Controlled Overreaching – Do one thing you didn’t yesterday…

Imagine lockdown started with a single push-up …

March 23rd and UK lockdown began. Late but let’s not get political. 

Think back to that day. It was confusing and scary, mind-blowing even. Devastating, days lay ahead, Europe’s experience confirmed that. 

In the melee, and in the unique microclimates of our own homes and circumstances, we each had a big decision to take, consciously or not. 

Regarding our health and wellbeing do we, a) let things slide, b) try to carry on as per, or c) see an opportunity?

Bluntly: a) screw it, b) BAU, or c) find the silver lining.

Screw it vs. silver lining

By April, the screw it brigade made all the headlines. One in five Brits hit the bottle with gusto, while 40% admitted they were eating ‘somewhat’ or ‘much’ more food. A quarter (25%) said that junk food was the new normal.

A June study by King’s College London found that 48% of us put on weight during lockdown. In fact, in the last few weeks, Slimming World membership has reportedly jumped by 10,000.

But there was a chunky silver lining too. Some 43% of Brits turned to online workouts while 75% of UK parents began to exercise alongside their children. In July, news broke that a million Britons stopped smoking during the Covid era. 

Sport England reported surges in the numbers of people a) taking to exercise b) appreciating exercise and c) using exercise to manage their mental health. 

One might say that the screw its slipped into uncontrollable overshooting, while the silver liners opted for controlled overreaching.

Uncontrollable overshooting

Lockdown was, still is to an extent, stress and pain. Not to mention boredom. Booze, food, pills – whatever the release – all offer chemical comfort during confusing, catastrophic times. 

But it’s an insidious path to travel; easy to stay on and hell to turn back. No one aims to be perma-drunk, or overweight, or sick, but this is a-thousand-cuts stuff – the destination if we lapse into a cycle of no control and overshooting indulgence.

Uncontrollable overshooting is best explained through the experience of the heavy drinker. Getting a buzz requires more booze each time, so the drinker drinks more. More poison, more damage

He or she just wants an escape, yet their health and quality-of-life are soon swept away in a tornado of habit, hopelessness and anxiety. Of physical and mental devastation.

Past a certain point, uncontrollable overshooting happens to us, not by us. It pulls us away from our goals and ideals. It makes us unhappy, despondent, numb.

Controlled Overreaching

Conversely, controlled overreaching is the mechanism which moves us towards our goals and ideals. At CorLife, we talk about controlled overreaching as the gateway to gains. In exercise, sure, but also gains in relationships, in careers and in life. 

Progress and growth begin at the comfort zone’s edge. That’s not some motivational-speaker-spiel, it’s just truth. We have to take what we know and what we can do to their ceilings if we’re to break through and level up

Controlled overreaching generally doesn’t mean instant, Hollywood-style accomplishments, but rather steady results stemming from regular, small prods at the edge of one’s limits. 

Humans are wired for controlled overreaching from birth. The phrase baby steps captures it entirely. Whether they know it or not, parents speak with their children in circa 80% babytalk and 20% adult talk in order to challenge those little brains. 

The hunger to improve is inherent in all of us. It’s what pushes us to achieve as individuals and as an evolving species. It’s a mechanism that wants to be woken up, but in many of us it’s rusty and unmotivated. 

Imagine a push-up

Let’s revisit the 23rd of March and propose that some who decided screw it instead looked for the silver lining. Instead of channeling their fear and trepidation, anxiety and hopelessness into indulgence, what if they tried a single, solitary push-up?

A controlled, tricep-tingling overreach in 0.5 seconds. A breakthrough. 

Now imagine they set a simple, easy goal: a new push-up for a new day. One on day one, two on day two, three on day three … 

At the time of writing, we’re 130 days into lockdown. That’s a lot of push-ups yet a very reasonably, sensible journey to get there. One push-up per day and lockdown could have been a physically transformational period, not a freefall into bad habits.

Powered by reward engines

Uncontrollable overshooting is often described as a spiral. As one lifestyle component vortexes towards the abyss it takes out our health, piece by piece, on the way down.

Excess junk food leads to weight gain. Leads to low mood and a weakened immune system. Leads to poor blood-sugar control. Leads to sickness. Leads to lethargy. Leads to mood swings. Leads to sleep issues. Leads to no energy. Leads to serious health risks. And so on.

The dominos fall just like that.

Controlled overreaching is also a self-feeding, self-propelling spiral. But a positive one. When a single, simple baseline habit forms, it becomes fertile ground for bigger and more transformative improvements.

This is because humans have an inbuilt reward engine. We chase accomplishments because our brains love the euphoria that comes with them. Accomplishments and reward are ground zero for human progress so it’s no wonder nature programmed us to feel awesome afterwards. 

In practical terms, a month into the project the push-upper might have noticed the beginnings of abs. Suddenly cardio is important. Fat loss is important. Diet is exceptionally important. It’s a natural progression and, by this point, he or she has experience, incentive, confidence and momentum on-side. They’re much more likely to keep going. 

No pipe dreams

The reason we mostly flunk New Year’s Resolutions (failure rate’s about 92%) is because we overestimate our capacity for overreaching. 

We think progress has to be extreme: from two decades of no physical activity to five workouts a week. But the likelihood of accomplishing and sustaining such a radical change is microscopically small.

And when we fail, our self-esteem takes a battering. Instead of powering our reward engine we’re soaking in shame. Focus on doing one thing right and it plants the seed of progress. 

It’s controlled overreaching. It’s doing one thing you didn’t yesterday. It’s growth. It’s fuel for the reward engine. It’s not sensational … but it’s the start of a better future.