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MENTAL SECONDWIND






From: How to Use Your Mind

Did you ever engage in any exhausting physical work for a long period
of time? If so, you probably remember that as you proceeded, you became
more and more fatigued, finally reaching a point when it seemed that
you could not endure the strain another minute. You had just decided to
give up, when suddenly the fatigue seemed to diminish and new energy
seemed to come from some source. This curious thing, which happens
frequently in athletic activities, is known as second-wind, and is
described, by those who have experienced it, as a time of increased
power, when the work is done with greater ease and effectiveness and
with a freshness and vigor in great contrast to the staleness that
preceded it. It is as though one "tapped a level of new energy,"
revealing hidden stores of unexpected power. And it is commonly
reported that with persistence in pushing one's self farther and
farther, a third and fourth wind may be uncovered, each one leading to
greater heights of achievement.

This phenomenon occurs not alone on the physical plane; it is
discernible in mental exertion as well. True, we seldom experience it
because we are mentally lazy and have the habit of stopping our work at
the first signs of fatigue. Did we persist, however, disregarding
fatigue and ennui, we should find ourselves tapping vast reserves of
mental power and accomplishing mental feats of astonishing brilliancy.

The occasional occurrence of the phenomenon of second-wind gives ground
for the statement that we possess more energy than we ordinarily use.
There are several lines of evidence for this statement. One is to be
found in the energizing effects of emotional excitement. Under the
impetus of anger, a man shows far greater strength than he ordinarily
uses. Similarly, a mother manifests the strength of a tigress when her
young is endangered. A second line of evidence is furnished by the
effect of stimulants. Alcohol brings to the fore surprising reserves of
physical and psychic energy. Lastly, we have innumerable instances of
accession of strength under the stimulus of an idea. Under the
domination of an all-absorbing idea, one performs feats of
extraordinary strength, utilizing stores of energy otherwise out of
reach. We have only to read of the heroic achievements of little Joan
of Arc for an example of such manifestation of reserve power.

When we examine this accession of energy we find it to be describable
in several ways--physiologically, neurologically and psychologically.
The physiological effects consist in a heightening of the bodily
functions in general. The muscles become more ready to act, the
circulation is accelerated, the breathing more rapid. Curious things
take place in various glands throughout the body. One, the adrenal
gland, has been the object of special study and has been shown, upon
the arousal of these reserves of energy, to produce a secretion of the
utmost importance in providing for sudden emergencies. This little
gland is located above the kidney, and is aroused to intense activity
at times, pouring out into the blood a fluid that goes all over the
body. Some of its effects are to furnish the blood with chemicals that
act as fuel to the muscles, assisting them to contract more vigorously,
to make the lungs more active in introducing oxygen into the system, to
make the heart more active in distributing the blood throughout the
body. Such glandular activity is an important physiological condition
of these higher levels of energy. In neurological terms, the increase
in energy consists in the flow of more nervous energy into the brain,
particularly into those areas where it is needed for certain kinds of
controlled thought and action. An abundance of nervous energy is very
advantageous, for, as has been intimated in a former chapter, nervous
energy is diffused and spread over all the pathways that are easily
permeable to its distribution. This results in the use of considerable
areas of brain surface, and knits up many associations, so that one
idea calls up many other ideas. This leads us to recognize the
psychological conditions of increased energy, which are, first, the
presence of more ideas, second, the more facile flow of ideas; the
whole accompanied by a state of marked pleasurableness. Pleasure is a
notable effect of increased energy. When work progresses rapidly and
satisfactorily, it is accomplished with great zest and a feeling almost
akin to exaltation. These conditions describe to some degree the
conditions when we are doing efficient work.

Since we are endowed with the energy requisite for such efficient work,
the obvious question is, why do we not more frequently use it? The
answer is to be found in the fact that we have formed the habit of
giving up before we create conditions of high efficiency. You will note
that the conditions require long-continued exertion and resolute
persistence. This is difficult, and we indulgently succumb to the first
symptoms of fatigue, before we have more than scratched the surface of
our real potentialities.

