Last week Saturday I heard an excerpt of a story on NPR’s RadioLab. Without going into the nitty gritty details of the ongoing scientific research, I learned that the brain has some sort of triggering mechanism that tells us when we can no longer exert physical energy towards a task, say when performing hard labor or running long distance, etc. The interesting fact from this research is the brain signals this message with plenty of reserve energy left. The example the radio hosts provide is a low fuel indicator light on a car. Instead of that indicator light flashing with only a gallon of gas left. The brain’s “indicator light” is triggered with something closer to a quarter of “gas” left in the tank. Why does the brain leave an incredible amount of energy in reserve? According to the researchers, one theory is when a person is absolutely convinced her or his life is on the line, the brain will release its reserve supply of energy in order to survive the life-threatening scenario.
Can we trick the brain into releasing this incredible supply of energy reserves? One way a researcher tricked the brain was through an experiment where bicyclists periodically swished a sports drink around in their mouths and then spit it out. The sugar on the tongue made the brain believe it was receiving more energy, so the brain’s low energy indicator light never went on.Even though the bicyclists never swallowed the sports drink, those who received the energy drink had a 1 to 2 minute faster time than the bicyclists who received the placebo.
Athletes like Julie Moss has been able to convincing the brain to release its energy reserves to push the body to the absolute limit. She willed herself to finish the Ironman Triathlon in 1982. If you are too young to remember this historic sports moment, watch it on You Tube. As she explained on RadioLab, somehow she could ignore her brain’s signals to stop and continue to push the limits of her body.
So does our body and mind have absolute limits? Can we develop a mindset or mental ability to push our brains and bodies to go farther than we think?