Make it hard for yourself

​It’s quite humiliating. I’m sweating and struggling, being battered by the wind and rain. 

And then some guy whips past me, cutting through the winter weather with his streamlined racing bike and lycra shorts.

Despite the fact that it’s a mountain bike with thick treads not designed for road cycling, and that I only have access to a third of the available gears, I still like my bike.

I like how inefficient it is.

Because it’s practically impossible for me to attain any remarkable speed I’m not too worried about falling off. I won’t be going fast enough to seriously injure myself. 

And because it’s such a battle to keep it moving forward, it actually makes my legs stronger and my lungs work harder.

Sometimes inefficiency is better.

Strength coach and author Dan John has a concept called inefficient exercise. He cites it as one of the most important things when training for fat loss.

Movement and exercise, like many other things, succumb to the law of diminishing returns. Meaning, the more you do, the better you become and the harder it becomes to progress.

Fat loss requires that you work hard. But as you accumulate experience and skill, you get better, your movements become more efficient and therefore require less energy.

This results in an ascending spiral of more work for less gain. The benefits I could of attained in twenty minutes now require forty because I am better and more skilled.

To counter that, you put the load in a weird position. You experiment with tempo. You alter the complexity. You make a movement asymmetric.

You make it deliberately difficult.

Another example of inefficiency being beneficial is in my reading.

I read paper books. I fold pages. I write in the margins and highlight passages. When I finish, I write down the main things I’ve learnt on the book’s last few pages. I then put down the date. A few weeks later I come back to it and re-read every note, every highlighted section, look up unfamiliar or interesting topics and copy what’s valuable onto notecards. These notecards are then categorised and transferred to my commons.

The process is far from smooth.

It would probably make more sense to read on a kindle, make highlights and comments, and then transfer these highlights into Evernote.

But the inefficiency in my reading is precisely what provides the value. By taking so long to interact and be with each book, I gain much more from it.

Another example of the value of inefficiency is in the development of skill. You could call it deliberate handicapping.

In basketball for example, a scrimmage could be set where players can only lay-up with their weaker hand. 

In the practice of a musician, the teacher could say “play at twice the speed” or play “up an octave”, as Derek Sivers recalls here.

Practising inefficiently is a way to enhance your capacities. It’s a way to undo the law of diminishing returns. It’s a way to banish boredom and bring awareness back into the performance of whatever it is you do.

By deliberately not doing something in the best, most efficient way possible, you open up a new avenue for you to become better.