How  Watch Complications Can Get Smarter


You are a top surgeon. Your steady hands move surgical instruments with precision in stressful situations. What skill do you most want in the person who assists you in the operating room?

Surely their ability to anticipate your needs is at the top of the list. An assistant who hands you the correct instrument when asked is useful. But one who hands you the correct instrument before you ask is invaluable.

Smart Complications Know When They Are Useful

Unlike a surgical assistant, the Apple Watch probably won’t save a life. But what a tremendous improvement if it could anticipate your needs.

That’s where Smart Complications come in. On mechanical watches a complication was any information shown other than the time. They were often shown on smaller “sub-dials” on the watch face.

Today complications on the Apple Watch are far more capable. They are immediately visible when you raise your wrist. They show up-to-date information like temperature, sports scores, or your next appointment.

Heres my watch face with the complications highlighted.
I have highlighted the four complications. Clockwise from top left:sunrise/sunet, weather, date, and activity.

There are lots of complications from which you can choose. Up to 5 of them can be used at a time. The visible complications are static for each watch face.

It’s time for complications to get smarter. The Watch should know which complications are most relevant to the user at a given time. It could then hide less important complications and show more useful ones. The user’s location, habits, time of day, or other context would control this.

In some cases, very little “intelligence” could go a long way. Imagine a user is running a timer. The Watch might show the Timer complication instead of the Moon Phase until the timer is done.

There are many other great examples of Smart Complications. Imagine how useful these things would be:

  • Calendar complication displays before an impending meeting
  • Flight status complication appears when you arrive at the airport
  • A “Commuter’s complication” like ETA displays right before you usually leave work.
  • If you have almost hit your Move goal, the Activity complication might show up to motivate you.
  • When the Apple Watch battery gets low, the Battery complication shows.
  • A complication that tells which way to turn for walking navigation.
  • When sunset is approaching show the sunset complication.
  • Sports scores appear only during the game and immediately after.
  • A complication that shows the number of unread iMessages or emails when there are some.
  • Complications triggered to become visible by proximity to Bluetooth devices. I imagine a Starbucks complication displays when near a Starbucks. Or maybe a complication for launching the Remote app when you are close to your Apple TV.


Not Invented Here

I did not create the idea for Smart Complications. I saw a thread on Reddit describing “Live Complications” along with a few examples. Somebody named “Jeff” submitted a Radar to Apple requesting this feature and dubbed it “Smart Complications.”

It struck me as an excellent and feasible idea.

How Would They Work?

Users would no longer just choose the complications they want to see. They would rank all complications in order of importance. One possible ranking could be “never show this.”

Each complication has a several triggers from which a user can choose. When the trigger action occurs watchOS would know that the complication “wants” to be displayed on the watch face.

Some complications may support user-defined trigger actions. A sports ticker could be set so that it is only important if a specific team is playing. A calendar complication could be unimportant when the user has no appointments.

User rankings would let watchOS arbitrate conflicts between complications. Imagine a timer is running when the Watch battery is almost dead both of which are trigger actions for their respective complications. Both the Timer and Battery complications want to appear. WatchOS defers to the user’s ordering to know what to display.

Changing visible complications might be disorienting for the user. Their top 2 complications should never get trumped by others. On most watch faces 2 complications would remain for smart changing.

Or watchOS could give the user the choice to “pin” some complications to a watch face so they don’t change. Most users will always want temperature and date to be visible for instance.

For a system like this to work well, complications would need to do two things.
1. If a complication knows in advance when it will be important it should tell watchOS. Then it won’t be fetching data all the time to check its importance.
2. Some complications can’t know in advance when they will be important. Those will need to refresh their data more often than they can today.

There are two remaining details to address.

How Would Smart Complications Work With Time Travel?

Some complications know when they will become important. Those could display when time travelling into the future if they are not superceded by others.

Other complications have non-deterministic importance. They won’t be shown when going through the future timeline. But they do display when time travelling to the past.

What If the Wrong Complication Disappears?

