About that pause. . .

My son suggested some months ago that I write a post about running through menopause. I laughed at the idea. I’ve been told menopause will last about 10 years although, according to my last Doctor, some women experience symptoms for up to 30 years – in other words, the rest of my life. So I thought, what’s the point. I could write about menopause, but it would only be a one word post. Adapt. Really though, it’s a tough time in the world of an athlete. Not just menopause for women, but maturation in general, and the changes it brings along – both mentally and physically.

I’ve been toying with this idea of running a 100-mile week for about two years. A couple of summers ago was when I first hit 66 miles in a week. At the time, I even wrote that 66 miles in one week was enough. I had pushed the limit on how much time and energy I was willing to devote to running. Memories are short, as we all know, and this year, with labor pains well behind me, I upped the ante and wore myself plum out.

For years, I have enthusiastically tweaked my training using one formula or another. There have been twice-a-day runs, increased mileage, slower training speed, faster repeats, weight-lifting and every manner of core strengthening you can imagine. Nothing about running has intimidated me, and I’ve not only been willing, but anxious to put myself through just about any level of hell to become a better runner.

Then the last 26.2 bumper sticker fell off my Jeep this past winter. At the time, it seemed a little like an omen, and I couldn’t shake the feeling. When my energy swooped off the charts in a downward spiral, I was convinced my fate was sealed. I hit the wall in this last marathon, and for the first time I couldn’t recover. What has followed can only be described as soul-searching.

As usual, my husband helped me sort things out.

He reminded me how much I enjoyed running years ago when I first started. I remember those days.

There was no training calendar, no watch; not even music. Running was new, unchartered territory and I reveled in learning its nuances. Running further than I ever thought possible, in extreme heat or cold, and when my feet hurt worse than anything has ever hurt but I was still 10 miles from home with no phone – I couldn’t wait to go for another run. When I came home tired, hot, hungry and devastated from the effort – it was still exhilarating.

There were lonely, but beautiful runs through the mountains where dogs come out suddenly, barking so ferociously at my heels that I can feel the warmth of their breath making me quiver with fright. Whether you’ve survived or wilted was totally in your jurisdiction. No one was there to see whether you’d succeeded, or quit. It was just me and my newfound love.

Then my husband so thoughtfully compared my running to Tiger changing his golf swing, or Shaq working on his free throw average. . .

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The Mike Douglas Show, 1978 CBS/Getty Images

In 1994, Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods had already conquered the world of junior golf when he did a curious thing; he changed his swing. Then he changed his swing again, again, and again – in 1997, 2004 and 2010. Nothing seems more sacrosanct in the world of golf than a golfer’s natural swing.

Scott Eden wrote a fabulously, comprehensive run-down of Tiger’s career swing changes for ESPN in 2013 where he says, “Among gifted players who achieve low handicaps, this notion is especially powerful. So much so that in many circles, to meddle with your natural swing is to meddle with your soul — to dive too deep and risk discovering things about yourself that maybe you’d rather not.”

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns, Game 3
PHOENIX – APRIL 25: Shaquille O’Neal #32 Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hack-a-Shaq is a basketball strategy initially instituted in the National Basketball Association (NBA) by the Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson to hinder the scoring ability of the opposing team by continuously committing professional fouls against one of its opposing players, the player chosen being the one with the weakest free throw percentage among players on the court. (Wikpedia)

Some believe Shaq would have reached a 70 percent free throw average with a little fine tuning. Instead, he spent years re-tooling his free throw ultimately ending his 20-year career with only a .527 percent average.

At some point, athletes become conscious, aware. There are countless examples in every sport. This awakening evokes a sense of urgency to fix everything, or perhaps anything, which usually involves the complete disassembling, reconstructing, re-tooling, and re-mastering of the very God-given talent they were so fortunate to have bestowed on them in the first place – a structural overhaul. “We tore it all apart, and built it up,” Woods would say about initially changing his swing so that it wouldn’t get ‘stuck.’ For all its good intentions, the structural overhaul is rarely successful. But then, sport has become all about intensity – the ‘how hard can we push ourselves’ kind of intensity. How far can you go beyond normal? And by all accounts, it seems the human race is proving the upper limits of extreme to be negotiable into perpetuity. . . and it’s really easy to get roped in.

