Why some people find exercise harder than others | Emily Balcetis | TEDxNewYork

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Ivana Korom Vision is the most important and prioritized sense that we have. We are constantly looking at the world around us, and quickly we identify and make sense of what it is that we see. Let’s just start with an example of that very fact. I’m going to show you
a photograph of a person, just for a second or two, and I’d like for you to identify what emotion is on his face. Ready? Here you go. Go with your gut reaction. Okay. What did you see? Well, we actually surveyed over 120 individuals, and the results were mixed. People did not agree on what emotion they saw on his face. Maybe you saw discomfort. That was the most frequent response that we received. But if you asked the person on your left, they might have said regret or skepticism, and if you asked somebody on your right, they might have said
something entirely different, like hope or empathy. So we are all looking at the very same face again. We might see something entirely different, because perception is subjective. What we think we see is actually filtered through our own mind’s eye. Of course, there are many other examples of how we see the world
through own mind’s eye. I’m going to give you just a few. So dieters, for instance, see apples as larger than people who are not counting calories. Softball players see the ball as smaller if they’ve just come out of a slump, compared to people who had
a hot night at the plate. And actually, our political beliefs also can affect the way we see other people, including politicians. So my research team and I
decided to test this question. In 2008, Barack Obama
was running for president for the very first time, and we surveyed hundreds of Americans one month before the election. What we found in this survey was that some people, some Americans, think photographs like these best reflect how Obama really looks. Of these people, 75 percent voted for Obama in the actual election. Other people, though,
thought photographs like these best reflect how Obama really looks. 89 percent of these people voted for McCain. We presented many photographs of Obama one at a time, so people did not realize
that what we were changing from one photograph to the next was whether we had artificially lightened or darkened his skin tone. So how is that possible? How could it be
that when I look at a person, an object, or an event, I see something very different than somebody else does? Well, the reasons are many, but one reason requires that we understand a little bit more about how our eyes work. So vision scientists know that the amount of information that we can see at any given point in time, what we can focus on,
is actually relatively small. What we can see with great sharpness and clarity and accuracy is the equivalent of the surface area of our thumb on our outstretched arm. Everything else around that is blurry, rendering much of what is presented to our eyes as ambiguous. But we have to clarify and make sense of what it is that we see, and it’s our mind
that helps us fill in that gap. As a result, perception
is a subjective experience, and that’s how we end up seeing through our own mind’s eye. So, I’m a social psychologist, and it’s questions like these that really intrigue me. I am fascinated by those times when people do not see eye to eye. Why is it that somebody might literally see the glass as half full, and somebody literally sees it as half empty? 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? So to begin to tackle these questions, my research team and I
decided to delve deeply into an issue that has received international attention: our health and fitness. Across the world, people are struggling
to manage their weight, and there is a variety of strategies that we have to help us
keep the pounds off. For instance, we set
the best of intentions to exercise after the holidays, but actually, the majority of Americans find that their New Year’s resolutions are broken by Valentine’s Day. We talk to ourselves in very encouraging ways, telling ourselves this is our year to get back into shape, but that is not enough to bring us back to our ideal weight. So why? Of course, there is no simple answer, but one reason, I argue, is that our mind’s eye might work against us. Some people may literally see exercise as more difficult, and some people might literally see exercise as easier. So, as a first step
to testing these questions, we gathered objective measurements of individuals’ physical fitness. We measured the circumference
of their waist, compared to the circumference
of their hips. A higher waist-to-hip ratio is an indicator of being
less physically fit than a lower waist-to-hip ratio. After gathering these measurements, we told our participants that they would walk to a finish line while carrying extra weight in a sort of race. But before they did that, we asked them to estimate the distance to the finish line. We thought that the physical states
of their body might change how they perceived
the distance. So what did we find? Well, waist-to-hip ratio predicted perceptions of distance. People who were out of shape and unfit actually saw the distance
to the finish line as significantly greater than people who were in better shape. People’s states of their own body changed how they perceived
the environment. But so too can our mind. In fact, our bodies and our minds work in tandem to change how we see the world around us. That led us to think that maybe people with strong motivations and strong goals to exercise might actually see
the finish line as closer than people who have weaker motivations. So to test whether motivations affect our perceptual
experiences in this way, we conducted a second study. Again, we gathered objective measurements of people’s physical fitness, measuring the circumference of their waist and the circumference of their hips, and we had them do
a few other tests of fitness. Based on feedback that we gave them, some of our participants told us they’re not motivated
to exercise any more. They felt like they already met
their fitness goals and they weren’t going
