The Psychology of Running Your Brain

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My head hurt. It all became one nonsensical story that I tried to sort through but could not. I searched for meaning everywhere. I saw strange things happen—characters from different points in my life all driving by in a caravan in the forest, for example, all with dogs by their sides.

Everything was intertwining. Perhaps I was a criminal. At home, I rearranged all the artwork on the walls after staring at it long and hard. When my husband asked what happened to the images, I told him I was trying to rewrite the story so it would have another ending.

But then, the next day, when the art was all off the walls, he got beyond worried, especially when I told him I would be locked up and that it all had something to do with Donald Trump. I saw a doctor.

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How to train your brain to push through running pain

She had no idea what was wrong except that I seemed pale and thin. Next I saw a psychiatrist. Yet his response resembled the one I got from a nurse when I served in Peace Corps more than a decade before. And because the brain and its behavioral manifestations are so mysterious, and because we are so ignorant of it, we are afraid and ashamed of its power to destroy us. The brain is a different story, however.

You could be shunned. In my case, a brain MRI showed nothing out of the ordinary. That was something of a relief, but also slightly disappointing. Some physical thing to point to would have explained the experience at least. The worst of it lasted only a few days. After two weeks, I was more or less fine. I spoke to friends. I read again, without confusion. I returned to me. Everything went back to normal, sort of.

But nothing will ever be the same again. But how do I stop my mind from getting all jumbled again? And what made it happen in the first place? She went missing in the city. Security cameras spotted her at gyms and in Apple stores, but when people confronted her to ask if she was the missing woman, she denied it. After three weeks, she was found by a Staten Island ferry captain in the water and taken to a nearby hospital, where she was able to tell medical personnel her name.

Upp disappeared from herself. And then she came back.

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Under hypnosis, she could describe the actions of the alternate selves, but when conscious she could not recall inhabiting another reality. In the field of psychiatry, which is rife with mysteries, fugue states are, perhaps fittingly, totally elusive. They are rare, extreme escapes from the self that last as little as a few hours to years. She left a series of confused notes, disappeared for days, ditched her car by a lake, and was found checked in at a spa under another name.

That is a fiction. When you start to tire, look up the road and focus on getting to the next runner or stop sign, or tell yourself [that] you will run for five more minutes, then six more minutes. It is like reaching little satisfactory goals along the way.

Feature: This is your brain on running

Another mental roadblock comes after your run or race. Many runners always find something that went wrong, no matter how well they ran. Remember that running is something you do. It is not who you are. If you can untie yourself from your performance, you can put that mental energy into your running.


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Subscribe now for a weekly dose of inspiration and education. Written by Julia Dellitt. Visualize running your best. Stick to a pre-run routine. Stay in the present moment. Fitness Running. Related Articles Fitness 6 Inefficient Exercises and the Moves to Try Instead Find out some alternatives that will really get you the results you want.

For example, research has shown that resisting the same temptation, like chocolate or another sweet, early in the day is easier than resisting later in the day. Similarly, there have been numerous studies to show that if we are made to exert self-control on one task, then we are more likely to give in on a subsequent task. We can imagine having a bucket filled with willpower. Every time we have to use self-control to resist some temptation, we dip into that bucket. The more we stress over that temptation or the longer we resist it, the more we delve into the pool.

As we go throughout the day, because our bucket is draining, our ability to resist temptation decreases. Similar to how as we run low on fuel running, we develop fatigue, the same happens with self-control. Just like we might drink a recovery drink after our fatiguing long run, our willpower bucket needs to be refilled. Going beyond simply resisting temptation, scientists break willpower down into four different domains: controlling thoughts, controlling feelings, impulse control, and task performance. Each of these domains represents a different way to use willpower to resist temptations.

But it goes beyond simply just resisting temptations. It turns out that decision making uses willpower too. Scientists refer to it as decision making fatigue. Interestingly what happens during decision fatigue is that not only will our self-control be impaired, but also our decision making will suffer. Basically, we become bad decision makers.

A great example and somewhat scary implication is seen in courts where judges make parole or sentencing decisions. Several different studies have now shown that the judges likelihood to sentence is significantly higher before lunch, so at the end of several decisions made in a row, versus when the judge has just returned from lunch. Additionally, and not surprisingly, physical fatigue impairs willpower.

Some research has shown that if we restrict peoples sleep to 6 hours or less a night then they will have a decrease in self-control. So what we are left with is a situation where decision making and using willpower both effect self control, which in turns decreases initiative.

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As mentioned in the introduction, running and racing is all about making decisions. Whether conscious or subconscious decisions, our brains and bodies make choices based on not only the physiological changed going on when we are running, but also our emotional states surrounding it. But we can go a step further and look at fatigue from a decision making perspective.