Cognitive fatigue is subjective to each individual person, yet has a common ground amongst everyone. This commonality is the decline in our overall performance when you are highly stressed or an activity happens over an extended period of time. Our mind and body start to show emotional instability and moods become altered, which translates into sluggishness, constantly tired, negative affect, and animosity towards tasks or goals.
These characteristics are brutal towards the individual attempting to be prosperous. When the above symptoms start to show, what do you do? Normally our society states that you need to push through it, hide it, and get over it. So you tuck these thoughts and emotions away, in what you think is a deep spot of our mind. If you continue to do this behavior, the fatigue will continue to build. As it builds, the next time a person comes across a task, or a memory that represents what they are avoiding/hiding, one will find themselves sliding quickly back into the cognitive fatigue mindset. You identified some common signs and symptoms of cognitive fatigue, as well as the commonality in which you as a society handle it. So how does cognitive fatigue set in and what does it do to us mentally.
Our mind is a fickle thing. When you perceive a task as being strenuous you start to enter cognitive fatigue. While entering this stage you start to feel fatigued, tired, and emotionally drained, however the changes in our body are a raised heart rate and blood lactate (increase of lactic acid in our blood stream)(MacMahon, Schucker, Hagemann &Strauss, 2014). Meaning what you perceive as a higher level of effort in work or athletics is purely mental. When cognitive fatigue controls our mentality, our thoughts also start to change. Meaning that what you see as difficult currently might be viewed as an impossible task later down the road. Enjoyment disappears task becomes a grudge to accomplish as you feel you no longer receive anything out of that task. The scary part is that when you are put in this position you feel the only fix is to jump to and from programs, different careers, and/or relationships (to name a few). People think that a change of scenery/pace will fix the slump they are in. When what they truly need to focus on is their own mentality and how to handle fatigue.
The longer cognitive fatigue sets in, the more your focus starts to be brought internal. Your focuses shift from the barbell, to your breathing or what you are thinking. Physical senses start to govern your awareness and performance. Pain and disappointment easily creep in. This is where it can get tricky, as without proper understanding of how to control this internal shift, the focus of pain and disappointment will control your sessions. Focus will continue to jump from one negative aspect to the next, furthering the cognitive dissonance with-in your body. Since internal stimuli are an important part of being human, it is important to use that stimuli and restructure it so one can break through the cognitive fatigue.
So how do you break this cycle? Well, it is different for everyone, and the easy answer is to not lose sight of the “fun”. The long answer involves two parts. The first is changing how you view yourself and your sport/career. Ask yourself what are you trying to achieve and how you are going about achieving it. If you can answer the first part but cannot answer the how, then you are going about it the wrong way. No wonder you are fatigued. Lets revisit the goal you are trying to achieve. Break it down. Good, now break it down again and again, until you can look at it and the simplicity takes over and you do not have to explain any of the steps to yourself. Now pick one of these new perspectives and get started.
The second is learning how to identify what your internal stimuli are. When you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts, write them down. For each negative thought you show, write down three positives. This is the easiest reprograming you can do. The only stipulation, stick with it.