William Liao

May 4, 2021

Progressive overload & adaptation

Every realization that you can do more than what was previously thought to be possible is the result of playing at the boundaries. 

Boundaries are simply what you currently know to be possible. 

Before Sifan Hassan’s record-breaking 4:12.33 mile in 2019, the boundary was Svetlana Masterkova’s 4:12.56 mile record that was established in 1996. 

Before the electric car, the boundary was the gasoline-fueled car.

Before digital design tools, the boundary was undergoing an apprenticeship to learn how to determine font size, leading, spacing, kerning, and tracking. 

In strength training, there is a well-established principle for playing at the boundaries called progressive overload that involves intentionally lifting more weight than what you did before, adapting to the new load, and then increasing the weight again. 

Creating better work and becoming a better version of yourself essentially involves applying the same principle: intentionally striving for more than what you think is possible, adapting and realizing that it is possible, and then pushing your perceived limits once again.

It’s important to normalize the idea of discomfort — that isn’t to say that all forms of discomfort are good, but it remains true that it is only when we’re stretched beyond the limits we’re comfortable with that the adaptations for growth are able to occur.