Is Your Brain Holding Back Your Body?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The mind is a powerful thing. Not only does it control all of your body's functions, movements and reactions to stimuli, but it allows you to emote, remember and think. Our thoughts are equally as powerful. Plenty of research shows that positive thinking can help people recover from illness, beat disease, live longer, stay healthier, and be happier. It's amazing what your own thoughts can do for you.
On the flipside, negative thinking can make you feel bad, reduce your self-worth, and diminish your chances of reaching your goals. After all, if you don't really believe you're capable of something, you're less likely to try; you create your own self-fulfilling prophecy. It reminds me of the Henry Ford quote:
"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right."
I recently read a New York Times story about an intriguing study from Northumbrian University in England. Researchers told elite cyclists that the computer avatar they were racing against was mimicking their own personal best time. The cyclists didn't know it, but the avatar was actually racing 1% faster than they ever had. But because they believed it was "their" speed, they either kept up—or won. However, when cyclists were told that the avatar was going 2%-5% faster than their best time, it was as if they gave up from the beginning—they lost the race even though they performed better when they were deceived about their virtual competitor's speed.
Wow! I guess it's not that surprising. We have all experienced something when we either psyched ourselves out by doubting our ability to succeed (a public presentation, a job interview…perhaps even a fitness program or weight loss goal?). But I hope we have all had an experience where we believed in ourselves and succeeded (completing that first 5K, getting a promotion at work, negotiating a deal, sticking with your meal plan).
I've experienced this very recently when running. I wear my beloved Garmin Forerunner so that I can glance down and see my pace at any moment, but sometimes knowing my speed can be defeating. If it displays a fast pace, I'll think, "I can't keep this up much longer!" (regardless of how I actually feel). Or if it shows a pace faster than I think I can run, I always assume it's inaccurate versus believing that I am actually running at that speed.
Last weekend I ran a nighttime trail race in the dark (complete with headlamps and blinky lights so you could see the other runners). I set an aggressive goal for the race, one that I knew would be challenging, but doable. Although I wore my Garmin, it was too dark for me to see it, so I had no idea how fast I was running the entire time. I had to rely on how hard I felt like I was working. When I finished the race I was shocked to learn that I maintained a pace faster than I had ever ran before, and faster than I even thought I was capable of running at all. I know that had I glanced at my watch and seen this data during the race, I would have slowed myself down, worried I was going to wear myself out. But because I didn't know how fast I was going, I did something I never even thought was possible!
That experience had an amazing affect on me. It has changed attitude about my own abilities and what I once thought was achievable. It's opened my eyes to the fact that I am capable of things I never thought possible, and made me look back and realize the many times I had let my brain get in the way of my body in the past.
We are all capable of achieving amazing things, but we have to believe in ourselves even if no one else does. Or at the very least, stop telling yourself that you "can't" or that you'll fail again "just like you did before." A past failure (at weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, or anything else) doesn't dictate the future this time. If anything, it makes you wiser and stronger for what's ahead. So next time you notice your brain getting in the way of your goals, push that sucker aside and let it know who's in charge.
Have you been letting your brain get in the way of your goals lately? What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? 

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ROCKRS 6/4/2021
thanks Report
DGRIFFITH51 10/13/2020
Thanks, so important to remember that we can do it! Report
We are nothing but that thinking makes it so Report
Good info and thank you SP! Report
It is not "impossible" It is "I'm Possible".

The winning ingredient is attitude, period! 'Nuff said! Report
Ah, too funny. I literally just finished blogging about this very thing and then came across this article as I was looking for personal inspiration. Right on! Report
Thanks for the reminder. I'm finally beginning to learn to identify the lies I've been telling myself that tear down my self-esteem and cause me to give up and become depressed. What a difference it makes to identify those lies and replace them with truth! Report
The Henry Ford, quote is so true. I have a friend who always says, "there's no hope"..oh yes there is. She remains obese. Report
This is so totally me! I hate that I slow down when I know how fast I'm actually going. Report
This is so true when doing endurance workouts. Your mind really is the master. Today I was climbing a mountain on my bike. I was tired because yesterday a friend and I climbed more than 17 miles, so my legs weren't exactly fresh. Today's ride was a relative easy 8 miles of uphill but there were times when I wanted to stop. Then I would reach into my head and it would tell me that I could do this, that I'd done it many times before and there was no reason today was any different. And of course I did make it up without stopping. Time and again I find it's my brain that is the deciding factor. Having said that, it does not mean you ignore obvious problems with your body. There are days when you should stop or slow down, but you need to distinguish what's really going on. Report
That is SO true. It's even been proven if we visualize ourselves doing something fasted, longer, in a more powerful way and we do this consistently it will help us improve! Ah, the power of the brain! Report
It's so true, my brain has thwarted my goals quite a few times. Report
I have let my brain get in the way of my goals before! I love this blog! Report
That Henry Ford quote is one of my favorites! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Report
The first thing I accomplished that I thought was impossible was losing the weight and keeping it off. The second thing was becoming very fit. Those two accomplishments after age 50 gave me confidence to try other things.