Let’s say a user wants to check a stock price when there’s a running timer and a dead Watch battery. The Timer and Battery complications take precedence over the Stocks complication. The Stocks complication is not visible.

In that case, a tap on the watch face cyles through complications that aren’t on screen. It will take several taps to cycle through all complications and return to the automatic ones.


There are many marketing names Apple could use to describe this sort of feature. Here are a few possibilities that I have seen or brainstormed:

  • Smart Complications
  • Live Complications
  • Proactive Complications
  • Contextual Complications
  • Prioritized Complications

The Apple Watch has tons of room for improvement. But complications are one of its most esteemed features. Information on the wrist reduces distraction for users. Glancing at the watch is effortless compared to fishing through a pocket or purse for the phone.

Complications get checked many times every day so their value accumulates rapidly. Apple knows this, so I think the Watch will soon predict which complications are useful to you.

I predict something like Smart Complications in watchOS 3.


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How the  Watch Should Copy Restroom Faucets.


By Josh Adams

Picture this: you’re about to wash your hands in a public restroom. You approach the sink briskly, eager to escape to the outside world. Then you notice the faucet. It lacks handles, knobs, or buttons. Nor is there the rare foot pedal beneath the sink. What do you do next?

If you’re like most of us, the lack of visible controls tells you that the faucet is touchless. An infrared sensor turns it on and off. You mutter a prayer to find the sweet spot where the faucet will turn on as you thrust your hands down into sink.

Your hands purified and dripping water, you turn to the hand towel dispenser. There is no paper towel protruding from it to grasp. There is no crank or button. You realize that this device is also touchless.

In a hurry, you wave your hands through the air below the dispenser. Today fortune smiles on you. Your ceremony induces the paper towel gods to reward the sacrifice of your dignity.

Now, ask yourself a question. Would you have even tried hand waving if the faucet also had knobs and the towel dispenser also had a crank? Of course not. It was the utter lack of affordances in both cases that suggested touchless use.

An affordance is when an object’s appearance suggests its intended use. The shape of a knob on a faucet invites a human hand to twist it. A paper towel dispenser with a crank begs you to rotate it.

A hypothetical hybrid faucet with knobs and a sensor would be a user experience failure. Sure, some restroom fixtures have visible sensors. But even the most ardent germaphobe won’t look past the obvious knobs to notice the sensors. That’s the power of affordances.

Thus a typical restroom fixture doesn’t have some controls with affordances and some without. The controls without affordances would not be noticed. Unfortunately the  Watch is like that imaginary hybrid faucet.

The  Watch has a physical side button that users know they can press. It has the Digital Crown which users know they can spin or press. The Watch screen displays virtual buttons and icons that users know to tap. The problem is the Force Touch gesture.

Force Touch on the  Watch is remarkable. A hard press performed anywhere on the screen brings up context-specific options. Apple has masterfully integrated the gesture with haptic feedback that makes it delightful.

Here’s the Force Touch screen for an individual email in the Mail app.

Yet there is no visual cue that a certain screen will respond to a Force Touch. There are many other physical and virtual controls on the Watch with clear affordances. This relegates Force Touch to a last resort–if it isn’t forgotten altogether.

After the user has failed to perform a task with the obvious controls they may remember to try Force Touch. Sophisticated users might even have a procedure of trying Force Touch on every screen. There is a “flex and bounce back” animation shown when a screen that doesn’t support it is Force Touched.

Worse still is inconsistent app support for Force Touch. Some apps have no Force Touch support at all. Other apps, like Mail, support Force Touch for a non-obvious subset of screens.

I am always discovering Force Touch functionality that I didn’t know about. And I am an advanced user. I didn’t know that Force Touching a text snippet in Messages would let you choose other languages. I also found that Force Touching the 3D emoji in Messages would change their color.

A Force Touch Icon?

How can a screen show that it handles Force Touch? The easy thing would be showing another colored dot at the top of the screen like the red notifications dot. Or adding an icon that represents Force Touch like the “can’t connect to iPhone” icon that exists now.

