Tag: blog

QUIZ (DISTANCE RUNNING): What does your attentional focus type say about your race performance?

By: Premier Intern Staff

If you are a distance runner, it’s quite possible that you are familiar with the question, “What do you focus on during such a long race?” This may be especially true for those of you who run marathons. 26.2 grueling miles’ worth of running, which typically equates to several hours, is more than plenty of time for your mind to really hone in on something—whether that be your running form, your levels of exertion and pain, the people around you, your breathing, or simply the ground in front of you. So it’s only natural for those who do not compete in long-distance races to wonder how you mentally make it through, and just what you could possibly be thinking about that whole time.

Yet, have you ever asked yourself these questions? Do you voluntarily choose where to put your focus during a race, or have you even considered the idea that your decision could have significant effects on your performance? Take the quiz in order to find out if and how you can possibly improve your race results—just in time for this year’s Boston Marathon.

 

1. Where do you put the majority of your focus during a race?

A) Externally: I tend to focus most on my surroundings, e.g., other runners, the scenery, my music, or the crowd and people who are cheering me on –– go to question 2

B) Internally: I tend to focus most on my breathing and/or other immanent factors, e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion –– go to question 3

 

2. Do you believe that having a primarily external focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus on my surroundings makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on internal factors and sensations. –– result: E/E

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from external to internal conditions. –– go to question 4

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

3. Have you ever been told that you should focus on your breathing during a race, did you do so, and did that seem to positively affect your performance?

A) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it helped me. –– go to question 5

B) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. I did so, and I believe that it either did nothing in regards to my overall performance or negatively affected it. –– go to question 6

C) Yes, I have been told to focus on my breathing. But I did not actually do so, because it seemed like either it would negatively impact my performance or it would be pointless. –– go to question 6

D) No, I cannot recall having been told to focus on my breathing. –– go to question 6

 

4. In what way do you believe that remaining internally-focused throughout the majority a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by allowing me to monitor and correctly pace myself and/or by allowing me to concentrate on running form and thus decrease chance of injury. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: E/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on form and thereby maximize my running efficiency. –– result: E/I

C) It would help me run a faster time because I can pay more attention to how I am pacing myself. –– result: E/I

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: E/I

 

5. Do you believe that focusing on your breathing throughout a race would always or almost always help you run a faster time?

A) Yes, focusing on breathing while I race is something which has continued and/or can continue to boost my performance. –– result: B/B

B) No, focusing on my breathing was just something which helped me that one time, and I don’t believe that it will (likely) continue to be something which helps me throughout races in the future. –– go to question 6

 

6. Do you believe that having a primarily internal focus helps your performance, or is your area of focus and attention something you hope to change in order to improve?

A) I think that keeping my focus internal makes me run faster and/or more efficiently than focusing on external factors. –– result: I/I

B) I think that I could improve my overall race performance if I were to shift my primary focus from internal to external conditions. –– go to question 7

C) I don’t think it really matters. –– result: X

 

7. In what way do you believe that remaining externally focused throughout the majority of a race could most positively affect you?

A) I don’t think it would necessarily help me run a faster time, but it could help me avoid pain by distracting me. OR, it could help me in some other way, but still, it would not improve my overall race time. –– result: I/X

B) It would help me run a faster time because I can focus on passing/staying ahead of other runners. –– result: I/E

C) It would help me run a faster time because it could help me avoid pain by distracting me, thus allowing me to push myself harder. –– result: I/E

D) It would help me run a faster time for a reason other than the options listed above. –– result: I/E

 

Results:

E/E

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. You also do not plan on changing this direction of attentional focus anytime soon. Good news—not only are you right to be focusing on external conditions, but you are also correct in deeming this something which does not need to be changed. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

X

Even though you believe that it doesn’t matter where you put your focus during a race, you took this quiz. So whether it was out of boredom, curiosity, or some sliver of doubt in your belief, you were nonetheless right in doing so. The good news, therefore, is that you are already on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/X

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you have been putting your attention where it is most beneficial to your running economy—so despite being previously unaware that direction of attentional focus could affect your times, you are already in a good habit. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

E/I

Whether it is your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners, you pay most attention to factors which are outside of your body and/or its physical sensations. Even if you did not realize it, you are already putting your focus where it will likely maximize your running economy, so there is no need to change. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors (e.g., physical sensations, speed, pain, running form, or perceived exertion) and instead direct it externally. This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

B/B

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. Additionally, and as a subtype of these internal conditions, you put intentional focus on your breathing. However, breathing is likely the most sub-optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—at least in terms of running economy, that is. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/I

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/X

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body. However, the most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. But good news: you are now on the right track. The first step to improving is realizing that you have both the potential and the desire to do so. And if you do, in fact, hope to improve your running times, then in taking this quiz you have completed step one. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

I/E

Whether it is your physical sensations, speed, amount and category of pain, running form, or levels of perceived exertion, you pay most attention to factors internal to your body—yet you hope to change this. The most optimal direction of attentional focus during endurance races—in terms of running economy, at least—is not internal. So good news: you are now on the right track. Running economy, defined in terms of oxygen consumption at sub-maximum running speed (so not during all-out sprinting), is maximized when you choose not to place your focus on internal factors and instead direct it externally (e.g., focusing on your music, the crowd, the scenery, the course itself, or other runners). This means that at a given running speed, you consume less oxygen when your focus is directed externally than you do when it is directed internally. Or, you can look at it this way: at a given level of oxygen consumption, your running speed while focusing externally is faster than it is while focusing internally. Thus, it is likely that directing your attention outside of yourself when racing creates a better running economy, a better running economy means less depletion of physiological resources at a given speed, and less depletion of resources means running a faster overall time (Schücker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).

