Reflections: On Frequency & Volume

I tend to forget a lot of things, especially the simple and the obvious. More often than not, it is the simple and obvious things I need. Recently I was studying and came upon some of the earlier psychologists like Ivan Pavlov, John Watson and Hermann Ebbinghaus, who through experiments found that behavior and learning are shaped more through frequency, the more you do something than by recency or vividness of the experience. Again, these are not new thoughts. From the Ancient Greeks to now, the importance of frequency and volume is stressed over and over and yet I forget sometimes. Thinking about it now, I find frequency and volume to be almost like universal truths which can apply to almost anything in one’s life.

What is sustainable? What can you do every day without burning out? I prefer routines and schedules, planning what I will do the night before, having blocks of time for specific activities and in order to keep up with such routines and schedules, the intensity has to be low. I can do this by breaking up my studying and writing throughout the week instead of a few days just as one does with work and exercise. What I have found is that the days that are the most productive are the ones where I stick to my routines and schedules. So, at the end of the week, by keeping it simple and less taxing I accomplish my set goals more often, adding to the volume over time.

When it comes to writing, it is far better to just write 1,000 words per day than it is to wait for inspiration to strike or when the mood is right. 1,000 per day would mean 7,000 words at the end of the week and that volume adds up by the end of the month to 28,000 words. The burst of intensity when it comes to writing cannot outdo the consistent pace. Besides, a 1,000 words can be written within an hour.

You can do 4 sets of 10 reps for pull-ups twice a week and that equates to 80 pull-ups in a week. However, if you lower the intensity and increase volume to something like 5 sets of 5 reps but instead of twice a week, you do that five times a week that would equate to 125 reps in the week. Volume is often considered king when it comes to muscle building and even strength building. That steady, sustainable pace will overcome the intense sessions in the long run.

I feel as if the same concept can be applied to relationships with friends and family as well. I often find that I rather see my friends every other day or every couple of days even if it is for just some coffee than wait for the weekend to come. The short and frequent interaction does well to break up the monotony of life, it is like a quick recharge of the system. Even when it comes to improving relationships, I think it’ll be better to build upon the things that you do every day rather than waiting for the weekend, like many people do. In your lifetime you are going to have far more breakfast, lunch and dinners then you are going to have weekends. Of course, it may not be that simple, or maybe it is, but if you are able to fix your breakfast and dinner with your family or loved ones and have true quality time, that volume outweighs the vividness a weekend out might provide.

And by no means do I think that intensity, vividness, and recency don’t have a place in life. They certainly do. Passion is always welcomed. You must ride the wave of creative flow if it comes. Some days you just want to sprint or lift weights until you just can’t anymore. You must strike hard when you feel like this but the day to day living, I feel as if frequency and volume will always be better for the long run and life can be very long.

As I write this I keep thinking about the old story of the hare and the tortoise. Stories written for children are always simple and obvious and yet full of truth.

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