The problem is lack of screen real estate. App names, headers, and navigational buttons are already at the top of the Watch screen. There just isn’t any extra room. The afore-mentioned “can’t connect to iPhone icon ” is already too small to distinguish. A good solution needs to not further clutter the tiny screen or cause eye strain.

Tiny Red "Cant Conmect to iPhone icon
The “Can’t connect to iPhone” icon is too small.

Force Touch Dissected

Before I pitch my solution, I must first describe how the user experiences Force Touch.

Executing a Force Touch creates a well-choreographed illusion. It looks like the screen moves down from the display surface and gets covered by a new layer of content. The user pushes hard on the Watch display. The screen content gets smaller as its edges animate inward from the display’s edges. It seems to be moving downward and away from the surface of the Watch display.

Next, the Force Touch buttons come in from the edges of the Watch display and move toward the center. They cover the original screen. The Force Touch screen has transparency so that a blurry hint of the previous screen can seep through. This adds to the user’s perception that the original screen is just beneath the Force Touch view.

Haptic feedback enhances the effect. It makes it feel like your finger pushed the screen content down from the display surface. This vibration affects the wrist and the finger.

Transitional Animation With Haptic Feedback

Here’s how I think Force Touch discoverability can improve.

A screen tells the user that it responds to Force Touch when it first appears. It does this by animating toward the apparent surface of the Watch display from a distance to remind the user that it can move along the z-axis. Simultaneous haptic vibration makes it echo the user’s experience of performing a Force Touch.

The screen animation would look like a partial Force Touch animation in reverse. The haptic vibration would likely be identical to that of a Force Touch.

Here’s a standard app launch. Contrast that with this:

Keep in mind that there would also be accompanying haptic feedback to make the user recall Force Touch.

This whole process needs to be snappy or it will annoy users. It must also be precisely executed to summon the user’s memory of the Force Touch illusion. It will be easy to get wrong. Anything less than a perfect implementation would strip the meaning for the user. But I believe Apple’s deep talent can pull it off.

This sort of cue won’t solve Force Touch discoverability for everyone. If the user doesn’t know what a Force Touch is, or has never seen it, then it will be useless.


Here are some typical objections to my proposal.

Force Touch is like a right click on a computer. Right-clicking is a convention that doesn’t need visual cues.

The problem is that Force Touch isn’t exactly like the context menu from a right mouse click. On a Mac or PC a right click doesn’t have any on-screen visual indicator. But a right-click is almost always one of several ways to get at functionality. The classic example is cut/copy/paste.

Sure, you can right click on selected text to do those things, but there are also menu or toolbar items for them. Not so on the  Watch. Often a Force Touch is the only way to do something.

This is particularly egregious when that task is the sole reason for the app’s existence. The Alarms app only allows new alarm creation via a Force Touch.

This proposal wouldn’t work with 3D Touch on the iPhone, so don’t do it on the  Watch.

True, this doesn’t make sense on the iPhone. Yet, I don’t think this is a good reason to avoid this idea on the Watch.

Force Touch and 3D Touch are quite similar and use the same technology but there is a key difference. Force Touch brings up the same options no matter where on the screen the user applies pressure. But with 3D Touch the screen location where the user presses matters.

On the iPhone there are conventions around the types of content that can be 3D Touched. App icons and links often react to a hard press. There is less need to call visual attention to this on iOS.

Both “hard press” gestures already diverge in ways appropriate for their platform. My proposal is in keeping with that.

In watchOS 2 haptic feedback is always accompanied with audio playing. A sound effect playing on a screen launch is annoying.

Indeed, Apple has constrained the use of haptic feedback in watchOS 2. Developers must choose from predefined haptic patterns bundled with sound. Apple has also carefully articulated the circumstances for each haptic’s use.

Fortunately, I don’t see this as a problem for my proposed solution. This solution would exist in watchOS itself. That would allow uniform transitional animations and haptic feedback with no developer effort.

