Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't get fooled again by perception

In Perception Is Everything Matt Fitzgerald interviews exercise physiologist Samuele Marcora whose revolutionary studies seem to prove that fatigue in endurance is largely caused by perception.

What Dr. Marcora proposes is that when you feel exhausted, your neuromuscular system is actually still able to continue. Although you may experience uncomfortable negative sensations like pain, it's all basically just a safety mechanism operating in your brain, specifically designed to make you give up before the real danger begins.

The problem today is that our perceptions are often faulty, and we're clueless about it. It's easy to get fooled by an erraneous perception because it feels so real to us. For example, I participated once upon a time in Ironman-distance triathlon European Championships, where I quit running only 5K before finish due to 'feverish' feelings.

The perception in my brain told me that I must stop or risk dying. Afterwards I remembered that competitors had been instructed to stop racing if sick with fever etc, because there is a danger of a heart failure, and that piece of information must have somehow affected my wild imagination on race day.

Actually it was only a mild case dehydration easily fixed by a couple of cool drinks, proved by the fact that by the time a race official finally had driven me to the finish area I felt already fine. Simply walking to the finish line would have actually taken less time, earned me a medal and T-shirt (and a better result than hundreds who didn't quit), and been probably much better for my recovery as well. Despite my persistent stories about this scary fever everyone laughed at me, and rightfully so.

Why do we keep on making this kind of stupid mistakes? Are we wimps or idiots? It almost seems like whenever the loser in us is ready, all sorts of problems will magically appear. Luckily it seems to be equally true that when the student is ready, a teacher appears.

We have totally neglected perception according to Edward de Bono, whose latest book Think! Before It's Too Late I recently read. "We need to realise that logic can never be better than the perceptions on which it is based", Dr. de Bono states.

The most important chapter in the book explains what can improve our perceptual thinking: attitude and attention.
  • Attitude means that you seek to be creative about anything (not limited to problems), use 'movement' rather than 'judgement', and look for alternatives and possibilities.
  • Attention refers to specific perceptual tools for directing attention (like PMI: Plus-Minus-Interesting) as well as perceptual maps (flowscapes).
Although the book is about thinking, the emphasis is on action not just on contemplation.

Learn to look at situations from various angles and never get fooled again by perception!

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