Friday thoughts #12: Futility

It doesn’t matter where you are, it just matters you are there #thelab

Futility. Taken from the word futile. Which in Glasgow tradesman parlance could be “that’ll take a few tile tae fix…” (geddit, few tile? Oh FFS!) but in the case of this week’s Friday Thoughts, it is something completely different. Maybe even starting with such a bad joke could be said to be a lesson in futility.

Futility in more accurate Glasgow parlance is really “whit’s the point.” Or “why bother.”

I am reading this brilliant book about how we all have to make a difference to eradicate world poverty. It wouldn’t actually take that much. It is insightful and fascinating. And in it there is a short, tiny, section on Futility. The author talks about how if we tell someone a certain amount of money will feed 80 of a 100 people that we become motivated to act. But if we tell someone else the same amount of money will feed 200 of 10,000 people the instinct to act is dampened.

This is the futility factor. When what you do doesn’t even make a difference to the majority. It’s like you cannot imagine the benefits and get caught in thinking about proportions instead of absolutes.

In running that kinda of thing applies to racing. How many times have you skipped a session, didn’t stretch or ate the wrong thing as you got caught in the “futility factor”. We’ve all been there right? The idea that one missed session doesn’t make a difference. When you are feeling good what is the point in a sports massage. This cake is reward right?

I like to think about this as being more about building blocks. One missed brick wouldn’t really make a difference to a house, or a tile off of the roof won’t make a complete difference. But both begin to erode structural integrity. Their absence weakens the parts of the sum by not being there. And moreover, and this is the most important point, subscribing to the “this thing doesn’t make a difference overall” mindset is likely to speak to a attitude that is not fully committed or bought into what you are trying to achieve. Before you know it, this laboured metaphor has you with 10 missed bricks and subsiding house, or a roof missing a dozen tiles and a flooded loft.

This is my personal opinion but I would reckon someone who has a bias towards the “futility factor” is likely to spend more time recovering from injury than preventing them. They are more likely to regret a performance than celebrate one. I basing this on experience, both my own and what I have seen from others. It’s not a broad brush you can apply to all, but there will be real common factors at play.

The question to ask yourself is have you ever had that feeling of futility, that view that no matter whether you do something or not it doesn’t really matter? Sometimes that something could be doing less. I am thinking of the classic posts on social media after a big ultra where people are whacking up their Strava links to show how tough stupid they are by going for a hard session two days after a race. It’s not always about pushing you know.

But have you had that feeling? I am most likely to get it when I am settling down after putting the boys to bed and need to do some strength or mobility work. Yet, 99.9 times out of 100 I push myself to do it as I know the micro impacts this has on the macro level. I know I am increasing my chances of avoiding injury by 0.01% and I am willing to take that. When speed / hill work comes around I go in 100% committed as I know it too is making me 0.01% quicker, stronger and fitter. Those 0.01%s all add up over time. Nothing is wasted effort.

The next time you feel like skipping something important, or self-sabotaging your training/prep because you are struggling to lift your head from the moment to the bigger picture at play, ask yourself this; if you could imagine that the next action you do, or don’t do, was to directly result in you missing your goals what would your next move be? And it is amazing what that wee sparkle of motivation will help you achieve.

Futility, ultimately, is about choice. Yours.

The book I was referring to above is The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. This will be the penultimate #fridaythoughts. Going to 13 was always my original intent and it times nicely with a few other projects I am working on. Thanks for reading and sharing. Last week’s thoughts were on goals and you can see that here. 



One reply to “Friday thoughts #12: Futility

  1. Another great thought provoking read James, thank you.
    Seems to have come along just at the right time for me too.

    Power to ye man.

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