There are already at least two places where watchOS plays haptic feedback without audio. Force Touching the Watch face and long pressing the Digital Crown produce silent taps. So a built-in haptic cue for Force Touch needs no link to a sound effect.

A “reverse Force Touch animation” works fine for the initial screen of an app that is launched. But what about navigations within an app that slide in from the rightmost edge of the screen?

On the Watch a forward navigation slides the screen off to the left exposing the new screen below it. This can be tweaked to be in keeping with the sort of animation I have already shown.

More challenging would be the animation to navigate back. I lack the animation chops and tooling to put together a great demo animation of this. I see no reason why the previous screen can’t slide in from the left and move “up” to the surface.

I’m open to the fact that I could be wrong on this point.


Force Touch is an excellent way to provide more options within an app that is running on a miniature screen. Apple’s superb execution makes it an exceptional solution for the diminutive Watch platform. It delights users.

Making Force Touch more obvious is its biggest area for improvement. It’s time to stop having actions without visual cues mixed with actions that have clear cues. Force Touch needs an affordance so it will be easily recalled.

The Watch display has no more free space. Thus a transitional animation and haptic would be a nice cue to the user that a screen responds to a Force Touch. It’s time for the  Watch to have consistent visual affordances–like most restroom fixtures.

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How Siri Can Get Your iPhone Battery To Last 38% Longer


By Josh Adams

When your iPhone battery dies it’s like having flashbacks to 2006. Nobody wants that. It’s been happening to my 16 month old iPhone 6 constantly. Charging it during the day gets annoying real fast.

I refuse to festoon my iPhone like some 21st century pocket-dwelling Quasimodo with the $99 Apple Smart Battery Case. Honestly I am not making this up, this is a real Apple-made product:

Apple Smart Battery Case

Bulky third party battery cases are also unappealing. The very existence of this type of hardware proves that iPhone battery life is a common problem.

This is how quickly my iPhone battery seems to drain!

So I experimented with Low Power Mode, an option added to the Apple Settings app in iOS 9 (on iPhones only, sorry iPad users!).

Low Power Mode is no great secret. The mere fact that you have read this far means you have likely seen the alert asking if you want to turn Low Power Mode on. It is first shown when your iPhone battery hits 20%. It will reappear if your battery continues to drain without turning it on.

Low Power Mode alert
This is the Low Power Mode alert

With Low Power Mode turned on animation is reduced and apps that request data in the background are restricted. Other features like “Hey Siri” with an unplugged iPhone (on the 6S and 6S+) are also turned off.

Low Power Mode Disclaimer
The warning you get the first time you turn Low Power Mode on.

But the key is that your iPhone still works. You will still get iMessages, app notifications, and emails. Phone calls work fine too (if you’re into using your iPhone for that sort of thing!) Bluetooth devices stay connected. Low Power Mode doesn’t save battery by totally disconnecting your iPhone like the oft-used trick of turning on Airplane Mode.

Apple clearly intends this feature as a stop gap in exceptional situations. It exists to keep your iPhone operational until you can charge it. After it is charged back up to 80%, Low Power Mode is automatically turned back off.

The Trick

Here’s the technique I have been using:

Don’t wait until your battery is low to turn on Low Power Mode. Turn it on when your battery is at 100% and it will last much longer. –TWEET THIS

You can even set yourself a daily reminder to turn Low Power Mode on every morning if necessary.

I have been doing this for several weeks now and am greatly pleased with the improved battery life. It feels almost like I have turned back the clock and have a brand new iPhone battery.

I knew that I probably wasn’t the first person to try it. I googled “Low Power Mode all the time” and discovered that Matt Birchler over at BiteSize Tech had examined this technique in detail. He spent serious effort measuring the power savings and figured that it increased battery life by up to 38%.

In practice I get an extra 1–2 hours of active use per day.


The obvious way to turn on Low Power Mode is to go to Settings -> Battery and toggling the Low Power Mode switch.