to do anything else. These people were not motivated. Other people, though,
based on our feedback, told us they were highly motivated
to exercise. They had a strong goal
to make it to the finish line. But again, before we had them
walk to the finish line, we had them estimate the distance. How far away was the finish line? And again, like the previous study, we found that waist-to-hip ratio predicted perceptions of distance. Unfit individuals saw
the distance as farther, saw the finish line as farther away, than people who were in better shape. Importantly, though, this only happened for people who were not motivated to exercise. On the other hand, people who were highly motivated
to exercise saw the distance as short. Even the most out of shape individuals saw the finish line as just as close, if not slightly closer, than people who were in better shape. So our bodies can change how far away that finish line looks, but 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 actually saw the exercise as easier. That led us to wonder, is there a strategy that we could use and teach people that would help change their perceptions of the distance, help them make exercise look easier? So we turned
to the vision science literature to figure out what should we do, and based on what we read,
we came up with a strategy that we called,
“Keep your eyes on the prize.” So this is not the slogan from an inspirational poster. It’s an actual directive for how to look around your environment. People that we trained in this strategy, we told them to focus their attention
on the finish line, to avoid looking around, to imagine a spotlight was shining on that goal, and that everything around it was blurry and perhaps difficult to see. We thought that this strategy would help make the exercise look easier. We compared this group to a baseline group. To this group we said, just look around the environment as you naturally would. You will notice the finish line, but you might also notice the garbage can off to the right, or the people and the lamp post
off to the left. We thought that people
who used this strategy would see the distance as farther. So what did we find? When we had them estimate the distance, was this strategy successful for changing their perceptual experience? Yes. People who kept their eyes on the prize saw the finish line as 30 percent closer than people who looked around as they naturally would. We thought this was great. We were really excited because it meant that this strategy helped make the exercise look easier, but the big question was, could this help make exercise actually better? Could it improve the quality of exercise as well? So next, we told our participants, you are going to walk to the finish line while wearing extra weight. We added weights to their ankles that amounted to 15 percent
of their body weight. We told them to lift their knees up high and walk to the finish line quickly. We designed this exercise in particular to be moderately challenging but not impossible, like most exercises that actually improve our fitness. So the big question, then: Did keeping your eyes on the prize and narrowly focusing on the finish line change their experience of the exercise? It did. People who kept their eyes on the prize told us afterward that it required 17 percent less exertion for them to do this exercise than people who looked around naturally. It changed their subjective experience of the exercise. It also changed the objective nature of their exercise. People who kept their eyes on the prize actually moved 23 percent faster than people who looked around naturally. To put that in perspective, a 23 percent increase is like trading in
your 1980 Chevy Citation for a 1980 Chevrolet Corvette. We were so excited by this, because this meant that a strategy that costs nothing, that is easy for people to use, regardless of whether they’re in shape or struggling to get there, had a big effect. Keeping your eyes on the prize made the exercise look and feel easier even when people were working harder because they were moving faster. Now, I know there’s more to good health than walking a little bit faster, but keeping your eyes on the prize might be one additional strategy that you can use to help promote a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not convinced yet that we all see the world
through our own mind’s eye, let me leave you with one final example. Here’s a photograph of a beautiful street
in Stockholm, with two cars. The car in the back looks much larger than the car in the front. However, in reality, these cars are the same size, but that’s not how we see it. So does this mean that our eyes have gone haywire and that our brains are a mess? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It’s just how our eyes work. We might see the world in a different way, and sometimes that might not line up with reality, but it doesn’t mean
that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. We all see the world
through our mind’s eye, but we can teach ourselves
to see it differently. So I can think of days that have gone horribly wrong for me. I’m fed up, I’m grumpy, I’m tired, and I’m so behind, and there’s a big black cloud hanging over my head, and on days like these, it looks like everyone around me is down in the dumps too. My colleague at work looks annoyed when I ask for an extension on a deadline, and my friend looks frustrated when I show up late for lunch
because a meeting ran long, and at the end of the day, my husband looks disappointed because I’d rather go to bed
than go to the movies. And on days like these,
when everybody looks upset and angry to me, I try to remind myself that there are
other ways of seeing them. Perhaps my colleague was confused, perhaps my friend was concerned, and perhaps my husband
was feeling empathy instead. So we all see the world through our own mind’s eye, and on some days, it might look like the world is a dangerous and challenging and insurmountable place, but it doesn’t have to look
that way all the time. We can teach ourselves
to see it differently, and when we find a way to make the world look nicer and easier, it might actually become so. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. This seems like common sense…

