I've been reading a book called Hell Yeah or No, What's Worth Doing, by Derek Sivers (I've been reading this tiny little book for over a month because I'm a really slow reader and read like 3 pages a night). It is basically a compilation of the life lessons he has learned along the way that have been most beneficial to cultivating the life he wants to live.
In one segment, he discusses his weekly bike route. Every time he rode this route, he would crush it as hard as he could. One day he decided to relax and just ride. He finished the 15 miles just TWO MINUTES slower than he normally did. And he enjoyed himself. He calculated that pushing to his limit gave him only a 4% improvement in that ride time wise, but left him exhausted.
This is what so many people do on their easy runs. Push just a little too hard, even just 4%. Leaving themselves more tired than they should be on a recovery or easy run. What is so important about pushing for an extra 2 minutes? Slow down. Enjoy the run. Look at what is around you. Be where you are. Not to mention the physical benefits of running relaxed and taking your easy days easy far outweigh two minutes of extra time to waste later scrolling on your phone. Pushing hard on easy days does way more damage than good, when the other option is to finish a run feeling refreshed, calm, and ready for more.
What Sivers realizes reflecting back on this bike ride, is that most of the time he gets something done with what feels like a lot of effort. And when he notices he is trying too hard and feeling the stress of that, pushing himself to exhaustion, he dials it back and decreases the effort level. When he decreased that effort level, he still got everything done, just as fast, and just as well. You know what he realized that extra effort was? Excess stress that was completely unnecessary and just gave him the perception that he was doing as much as he could. It was a facade, and not necessary to achieve what he was looking to achieve.
"When I notice that I'm all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50%. It's been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what FEELS like half the effort.
Which then makes me realize that half of my effort wasn't effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best." -Derek Sivers
I bet we all know somebody like that or have been that person ourselves from time to time. The person who confuses stress with effort and hard work. They are not the same. You can work hard, accomplish a lot, and not be frenetic about it. Being relaxed does not mean you are not accomplishing or working, it just means you're smarter about it.