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Nothing is Ever Truly Optimal, so Stop Waiting for the Perfect Moment in Time.

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Entropy is a great teacher.

The second law of thermodynamics essentially dictates that things gain disorder without investment of new energy. This is termed entropy,

Entropy happens in many systems, where if things are left unattended, disorder will ensue. Things that were once orderly become fragmented, like the current state of my Gmail inbox. So, like with most things, we are constantly in this battle to keep entropy at bay, to find order. We mow the lawn. We wipe the dust off the shelves. We tidy our rooms. We read and check our emails. We keep the show on the road. This takes energy. The more disorder, the more energy it takes, like stacking dirty dishes in the sink rather than just cleaning it once you've used it. Sorry mum.

We divide that energy given to a task based on prioritisation, accountability, efficiency, adaptability (and numerous other nice sounding words that relate)... Ultimately, we are trying to juggle life, and those thresholds are different for everyone, but what remains true; life happens. We can be shunted from relative balance to absolute chaos in a blink of an eye, and sometimes, you can't do a damn thing about it. You have to roll with the punches, and try to deal with the circumstances as best as you possibly can. The problem with this unfortunately is that time doesn't wait. We only have so many hours in the day, with only so much energy we can direct to a given task to keep entropy at bay. If we are honest, because of this, we are inherently sub-optimal beings, and that's ok. There is nothing more disingenuous than this 'curated perfectionism' that social media spews out at an alarming rate. Like, for example, this pseudo motivational nonsense; "how you do one thing is how you do everything" as if by applying yourself and being exceptional at one thing sets the standard for everything else in life. I definitely don't approach making my bed with the same energy, focus, passion and deliberation as I did trying to complete my masters. But hey, maybe I'm failing? Or maybe I just directed my energy and prioritised where I found value? Maybe I just assigned the 'good enough rule' to making my bed? Maybe we don't need to do everything with optimisation in mind, because optimal is a moving unattainable target anyway? (There were many days I almost forgot to put on my trousers, let alone make my bed).

These thoughts prevail in training methodology and often populate our feeds. You need to train in this optimal way to achieve this X result. I get frustrated by how many of us idealise our training in this way, based around this search for optimisation in everything we do. Rather counterintuitively however, I actually think the idea that things need to be optimal to see improvement, often only causes people to stall or get discouraged. Optimal is pipe dream. The unicorn of physical performance. An athletes utopia, but most importantly, for most of us, we don't even need optimal. We just need to keep entropy at bay. We need to 'do'. We need enough directed energy to keep the show on the road, to keep the wheels turning in the right direction. Ironically, what I have found is entropy increases namely because people get frustrated with actually not being optimal. Meaning, so many people get frustrated or feel bad about not being at their best for a training session. Or they perhaps even miss a session because they feel it will be worthless for whatever reason. Typically this only creates a domino effect, where we end up throwing the whole training week or programme in the bin because we feel it's all gone south from one bad or sub-optimal day. That's why I believe learning how to manage sub-optimal conditions is far more valuable than hoping to excel when the stars align for you. Because that is life. And that is where consistency is found. Where routine is established. To do the thing when you don't feel like doing the thing.

The lie exists in the fact that we need optimal for adaptation, for progress. We absolutely don't.

This isn't say you shouldn't try to make better choices around your training. It isn't to say there aren't better ways of doing things. It is to say when shit hits the fan, finding a way, doing a less intense session, the ability to scale what you do, even choosing to walk up the stairs rather than take the elevator, are all ways to keep entropy at bay. At the end of the day, as I have said before, training sits on a continuum of more appropriate or less appropriate, rarely is it inappropriate. As I have also previously mentioned in an article about hybrid training; Training for development of multiple qualities is in of itself inherently a sub-optimal plan anyway. In the sense that you are allotting time and investing energy to develop multiple qualities, rather than focusing on one thing. But there is plenty of progress that can be made. There are people literally thriving in textbook physiological definitions of "non-specific, sub-optimal" training environments that can run sub 3 hour marathons and deadlift 200kg... in the same day. So stop nocebo(ing) yourself out of potential development. What certainly will cause more disorder is missing sessions. Missing training weeks. Because of this unrealistic expectation that things need to be optimal for things to be worthwhile.

A call gets scheduled at the wrong time, the kids are running riot, your kcal intake has been insufficient for the day, your sleep quality hasn't been great, you have to take a trip abroad for a few days and sit in a conference room; it's how we manage that. It's what we do on those days, or over that period of time that matters. The ability to scale. Adjust. Adapt. To do... That is what matters most.


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