  2. exercise is easier for younger bodies!! nothing can beat that statement all the rest is BS

  3. If you think about it none of this makes sense. But she does a fantastic job of sounding important. Ironically, there's a Ted Talks about this very thing.

  4. I am going to try this tomorrow when i got out to do the Couchk25k.

  5. very weak correlation in that graph at 6:18

  6. She never did define the prize or the eyes that are on it.

  7. OMG, it was an awseme explanation. We are what we see and focus on it.

  8. Amazing

  9. clicks to find out why I'm lazy
    learns about relative perspective

  10. This talk is click bait.

  11. Wonderful speech

  12. Cute speaker

  13. I was born in America, but I don't live in America. I find their obsession with getting to the finish line really fast rather confusing. I found the "keep your eyes on the prize" example kind of boring. I found the "big picture" to be much more interesting. I like the idea of enjoying the journey. This talk says more about America than it does about the rest of the world. It seemed very foreign to me.

  14. She almost lost me but Made it up at the end. Nice talk.

  15. The entire presentation is not right !

    It's the opposite
    People who can carry weights on their legs and can move 23% faster than the others
    Tends to see the goal nearer !!!!

    It's not seeing the goal nearer that made the different
    It's the confidence that they are capable of doing it

  16. Sarah Palin got Obama elected.

  17. I see constipation on the guy's face in the beginning of the video.. lmao

  18. NOT RECOMMENDED: Taking a drink every time she says "Eyes on the prize". I tried it, and the prize my eyes are currently focusing on is the toilet in my upstairs bathroom.

  19. Quruxleey thanks

  20. 12:12 mind blown!

  21. I'd NEVER set off on a 10 km walk where you can only think of the end.

  22. Her studies are very sloppy

  23. Thought provoking – most people like to park as closely to an entrance as possible, so they don't have to walk as "far" and ignore the fact that they are really only saving a minute or less. And as a fit person who has completed a lot of 5K races, I can vouch for the fact that real finish lines are not as nice, clear, and wide open – unless you are the among the first to cross. Usually it narrows into a chute for one person at a time to get through so the officials can record your number, and having someone else just focused on getting to that finish line at all costs can be downright dangerous and make someone else trip. The unspoken consensus out there is that people think everything is only about themselves, and screw anyone else. Jeez, these local races are not part of the NCAAs or the Olympics where thousands of a second make a difference and racers do get aggressive at that level.

  24. As a relative perspective talk – interesting! As a exercise one / the title… Meh!

  25. Laziness , ….ok great end of discussion.

  26. The statement she made at 6:22 is correlation=causation, and she’s meant to be a scientist?

  27. Focusing on what you're doing actually makes a difference.. what a surprise.

  28. this started out good but deteriorated into one of these circular ted talks about nothing. oh well, at least she cute to look at. I wonder what her exercise program is.

  29. And here I expected a discussion about mitochondrial disorders or at least differences in energy usage in the human body. But no, instead I got a long explanation of how they used weak scientific methods to prove things we all already knew. Still doesn’t explain why some of us hate exercise. I’ll explain: our bodies are not identical. None of us are perfect. Exercise does not feel the same to everyone. Some people have problems with exercise intolerance and their body responds differently to exercise. Some people (like me for example) actually feel weak and even sickly after exercising. Also, the main reason people give up on the “New Years resolution to get fit” by valentines is because they are doing it wrong and get frustrated and feel like failures. They get discouraged and give up. When in reality exercise will not get you “fit” (read – thinner)

  30. Higher waist to hip ratio less healthy? Yet women shaped like sponge bob are more likely to have heart disease?

  31. Who is funding this "research"?

  32. Very good, Wow! = The power of perception.

  33. This talk meandered a lot. And the data seemed misrepresented. She fished for a result in the data she collected.

    And this is only relevant to people that exercise outside. How does one keep her "eyes on the prize" when jogging on a treadmill? Or lifting weights at a gym? She is speaking about a literal finish line, and not the imaginary ones.

  34. So which group had a more accurate perception of the distance to the finish line?

  35. What about powerlifters and strongmen who have higher bodyfat? I don't think they would fit into the hip to waist ratio theory that's presented.

  36. She may not be overweight but she soft af lmao

  37. Basically just have a mantra is the point of her studies

  38. Exercise is harder for unfit people. That's not just perception, that's reality!

  39. That first scatter plot wasn’t very correlated between x and y. I am guessing the others (data not shown) had equally high SD.

  40. This issue goes back to how you were raised. There’s this thing called ambition. Apparently most people do not have it. Exercise is only hard if you’re lazy.

  41. Umm how much of exercise is making it to a literally visible finish line?! Vision is relevant to performance, but exercise?

  42. What makes exercise hard for me is how often I get dizzy, how often I cannot breathe, how my muscles often go weak or hurt.

