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Prompted: Progressive Overload
The story of stimulus and adaptation.
Good afternoon and happy Sunday!
I’m going to keep the preamble short today. I hope you’re having a great summer and if there’s anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Replies to this email go right to my personal inbox.
All the best,
P.S. I’ll be hosting a virtual Journaling Workshop for the Philadelphia Library system on August 20th. I’ll be sharing more about how to use journaling to organize and improve your life. You can check out the details and register below.
Hope to see you there!
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
- Brian Mazza
Whether we like it or not, we are constantly adapting to the stimulus we provide ourselves.
When we step into a dark room our eyes adapt so we can see. When we go for a jog our body adapts to use oxygen more efficiently. When we’re praised in a meeting at work we adapt to do more of the behavior that prompted the praise.
Some stimuli we can control and others are out of our control, but there is a reaction and a subsequent adaptation from every stimulus nonetheless. On the path to becoming a bit better each day, we aim to present ourselves with stimuli that will consistently spark a positive adaptation.
As our bodies continue to adapt over time, the same stimulus will no longer spark a positive adaptation. This is where the idea of progressive overload comes in.
Popular in weight lifting, progressive overload is the gradual increase of sets, reps, and weight to continually build strength. Outside of weightlifting, progressive overload is the gradual increase of stimuli to continually spark beneficial adaptation.
Just as our strength plateaus if we never increase the weight we’re lifting, we’ll never see positive adaptation in other areas of our lives if we’re not challenging ourselves.
Synonymous with progressive overload is discomfort.
Once we get comfortable we need to increase the level of stimulus we’re experiencing. If we’re comfortable we’re not adapting.
While we need to introduce new challenges, the same way a weightlifter would never double the weight they’re lifting overnight, we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with new challenges. Every once and a while a shock to the system is great, but the key piece of progressive overload is incremental progress.
Increases are small enough that they’re not noticeable on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis but after months and years, there’s a massive improvement compared to the starting point.
In the world of fitness, stimulus and adaptation are easy to measure. In our relationships, careers, and personal lives, it can be hard to identify where we stand. Without intentional introspection, it’s easy to plateau and reinforce the status quo, but if we check in with ourselves and create increasing levels of resistance, we can encourage a trajectory of growth.
In the two most important areas of my life, what does increasing the level of stimulus to encourage adaptation look like?
How can I regularly monitor where I stand and determine if I need to increase my stimulus levels?
Do I have too much stimulus in my life or not enough?
Progressive Overload - James Clear
A great blog post about Milo of Croton to demonstrate the power of progressive overload.
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