Six Sure­fire Mo­ti­va­tion Boost­ers

Is your brain tir­ing you out? Daily de­ci­sions and dis­trac­tions can sap your re­solve to run. Here’s how to pre­serve your pre­cious men­tal en­ergy

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Men­tal en­ergy runs out. Here’s how to keep it topped up

After deal­ing with your un­re­lent­ing work­load, de­mand­ing boss, er­ratic com­puter, in­ces­sant emails, texts and the other stresses of your day, you may feel too tired to run by the time 5:30pm rolls around.

Feel­ing fa­tigued may seem odd if you’ve been parked in a chair for eight hours. But while you may not have phys­i­cally ex­erted your­self, you are low on men­tal en­ergy and that can make you feel tired, says Dr Daniel Evans, a post­doc­toral fel­low in the Brown Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­ogy Train­ing Pro­gram in the US. When your brain has to make hun­dreds of mi­cro-de­ci­sions all day, it can ex­pe­ri­ence ‘de­ci­sion fa­tigue’. The more choices you make, the more drained your brain be­comes, which can cause you to lose your grip on good judg­ment as the hours tick by.

Psy­chol­o­gists have been study­ing the phe­nom­e­non of de­ci­sion fa­tigue for al­most 30 years. The the­ory is that each of us has a fi­nite store of men­tal en­ergy and, there­fore, willpower. This ex­plains why you’ll find your­self surf­ing Face­book after a run in­stead of foam-rolling. But with the fol­low­ing strate­gies you’ll be able to keep good train­ing habits on track, even on men­tally ex­haust­ing days.


One good de­ci­sion can lead to an­other. Healthy habits such as ex­er­cis­ing in the morn­ing and eat­ing a bal­anced break­fast can have a ben­e­fi­cial knock-on ef­fect, lead­ing you to make bet­ter choices for the rest of the day. Evans says willpower is sim­i­lar to a mus­cle in that the more it’s worked, the stronger it be­comes. Even if you can’t run in the morn­ing, start your day with a pos­i­tive be­hav­iour, such as do­ing 10 min­utes of yoga or eat­ing a healthy break­fast. Front-load­ing your day with ac­tions that sup­port your train­ing will make it less likely you’ll skip a run later.


You can’t con­trol what you’ll face at work, and life emer­gen­cies can al­ways pop up out of nowhere. How­ever, you can re­duce the num­ber of de­ci­sions you have to take at busy times by plan­ning your work­outs and pre­par­ing your meals and snacks in ad­vance. ‘When I was train­ing for a half Iron­man, I sat down and planned out all my work­outs so I never had to think about them when I was tired,’ says Dr Stephen Graef, a sports psy­chol­o­gist at Ohio State Uni­ver­sity in the US. ‘Try to elim­i­nate the has­sle of hav­ing to fig­ure out which work­out, which time, which route. Ev­ery sin­gle one of those de­ci­sions burns brain fuel.’

And be aware that tough work­outs take men­tal for­ti­tude, as well as phys­i­cal ef­fort. When you come back from a long run or a high-in­ten­sity speed­work ses­sion, your re­solve may not be at its high­est. So rather than ask­ing your brain to de­cide be­tween the veg­gies in the fridge and the bis­cuits in the tin, ‘pre-de­cide’ by pre­par­ing a healthy postrun snack be­fore you head out.


It takes sig­nif­i­cant men­tal en­ergy to prop­erly pace your­self in a race. Let­ting some­one else set the pace for you – be it a pace group or a friend you reg­u­larly run with – could help you con­serve men­tal en­ergy so you’ll feel less phys­i­cally drained as the race pro­gresses. ‘In prin­ci­ple, run­ning with a group is ben­e­fi­cial be­cause the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process be­comes much sim­pler: all you have to do is fol­low the run­ner ahead,’ says An­drew Ren­free, a re­searcher at the In­sti­tute of Sport and Ex­er­cise Sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Worcester. Just be sure that your pacer is a good match for your speed and race goals.


When your body begs for a break, recog­nise that it could be your brain try­ing to slow you down. The men­tal fa­tigue of run­ning hard can make you feel that you can’t go on, even though you still have phys­i­cal en­ergy in the form of un­used glyco­gen in your mus­cles. How­ever, a hit of sugar can fool your brain. Evans says just tast­ing some­thing sweet can re­set the brain’s abil­ity to make good de­ci­sions. One study found that sim­ply swish­ing a glu­cose so­lu­tion, such as Lu­cozade, around your mouth can help you feel more en­er­gised and get you back on track. ‘There are sen­sors in our mouths that sense glu­cose, which can trick the brain into think­ing it’s get­ting more fuel,’ says Evans. Of course, if you’re rac­ing a long dis­tance, you’ll need to re­plen­ish your glyco­gen sources any­way, so feel free to sip, not just swish.


Good de­ci­sion-mak­ing de­clines as your men­tal en­ergy de­creases, which ex­plains why grab­bing a cheeky beer from a spec­ta­tor at mile three doesn’t present the same temp­ta­tion that it does at mile 23, when body and mind are strug­gling. Graef says one great way to stave off a mis­take late in a race is to use mu­sic. Even if you don’t want to run with it for your en­tire race, hav­ing mu­sic avail­able for the last few miles, when your willpower is likely to dip, can boost your mood, help you tune out dis­trac­tions and give you the chance to re­fo­cus on your per­for­mance.


Evans says tak­ing time to men­tally re­boot can help you find mo­ti­va­tion to run after a drain­ing day. Re­search sup­ports the ben­e­fits of a quick med­i­ta­tion ses­sion or power nap. Just as ef­fec­tive is spend­ing a few min­utes do­ing some­thing that elic­its a pos­i­tive emo­tion. Google ‘drunk cat play­ing the banjo’, any­one?

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