Photographed by Winnie Au.
The next time you head outdoors for a run, find a specific target — like a bush at the end of the block, a lamppost, or bench — and keep your eyes glued on that spot. Researchers at NYU found that keeping your gaze fixed, instead of casually scanning your surroundings, provides an optical illusion of sorts, tricking your body into perceiving the distance as shorter, which can motivate you to move faster.
The study, published in Motivation and Emotion included two experiments that supported the hypothesis that narrowing your attention changes the perception of distance, speed, and effort. The effect? You think the end is closer, move faster, and feel less fatigued when you’re done. The thought is that seeing yourself move closer to the finish line provides a burst of motivation. Of course, if you’re looking to log a 30-minute run, this will require picking multiple “targets,” as opposed to a one-and-done sprint.
If you've already moved your workouts indoors for winter, the visual trick won’t help with your treadmill time. “The attention strategy,” says one of the study’s researchers, Shana Cole, PhD “really requires the visual experience of seeing a goal ahead and moving toward it. This might actually be one reason why workouts on treadmills and stationary bikes are more difficult to sustain as exercise regimes.”
Indoor exercisers may need a different set of strategies, explains Cole. “Some research has suggested that distracting oneself with TV or music might help when people are doing stationary exercises.” Entertainment can help you tune out body cues, like fatigue, that make you want to stop.
So, stay focused when you're outside and distracted in the gym — got it?