Normally, apathy isn’t considered the best approach to life, but a new study has found that it might be a helpful tool if you’re a long-distance runner. According to the research, which was published in Motivation and Emotion, the key to overcoming the feelings of discomfort that can come with running is a thought process known as “cognitive appraisal.”
Sound complicated? Cognitive appraisal is essentially just a fancy term the researchers coined to describe the practice of identifying unpleasant sensations with a sense of indifference, rather than attachment. It’s similar to mindfulness, just without the element of honing in on a particular emotion.
For the study, 24 healthy runners (aged 18 to 33, mostly women) visited the research lab three times to complete three rounds of “vigorous exercise”—aka they did a 90-minute treadmill run while keeping a steady heart rate somewhere between 75 to 85 percent of their maximum. (Participants were all people who already ran at least one 9-mile run per week.)
Before, during, and after each run, participants also completed a psychological exam so that the researchers could measure the difference in emotional output and expression. During the first trial, runners were given no instructions on how to complete the challenge—they were just told to run. For the second and third trials, researchers assigned various statements that support the “cognitive appraisal” approach to evaluate if the dissociated thinking positively affected their experience on the treadmill. Specifically, they were asked to adapt a nonchalant, detached point of view towards feelings of exertion or emotional buildup.
The results? When runners followed the “cognitive reappraisal” strategy, their “emotional arousal” levels were much lower compared to when they were given zero coping instructions. Meaning: Taking on a chill perspective mid-stride when the going gets tough can make for a smoother and easier workou in the end.
If you’ve ever struggled with endurance-training or long-distance runs, this approach probably sounds easier said than done. But, if Science says all it takes is a shift in thought, maybe it’s worth the practice.