The Margin of Diminishing Returns
Jul 28, 2020
Over the last few weeks, on the OS BodCast, the topic of “doing enough” keeps coming up. In the spirit of those conversations, what that really means is doing the minimum effective dose in order to achieve the desired outcome. So, when it comes to movement, how do you know if you are doing enough, or too much? Well, it kind of depends on you knowing what your desired outcome is, and it also depends on you paying attention to what your body is telling you. In other words, you have to know what you want and you have to be present enough to know if you’re getting it or not.
There’s a concept in economics called the Margin of Diminishing Returns. It’s been 25 years since I was in that Econ class, but I’ll try to summarize the concept to the best of my memory and understanding. This concept is applicable beyond commerce, by the way so I’ll explain it in a movement context:
Let’s say we have a general goal of being healthy and feeling good. If we don’t move, or train, or exercise, we are not really moving towards that goal of feeling good because we aren’t making any movement deposits in our health bank. But if we do engage in movement and training, the body adapts by getting stronger and by moving and feeling better. We are making good movement deposits and we are reaping a return on our movement and time investment.
But let’s say we get over ambitious or too impatient and we start doing more. Doing more, while it can take us towards our goal, can also put us further away from our goal. How do we know when more is too much more? When our rewards are no longer rewards. When we start feeling “not good,” weak, tired or we start getting injuries, there is a good chance our body is telling us, “Hey, I was good with what you were doing, but now I think we are doing too much. I don’t really like this anymore.” When the body is no longer favorably adapting to the challenges (stresses) we impose on it, It is time to reevaluate, back up, or turn the page.
You’ve heard this all your life, though that doesn't mean you’ve ever imagined it applied to yourself, but “More, is not always better.” More often comes with a price and more often leads to diminishing returns on your investment. But that is great in that it means there is a sweet spot to your efforts.
Again, this greatly depends on what your goals are. I do imagine though, you really want to feel good and enjoy your body. And if that is the case, you can let your body help you dial in how much movement (training, living, exercising) is enough. Does the level of activity you are doing make you feel good or better? Does it make you feel worse? Does it hurt? Are you moving better today than you were 3 months ago? Are you moving worse this week than last month?
All too often we ignore how we feel in favor or our plan or what we believe about our plan. Your plan is only as good as the results. And to be fair to your plan, you have to pay attention to the results. When you dial into your body and pay attention to its messages and its needs, you will gravitate towards your sweet spot and you will find your effective dose of being and doing.
Also, there are two sides of every well spun story. If you are indeed doing too much of something, there is a chance you are doing too little of something else. Health and wellbeing are multi-faceted and there is not one path or way of doing something. There is YOUR way, unique to you. Anyway, if you are spending too much time moving or training, there is a chance you are not spending enough time resting or sleeping. If you are eating too much, there is a chance you are not digesting, absorbing, or fasting enough. There is balance in everything. If you are alert you can look at your life to determine what areas need adjustments or balance.
I am still imagining you want to feel good, in your own body. Are you doing enough? Are you doing too much? Are you listening to what your body is telling you and more importantly, do you feel good about who you are?
I think the reason some of us don’t do anything to feel good and the reason some of us do too much to feel good (we punish ourselves) is that we simply don’t feel good about who we are. For reasons far beyond this article we don’t like ourselves because we believe lies about ourselves. Lies we’ve heard, imagined or simply even told ourselves. We all have the potential to feel wonderful, we all have the potential to be the finest human the world has ever had the pleasure of holding. But almost none of us know it. If you knew you were wonderful, if you knew you were enough, there’s a chance you would never experience doing too much or too little. You’d simply just be doing, the right amount of everything.
I am still imagining you want to feel good, in your own body. You are enough. When you know that, the truth of who you are, feeling good will just be a natural consequence of you simply being you. You’ll move enough. You’ll sleep enough. You’ll laugh enough. You’ll love enough. And, you’ll know it.
Are you doing too much? You can measure the margins of diminishing returns, or you can simply discover the truth about yourself. They can both help you feel good, but one still feels better than the other.