Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?

This is the question that allowed Ben Hunt-Davis and the British Olympic rowing team to win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, which was the first time a British crew won this event since 1912. The question was applied as a basic stress test to whatever decision the team made in their training leading up to the games. For instance:

“Will practicing rowing today make the boat go faster?” Yes. So, do it.

“Will following a strict diet that boosts energy, maintains muscle mass, and minimizes fat gain make the boat go faster?” Yes. So, do it.

“Will going out on Friday night to get wasted make the boat go faster?” Probably not, unfortunately. So, don’t do it.

It’s a simple question that focuses the user on the objective he or she is trying to achieve, and then aligns every decision, big or small, in life to get them closer to the objective. In an almost robotic, uncompromising way, it leaves no room for excuses or poor judgment (unless you ignore the question). Drastic? Maybe. Useful as a disciplinary tool? Undoubtedly.


I remember back in 2011, when I (subconsciously) applied this “Will it make the boat go faster?” mentality to my diet. I remember waking up one spring morning as a third year undergraduate student, looked in the mirror, grabbed the flab on my belly, and just sighed with disgust and defeat. I had put on 20-30 extra lbs that I didn’t need over the 3 years in school and having been away from all the healthy and nutritious home-cooked meals. So, I decided to set a target weight of 150 lbs in 6 months (I started at 180 with little muscle), and soon one question became the central point of reference to make a decision on: “Will this get me to 150 lbs in 6 months faster or slower?” Every grain of rice, slice of cheese, drop of milk that I put into my mouth, I counted the calories for, in order to stay on track, to ultimately get closer to that 150 lb target. After 5 and a half months, I dropped to 149 lbs (still, with little, but a bit more, muscle).


This type of discipline can be practiced. It may not be easy or intuitive at first, but having this kind of perpetual compass to guide your every move will help you at least objectively see whether an action will get you closer to or further away from your goal. Alas, the final call is still yours as you are the master of your free will, but more often than not, just being aware of the ultimate objective is incentive enough to stay on track.

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