What most people likely missed in Tiger’s 1978 debut on The Mike Douglas Show was the club. At just under 3-years old, Tiger used an adult club that had been modified by Earl, his dad. To compensate for the awkwardness of the adult-size club, Tiger learned to deploy a move, a swing, or a ‘flaw’ as he saw it, that only someone with Tiger’s natural ability could pull off. Only Tiger could swing a club like that as a toddler, and it was that modified swing, the by-product of his own youthful talent, that he would spend his entire career trying to change.

Similar to Tiger – and David Gossett, Craig Perks, Scott Verplank, Chip Bank, David Duval, Ian Baker-Finch, and Seve Ballesteros who all underwent drastic swing changes – we become focused on changing ourselves. If we work hard enough, maybe we can turn back the clock. Or, if we work hard enough we can become something we were not.

I can’t imagine why it had to be now that I needed to deal with my age. Things were going along so well. There didn’t seem to be anything I could dream of doing that I couldn’t force my body into compliance to achieve. Until this past year.

This latest challenge, to run as many miles as I could without killing myself, has actually served as a much needed pause in running; a chance to re-group and re-assess my goals. Perhaps I dove so deep that I discovered things about myself maybe I’d rather have not, but the fact is I am entering new territory ready or not.

Our bodies change in menopause, which makes our clothes fit differently, which is probably alright because our preference in clothes has already started to change anyway. Our emotions run amuck. Maybe men go through some of the same things. They buy a sports car, start a new career, sometimes an entirely new life. What do women do? What do athletes do?

I’ve started paying attention to the articles on aging athletes. How we can adapt our training methods to continually improve well into our 70s. I try to buy into the whole thing. The truth is, I’ve had to forgive myself for getting old. I’m having to learn to improve my game without changing my swing.

In this whole conversation of the golf swing, I couldn’t help but think about Jim Furyk. He has one of the most unorthodox swings in the world of professional golf, yet it has a rhythm that produces one of the most consistent ball flights in the sport. He’s never attempted to change his swing.

I wouldn’t promise that the 100-mile training week is forever behind me, and I’m sure I won’t stop tweaking my training, but I’m learning there is a subtle difference between becoming the best you can be, and becoming something else entirely. I’m learning to own my own skin, wrinkles and all.

 

References:

Stroke of Madness by Scott Eden, ESPN

Why Tiger Changed His Swing by Bill Rand, Eye on the Tour

 

 

Would You Be My Expedition Partner?

At exactly this time one year ago, I found myself in what would be a year-long collegiate pursuit. I never intended to go back to school for an entire year, one class just led to another, and then another, and by the time they hand you a diploma, you’ve nearly forgotten those early classes – the ones that helped develop the curiosity that kept you in the program in the first place.

Last week I stumbled upon a 3-ring binder from one of those first classes. It included a notebook, class handouts and a page divider for tests and projects. The notebook contained nary one note in all of its 150 sheets of paper. The page dividers divided not one test or project. You see, this class was all about hiking: Land Based Activities I.

There were tests and quizzes alright. One test question in particular simply read, “Cotton ________.” Being a newly informed outdoor professional, I knew the answer was that under no circumstance were any of your outdoor gear to be made from this horribly inappropriate material, but the one word to summarize this rule escaped me. Finally, I filled in the blank, “Cotton    sucks  .” My answer was not marked wrong.

We learned to build campfires on top of garbage bags, and spent an entire afternoon tossing bear bags over every tree limb we could find. We gave each other presentations on the principles of Leave No Trace and went shopping for the gear we would like to have…. if money were no object. And, along the way I learned some valuable life lessons. Lessons that may or may not have meant anything to my 20-something classmates, but at 55 years young they were invaluable reminders of how I should be living my life.

