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Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why

Fast Growth Is Overrated — Here’s Why
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We live in a world obsessed with what we do.

  • What did you earn from your job last year?
  • What place did your team finish in the standings?
  • What trophy did you win? What award did you get? What measure of social status did you receive?

In moderation, this focus on what is fine. I like getting results just as much as the next person. I like performing well. I like being on top of my game. Achievement can be a good thing.

However, our obsessive focus on what we’re winning can also blind us from understanding how people become winners. If you focus too much on the finish line, you miss the strategy going on during the race.

As I continue to study top performers from all areas of life — athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and more — I’ve begun to see similar patterns emerge among these people. Today, we’re going to venture into the world of weightlifting to uncover one of these patterns.

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The Incredible Success of Yuri Vardanyan

Yuri Vardanyan is widely considered one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Vardanyan routinely set world records in the sport, and his run of success from 1977 to 1985 is stunning. (1)

Here are Vardanyan’s results at the World Weightlifting Championships and the Olympic Games during that time span:

  • 1977 World Championships – Gold
  • 1978 World Championships – Gold
  • 1979 World Championships – Gold
  • 1980 Olympics – Gold
  • 1981 World Championships – Gold
  • 1982 World Championships – Silver
  • 1983 World Championship – Gold
  • 1985 World Championship – Gold

Now for the important question:

What methods did Vardanyan use to achieve such an incredible run of success? Are there any lessons we can learn from him and apply to our own lives?

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yurik-vardanian
    Yuri Vardanian receiving the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. (Image Source: RIA Novosti Archive.)

    Volume Before Intensity

    In 1992, after his own weightlifting career had finished, Yuri moved his family to the United States. His son, Norik Vardanian, began to make a name for himself in weightlifting a few years later.

    Today, Norik is the number one ranked weightlifter in the United States and is hoping to qualify for his second Olympic Games in 2016. Recently, Norik posted a training video (here) of a successful attempt to set a new personal record on the front squat as his dad watched on, coaching him.

    Here’s what he said:

    “200 kg (440 lbs) PR front squat for 5 reps. These are the only types of PR’s my dad allows me to attempt… reps. He is not a big fan of 1RM in training. He had told me years ago that his best front squat workout was when he did 200 kg for 5 reps.”

    Pause for a moment and consider how this training approach differs from that of most people in the gym (and in many other areas of life as well).

    If the best training method for an Olympian is to focus on doing a volume of work and mastering repetition after repetition, why would it make sense for you or I to train by lifting the maximum amount of weight possible? And yet, this is often a trap we fall into.

    The problem with the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy is that when you don’t have the underlying foundation of strength to handle the intensity of the effort, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

    This is why I believe you should focus on volume before intensity.

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    Fast Growth Is Overrated

    So many of the problems I have run into as an entrepreneur, as a writer, and as an athlete have been because I have tried to grow too fast. I was focused on getting a particular result so much so that I ignored the fundamental habits that would have made my growth sustainable.

    Fast growth forces you into a higher cost environment, and if you don’t have the systems and ability to handle those costs, you’ll end up paying for it.

    • When I tried to push myself to lift bigger weights in record time, my body got run down and injured.
    • When I tried to force my business to the “next level” without knowing what I was getting into, I got stressed out and stepped on people’s toes without meaning to.
    • When I tried to push down the accelerator and double revenues, I fell flat on my face with a product launch and didn’t have a system that could service customers properly.

    Intense growth and intense effort are great — if you have the foundation to handle the intensity. This is why Yuri Vardanyan focuses on five-rep maxes. He’s building the foundation.

    Put in your reps and build the capacity to do the work. There will be time for maxing out later. First, build the foundation.

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    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    FOOTNOTES
    1. Despite being the gold medal favorite, Yuri Vardanyan did not compete at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles because the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympics along with 14 other countries.

    Featured photo credit: Yasunobu Hiraoka via flickr.com

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    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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