Diminishing Returns of Self-Growth

by Dan on August 14, 2009

I was introduced to a new friend yesterday while at the gym.  The man was in staggeringly good shape, and had concocted a muscle pounding workout and diet plan which had taken him from a skinny guy to a muscle-man with eight-pack abs.  Yes, I though six was supposed to be the limit too, but apparently they’re making more these days.

We got into an interesting conversation about exercise, motivation, and self-actualization.  He had heard about my blog, and presented a question to me, “You seem to have a lot of discipline and passion to improve your life.  What’s stopping you from getting jacked?”

It was actually a difficult question to answer at first. The presumption was that getting a huge assortment of muscles was an appropriate goal for all to work towards.  It got me thinking, how much should we actually shoot for in our ambitions?

What I ended up telling him was that unless your passion drives you to become an elite in a certain area, you eventually get diminishing returns for your time investment and would be better off doing other things.

For myself, I look good in a fitted shirt, and get complimented enough on my physique that I don’t see a need to lift weights every day.  I’d probably look and feel better physically with each extra hour I spend pumping iron, but past a certain point, it becomes a misinvestment of resources.

I thought the same thing when I met a Raw Vegan at the grocery store a couple days ago.  As you can probably figure out, raw vegans eat no meat, dairy, nor anything that has been in the oven, pan, or grill.  This makes an already difficult vegan lifestyle look easy in comparison.  Raw vegans can’t even have bread or rice, as those are inedible raw.

I asked the raw vegan woman how she eats out.  She said “I don’t.”

I was rather taken back by the answer.  I was hoping she’d tell me how deceptively simple it was to live a normal life with her diet, but she didn’t fulfill my wish.

She continued, “I just find other things I like to do in life, so eating out isn’t a big deal.”

Well to me, eating out is a very big deal.

If you can’t grab a meal with friends, attend a barbeque, or go out to dinner for a date, you’re severely limiting your social life.  This woman had chosen whatever health benefits she was getting from raw food over having a real social life.

I didn’t talk to her enough to finish the conversation, but I would expect that if asked, she would say she felt healthier and happier on her raw diet; that I didn’t know what I was missing eating cooked food.  She might even tell me about the toxins hidden in cooked rice and broccoli, and how many nutrients Americans do not get in their diets.

Whether she’s right or not, I haven’t found healthy omnivorous diet to present any problems for me.  It’s true that I feel more energetic and powerful when I cut out processed carbohydrates, have multiple servings of vegetables a day, and avoid junk food like the plague.  Perhaps, if I went further and cut out all other problematic foods she was talking about, I’d feel even better.

However, I don’t see how it could be worth all the extra time spent preparing food and counting calories to not lose muscle mass.  This doesn’t even cover all the great food and food-related experiences you miss out on.

So for me, healthy omnivorous eating is good enough for me.

Having a good enough body to confidently walk around with my shirt off is good enough for me.

Being able to sing with passion to a crowd at a karaoke bar is good enough for me as well, which is why I’m not taking vocal lessons.

Other areas of my life, I’m not so ready to shrug off about.  I do want to have a certain amount of money in my life, so that is an area I’m focusing on more.  Also, there is work to be put into my relationship goals as well.

What will help everyone on their life path is acknowledging not only what needs work in their lives, but what level of achievement one actually needs in each life area to be satisfied.

If you play guitar, you may just want be able to play your favorite songs, or you might want to shred as fast as Kirk Hammett (of Metallica) in front of a loaded arena.  Either choice is fine.  Kirk Hammett definitely made some large sacrifices in other areas in his life to live the career he loves.

Should there be a minimum standard for certain areas?  I think so.

I don’t think someone should be satisfied with a sick body, or with carrying extra weight that they are either ashamed of or risk health problems over.  Someone should also be able to provide their family with a decent level of comfort and luxury.

However, I and everyone else are unqualified to say what your standards should be.  The main point is to not let anyone tell you to work harder in an area you’re completely satisfied with.

As a caveat, make sure you actually are, in fact, satisfied with the life area in question before you stop making progress.  It’s all too easy to pretend that we’ve reached our chosen level, when we’re in reality too scared to make the next step.

The difference can seem subtle, but if you’re honest with yourself, the answer will be very clear.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: