Science & Spirit: Purpose, Envy, Exhaustion

Science & Spirit: Purpose, Envy, Exhaustion

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Discover why you should stop at the point of fatigue instead of pushing through; find reasons for clarifying your life purpose; and read some good news about envious feelings.

Exhaustion Means Stop

Practice, practice … and rest. That’s the advice coming out of Johns Hopkins, where research suggests that overtraining, or training when your muscles are exhausted, can not only impair performance at the time but also hinder the future ability to learn new things. The researchers say the lasting negative effect is a result of the brain memorizing the wrong way of performing and learning, which can happen during fatigue. “You will want to stop and rest when your muscles are exhausted to receive the most benefits from trainings,” wrote Pablo Celnik, M.D., in the study.

I like to think of applying this past just the physical, though. When we push past good effort into solid exhaustion, we may be robbing ourselves of the ability to absorb new skills. So, when you’ve hit the wall, regroup, trusting you’ll be a better version of yourself once rested.

Feeling Envious? Just Wait …

Your coworker is going on a fabulous cruise to Greece this summer! Your sister is about to buy a huge new home with an amazing back deck! It’s natural to feel a bit envious in situations like this. But good news: Envy is likely to subside after someone else’s drool-worthy event has passed.

“Enviable events lose some power over us once those events are in our past,” wrote psychological scientist Ed O’Brien of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “This occurs even when people are left to their own devices—in our studies, we didn’t instruct participants to engage in any particular distraction task or coping strategy, yet they still felt better as long as some time passed.” His research also draws an interesting distinction between benign and malicious envy. Malicious envy includes feelings like frustration and ill will, while benign envy can be useful. It includes feelings like motivation and inspiration. So maybe that Greek cruise can even inspire you to start saving up and planning for your own journey. (For more, see our story “What Really Causes Jealousy.”)

Having a Life Purpose Contributes to Good Health

What’s my mission in life? Having a strong sense of life purpose means we can see the unique gifts we are bringing to the table—yes, you have them, I promise—and how these essential parts can create happiness and a sense of meaning. Purpose in life has been associated with good health in some studies (see our story “A Purpose Driven Life Leads to Better Sleep”), and new research gives insight into how that actually works. According to a study published in Health Psychology, participants who had a strong sense of life purpose reacted more positively to health messages promoting physical activity. The researchers found that there was less conflict in the brain in those individuals, which may make them more susceptible to the positive messages.

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