My Takeaways from “Endure,” by Alex Hutchinson

“Endure” by Alex Hutchinson

I finished listening to the book “Endure” by Alex Hutchinson. It is one of the most important books that I have read. I have had multiple important realizations from it.

Brain sets an expectation. Giving up is almost always a choice.

Brain sets an expectation. You know it or not, feel it or not, your brain sets an expectation at a physiological as well as a psychological level. Try as we may, the brain controls your actions (again, at both the physiological and psychological levels) so that you meet the expectation, but don’t exceed it.

Therefore, these expectations matter. Sometimes these expectations are conscious, in that we can spell them out. Other times, they are at a subconscious or even unconscious level. Are you aware of what you expect of yourself? Expect does not mean hope: what do you really, really expect of yourself?

Outside stimuli matters. Often, these expectations are updated based on outside stimuli, such as excitement, competition, peer support, life-or-death situation, etc.

Pain matters. Pain is a signal from your brain, which urges you to slow down, or stop, whatever you are doing. It is not bad in itself. Even surprisingly, the pain is not always a true red flag: the brain always keeps a reserve of energy that it can borrow from, but it uses pain so that it doesn’t have to.

We pace ourselves. Mostly in long stretches that test our durability. It is most evident at physiological levels: long distance runners almost always have a sprint finish although they find it hard to sustain a top speed at the middle stages. However, I personally think that it is also true at a psychological level, too. For example, when I have a tough schedule in front, I find myself reprioritizing tasks so that I end up justifying to myself that dropping a particular task is okay.

Giving up is a choice. This is a big truth. Your body will urge you to stop, but it is up to you whether you’d listen. You should hear, but not obey. Because you already know that the sense of pain and efforts is a mere warning or begging from your body, not a true distress signal.

We constantly compare against what we expect. Again, this is both at physiological and psychological levels. Thus, be careful about what you decide to expect.

Fat burns when the pace is easy/used to. This is true for the early stages of a run. Carbohydrate is needed for a sudden push, such as the sprint finish. As someone gets more and more fit, she will start burning more fat and less carb at the same workout.

Working out on an empty stomach burns fat because at that moment you don’t have much of a carb reserve.

The perceived effort is different from pain or muscle fatigue. That’s right: the sense of effort is different from the sense of pain. We may not be in pain yet feel highly exerted.

The training changes you physiologically. It makes strenuous attempts feel easy over time. You grow new muscle fibers, forge new capillaries to supply your muscles with more oxygen, teach muscles and blood to store more oxygen, alter neuronal memory patterns in your brain to make some actions automatic.

The training also changes you mentally by changing your expectations. You accept a level of pain and discomfort as “okay,” and set higher standards for yourself. These two aspects trigger each other in an awesome positive feedback loop.

If you ever attain a new max, that becomes the new normal for the brain. This why you should always strive to push your limits. Even in small tasks. Over time, your brain will expect more from yourself.

Great athletes are trained to perform response inhibition: not reacting to initial pain/discomfort signals. They are, without an exception, highly tolerant to pain.

Internal awareness makes both our pain reaction and perception less dramatic. Focus on your present moment. How are you breathing? What are you thinking? Why? How are you feeling? Why? Think about the big picture, think about where you fit. Feel the harmony. Pain and other discomforts will also fall into their places. They will exist, but would not demand/receive as much (constant) attention as they get now.

You can always, always do more than you think. Don’t believe me? Just try this. Whenever you think you cannot do anymore, just take one more step. That is a proof that you can really do more than you believe.

 

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