Perspectives on behavioral self-regulation

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Perceived exertion has been defined as a subjective feeling of how hard or strenuous a physical task is Borg, Despite conceptual differences on the neurophysiologic basis of effort perception and control of pacing i. Much evidence supports this contention during endurance performance. For example, manipulation of physiological e. Recent reviews of both attentional focus Brick et al. Given that self-regulation requires both behavior e. The aim of this article, therefore, is to present, and integrate, a cognitive perspective on pace-regulation with effort perception, physiological, and performance outcomes during endurance activity.

In terms of cognitive processes, the emphasis will be on attentional strategies that have been shown to impact each of these variables. This article will also consider the role of metacognition in self-regulated endurance performance. An endurance athlete's focus of attention can have a significant effect on effort perception, pace-regulation, and physiological indices of performance Brick et al.

Self Regulation

Similarly, focusing on relaxing results in an improved movement economy i. Not all attentional foci are beneficial to performance, however. Focusing excessively on internal bodily sensations or automated processes may exacerbate effort perceptions and negatively impact pacing e. Furthermore, though distractive strategies tend to reduce effort perceptions e. What these studies highlight is the interaction between endurance athletes' cognitions and subsequent effort perception, physiological, and performance outcomes.

Recent evidence also suggests that the most appropriate attentional strategies during performance may depend on the demands of the situation Brick et al. For instance, during a self-paced time-trial this may be to cope with distractions, or to overcome debilitating perceptions of effort while attempting to optimize performance.

As such, adopting a context-appropriate focus of attention requires both a domain-specific knowledge of cognitive strategies e. According to the dual mechanisms of control framework Braver et al. Proactive control involves anticipatory, goal-oriented processing of information so that attention e. In contrast, reactive, or stimulus-driven cognitive control Miller and Cohen, ; Corbetta and Shulman, ; Braver, is more automatic and transient, and reacts to urgent events or conflict by engaging control only if required Braver et al. Accordingly, reactive cognitive control is implicated in default mode processing and is less demanding on cognitive resources e.

Brick et al. In a study involving 3 km time-trial running, the findings on the attentional focus of participants during a self-controlled pace trial i. However, when an equivalent pacing strategy was externally-controlled by the experimenter akin to pace-making , the most frequently reported attentional foci i.

Applying these findings to endurance performance, we propose that effective pace-regulation requires the athlete to adopt a situationally-appropriate focus of attention and mode of cognitive control. During an event such as the Hour , for example, the athlete receives minimal and infrequent external feedback on pacing. Accordingly, perceptions of effort may serve a vital role in pace-regulation, particularly in the early stages of the event.

During the latter stages, however, when the athlete begins to fatigue, cognitive strategies become more important to overcome an ever-increasing sense of effort and maintain a target pace. In support of this contention, Chris Boardman has suggested that pacing in the Hour is an equation with three inter-related questions: how long to go, how hard the athlete is trying, and whether that effort sustainable? Accordingly, to achieve a desired standard the athlete must proactively adopt a focus of attention to cope with task demands in a goal-driven manner.

However, when faced with an unexpected event e. To conclude so far, we have presented evidence to suggest what an athlete thinks about influences effort perceptions, physiological outcomes and, consequently, endurance performance. In turn, these effects of various cognitive strategies may explain when and why an athlete will engage a particular focus.

Additionally, cognitive control, or the ability to regulate thoughts and actions e. A final consideration, however, is how an athlete controls cognition and focuses attention during endurance performance. In the following section we apply Brick et al. Metacognition can also reflect an individual's understanding of what they know and how to use that knowledge to regulate behavior Bransford et al. Metacognition not only consists of conscious goals, but also the activation of strategies i. It is also important to note that although self-regulation and metacognition have distinct origins in psychology, metacognition is considered an essential component of effective self-regulation Dinsmore et al.

Accordingly, Dinsmore et al. As such, this section will attempt to shed further light on how endurance athletes monitor and control the thoughts and actions required for effective pace-regulation. Based on the facets of metacognition e.

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Metacognitive skills include planning prior to performance e. Metacognitive experiences, in turn, are based predominantly on monitoring processes and include both implicit and explicit metacognitive feelings e. Relevant to this perspective, Efklides , for example, suggests that metacognitive experiences such as feelings of task difficulty are crucial for the self-regulation of effort. The most relevant metacognitive skills to the present discussion are planning and monitoring processes.

Metacognitive planning may incorporate proactive goal setting, establishing a desired pacing strategy, or the selection of other cognitive strategies to implement during performance Brick et al. Metacognitive planning may be particularly important when an athlete wishes to minimalize interference from potential distractors Miller and Cohen, ; Braver et al. In contrast, metacognitive monitoring predominantly involves reactive or stimulus-driven cognitive control during task performance Corbetta and Shulman, ; Braver et al. Accordingly, periodic monitoring of internal sensory e.

