Monday, December 6, 2010

Under-Committing Vs Over-Committing

Today I was swimming with Brett and Nalani. We were doing a set of 50's with fins that included some butterfly. A total of 4 x 50's fly within the set and the intervals were roomy enough that we could do them and not die.

Before the second one, Brett said, "I'm gonna go 25 fly, 25 free." Of course I protested and told him there was no reason he couldn't pull off another 50 fly. Come on... We had fins on! Quit being a wimp.

So we swam the 50 and of course Brett did the whole thing fly. At the wall, he proudly said, "Under commit. Over produce." My initial reaction was Awesome, Brett! You did it! But then I started thinking, of course he could do it. It was ridiculous to think that he couldn't do it in the first place.

I couldn't stop thinking about this notion of under-committing. For the rest of the set I dwelled on it. It's very common among runners and triathletes to do this. Set the expectations too low from the start so that when you do better than you predicted, you can feel good about yourself. And everybody says, "Good job!" So you're proud of yourself for an effort that may not have even been your best. But it was better than you predicted. So therefore you can feel good about it. Right?

Does that help us become our best?

Right before we pushed off on the 3rd 50 fly I said, "I'm going to beat Brett on this one." Newsflash: That was a ridiculous statement. I wasn't going to beat Brett. First of all, he is a way better swimmer than I am. AND, his fins are bigger. But, the fact that I over-committed and said that out loud caused me to work WAY harder on the 50 fly than I had on the first two. I also went faster. I really tried to beat Brett. Did I beat him? Of course not. But did I actually achieve more in the absolute sense because I tried? I think I did.

I tried again on the 4th 50 fly. Nope. Didn't beat Brett. But man, I got a good workout trying!

So I'm not done contemplating this Under-commit Vs Over-commit thing. It's so easy to under commit, especially on a race morning. I'm tired. I don't feel that well today. I trained too much. I didn't train enough. I think I'm getting sick. Blah blah blah. The list can go on and on. We all do it. Sometimes the excuses we offer before a race are indeed quite valid, but in the end they are all forms of under committing, no? So that way we can feel good about ourselves even if we put in a sub-par performance based on our actual capability.

I am not immune either. In fact, I may be under committing to this marathon. See? I say, Oh, I'm totally not ready. I haven't trained enough. I don't even know if I can finish!?! And then any finish, no matter how far off my potential I cross the line, is a big win and I can congratulate myself. Vs if I still have some sort of time goal in my head and I try to hit it but I don't... well then, I feel like I failed. But it's all just a matter of perception. If I say I'm going to run 3:40 and then I run 3:47, I failed. But if I say I hope I can just finish and then I run 4:05, I succeeded. In this case is it better for me to under-commit or over-commit?

 I don't have all the answers here, but I am intrigued by this idea of under-committing. But you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, right?

12 comments:

Teresa said...

I am amazed by how many athletes do this....we all know we "can" do it, it is just a matter of time...and you have to make some mistakes/lessons to get there so might as well start checking them off the list as you move closer and closer to the "big goal".

Interesting phenomenon!

tn

havedentalflosswilltravel.com said...

I've been reading for a little while now but I don't think I've commented.

I love the sentiment of this post, but I also wonder - how do we find that balance between over-committing and becoming demoralized? I totally agree: most of us can always push ourselves harder than we do. But how do you figure out what the right goals should be so that you're not constantly feeling like a failure?

Beth said...

This is why I like to have A, B and C goals - that way I can under-commit AND over-commit at the very same time! HAHA!! ;)

cherelli said...

Hmmm, interesting thinking. I find I have initial expectations of myself and it's a seed of thought planted, but when I get to the line or the night before I talk it way down...when in actual fact my subconscious is working overtime to make the original aim happen. i think it's too avoid failure. Works for some, not for others. if I set the bar too high I don't have a good feeling about myself when I miss it and that has further repercussions down the road....

Big Daddy Diesel said...

THis was a great post, has me thinking

mmmonyka said...

Great post!
I am an extremely pessimistic (I call it realistic) person and I always have negative thoughts before and during a race and therefore I tend to under-commit. The only way to get rid of those thoughts and to race to my potential is to feel 100+% ready.

Running and living said...

With running races it is easy for me because I can tell, based on my training, what I can actually accomplish in a race. And I typically only have an "A" goal. In training, I always overreach. Say I have a 4 mile tempo, and I want to descend the miles. I might tell myself as I run the first mile that no, I don't have to descend the miles, then in mile 2, I say, OK, just descend this one, and so on. I do this with swimming and biking as well, set smaller goals that get bigger and bigger, though, of course, consistent with the goal I initially set. Deep down, though, I always believe I can do more and never set limits on myself.

The Chapples said...

This is a great post and definitely something you've taught me - that I have a tendency to under-commit. Thanks for this!

To answer your comment on my blog, I am fine! REALLY fine, if you catch my drift ;), just not ready to totally make an official announcement yet (although I guess I did just that, huh?). Stay tuned for a post about in a few weeks when I am a little farther along.

Katie A. said...

I'm guilty of this. I let my head make the choices, even though my body is capable of so much more. I think that staying positive, just like the rest of your life, can translate into better performance as a runner or tri. I think you have a great marathon in you, you just have to believe it ;)

donna furse said...

I've used that comment so much in my races that I'm tired of saying, " oh, I just want to finish", or " if I just finish in this time I'll be happy", when I know I can definitely finish and I know I can be significantly faster than what I said I hope to finish in. I think we don't want to get disappointed in ourselves if we fail but I think we fail by saying these things to ourselves, at least for me anyway. I'm tired of making excuses, I am going to set goals that are realistic and depending on the race maybe a little reaching but if I know I gave it my all and it wasn't what I thought I'm going to be happy this year.

kT said...

I love this post. I think for me the key is combining the relaxed attitude that often results in the overproducing-after-undercommitting with the focus required to commit to a bigger challenge.

Regina said...

I have pondered this question for so many years and not just with athletics, but with my art as well.

Trying to find the balance between what is achievable and what is not, but getting close enough to feel successful and not like a failure (and knowing one day you will make it).