Mountain Peak and Valley Floor

July 29, 2016

Constantly striving for more in radiology.

Longer term readers of this column may recall that I have made efforts to keep in some semblance of good physical condition. The decades have seen ups and downs in my exercise regimen, in terms of adherence (such as getting to the gym at all) and performance (for instance, putting in a whole-hearted effort while there).

A phenomenon I’ve noticed: The closer I am to my personal best, the less it takes to set me substantially back. Inversely, the further I am from it, the less harm a lapse will do to my performance.

For instance, if I’ve been faithfully at my regimen day after day, putting in 100%, and I am happily seeing that I can lift more, run further/faster, etc. than ever in recent memory, and then I go on a week’s vacay…my first trip to the gym upon getting home will be extremely humbling, and it might take me a couple weeks of hard work to regain my lost ground.

That same week away, if it occurred following a period of hit-or-miss gym attendance and subpar morale, will have a much smaller effect…and a mere couple of exercise sessions after getting home will generally be enough to repair the damage.

I’ve come to envision it as a parabolic curve, with the X-axis being progress/performance, and Y being effort invested. Sort of like climbing a mountain, I imagine…the closer you get to the peak, the more altitude (or worse) a slip-up will cost you. Meanwhile, if you’re way down in the foothills or on the valley floor, it’s the opposite: You can gain ground practically without trying at all, and if you goof up…there’s really nowhere lower to fall.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"50621","attributes":{"alt":"Mountain peak","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_7492813859175","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"6192","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 123px; width: 170px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©Alex Kov/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

It’s occurred to me that this is far from unique to physical fitness-indeed, most effortful pursuits (reading more cases per day, making fewer QA errors, etc.) seem similar in this regard, and I’ve gotten more and more aware of it when really pushing my limits. Yes, sometimes I try to climb to new heights, because occasionally it’s possible to break through a plateau to reach a level I’d previously not thought possible. More often, though, I try to remain cognizant that striving for that extra .1% bump in performance might not be worth the 50% extra chance of developing an ulcer.

More than once in a blue moon, I find myself envying folks who can comfortably live at the other end of the curve, relaxing near the valley floor. I feel like they’re the exception in our field, since to get here we constantly had to compete for grades, class ranking, etc. I’m not sure, even before running the gauntlet of competition from college through fellowship, if I was any different; maybe I (and others seeking out our field) are just built to constantly try scrambling those last few feet to the mountain’s summit.