They say “mind over matter” is the key to success. When it comes to physical exertion, that much is true. Physical toughness stems from mental toughness and the ability to endure endurance efforts is arguably more mental than physical. Here’s why.
As you begin physical exercise, motivation is typically high. As you begin to exert energy and become tired, motivation lessens. However, when mentally triggered into believing you have a point to prove, a competition to win, or a reason to keep going, that motivation can carry you into higher performance.
In an interesting twist to the enduring nature vs. nurture debate, a new study from Stanford University finds that just thinking you’re prone to a given outcome may trump both nature and nurture. In fact, simply believing a physical reality about yourself can actually nudge the body in that direction—sometimes even more than actually being prone to the reality.
The researchers, publishing in Nature Human Behavior, were interested in two areas—endurance during exercise and satiety during eating. For the endurance part, they did genetic testing on the participants to see whether they carried variants of a gene that make a person more or less prone to tiring easily. They also had people run on a treadmill to measure their endurance. Then, they randomly split the participants into two groups, telling one they had the gene variant that made them tire easily and the other gene variant that’s linked to endurance—the catch was that they’d randomly divided the participants into these two groups, so some were being given accurate results and others the exact opposite.
When the participants ran on a treadmill again, their endurance changed measurably—those who were told they had poor endurance genes couldn’t run as long (they stopped 22 seconds sooner), and had poorer lung capacity, and their bodies didn’t rid themselves of carbon dioxide as effectively. Those who were told they had better endurance ran a bit longer, regardless of what genes they actually carried.
The study showed that when the mind is believing that one can complete a physical endeavor, it is more likely to carry the body into completion. So, the next time you are about to tackle that workout that you think seems too hard, alter your mindset to believe that you can accomplish it. Chances are you can.
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