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Pushing Past A Mental Threshold During Exercise

‘Whenever you exercise just until you feel unpleasant and then stop, you’re categorizing your physical sensations as exhaustion. You’ll always exercise below your threshold, despite all the health benefits of continuing. Through recategorization, however, you can continue exercising and feel even better later, as you reap the benefits of a stronger, healthier body. The more you do it, the more you tune your conceptual system toward longer exercise in the future.’ How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett

I recently read the above quote and it helped to change my understanding of pushing past a threshold during exercise, especially during heavy exertion such as long distance running or martial arts.

I’d often perceive the sensations in my body as something negative, that I’m overworked and it’s too much. I’d get anxious, like if I pushed past those unpleasant feelings I’d get hurt.

I’d start thinking I’ve got to stop, mentally I’d check out and physically I wouldn’t be able to keep up. But at the very end of a round or sparring session or long run, because I knew it was about to finish, I’d pull it together and be fine.

At the moment, (because lockdown!), I’m running a lot and currently upping my distance and I decided to apply what I’d read. When I started to feel those unpleasant feelings, instead of stopping, I acknowledged I was running uphill, I’d been running for a few miles and that’s why I was feeling the sensations in my body and to keep going. It worked, it helped me to carry on and push past a mental threshold.

I know my body is more than capable of doing the mileage, I have the fitness, I’ve built up to it and I’ve been doing it consistently for a long time, it was my brain I had to convince.

I’m not suggesting that we should always push past unpleasant feelings, know your body and what you are capable of, but I think it’s useful to know when it’s ok to push through.

If you can change your concepts and understanding, you change your ability to move yourself forward and in the long run, you’re going to be better for it.

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