The easy way to turn it on is to tell Siri to turn on Low Power Mode.

You can tell at a glance whether Low Power Mode is enabled by the color that is filling the battery in your iPhone status bar. When Low Power Mode is on, it turns yellow.

Notice how the inside of the battery turns yellow when Low Power Mode is on. Thats the easiest way to tell if it is on.
Notice how the color inside the battery turned yellow, indicating that Low Power Mode is on.

There is nothing you can do to prevent Low Power Mode from being turned off once your iPhone hits an 80% charge. However, you get a notification that Low Power Mode is off when that happens. You can then swipe left on the notification from the lock screen to reveal an “Enable Low Power Mode” button. Tapping that turns it on directly from the lock screen.

Re-enabling Low Power Mode from the Lock Screen.

I have had no problems with missing notifications of iMessages or email with Low Power Mode on. Your mileage may vary. It may depend on your backend service for email.


Apple doubtless would not favor this method. Their recommendation would be to turn off background fetch and location services for offending apps by finding the offenders in Settings -> Battery. They are probably right that that’s the best way.

However Low Power mode also turns down your processor power and does some other power-saving tweaks. Plus it has the benefit of being controlled by a single switch and requiring no trial and error.

I am quite sure their second recommendation would be to try a battery case or buy the enormous iPhone 6S+ which has a bigger battery that lasts longer.

But if you want something quick and easy to try, this just might work.

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How To Tell If You Should Get An  Watch [Infographic]


By Josh Adams

The Apple Watch is polarizing. Most people find wearing a miniature computer on their wrist either invaluable or insufferable. I can’t blame them for not wanting to spend $350+ to find the answer.

So what do they do? Ask their tech-savvy friends, of course. So, yeah, that’d be me.

I grew weary of repeating my thoughts on the Apple Watch after interrogating friends on their iPhone usage and lifestyle. So I made a flowchart that shows normal people if they should get one.

In case you don’t look at the chart, here’s my single pithy tip about your suitability for an Apple Watch:

The top sign that you might like an Apple Watch is if you want to be connected but not distracted. — Tweet This.

Bernard Desarnauts tweeted a similar thought based on some research from his company, Wristly, the other day:

Here it is. Please share this post with all the wannabe Apple Watch owners in your life.


How Your iOS App Screams That You Don’t Care About Your Users

How Your iOS App Screams That You Don’t Care About Your Users

By Josh Adams

Why do you hold your app’s users in contempt? A charitable interpretation would be that you just don’t think about them. Yeah, I’m talking to you, “Developer of an iOS app that doesn’t support Touch ID in 2016.”

So your app has a login but no Touch ID support. That shouts to the world that you don’t value your users’ time or security. It is truly egregious if your app has sensitive data or short sessions.

For example, a banking app should be a top candidate for using Touch ID. Yet there are a couple of big players here in the States that don’t support it. I don’t want to engage in “missing feature shaming” but they rhyme with “US Tank” and “Bells Largo.” Those apps are really just the tip of the iceberg.

It is painful to use punctuation, numbers, and symbols on iOS keyboards. The more often the user needs type to a password, the fewer of those characters they will use. They will do the minimum to meet your server-side password requirements. Many passwords like “Spork111!” will be chosen.

If you adopt Touch ID, your users won’t key in passwords as often. They just might choose something more secure. Most won’t. But please follow this basic UX principle:

Don’t make it harder than it needs to be for your users to do the right thing.

Ignoring Touch ID is making your app a poor iOS citizen. Touch ID has been around since the iPhone 5S hit the market in September 2013. It has been on all subsequent iPhones except the 5C. Even the iPad has Touch ID on the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3–4, and the gargantuan iPad Pro. A large percentage of your iOS user base can conveniently authenticate with their fingerprint. Let them do it.

The Local Authentication framework that validates the fingerprint is trivial to implement. Yes, you will have to use the iOS Keychain API to securely store server side credentials. But you’re a professional. You can figure that out. For goodness’ sake there’s a Ray Wenderlich tutorial on it!