At 61 I learned pole dancing. I can now do all kinds of very challenging moves and even teach classes at the studiol

The last thing I just tried was aerial silks. I had been wanting to try. Finally I found a class. After I signed up, I worried that I might not be able to do it, but I was! I did great! I will be 65 in a few weeks. I'm not done finding new ways to challenge myself! Report
I've picked up my granddaughter's mantra, like the Little Engine That Could, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can ..." Report
Good blog and congratulations on that good run! Report
My brain...or my depression. Definitely hold me back. Trying to snap out of it. It will happen. Just gotta keep kickin and fighten. Report
I do the same thing with my Garmin. This past Saturday, I only looked at it once around the half mile mark at my 5K. My pace waws fast - well, fast for me. That was the only time I looked at it during the race. I was with my cousin and was more focused at doing my best than watching my pace. I ended up setting a PR - by 3 minutes! WooHoo! Now I know I can run strong and it feels great. Report
I will put this to practice in my weight loss journey. Thanks! Report
I used to watch the time on the treadmill, and think "oh I can't run any longer" I cover the time up now and run as long as I physically feel I can. Report
Nothing is impossible; the word itself says "I'm possible"! Report
I used to get so hung up about my runs, especially if I knew something would be "off" about it -- like if I hadn't gotten enough sleep or if it was humid out. I'd be discouraged before I even started, and while I would be able to finish the run, I would spend the whole time thinking about the run itself, instead of just enjoying it. But oddly enough, that all changed when I had to become a "serious" runner! Now that I'm training for my 1/2 marathon, I've decided to just relax and take each run as it comes -- if I have to walk part of my "easy" 5 miles (HA) today, then fine! I can't waste my precious energy worrying about what will happen on a run, because in the end, I'm still meeting my distance goals and taking care of myself. If that's all I have to think about, then there are no bad runs! Report
my brain gets in the way on my runs all of the time....lately I have been just telling myself that most people quit way to early and before I know it I have pushed things so much further than I thought I could. Report
So true! I'm training for a 1/2 marathon in October and, having never done more than jog/walk a few 5ks, I found a program to follow to increase my mileage. When I got to the week where I was supposed to jog/walk 5 miles, my mind totally shut me down and I started finding a bunch of different reasons why I couldn't do that run that day and that i'd do it next week. A month later, I still hadn't
done it. Then my friend not only did it but she jogged the whole thing. That inspired me a lot so on my next run I did the 5 & jogged the whole thing. Fast forward three weeks to today when I have a nine mile slated and I'm looking forward to it! Report
It is so true !!! I am my own worst enemy, at least my thoughts are. My brain lately has held me up in getting my divorce and getting it finished, finishing or working on my long to-do list.

I constantly have to fight my negative thinking and try to pep talk myself but it doesn't always work :( Report
my biggest recent setback is I used to be able to push as fast a speedwalking pace as I wanted without any negative feedback from my knees or back, (only running gave me issues), but after this last back re-injury, even speedwalking produced spasms in my back that ruined the rest of my day.
I had to learn to COMpromise my promise to my self to not take any OTC meds (e.g. Advil / Tylenol) for pain management. I despise taking these meds, but I had lost so much of my conditioning waiting for my back to cooperate last year, that I've started using half doses to even full doses to overcome the spasms so I can push a 5+mph pace for 5+ miles. Report
Coach Nicole thank you for the uplifting article! One method I've had some success with (when trying not to let my brain hold me back) is to just imagine a pot of boiling stew and to pretend those "negative thoughts" are boiling off into nowhere! Bye -bye I don't need you after all thoughts are just that thoughts! We have a choice to ignore them if they do not serve us and help us meet our goals! Report
I agree, I agree. I am a bit addicted to the Spinning bike rides and I've got to watch the time while following the DVD. When I try to ride w/o the DVD, it just doesn't "feel" the same. Like someone said, I just have to get my brain to butt-out. Report
Love this blog! Just what I needed to read. I'm psyching myself up for training for races in the coming months and I hold myself back believing I can't. I recently completed my first 5k and I was so proud and felt so great. I was instantly addicted. Loved how I felt. Now, I am starting to feel fear creep back up on me but I know it's just my brain working against me. Rather than pay attention to what I think I can achieve, I'll focus on my body and how I feel during my runs. Thank you for writing this! Just what I needed! Report
I read the "BECK DIET SOLUTION" by Judith Beck, PhD who is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches how to THINK LIKE A THIN PERSON, so the book isn't a "diet" book at all. Report
"Your actions will always follow your beliefs." From the movie Facing the Giants Report
You just described my relationship with my Garmin to a tee. I'm learning to not look at it. I know it's irrational, but all the same, a talk myself down. Thanks for a great article. Report
I am semi-obsessed with gadgets- I love you achieved a fast pace by listening to your body and then trusting the data from your mind!
Perceived effort relates to another trusting the body exercise: perceived satiety.
When I eat I am mindful of when I am no longer hungry...what level of fulness.
Thanks Nicole- let's trust our bodies to let us know what is going on! Report
Thanks Coach Nicole. Now if I could just figure out how to get my brain to butt out. Report
I do the same thing with the treadmill! I go ridiculously faster on the roads but something about those numbers keeps me limited! Report
Good one Nicole...this is very true...of late I have been letting my mind come in the way of working out at all...I do know that when I put myself out there...aka land up at the gym...I surprise myself with energy I never knew I had...I complete hard classes with people who appear the picture of fitness...but when I allow my mind to weaken up...I just stay home....! Report
Great job!! Report
I have trouble sleeping. Often I find I am psyching myself out by assuming that I'm tired when I didn't sleep well instead of listening to how I feel Report
I run way faster when I can't see my Garmin. Report
This is so true! I usually obsess over what pace I'm at - but was in a race last weekend and beat my time by 6 minutes because I didn't have the ability figure out what my pace was. I didn't make the connection that I could be holding myself back - and will have to give it some reflection. Thank you! Report
I run on a treadmill where I set the pace, and lately knowing what pace I'm at has been setting up some major road blocks; I get it in my head that I can't possible keep up rather than how my body feels while I'm running. Thanks for the great article, I'll definantly be making some changes. =) Report
One of my best motivators is that last line: What would you try if you knew you could not fail? I love watching my children try things that I worry will be too difficult for them (violin, judo competitions, competitive soccer) and just blow it out of the water because it simply doesn't occur to them that they couldn't do it. Good food for thought. Report