To quote one Arnold Schwarzenegger, working out is ‘merely the physical follow-through, a reminder of the vision you’re focusing on’. In other words, pushing your limits is a case of mind over matter. ‘As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something,’ he said, ‘you can’.
Psychologists at the University of Plymouth recently put a version of Arnie’s rather mystical-sounding credo to the test using a pioneering motivational counselling technique called Functional Imagery Training (FIT). Developed by professors Jackie Andrade and Jon May, FIT conditions your brain to draw on goal-directed mental imagery to respond to the demands of any task, conjuring up solutions from past successes to out-think your obstacles. Crucially, it encourages you to focus not only on your ultimate objective – completing an ultramarathon, say – but also on the mental strategies that you need to overcome smaller challenges along the way.
In the study, two groups of non-runners were given different kinds of counselling to help them attempt a 50K run for the first time. One group received sessions of conventional motivational chit-chat, in which participants were told to talk through their reasons for chasing self-improvement; the second was put through a course of the more visualisation-focused FIT. Come race day, only a quarter of the first group crossed the finish line, while 85% of the second group managed the full 50K – by visualising success, every step of the way.
FIT has also been successfully applied in weight-loss treatments. When it comes to resilience, then, it seems that Arnie was right: success really does begin in the mind.
Form & Function
Want to take on an ultra? Here’s how FIT can get you mentally pounding the
pavement towards success.
It’s 7am. The pain of getting up now will be inversely proportional to how comfy this bed is.
Getting out in the morning sunshine will be as delicious as my first sip of coffee.
I bet this run is just going to leave me drenched in sweat and gasping for air.
Who doesn’t love the feeling of a cool, refreshing breeze on their face?
This is such a massive slog already! What if I don’t even reach my target distance?
If I make it to the end, I’ll feel like a king. And however I do, I’ll be proud of the effort.
Maybe I’m having a bit of an off-day – I’m struggling and, if I’m honest, a little bored.
It felt great reaching this point the first time I ran this route. Let’s see how far I can push myself!
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