John Cleese talks of a similar concept in creative activity, learned from a screenwriter who'd worked with Alfred Hitchcock:
When we came up against a block and our discussions became very heated and intense, Hitchcock would suddenly stop and tell a story that had nothing to do with the work at hand.
At first, I was almost outraged, and then I discovered that he did this intentionally. He mistrusted working under pressure. He would say, “We're pressing, we're pressing, we're working too hard. Relax, it will come.” And, says the writer, of course it finally always did.
There's some suggestion that young and old Jobs had markedly distinct management styles.
That's ... also discussed in a talk somewhere that I've heard recently, though I don't recall by whom at the moment.
More generally, there's been subsstantial research of highly innovative companiess, most especially the research labs at DuPont (Hounshell, https://www.worldcat.org/title/science-and-corporate-strateg...), AT&T (Gertner https://www.worldcat.org/title/idea-factory-bell-labs-and-th...), the Manhattan project (various), and more. The lighter touch seems generally preferred.
When it comes to the physical realm, perceived effort (or “rating of perceived exertion”) was shown to be as effective as heart rate for pacing interval training in this study and others it references:
From my layman’s perspective it makes sense that perceived effort would be a great guide to overexertion as those perceptions seem to be driven by the same system that prevents us from overreaching in general. Tim Noakes calls it the “central governor” that keeps us from doing harm to ourselves:
Perhaps the best way to set yourself up for success is to decide on an optimal threshold and try to stay within its bounds, no matter the endeavor. It seemed to work for Hitchcock’s creativity and we know it works in the physical realm as well.
Then you can stress the system to see if it’s beneficial or not. Maybe we should all be doing “creative interval training” to increase our capacity for creation, just like we would to increase our cycling capacity!
The inexperienced or untrained athlete may mistake effort for result, often sacrificing form (which may be none too perfected to begin with) in the effort. This especially is where the perceived effort vs. actual attained performance diffrence manifests.
For activities such as swimming, formal coaching involves an extraordinary level of focus and time on stroke technique. The biomechanics of moving through a dense fluid make proper execution of stroke, recovery, turns, starts, and breathing critical to efficient and effective performance. I've had the experience of sharing a pool with swimmers who were faster through the water but worse on turns --- I'd recover the half-bodylength they gained on me each lap with tighter turns and a more efficient kick and glide off the wall. Coach noticed too.
Even more ... pedestrian ... activities such as running, or mechanically-integrated activities such as cycling and rowing have a significant element of technique involved, though in my estimation probably less so than swimming. The remarkable deviation in styles of elite and novice or poorly trained athletes is starkly evident to even casual observers.
In high-skill sports, from ballet to tennis to golf, the requirements for form over raw strength are even greater.
And I'd argue in each case that a tremendous effort exerted with poor form will virtually always result in a lower achievement --- slower speed, longer oveerall time, shorter distances or hights jumped, less weight moved, etc. All the more so at the limits of performance or ability.
Most of the time, 80% is good enough. Save your resources for other endeavors.
People pushing themselves to the breaking point when they could get better results by just stopping whatever they're doing and take the week off.
And it's because in our rush to not get corporate like those people we despise, we've become even worse than them and our desire to fit in and gain acceptance and recognition have caused us to go all out like the fellow on the bike and we're just causing pile ups which would be better off if we cleared the road.
Everyone has several people on their team who would do well to just stay home and let the others do their thing.
Amundsen had studied human behavior and efficiency under stress. He knew a constant pace every day was way more efficient than doing epic effort. So he will restraint his people and not let them do more than a given distance each day, I think it was 30 miles or so.
This gave his team an edge against constant epic efforts on Scott part.
A week off is probably too long. What I do, because I can, is taking days off just when I consider I need it. This day or days off is a day you enjoy life and after them you feel plentiful and strong.
Much better than wasting the day being forced to work and generating very little work and burning yourself off.
I actually measure the actual time I do meaningful work so I know exactly how better it works.
I am joking, of course, but I think you're completely right in that for beginners, a small investment in upgrades (or even just a good solid bike) pays for itself in huge boosts of performance.
Of course, after that, then buying more and better things is just bad for your wallet ;)
When I finally got on a "real" bike, I flew. I was much faster and agile than my bike-riding friends. Because I couldn't upgrade the bike, I had to upgrade myself, and these investments are compatible with any kind of bike (or sport, actually).
What was surprising that pro on lady's bike couldn't match layman journalist on proper road bike. Basically all the energy spent on women's bike goes to flexing (heating) the frame. City bike built like tank was better as at least it was sturdy.
However it also shows that good bike is so much more important as you would think pro would match you riding anything with two wheels.
Also curious about all the people who say "no surprise considering the bike".
Every time I try to push for lap times on the track I end up exhausted after 20 minutes with worse times, inconsistent laps, plenty of oh shit close moments and most importantly I don't enjoy myself. Instead when I relax, focus on riding with good technique I end up with faster times.
But of course the temptation to push is huge, especially if you can't get any faster for longer periods.
Also interesting: I've broken my records multiple times right out of winter after 3 months of not riding. Can't explain that.
There is a time to push though, in order to move your abilities further and get familiar with the aforementioned edges of your abilities. But race day is not the right time.
On your last paragraph, that happens to me all the time. A week of practice practice and can't do it, put the bike away for a week and then I can do it first try. I think of it as a limitation on how quickly we can change and update our muscle memory, reflexes and intuition.
Aaron Gwin wins this World Cup Downhill race after breaking his chain in the first 50 yards. No pedaling after that and yet he's so smooth and fast.
I would attribute it more to being focused rather than being relaxed, but those two states are connected.
He would not have had that time if he had gone at the relaxing pace the entire time he spent training.
Relaxation is good, no doubt. But there is a time and place for, as they say, "going hard in the paint". Building muscle and associated stamina is one of those times.
This is a perfect example of why experiments require a control group to mean anything at all. I am surprised that the intelligent Mr. Sivers would fall into this rookie trap.
So instead of putting him in his seat and cycling to the store myself (20 km/h) we now cycle side by side (10 km/h) to the store. It takes exactly 5 minutes longer single trip, and it doesn’t matter a bit.
If you really depend on achieving 100% vs. 90%, and it takes a ton of stress to get to 100%, it might be time to change habits/goals/employer.
For anyone familiar with the area, it’s clear that this article plays fast and loose with reality. The path is narrow, and nowhere near “almost empty” except in the middle of the night. Further, it’s so twisty that you’ll only reach “full speed” on short sections. Your time will be dominated by cornering technique, not power output.
Stress and anxiety can be a signal that you need to take something seriously, but if you're already taking it seriously, it's not helpful. If you can drop it while still responding to the situation appropriately, you'll be better off. Focus, don't obsess; progress, don't stress.
This is something I also learned in my time working technical product support - at first, when emergencies happened with the product, I would panic and scramble. But I eventually realized that didn't actually help and just made things less pleasant for me and anyone interacting with me. Everything went better if I took the emergency seriously but calmly, and just handled it without reacting emotionally.
Put another way: investment in the right tools for the job will get the results faster than killing yourself.