Among my notebook were five handouts, including this one on Expedition Behavior: The Finer Points (by Howard Tomb):

Rule #1: Get the hell out of bed.

Suppose your tentmates get up early to fetch water and fire up the stove while you lie comatose in your sleeping bag. Last night you were their buddy, now they’re drawing up a list of things about you that make them want to spit. They will devise cruel punishments for you. You have earned them. The team concept is now defunct. Had you gotten out of bed, nobody would have had to suffer.

Rule #2: Do not be cheerful before breakfast.

Some people wake up perky and happy as fluffy bunny rabbits. They put stress on those who wake up mean as rabid wolverines. Exhortations such as “Rise and shine, sugar!” and “Greet the dawn, pumkin!” have been known to provoke pungent expletives from rabid wolverine types. These curses, in turn, may offend fluffy bunny types. Indeed, they are issued with the sincere intent to offend. Thus, the day begins with flying fur and hurt feelings. The best early morning behavior is simple: be quiet.

Rule #3: Do not complain.

About anything. Ever. It’s ten below zero, visibility is four inches and wind driven hailstones are embedding themselves in your face like shotgun pellets. Must you mention it? Your pack weighs 87 pounds and your cheap backpack straps are – surprise!, surprise! – cutting into your flesh. Were you promised a personal sherpa? Did somebody cheat you out of a mule team? If you can’t carry your weight, get a motorhome.

Rule #4: Learn to cook at least one thing right.

One expedition trick is so old that it is no longer amusing: on the first cooking assignment, the clever cook prepares a dish that resembles, say Burnt Socks in Toxic Waste Sauce. The cook hopes to be relieved permanently from cooking duties. Tricks are not a part of a team spirit. If you don’t cook, offer to wash dishes and prepare the one thing you know how to cook – even if it’s only tea.

Rule #5: Either A) shampoo, or B) do not remove your hat for any reason.

After a week or so on the trail, without shampooing, hair forms angry little clumps and wads. These leave the person beneath looking like an escapee from a mental ward. Such an appearance could shake a team’s confidence in your judgment. If you can’t shampoo, pull a wool hat down over your ears and leave it there, night and day, for the entire expedition.

Rule #6: Do not ask if anybody’s seen your stuff.

Experienced adventurers have systems for organizing their gear. One of the most damning things you can do is ask your tentmate if they’ve seen the tent poles you thought you packed 20 miles ago. Even in the unlikely event you get home alive, you will not be invited on the next trip. Should you ever leave the tent poles 20 miles away, do not ask if anybody’s seen them. Simply announce with a good-natured chuckle, that you are about to set off in the dark on a 40-mile hike to retrieve them, and that you are sorry. It’s unprofessional to lose your spoon or your toothbrush. If something like that happens, don’t mention it to anyone.

Rule #7: Never ask where you are.

If you want to know where you are, look at the map. Try to figure it out yourself. If you A) suspect that a mistake has been made; and B) have experience in interpreting topographical maps, and C) are certain that your group leader is a novice or on drugs, speak up. Otherwise, follow the group like a sheep.

Rule #8: Always carry more than your fair share.

When the trip is over, would you rather be remembered as a rock or a sissy? Keep in mind that a pound or two of extra weight in your pack won’t make your back hurt any more than it already does. In any given group of flatlanders, somebody is bound to bicker about their weight. When an argument begins, take the extra weight yourself. Then shake your head and gaze with pity upon the slothful one.

Rule #9: Do not get sunburned.

Sunburn is not only painful and unattractive, it’s also an obvious sign of inexperience.

Rule #10: Do not get killed.

The worst thing to have on your outdoor resume is a list of the possible locations of your body.

All expedition behavior really flows from this one principle: think of your team, the beautiful machine, first. You are merely a cog in that machine. If you have something to prove, forget about joining an expedition. Your team will never have more than one member.

The Runner’s High: what is it and can anyone get one?

Some athletes say they’ve never entered ‘the zone’ while others swear they practically live in this magical zone of euphoria. So, is it for real and can anyone have one?

