On performance and environment

Hobbies are a great way to relax and unwind from work. They are also an excellent opportunity to practice some skills and learn about yourself.  Photography shows a clear visual representation of how practice with tools can improve output. Running I have found has taught me a couple of lessons about performance and motivation. Here are my top four

Goals are important 
An arbitrary goal, doesn't fit in
any plan but I feel good
Yes, even arbitrary goals. As long as they have a narrative that you can use as a guide. They provide a sense of progress and small achievements to celebrate. 

For example as an individual runner, it makes no real difference to my life running 10km just under an hour. Or a bit faster at 51 minutes. But the difference in the sense of pride and achievement in my progress was real. 

Your environment matters
Periodically I pause from running then have to restart. Sometimes this also involved a house move and I need to find a new route. On one of these occasions I picked out what appeared to be a nice loop of around 5km but it felt awful. It kicked off with a hill to get it out of the way followed by a flat section. The next day I did the route in reverse. Bingo! Much better. Faster time and I was much happier other the run. Small changes in your environment can make for better performance ... And more joy. If you are having difficulty getting the job done, and the order of tasks does not matter, then try mixing it up. Sometimes "the obvious" way isn't the one with the best flow.

Your environment matters part 2
Music can give you a massive boost. Since the 2012 Paralympics I have started my runs with Public Enemy's Harder Than You Think. It gets me psyched up. Now I've been using it for so long a Pavlovian response kicks in and when I hear it I expect to run. On a previous route I even timed the last 200m to coincide with the bass kicking in on Moloko's I Can't Help Myself. At work I do a similar thing and tailor the music to suit the mood I need. Something uplifting before a meeting, or something with a rhythmic beat for writing.

Habits can be good
The other thing about restarting running is that you get out of the habit of going. When starting again I look at one metric - it could number of runs a week, average pace or distance covered. It doesn't seem to matter you choose to start. As going out starts to form a habits, you can move the first metric then move the next one. Much like impact mapping.

Don't care too much what it looks like from the outside
Me looking stupid, but I don't care :-)
Bit of a random one. When starting out things will feel weird. You might not feel like you "look like a proper X", whether that's a runner or product manager. For example a couple of years ago I did the colour run. As part of the race pack we got a free headband with "colour runner" across it. At first I felt a bit of an idiot going out with this on. Then I realised that I didn't have single problem with being able to see. No more to wiping my eyes every 100m! Non-runners didn't see the benefit it gave me. This reminds me of when "agile" hit the office. All the sharpies and post-its, planning poker cards looked strange. Those that understood the theory knew that there was a reason for each. 

Lessons for software dev?
Software development has taken the concepts of "sprints" and "marathon pace" from running ... so, why not "rest days" or "recovery runs"? Both vitally important for high performance in running, and I suspect the same for any knowledge work. Take time out for tackling tech debt is much like having a rest day, or doing core work.

Further reading


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