Because of the prominent place occupied by fatigue in thus being
responsible for our diminished output, we shall briefly consider its
place in study. Everyone who has studied will agree that fatigue is an
almost invariable attendant of continuous mental exertion. We shall lay
down the proposition at the start, however, that the awareness of
fatigue is not the same as the objective fatigue in the organs of the
body. Fatigue should be regarded as a twofold thing--a state of mind,
designated its subjective aspect, and a condition of various parts of
the body, designated its objective aspect. The former is observable by
introspection, the latter by analysis of bodily secretions and by
measurement of the diminution of work, entirely without reference to
the way the mind regards the work. Fatigue subjectively, or fatigue as
we _feel_ it, is not at all the same as fatigue as manifested in the
body. If we were to make two curves, the one showing the advancement of
the _feeling_ of fatigue, and the other showing the advancement of
impotence on the part of the bodily processes, the two curves would not
at all coincide. Stated another way, fatigue is a complex thing, a
product of ideas, feelings and sensations, and sometimes the ideas
overbalance the sensations and we think we are more tired then we are
objectively. It is this fact that accounts for our too rapid giving up
when we are engaged in hard work.

A psychological analysis of the subjective side of fatigue will make
its true nature more apparent. Probably the first thing we find in the
mind when fatigued is a large mass of sensations. They are referred to
various parts of the body, mostly the part where muscular activity has
been most violent and prolonged. Not all of the sensations, however,
are intense enough to be localizable, some being so vague that we
merely say we are "tired all over." These vague sensations are often
overlooked; nevertheless, as will be shown later, they may be
exceedingly important.

But sensations are not the only contents of the mind at time of
fatigue. Feelings are present also, usually of a very unpleasant kind.
They are related partly to the sensations mentioned above, which are
essentially painful, and they are feelings of boredom and ennui. We
have yet to examine the ideas in mind and their behavior at time of
fatigue. They come sluggishly, associations being made slowly and
inaccurately, and we make many mistakes. But constriction of ideas is
not the sole effect of fatigue. At such a time there are usually other
ideas in the mind not relevant to the fatiguing task of the moment,
and exceedingly distracting. Often they are so insistent in forcing
themselves upon our attention that we throw up the work without further
effort. It is practically certain that much of our fatigue is due, not
to real weariness and inability to work, but to the presence of ideas
that appear so attractive in contrast with the work in hand that we say
we are tired of the latter. What we really mean is that we would rather
do something else. These obtruding ideas are often introduced into our
minds by other people who tell us that we have worked long enough and
ought to come and play, and though we may not have felt tired up to
this point, still the suggestion is so strong that we immediately begin
to feel tired. Various social situations can arouse the same
suggestion. For example, as the clock nears quitting time, we feel that
we ought to be tired, so we allow ourselves to think we are.

Let us now examine the bodily conditions to see what fatigue is
objectively. "Physiologically it has been demonstrated that fatigue is
accompanied by three sorts of changes. First, poisons accumulate in the
blood and affect the action of the nervous system, as has been shown by
direct analysis. Mosso ... selected two dogs as nearly alike as
possible. One he kept tied all day; the other, he exercised until by
night it was thoroughly tired. Then he transfused the blood of the
tired animal into the veins of the rested one and produced in him all
the signs of fatigue that were shown by the other. There can be no
doubt that the waste products of the body accumulate in the blood and
interfere with the action of the nerve cells and muscles. It is
probable that these accumulations come as a result of mental as well as
of physical work.

"A second change in fatigue has been found in the cell body of the
neurone. Hodge showed that the size of the nucleus of the cell in the
spinal cord of a bee diminished nearly 75 per cent, as a result of the
day's activity, and that the nucleus became much less solid. A third
change that has been demonstrated as a result of muscular work is the
accumulation of waste products in the muscle tissue. Fatigued muscles
contain considerable percentages of these products. That they are
important factors in the fatigue process has been shown by washing them
from a fatigued muscle. As a result the muscle gains new capacity for
work. The experiments are performed on the muscles of a frog that have
been cut from the body and fatigued by electrical stimulation. When
they will no longer respond, their sensitivity may be renewed by
washing them in dilute alcohol or in a weak salt solution that will
dissolve the products of fatigue. It is probable that these products
stimulate the sense-organs in the muscles and thus give some of the
sensations of fatigue. Of these physical effects of fatigue, the
accumulation of waste products in the blood and the effects upon the
nerve cells are probably common both to mental and physical fatigue.
The effect upon the muscles plays a part in mental fatigue only so far
as all mental work involves some muscular activity."

