I’ve been leveraging the power of contrast-iterations to strengthen my capabilities. That is, alternating between opposing approaches as part of a cohesive overall method. I encourage you to try it, let me explain…
Weightlifting trainers commonly advise alternating between opposing muscle groups (e.g., biceps and triceps, or chest and back).
It’s called Antagonistic Training. When done without any pause or rest, they’re called Antagonistic Supersets. This concept carries over into many aspects of life, including thought and cognitive pursuits.
Master-learner and elite coach Josh Waitzkin
trains ultra high-performance business clients. He realized that ambitious people often perpetually drive themselves hard, operating at a “simmering six”. He trains them to fluctuate between a full-on 10 (their highest-end engagement level), then cut it completely off to a zero. Alternating between zero and 10 is more effective than running perpetually at a six.
So Josh has clients spend time each day actively striving to switch from zero to 10 to zero to 10 every few minutes. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, a muscle to be strengthened. It’s hard, and takes a lot of practice.
I find the difficult part is dropping to zero, I suspect many of you will agree. Ramping up is easier than ramping down.
My main tool for rapid ramp-down is meditation (which takes a lot of practice itself), and even then I can’t bring myself quickly down to a zero. Not sure if I ever get to a zero while awake. This is an area I’ve committed to practicing further, I encourage you to consider it as well. (My top recommendation to learn meditation is Sam Harris’ “Waking Up
I see the concept of alternating iterations producing benefits all over the performance enhancement field. I’ve picked up “contrast showers" from endurance athletes, where I alternate between hot and cold water throughout a shower.
Cold showers are well documented to produce physical and cognitive benefits, and contrast showers seem to provide all the gains of cold showers with some bonuses. During the cold cycle, blood contracts and rushes inward to protect and warm your inner core. With the heat, blood expands and flushes outward. The contraction/expansion cycles serve to flush out toxins and accelerate cellular healing. It also feels amazing.
When I began, the cold stage was agonizing — I struggled to breathe from the shock. But now I complain that my shower won’t go cold enough (first world problems!). The cold makes quite an impact initially, so don’t do this with a heart condition (consult a medical professional before any such experimentation).
After a contrast shower, I feel a heightened level of awareness and sensitivity to everything around me. The widely-recommended approach starts with warm and ends with cold (several iterations of each). These are particularly beneficial after exercise.
System Thinking - Design Thinking
The idea of contrasting approaches working together goes deep into thought processes too.
In a previous newsletter issue titled “The Mind Enhancing Combo of Design Thinking + Systems Thinking
” we looked at the strengths and weaknesses of these two frameworks. They are often viewed as opposing ways to address an issue, but I argued they’re complements and that any process should alternate between them.
Digging deeper into Design Thinking, we see two contrasting cognitive approaches iterating as part of the overall process: Divergent Thinking & Convergent Thinking.
Divergent Thinking is exploring outward, reaching for fresh ideas and new insights. It’s opening yourself to all possibilities, absorbing everything around as you wander and explore a broad range of inputs.
Convergent Thinking is zeroing in on relevant facts and conclusions, bringing our attention to specific outcomes or areas of focus. This is how we ultimately decide, act, and deliver on our objectives.
Both are important, but they are distinctly different modes of thinking. Any good creation process will encompass both.
Design Thinking goes through four stages with as many iterations between them as needed. Two of these stages are Divergent and two are Convergent. This is where Design Thinking gets much of its power.