A few years ago, I lived in Santa Monica, California, right on the beach.
There’s a great bike path that goes along the ocean for seven and a half miles. So, fifteen miles round trip. On weekday afternoons, it’s almost empty. It’s perfect for going full speed.
So a few times a week, I’d get on my bike and go as fast as I could for the fifteen-mile loop. I mean really full-on, 100 percent, head-down, red-faced sprinting.
I’d finish exhausted and look at the time: forty-three minutes. Every time. Maybe a minute more on a really windy day, but basically always forty-three minutes.
After a few months, I noticed I was getting less enthusiastic about this bike ride. I think I had mentally linked it with being completely exhausted.
So one day I decided I would do the same ride, but just chill. Take it easy, nice and slow. OK, not super slow, but dialing it back to about 50 percent of my usual effort.
And ahhh… what a nice ride. I was relaxed and smiling and looking around. I was barely giving it any effort.
I saw two dolphins in the water. A pelican flew right over me in Marina del Rey. When I looked up to say “wow!” he shit in my mouth. I can still remember that taste of digested shellfish. I had to laugh at the novelty of it.
I’m usually so damn driven, always doing everything as intensely as I can. It was so nice to take it easy for once. I felt I could do this forever, without any exhaustion.
When I finished, I looked at the time: forty-five minutes.
Wait — what?!? How could that be? Yep. I double-checked: forty-five minutes, as compared to my usual forty-three.
So apparently all of that exhausting, red-faced, full-on push-push-push I had been doing had given me only a 4 percent boost. I could just take it easy and get 96 percent of the results.
And what a difference in experience! To go the same distance, in about the same time, but one way leaves me exhausted, and the other way, rejuvenated.
I think of this often. When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50 percent. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.
Which then makes me realize that half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.