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Be a Tweaker

“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” – Okakura Kakuzo

I recently found myself getting back into an old passion of mine: powerlifting. It started as a bit of a lark, pulling the old weight set out of the shed, but I found that it quickly evolved into the old obsession that I have wrestled with on and off throughout my life.

This time around, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to the details. Now maybe it’s because I’m a little older, or perhaps just a little smarter. You see, I’ve come to realize that in order to get really good at something, there are a tremendous number of things that I need to pay attention to in order to be successful. If we take my example of power lifting, the obvious part is the training itself. Simply showing up and working out to some sort of plan. However there are a lot of other important factors that play into success including: Sleep, Diet and Nutrition, Flexibility, Rehabilitation, Motivation and Goal Setting, to name just a few. If any of these elements is ignored or breaks down, then your performance as an athlete will very likely suffer. And there is an incredible amount of information about how to manage all of these things.

By itself, I’m not very interested in nutrition as a topic. However, once it is tied to my performance, I become much more interested. I have specific questions about how I can use nutrition to optimize my performance. It becomes a topic that I’m much more interested in because it has direct applicability to my ability to win. So I find myself tweaking my diet. Watching it closely, modifying it and experimenting to see if I can find ways to use nutrition to enhance my performance.

There are two interesting consequences of this sort of obsession. First, it has a curious way of impacting your lifestyle. Look, Normally, I’m the first guy to run towards the pizza. I’m a bit of a pro-level pizza vulture. I have a whole set of habits organized around the way that I eat and the decision surrounding diet. If I change those habits, people notice. They look at me funny and ask if I’m feeling OK. Salad? Really? Are you feverish? Of course not, but I am thinking differently. And the funny thing is, it’s changing the way I behave, and that impacts my relationships. I’m not sure that I really expected that.

Secondly, I find myself constantly experimenting. Getting diet and nutrition right is hard. There are a lot of variables and finding the right combination that works for my current work, stress, and activity levels is really challenging. So I’m reading a lot more, and I’m asking more questions, and I’m tweaking how I behave in order to discover how I can optimize my nutrition.

The point of this little exploration is that I think I understand now how someone can become a tweaker. I think it starts with passion/obsession. I’ve seen it before in sailors. I’ve done a lot of intensely competitive sailboat racing and one very common personality trait of participants is the obsessive line tweaker. These are people who can’t stop adjusting the trim of the boat regardless of how you are performing or the conditions you are in. You could be stopped dead in the water, not even the faintest hint of a zephyr in the air, and they will be entirely focused on fine tuning the trim of the sails to get the most out of whatever wind may or may not exist.

The funny thing is, these people are both the best and the worst folks to sail with. Tweakers win a lot of races. They are never satisfied with the performance of the boat and it shows in the results that they get. However, there is a dark side to that kind of obsession too. When the breeze has died, these are the folks who can’t let go, relax, and have a beer. They can make you and themselves absolutely miserable with their anxious behavior as they obsessively try and control a situation that refuses to be controlled. In sailboat racing, if the wind dies, you’re done. Kaput. No amount of desperately fine tuning sheets and lines will change that.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a bit of a tweaker. However, I don’t tweak everything, just the stuff I really care about. I think you can find tweakers in every domain. The arts: film, photography, writing, acting and so on. In the sciences, experimenters, doctors, engineers. And certainly in IT: developers, testers, project managers and operations. You’ll find tweakers everywhere once you start to look.

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