The Science-Backed Mindset of Performance Happiness and Success – iRunFar

The Science-Backed Mindset of Efficiency Happiness and Success – iRunFar

Stay the CourseI lately paced my good buddy, veteran ultrarunner, and training and management guru Jacob Rydman towards his first 200-mile end on the 2023 Tahoe 200 Mile.

It was a profound expertise. Century legend Karl Meltzer is understood for saying, “100 miles isn’t that far,” however let me let you know, 200 miles is, certainly, actually far.

This isn’t essentially an article about 200 milers, the best way to end them, or different pearls of ultra-endurance success. Relatively, it’s knowledge I picked up in regards to the significance of mindset. That is an article about how each execution and expectation impression our potential to complete these unimaginable challenges, and the way we are able to use that to maintain us after they check us the toughest.

Engineering Happiness

Serendipitously, simply previous to the race, I heard about an equation for happiness. Primarily based on their work, “Engineering Happiness,” authors Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin — each engineers, economists, and resolution analysts — developed their absolute best mathematical rationalization for happiness: Happiness = Actuality – Expectation.

Via empirical analysis, what Baucells and Sarin appeared to search out was that happiness wasn’t primarily based on any goal efficiency metric alone. In actual fact, they discovered that even the identical particular person might really feel happier with, say, a 20-hour extremely end, but one way or the other much less pleased with an 18-hour end on the identical occasion.

How is that this potential? The reply lies within the dynamic of one other variable, expectation.

Thus, this equation is formulated by analysis proof primarily based on individuals’s expectations of sure occasions, what really occurred, and the way the distinction between the 2 finally led to the diploma of perceived happiness. So, it appears that evidently the important thing to subjective success — happiness and satisfaction — lies in how nicely we optimize each expectation and the actual final result.

I take this a step additional: the expectation-reality dynamic is a calculus that dictates our willingness to complete. Once we’re within the thick of efficiency, how may that expectation-reality dynamic dictate our willingness to endure ache and struggling with a purpose to go the total distance? In different phrases, is the race final result — the end and what that may present us — value the fee? It’s a psychological and bodily calculus that our mind always computes with every ahead step: Is that this value it?

To make these experiences actually value it requires an optimization of each preparation and mindset.

Let’s break down the 2 key variables.

Mike Acer finishes the 2021 Western States 100 with the help of his pacer.

Mike Acer finishes the 2021 Western States 100 contained in the Golden Hour together with his pacer and crew. Picture: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks


The fact of a run is its final result, our goal time and inserting and our subjective expertise. This experiential final result possesses each inside and exterior elements, some in our management, some not.


  • Health and well being — how ready we’re
  • Planning and execution — diet, hydration, pacing, operating kind, and extra
  • Responsiveness — power, temper, and our potential to soak up the hassle and push via ache


  • Climate
  • Competitors
  • Course dynamics — terrain, path, and different environmental circumstances

These elements largely decide the target final result. How briskly can we run? What place can we end? A few of these outcomes we are able to management; many we can’t. And these elements could play out in another way, even on the identical race below very comparable circumstances.

However since happiness and satisfaction — each after the very fact, in addition to throughout the run itself — lie within the distinction between actuality and expectation, it’s the relative “measurement” of the latter — expectation — that may decide our satisfaction with the result, and our willingness to endure when issues get most difficult.

2018 UTMB start umbrellas

Umbrellas up firstly of the 2018 UTMB. Exterior elements resembling climate and course circumstances can have an effect on how we understand a race. Picture: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein


Simply as actuality has inside and exterior dimensions, so, too, does expectation:


  • Perceived health — how I perceive my potential to run quick and carry out comparatively nicely
  • Perceived Expertise — the diploma to which I believe I’ve the flexibility to execute nicely


  • Anticipated distance — if the gap appears far or not
  • Perceived course dynamics — does the terrain, climate, and extra appear tough or simple for me
  • Anticipated competitors — the place we expect we might be amongst the competitors

As such, when we now have excessive perceived health and expertise, and we price the occasion as a low problem, our expectations are highest. And when we now have low perceived health and expertise, and we expect the problem might be excessive, our expectations are lowest.

The Expectation-Actuality Dynamic

Given these elements, it ought to now appear potential that Runner A may one way or the other be much less pleased with an 18-hour Western States 100 end than they had been after they completed the identical race in 20 hours.

If, for instance, Runner A is extraordinarily match, has run a number of quick 100-mile races earlier than, and has skilled and paced on the Western States 100 course beforehand, then they may strategy the occasion with very excessive expectations, maybe a 17-hour and even sooner objective. So, after they end in 18 hours, their relative happiness — actuality minus expectation — could possibly be surprisingly low.

