Your Brain is an Unreliable Narrator

Recently I went down a tube slide at a water park.  Tube slide means you go down on an innertube, which you adhere to with only your hands.  After 30 minutes of waiting in line watching people bank on the slide I am convinced that letting go means I fly into the air and die.  So you’d think I would grip the tube really really tightly.  But when I finally got on, I found I couldn’t.  No matter how hard I tried, my grip felt weak and tenuous.

One possibility is that my wrists have a death wish.  Another is that my brain was trying to keep me alive, and attempted to increase my grip strength by lying to me about it.  After all, when my wrists felt weak I gripped the handles tighter.  And empirically, I did not fly off the tube and die.

I think a similar thing happens when I rock climb.  When I started bouldering (climbing without a rope), I always felt like I was about to lose my grip, and afterwords my forearms were absolutely throbbing.  When I switched to top roping (climbing attached to a rope, limiting the distance you can fall), that eased up a lot.  Although I still get very strong “you can’t do this, you should get down” signals, and then go on to climb several more routes, indicating I did in fact have the strength available to climb the first thing.

I think this is what Todd Hargrove was describing in A Guide To Better Movement– the information your unconscious brain feeds your conscious brain is not unbiased, it is motivated, primarily by a desire to be safe.  If you have other motivations, such as climbing to the top of a fake rock being awesome, you may need to correct- but gently enough that your unconscious brain doesn’t simply further bias itself in response.

I experienced a similar thing with stretching.  When I tried to stretch I would hit what felt like a physical limit, but the muscle didn’t feel stretched afterwords and I never got any more flexible.  I tried doing the same stretches on a muscle relaxant (which I occasionally take for my jaw pain), and without any effort or thought dropped much deeper into the stretches.  I was able to remember these new limits passed when the the medication wore off (probably thanks in part to doing the Guide to Better Movement exercises for weeks beforehand), and most retained the gains.

I am extremely curious where else my brain is underestimating me.

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