Why do some people find some exercises harder to do than others? And what is the strategy in seeing the distance as being shorter and the workout easier? According to a recent study our mindset is influenced both by our fitness levels and the way we distribute our attention while doing the exercise. So how do we trick our own perceptions to make any physical activity feel easier?
The amount of information that we can see is relatively small. When we have to make sense of what we see, it is our mind that filters the outer world and helps us fill in the gaps. That is why we perceive the world differently.
In her TED talk, social psychologist Emily Balcetis explores perception, motivation and goal-setting in the context of health and fitness. “Some people may literally see exercise as more difficult, and some people might literally see exercise as easier,” she says.
In her research she asked two groups of people, let’s call them in better shape and out of shape, to walk a certain distance, carrying extra weight. The results were interesting. The people who were out of shape saw the distance they were supposed to walk as greater than the people who were in better shape. “People’s states of their own body changed how they perceived the environment,” Balcetis explains.
Balcetis’s team came up with a strategy to work around this subjective vision obstacle. They called it “keep an eye on the prize”, and using this strategy they tested another hypothesis. They divided people into two groups, asking one group to focus the attention on the finish line and letting the second group to perceive the environment as they usually do. By “keeping the eyes on the prize” the first group perceived the exercise as easier and the distance shorter. The group that was told to look around the environment, as they naturally do, noticed the finish line as well as garbage cans, people, trees or lamps and saw the distance as being farther.
So the recommendation says: Focus on your goal and don’t let yourself get distracted. It is a strategy that works and it costs you nothing.
You can watch Emily Balcetis’s inspirational TED talk here.