Rhythm & Blues

There is a natural rhythm to life.

Things will happen when they happen. Our brains have patterns, and we unconsciously spread those patterns all over the place. Ebbs and flows in all things.

“What goes up, must come down” is a good saying. It’s true in all sorts of ways.

One of my favorite economic concepts is “regression to the mean.” In a nutshell: when you have a lot of data points, most will be clumped around an average and there will be a few outliers. Every time a data point gets added, it will fall somewhere in the distribution, but in aggregate, most will end up in that middle. That means that if a particular data point falls really far to one edge or the other, chances are good that the next data point will be closer to the middle. So if your average run time for a mile is 18 minutes and one day you run a 16-minute mile, chances are good that you’ll do worse the next time.

If you don’t know about regression to the mean, that can be really discouraging! You ran a 16-minute mile, got all proud of yourself, and then the next day you ran 17.4. Maybe at first you get depressed that your success didn’t stick, and then maybe you start to make excuses – “oh, I was just tired and sore from yesterday,” or “oh, I got complacent and didn’t work as hard,” or something. But the reality was that your 16-minute mile was the outlier, and not a new base average.

Don’t get depressed! For one, it works both ways. If you run a 20-minute mile, you can probably safely assume you just had a bad day, not that your new base time is 20 minutes. Just be careful that the next day when you run an 18.3 you don’t make up fake stories like “I was more motivated because of yesterday’s failure!” Real change doesn’t happen in single data points.

You can improve the average. You can steadily go from 18 minutes to 17 to 16. But you have to stay consistent and work. Trust the rhythm. Things will go up and down along the way – that’s okay. You have to breathe out sometimes, too.

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