This spring I was listening to a podcast about lying, and there was a brief mention about the best athletes practicing self-deception in order to perform better. For example, a successful track and field athlete claims to repeat ‘I am the best‘ before competing. They are not the best in the world, but that’s what they briefly make themselves believe. When I mentioned it to Reese the other day, he said that he had just been reading about how realistic expectations make a person live a happier and more successful life. I can see how realistic definitions of success would cause it to be easier achieved, but I was hung up on the idea that doubt limits your performance in athletics. It makes sense to me that if you believe you can do something, your mind allows your body to go there. By believe I don’t mean think it superficially and consciously, but to really feel it in your gut and know it subconsciously. I don’t know a whole lot about sports psychology except for a few tidbits that I have heard and learned from my own experience, but it seems to me that being able to ‘make’ yourself feel that confidence would be hugely advantageous. I don’t know how that relates to a happy and successful life in general, but if your self-deception was limited to athletics and contributed to your achievement of your (mostly) realistic goals, it seems like it might be a good idea.
I bring this up now because I just read an article in the NYTimes called A Little Deception Helps Push Athletes to the Limit – NYTimes.com. Tyler Kornfield shared it earlier today on twitter, and I certainly think it’s interesting. Basically some scientists in Northumbrian University, England, did some tests on ‘trained cyclists’ in which they repeatedly reached their max in a 4,000m time trial on a stationary bike. Then, they were told to race avatars on a screen in front of them. The cyclists were told that the avatars were moving at the speed of their previous max effort, but the avatars were actually going 1% faster. The athletes were consistently able to tap further into their anaerobic energy systems and match a time significantly faster than theirs (1% seems small, but in an elite field it can make a huge difference). In my mind, I can absolutely see how this is possible. If I am positive that I can do something (like beat a specific person in a race, or match a time that I have done before) I will not let myself give up. The minute doubt starts to come into my mind, that’s when it gets hard. When I start thinking of reasons that I can’t do it today, that’s when I know I am in trouble. A good race is usually so full of confidence that I am probably unbearable to be around afterwards, and any kind of mental a trick that I can find to get into that zone is something I am willing to look into.
The other interesting part of that article was the talk of competition bringing out higher levels of performance. The bikers who raced avatars who were going the same speed as the athlete’s best time were able to beat the avatar and their own best time because of the virtual competition. To this I say DUH!!! That’s why I train with a team and not by myself all the time. Having someone on your shoulder or to chase down brings out better more powerful technique and helps you dig deeper every time. I set a new PR in testing a couple of weeks ago, and I am positive that it was because Kate Fitz was on my heels the whole way. That’s when I find movements that are most efficient and strong, and it’s how I know that I am improving. Chasing World Cup winner Kikkan Randall around is one of the most beneficial parts of skiing for APU, and it absolutely has a huge impact on my training. Even being a rabbit for her in bounding intervals gives me a chance to try and hang with her for a little bit as she passes me, and I learn a lot each time. Now I just need to fool myself into thinking I could bound as fast as she does, and I could keep up… in a few years. Look out world, here we come!
Here is the Radiolab podcast that I mentioned:
Deception – Radiolab