However what if we flashed ahead just a few years. Maybe the identical Runner A endured a sequence of well being points. They now regain good however suboptimal health and well being and, regardless of the percentages, one other entry into the Western States 100. This new situation may current vastly totally different metrics. Runner A could have very low expectations because of decrease perceived health and the next perceived race problem. As such, a 20-hour end may produce extra happiness due to this expectation-reality dynamic.

Xavier Thevenard finish - Kirsten Kortebein - 2017 UTMB 17

Xavier Thévenard wanting very glad together with his fourth-place end on the 2017 UTMB. Picture: iRunFar/Kirsten Kortebein

Engineering Endurance

As compelling as this equation could also be to clarify a reflective feeling of an occasion, post-race, I contend this equation could also be much more helpful in serving to us to endure a run’s most attempting moments in actual time.

I imagine our brains run this identical expectation-reality calculus repeatedly throughout the course of endurance occasion. We expect not merely, Can I safely end this occasion, however extra, Is that this present quantity of ache value enduring with a purpose to end?

Included of their e book, Baucells and Sarin define a easy experiment that highlights the relative energy of expectation versus actuality. They fill three glasses with water: one sizzling, one chilly, and one at a temperature equidistant between the 2 extremes. Individuals had been instructed to first dunk a finger into both the recent or chilly water, after which into the medium water.

Those that first dunked their finger within the sizzling water perceived the medium water as cooler than those that first dunked the finger within the chilly water who conversely perceived the medium water as hotter. Notion is dictated by expectation.

This, too, happens, throughout endurance occasions. Once we anticipate an occasion might be extraordinarily difficult, this lowers the expectation of ease. Thus, if we anticipate an occasion to be terribly laborious, and our expertise doesn’t meet that expectation — it’s merely medium-hard — it could really really feel much less painful than it does to somebody whose expectation was greater whereas each executing the occasion in exactly the identical approach.

I generally see this phenomenon within the bodily remedy clinic. A smooth tissue therapy approach that’s identified to be painful — say, a lateral glute therapeutic massage — might be rated as much less painful whether it is preceded by one other totally different, however extra intensely painful, therapy approach.

“How does this really feel?” I ask. The affected person solutions, “Fairly sore, however not as dangerous as what you simply did!”

Expectation units the usual: not only for happiness, however for tolerance.

Newness and Respect Tempers Expectation and Raises Happiness Potential

Earlier ache could set expectation of ease to be low, however what about novel, brand-new experiences? New, formidable challenges have the flexibility to massively reset expectations. Marathons are far. Quick marathons are painful. So what may a 100 miler really feel wish to a brand new ultrarunner?

Typically, such concern of the unknown does an ideal job of reducing expectations of ease, and — paradoxically — enhancing ending outcomes. For if a runner perceives a given occasion as extraordinarily tough, they’re usually extra more likely to be extraordinarily ready and have very low expectations for each ease and excessive efficiency.

Certainly, this may partly clarify why one of many strongest elements of ending the Western States 100 is having by no means run it. Positive, there are different elements, resembling shortage, or the concept that we could by no means have the chance to run the occasion once more. However concern of the unknown — the lore of the punishingly steep canyons and oppressive warmth — that scares a runner into most preparation and minimizes their expectations.

2017 Western States 100 Round Up - Cat Bradley

Cat Bradley profitable the 2017 Western States 100, having by no means run the race earlier than and secured entry via one ticket within the lottery. Picture: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

So, not solely are ending expectations low and preparation excessive, when a runner finds themselves struggling mid-race, their very low expectations for consolation and quickness and their sturdy preparation could end in a good mathematic that permits us to endure to the end.

Familiarity Breeds Excessive Expectation, and Not Essentially Improved Outcomes

For runners with rising expertise in ultra-distance races, expertise is a double-edged sword. Whereas we could develop and sharpen abilities to raised execute the gap, terrain, and different challenges, we frequently enhance our expectations — and at a magnitude disproportionate to talent growth.

Once we ran that first 100 miler, we had been terrified, however we had been cautious, executed nicely, suffered reasonably, and per the equation, had a good time. Maybe we run just a few extra with each comparable concern and improved execution.

Ought to one’s expertise play out as such, what invariably occurs is that this:

  • Talent and skill enhance
  • Expectations enhance

Ought to these each develop on the identical price, happiness stays fixed. However usually, expectations develop a lot sooner than potential. That is very true if perceived problem and perceived ache considerably lower. This may happen when climate and course circumstances are reasonable, and we in any other case keep away from main challenges.

After just a few non-complicated 100-mile finishes, our concern of the gap may plummet. And, logically, our efficiency expectations enhance. In such a case, our general expectations are considerably bigger.

Thus, it could not solely take a a lot bigger efficiency final result to be equally glad, such a scenario may additionally threaten our potential to complete.

