Overcomplicating or getting even better at what you do

There’s a rather uncommon approach in running training that I’ve read about recently. It’s uncommon because it’s exactly the opposite of what most coaches tell their athletes to do.

When someone starts training and usually has a goal race in mind that’s taking place some 6-8-10 months later, the coach will have them do longer and easier runs. Volume. That’s because they need to create an aerobic base and prepare their bodies for the speed work that’s coming next, as the race gets closer.

Jason Koop, coach and author of Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, has a different idea. He starts the trainings with maximum intensity workouts, and then moves on to specific trainings depending on what the goal race looks like (hills if it’s hilly, long climbs etc).

His principle is that the farther you are from the event, the more you should focus on your weak spots – and that’s usually speed. And then, as you get closer to the race, you should start polishing the things you are good at and use them in your advantage to the maximum.

I still think that for all beginner runners and most intermediate runners a good block of running volume is essential at the beginning of a training period, but I guess that doing speed sessions from time to time helps, even if it’s early. And, of course, it depends on the history and experience of the athlete, as I assume Koop works with pretty seasoned runners.

This principle got me thinking about how we overcomplicate things in other areas of our lives. How we choose to struggle with the most difficult things instead of just getting even better at what we’re already pretty good.

Ever happened to you to see a simple idea and think “damn, this is so simple and clever, why didn’t I come up with it?“. Maybe because you were busy thinking of something way too complex.

A few years ago I was working for a subscription based product and my role included optimizing the revenue – briefly, making people keep their subscriptions for longer and pay more.

So whenever a user clicked the unsubscribe button, we’d ask him why he wants to cancel, and most of them said it was because of the price.

Then, I tested two hypotheses. To half of those who canceled for price reasons I offered a 50% discount for the next three months (meaning we made just half the money, but for three more months, after which nothing stopped the user to cancel again).

To the other half of the users I offered lifetime access to the product, but actually charged more – a one time payment that was about 4 x the monthly subscription, but lifetime access (for a product that they only actually used 5-6 times, and mostly in the first two months).

The second scenario obviously meant more money at once and much more retention of users that even if they wouldn’t pay monthly again, we could sell them other stuff later.

I was pretty sure most would go for the 50% discount. An offer that involved more work on our developers side, less money for us and in the end less users. But I was wrong. We tested both ideas and most users chose the simple to implement lifetime subscription and even paid more for it.

The same goes for dieting, exercising, and eating better. We spend tons of money on new miracle products, superfoods and join extreme fitness classes. And the problem is that with every new hype we tend to forget the basics. Our attention and energy are limited. And we end up in the same place where we started, just more tired and with less money.

After coaching many people to change their food habits and live a more active lifestyle, and even trying to coach myself, I realised that most of us usually need consistency in the easy things. At least in the beginning. And this can mean doing the same simple things that we’re good at and that we like, over and over again. Instead of wasting time and energy (and expectations) on miracles.

So ask yourself: what are your strengths?

Maybe you’re a good planner and always take a tupper to work. Why not keep doing that, and taking it up a notch by just making sure that what you have there is as good as it can be for your health and goals.

Maybe you can ride a bike. And even like it. Why not spend more time cycling, instead of joining some killer fitness program?

Of course, we all need the novelty factor and it’s motivating to start something new, but keeping things simple can be the answer sometimes.

When energy and time are limited, the best that you can do is to get better at what you already can do.

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