  43. I don’t feel like the first data presented was worthy of the line of best fit they prescribed. The correlation was quite weak, and a larger sample size would be needed to confirm these results. Also, the hip:weight ratio does not feel like a particularly objective way of measuring fitness. Someone could be skinny, but very unfit. Some people also have naturally narrower hips.

  44. Easiest answer to a question ever.

    Because they're lazier.

  45. I actually loved this

  46. if a white fridge run for the US president it would maybe win over Trump because it would have a higher surface reflectivity.

  47. "keep your eyes on the prize" – I dont know what the prize in my life is supposed to be. Aging? Death?

  48. clicks instantly

  49. Ok

  50. Jeez, she could have just started the intro with perspective and how it literally changes your life, for the good and the better. That's all she needed to say. And then go onto the workout speech. Such a long intro lol

  51. title is a bit misleading

  52. It someone said to me that the guy in the beginning looks hopefull I would probably watch my back around that someone

  53. I always think of the finish line but I hate myself when I exercise

  54. Excercise becomes easier if you imagine someone you love is watching you.

  55. Maybe this is not for everyone but it really made sense to me. I need to focus on the goal, on finishing, that's probably why I don't like running outside and I'd rather run a track. I always wondered why I'd rather do that when scenery is so beautiful. I believe it's because I can literally see the goal/finish line (ex: 10 laps) . Running outside you don't see the finish line, you just keep going and going… everyone is different. Some may be able to run outside and still set a goal (ex: 5 miles) and focus on that. Maybe that could even work for me.. idk. But this makes sense even when applied to academics, sometimes the thought of taking more classes keeps me from applying! I'm sure keeping our eyes on the prize works! Phillipians 3:14.

  56. Any looking at trauma… Gabor Maté md and ACEs study. Traumatic childhood experiences can effect brain. There is so much more to it… “it’s just how our eyes work” too simple.

  57. So uh… How can I use this strategy in long terms? Where is that big finish lable when I need to do 100 squats 3 times a week? Where to keep my eyes on?

  58. I saw the "darker" pictures of Obama as more accurate, not because his skin was darker, but because the light pictures were over lit. Just look at the blown out level of Obama's forehead. For me it was about proper lighting, not skin tone. She is assuming the test subjects where focusing on the skin.

  59. Perception does not come from the "mental body" or the mind, its the interior soul (astral body) and emotional body. "Perspective" comes from the mind's eye / mental body. Subjective is according to the persons own lack of consciousness, the more one is conscious (less mind, more soul), the more accurate in what they see which is not subjective. Its the roaring 2020s time to learn something more advanced.

  60. Didn't watch the vid, I'm just commenting directly from the title……..because they are bitches

  61. what a waste that 90% of "scientists" and "research" is done on useless or obvious things. Just to get the salary. And research now is interviews and surveys – this is statistics guys not a research.

  62. Who is paying this person to conduct "scientific" research?

  63. When I read that people with adhd tend to see neutral faces as negative and positive faces as neutral and that depression worsens this effect, my anxiety around other peoples emotions lessened. I frequently remind myself, during bad spells, that I'm likely processing their expressions incorrectly and if they do actually feel negative, it isn't up to me to just figure it out–they can tell me and we can communicate.

  64. Exercise is torture unless I can distract myself with music on my ipod, a show while I'm on the treadmill, or interesting scenery or chatting with a friend on a walk. Her examples don't translate to real life. Also, she asserts that hip/waist ratios control our perceptions. She has not proven causality, only correlation.

  65. Cuz they weak

  66. BORING presentation. Useless presenter. She is so unprepared to speak to the audience. All overtly rehearsed.

  67. Exercise is great for heart health, and happiness, but diet is 10 times more important to weight loss than exercise.

  68. did it actually do that, it is actually crazy

  69. at 2:56 its a brighter smile that did it not skin colour

  70. Eyes on the prize basicaly means keep your focus on the goal or the result. So u wouldn't b distracted easily. And i actually did find it helpful.

  71. Uh that graph at 6:28 is practically meaningless I mean come on, the spread of data is absolutely massive! There can't have been enough subjects to make those results significant – and if there were it can't have been by a huge margin

  72. I hope your not a scientist, cause if this is considered science, than we have a real problem.

  73. I like how she stated, People who are unfit saw the distance to the finish line as significantly greater than those who were in better shape, yet proceeds to show a sparatic graph with with only slight change in frequency of perception to prove her hypothesis. Clearly the graph shows that even people in good shape saw the distance as far and vice versa. Ironically, some of the most out of shape people percieved the distance to be much less than those who were in great shape by her standards. What a horribly done experiment. This is an example of what is wrong with our education system, people pulling information and data out of thin air and form fitting the data to support their statement. True science is unbiased.

