Beware the Personal Tipping Point

By Frank Garcia, CEO and Founder of Cycligent and Improvement Interactive

With regards to tipping points, I am not talking about big trends, or even group ones, but personal ones. They can be like unintended on off switches in your life. Tipping points can be good or bad, but either way it is a good idea to pay attention to them.

Take exercise, or probably more to the point (pun intended) a particular form of exercise. If it falls below a certain threshold (the tipping point) you will almost certainly stop it altogether. This is true even if you have been doing it for an extended period of time. You must be aware of this tipping point and avoid it. This seems simple, but it is harder than you think. Sometimes all it takes is a long vacation and, BAM!, you hit the tipping point never to return (or at least not for a very long time).

Most people have experienced this form of tipping point and can see it pretty clearly. But there is also one on the opposite side. If you start to do enough of a particular exercise, or perhaps just exercise in general, you can hit a tipping point where the exercise starts to become an obsession. You start to do more and more of it. Even as you tire you still push because you are “doing so good.”

As a personal example, last week I had targeted 16 hours of exercise on my bike. When I woke up on Sunday I was at 13 hours. I was also very tired and my legs were sore. Yet I got on my bike and rode. Three hours passed. I hit my goal. Did I get off? Nope, kept right on going for another two hours. What was my thought then? Yep, you guessed it, heck I should just keep going.

Uh oh! Right then I realized I had hit the opposite tipping point. I had flipped the bit and now my mind, regardless of my body, was in go mode. Left unchecked it would continue like that until my body was fully and utterly fatigued. I would become over-trained and it might take months to climb out of the hole I had dug for myself.

Before I was aware of personal tipping points I would have been patting myself on the back about how great I was going and feeling. That I was on the wave of a good trend. And, indeed, the trend would have continued for a period of time before cratering. How do I know? Been there, done that.

Now, however, because I am aware of personal tipping points I know what is happening and can correct for it. In so doing, I will keep the actual good trend going over the long-term. I will actually build my body up instead of tearing it down.

The hardest thing I have done in the last week? It was not the eighteen hours of hard exercise, including four races, and three hours of hill repeats on Sunday, it was stopping, getting off my bike and then staying off the bike for two days to give my body a chance to catch up with my mind. And to give my mind a chance to reset from its tipping point.

Personal tipping points apply to much more than exercise. For instance, they apply to work and relationships. Don’t call your mom enough and what happens? You will probably stop calling her much at all, except maybe for holidays and special occasions. Work like a mad person long enough and you are likely to be in workaholic mode.

Some people at this point will be like “Oh I get it, I should use tipping points to avoid extremes and achieve balance.” If that is your goal, you can certainly use them in this way. But as I stated before tipping points are neither good nor bad. They are just a part of the human condition that you can use to help you achieve your goals.

I, for instance, have often used the ‘work like mad’ tipping point to get into a mode where I could really focus on getting something important done. I was not balanced during this time and I didn’t want to be. I wanted instead to accomplish something quickly. Often these intense periods would lead to an opposite tipping point where I would then coast with regards to work for some time. I do not believe balance has to be forced into the confines of each day.

While balance does not have to be met each day, make sure to watch the tipping points in relationships, especially with children. Time moves swiftly with regards to children. Spend too much focus elsewhere and before you know it children have moved on. Realize that their tipping points are much more rapid and frequent. While children highlight relationship balance, and put the most pressure on it in terms of timing, it is true of other relationships as well.

Once you are on the lookout for these personal tipping points you can make use of them. They help you control your life instead of your life controlling you. You can decide when to be balanced and when to hyper-focus, always being sure to take care of your relationships. So instead ofbeware, I should have said, be aware of your personal tipping points.

Then make good use of them.