Regression Toward the Mean

In statistics, regression toward (or to) the mean is the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first. When interpreting data, regression toward the mean must be considered. Historically, what is now called regression toward the mean has also been called reversion to the mean and reversion to mediocrity.

But I am not here to bore you with statistics.

What is that you said? “Too late”??

My sincere apologies.

You may be asking yourself why I am bringing such a subject up on a health and fitness blog.

Well, I do have a reason …. let’s see if we can find it.

I mentioned on the show last night a conversation I had recently with my coach regarding the subconscious mind and how we undermine our efforts by assigning roles to ourselves. The belief in who we are, what we are capable of, what we can and cannot do, can be a strong motivator and predictor in who and what we become. If you have parents who constantly hounded you about being worthless, no good, “bound for prison”, often results in an adult who actually turns out the exact way that was “predicted”. Been told you were somehow “less than” your whole life results in that belief within you, no matter how well you try to hide it. The inner voice, the voice of your father, mother, teachers, spiritual leader, is in your head and will remain there.

The conversation revolved around my use of the title “Fat Slow Triathlete” and the podcast I am on called “Back of Pack Endurance” and how, subconsciously, I may be regressing in order to meet those title expectations.

Oh come on, John … you don’t really believe that do you??

I didn’t … but the more I think about it I start to wonder if there is some truth to it. Have I sabotaged my efforts by becoming a “spokesperson” or “champion” of the back of the pack race participant? My conscious mind tells me I have not, because I am trying to be better during training sessions.

But maybe the subconscious mind is stronger than that?

“The way to get rid of darkness is with light; the way to overcome cold is with heat; the way to overcome the negative thought is to substitute the good thought. Affirm the good, and the bad will vanish.” ― Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

The power of positive thought can be very strong, but some of us … and I mean “me”, have a hard time with this. I am not sure why. I’d like to say that it is because I am a “realist”. I see things for what they are in the real world. This is why when someone says to me “oh, don’t worry about that run, you’re going to do great!” and I know that I have not had a good training run, and that everything over 5 miles starts to hurt my feet, I cannot buy into that sentiment, and it comes across like I am being negative when in my head I am not. I am just being realistic.

But the whole notion of having a “bad day” is not real. There is no such thing as a “bad day”. A bad day only exists in our interpretation of reality, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Peter J. Bentley, PhD, author of “Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day”, wrote:

Yes, and it’s our fault, I’m afraid! The statistics show that people who believe in bad luck will have more accidents on Friday the 13th. Those who have a negative attitude are more likely to endow normal little mishaps with some mystical significance. Some psychologists even suggest that it’s a way of subconsciously avoiding responsibility for our actions. “It was Friday 13th, so I was bound to stick my fingers with superglue” or “Accidents happen in threes, so after the first mishap the next two were inevitable.” Of course it’s nonsense.

So, is my subconscious ruining my races? Am I fulfilling some prophecy that I have set in motion by my company name and the groups I align with?

I really don’t think it is that simple.

Our brain wants to simplify, and normally is very useful and beneficial in this way. Our brains develop abstract representations of complex ideas that allow us to connect the represented ideas with other ideas. Simplification clears our minds, freeing our brains to draw additional connections and conclusions. But what happens when we simplify experiences with the wrong symbolic conclusion? This is what happens when we conclude that we are having a bad day. We start to assign blame for our day on thing outside of our control. In this way, we avoid analyzing the real reasons things happened as they did. It’s just easier to think “it’s just a bad day”. The obvious downside is that once you accept the convenient conclusion that the entire day is going to be bad, it will cause the rest of your day to go bad.

I’m not exactly saying you should discard all belief in the notion of luck. In fact, a recent study published in Psychology Today indicates that people who believe in luck are in fact luckier and happier throughout their lives than those who don’t. Perhaps we should believe in good luck, but not bad luck, if such a thing is possible. ~

So when I start a race full of the belief that I will have a good one, and then the first sign of trouble happens (a slow swim, bike issue, feet hurting on the run) and immediately start thinking to myself “it’s OK, just race your race. You’re a “back of packer”. It’s OK to be last”, am I creating a self sabotage moment? Should I not go into a “I am not going to let that awful swim create a bad race for me … I am leaving everything I have on the course” mind-set?

Because I don’t …

Last Saturday as I entered the run leg of the race a young man was coming in from the run and was throwing up as he ran. He didn’t stop. He kept vomiting as he ran, and at a good pace too. My reaction?

He is pushing too hard.

But is he? he probably took too much water at the aid station, maybe was going a bit faster than his planned pace, but he was finishing.

So this is what has been going through my head recently.

Thanks for listening.

“You grow old when you lose interest in life, when you cease to dream, to hunger after new truths, and to search for new worlds to conquer. When your mind is open to new ideas, new interests, and when you raise the curtain and let in the sunshine and inspiration of new truths of life and the universe, you will be young and vital.” ― Joseph Murphy, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

4 thoughts on “Regression Toward the Mean

  • May 27, 2015 at 5:04 am

    Okay, here’s my question… Followed by a comment.

