Here’s one way to get to the finish line faster

How far? Depends on how you look at it.
How far? Depends on how you look at it.
Image: Creative Commons/Timo Newton-Syms
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It’s hard to stay motivated on a long walk or run when the finish line (or your couch) looks so far away. Try focusing your eyes on a specific destination. New research shows that this “attentional narrowing” will not only make your target feel closer—it actually can help you get there faster.

According to a study from New York University, concentrating on a specific target like a building, as opposed to people-watching or casually observing your surroundings during your exercise, also can make the overall experience feel easier.

The study (paywall) consisted of two experiments. The first involved 66 adults, a hot summer day, a New York City park, and an open cooler, stationed some distance away from the group and filled with ice and drinks. Subjects who were asked to focus just on the cooler estimated that it was a shorter distance away, compared with those who were instructed to let their attention wander naturally.

In the second experiment, 73 participants were instructed to walk 20 feet in a gymnasium with ankle weights that added 15% to their body weight. Those asked to focus on the finish line (a traffic cone) perceived the cone to be 28% closer than it was, and walked 23% faster than the natural attention group. They also reported that the walk was less physically demanding than the natural attention group did.

The study was co-authored by Emily Balcetis, an assistant professor at NYU’s Department of Psychology; Shana Cole, now an assistant professor in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University; and Matthew Riccio, an undergraduate at NYU’s College of Arts and Science.