Failing to adopt Touch ID is bad enough. Almost as inexcusable is if your app also doesn’t implement iOS 9 multitasking. Thus, security-minded users are unable to put their iPads into split screen with 1Password and your app. Instead they have to copy and paste passwords while bouncing between apps, like an animal that uses an iPad running iOS 8.

I know from personal experience that supporting multitasking will typically require adopting Auto Layout to make the entire app usable in all size classes. That can be a big job. No budget for that? OK, so at least implement the 1Password Extension! That would let your users who value their security to have a measure of convenience.

More importantly it would respect their time and their data.

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Your Own Brain Is Making You Run Slowly And What You Can Do About It

No matter how serious a runner you may be, you don’t give 100% on your runs. Your unconscious brain is keeping your body from hurting itself, and preventing you from reaching your physical limit. Science has good evidence that this is how fatigue occurs in endurance sports.

Mental calculation

Fatigue is a Mental Calculation

Exercise science used to advocate peripheral fatigue theory. This states that you decrease your physical exertion when your muscles get tired. But it has problems. The biggest is that as runners approach the finish line they are often able to produce a burst of additional speed to cross it. This is observed in races of 800 meters or longer. It doesn’t jibe with peripheral fatigue because if their muscles were exhausted then proximity to the finish line wouldn’t affect their performance.

In the 1990s an exercise scientist named Tim Noakes overthrew the prevailing wisdom. He posited the central governor theory of fatigue. The idea is that your brain unconsciously regulates exercise performance. It attempts to prevent exertion-caused damage to your body. It makes calculations about how fast and far you can safely run.

The term “central governor” has fallen from favor since there is not one single physical area in your brain that is responsible for this effect. The preferred name is now anticipatory regulation of fatigue though it is sometimes referred to as teleoanticipation or psychobiological model of fatigue. The idea remains the same.

As you start to approach this mentally-imposed performance limit your brain makes you feel awful. Each moment seems an unbearable eternity. Excuses for stopping come readily to mind. You will slow down well before the physical need arrives. This is often seen to be true because after running stops it can be resumed with even greater intensity almost immediately. The “need” to stop was a mirage. While you are experiencing this agony your brain will decrease your muscle activation against your will. So willpower can’t override anticipatory regulation.

Your brain is an amazing effort calculator. There are many inputs to the calculations, including the distance yet to be run, heart rate, oxygen consumption, lactate threshold, core body temperature, muscle fatigue, and so on. Thus it’s not accurate to say that fatigue is only mental, clearly the body is an input. The brain seems to combine all of these factors into a single value that becomes the best predictor of athletic performance: the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). In short, the more effort you feel you are exerting, the shorter the time your brain will allow you to maintain that pace.

Slow down!

Don’t just take it from me. Some of the best evidence for the brain’s role in endurance involves studies of muscle contractions. Exercise scientists have compared quadriceps contractions controlled by the brain versus external magnetic stimulation. They measure the force of muscle tightening in an individual by both methods before and after exercise on a stationary bike. This allows them to compare the physical and mental contributions to fatigue. In a rested state the external stimulation produced contractions 17% stronger than the voluntary ones. But when fatigued the magnetically-caused contractions were 29% stronger than the normal contractions. The brain is clearly unable to fully use the muscles as fatigue occurs.


The worst part is that your brain’s anticipatory regulation system will slow you down before the physiological fatigue starts. This has been shown in studies with subjects on stationary bicycles in hot rooms. The riders would slow their pace down from the very beginning, before their muscles were fatigued and before their core body temperature approached the safety limit of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). Interestingly, hot rooms with thermostats that were tampered with to give cooler readings do not see this effect to the same extent.

