What’s Your Limit?

What is a limit, anyway? It’s easy to look at limits when we dance or exercise as purely physical–how long we can dance before we stop from exhaustion, how many releves or sit ups before our muscles give up. But science shows us that the point when our muscles throw in the towel has a lot more to do with our brains than what we may think. Our attitudes, expectations, and perceived exertion play a huge role in when we feel we’ve hit our limits. In fact, cyclists who were told to cycle to exhaustion were able to cycle significantly longer when they were shown subliminal images of smiley faces. The cyclists had no conscious awareness of this secret motivator. The New Yorker summarized this study nicely when it wrote that a physical “limit is probably never truly reached—that fatigue is simply a balance between effort and motivation, and that the decision to stop is a conscious choice rather than a mechanical failure.” If it’s as easy as a secret smiley face, imagine what an impact a deep breath, some friendly competition, a motivating word, or a little inspiration can do. Our next goal is to question our fatigue a little–when you’re tired, keep pushing, and bypass your muscles to tap into your true strength.

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