TONY SCHWARTZ {Be Excellent at Anything pg. 89}

More is not better. Better is better.

Want more?

If you’re interested in more exclusive content, access to my FREE resource library, and the slightly weird workings of my inner mind, you can sign up for the Iron Octopus Fitness email list HERE. Wherein I harass you weekly with all things intelligent cross training, mindset, and…other.


About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

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