At one point, anything can get filled so much that it becomes worse.
If one wants to be an expert at any discipline, the go-to answer has become volume. Do the work, do a lot of it, and you will see results. The more you do, the more experience and expertise you will gather, allowing you to improve. While true, I have personally seen the ill-effects of such a claim. It can make the most wonderful activity seem terrible and uninviting. It’s scary, because not many people think about a moment in which their passion is associated with anything but joy. However, this proclamation of volume can bring us close to such a situation.
The problem comes into play when we take into account the common constraint that everyone has: time. We each have the same amount in a day. No one gets special exceptions. This is a great equalizer, but it means it is also a container. Once that twenty-four-hour container is filled, nothing can be added in. Eventually, you will find a maximum density.
Most people won’t hit their maximum density for a while. Instead, the density is kept low because a lot of people waste time on things that don’t take much thought, such as most media consumption. But sometimes, there comes a person who discards these things as time-wasters and attempts to fill their day with things that have meaning and are valuable. Their day is then just a series of events, moving from one thing to another, quickly draining their mental energy as each event requires focus and effort. Soon, the days will seem to drag on, without any end in sight. Accomplishing the meaningful task today almost feels like nothing, since it will need to be repeated the next day and every day after that. Multiply that by five or six, and you have the whole life of that person.
At one point, the density of things in a person’s life crosses a critical threshold.
I know this happens because I started to feel its effects this year. I was taking my training seriously, trying to do everything I could. I lengthened the time I spent warming up and cooling down, the time I spent doing ancillary strength work, and I even ran more than I ever had. All in an effort to make that “big leap” that I knew just had to be coming.
In the beginning, I was feeling good. I was happy that everything was fitting into my schedule, and I was excited to see how much improvement I would see come race-day. In the short-term, I felt like everything was going exactly as planned.
However, the container was still there. I didn’t get extra time in the day. I had to fit all this extra training in with school and commuting and everything else. The volume of my container was fixed, so I had to increase the density.
The first sign of trouble was when I began to feel a sense of being rushed all the time. Every time I finished an activity, I had to quickly get ready for the next one. My days were jam-packed with things to do, so I rarely had time to relax. Like a human who can only take a brief gulp of air each minute before being submerged underwater again, I felt like I was almost being submerged beneath all of my activities. I was fatigued more, since I always felt like I had to be doing something. Still, I told myself that if I pressed on, it would eventually become routine.
The second sign of trouble was the loss of motivation I had to train. I still loved running, but every thought of going out for a run was accompanied by “I then have to do about forty minutes of strength work”. Instead of running being something I got to do, it had slowly morphed into something I had to do. Increasing the density of my activities made me lose the sense of fun I had with them in the beginning.
The third and final sign of trouble was how I was squeezing everything else out of my life. As I tried to increase the density of things I did in my life, I was taking other things out. It wasn’t designed that way, but it was what happened. Running and training became the only things I really thought about, and it was to the detriment of my life. I had a sole focus, and it was subtracting the quality from the rest of my life.
Finally, I got told by close ones that I was doing too much, and that I was going to drive myself to misery if I continued. Thankfully, it was exactly the thing I needed to hear, and I was able to make the appropriate changes in my life. For one, I don’t schedule something in for every second of my day. I also take one day off every week (whereas before I ran for probably three-four months with almost no days off) in order to give myself a mental and physical break, as well as allow me to do other things I am interested in. Suffice to say, it has done wonders for me.
There comes a time when you have to realize that your day requires those periods of downtime, and therefore cannot be filled with more activities. Each person has their own critical density that cannot be crossed without serious consequences, and so it is imperative that each person finds that density. Once you’ve done that, respect it, and play within its boundaries. Do not try to cheat it and increase the density. On the short-term, you may be able to get away with the ill-effects. However, it will always catch up with you on the long-term, and will usually create more trouble than that little increase in density was actually worth. Therefore, instead of trying to increase the density, you need to be more mindful of what you choose to be in your container.
Remember, we all have that same container, the same twenty-four hours. We just have to choose how much to put in it.