Your brain’s anticipatory regulation can be manipulated in other ways too. It’s been shown that merely rinsing your mouth with sugar water without swallowing it gives your brain the sensation that it has more fuel. Your brain in turn allows the body more effort. Likewise feelings of anger, the act of physically smiling (as opposed to the facial contortions of suffering), swearing, and false information about the duration of exercise can result in the brain allowing the body to push itself harder. Also it appears that certain drugs, such as Wellbutrin or acetaminophen (AKA Tyelonol) can effect anticipatory regulation.

Even performing mentally tiring tasks before a run causes worse performance due to mental fatigue. Subliminal messaging on-screen while cyclists performed “time to failure” trials on stationary bikes has shown that riders shown happy faces or “action words” can exercise for longer than those shown sad faces or “inaction words”. Brazilian researches have shown the same thing with weak electric currents being applied to certain brain regions, creating a 4% improvement in time trials.

What Can You Do About It?

All of this goes to show that endurance has a huge mental component. Perceptions, feelings, and beliefs matter for athletic performance. The question is, how should this knowledge affect the way in which you train? Fortunately, this has been written about more deeply by more accomplished athletes than myself. Matt Fitzgerald in his books, How Bad Do You Want It and RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running By Feel and [Alex Hutchinson]( science) in his book Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights and Sweat Science blog on Runners World are great resources. They have both done an excellent job of digesting the technical scientific research of others and explaining it in a way that a layperson can understand. What follows are some of their thoughts. In fact, this entire post I owe to their work.

  • Train yourself to better withstand suffering. You should be pushing yourself hard enough on some training runs to experience serious suffering. In fact, experiencing as much misery as you expect to feel during your race is the goal. Exposure to this misery will increase your tolerance for it. This gradually gives your anticipatory regulation system a new baseline for perceived effort. Not only that but it allows you opportunities to develop strategies for coping with discomfort.
  • Make your performance personally significant. The more important an event is to you the more agony you will be willing to endure. Carefully choose some key races and workouts and elevate their significance. People can almost always run faster in races than they can in training because they are seen as the culmination of all their hard work.
  • Set concrete performance goals. Having clear goals can also increase your capacity to exert yourself. As Fitzgerald points out, “There is no such thing as exercising as hard as you can.” Goals can create an anchoring effect for your brain to take into account with its calculations.
  • Get real time performance feedback. On days where you are running faster than expected you can see your good time and use it to spur yourself onward to a PR. Matt Fitzgerald gives a great example of a demonstration he gave at a CrossFit presentation. He asked an attendee to hold a dumbbell at shoulder height with arm extended for as long as possible while Matt silently timed him. Then Matt had him do the same thing with his non-dominant arm. This time he told him the duration of the first attempt and he updated him on his elapsed time. With the real time feedback he held the dumbbell up much longer.
  • Assess your mental toughness after runs. Did you ever go slower than necessary to reduce suffering? Write this down in journal or spreadsheet and monitor it over time. The power of writing things down cannot be overstated.
  • Perform in front of an audience and compete with other runners when training. Studies have shown that both an audience and the appropriate level of competition affect athletic performance. Since the presence of spectators or other athletes doesn’t cause physiological changes, this is obviously a mental hack.
  • Learn to find enjoyment in tough runs that result in improved performance. Steadily getting better at something through hard work can be enjoyable despite the self-torture. It is important to realize that suffering and fun can happen together. People are willing to exert themselves more at things they enjoy doing. Enjoyment makes misery itself more tolerable as has been shown in studies involving exercising mice and chocolate.
  • Perform mental exercises before going on a training run. This can help train you to handle mental fatigue during endurance exercise without having to add the wear and tear to your body in order to induce that mental fatigue. This often involves 90 minutes of tedious mental attention on computers.
  • Brace yourself for pain during runs. Sometimes athletes look beyond their next race toward other goals and expect to breeze through what is thought to be a routine outing. When they encounter greater than expected suffering this can cause them to have reduced tolerance for it.


To improve at running you need to train your body and mind. Even though fatigue is largely controlled by the brain you cannot override your anticipatory regulation by willpower or a “mind over matter” approach. That’s because anticipatory regulation is an unconscious process. Instead, you can gradually teach your brain what your body is safely capable of doing through deliberately training to suffer.


