2-4-11: Understanding "potential" in training

Sent 2/4/2021

Today's Think Better Newsletter follows up last week's (and the week before)...and dives into the idea of "potential."

The Idea

Feedback loops can lead to exponential improvement. This rapid improvement I call a leap.

The thing is, all leaps end. Nobody just keeps leaping forever.

They end because we all have a limit on what we can achieve in any period of time. The word we give to that limit is "potential."

Unfortunately, we often confuse "potential" with the idea of "talent": the fixed and immutable qualities within us. But potential is actually a measure of ability.

Ability is talent molded by effort over time. 

What this means is we can have a different potential for whatever time period we look at. If we generalize it, though, it looks like this. 

Exponential growth reaching the limit of our potential

When we have a positive feedback loop, we experience gradual growth until we make a leap. Then we plateau as we reach our current "potential."

If we don't have a good feedback loop, we get the red line. Some gradual improvement, no leap, and lots of "untapped potential."

(That black straight line is how inexperienced athletes think about improvement. It doesn't actually exist.) 

The System

You have to appreciate that not only does it take a long time for the leap to happen, but that you will level off just as quickly. Leveling off is necessary and normal. And it can take a long time and a lot of work to have another leap.

You can plan mentally to make a leap by trusting that your strong positive feedback loop will lead to one.

But you must also prepare for that leap to end. And pretty quickly at that. 

And remember: whether or not your leap gets you close to your potential is due to more than talent. Your effort and how much time you work at it matter just as much.

(This is true not just for running but for any activity that requires consistent high quality effort to improve: learning languages, growing social media, or writing a software application, to name a few.)

The Question

If you keep waiting, will you have enough time to make the leap you need to make?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast

"Continuous effort--not strength or intelligence--is the key to unlocking our potential."
- Winston Churchill


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