Do your clients struggle to stay motivated during exercise sessions? New research has presented a technique that just might help.

Called “attention narrowing,” the technique involves keeping visual focus on a specific target, such as a finish line, instead of taking in all the sights along the way. This may not seem novel—athletes often “keep their eyes on the prize” during competition— but researchers who recently studied this topic believe that visual focusing can help everyday exercisers stay on track as well.

Investigators recruited 73 participants and asked them to walk 20 feet inside a gym while wearing ankle weights equivalent to 15% of their body weight. Subjects were separated into two groups. One group was told to focus only on an orange cone marking the finish line. Those in the other group were instructed to notice the cone, but also to look around the gym as they walked. Once the volunteers had completed the walk, they were asked for their perceptions of distance walked and their exertion levels.

Researchers learned that those who were told to focus on the cone perceived the target as being physically closer than the other group did.

“In addition, narrowed attention reduced the time required to walk to a finish line
and increased subjective ease of physical task performance, two markers of improved exercise,” the researchers concluded. Their findings were published in Motivation and Emotion (2014; doi: 10.1007/s11031-014-9432-3).

This study focused on walking a very short distance. Do you think the finding has implications for other exercise scenarios? We want to hear from you. Email your thoughts to [email protected]