 

 

 

Reference:
Schücker, L., Hagemann, N., Strauss, B., & Völker, K. (2009). The effect of attentional focus on running economy. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(12), 1241-1248. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640410903150467

 

 

Just Imagine: You Can Improve Your Mental Toughness

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

You’re in the lead, heart pounding, racing forward through the pain toward the finish. In the last moments, you see your competition come up next to you. Do you have what it takes to win?

More often than we might think, the difference between first and second, between winning and losing, between making the cutoff time or just barely missing it, is in our minds. In those last few seconds, did you truly give all that you had? Did you use every single ounce of energy that your body could produce, or were you unable to tap into that last tiny bit? Could you have pushed just the slightest bit harder to edge out your opponent? My guess is that physically, you were capable of more…but mentally, you were not. And if you did not win, this is likely the reason why.

The ability to persevere in the face of pressures, challenges, and adversities is a highly sought-after trait in athletes and coaches alike (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Mental toughness is the key to success and the linchpin of a good performance, so improving it is just as important as improving your physical strength, speed, and stamina. Yet while many know and accept this, few realize the extent to which they can augment their mental fortitude, and further, how much of this improvement can come from within.

To learn how to be mentally strong, we must practice. You want to be ready to grind out those last 100 yards in a race? You practice them over and over, you practice pushing through the pain, and while you are bettering yourself physically, you are also bettering yourself mentally and preparing for the time that it counts. But there is another way to practice, and when done correctly, it significantly predicts higher levels of mental toughness (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). This technique is what sport psychologists refer to as imagery.

Imagery can generally be employed by athletes and performers in one of five ways. You can mentally perform specific skills (known as cognitive specific, or CS, imagery), and you can also mentally rehearse routines, plans, or strategies (known as cognitive general, or CG, imagery). Additionally, you can perform motivational specific (MS) imagery, during which you bring to mind images of goal-oriented responses or achievements. Lastly, there is motivational general (MG) imagery, which can be broken into motivational general–arousal (MG-A) and motivational general–mastery (MG-M). MG-A imagery involves bringing to mind images related to the emotional or physiological arousal and the regulation of anxiety associated with competition. MG-M imagery, on the other hand, refers to the act of imagining feelings of confidence, control, and perseverance (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

This level of categorization may all seem like a waste of time, and you might be thinking, “Why should I care? Can’t I just imagine my race and visualize myself winning?” If mental toughness is what you lack and this is how you are attempting to increase it, then you are, in fact, wasting your time. However, if you correctly employ the type of imagery found to be a strong and significant predictor of mental toughness––MG-M imagery, that is––then you are greatly improving your odds at having superlative mental grit when it matters most (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

To be clear, the other four types of imagery are not useless. Various studies have found that each type serves its own purpose (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Yet as you progress in your sport and the competition intensifies, mental toughness becomes clutch as the difference between first and second is often small. Therefore, the use of MG-M imagery can provide that final element of preparation needed to outperform your opponent. The importance of exercising mental strength and resilience during practice should never be underestimated. But we now know that visualizing yourself as self-confident, in control, and mentally tough during competition is also a valuable weapon in its own right (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

The mind is a powerful force. If you let it hold you back, it will not fail in doing so. But if you train it to push through the pain without letting up, if you teach it to work for you rather than against you, then you are enabling yourself to unlock your greatest physical potential. In those final moments, when that head-to-head race comes down to mental fortitude; to whose mind has the power to push on and who gives in to the fight…do you have what it takes to win?

The answer should be an undeniable “yes.”

 

Mattie, P., & Munroe-Chandler, K. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Mental Toughness and Imagery Use. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24(2), 144-156. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2011.605422

Super Bowl 51 and the Psychology of Losing

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

Super Bowl season is upon us.  This Sunday, at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, the New England Patriots will meet the Atlanta Falcons to determine the 2017 NFL championship.  To the winner will go the spoils: the Lombardi trophy, homecoming parades, changes in team culture, fortifications of team and individual legacies.  To the loser?  Well, that’s complicated, and something that’s often overlooked.

The virtues of winning are well-established.  We’re conditioned to compete, and culturally, financially and biologically rewarded for winning.  Several scientific studies have shown a direct correlation between winning outcomes and testosterone and dopamine levels in the brain, which enhance both mental functioning and feelings of pleasure and well-being (Huettel, 2014). Researchers state that success and winning shape our brains more than genetics and drugs (Hardman, 2013). Success changes the chemistry of the brain, making you more focused, smarter, more confident and more aggressive.

