Jeremy Côté


Optimal Configurations

Imagine you wanted to create a stack of solids that was as high as you could make it but only one solid wide. Therefore, each subsequent block you add to the structure must be place on top of the previous block.

Furthermore, you have a choice of blocks: spheres, cubes, rectangular prisms, pyramids, and cones. You can use whatever combination of blocks that you desire.

What do you build?

Evidently, you’d attempt to build your tower with blocks that create a stable platform for the next block. This means you’d use the cubes and rectangular prisms to build your tower.

Let’s up the stakes a bit more: you need to reach one metre high and have the structure be stable for at least ten seconds.

Now suppose someone else is attempting this task, but started later than you. To make up time, this person grabs whatever is available right in front of them. Instead of using only the cubes and prisms, they use all the solids. Somewhat amazingly, they still succeed in temporarily creating a tall tower using spheres and cones, faster than you finish your tower. They smugly smile while you look on in shock, but before the ten seconds is counted, the fragile equilibrium that was established vanishes and the structure crumbles to the ground. You laugh and shake your head, finishing your structure and wondering how this person could be so daft.

However, this situation can be seen all the time in those who are trying to be the best they can in their craft.

Instead of building the best structure possible by using the best components, they simply try to go as grand and complex as possible. The thinking goes: my components don’t matter if my tower can be as tall as the other person’s. This phenomenon is only quickened by the comparisons to people that are “already there” (where you would like to be).

While true, the result of this kind of thinking manifests itself like in the example above: the tower is indeed tall, but its structure crumbles almost immediately. The components used were not the best ones that could be used. If we want to have long-term improvement, this is a problem.

When we jump straight to the result, we disregard the components that lead to the result. As a consequence, less thought is put into using the best components possible and more towards improving quickly. While results may occur in the beginning, it will become apparent that this person isn’t quite as good as the established expert with years of experience.

Furthermore, there is usually a lack of thought into the configuration of the training. This means that sound principles of training can be forgotten in lieu of “quick fixes”. Again, while these may prove effective in the short term, they aren’t sustainable solutions.

Another thing that this lack of forethought creates is bad habits. I don’t care how “good” your performances are, if you have bad habits they will affect your potential performance. Maybe you don’t care, but usually people want to get as much out of themselves as they can, and bad habits can inhibit this goal. Bad habits mask weaknesses that should be addressed.

Optimal configuration of your training is a difficult, but worthwhile, task. It can be frustrating when you compare yourself to others who seem so far ahead of you, but you need to focus on what you are capable of now. Being truly good is a result of correcting weaknesses and optimizing your training. By doing this beforehand, it can help you avoid the long process of de-training bad habits and forming good ones.

Yes, that means you won’t be riding a skyrocketing improvement curve. But in the long run, you’ll be structurally sound in your training, and will be like the tower or cubes and prisms.

Stable and strong.