Your Mind: The Little Engine that Could
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.”