Diminishing Returns

Our son is now into Rock Climbing.

Which means I am, too.

Plus, for those who know me, I love mud running, and the best ones have some level of rock wall obstacles.  So – added bonus to improve.

Mitchell wanted me to join him at the local rock climbing “gym,” Climbnasiam, in order to learn and experience what he has been enjoying so much lately.  Hey, a shot of exercise, challenge, obstacle improvement and time with my son – I’m in.

What a neat set up! And what a difficult and unexpected challenge! I learned a lot that day as Mitchell consistently preached the “conserve energy” and be “fluid” gospel of rock climbing.  Specifically, for those who know this world, we were Bouldering. This involves free climbing specific pathways up to 14 feet – no rope – and with varying difficulties.  The floor is heavily cushioned, so there’s little danger of any major physical damage.

After an hour or so of gaining a new appreciation for grip strength vs muscle strength, as well as the impact of hesitation and delay on the climb (major fatigue), I found my nemesis course. It was a relatively challenging “newbie” climb I conquered earlier in the day. Well, doing it toward the end was the challenge. You see, after all that climbing – gripping, pulling, swinging, etc. – my strength was clearly in a state of diminishing returns. So each time it actually started getting harder, especially when I tried to muscle through this climb.

It occurred to me that this is a great life lesson. We put our shoulder to the wheel and nose to the grindstone and wonder why we are having so little success, at least for the effort put out. Simple – too much time in that position leaves us with a dislocated shoulder and not much left of our nose!

Research I’ve seen says we begin experiencing diminishing returns mentally after about 90 minutes. We’re all slightly different, but none of us is immune to the concept. 

We all need breaks. We all need downtime. We all need to get re-energized.  Take lunch, go for a walk, do some stretching, read something worthwhile, call your spouse or kids, or maybe…go home.

By the way, I did end my day with success on that last climb. With more finesse than strength, some good coaching and a short break, we made it happen!

Mr. Smiley

Think of a profession that has the happiest people. A role someone plays that, as you experience them, you come away feeling good. An overall happy person job.

What did you come up with?

I know, it’s obvious, isn’t it?   A traffic cop.

Well, that’s what my wife would say. And she’d tell you his name is Mr. Smiley.

Of course we don’t really think that’s his name, but it might as well be. Because that’s what he does, all day – always smiling and encouraging walkers and drivers alike with “Enjoy your day!”

Go ahead, picture a traffic cop. Isn’t that the happiest person you’ve ever seen? Not likely. But you might change your mind when you come upon the heaviest traveled cross walk on Dickinson College campus – especially around lunch time. Mr. Smiley makes it fast, efficient, and fun for his customers.

Plenty are not like Mr. Smiley, which is why you didn’t likely pick a traffic cop for your answer. In fact we might come up with a few other, often deserved, but better unsaid, names about traffic cops – or most professions for that matter.

What’s the deal with you, Mr. Smiley?

I don’t really know… but I’d go with - perspective and choice.

Perspective:  I think Mr. Smiley knows the relevance of his role, even while others in the exact same role, even the same crossing space and different time, don’t know it. He knows who he impacts and how. He knows people’s lives are at stake. And he knows he can make it fun and efficient, and very safe all at the same time. When we know what difference we make, we are more focused, in-tune, and engaged. A perspective of relevance helps us feel what we do has value. Mr. Smiley knows being a traffic cop is very relevant.

Choice: I’m thinking Mr. Smiley has the same troubles we all have. He likely sees and hears his share of rude people along his journey. He’s been in some nasty weather, that’s for sure.  He’s got plenty of redundancy, and we could certainly argue he has plenty of stressful situations.  Yet, there he is – smiling, laughing, and just having a good time – whether we are or not.  Thankfully, when we’re paying attention – we are having fun because Mr. Smiley takes us there.

What if we all acted like Mr. Smiley? We might enjoy the journey a whole lot more.

Had a Bad Day

I’ve worked some interesting jobs over my career.

Let’s see…while selling trash container contracts I “cold called/door knocked” on a “business” and the door was answered by a woman in a negligée, with more scantily clad ladies standing behind her. Hmmm. I let that one go.  I remember getting into a shouting match with a jewelry store owner when I was “pitching” the meat I was selling from the back of my truck. Classy. While covering a one lane closed construction zone, and after our radios died, I resorted to having to hand a stick to the last driver as a signal to my partner at the other end of the construction zone that the last car came through. That one was kind of fun, but some people just didn’t want me handing them a stick through their window! Whatever!

