Why Endurance Runners Can Ignore Discomfort (and You Can, Too)
There are two types of people in this world: runners and non-runners. If you are one of the superhumans that truly enjoys running long distances, more power to you. But if you’ve always felt defeated by running, that may be because you’ve been missing out on the ultimate running hack—cognitive reappraisal.
Yes, it sounds pretty boring, but don’t be fooled—cognitive reappraisal is incredibly powerful. In fact, some of the world’s most successful athletes are experts at it. And you can be, too. It doesn’t even take any significant athletic skill. The magic is all in your head.
Cognitive reappraisal is essentially a cultivated apathetic attitude towards the body’s discomfort and pain. It’s the ability to distance yourself emotionally from what is going on in your body and to keep focused. And it’s not just for fitness. Cognitive reappraisal is a form of emotional regulation that tunes out growing negative emotions, which can make times of stress and depression significantly more manageable—whether it’s at work, at home, or in your day-to-day dalliances.
Sure, wrangling your wild mind is usually easier said than done, but it is definitely a great fitness practice for anyone looking to enjoy their workouts more, trying to improve their performance, or just trying to make it through a full workout.
WHY IS RUNNING SO HARD FOR SOME OF US?
The truth is, when out on a run, most of us are emotionally attached to our discomfort. It’s quite hard to be apathetic when 80 percent of your body is burning, sweating, and screaming for rest. We’re highly emotional beings.
By practicing cognitive reappraisal, you can strengthen an attitude of mindfulness without the emotions, which can help you run faster and longer, despite the discomfort. Your body simply responds to the serene nature of your mind.
STUDYING COGNITIVE REAPPRAISAL
Scientists are just diving in to this phenomenon in fitness.
According to a recent study of 24 trained, healthy runners, participants were asked to complete a vigorous treadmill run for 90 minutes at a speed which kept their heart rates between 75 and 85 percent of their max, on three separate occasions.
Before, during, and after these runs, they were asked to rate their exertion levels and how emotional they felt (stress, anger, discomfort).
When participants were told to practice an apathetic mindset towards their own exhaustion, they had less perceived exertion and a lower level of emotional arousal. The vigorous workouts seemed easier to participants who used this emotional regulation technique than with no psychological techniques at all.
HOW CAN YOU APPLY COGNITIVE REAPPRAISAL TO YOUR WORKOUTS?
Cognitive reappraisal is about prioritizing mind over matter, so you want to make sure you are coming from a strong place to begin with. Make sure you are well fed and watered, well rested and mentally balanced. If you’re starting from a bad attitude, it might be a little too challenging to try to push through any sort of physical discomfort without an onslaught of negativity.
Practice regulating your emotions before workouts. Once you master that, try running a little faster and a little longer with the same lightly detached attitude.
The great thing about this mental technique is that it makes your workouts way less difficult. Yes, your body will be tired, but the majority of the challenge in usually mental. In fact, most struggles we face in modern life are in our heads.