But, as either the Falcons or Patriots will know only too well Sunday evening, losing just as much a part of competition as winning. The cost of winning, and the many rewards it provides, requires that every competition have a loser—or, in the case of the NFL, 31 of them.  Perhaps no one understands this reality more intimately than Jim Kelly, Hall of Fame quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls from 1991-1994.  “There’s always going to be a major emphasis on winning, because that’s just the way society is. That’s just the way our culture is: That you want to be number one at the end. And if you’re number two, at times, there’s no doubt that number two is looked upon as mediocre, as a person that didn’t achieve it, sometimes as losers” (CBS News, 2013).  Perhaps no one better understands victories, either.  Kelly has twice beaten cancer since retiring from the NFL.

The Super Bowl could be decided by a single kick, catch, coaching mistake, or even the 50/50 shot of a flip of a coin at the beginning (CBS News, 2013). Those seemingly insignificant actions are the fine line that ultimately will separate those who win from those who lose. Duke Neuroscientist Scott Huettel, who’s done much work with professional athletes, states that winning is overrated (Huettel, 2014).

So going into this Super Bowl Sunday, and let’s face it the rest of life, keep this in mind. Some of your biggest victories may stem from being able to stomach your worst losses. Winning is both a great feeling and beneficial to our health, but the work you put in to get there is what builds you as a person. Everyone needs to take a few losses here and there to give us a drive and a purpose to better ourselves and really evaluate our lives; something we might happen to overlook if we always won. Without that, where would we be in life? Afterall, majority of the reasons you continue on is because you’re doing something you love. The way you view any competition is what will define the way you see the reward. Whether you’re an NFL player, a high school athlete, or someone just trying to get through your daily life, you know you can’t win every challenge. It’s what you take from each loss, and even win, is what will shape your motivation for the next challenge.

 

References:

Chase, C. (2017, January 23). Super Bowl LI: The 10 most important things to know about Falcons vs. Patriots | FOX Sports. Retrieved from http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/gallery/super-bowl-falcons-patriots-most-important-things-stats-tom-brady-matt-ryan-mvp-012317

CBS News. (2013, February 3). The psychology of winning – and losing – CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-psychology-of-winning-and-losing/

Robertson, I. H. (2012). The winner effect: The neuroscience of success and failure. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

Huettel, S. (2014). An overall probability of winning heuristic for complex risky decisions: Choice and eye fixation evidence. 125 2: 73-87. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Hardiman, A. (2013, June 20). Your Brain on Winning | Runner’s World. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/your-brain-on-winning

 

 

 

Sticking with it: Motivation to Follow Through on Goals

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

I’m sure that we have all experienced a time when we didn’t want to follow through with a task at hand. Either we got bored, felt like the task was too difficult to complete, became burnt out, or couldn’t see the benefits that would arise upon completion. Whatever the reason may be, we’ve been there. The good news is that there are various approaches that can be taken to fix this problem, one of them being, “keeping your eyes on the prize.”

Everything that we do is done for a reason. For example, baseball players both young and old are required to go to batting practice. It has become part of their pregame routine to take dozens of extra swings in preparation for competition. The purpose, as told by the Oakland hitting coach Chili Davis, is that “batting practice is a time to create and foster good habits. The guys who do it and do it right are the ones who are more successful.” (Caple, 2014) The same thing goes for volleyball players. “A setter will come close to making one third of all the ball contacts by the team.” (USA volleyball) This means that they better be darn good at what they do, or the team won’t be successful. But how do they achieve this skill? The answer is that they make goals for themselves and lean into them. They practice footwork, hand contact, vision, etc. time and time again so that they can deliver the perfect ball to their hitters. They want success for their team, so they keep their eyes on the prize during all of those days of practice and problem solving.

Another tactic that can be used to stay motivated is to take a different approach. Sometimes the way you are doing something won’t feel right or may seem more difficult than it should. In this case, taking a step back and re-analyzing your methodology towards the task may be a good option for you. Being able to identify a couple tweaks and changes that could be made may change your outlook and experience in ways you didn’t know were possible!

Last of all, reward yourself! Nothing worth having ever comes easy, right? So instead of just looking at the big picture (which may appear a little daunting), make small goals for yourself along the way. When you reach one of those milestones, reward yourself. One way you could do this is to treat yourself to a nice breakfast the next morning, or to document your success in writing. Reading and reliving your accomplishments may give you the right drive to continue forward on your journey. It is important to be able to recognize your own progress, which will not only allow you to celebrate the successes, but will also let you know how much further you have to go in reaching your primary goals.

“The discipline you learn and character you build from setting and achieving a goal can be more valuable than the achievement of the goal itself.” -Bo Bennett

 

References:

Caple, J. (2014). Batting Practice: Swings and Misses

USA Volleyball (2013). Thoughts for Setters