Do more with less.
A minimalist approach to fitness.
“Because the less we do the more relaxed we are and the more relaxed we are the better we are at everything” – Bill Murray (actor)
The ability to do more with less is something that has always been a part of human evolution. Think about Ford motors in the early 1900s. They introduced the assembly line. On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire vehicle. His innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes.
Warren Gatland (one of Rugby’s most successful coaches) uses a minimalist approach as a head coach. The words he uses and the meetings he holds are concise. This way they hold more power and have more of an impact. As a leader, you are looking to increase your level of impact. Results are driven by impact and leaders are responsible for results.
A surprising number of high performing companies have evolved to reduce excess noise and streamline projects using minimalist principles. A Japanese form of development known as Kaizen also has minimalist roots. Three of the major principles from Kaizen are:
1. ‘Cull information and opinions from multiple people’ (removing unwanted noise)
2. ‘Let go of assumptions’ – removing your own noise.
3. Be proactive about solving problems – don’t wait to discuss with others.
Now more than ever organisations all around the world are looking to do more with less as they look to reduce wage bills and increase impact.
What if these principles could be learned by people who are wanting to win the weight loss battle?
Before I target in on weight loss, let me address the elephant in the room. How the hell will doing less get me better results?
Your approach needs to be about impact, not volume. The impact of your actions is what gets you results, not the amount of stuff you do. I mean, let’s be honest here – none of us in our 30s are blessed with time are we? Family, career and personal development are pretty consuming. If you can streamline your approach for a period of time you will see that less can be more. You will also see the wise words from Bill Murray start to ring true. The less you have to do the more relaxed you will be. This is an important sentiment to hold onto.
The most common thing that scuppers any self-development plan is inaction. In my experience, this often comes from a feeling of overwhelm. If you constantly feel pressured to do more or your tasks are unattainable then maybe it’s time for a change. If you can focus on doing less, you stand a good chance of reducing overwhelm and increasing action.
Time to refocus:
Let’s dial in some particular actions, starting with exercise. Before we minimise your approach, we need to find out what doing less actually looks like. If you are currently doing no exercise, this can work for you too.
The beauty in the minimalist philosophy is that you won’t have to move as much as you might think. If we look at a macro view of exercising the main goal is to find a consistent approach over the course of an entire year. In fact, when I worked with sports teams we would plan an entire year of training. We had a fixture list for the season in place so we could do this quite easily. Then it just comes down to managing the health of players and empowering them to make good choices, which is where the art of coaching comes in, but that’s another story.
A 12 month bird’s eye view of your training schedule might be tricky to plot out, but the principles are not. Stuff is going to happen, people will get sick, jobs will change and trips will be booked; that’s life. The overall goal might be to move 4 times per week, now on a micro level this could seem quite daunting, but from a macro level, it leaves 3 days per week for you to not exercise. That is a good amount of ‘wiggle room’ to make up for missed days. A traditional training plan might aim for you to train a little more often but over a 12 month period if you average 4 good sessions per week I can guarantee that you will lose weight.
A minimalist approach will also look at reducing the volume and intensity of your training plan to a level that allows you to squeeze the most out of your body without breaking or injuring. You should never push to a level that you cannot maintain. You should always be looking for your correct dose. The number of sessions you can manage each week depends solely on your own capacity. Finding a workout plan from a 21 year old rugby player, bodybuilder or CrossFit athlete will simply not work for a 35 year old new parent, regardless of your genetic potential or prior athletic ability. All that matters is finding something you enjoy, making it fit into your life and sticking with it.
Take this lesson from Iron Man champion Paula Newby-Fraser who won an unprecedented 8 Iron Man World Championship titles. Known as the Queen of Kona, she was viewed as a Cyborg-like athlete and said in a 2010 interview: “at the height of my powers friends no longer wished me good luck ahead of races. They assumed I would win.” The more she achieved, the less satisfied she became and the burning amazement of her victories had now given way to reconfirmed expectations. People thought she had it easy, but she didn’t. In fact, she had injuries and setbacks to deal with throughout her career.
There are a few lessons we can learn from Paula. One would be that if you look under the cover of a successful person or team there will generally be a proven method or formula to that success.
She was already dominant and didn’t need to change a thing, but her difficulty in avoiding other people’s opinions and attitude led her to make a big change, she wanted to shock the world.
In an effort to blow people’s minds as she once had when she burst onto the scene, Paula decided to make a change to her training regime. Before turning pro she had followed a less-is-more training principle. This minimalist philosophy had allowed her to do the least amount of work necessary to win.
Paula was out of step with most pro triathlete athletes of her era. They were locked in an arms race of ever increasing training loads.
Let’s pause the story for a second…
The minimalist approach is the exact strategy I use with all of my 1 to 1 coaching clients. I find someone’s optimal dose and the results fly in and the dose is always less than they think.
I see the opposite across the weight loss industry today. People are constantly being told they need to be doing more. Lift more weight, burn more calories, fast more, cut more foods out of your diet and the big one: lower your calories by more and more.
Time for a ‘soapbox moment’ I’m afraid…
(A soapbox is a raised platform which one stands on to make an impromptu speech, often about a political subject. The term originates from the days when speakers would elevate themselves by standing on a wooden crate originally used for shipment of soap or other dry goods from a manufacturer to a retail store.)
We live in a world of more. It’s paralysing. It’s overwhelming and it is leading us towards higher stress levels than ever before. This stress does not help with consistent efforts, in fact, it leads most people to think they are failures. Self doubt and failure will prevent you from taking action. I know this only too well.
The stories we tell ourselves are so important to our mindset. If the story is positive we stand a better chance of consistent effort, if the story gets negative we will find simple things to be overwhelming.
The ‘more effect’ can be an outcome of your weight loss or training program but it should not be the behaviour you focus on. The behaviour should always be enjoyable, low stress, realistic and manageable leading to high impact.
Ok back to the story…(thanks for staying with me)
In the case of Paula Newby-Fraser, her pursuit of more led to one of the most dramatic collapses in Iron Man history. She poured everything into the 1995 season. She lifted her cycling volume by an extra 10% per week, her running by 20% and her swimming saw an increase too. Now bear in mind this a pro athlete with an immense amount of training history and ability. Layering ‘more’ on top of an already solid foundation.
The result was a collapse with victory insight and one of the most watched youtube videos in Ironman history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_utqeQALVE
Upon reflection, she admitted that she was greedy: “It’s an old flaw in human nature: if you have success, you want more. So you think more is better instead of looking back at what has worked for you. I had a style. I knew what worked for me. But all around me, everyone was doing something else. It bit me in the end when I collapsed.”
The main takeaway here is that you will often feel like you need to constantly be doing more. I can assure you from a high performance level and a weight loss level that You do not.
You do, however, need to be paying attention to what works for you. This is vital for your macro level success.
The goal is to find your optimal dose.
For example, if you want to lose the love handles and muffin tops but are already training 4 x per week? You should look into other areas of your life that might be affecting your results. Is the issue actually related to your lack of ability to turn down beers after work each night? If you train hard, work hard and play hard you will come unstuck eventually. Getting older also doesn’t help this (by this I mean early 30s and onwards). You simply cannot get away with what you used to. You have less ‘free passes’.
Rather than piling even more pressure onto an already heavily laden beast (yep you’re a beast) take a moment to be curious about your optimal dose. This week try relaxing into your goals and focus on attainable behaviours. Over time you can build to more.