FlowIt is for real and it has a name: flow.

The word showed up on a final exam last semester – flow being a well researched component of Adventure Education.

flow: a level of involvement such that consciousness at hand and the doing of it blend; where action and awareness become indistinguishable.

In positive psychology, Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity…. complete absorption in what is doing.

According to Mihály Csikszentmihalyi who gave it the name, flow is completely focused motivation, a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions. Flow is an intense experience of being so engaged in an activity that your sense of self and time temporarily fade.

Csikszentmihalyi and his fellow researchers began researching flow after Csikszentmihalyi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, become so immersed in their work that they disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. Historical sources hint that Michelangelo may have painted the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel while in a flow state.

Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix explained: “I was already on pole, […] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team-mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel.”

SOME CAN FLOW MORE THAN OTHERS….

Csíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with several very specific personality traits may be better able to achieve flow more often than the average person. These personality traits include curiosity, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a high rate of performing activities for intrinsic reasons only; known as an autotelic personality.

People with autotelic tendencies are internally driven and may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity. This determination being different from an externally driven personality where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.

One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for “high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth” compared to those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to enter the flow state.

flow musicianMusicians, especially improvisational soloists experience flow. Research has shown that performers in a flow state have a heightened quality of performance as opposed to when they are not in a flow state. In a study performed with professional classical pianists, heart rate and blood pressure decreased and the major facial muscles relaxed while the pianists were in the flow state. This study emphasized that flow is a state of effortless attention. In spite of the effortless attention and overall relaxation of the body, the performance of the pianist during the flow state improved.

Drummers experience a state of flow when they sense a collective energy that drives the beat, something they refer to as getting into the groove or entrainment. Bass guitarists often describe a state of flow as being in the pocket.

THE PSYCHOLOGY

In every given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to our brain. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time – about 126 bits of information per second (Csikszentmihalyi’s 1956 study). Decoding speech takes about 40 bits of information per second; about 1/3 of our total capacity, which is why we cannot carry on a conversation and drive very well at the same time.

For the most part (except for innate basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain), we decide what we want to focus our attention on. When we are in the flow state, however, we are completely engrossed with the task at hand, without making the conscious decision to do so. Awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs is non-existent. This occurs because total attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.

During states of “normalcy,” we control our focuses and thought processes. When in the zone, the part of the brain associated with consciousness and self-reflection (the default mode network) runs off in manic glee while our capacity for attention and reason (the executive network) effectively deactivates.

HOW TO GET IN THE ZONE

Apathy is characterized when the challenge is low, and one’s skill level is low –  producing a general lack of interest. Boredom occurs when the challenge is low, but the skill level is high. We all understand anxiety occurs when the challenge exceeds our perceived skill level. A state of flow occurs when challenges match skill.

Defined within the parameters of a runner’s high, one could assume flow would not be achieved when:

  •  pace is too slow and effortless as compared to the runner’s skill level (boredom),
  • the runner has no interest in running (apathy),
  • pace, or terrain (level of difficulty) is too challenging (anxiety).

flow stateA 1997 study by Csíkszentmihályi also determined that flow is more likely to occur when the activity at hand is a higher-than-average challenge and the individual has above-average skills.

Some runners report achieving ‘runner’s high’ during a race or a tempo run – a run slightly below 10k race pace that is sufficiently taxing on the system but not an all-out effort. Somewhere in this ideal zone runners lose themselves and reach a state where mind and body become one – the consciousness of running and the doing of it become indistinguishable.

Experimental evidence shows that a balance between the skills of the individual and the demands of the task only elicits flow experiences in individuals characterized by an internal locus of control or an habitual action orientation; this basic ‘need for achievement’ being a personal characteristic that fosters flow experiences.

Locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them. A person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualized as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence, or by chance or fate).

Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life derive primarily from their own actions: for example, when receiving test results, people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities. People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the test.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN

The flow concept has been used in things as diverse as design methods for playgrounds, business, sport psychology, computer programming, and stand-up comedy to more intrinsic applications, such as spirituality and self-help.

