TED Talk Recap

Why Some People Find Exercise Harder Than Others


Have you ever noticed your own perception shaping the environment around you? Maybe you’re having a great day and it seems like everything goes your way. But, then on a bad day it’s quite the opposite.


“Why is it that somebody might literally see the glass as half full, and someone literally sees it as half empty?” Emily Balcetis, a social psychologist set out to answer this question, and presented her findings at TEDx New York.

Emily explains in her riveting talk, “What we can see with great sharpness and clarity and accuracy is the equivalent of the surface area of our thumb with an outstretched arm.” Everything else you are seeing right now, except for the tiny area of your outstretched thumb is a blur, but then made clear by your own minds eye.



What you are seeing, is undoubtedly different than what your coworker next to you is seeing. Vision and all the information we gather through vision, is in fact, objective.

“What is it about what one person is thinking and feeling that leads them to see the world in an entirely different way? And does that even matter?” Emily questioned.

Emily decided to unravel these rather complex questions by understanding exactly what factors influence our own perception.

One factor she explored was fitness level. She recorded fitness levels of a group of adults, by measuring the ratio between their waist and hips. They asked participants to stand at the front of a running course and estimate the distance to the finish line.


What did they find? The individuals who were deemed as more physically fit estimated the course was shorter than those who were unfit. But, then she decided to add another factor to the equation: motivation.

Emily defines the most motivated participants as, “People who had committed to a manageable goal that they could accomplish in the near future, and who believed that they were capable of meeting that goal.” These motivated participants, regardless of how physically fit they were “actually saw the exercise as easier.”

But, she wasn’t done. Emily wanted to find a way to not only understand what makes exercise easier but also what makes exercise better. She calls this, keeping your eye on the prize. When the motivated individuals looked only at the finish line throughout their run they saw the finish line as 30% closer and even ran 23% faster.

Emily applied this same theory to dieters, softball players and politicians. So, now let’s bring this theory into the workplace. Set yourself to manageable, incremental goals and you will succeed not just faster but better. Your goal might be to finish a project a week early or enroll in a course to strengthen your professional skills. Visualize the positive effects from reaching that goal.


You will reach the goal faster, and in the end your work will be…well, better!

See the entire TED talk here.

Blog Post
January 28, 2015