The Simplest Answer is Usually Right

Occam’s Razor is a problem solving principle where the focus is on simplicity. It states that for each explanation of a result there may be a large number of complex alternatives however the explanation that has the fewest assumptions should be the one to believe.

There is also a medical adage that summarises this way of thinking nicely:

“when you hear hoofbeats behind you, think horses, not zebras

Since horses are common around here while zebras are relatively rare (at least where I’m from anyway), logically one could confidently guess that an animal making hoofbeats is probably a horse.

In the sport and fitness world you often see examples of how this thinking approach could be applied.When there is an obstacle in the way or a result is not as good as expected so many far-fetched theories and hypothesis can be found to explain the outcome, when in reality the answer or solution is often the simplest one right in front of you.

Plenty of fitness companies use our habit of  overcomplicated problems to their advantage, you only have to look at a sport supplement advert to realise they are purposely making it confusing for you so when you aren’t clear on what the solution to your problem is you turn to their magic pill (the Zebra) for the answer. when really the obvious solution is right in front of you (the horse).

Some examples of how this can apply

  • Reasons you’re not getting stronger You aren’t taking the right supplement, You don’t eat enough protein, the rest period in between sets is too long, you don’t have enough recovery time, you split your workout over too many exercises, you lift the weights too fast/slow, you don’t use the right exercise or technique, your training too many/few days in a a week, you don’t have the right coach, you’re not a member of the right gym, you don’t use a weight belt, your use the wrong footwear.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You aren’t progressively overtime lifting increasingly heavier weights.
  • Reasons you were beaten in a race The competitor was taller/leaner/stronger than you, The course suited the guy who won, you weren’t rested enough, it’s not your type of course, you raced last week, you were not mentally prepared, you’re carrying an injury, your competition knew the course as they’re local, it’s too early in the season to be sharp, you didn’t get enough sleep the night prior, It was too hot/cold/windy.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You aren’t training as much (or as effective) as your competition.
  • Reasons you don’t workout– There is not enough time in the day, the gym memberships are too expensive, you don’t have the athletic gene, you don’t like exercise, you’re injured, you’ve tried but it doesn’t give you results, you don’t know how to train, the weather isn’t conducive to working out, your kids take up all your time, you have a physical job, you work too long hours.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor: You’re not truly committed to working out
  • Reasons you are overweight– You have a thyroid problem, bad genetics, hormone imbalance, too many carbohydrate in the diet, too much fat consumed, sugar and  insulin levels, too much fruit and fructose, you eat too big portions, you suffer from social pressure to eat junk, junk food is too affordable, healthy food is hard to cook, you eat too late.
    • Applying Occam’s Razor to: You eat too many Kcals vs what you burn.

I know this could be viewed as a far too reductionist of a method (and isn’t always right) but it can often be a great tool to clear out the ambiguity in solving a problem or understanding a reason for the problem and force you to at least start concentrating on the most obvious solution.