As I ran this morning thinking about the “purpose” of my run, I realized how powerful this run could be for my recovery, for encouraging creativity, and for nourishing my nervous system (my brain particularly) with oxygen and glucose. From an energy standpoint, the brain uses more energy than any other organ. “Why strain this morning?” I asked myself.
In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman discusses the differences between two systems of our brain (System 1 and System 2). For simplicity, System 1 is our ‘intuitive, relaxed, brain’ (your stoner buddy) and System 2 is our ‘analytic, stressed brain’ (your paranoid pal). Kahneman describes how cognitive ease and cognitive strain tap into more of one brain system than the other. Cognitive ease = ‘intuitive and creative.’ Cognitive Strain = ‘analytic and suspicious.’ He writes, “When you feel strained, you are more likely to be vigilant and suspicious, invest more effort in what you are doing, feel less comfortable, and make fewer errors, but you also are less intuitive and less creative than usual.”
Check out this graphic from his book to better understand.
Figure 5: Causes and Consequences of Cognitive Ease
“Easy is a sign that things are going well– no threats, no major news, no need to redirect attention or mobilize effort. Strained indicates that a problem exists, which will require mobilization of System 2,” he writes.
How does this relate to running? Now, when I think of the purpose of my “recovery run,” I am thinking of rejuvenation, connecting to my creative self, letting my thoughts drift, connecting dots of ideas freely, and feeling relaxed. I’m tapping into System 1 before my System 2 dominates the day in the clinic.
How to improve cognitive ease while running: Run a familiar route and distance with or without casual social interaction at a familiar and comfortable pace. Don’t check your splits or your heart rate. Just let it be.
FYI, by making Figure 5 blurry, I increased your System 2 contribution to reading ;).
Check out Thinking, Fast and Slow.