Have you ever wondered why we are always looking for more in this sport of OCR?
Whether it be new obstacles, longer distances, new environments to race in, more goodies at the end of a race, we always seem to be asking for more of the experience we invest in.
There often seems to be an underlying drive to increase the level of what we do or receive from our efforts.
So where does this come from?
Jaak Panskepp, an Estonian neuroscientist and psychobiologist, argues that there are seven core instincts in the human brain – anger, fear, panic-grief, pleasure/lust, play, maternal care and seeking – with seeking being the most important. He proposes that all mammals have this seeking system, which is closely bound to the dopamine neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centre, as well as movement.
Therefore, when we pursue an activity for the first time, or have a new experience in an already familiar arena, dopamine is released…we enjoy the feeling…and subsequently we want more.
However, with familiarity comes a lowering in the level of dopamine released. As we repeat an experience, our brains recognise and react to a lot less information as to what is going on in that moment, so our dopamine response is not triggered to the same extent.
But, knowing that achieving something gives a great feeling is our bodies way of saying that it craves that dopamine response, and the sensations of reward and positive emotion that come with it. So, to get more of that sensation, we make the challenge harder for ourselves, or seek more reward.
A simple way to demonstrate this is the response we observe in children when they get a new toy. Elation, smiles, raised energy levels. But over time, that toy doesn’t trigger quite the same response as it did at first, until eventually there is a request/plea/tantrum for another new toy.
So what’s this got to do with the price of bacon, or more importantly if you’re reading OMR, us as athletes?
Simply, know that this is going on inside. You can’t do much about it, and why should you.
The drive to achieve more and experience the sensation of reward that comes with it is healthy. It’s never going to stop because your brain subconsciously wants more of it.
If it’s a new sporting challenge, a new level of difficulty, a faster time that requires more effort to achieve, or a complete change in trajectory to learn a new skill or capability. As long as you are pursuing something, you are satisfying a part of you that is curious, enlightening and ultimately rewarding in a variety of ways.