February 28, 2023
Success is not a sprint, it’s an (ultra) marathon.James Caple
As I try to categorize and prioritize all the tasks I need to complete in my professional life, I try to consciously remind myself that I cannot get all the things done today. Therefore, I need to focus on being the best I can be today and in completing the single task at-hand before moving on to the next one.
As an aside, I tend to think of work tasks as a stack. I pop a task off the stack and work it to completion, then pop the next task off the stack to work. I rarely, if ever, work on multiple tasks at once, but I often do work on ‘rabbit hole tasks’ - those tasks that suddenly pop up and present unexpected problems that need to be solved right away. I hate ‘rabbit hole’ tasks as they destroy flow and break continuity.
Batman had similar concerns fighting crime in Gotham City every day. I’m sure he worried about how to improve his crime fighting capabilities while simultaneously having to fight, and defeat, well armed and supremely devious criminal elements each day. The stress of the combination of these extremely burdensome objectives would quickly wear anyone out.
Dr. Zehr points out, sadly, that these competing objectives are enough to wear even The Batman out over time.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal for the human machine in reaching (and maintaining) peak performance (if not but for but a moment in time).
Here are some takeaways we gleaned from reading Dr. Paul Zehr’s book examining how Batman achieved and maintained peak performance as an elite crime fighter in Gotham City.
Batman-Like Optimal Performance
Depth And Breadth Of Skill Honing
Batman had to build a wide array of physical and mental competencies. Martial Arts skills were imperative in order to fight the criminal element in Gothic City. There are a wide variety of Martial Arts skills that offer various capabilities - some focus on kicks, some focus on hands and boxing, others focus on using the opponents energy in a constructive way, others focus on defeating an opponent when on the ground. Mastering all of these skills requires great depth and breath of abilities, which given enough time and training are well within the reach of many humans.
Similarly, exercising self-restraint, like Batman in refusing to kill his opponents or use guns as a force equalizer, is another key proponent of Batman’s superhuman-like capabilities. Exercising self-restraint is another charactersitics exhibited by Batman that humans are wholly capable of mastering as well. However, self-restraint requires practice and discipline, which can be difficult to master, like anything else.
Dr. Caple relates a story in the podcast where her self-restraint lapsed on several occasions while practicing her Martial Arts. At one point she administers a spinning back-fist punch to an opponent knocking her out, which caused her to actually lose points in this particular match (she still wins the match, though, but that’s not the point :).
As Dr. Caple’s husband, I appreciate any self-restraint she has mastered in this regard.
Bob and weave, bob and weave.
Dr. Zehr points out that concussions are something that Batman would have also had to deal with as concussions can be quite dangerous, especially if you experience many of them over time. The Batman helmet is supposed to help Batman in absorbing powerful hits to the head in order to help minimize the threat of concussions and to help Batman remain a crime fighter for a lengthy period of time.
I wonder how much one of those bat helmets costs?
Good Sleep Is Paramount
So, in many ways sleep deprivation is a kind of stress or challenge to homeostasis and metabolism.‘Becoming Batman’, pg. 211
As a struggling entrepreneur, I wish I could keep working without needing to stop and sleep. I would potentially get so much more done if I did not need to stop and sleep! I can push myself through the fatigue associated with limited sleep for a number of days, sometimes longer than a week, but invariably the sleep deprivation catches up with me and I crash…hard.
Sleep provides sweet rejuvination and restoration. Sadly, I need a solid 7 to 10 hours of deep sleep at least every couple of days to keep me running the marathon of entrepreneur life, otherwise I feel torn and tattered and productivity is in the tank.
Sleep is a necessary evil that anyone seeking greatness is forced to wrestle with in some way, so to speak. Dr. Zehr mentions that, in the “The Sleep of Reason” (Detective Comics #598, 1989), Batman barely sleeps due to his ability to lower his heart rate and metabolism to such an extent that one hour of Batman sleep is equivalent to eight hours of sleep for others. Batman simply could not perform his crime fighting tasks sufficiently, especially when working the night shift, if he needed a normal amount of sleep.
Dr. Zehr says this is one place in which the comic book mythology of Batman and the reality of human biology diverge. Humans simply need their 5-10 hours of sleep in order to realize optimal performance.
Attempting To Beat The Sleep Requirement
I’m slower than many of my peers at learning new things and accomplishing tasks. To overcome my turtle-like performance, I tend to try to work twice as hard as others, or more if I can. As a Political Science Major in college, I would often stay up studying late into the early morning, while my Electrical Engineering and Civil Engineering classmates would often be asleep by 2230. It got to the point where people would sometimes stop in my room asking if I had any Adderall to help them with pulling an all nighter. I didn’t have any Adderall, and had never heard of it at the time. I just drank alot of coffee. But this was my first introduction to drug stimulants, other than caffeine, to help avoid sleep and stay focused in order to get things done.
In fact, synchronistically, I recently saw a “tweet” of a video of Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics. Hitler was rocking back and forth like he was autistic (or strung-out), while those around him casually observed the games. Some of the comments indicated that Hitler was probably amped on methamphetamine. Some internet searches appear to confirm their statements. Joe Rogan discussed this to some degree on his show a few years ago.
Here’s an interesting discussion on NPR about drug use in Nazi Germany during WWII: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/518986612.
Come to find out, Adolf Hitler became a strong proponent of drug use to help combat the human body’s need for sleep in order to try to get a military edge. Pervitin was a methamphetamin the Germans created and handed out to German troops, which became key in helping to tilt the battle of the Ardennes Forest in their favor, especially as the French drug of choice at the time was red wine (Vive la France!).
In the end, the use of methamphetamine in the form of Pervitin proved to be a losing gambit as the net net was a chronic lack of sleep amongst strung-out German forces.
Meanwhile the Allied Forces began to adopt the use of amphetamines for similar purposes…
According to Dr. Zehr, no one really understands why, but neglecting, or otherwise altering, the human body’s sleep requirement and pattern will eventually result in a waking nightmare.
So, optimal performance would seem to be ostensibly linked to cultivating healthy sleep habits (as the author types out this blog post at 0200…sans Pervitin or Adderall).
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… Time to die.Roy Batty in the movie, ‘Blade Runner’
In reading ‘Becoming Batman’, I am reminded again of the brevity and fragility of mortal life. The Hayflick Limit identifies the number of times our cells can safely divide and die (~50x) as part of our body’s rejuvenation process. Our time horizon for doing great things on earth, whether it be fighting criminal elements at night or building a successful company from scratch, is extremely limited. Humans must deal with an array of annoying limitations, like the need for strict discipline and good sleep, while reaching for the stars.
Perhaps there is no better way.
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