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Keep it Simple, Stupid.

July 25, 2017

Interesting Thought: The Benefits of Simplicity


There is a fair amount of research that says expectations drive happiness, that it's not so much our actual condition that determines how happy we are, but rather, how our actual condition compares to what we expect. This is why individuals that are, by all objective measures, "worse off," often report being happier than those who are better off but living in environments where they feel like everyone around them has more. For example, rural villagers in China living under what many would consider "poverty" may report being happier than a top 1-percenter living in Palo Alto who feels like they can barely keep up with their neighbors. 

It follows that if we want to increase our life-satisfaction, we ought to decrease our expectations. At first this sounds rather dark and dire, but in reality, it's actually an empowering and quite positive proposition. In the words of Intermountain physician Dr. John D. Day, "When we strip away the inessential elements of our lives and focus on what really matters most, it's a lot easier to feel content."

In his book, The Longevity Plan, Dr. Day suggests that we ask ourselves two simple questions that will help simplify our lives, and by extension, our expectations:

1) Do we have what we need?
2) Do we need what we want?

These two questions apply to everything from the physical (food, shelter, clothing) to the emotional (friendships, romantic involvement), to the virtual (email, social media, digital entertainment). When we reflect on the various elements of our lives using these questions as a guide, we ensure that we—not those around us—are determining our expectations, and thus our happiness.

An additional benefit of answering these questions is that they prompt us to focus on and devote our energy to what matters most. In Peak Performance, we call this becoming a minimalist to be a maximalist. Doing so increases not only happiness but also fulfillment and performance. 

The more we declutter and simplify our lives, the happier and better we'll be. 



Coaching Corner: Developing Smart Heuristics 

"It’s all about the details" is a common cliché used to remind us to stay focused on all of the things that matter. While we preach the value of being rigorous and doing everything with deliberate intent, the key is knowing when to embrace the fine details versus when to acquiesce to a rule of thumb, or heuristic, that can guide the way.
As a coach, it’s incredibly easy to find oneself paralyzed by excess information. Do I assign ten 400 meter repeats or eight? 60 seconds rest between the repeats or 90 seconds? Should they be at 4:40 mile pace or 4:45? Does this workout take place six or eight days out from our race? The checklist on our decision tree for something as simple as a single interval workout can be long and varied. If we go through this process during every decision we make, it would take hours upon hours to plan a single week of training.
Heuristics allow us to offload our decision tree. They are guiding principles to revisit to when we find ourselves venturing down the path of complexity. They are there as a subtle whisper in the back of our minds saying, “Hey, we deliberated long and hard on this in the past and for the vast majority of situations, this action will be best.”  

For example, while reflecting on how hard to make an athlete's next workout, I might recall my heuristic “take the next logical step,” which then guides the workout creation. These simple words remind me that obsessing over the energy systems or muscles a workout might utilize is a waste. Instead, I need to look at what the athlete has done previously (e.g., two weeks ago they completed eight 400m repeats in 65 seconds with 90 seconds rest) and focus on what the logical extension of this workout is (e.g., change one variable, perhaps doing the same workout and trying to run them in 64 seconds).
A few heuristics I use in my own coaching:


  1. Don’t go there until I need to go there.

  2. Extremes to specific.

  3. Never leave any training behind.

  4. Nail the basics before we get complex.

  5. Take the next logical step.


While this example is focused on heuristics in run-coaching, you can develop all kinds of heuristics that guide your entire life.



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