Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Relax for the same result

A few years ago, I lived in Santa Monica, California, right on the beach.

There’s a great bike path that goes along the ocean for 7½ miles. So, 15 miles round trip.

On weekday afternoons, it’s almost empty. It’s perfect for going full-speed.

So a few times a week, I’d get on my bike and go as fast as I could for the 15 mile loop. I mean really full-on, 100%, head-down, red-faced, sprinting.

I’d finish exhausted, and look at the time. 43 minutes. Every time. Maybe a minute more on a really windy day. But basically always 43 minutes.

After a few months, I noticed I was getting less enthusiastic about this bike ride. I think I had mentally linked it with being completely exhausted.

So one day I decided I would do the same ride, but just chill. Take it easy, nice and slow. OK not super-slow, but dialing it back to about 50% of my usual effort.

And ahhh.... What a fun ride. I was relaxed, and smiling, and looking around. Not red-faced. I was barely giving it any effort.

I saw two dolphins in the water. A pelican flew right over me in Marina del Ray. When I looked up to say “wow!”, he shit in my mouth. I can still remember that taste of digested shellfish. I had to laugh at the novelty of it.

I’m usually so damn driven, always doing everything as intensely as I can. It was so nice to take it easy for once. I felt I could do this forever, without any exhaustion.

When I finished, I looked at the time. 45 minutes.

What?!? How could that be? Yep. I double-checked. 45 minutes, as compared to my usual 43.

So apparently all of that exhausting, red-faced, full-on push-push-push I had been doing only gave me a 4% boost.

I could just take it easy, and get 96% of the results.

And what a difference in experience! To go the same distance, in about the same time, but one way leaves me exhausted, and the other way rejeuvenated.

This was really profound for me, and I think of it often.

When I notice I’m all stressed-out about something, or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride, and try dialing back my effort by 50%.

It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like 50% of the effort.

Which, of course, makes me realize that much of my effort apparently wasn’t effort at all, but just ineffective stress added on top of something to make it feel like I’m doing the best I can.

Bicycle photo © Mike Dean