The left and the right

Look at this line.
Life-or-Death is when you’re on death ground. When it’s do or die. 

Performance is when there’s something on the line. When you’re playing to win and don’t want to lose. 

Training is when you’re preparing for performance. As Orson Scott Cards observes in the intro to Ender’s Game, “the essence of training is to allow error without consequence.” The stakes aren’t as high. Yes, training can be intense. But in terms of stimulus, it never matches Performance or Life-or-Death scenarios.

The other three, Recovery, Relaxation and Rest, are critical. They enable us to train to the best of our ability, which in turn allows us to perform at the highest level. And no, they’re not the same thing.

Rest is the complete absence of stimulus. Rest can only be attained with high quality, deep sleep.

Relaxation requires a marginal stimulus. A physical or mental activation that hovers above nothing. Mentally, this could be denarration, the avoidance of noisy environments (measured not in decibels, but in incoming information). It could mean spending time with friends or family, or with animals. It is laughing and smiling. Physically, it could be gentle stretching and soft tissue massage, done by yourself, or by someone else. Or it could mean an easy stroll.

Recovery is low-level activity. Physically, it could mean going for a bike ride, sitting on a rower for an hour, doing some movement technique work or light lifting. Mentally, this could be a lot of things. Reading fiction or narrative non-fiction. Watching stand up, practicing a new skill, playing around, exploring a new area, topic or destination.

Look at the line again.

If you spend time with, or learn about any high-competence individuals, a pattern becomes apparent. They think in decades and live in days. Their ambition is to perform at the highest level every day, for decades. Their focus is on Performance, or in some cases, Life or-Death situations. As a consequence, their entire collection of resources is orientated to maximise effectiveness at the right hand side of the line. 

But to achieve that, they have to devote much time and energy to the left hand side of the line. The highest level competitors rest the best. They know how to relax, switch off and detach themselves from their pursuits. Every training debt they incur is dutifully repayed. They handle their rest, their relaxation, their recovery and their training, in that order. 

The best can give their best in situations that require it because they’ve mastered the arts of rest, relaxation, recovery and training. This is what allows them to master the performance of their craft or discipline.