I’m a (cognitive) guinea pig.

This doesn’t have to do with triathlons or training in the “normal sense.” It has everything to do with an experiment that I’ve volunteered myself in part for Michael Blackwell’s class project. We’ve been studying John Dewey and how the world and our perceptions change over time … and how one goes about making those kinds of changes. For the experiment, it goes a little something like this:

The Embodied Technology change process
By Michael J. Stacy Blackwell
Educational Psychology Graduate Assistant
University Honors and Center for Undergraduate Education at Virginia Tech

“Each day, I’ll send an email giving some direction for that day … keeping the activites ‘in mind’ and setting and using a trigger regularly will increase the effectiveness of our process. As in many things, the quality of our attention is more important than the simple sum of it. Our interest, passion, and intensity is what will make a real difference.

And even though some of [the] things we do over the next two weeks won’t always make apparent sense, please trust in the fact that we can alter our perceptual habits and indeed, doing so is one of the principal ways in which we can ‘alter the contingencies’ that shape our behavior” (personal letter, 15 Nov 2006).

“Ehhhhhh … Amber?” you ask, “What does this have to do with triathlons or training?” “Ah … everything,” I reply.

Why do you train? How do you train? Generally speaking, none of us train without making the conscious choice to do so. Now for some of you, you may train because it’s habit. Just follow along with me for a bit on this …

Think about how you first started this whole “tri-thing.” You got the seed of the idea in your head. Then you went about finding out how to germinate that seed into reality. You found a coach or a trainer or a plan online. You joined a gym or recruited buddies or found others like you. You’d set the alarm clock for ridiculously early hours or go running late into the night. You read about nutrition and optimization plans. You took weight measurements, body measurements, VO2max tests, and body fat calculations. You ached and single-handedly supported the pain-killer market. Then one day, it was normal and you haven’t thought much about it since except en route to pushing your self-performance. One day, it became habit. And when you weren’t able to run, bike, or swim, you felt grouchy, annoyed, irritated, and even depressed. You suffered withdrawls …

Once a habit is established, it’s often tough to break. In the case of fitness, that’s probably a good thing for many of us. There is a flip side to it, though. Once in the habit, you may find yourself “zoning out” and “running on autopilot” through a workout session. Did you forget if you had done 2 (or was it 3) sets of sprints? How many times have you experienced a lapse like that? When this begins to happen, it’s because we’ve allowed ourselves to forge a “standard of perceptions” that we no longer consciously acknowledge.

Blackwell’s experiment is meant to be one concerning our everyday existence of awareness … yet I find it easy enough to apply it to a triathlete’s training plan as well. “Who cares?” you say. Let me put it this way: everyone talks about and seems to espouse that an Ironman is 90% mental and 10% physical. Consider this little experiment as part of the mental attribute to success. I think it could and might just help us see something we hadn’t seen before.

Stay tuned …