By this time you must be convinced that the subject of fatigue is
exceedingly complicated; that its effects are manifested differently in
mind and body. In relieving fatigue the first step to be taken is to
rest properly. Man cannot work incessantly; he must rest sometimes, and
it is just as important to know how to rest efficiently as to know how
to work efficiently. By this is not meant that one should rest as soon
as fatigue begins to be felt. Quite the reverse. Keep on working all
the harder if you wish the second-wind to appear. Perhaps two hours
will exhaust your first supply of energy and will leave you greatly
fatigued. Do not give up at this time, however. Push yourself farther
in order to uncover the second layer of energy. Before entering upon
this, however, it will be possible to secure some advantage by resting
for about fifteen minutes. Do not rest longer than this, or you may
lose the momentum already secured and your two hours will have gone for
naught. If one indulges in too long a rest, the energy seems to run
down and more effort is required to work it up again than was
originally expended. It is also important to observe the proper mental
conditions during rest. Do not spend the fifteen minutes in getting
interested in some other object; for that will leave distracting ideas
in the mind which will persist when you resume work. Make the rest a
time of physical and mental relief. Move cramped muscles, rest your
eyes and let your thoughts idly wander; then come back to work in ten
or fifteen minutes and you will be amazed at the refreshed feeling with
which you do your work and at the accession of new energy that will
come to you. Keep on at this new plane and your work will take on all
the attributes of the second-wind level of efficiency.

Besides planning intelligent rests, you may also adjust yourself to
fatigue by arranging your daily program so as to do your hardest work
when you are fresh, and your easiest when your efficiency is low. In
other words, you are a human dynamo, and should adjust yourself to the
different loads you carry. When carrying a heavy load, employ your best
energies, but when carrying only a light load, exert a proportionate
amount of energy. Every student has tasks of a routine nature which do
not require a high degree of energy, such as copying material. Plan to
perform such work when your stock of energy is lowest.

One of the best ways to insure the attainment of a higher plane of
mental efficiency is to assume an attitude of interestedness. This is
an emotional state and we have seen that emotion calls forth great
energy.

A final aid in promoting increase of energy is that gained through
stimulating ideas. Other things being equal, the student who is
animated by a stimulating idea works more diligently and effectively
than one without. The idea may be a lofty professional ideal; it may be
a desire to please one's family, a sense of duty, or a wish to excel.
Whatever it is, an idea may stimulate to extraordinary achievements.
Adopt some compelling aim if you have none. A vocational aim often
serves as a powerful incentive throughout one's student life. An idea
may operate for even more transient purposes; it may make one oblivious
to present discomfort to a remarkable degree. This is accomplished
through the aid of suggestion. When feelings of fatigue approach, you
may ward them off by resolutely suggesting to yourself that you are
feeling fresh.

Above all, the will is effective in lifting one to higher levels of
efficiency. It is notorious that a single effort of the will, "such as
saying 'no' to some habitual temptation or performing some courageous
act, will launch a man on a higher level of energy for days and weeks,
will give him a new range of power. 'In the act of uncorking the
whiskey bottle which I had brought home to get drunk upon,' said a man
to me, 'I suddenly found myself running out into the garden, where I
smashed it on the ground. I felt so happy and uplifted after this act,
that for two months I wasn't tempted to touch a drop.'" But the results
of exertions of the will are not usually so immediate, and you may
accept it as a fact that in raising yourself to a higher level of
energy you cannot do it by a single effort. Continuous effort is
required until the higher levels of energy have _formed the habit_ of
responding when work is to be done. In laying the burden upon Nature's
mechanism of habit, you see you are again face to face with the
proposition laid down at the beginning of the book--that education
consists in the process of forming habits of mind. The particular habit
most important to cultivate in connection with the production of
second-wind is the habit of resisting fatigue. Form the habit of
persisting in spite of apparent obstacles and limitations. Though they
seem almost unsurmountable, they are really only superficial. Buried
deep within you are stores of energy that you yourself are unaware of.
They will assist you in accomplishing feats far greater than you think
yourself capable of. Draw upon these resources and you will find
yourself gradually living and working upon a higher plane of
efficiency, improving the quality of your work, increasing the quantity
of your work and enhancing your enjoyment in work.


READINGS AND EXERCISE

Readings: James (9) Seashore (14) chapter III. Swift (20) chapter V.

Exercise I. Describe conditions you have observed at time of
second-wind in connection with prolonged (a) physical exertion, (b)
intellectual exertion.





Next: EXAMINATIONS

Previous: THE PLATEAU OF DESPOND



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