If you recall, this did not end well for me either.
Lies I have told myself:
– The sunglasses I bought for $10 in Mexico really are Oakleys.
– If it’s on clearance then I have to buy it because it’s practically giving me money back.
– No one will notice if my son isn’t wearing underwear because I forgot to change the laundry.
– I’m only doing 4 Tabatas today.
While believing the first three certainly haven’t done me any favors (it would have helped if my son had kept his mouth shut), according to new research reported in the New York Times, lie #4 may be the key to increasing my exercise performance. Who knew that lying could be as good for you as it is fun? (Okay it’s only fun sometimes like when I told my husband they named the city Elk Mound because a mysterious disease killed all the elk in a week and they had no place to bury all the rotting carcasses so they covered them up with dirt and called it a hill. He totally believed me!)
One morning having just finished my Tabatas (maximal intensity running sprints), sitting on the end of my treadmill and trying not to see stars, Gym Buddy Krista came up and said, “I don’t want to do Tabatas!”
“Nobody wants to do Tabatas,” I gasped. It’s a fact that we can’t start our Tabata workouts until each of us have whined about how much we hate doing them.
“But how do you make yourself do them when they suck so bad?”
“I lie to myself. I tell myself I only have to do 4 rounds (one Tabata is 8 rounds). And after 4 rounds then I tell myself it’s only 6 and after that what’s two more?” It’s true. Sometimes you can see me mouthing the words “just one more then I’m done!” until you are convinced I need remedial counting lessons.
“Well,” Krista declared, “I think your self is way more gullible than my self. I’d never believe me!” It should be noted that I am much more gullible than Krista in all senses so she’s probably right. I have no idea why I believe myself but I do! Every time! Even though I’m a terrible liar!
And yet this morning when I got to the gym, Krista had already finished her intervals. “Wow, you’re already done? How’d you make yourself do it?” I asked.
“I lied to myself.”
See? It works.
And it doesn’t just work for the Gym Buddies and I. Researchers from Northumbrian University in England set up an experiment to see if they could increase the personal bests of professional cyclists by whispering sweet little lies. First the cyclists were tested over the course of a couple of weeks to see what their athletic limit was. Then they were set up with a monitor with two figures on it. The first, they were told, was them. This was true. The second was them also but going at their personal fastest pace. This was a lie. In actuality the second avatar was riding 2% faster than the athletes had ever ridden.
When the cyclists raced what they thought was their best time, they actually beat the avatar increasing their power and finish times by 2%. Two percent doesn’t sound like much but according to the researchers in the world of competitive cycling it’s the difference between being back-of-the-pack and getting a medal. Says Dr. Thompson, the results are “not just day-to-day variability, but a true change in performance.”
The Times article points out that this lends credence to the theory that our minds are more powerful than our muscles when it comes to setting physical limits. As Roger Bannister, first man to run a 4-minute mile, said, “It is the brain, not the heart or lungs that is the critical organ. It’s the brain.”
The trick isn’t perfect however, nor is it limitless. Once the cyclists were clued in to the game, all increases in performance disappeared and some cyclists even got worse. The researchers also discovered that while they could trick the athletes into a 2% increase, 5% was too much and they just quit. They also warned that this could erode the fragile balance of trust between athlete and trainer.
While these researchers were the first to study this effect, I am sure that coaches and athletes have been using deception ever since Noah told the animals all they had to do to win a spot on the ark was to run faster than the unicorns. S0 this study made me wonder what other ways athletes use to trick themselves. Is the “lucky socks” trick just another form of self-deception? What about those mysterious power band bracelets so many pro ballers have been sporting recently? What about repeating a certain mantra? Or having a particular pre-race ritual (two Immodium and a gas station bathroom)?
“It comes back to the belief system within the athlete,” says Dr. Thompson. “Within limits, if an athlete thinks a certain pace is possible, he or she can draw on an energy reserve that the brain usually holds in abeyance.”
What lies do you tell yourself? Have you ever used one to motivate yourself to do better? How would you feel if your trainer tricked you like this? Any of you ever tried the PowerBand bracelets??