    This disgusts me

  74. Theory; this talk is so generally bad because Emily is secretly trying to tell us all that there is no scientific reason for why some people exercise and others don't aside from laziness or injury.

  75. People who kill themselves trying to reach unattainable things are the best hamsters 🐹 to get money from. Slaves to ego

  76. See the world differently, like those people who have a permanent smile no matter what 😀. Maybe they know something we don’t

  77. anyone else here to find another excuse not to exercise?

  78. Never liked exercise. Even as a child. Has nothing to do with weight. Poorly conducted experiment.

  79. Waist to hip ratios is so extremely unobjective I dont trust any of this pseudo science

  80. Maybe fatter people see the distance as farther away because it's physically more difficult for them to get there? The video mentions them carrying weights – well, an overweight person is carrying extra weight around all the time. It must be exhausting. Importantly though – overweight doesn't mean unfit, and thin doesn't mean fit. It seems other methods of measuring fitness would be in order.

  81. False conclusione at thevery beginning. ''Hip to waste ratio predicted the perception of the distance' (..) people's states of their own body's changed how they perceive the environment' ok. OR people with lower hips to waist ratio are more likely to have already worked out in the past. Therefore more likely to already had done the excercice. Therefore having more experience to accurately estimate the distance. There goes all your theory.

  82. i can never hear "eyes on the prize" ever again

  83. I imagined this was saying W H A T ????

  84. I have Stargardt's disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration that began when I was 8 years old. I have a blind spot in the center of my field of vision, so the blurry periphery is the only thing I can see. I wonder how this affects how I see exercise, and if there is a non visual way to focus on the prize that would have the same affects.

  85. This is why I hate social science. She did not state any of the outliers as in people who solely focused on the finish line and still saw it as far and or people who did not just focus on the finish line and thought it was closer. How did you calculate 30% closer was it from the 10 people who said yeah it looks so close. Like I can already say I did not take this study seriously.

  86. It's all about interest.. we put our time in stuff we find to most important to us… that's why there are gyms popping up every where nowadays..

    FACEBOOK/INSTAGRAM/TWITTER… all this… making people insecure and getting bullied.

  87. tbh my initial reaction to that first face was "constipation". that's the same face babies make when they are pushing turds and everyone thinks the baby is having its first smile but it ain't. lol

  88. A TED-talk about how throw open doors open …

  89. I enjoy a run much more and run for more time when i distract my mind (look around, hear music, think random staff) but i do go slower. I prefer to be distracted as a result.

  90. damn racists…

  91. which group had the most accurate estimate for the distance?
    the group who didn't focus on surrounding objects?
    or the group which did?

    it is possible that the ones who didn't, had an unrealistic impression of how big a "finish line" banner actually is, causing them to underestimate the distance, whereas the group who were allowed to focus on the regular, everyday surrounding objects had a more informed sense of scale. They could have used an unusually small "finish line" banner to make the one group think the distance was shorter than it actually was.

  92. This is actually really fascinating. To me it says that finding your motivation before you start working toward a goal is a key component of success. Thanks!

  93. This was a disappointing Ted talk. She seemed to fit the data to her theory. I have a problem with the waist to hip ratio being a sound measure. It's about as effective as BMI – works generally but not foolproof. My hour glasses shaped mother in law has a very low waist to hip ratio but cannot even make it up a flight of stairs without being winded. My rectangle shaped sister with a high waist to hip ratio runs marathons in less than 4 hours.

  94. People that are less healthy, ie dont regularly exercise, are going to see the finish line as further away. Simply because it's harder work because muscles fatigue quicker in an unhealthy person…..duh

  95. 13:18 "go to the movies" jk this was a great talk thank you

  96. hmmm. Waist-to-hip-ratio reflects physical fitness. By that definition Brian Shaw (wordlclass athlete) would be unfit. Interesting. XD

  97. An unfit person sees the distance as longer, because it is. It is more difficult and takes probable more time to get there, as a longer distance would. So perception is maybe not exact in measure but it is exact in effort.
    About focus on the goal: such a shame when you don't see your surroundings when reaching for your goals. I think that is a waste of your entire life.

  98. A hip to waist ratio isnt a good way to determine fitness. Genetics factor in, too. Just because a person is naturally skinny doesnt mean they are more fit than anyone else. Actual fitness should have been determined by a metric like "those who walked a longer distance".

  99. Well, not every TED talk is good

  100. you didn't lighten his skin tone you lightened the whole photograph.

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