I actually like going to the dentist. With modern technology and a quality, caring dental staff, the pain has nearly been eliminated. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but the clean feeling afterwards is pretty nice. It’s not a bad experience, except for one thing:
Getting a shot right into your fragile, pink gums.
If I get at all nervous for the dentist, it’s when I know I’m going to get a numbing shot to start a procedure. It’s not even that bad, but poking me with a needle right into my mouth and leaving it there for 60 seconds as the drug is slowly administered is not the best part of my day.
During the shot, my dentist repeatedly checks to be sure I am okay. At the same time, mysteriously, he uses another little tool in his other hand and massages the inside of my cheek with it, right across from where the needle has gone in. He moves it back and forth the entire time, slowly, rhythmically, and comfortably.
Why does he do this? Does it help to increase blood flow so that the medicine goes in better? Maybe some other medical reason? Or does he do it simply to distract me from the needle? I had to ask.
“Yes, it’s to help make it more comfortable for you by creating another sensation for you to concentrate on, a pleasant one, that will take your mind off the needle.”, he said. A ha. Makes sense!
It’s like when you have a small ache in your knee, but then you bang your head on your desk while bending down. You feel the sharp pain in your head and completely forget about the pain in your knee. Or when you are pushing yourself to your physical limit while playing a tough game of pick-up basketball against your condescending brother-in-law that thinks he’s so much better at sports than you: You are thinking about the ball, the score, the competitor in front of you, and ignoring the uncomfortable parts of exercise like lungs burning, muscles straining, and sweat pouring out.
Our brains seem to be pretty single-threaded. Multitasking is almost not possible, and studies continue to show that you perform worse on tasks when multitasking vs. completely focusing on one thing at a time. The same seems to be true for physical tasks and sensations. Your brain can really only consciously focus on one thing at a time and chooses to ignore others that are less pressing or threatening.
This is a huge advantage for VR workout experiences.
The typical trip to the gym is a grind as you try to distract yourself from the treadmill clock that seems to move in slow motion. We try to listen to music, watch TV, read books, or join group classes to make it more fun. But it’s still not.
You are thinking about how many minutes you have left. You notice that your legs are starting to hurt. You are counting down the reps as you feel the pace of your breath going up. It’s uncomfortable, like a trip to the dentist, but we have to do it nearly every single day for the rest of our lives or we are condemned to poor health, a big gut, lower self esteem, and less energy to bring to the other parts of our lives.
Inside virtual reality, we don’t have to look at a clock. We can create immersive, physical experiences where you are fighting aliens on Mars, saving the country from the bad guys, rescuing the children at the orphanage, or solving the deep mystery of a haunted house in the 1800’s.
You won’t have time to pay attention to your lungs, or arms, or calves, or worrying about the 25 errands that you need to do after your workout is over and you don’t have time for and if you can just get done with this stupid elliptical you can get out of here and onto other things. For working out to be effective, you have to push yourself past your current limits which your body warns you against by secreting lactose and pain signals so you don’t injure yourself by going too far. You have to push past them to get results, consistently for years. No pain, no gain, right? In VR, the pain is still there, but you won’t notice it nearly as much, or at all. It’s almost like magic and it’s finally a reality.
If we can bring your mind to another place, we can take your mind away from the “dentist needle in your mouth” and toward the gentle, massaging of your inner cheek. But you know, for workouts and stuff.