Your Mind: The Little Engine that Could

April 1, 2008 at 4:32 pm 2 comments

More fascinating mind-over-body literature…

I’m Not Really Running, I’m Not Really Running…,” is an awesome New York Times article that explores the phenomenon of pseudo-maximum performance. This is a fancy way of saying, “No matter how high you jump, how fast you run or swim, how powerfully you row, you can do better. But sometimes your mind gets in the way.”

Dr. Benjamin Levine, an an exercise researcher and a cardiology professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, notes that no one really knows what limits human performance. There’s the ability of the heart to pump blood to the muscles, there’s the ability of the muscles to contract and respond, there’s the question of muscle fuel, and then, of course, there is the mind.“How does the brain interact with the skeletal muscles and the circulation?” Dr. Levine said. “How much of this is voluntary and how much is involuntary? We just don’t know.”

But since most people can do better, no matter how good their performance, the challenge is to find a safe way to push a little harder. Many ordinary athletes, as well as elites, use a technique known as dissociation.

Dissociation is the mental act of separating one’s self/mind from the physical experience. It can be achieved by deliberately zoning out. Or by engaging in active meditation, such as repeating phrases, concentrating on repeated motions, and settling into a rhythmic breathing pattern.

The volume of our training, the quality of our workouts, and our physiological aerobic capacity help to determine our perceived limits of performance. But it is our mindset that determines whether we will be hamstring by such a preconception or if we will triumph beyond boundaries of perceived physical possibility.

For more mental discipline exercises and techniques, check out the NYT’s complementary article “How to Boost Your Willpower.”

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood


Entry filed under: play, think. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

What It Takes: The Agony of Victory The Gates of Pain

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. laurapenpusher  |  April 2, 2008 at 2:20 am

    The mind is a wonderful thing – dissociation also occurs when the mind has seen too much trauma; it simply “goes away” for awhile. For that reason, meditation was a staple in later therapy for me after being diagnosed with PTSD. I’d like to add a trackback to your blog if you don’t mind. Feel free to check out the series I’m doing right now: PTSD – A view from the inside, currently on Part IV. Let me know what you think.

  • 2. Embambestuasp  |  November 25, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post, keep up posting such interesting articles.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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