Last week, the New York Times ran a profile piece on Allie Kiefer, a runner who finished 5th in the NYC marathon last year. Keifer ran unsponsored and burst into the spotlight with an impressive time after giving up running for a while.
Keifer is petite and muscular; this is not the body type that most people expect elite distance runners to have. Throughout her college career, her coach told her to lose weight so she could run faster. The constant body shaming eventually drove her from the sport.
Her comeback has been on her terms. She strength trains and runs more marathons than other elite distance runners. She defies conventional rules for what creates success in her field.
Allie Kiefer doesn’t follow best practices. She doesn’t look to what others are doing. Instead, she listens to what her body needs to operate at peak performance.
She sets an example worthy of following regardless of your field.
The Hollow Pursuit of “Best Practices”
The desire to seek out “best practices” is common among high achievers. We don’t want to waste time; if someone has figured out the way, we want to know what it is.
What’s the best way to organize my files? What’s the best productivity system? How many times a day should I post on social media?
We want the ultimate formula, the proven system, the blueprint for success.
The idea that such a thing even exists is an illusion. There’s no best practices, because every person has different skills, strengths, and resources.
As two-time Olympian and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden told Sports Illustrated:
I think it’s just finding what’s right for you. You have to [give your body] fuel and you have to listen to what your body is craving and what you need. It adapts to that. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong I think you just have to find the right you in a healthy manner.
This is true not just for running, but for any endeavor.
Productivity and peak performance are personal. It’s crucial to know what works for you.
Three Reasons to Stop Following “Best Practices”
The Times article hinted at 3 powerful benefits of eschewing “best practices” and doing what works for you.
(1) Develop Resilience
A crucial factor in how well we stay on the path is our resilience in dealing with the inevitable setbacks in our journey.
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit, notes that,
Operating on your own terms can also give you the confidence to bounce back when things don’t go as planned…. Taking a more flexible approach to your end goal helps you cut yourself breaks that keep you in the game.
(2) Get Unstuck
When we feel stuck, often it’s because we are trying to do something, or do it in a way, that is not aligned with our strengths or our values. It doesn’t matter how hard we try; we seem unable to make progress.
According to Brad Stulberg, the author of Peak Performance, we get unstuck when we follow the path of our strengths and do what works for us:
Sometimes, the act of trying takes so much energy that it can prevent you from actually doing the thing you want to do. If it starts to feel like performance shackles, you’re going to want say screw it, to break out of rigid patterns and rip those shackles off. And only then are you able to really achieve what you were trying for the whole time.
(3) Reveal Hidden Potential
Creating our life on our own terms gives us the opportunity to focus on building our strengths, rather than compensating for what others consider to be our weaknesses. As Lindsay Crouse writes in The New York Times,
Kieffer has given us a powerful example of what can happen when we stop trying to force ourselves to meet preconceived notions of how to achieve success — especially unhealthy, untrue ideas — and go after our goals on our own terms. When we focus less on fixing what we consider to be inadequacies and more on reinforcing our strengths, we can realize potential we didn’t even know we had.
The next time you’re seeking best practices, remember that the only true best practice is the one that works best for you.