Sunday, November 11, 2018

Breakthrough Performances And Hot Streaks

A few fellow physiotherapists that I've treated recently commented that they were quite amazed that I've gotten them (and patients) better so quickly that it almost seems difficult to believe.

To which I'd always say that nothing really improves in a straight line. Except our age, nothing really goes up in a straight line. Just like the stock market gyrations, there are days when it rises, some days it drops like a rock or days where it moves sideways.

Success in getting a breakthrough performance (or getting a patient better) is similar. It is almost never about a single monumental shift.

Think of a glass of water that you put in the freezer.  The water starts to freeze when it goes under zero degrees celsius (or 32 degrees Fahrenheit). This does not mean that the energy needed to lower the temperature from three degrees, two, one degree and zero isn't important. In fact, you will never get the water to freeze if all the prior work to cool it down isn't done.

Similarly, breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which slowly accumulate to unleash a major change.

In order to make a significant change, you need to work persistently to break through inevitable plateaus. Just like the water gradually turning into ice, you are gradually changing and improving as you slog along.

A patient (who used to race aquathlons) recounted the following experience. He and a fellow team mate were stuck at swimming 1:40 minute for the 100 meter swim intervals for a very long time. Without any real change in training, they suddenly got it down to 1:30 minute.

A patient of mine who runs got his kilometer repeats down from 4 minutes to 3:45. Or another athlete shared that he was squatting 100 kg for three months suddenly improved to 120 kg.

Many of my patients are now done with their racing season, while some are tuning up for their last race of the year. For those preparing for the year end Singapore Marathon, remember it's almost time to taper. When you resume training after your break and perceive no change, remember that just like water that is slowly beginning to freeze, you too are putting in the work for your breakthrough performance.

Back to my conversation with the physiotherapist I treated recently. My "hot streak" on getting good results treating patients definitely rest on a foundation of prior work, during which I try to become a better physiotherapist every year (since I can probably not get faster as an athlete).

In a journal, Nature, which was published recently, researchers found that most people have a "hot streak" in their career - a specific period during which an individual's performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance although the timing is somewhat unpredictable.
Talking it through just 2 days ago
Thanks to my wife and fellow colleagues, we regularly discuss and break down segments of courses we've gone for to make it unique to us. We will strive to make sure this "hot streak" of getting patients better as quickly as possible continues.

Putting it all together

L Lu, Y Wang, R Sinatra et al (2018). Hot Streaks In Artistic, Cultural, And Scientific Careers. Nature 559: 396-339. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0315-8.

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