Flow experiences imply a growth principle. When in a flow state, we are working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, however, we must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches our skills and we emerge stronger, more competent, and with a greater sense of personal satisfaction.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book on the subject, “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning,” where he argues that with increased experiences of flow, people experience growth towards complexity, in which people flourish as their achievements grow. That says it all.

what-is-flow

N=1

In 1954, the world was stuck at a 4:01.4 minute mile. It seemed improbable anyone could or ever would break the 4-minute mile. John Landy tried 6 times in an 18-month period and came within 3 seconds of doing so before he proclaimed, “The four-minute mile is a brick wall, and I shan’t attempt it again.”

A medical student, Roger Bannister, takes to the track in Oxford, on May 6, 1954, and runs 3:59.4. Six weeks later, John Landy runs the mile in 3:58.0.

Mark McClusky wrote the book “Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them” where he concludes that the high-performance sports world approaches problems in a way that goes beyond winning games and can provide everyone ways to optimize other parts of our lives.

These things that we can learn from athletes are quite simple actually – the way most important lessons tend to be.

imageLots of little things become big changes is the cornerstone of Dave Brailsford’s career. No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, and Brailsford was asked to change that.

His approach was simple…. a concept he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains” whereby he implemented “a 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. They optimized everything from the nutrition of the riders and the ergonomics of the bike seat to testing for the most effective massage gel and the best pillow to sleep on. Nothing was excluded from his scrutiny and the 1% improvement. The goal was to win the Tour de France in five years. They won it in three.

Almost every habit we have – good or bad – is the result of many small decisions over time that can be corrected as a result of many small decisions over time.

Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” Athletes are some of the best at measuring and tracking everything under the sun: pace, distance, VO2 Max, watts per hour….. on and on. The theory being that people change their behavior – often for the better – when they are being observed or measured (which is why it’s sometimes called the observer effect). The makers of our techno-gadgets understand this, as do organizations such as Weight Watchers. One of the first things you’ll be advised to do in a weight-loss program is to write down everything you eat during the day.

One could correlate breaking the 4-minute mile barrier to this same phenomenon.

Landy had done all his 4:01s in what were effectively time-trials. He was isolated and alone, and working harder than he might have with the support of pace-setters or the spur of rivals. Bannister, on the other hand, used pacers to set the race up for his final lap, and they pulled him through three laps in just outside 3:00.

Ironically, when Landy eventually broke the 4-minute mile at 3.58, he not only had a pace-setter, but he had one of Bannister’s pacers for company – not as a pace-setter, but as competitor who pushed him all the way through the bell.

In a scientific paper, N stands for the number of participants, or the sample size. Generally speaking, the more subjects – the bigger the N – the better.

Doctors, coaches and professionals use these scientific studies to develop programs that will apply to a broad spectrum of the population. Doctors develop treatment or rehabilitation programs, coaches create training plans. I have used what I call “off-the-shelf” training programs for years quite successfully. Once in awhile, however, they don’t fit.

Even when I find exactly what works for me, chances are it will be all wrong for you. The one consistency I have found in sports is that we are all very individual – in every way. The coaches, the books, the training plans work very well as a guide to get us started. Eventually the time will come that we must learn what works for us, what makes us tick.

That’s what athletes do quite well; they learn what does and does not work for them. We make mistakes, and we learn from these mistakes. We keep a log of our training and watch hours of game film to isolate exactly what got us into trouble. Slowly but surely we figure out what we’re good at, what we need to improve on, and the methods that culminate in success.

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Most have said Sir Roger’s success came because he, better than anyone, perceived the battle for the 4-minute mile was fought in the mind, not in the body.

Bannister reduced the race to its simplest common denominator – 400m in 1:00 or multiples thereof. He trained until running 400m in 1:00, 24 km per hour, became automatic.

