Coach Tip Tuesday: Break the Addiction to Visible Progress

Posted On:
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
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A screenshot of a graph showing a bunch of workout-related data over a three-month period.

Another round of Coach Tip Tuesday is here!

It’s extremely common in endurance sports to measure success by the numbers. As you all know well by now, I encourage athletes to embrace the reality that they are more than the digits displayed on a finish line clock. This week, I want to build upon some of the themes about his subject that I’ve discussed in recent Coach Tip Tuesdays and talk about an important element that helps with embracing this:

Break the addiction to visible progress.

Instead, I want to encourage you to focus on process.  Over the years, I’ve observed the addiction to visible progress result in pretty adverse effects for athletes.  Specifically, I’ve seen it manifest as burnout after a hard defeat (i.e. when an athlete doesn’t meet a goal or when their reality in performance doesn’t align with their expectations) as well as after a success or a “quick rise” (i.e. when an athlete achieves their goal after cramming for it in relatively short span of time).

I’ve seen this burnout manifest in many ways, but ceasing activity is usually the clearest sign.  Mood changes are another sign.  Either way, burnout is not what we’re after; sustained joy is.

I firmly believe that our long-term goal should be to have movement be a part of our lives as long as possible.  In addition to feeling the positive effects of this innately for generations, the health and overall wellness benefits of consistent movement over one’s lifetime have been repeatedly, consistently been supported by science.  Consistent movement - whatever form of movement resonates with each person - is one of the most significant things that can contribute to high quality of life, positive mental health, and good physical well-being.  Focusing solely on visible progress tends to detract from this goal since it doesn’t always incorporate a value of process.  

When I talk about process, I’m referring to the “long-term play” of how you incorporate movement and fitness into your life.  Incorporating it in a consistent, sustainable way is what will yield those long-term benefits over the course of your life that I referred to earlier.  As such, I encourage you to take a look at your overall process and to measure success by that (versus individual results).  Your work (i.e. movement or training) is an ongoing practice.  Progress is a byproduct of your commitment and presence in the aforementioned process.

Thus, by focusing on process, we will ultimately see progress.  Because progress doesn’t follow a linear path, embracing process enables one to ride out and manage the natural ebbs and flows of life with less frustration and disappointment than if one has an expectation of visible progress a majority (or all) of the time.  When we do get some tangible results (progress) along the way, we can celebrate it with gusto, and when we don’t achieve what we set out to, we can work through that disappointment with more patience and kindness shown to ourselves.  In other words, embracing process can enable us to have the highs feel sweeter and the lows feel less debilitating.

Your individual worth is more than just your results or the numerical value that gets assigned to your training (i.e. your times).  The simplest way I can think to summarize this idea is: Your dog doesn’t care what time was on the finish line clock at your race.  Your dog cares about whether you are consistently a kind, good person who delivers day after day.  (In other words, your dog values your process.)  So, embrace the person that your dog knows you are and embraces you as and value process.  (Even if you don’t have a dog, you get my point.)  

This is a pretty important reminder for those of us who are engaged in endurance sports to pursue our own goals and to inject some joy into our lives. We are so much more than our times and visible progress. We are complex beings, and the lessons we learn from endurance sports can (and should) cross-pollinate over into other areas of our lives. Breaking our addiction to visible progress and embracing process can help us stay engaged in movement and sport for a longer period of time in a healthy, positive, and ultimately, very fulfilling way.

About

Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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