Thus, while monitoring and control can occur at an implicit, non-conscious level, conscious control is engaged when metacognitive feelings e.

This response may be to reactively engage a cognitive strategy to cope with situational demands e. Once initiated, the athlete may make a more explicit metacognitive judgment e. Based on the outcome of this judgment, the athlete may decide to maintain their current focus, or implement an alternative, more suitable cognitive strategy. Metacognitive skills e. Accordingly, we propose that an athlete's efforts to monitor and control their thoughts and actions reflect the conceptual core linking metacognition and self-regulation in an endurance performance context Dinsmore et al. To provide greater insight into these cognitive and metacognitive processes in action, the following section will integrate the theoretical constructs of attentional focus, cognitive control, and metacognitive processes with a real-world example of self-regulated pacing during endurance performance i.

Many strategic considerations prior to Bradley Wiggins' Hour record attempt reflect metacognitive planning. His target pace One pre-planned cognitive strategy was to mentally chunk the 60 min event into blocks of 12 min, a strategy that evolved during training for the Hour i. Although chunking as a strategy has not been investigated experimentally per se , reflective accounts Brick et al.

Figure 1. Illustrative examples adapted from Wiggins of metacognitive planning of a cognitive strategy before performance A , metacognitive monitoring and reactive cognitive control during performance B , and proactive cognitive control during performance C. It is also likely that the cognitive strategies Wiggins subsequently engaged during the Hour evolved from his 23 years' experience as a cyclist and domain-specific expertise as an elite time-trialist Micklewright et al. In this regard, evidence from his autobiographical account Wiggins, suggests Wiggins employed both proactive and reactive cognitive control during the Hour.

For example, during the initial stages when the pace felt easier based on a metacognitive feeling of difficulty , he recounts self-instructions to start focusing, listening to his body, and to concentrate on the effort i. During the latter stages, however, Wiggins initiated three attentional strategies to maintain pacing and performance in a goal-driven manner i.

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  5. These strategies were relaxation, focusing on form technique , and synchronizing his pedaling rhythm with the track's banking and straight sections Wiggins, Focusing on these active self-regulatory strategies has been shown to improve movement economy e. It is also noteworthy that when unexpectedly high atmospheric pressure meant his goal pace and distance may not have been attainable on the day; Wiggins recalculated his target Hour record pace to This illustrative example supports the notion that efforts to monitor and control thoughts and action link self-regulation and metacognition Dinsmore et al.

    Furthermore, it reinforces the relationships between attentional focus, and physiologic and performance outcomes during a mentally and physically strenuous task such as an individual time-trial. As such, we suggest that further elucidation of our understanding of pace-regulation during endurance tasks will only be possible with continued integration of these scientific branches of endurance research. The present article has highlighted the roles of attentional focus, cognitive control, and metacognition in self-regulated endurance performance. One issue worthy of further consideration concerns suggestions that inducing mental fatigue prior to activity may subsequently elevate effort perceptions and diminish endurance task performance e.

    Indeed, Marcora et al.

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    As such, mental fatigue may exert an influence on endurance performance by altering perceptions of effort independent of changes in cardiorespiratory or musculoenergetic mechanisms Marcora et al. Despite these findings, no published study has specifically focused on the effects of mental fatigue accrued during sustained endurance performance. However, researchers have recently begun to speculate that prolonged endurance activity in itself may induce mental fatigue Renfree et al.

    More so, while this perspective article has primarily considered pace-regulation in the context of individual time-trialing, competitive endurance events also require strategic decision-making during performance based on additional environmental factors, including competitor behavior, for example e. Given the importance of cognitive functioning to sustained endurance activity e.

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    Further, investigation of these issues may provide a fruitful line of enquiry. It may be that additional performance gains are possible by reducing the cognitive demands associated with prolonged endurance activity. This may be achieved by adopting an appropriate focus of attention e. NB: Conceptualizing and drafting the article, revising it critically for important intellectual content, final approval of the version to be published, and accountability for all aspects of the work.

    TM: Conceptualizing and revising the study critically for important intellectual content, final approval of the version to be published, and accountability for all aspects of the work. MC: Conceptualizing and revising the study critically for important intellectual content, final approval of the version to be published, and accountability for all aspects of the work.

    The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Abbiss, C. Describing and understanding pacing strategies during athletic competition. Sports Med. Role of ratings of perceived exertion during self-paced exercise: what are we actually measuring?

    Borg, G. Borg's Perceived Exertion and Pain Scales. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.