Exacting change in our life and pushing ourselves to new places is scary, overwhelming until we break it down to the most common denominator. Then we realize it’s the simple things that create success: making small changes that can be maintained every day, measuring our progress and telling someone our goal – allowing them to push us, encourage us. Perhaps most important is that we remember that we are the individual test subject in our own study of life….N=1.

When I told my husband about this topic, his response was, “Motivation comes from good marketing. Success comes from N=1.” That nets it out fairly well, actually.

The Greatest Human Strength


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The calendar read 14 miles for Sunday’s long run and the radar promised clear, sunny skies with 32 degrees at take-off. What it did not say was that several of the 10 inches of snow that lay on the ground for the past few days were still there.

The weather report promised no wind. The wind was brutal. My favorite socks were dirty. I forgot the bandana I usually bring along to wipe my incessantly runny nose. Estimated finish time was 1pm which meant my body would expect lunch halfway through the run. I had gotten a late start.

After 7 miles on the track, I headed for the bathroom in the park before finishing the run on the sidewalks – in whatever condition they may be. The bathrooms were closed due to inclement weather. The nearest gas station shared the bathrooms with the attached bar, which wasn’t open yet. The bathroom in the diner across the street arrived in the nick of time.

For another hour, I ran, walked through and jumped over mounds of snow; I tiptoed through mud puddles. After underestimating the depth of one particularly muddy puddle, both feet were completely immersed. There were 4 miles to go – half of them straight up.

Now it’s past the meet time with my husband. I call when I reach the Jeep – he seems upset. I fume all the way to the restaurant, “How can he be mad!? I’ve had a miserable run!”

He had ordered our food and it was already on the table. I didn’t speak. Tears threatened. He was trying to make me smile when he told me if I didn’t get my attitude in order he was going to force me to eat an olive. I told him I was going to shove that olive up his nose. We laughed.

I don’t know what makes some runs difficult but from time to time they happen. By the end of that run I was drained, mentally and physically. I had used all my willpower to finish.

There’s an interesting thing about willpower – it can be depleted. Whether you’re resisting a favorite food or finishing a dreadful run, exercising self-control saps the same mental energy source.

will·pow·er noun \ˈwil-ˌpau̇(-ə)r\: the ability to control yourself : strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking)

Researchers have concluded that people spend about a quarter of their waking hours resisting desires — at least four hours per day. Put another way, if you tapped four people at any random moment of the day, one of them would be using willpower to resist a desire. And that doesn’t even include all the instances in which willpower is exercised, because people use it for other things, too, such as making decisions.

imageIn a study led by a Stanford University psychologist, scientists gauged whether test subjects believed they could exhaust their willpower, and sought to convince them otherwise. The researchers found that people “performed better or worse [on tests] depending on their belief in the durability of willpower.” You have as much willpower as you think you have, essentially. Which means that on some level, your journey toward self-improvement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then a remarkable finding came to light. In experiments beginning in the late 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel tormented preschoolers with the agonizing choice of one marshmallow now or two marshmallows 15 minutes from now. When he followed up decades later, he found that the 4-year-olds who waited for two marshmallows turned into adults who were better adjusted, were less likely to abuse drugs, had higher self-esteem, had better relationships, were better at handling stress, obtained higher degrees and earned more money.

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The power to resist temptation — to pass up dessert, to endure an unpleasant experience, to defer satisfaction — is our “greatest human strength,” argue psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney in their book, Willpower.

In the short-term, self-control is a limited resource. But over the long-term, it can act more like a muscle. Tierney cites one study in which students were asked to watch their posture for a week. At the end of the week, those students performed better on self-control tasks — tasks that had nothing to do with sitting up straight — than students who had not been exercising control all week.

The next time you experience something quite difficult, just imagine that your willpower is in training and is getting stronger with every passing day.

There is no telling what you will accomplish.

Additional Reading:
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. Copyright 2011 Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. http://www.npr.org/books/titles/140516995/willpower-rediscovering-the-greatest-human-strength?tab=excerpt#excerpt
http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/2/
http://www.npr.org/2011/09/18/140516974/resistance-training-for-your-willpower-muscles