Their research extended to athletes. They did these tests where they told runners that the finish line was in one location, only to move it. They watched as these runners, who had run this distance easily before, become moody and actually perform more poorly. Through these studies, and others like them, researchers came to an interesting conclusion:
“Because the brain stingily holds a physical reserve, wringing the most stamina from the body requires a mental finish line. In order to go our hardest, we need to know when or where we can finally stop. In the absence of an understood finish line, the brain will hold the body back.” (Sports Illustrated)
As a runner and triathlete, I have definitely found this to be true. When I can see the staging area or finish line, or even if I know where it is, no matter how exhausted, I can muster the strength to close. I also find the principle works in reverse: On longer distance runs, or challenging legs of a race, I’ll often repeat the mantra, “there is no finish, there is no finish,” providing a mental trigger for myself to stop thinking about the finish line and to focus on just running. Of course, by doing so I’m still moving closer to the finish line, but I am not focusing on the discomfort required to take me there.
I’ve been fascinated by this principle ever since I read the article. Why? Because I think there is great application of the “finish line” effect in our spiritual lives.
Think about applying this to your youth ministry. When we don’t set routine goals, i.e., “finish lines,” it makes our vocational race seem interminable. If we saw our work days as a series of 5K’s maybe it wouldn’t feel like we were constantly running a marathon. With no finish line to aim at, we can’t focus our energy to close strong.
The philosophy works with our relationships, as well, whether those be spouses, senior pastors, or team members. If we set small goals and celebrated periodic wins, we’d be far more inclined to see our relationships in terms of gains as opposed to a treadmill stuck in the “on” position.
And our faith life may benefit from this philosophy as well. Like many people, I occasionally struggle with consistency in my relationship with God. But I have found that I am far more successful in staying disciplined if I approach it in day-sized chunks. In essence, I am telling my soul where the finish line is and expending my attention and spiritual energy accordingly.
When we never set finish lines for ourselves on a race, or in life, it’s hard to know where to spend our energy.
But by setting short-term goals in our work, faith, and relationships we allow ourselves the ability to charge hard, to win, and to regroup for the next challenge.