But they all pale in comparison…

While on college break, I was working for a company that cleaned out sewer lines and fixed manholes. This particular summer afternoon started out much like the others. I was in a manhole in a residential neighborhood when it happened.  

The protocol when climbing into a manhole that’s part of a residential sewer system is to plug the incoming lines in order to work on the actual task at hand, cleanly. Well, that certainly makes sense.

So there I was, in the manhole, with my partner up top doing nothing in particular. Suddenly, I hear the sound of rushing water (perhaps more than water?) and before I can properly react, I have a shower coming down on me. I was in the direct line of a bathroom flush, and I forgot to plug the hole! No freaking way!  My buddy up above knew exactly what happened and was promptly rolling around on the ground in a fit of laughter. I was not. I just got peed on, maybe worse.

Fortunately I did have a rain coat on.  Yeah that made things better.

I’ve had some bad days at work, heard others share their bad day experiences as well. But few people would trade their bad day for this one!

Next time you have a challenging day, just image someone flushing their toilet mess all over you.

Care to keep your bad day?

Again!

Again!

He pushed them past the point of exhaustion.  Skating back and forth on the ice, doing suicides endlessly, the team doctor even stepped on the ice to stop the madness. But the tenacious coach forged on…driving the only message that gives the team a fighting chance. This was a team of amateurs facing a group of highly trained, highly skilled hockey teams from all over the world. The US Team winning was considered a joke. But not to this coach and he knew how to make it happen.

Again!

They were puking on the ice now, driven to the edge.

Again!

The lights were turned out. The doctor urged him to stop. But he didn’t.

Again!

The assistant was clearly not in favor…but the coach pushed on.  Challenging the assistant to blow that whistle – and he did.

AGAIN!

Finally, after endless pain, agony and physical exhaustion, one player spoke up:

Player: “Mike Eruzioni! Winthrop Massachusetts!

Coach: “Who do you play for?”

Player: “I play for…The United States of America!”

Coach: “That’s all, gentlemen.”

Herb Brooks was coaching what would become the legendary US Olympic Hockey Team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. They went on to win the Gold medal, defeating the Russians in an epic and thrilling fashion. And against all odds.

Why did Eruzioni’s comment seem to matter so much?

Team. They could not win as individuals. They did not have the talent and skill. And even if they did, it would not have been enough – not against the Russian team, or most of the other top teams for that matter. There was and still is only one way to accomplish that kind of victory. Team.

Nothing beats a well-trained team, driven with commitment, tenacity, and loyalty. A successful team is far greater than the sum of its individual parts.

And that’s exactly what Herb Brooks built.

Go Stress Yourself!

I remember running a 10 mile race in the early 80's at just over 60 minutes – around a 6 minute pace – which for most runners is actually pretty darn fast. For me, it was an anomaly – a pace I didn’t normally run. And I paid dearly when we got home…uh in the bathroom…both ends…simultaneously… a bit tricky to say the least!

A few weeks ago Mitchell and I ran the Spartan Super at Blue Mountain in the Poconos. 8 miles up and down the mountain, crazy challenging obstacles along the way - even a spear throw! It was hot, sticky, and extremely grueling – physically and mentally. 

During the recent heat wave I ran most days in the late afternoon – hottest time of the day. One day I ran 5 miles at 4 pm with a heat index temp of 107. Nice.

Why do I share this? Because each of these experiences prepares me to win every day by choosing and overcoming stress.

I chose to put myself in each of these situations. Granted, in the beginning I was not aware of the benefit I’m sharing here. But as time has progressed, I believe choosing to stress myself has better prepared me to handle the stress of life – whether it’s patience needed behind a very slow driver or focus in times of financial risk. 

In his book, Spartan Up!, creator of the Spartan Race, Joe De Sena shared the value of deliberately stressing ourselves – yes, on purpose. Learning to deal with it teaches us we’re more than capable when it arises again. We don’t live in an age that requires us to hunt and fight to survive, not like our ancestors.  Without that forced daily stress, we are less capable managing the little things that challenge us every day. Hit a few hundred burpees in the morning, or kick out a few miles on the bike, swim some laps, push some weights – all that “stress” teaches our bodies what is and is not stress worthy. And it’s not just physical. Hit a Toast Masters meeting in the AM – yep, public speaking - and see how you handle the rest of the day. Cake walk.

Purposeful stress makes our daily experiences at work, life and play more palatable – because we’ve already overcome for the day. What’s another challenge? We’ve already pushed ourselves – and managed through. So unplanned stress becomes more of a challenge to overcome than a problem to fret about. We gain perspective and confidence in the unknown by overcoming in the known.  

So…go stress yourself! Just maybe stop a bit short of my first example above!