Thursday, July 18, 2019

Do Less

Recently, I've been doling out advice to friends to do less. Although on the surface it sounds like bad, contradictory advice, I find in practice that it can be rather effective.

Let's take working out and getting in shape for example. I always like to go with a health & fitness example because the problem is universally understood and its a popular problem for most.

What do people usually do when they start off going to the gym?

There is some trigger for motivation. This causes them to sign up for a gym membership. They go hard for an hour each day for a week. They manage to keep this up for a month maybe until life catches up, the motivation is lost, and then they become too busy.

So how can doing less help?

Let's start with why. Peter Attia had a great insight that most people have not drilled down what they want out of their workouts. They have some sort of idea they should or need to go to the gym. But they don't really have a goal. Thats part of the problem. Peter recommends that, unless they are training for a specific sport or something, most people would do well to choose a goal as 'being the most fit 100 year old that they can be'. This changes everything. Because if this is the goal, the steps change completely. You are now focused on the long term. In a 100 year span, each workout is actually pretty meaningless. Similar to compound interest over a long period of time, the intensity of the workout means less, the consistency means a lot more.

I think it was James Clear that said when he was first starting on getting into shape, he would keep his working journal near his bed. If he hadn't worked out that day he would do 10 pushups before going to sleep and write it down. 10 pushups will not do anything for your body. However, it wasn't about the pushups. It wasn't the body he was training as much as the mind. If he did the 10 pushups he would be building a habit and identity; he would be the type of person that would do a workout everyday.

Along with this is the mental aspect of starting. The hardest part is starting. Once you put pen to paper and get some momentum you will probably crank out 500 words easily. Once you get to the gym you will do a workout. We usually don't have a problem doing work, we have a problem starting work. One of the ways to make things easier to start is to remove the barriers to start. Put the guitar right next to the couch, do a shitty first draft. In our case we don't want to expect a brutal workout, otherwise we will feel too tired for it. Instead if we only need 15 minutes for out workout, we have no excuses. Once we start maybe we do more.

The truth is that you don't have the time (its not a priority) to workout. Look at your actions, they are the truth. When you have to work late for work, or you want to join your friend for a movie, that workout doesn't get done - and that might be ok because those are higher priority for us, at least in the short term. So how do we solve this? The answer is to do less. It's not a priority to do a long, intense workout. Instead we need to limit it to the 20 minutes or even 10 minutes a day we can give it. So do less, because if you try to allocate an hour workout each day you will inevitably not be able to keep it up and then you will end up doing zero minutes - equivalent to risk of ruin, which is the worst outcome. But if you only allocate 15 minutes a day, you can probably stick to it. I'd even recommend not going to the gym since that alone might be 15 minutes and removing a commute will remove a barrier to starting. Obviously if you want to become ripped, you need to put in more time and more intensity. But we said our goal is to become a fit 100 year old whose body is not falling apart then we are ok with less.

It works because we overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year. It works because it helps us build habits. It helps us lower our barrier to entry and decreases the likeliness of burnout. Particularly for people who struggle with consistency, less is more.