Driving on the Autobahn is a bucket list item for me. Like many kids, when I was 12 years old I dreamed of owning a Porsche. One day, the 911 was the object of my fancy, the 944 and 928, the next.
That dream went on the backburner while my wife and I raised our family. The time was right in 2010. It was way cool to see the kids’ reaction when a car carrier dropped off a dark blue metallic Porsche convertible. I’m on my third one now, each a little nicer than the one before.
Unnecessary? Definitely. A reward for all those years of hard work? Yes. (After all, do you really want to be the richest person in the cemetery? ☺)
The engineering is impressive in these mid-engine sports cars. Due to their weight distribution and high revving motor they are capable of high speeds and handling, more so than the average car.
Unfortunately, you can’t safely tap into those speeds on public roads. That’s where the Autobahn dream comes in. With no speed limit, one can test the full capabilities of the car.
There is video after video showing a close-up of the speedometer as it races higher and higher. Eventually, your acceleration slows. Ultimately, the car just will not go any faster. It has hit its maximum velocity.
Even on a race track, most cars will never see maximum velocity because the manufacturer installs a governor. The governor is an electronic speed controller that does not allow the car to go any faster. The rationale is to not overstress the engine and also to prevent fatalities.
Car tuners sell software programs which can turn off the electronic governor. Viola! Your car is capable of much more! Let’s shift gears (pun intended).
Cockroaches to Ultra Marathons
David Goggins grew up in a really tough environment. He had a learning disability. He dealt with racism. He had to clean an ice skating rink until 10pm every night and sleep there before going to school the next morning. His dad was abusive.
As a young adult he had no direction. He did a stint in the Air Force. When he got out, he barely held a job as an exterminator where he sprayed for cockroaches in restaurants, overnight!
He was overweight and down on his luck. He contemplated suicide.
One night he bought a giant milkshake and a box of donuts. He sat down in front of the TV to watch a Discovery Channel show about a Navy SEAL boot camp called Hell Week. He saw how some trainees dropped out and some had the will to continue on.
Goggins realized that he was making excuses for the life he was living: that it was due to his skin color or his learning disability. He saw right then how easily it could be for him to stay in this life he created. He said he could see himself being 50 years old in that same job.
While watching that show something stirred within him. He called to find out what it would take to get into Navy SEAL training. The recruiter told him he would have to lose 106 pounds in less than three months.
Goggins knew the task was impossible. So, the next night he went back to work only to discover the mother lode of cockroaches. He realized again, this time at a deeper level, that this was the life he created AND he could change it. He dropped his can of pesticide and quit right then and there.
He started to train like crazy, he lost the weight, and he got into the Navy SEAL class.
Goggins has gone on to become an ultra-marathoner. His achievements are mind boggling. He talks about hitting the 70-mile (!) mark in a race and being mentally and physically broken. Yet somehow, he ran another 30 miles!
How can a human being do this? Goggins learned how to overcome the human equivalent of a governor that was limiting his potential.
If he can do it, so can you.
Central Governor Theory
Why do you stop when you reach perceived exhaustion during exercise? Is it physiological? Do you reach your VO2 max where you can’t supply enough oxygen to your muscles?
Or is it psychological, where your body is putting a stop to your effort because it wants to be sure your heart doesn’t fail from overwork?
The latter is the central governor theory (more here).
Trying to explain how and why mental performance wanes over time, the central governor model suggests that exertion is throttled by some central nervous system mechanism that receives information about energetic bodily needs and motivational drives to regulate exertion and, ultimately, to prevent homeostatic breakdown, chiefly energy depletion.
Said in simpler terms,
the body subconsciously lowers your motivation to continue when fatigued because it thinks it is keeping you safe.
Let’s shift away from cars and exercise. How can we apply this theory more broadly to our work and to our lives? I suggest that when the going gets tough, our brains try to protect us from failure.
Your brain doesn’t want you to take risks. It wants to keep you safe:
Don’t push for that promotion because you might get rejected.
Don’t leave your comfortable job to pursue your dream. You might become homeless.
Don’t write that book that is percolating in you because no one will buy it.
The question is how can you reprogram your governor to allow yourself to achieve way more than you thought was possible; to hit your own maximum velocity?
Visualization is the process of mentally simulating your task. A New York Times article explained:
“Alpine skiers, including Lindsey Vonn of the United States, will use their hands to simulate the path of their skis. Other skiers thrust both hands forward, often while gripping poles shortly before the start, and see themselves skiing the course through their own eyes.
This is called internal imagery.
External imagery is seeing your race as if you are watching a video of yourself competing.”
By visualizing the effort required and the fatigue to be encountered, your brain may be able to raise the limit at which your central governor kicks in to limit your capacity.
Affirmations are declarative, positive statements which are a perceived truths. How is it possible that making a statement about something helps you to achieve it?
It has to do with the fact that at some level your brain has trouble distinguishing what is real from what is not real. For example, why do you cry during a sentimental movie? You know it isn’t real. The same thing goes for affirmations.
My morning journaling ritual includes a spot to write a daily affirmation. Here’s one I wrote recently:
I am persistent, steadfast and unwavering in my commitment to myself and others in reaching our full potential.
Experts suggest repeating your affirmation three times per day and out loud. When you talk out loud it has a different effect.
David Goggins used affirmations, too, which were of the colorful variety, such as “I am a badass m*therf*cker.” Whatever works, works!
The bottom line. Where is your central governor set in your life? Where is your brain thinking it is being helpful by slowing you down to keep you safe?
Become aware of your central governor and learn to reprogram it so you can reach your full potential!
See you on the Autobahn of life.
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