5/27/21: When positive is preferable to perfect
This week's Think Better Newsletter is about how to approach areas of training that we simply have no interest in.
Our guest on the latest Fueling the Pursuit podcast was triathlete Dede Griesbauer, who last year set the women's Ultraman world record at the age of 49! In our conversation, she revealed that nutrition is the biggest challenge for her:
"I'm a picky eater, so nutrition has gotten me into a lot of trouble in my career. I'm not a foodie. I don't look forward to eating. It's a waste of time for me. It's a hassle, but I've had to change my mindset about food."
How bad was her diet? In her words, "Left to my own devices, wine and a banana make a perfectly reasonable dinner."
I can relate to this because left to my own devices, I'd probably eat Frosted Flakes for dinner. I know it matters, but I find it very difficult to invest consistent energy into diet and nutrition. Perhaps you feel this way about some aspect of training: diet, sleep, stretching, weight training... Most people do.
In Dede's case, her nutrition got to the point of actively hurting her. Her doctor put it a little more bluntly: "Dede, your body is eating itself alive."
She wasn't eating enough variety and she wasn't eating enough quantity. Yet she was working out like a world class athlete. It wasn't an eating disorder so much as a lack of interest in food.
Dede has put a lot of work into her diet, consulting with nutritionists and getting the support of her husband. But she doesn't strive to be perfect. She knows that would actually hold her back.
Which is what makes her example so interesting to me. First, we often mistakenly believe that elite performers are perfect in all aspects of their lives. They're not.
Second, how should you approach an aspect of training when you've got no passion for it at all?
I recommend the following guideline: Positive is preferable to perfect.
My favorite mental model is called the Momentum Model. I use it throughout Make the Leap to illustrate concepts. It envisions us as a ball that moves toward or away from our goals based on the positive and negative forces in our lives. Here's a very simple diagram.
Arrows can be bigger or smaller, and can change in size or direction over time. At its worst, Dede's diet looked like the image on the left. A huge negative force holding her back. Now it probably looks like the image on the right. Far from the optimal diet, but still positive.
In Dede's case, that's just fine. In this case, positive is preferable to perfect.
There are very real costs to pursuing perfection. It requires sacrifices and creates negative stress. When I mentioned this to Dede her first words were: "Yes! It's exhausting!"
If you love food and nutrition, growing that positive arrow may not require sacrifices and stress. If you hate it, that stress and exhaustion can itself become a huge negative. For many of us, it cancels out the gains entirely.
If you want to be a great runner, you need your attitude, effort, and training program arrows to be as close to perfect as you can make them. Everything else just needs to be positive. How positive should be determined not just by your expected benefits, but also your expected costs.
It's not about maximizing any one arrow, but all the arrows together. A bunch of small positive arrows can still generate strong momentum toward your goals.
What's the least you can do to turn a negative today into a positive in the future?
Go Be More,
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
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
"Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation." - Michael Jordan
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