    If you know a six mile run is going to hurt, why would you EVER run more than five? Do fives until they don’t hurt, then increase the mileage. Btw, I’d bet you my lunch they hurt because you’re running too slow. 17 minute mile pace, you’re out there for darn near 1:45? I finish ten miles in that time, plus a banana, a Popsicle and a shower. When you run slow (as I’m sure you must – don’t take this as criticism, it is most certainly not intended in that manner) you take all of the run… Meaning you have to plod. Add in your weight and plodding is a bad thing. See where I’m going with that? It’s no wonder you’re hurting after five miles – I ALWAYS hurt after ten and you’re out there that long and running harder than me.

    Now for my comment on how I look at things: Interesting that you say you’re a realist. I choose to believe that bad things happen to good people and that my life, while not always easy, is frickin’ awesome. This is reality. On the other hand, I have people trying to steal from me on a regular and consistent basis (in my other, first business). Bold stuff, stuff that would piss anyone off… Business is always a struggle, and drags the good part of my life – the vacation part – down. However, I’ve always managed to make it. I catch people and fire them, sue the blatant ones… The truth is, I can’t have the good without the bad. The bad actually makes the good possible. The reality is I need that bad stuff to have the good and getting angry won’t stop it. In other words, reality has nothing to do with my attitude. It still comes down to a choice of which beast I want to feed.
    Bgddyjim recently posted…The Noob’s Guide to Cycling Fashion: The Rules; Follow Them, Ignore Them or Find Something In Between. And Why They Aren’t All that Bad.My Profile

    • May 27, 2015 at 8:12 am

      Oh I KNOW it is because I am running too slow. Just not able to go faster at this point. The pain, especially the foot pain, is most definitely from time on feet … as you stated … what takes some people 45 minutes takes me 90.

  • May 27, 2015 at 1:46 am

    Hi John. Good to read your blog as I haven’t in a while. I love the psychology of things and am happy to hear that you’re asking yourself these questions. I think you intentionally try not to associate yourself with bad imaging but that’s the way it comes across, not so much the tongue in cheek you intend.

    I’m really happy to hear of your last race. I imagine running a pain free race was a goal of yours and congrats on it being in the bag (the out on the run which seemed like poor setup nothwithstanding). I wish to read of a race where you lean into it; once you’ve gotten comfortable with racing, hurting, recovering and not being injured (hopefully that will happen).

    There’s no doubt in my mind that you can do a 2hr sprint. Sounds like you’ve got a great coach. Good luck on the next race. I hope to be following along.

  • May 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Boy, am I glad you wrote on this topic, and I must admit that I even enjoyed the nerdy opening paragraph. I have felt strongly about the title of your blog since I started following it. When I read the title of your blog I imagine a person who has given up on goals. You may have been “fat & slow” when you first started, but in reality, once you got started, you should become less fat and less slow – the leaner & faster triathlete. I have often thought that naming your blog “The Fat Slow Triathlete” means you are just accepting that as your constant. That you are incapable or uninterested in change. My thoughts are not just with your blog, but with other blogs with similar titles, and Twitter handles, etc.

    When I started my blog on triathlons, I was overweight. In my head I was much bigger than I was in reality because someone had planted a seed in my head that I was “too fat” to ever be good at triathlons. I almost named my blog “the chunky triathlete” but it felt like a major insult to those who actually were struggling with their weight. Being 20-30 pounds from your IDEAL perfect race weight is one thing (me), and being 50-80 pounds from a weight that could be considered “healthy”, but still a far cry from ideal race weight is another thing. I am so glad I never chose to use a derogatory title for me blog. I chose “trikatykid” because my XC coach in college called me Katy Kid .. and I was now a triathlete.. it stuck. It is not derogatory and it is not pretentious and yet if you google “trikatykid” I am the center of all results. I “own” the name. It’s cool!

    I think you read my post which I titled “What did you expect?” which was about the same topic – but in this case it was someone else’s opinion (not my parents or leaders; an ex-boyfriend) who kept me believing that I would never be good enough.. not just in triathlon, but work, love, etc. Once I recognized the source of these deep-seeded beliefs, I was able to get rid of them from my head and my heart. Within weeks, I had run a marathon, gotten an amazing job in my field that I had been chasing down for 6+ years.. and I am really looking forward to the coming triathlon season to test this theory.. the theory that we are what we believe.

    This was my favorite post of yours, FYI.. I vote in favor of changing your blog name.

    PS – you can make mistakes in a race and recover from them. Just because you’re in the back in one part of the race doesn’t mean you can’t catch up, or take advantage of someone else’s mistakes.. in the marathon, I ended up running 3 minutes/mile faster in the first 8 miles than I had planned. By the time the effects of this hit me, I was crushed. I had to walk (a LOT) which was discouraging but I just kept saying, ‘oh my goodness! I’m running a marathon!’. It wasn’t about the back of the pack, or my time. After going through such a difficult time with my self worth, confidence, weight, fitness, etc.. I was just SO happy to be back. And I had an entire year of self-sabotaging races under my belt.. not once did I put myself down in the Bend Marathon. That was where the real success was.

    Great post!

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