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The Switchback

‘The shortest distance between point A and B is a straight line’. It’s a common saying, usually used to simplify things and probably by someone who has a bit of condescension in their voice. It’s kind of like ‘buy low and sell high’ in the investment world; easy said but good fuckin luck if that’s all you got to guide you. Though theoretically true, it’s best used for simple, abstract exercises and is mostly bullshit in the realm of real world complexity.

If you’ve ever been hiking anywhere with some decent elevation change, you’ve probably stared at the map and thought ‘why does this trail have me winding all over the damn place instead of taking a more direct route’. That, friend, is a switchback. But it has a purpose. It breaks a steep incline into more manageable chunks where a direct route would be too difficult and at the same time limits the erosion and damage to the trail itself (steep inclines don’t wear nicely). It makes it easier for the average individual, and keeps more integrity to the trail itself for multiple hikers. The same concept applies to roads as well. I’m sure you’ve at least seen pictures of the beautiful hairpin turns going through mountain ranges in Europe.

I think it’s fair to assume a fair amount of complexity in life. That’s why switchbacks are important in more than just trails. Here are a few examples where the concept sticks:

  • Training: If you’re lifting, or working out in general, you can’t just dial the crank to the max every workout. Ramping up to to a 1RM bench press, or even a 3 or 5RM, puts a lot of stress on the nervous system. You can do it for a couple of weeks, but eventually you’ll fry your nervous system. It needs recovery built in, and that’s why most programs wave the intensity workout to workout and week to week.
  • Investing: Despite what you’re hearing in 2020, stocks do not always go up in a neat straight line. Most stocks that go vertical tend to have a pretty violent correction at some point. Just look at a long term chart of weed stocks or Bitcoin. It’s much less stressful to focus on something that goes up, consolidates in a range, then decides on its next direction.
  • Relationships: If you find a relationship that always keeps getting better, good for you. But most are subject to the ebbs and flows of life. That’s why there’s what is called the ‘honeymoon phase’. Once you clear that initial trajectory, things start to pop us. If you expect it to stay on the same path, the odds are stacked against you. If you can manage to overcome things like careers, family, finances, and changing personalities, your relationship will hit new peaks. If you can’t, the hill might just be too steep to climb.

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