it be nice if you could tackle all of life’s dilemmas
in your sleep? Scientists say that’s not just a dream: It’s
possible to think creatively, solve problems, even learn new skills while
catching up on your zzz’s. (That’s what we call serious multitasking!)
Below, four reasons you may want to hit the sack to tap your brain’s
At some point, we’ve all been there: that place where your mind and muscles are one. Where you’re free from self-doubt and distractions, ready for the run (or race) of your life. Experts call it “the zone” — and everybody wants directions.
“When you’re in the zone, you’re on autopilot,” says Cecily Tynan, 34, a marathoner in Philadelphia who recently completed her first Ironman. “It’s more than a ‘runner’s high.’ Your muscles and mind are totally relaxed and in the groove.” If you’ve ever lost yourself in a good book or in a gardening project, you’ve been there. You’re so engaged in the task at hand that everything else becomes background noise, and time passes pleasantly and without notice.
Effortless reading, okay, but effortless
running? According to Richard Keefe, PhD, director of sports psychology
at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, running is typically
an effortful experience, requiring exertion on many levels. But in
the zone, it all becomes effortless. “You’re not paying
attention to discomforts and mental negativity. Running has become
a disassociative process.” And runners who learn to reach the
zone report better performances — and better experiences — than
runners who merely stumble across it, Keefe says. Those who find themselves
in the zone without realizing it may not know how to take advantage
of their edge. When you can control getting to that place, you can
put it to work for you. But just as you can’t run a marathon
without the proper prep work, you’ve got to put some effort into
learning how to reach the zone. Here’s how it works.
If you’re running a new race distance, whether it’s a 5-K or an ultramarathon, a good goal might be just to complete the course. Focusing on a finish time could discourage you and keep you from getting into the zone. Experienced runners, for whom just finishing is no longer challenging enough, can shoot for a personal record. (For help picking a specific time goal for any distance, visit runnersworld.com and click on “Calculators,” then “Race Time Calculators.”)
But if thinking about your finish
time makes you jittery and tense, turn off your watch and run for fun.
Feeling calm and relaxed will help you ease into the zone. And just
as anxiety keeps you out of the zone, so does boredom. If you’ve
grown tired of running the same old training route, make the zone more
accessible by varying your course.
These kinds of imagery techniques have helped Creighton Faust, Jr., of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, qualify for the Boston Marathon every year for the past decade. “I visualize race beforehand, usually trying to picture each mile or stretch of the race,” he says. “I picture myself running strong at every mile, and it helps me stay calm and focused."
You can incorporate positive imagery into your visualization practice. Imagine any internal obstacles you’ll face, like the discomfort of running faster than usual or the stress of a competitor overtaking you, then think of a strategy for overcoming them (and imagine yourself implementing it). You also can use another runner in your imagery, Keefe says. “Think of someone with the stride or pace that you want, then picture yourself running with that same form.”
Keefe recommends fine-tuning your
scenario as needed, adjusting details and replacing the whole thing
when you find yourself with new goals or challenges. “Keep it
different and you’ll keep it alive,” he says. Most people
find it easier to drift into a zone-like state when they’re jogging
and chatting (or watching TV on the treadmill) than when they’re
racing, adds Brill. Expending more energy takes more attention, meaning
you’ll have to deliberately focus your attention elsewhere if
you’d like to enter the zone while running full-tilt, she says.
Running in the zone means keeping your mind-set optimized and learning
to adjust it as the situation warrants. “Play with it while you’re
running,” Brill suggests.
I’m an authority on excuses. I’ve blamed my dog for many things, including missed deadlines (he was sick) and failed dates (sorry, he doesn’t like men with facial hair). I’ve even kept a log of my justifications over the years, to avoid giving the same song and dance to the same person twice. Yet sometimes I can’t help wondering: Do I excuse myself too much?
When I called
Barry Schlenker, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of
Florida at Gainesville, he assured me that making excuses has a healthy
side. “By distancing yourself from a bad situation – say,
attributing a layoff to the economy instead of your ineptitude—you
preserve your self-esteem,” he says. But making too many excuses,
or making the wrong kind, can undermine your reputation. (An editor
once confessed to me that she typically gives me early deadlines to
accommodate my “dog problem.”) So next time, before I start
hedging, I’ll follow these rules:
Why do we inevitably get our brightest ideas when we least expect them – say, when we’re in the shower or dropping off to sleep – but draw a blank when the boss demands an instant solution to a perplexing work problem? Truth is, whether you’re a CEO or a sculptor, inspiration tends to strike in a hit-and-run fashion. In fact, a workplace study in the Harvard Business Review finds that people are least creative when they’re on a tight schedule. “if deadlines are imminent, employees may take the simplest path, not the most creative,” explains study coauthor Connie Hadley, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Still, there are ways to nudge your imagination in the right direction. Try these tips for cranking up your innovation when you need it most:
a human sponge.
the reason you’re unhappy is obvious. Other times, it isn’t.
But new research shows that most bad moods are actually created by
feelings of failure, even when you’re not consciously trying
to accomplish anything. “Everyone sets goals for certain situations,
and after a while the same goals are triggered automatically,” says
Tanya Chartrand, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at
Ohio State University.
it’s Valentine’s Day intimacies or a reminder to take
out the garbage, if you have something to say to your honey, pick
your time and place carefully – and speak into the correct
Women are moody. Women are obsessed with their thighs. Women are incapable
of going two whole minutes without talking. Women are tireless in their toiling
for the people they love. Women are the weaker sex. Yada, yada, yada.
