The Paycheck Concept in Self-improvement

Never do work without getting paid.

I just got off my bike — I’ve been doing virtual bike races since the start of the pandemic.

I wasn’t in very good bike shape to start and had never been a bike racer.

So the first period of racing was both incredibly painful and also a rapid stream of improvements. Every race was faster than the race before it.

But then all that bogged down. I couldn’t muster the efforts I was able to muster before.

I could especially see in my heart rate that I was tired.

Medium efforts would spike my heart rate, but then my heart would refuse to beat any faster when I tried to bump it up to my maximum intensity.

One of my goals this year is to be better at failure. Rather than falling off the wagon, I’d like to just slow the wagon down.

Taking a month of active recovery is better than a month of zero activity. For me, this is true everywhere, in exercise, in work, in how I eat.

So for the last month or so I’ve still been riding, just not overly hard or with any particular goals. I just wanted to keep my legs moving while also experiencing rest.

Then earlier this week I started to get the itch to ride hard again and so I did.

What I noticed right away is that my heart is different.

In the first period of racing, I was maxing out at 171–173 beats per minute.

Now, when I ride, I regularly break 170 beats per minute much earlier in the race.

Where before I might hit 173 in the final three seconds of a sprint. Today I hit 170 with two minutes to go in the race and then experienced a steady ramp all the way until the end, at 181 beats per minute.

What happened when I rested is that I gave my heart time to adapt. I looked this up, yes, your max heart rate does go up with training (and also, yes, goes down with age).

The concept that I file this under is picking up your paycheck.

If you go to work, you’d have to be kind of a bonehead to forget to stop by the mailroom and pick up your paycheck. Nobody forgets to get paid for having a job.

But in self-improvement, we often get lost in the “no pain, no gain” ethos and forget that the gain is only collected during rest.

Today, I saw the size of a recent paycheck in the form of an adaptation to one of my most important muscles, my heart.

I earned that paycheck for a few weeks of hard racing and training, but then it took me a month of rest to pick it up.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store