If you have already tried out some of these ideas I would love to have you comment on how they worked for you. If you are interested in implementing some of these techniques I would love ve to hear how that works out. Maybe you think all this stuff is irrelevant hogwash. That’s fine, I want to know that too.

Happy miserable running!

For further reading you might want to start with Alex Hutchinson’s article What Is Fatigue? in the New Yorker.

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The Apple Watch Makes Me Like Wearing Pants. It Also Increases Peace On Earth

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is an unassuming device that is valuable in surprising ways. It has its flaws–and plenty of them. So when asked if I like mine it’s hard to articulate a complete answer. My short answer is “Yes, I like it” which might seem incongruous since I just ragged on it here.

Usually when people ask that question what they really want to know is why they should want one. It harkens back to the business cliche that “customers don’t want quarter inch drills, they want quarter inch holes.” I have started answering this implicit question with two questions of my own.

The first is, “Do you enjoy how it feels to carry your iPhone around in your jeans pocket all the time?” Unless you are an unobservant hermit you have noticed that Apple now makes enormous iPhones. In the case of the “phablet” iPhone 6+ it is truly gigantic. They get thinner with each generation, but the bigger the screen the less comfortable they are in the pants pocket. I just have a normal iPhone 6 and dislike how even that “smaller” iPhone feels in my pocket.

With the Apple Watch on my wrist the iPhone is not in my pocket much anymore. When I get home the iPhone goes on the table just inside the door. The watch notifies me of anything important as I move about the house. I can even walk out of Bluetooth range of the iPhone because when the watch connects to wifi it works independently.

I don’t miss having a phone gouge into my leg as I bend down to play with my kids or do household chores. If you are a woman who carries her jumbo phone in her back pocket the Apple Watch is for you! It will let you sit down without having your flesh pinched by aluminum gadgetry. I am thrilled that my jeans now feel as they did in the late nineties when my pockets weren’t crammed with devices. Back then I had room for important things, like my Blockbuster video rental card–how quaint!

The second question I ask is, “Do you like the barrage of jarring sounds coming from your iPhone?” Many people realize that there’s nothing worse than obnoxious ringtones. They are the absolute worst when sitting in a quiet cube farm at work or at a public venue. Inevitably the people with these tacky ringtones have the volume turned way up. But even a loudly ringing phone without an awful ringtone is startling and jolts me out of my thoughts. My blood pressure is spiking just thinking about it.

As a reaction against such behavior my iPhone was on vibrate much of the time. But inevitably I would miss important calls or texts when walking briskly with my phone in my pocket, or if it was set down on furniture across the room. So I needed the ring volume turned up at times.

Since getting the Apple Watch my iPhone is on vibrate 100% of the time. The first setting I changed on the watch was muting it entirely. The watch itself never needs to make a sound because of haptic feedback. Now when a person in my VIP list texts me the watch tactfully gives me a noiseless tap on the wrist. It is unmistakable. But you should only receive significant notifications that way. If you get notified about your Candy Crush progress on your Apple Watch you are doing it wrong. Notifications on the watch also make for fewer distractions. The small screen of the watch doesn’t suck you into unplanned diversions as the iPhone does.

It is the precious silence that the watch brings which I value. The watch can’t supress the abrasive sounds from the phones of others but it has added a measure of tranquillity to my life. That is how I explain the watch’s value to others. People are uninterested in “notifications on your wrist” but they do care about the benefit to their lives from such features.

The Apple Watch isn’t for everyone. It tends to be for those who appreciate the understated ($15K Rose Gold models aside.) If you don’t mind wedging large Otterbox-clad aluminum rectangles in your pocket, enjoy blaring Nicki Minaj ringtones, or savor interruptions then you might not like it. But if you are like me and want your jeans to feel more comfortable, to experience fewer auditory assaults from your iPhone, and prefer focus to distraction you might find things more peaceful on your little slice of the earth with an Apple Watch.