“Women tell me that most tasks at home fall to them,” says Donna LeBlonde, a Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training coach in Bellingham, Wash., and a veteran of 11 marathons. Research backs these women up, showing that even in our more egalitarian society, women continue to perform the majority of housework.
Women also typically assume a disproportionate share of the emotional work – listening to and comforting the grandmother who's mad at her doctor, the teary-eyed teen just dumped by her boyfriend, the second-grader who's worried that the other kids will laugh at his science project, and the exasperated husband who wants to start a new career.
“I coached a woman who had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to do her training runs,” says Dougherty. “She had four kids and wanted to run a marathon, so something had to give.” Unfortunately, what many women give up is personal time, and that often means the time they should be sleeping. Sleep deprivation can create a host of problems, including fatigue, lack of motivation and increased susceptibility to illness and injury.
Advice: “You have to learn to make time for yourself,” says
Dougherty. Get enough sleep, and schedule your day to allow at least
an hour of private time, when you turn off the phone, put aside the
housework, and hand the kids over to their dad or a sitter. And make
your workouts non-negotiable. You wouldn't quit breathing just because
you were too busy, right? Exercise should be equally important. Being
a regular runner will keep you much fitter than being a chronic dieter.
Beyond nutritional deficiencies, women who diet excessively may also run short on energy. “Men are much more willing to see food for what it is: fuel for activity,” says LeBlonde. But for women, it's much more complicated than that. Thus, many female runners try to increase their mileage without increasing their calories.
Advice: Separate your food choices from your self-image.
Look at it this way: Being a regular runner will keep you much thinner – and
fitter – than being a chronic dieter. And to be a runner, you've
got to give your body enough fuel to run on. For every 1 to 2 miles
you add to your weekly training program, you should add about 100
calories to your weekly eating program. Base your menu on nutritious
whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Cut
back on highly refined (and high-calorie, low-nutrient) foods like
chips, crackers and cookies.
But that thinking needs to change, says Margot Putukian, MD, an associate professor and director of primary care sports medicine at Penn State University. For one thing, a strong body is more resilient, helping you to fend off overuse injuries. It's also more balanced, preventing the injuries that come from turned ankles and falls. And finally, a stronger body can be a faster body.
The path to stronger muscles also leads to stronger bones. Low bone density is more than an old lady's problem. It can strike women in their early 20s, and sets you up for stress fractures and osteoporosis.
Advice: Women typically follow the rules when it comes to
health: We floss, replace our contact lenses and visit the doctor
more diligently than men. But we can apply that same discipline to
our strength training. You can work your major muscle groups with
five simples exercises: pushups, pull-ups, lunges, crunches and back
extensions. Do them twice a week and you're good to go.
This gender difference can be subtle, she explains, because women and men often share the same goals, whether it's to compete in a race or nab the corner office. But for most women, achieving their goals has nothing to do with beating anyone. Instead, it has more to do with boosting their own feelings of self-worth. “If you want something, you push yourself to overcome your own physical and emotional limitations,” Walberg-Rankin explains. “It's not about being at the top of anyone else's heap.”
Of course, this orientation can prove to be positive or negative, depending on your expectations. For example, deciding to run a marathon is a perfectly healthy goal for most women. But if you want to run one next week – and your longest run in recent memory was 5 miles – your goal would be a bad one.
It's helpful to
recognize why a particular goal is important to you. For example, you
might feel compelled to compete in a marathon to fulfill a need that
goes way beyond running. If you're training and racing to boost your
fitness and your self-confidence, you'll probably succeed. But if you're
running to get approval from your estranged father (or just the bragging
rights that go with a calendar jammed with workouts), you may need
Nobody's saying that the guys aren't friendly, or that they don't give each other slaps on the back after a particularly tough run. But compared with men, women have more empathy for other runners – especially other women – and we often gain more inspiration from our running partners than a man does. “Guys are more apt to reap their rewards from putting in the miles or running at a particular pace,” says Dougherty, “whereas women seem to appreciate the social aspect of running more.”
Advice: Whether you're preparing for a marathon, starting
regular track workouts, or just trying to stay fit, look for other
people to do it with. “Doing anything new or challenging is
difficult,” says Sue Curfman, a coach and competitive runner
in Anaheim, Calif. “So finding support in other people is critical.”
“We know that changes in progesterone levels create menstrual symptoms, and we think that they may change your metabolic rate, too,” says Curfman. “Than can result in a drop in your aerobic capacity during the second half of your cycle, just before your period begins.” Hooray! In addition to feeling bloated and cranky, you'll also feel lethargic.
In addition, if you're the type who eats the same menu, week after week, and if that menu is short on calories, you could notice an even more dramatic drop in your running performance, says Walberg-Rankin.
Expert Advice: “Pay attention to your body and check the calendar when you're planning your workouts,” Curfman advises. “Don't expect to train at your hardest or run your best race, just before your period.” Also, let yourself give in to those food cravings, especially if you're very careful with what you eat during the rest of the month. Those extra calories might just boost your energy.