Monday, January 7, 2019

Mental Toughness

Being mentally tough is fundamental to achieving just about anything in life. Whether it is a physical challenge or a life goal, the ability to endure hardship is more important than skill or talent, in most circumstances. There is much talk about training mental toughness and resilience.

This can become an augment on determinism. That is a discussion left for another time. 

What is mental toughness? Mental toughness is the ability to endure mental stress either physical or mental. It is associated with the ability to delay gratification.

Many factors contribute to mental toughness. Personality is a one. Neuroplasticity is another. Cognitive ability, physical capacity, and health are also elements. From the number of factors, the ability to train mental toughness seems complicated.

Many of the factors that contribute to mental toughness are genetically determined. Personality, cognitive ability, (and to some degree) health and physical capacity are determined by genetics. Genetics only account for 50% to 60% of the outcome for most of the factors. Genetic determination can be lower in extreme cases of malnourishment, neglect, or abuse as children.

A genetic determination is only part of the story. The environment partly determines health and physical capacity. The environment is complicated and contains many variables. Many variables are controllable. Many are not. An environment can on average determine an outcome 30% to 40% of the result.

Physical plasticity and neurological plasticity are the mind and body's ability to adapt to change. Physically a change of 10% in muscle fiber can be obtained in training.

An amalgam of personality and cognitive ability determines plasticity. Both personality and cognitive ability are determined by genetics more than health or physical capacity.

Let’s for the benefit of the argument call our subject relatively healthy and say they live in a relatively stable environment. We can subtract 60% for innate ability due to genetics and 20% for uncontrollable environmental factors. That leaves 20% left to elements that are controllable.

What are the controllable factors? Diet and moderate exercise have a high impact on health. Physical capacity is determined by health, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning.

Optimizing health and increasing physical ability can be trained. Is training directly targeted for mental toughness effective? My hypothesis is yes. Given the possible remainder of 10% and the 5% to 10% that every human is capable of, it should be possible to train for mental toughness and see an increase of 5% to 25%.

On an aside, some research done by SEALs says that at the point when you feel like you should quit you have 40% left. That is a precarious number. A mentally tough person with low genetic, physical ability may have 10% to 20% left to give. A person with little ability to delay gratification and high physical ability may have 50% to 60% left to give. While the slogan can be an excellent motivator to incite a person to push through, it is inadequate as a tool to determine how much a person can train mental toughness.

I hypothesize that a person in relatively good health that lives in a stable environment without malnutrition, neglect, or abuse can increase their mental toughness by 5% to 25% through moderate mental toughness training.

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