Ought to we count on solely a modest quantity of ache and discomfort, being forged into the throes of maximum duress — blisters, cramping, blown quads, oppressive warmth, freezing chilly, dehydration, bonking — could possibly be an insurmountable power that flips the need to proceed right into a full cease.

When accustomed to chill water, even medium-warm water can really feel oppressively sizzling.

This conjures an endurance-suffering model of the Dunning-Kruger impact. When we now have simply sufficient expertise — however not that a lot — we are inclined to:

  • overestimate our skills
  • underestimate the potential for struggling

It’s that mixture that leads not solely to dissatisfaction, however an unwillingness to proceed within the face of reasonable adversity. And it’s the identical adversity that, with tempered expectation, may in any other case be endurable.

Managing expectations, subsequently, could require a substantial amount of expertise, not merely enduring fundamental parts of the race, however the time spent coping with these tough issues. Solely then can we mood expectations accordingly.

Longer Occasions May Really Really feel Simpler

The happiness equation may additionally clarify each the perceived happiness of more and more longer endurance occasions. After enduring the acquainted ache of street marathons, individuals dip their toes into ultras. Each the rising mileage and sometimes extra demanding terrain considerably mood expectation. And whereas runners virtually at all times run, per mile, slower on trails than roads, they usually benefit from the steep, rugged, sizzling, or chilly extremely over their ambient street race. Reasonable outcomes minus low expectations.

This math holds true with rising distance. Expectations for ease get decrease with the rising distance. But, with rising distance, merely ending a few of these formidable occasions is an incredible accomplishment: actuality is bigger and higher.

I skilled this primary hand on the Tahoe 200 Mile within the following methods:

  • Efficiency and luxury expectations had been extremely low. Jake didn’t understand how lengthy a 200-mile race ought to take him, so his mindset was to simply preserve transferring till the gap was lined.
  • Efficiency actuality was excessive. Merely overlaying 100 miles, for Jake, was great. Each step past that was full of pleasure and gratitude.

As such, despite the big problem, it may need been simpler for Jake to cowl that distance than a well-recognized 100 miler, not to mention a street marathon. The enormity, plus the unfamiliarity, maximized the perceived final result and minimized expectations.

So, when he completed? Pure pleasure!

The Happiness and Efficiency Equation

How, then, can we take this data and parlay it, not solely right into a post-race happiness, however to assist us endure the moments that make these experiences appear each unbearable and completely significant? Let’s return to the equation of Happiness = Actuality – Expectation.

Enhancing Actuality

  • Be Ready — Maximize bodily and psychological coaching and preparation
  • Execute Properly — Execute the weather of pacing, diet, hydration, and different important methods

Enhancing Expectation

  • Anticipate Greatness with Dynamic Objectives — Minimizing expectations doesn’t imply having no objectives or expectations for achievement. You will need to have objectives, however dynamic targets that modify to the circumstances at hand. Inflexible objectives can pin expectations too excessive; dynamic objectives set the desk for the most effective and most beneficial final result.
  • Put together for the Worst — One other profound nugget got here from a latest “Tim Ferriss Present” podcast with entrepreneur, investor, and creator Richard Koch. In it, Koch mentioned what he known as poisonous beliefs, or inaccurate and harmful beliefs we feature that may threaten our wellbeing. Chief amongst them is that life might be simple.

Life is seldom simple. Extremely-endurance occasions, by definition, are infrequently simple.

Sustaining a respect for the occasion — and all of the potential ways in which we are able to endure — stands out as the key to not solely managing expectations, however adequately making ready for these parts of struggling.

As such, each time we cross a beginning line, we needs to be bodily and mentally ready for the worst-case situation. The preparation will assist us instrumentally survive; the mindset will enable us to endure, after which present a nourishing portion of gratitude when these catastrophes don’t occur!


The Tahoe 200 Mile expertise was profound for me, as a result of it reworked each my efficiency expectations and capability to endure in ultramarathons. Seeing Jake cowl 200 miles, and me mountain climbing with him for 42 miles, with solely two brief breaks, redefined my mindset.

After that have, the notion of “strolling it in” over the ultimate 20 miles of a 100 miler — which I personally did not do eventually 12 months’s Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile — appears completely doable. Why not? It’s not that arduous, and strolling it in isn’t that gradual.

Furthermore, such an expertise profoundly expands the realm of potential struggling: what we are able to endure, but in addition what we are able to adequately put together for, if we solely acknowledge and settle for these challenges.

Put together extra, count on much less, and expertise extra happiness.

Name for Feedback

  • Do you assume you’ve mastered the happiness equation?
  • Or do overly excessive expectations generally get in the best way of your operating happiness?

Author: ZeroToHero

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