Posted On:
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: What Makes Us Better and What Makes Us Feel Better are Two Different Things

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A view of a path in the forest.  Can you see the future road and the forest through the trees?

This week, I’d like to discuss the following idea:

What makes us better and what makes us feel better are two different things.

When I say this, I am referring to the difference between instant and delayed gratification.  In sport (and in life), what makes us better is often not what will make us feel better in the short-term.  Many, many times, what makes us feel good in the short-term actually harms us over the long-term.

Keeping The Big Picture in Mind and in View

When I’m working with athletes on Performance Coaching, one of the most important parts of my job is casting a view over the long-haul.  Athletes tell me what their goals are and what they want to achieve.  My job is to chart the course that will lead them to success while keeping them safe and with a reduced risk of injury.  This - keeping the “big picture” in my front windshield - is the cornerstone of what I do, and I use it to plan out the details of workouts in a given day and week.  Each workout I write is intended to accomplish an objective on the day I’ve planned it, but it serves a double purpose of setting the stage for what the athlete will need to do later on in their training if they want to be successful at reaching the goal they set.

This is where this week’s tip comes into play.  In my experience, athletes struggle to see the “big picture” on their own.  In fact, this - their inability to keep the big picture in perspective - is one of the main reasons that athletes hire me to coach them.  They recognize that having a coach who is experienced in thinking this way will help them get where they want to go. 

 Being very frank: It’s hard to keep the big picture in perspective.  It requires patience, foresight, and delayed gratification.  It is easier to think about what is going on right now and to make decisions that we can feel immediately.  Thus, athletes tend to lean toward doing what feels best or fun in the moment, without truly considering what that choice can cost later on.

A Deceptive Snowball

Perhaps it might feel best to do something different than what is planned in a given workout on a given day.  While this choice might seem inconsequential at the time that it’s made, it may not set the stage for what’s intended to be accomplished in subsequent workouts, which snowballs into not accomplishing the end goal at the end of a given training cycle.  There many other manifestations of this; here are some of them:

  • Going slower than planned in a workout
  • Going faster than planned in a workout
  • Skipping a workout
  • Doing a completely different workout than what is planned
  • Going longer than planned in a workout
  • Going shorter than planned in a workout
  • Changing the planned intensity of a workout
  • Adding extra workouts to a given day (Ye olde “Double Up to Make Up”)

The Path to Success

A big win is actually a series of many little wins that have been strung together.  When you - or any other athlete - achieves a goal, it is not by chance or accident.  It is a sum of many parts finally coming together - a series of thoughtful, wise choices that have led to the athlete having the highest probability of success on a given day. 

The truth of the matter is that what makes us better is what will ultimately make us better, but it won’t be instant gratification.  Making wise choices in the present - even if they are difficult to make or do not feel like the most fun - will be the ones that lead us to success down the road.  Yes, indeed, what makes us better might not be what makes us feel better in the moment.  It is resisting this urge to do what feels good in the present moment and instead choosing to do what actually will make us better that separates the above average athletes from the average ones.

The honest question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Do I want to feel good now, even if it means not feeling good later on?”  The truth is that we won’t feel good if we don’t make the series of choices that makes us better.  When we make decisions in the day-to-day, we often do not think of our choices as they relate to that big picture context.  We’re usually being rather emotional, instead of thoughtful.  Asking this question can keep us grounded in exactly what we are doing and how the choices we make are not just short-term decisions.

The Bottom Line

So, the next time you’re tempted to go outside of what is planned in your training because you think it’s what is going to feel best, ask yourself if that choice is really what is going to actually make you better, or if it is just going to make you feel better. And then, do the hard thing. Make the choice that makes you better. Your future self will thank your present self, I promise.

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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