Imagine you wanted to build bigger biceps. How would you get them to grow?
You’d do it by using the following 2 steps:
1. You’d put your biceps in a situation that challenges them. One where they had to work a little harder than they’re used to. Like lifting a barbell with some weights attached to it.
2. You’d go through a little extra effort to nourish them with good food and adequate rest.
This principle also works the in the other direction. If you want your biceps to shrink, here’s what you should do:
1. Sit on a couch all day and make sure you don’t lift anything. (Be careful here, it’s easy to use them accidentally: If you want a beer, ask your spouse to grab it. If you want your spouse, please don’t grab them either. Ask them to come to you. The goal is to not make any effort.)
2. Try to not to nourish your muscles too much. Only eat food with no nutritional value. Set an alarm every 30 minutes to make sure you don’t get any deep sleep, as this may help your muscles regenerate.
Now for a third scenario… What would you have to do, if you wanted your biceps to stay exactly the same?
Well, here’s the catch:
Part of the essence of life is that it’s always moving. Nothing ever stands still. Even when you’re sleeping there are still parts of your body that move (like your lungs). So you’re always moving in one direction or the other. When you think you’re coasting, your muscles are actually still either growing or slowly dying off.
Say for example that you started building your biceps by lifting 20 KG every week for a certain amount of times. This would cause them to grow. So you may now think “Great, as long as I keep the habit of lifting 20 KG every week, they will continue to grow”. But since they are now growing stronger, there will come a point where 20 KG is not challenging any more, or even downright easy. So if you don’t challenge them again by using a higher load, they will start to slowly atrophy. Your body will not waste any resources on cells that it’s not using.
But anyway, this post is not about biceps 😉
Resting on Your Laurels
2 years ago, the band I play in recorded an album we felt was a big step forward from the sound we used to have. We also knew people would be skeptical about it since we didn’t have our lead guitarist any more. So we wanted the release party to blow people away and have everyone talking about it.
In the months leading up to that show, we were rehearsing non-stop. Even the day of the release we worked very hard on little sleep.
When we first took that stage again, it was a complete success. We felt amazing. All our hard work had paid off and people were reacting very positively to our new songs.
So to pat ourselves on the back for our accomplishment, we took a “well-deserved” break from rehearsing. 6 weeks later, we rehearsed a little before we had to play a string of weekly gigs. And they sucked ass. I came across as very awkward on stage. Musically we weren’t as tight any more, and all of us made mistakes. They were usually cool crowds but we missed a lot of chances there. And it took us almost a year before our performing muscles were “in shape again”.
The lesson I learned: Resting on your laurels too long makes the laurels die off.
If we had kept rehearsing regularly, we would’ve been able to further improve our performance because we already had a solid baseline. We had the biceps, we just needed to keep challenging them every week. We didn’t, so our performance muscles died off and we had to start training from scratch again.
Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a blog post, because I’m not sure what to write about. But that little incident has taught me that I need to keep writing especially when I find it more challenging than usual. Because those challenging moments are what will improve this blog. Sure, I may write something stupid now and then, but the feedback I’ll receive from that will cause my “writing helpful blog posts”-muscles to grow.
You can apply this concept to any area or skill in your life:
• When you stop challenging your brain with math problems, your math skills start to die off. It doesn’t matter if you’ve studied it for years. If you don’t use them, your body will not keep them sharp.
• When you stay inside for a month, you may find that your social muscles have start dying off. Most likely your first conversations will be awkward and you’ll find it hard to relate to people.
• When you stop drinking, your drinking muscles shrink and you become really bad at it. I’m pretty sure by now that one bottle of wine would completely obliterate me.
The Destination Trap
The advice not to rest on your laurels is nothing new of course, you’ve heard it before.
But there is still one sneaky mind trick we play on ourselves, that causes us to do it. I realized last week that I’ve done this to myself a lot this year, so if this post can prevent you from doing it, that would be great 😉
As you already guessed by now, I call this “The Destination Trap”.
It happens with the most random things, but two very relatable scenarios where people fall into it are jobs and relationships.
In the case of a job you may have studied for years to acquire the skills and credentials necessary. Then you prepped for your interview, and even though you were slightly nervous they hired you. Now what do you do when your six months in?
This is obviously not true for everyone and depends on your line of work, but a lot of people in regular jobs simply stop improving themselves or their craft once they’re hired. There is no longer that pressure like there was in school. The job is the destination, so now that they landed it, it’s time to coast and simply do the work you already know how to do.
The most cliché example of the destination trap would be the couple who both get out of shape and start wearing baggy clothes in the first year of being together. The relationship felt like the destination to them. “All my life we had been searching for the one, but now we finally found each other.” That’s it. Now they’re together and it’s time to just stay that way and be happy about it.
But that’s not how it works. Because if you don’t actively keep challenging your love or seduction muscles like you used to do at first, they will die off and over time you both become less attractive to each other.
A new album, a job or a relationship are not destinations. And if you view them that way, it’s all downhill from there. Why? Because a destination is an end. And what happens in the end? The story is over. You die.
So instead, whenever we think we have arrived at a destination, we should see it for what it really is: a milestone, a beginning. Something to be happy about, yes. But also something to recognize as the start of the next challenge, and the next lesson to learn in life.
Now that you have the job: What are you eager to learn there? What can you do to improve your contribution? Where do you see your career going in the long run?
Now that you’re in the relationship: How will you make it work together, even when obvious challenges will arise? How will you keep it exciting now that the pre-relationship tension of seducing each other is gone?
You need to keep loving each other as hard as you can, you need to keep doing cool shit together, or your relationship muscles will die. You need to keep challenging yourself to get better at your work, or it will become a routine and your performance will get worse until one day, it’s actually below average.
This is true even for entire parts of your personality. Like your playfulness, creativity, or ability to empathize with others.
In every aspect of your behavior, you’re either growing or dying.
This doesn’t mean you should never take time off to rest (as you may recall: sleep helps biceps grow 😉 )
I’m also not saying you should never take a moment to feel satisfied with what you have. Enjoy the shit out everything while it lasts. Justnever allow yourself to be so satisfied that you stop putting in as much effort as you used to. Because in the end, you can never reap any more than you sow. And even then, if you stop working on those fields, you’ll end up with no crops next winter.
Complacency kills awesomeness. Don’t let it kill yours 😉
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