3 tips from neuroscience to become more mentally strong

3 tips from neuroscience to become more mentally strong

Happiness isn’t just about enjoying the good times.

Happiness IS about enjoying the good times; but it’s also about getting through the tough times.

Happiness is, then, about being grateful AND tough (and so much more)…

via Eric Barker

Ever get to the point where your brain is just pooped? The ol’ grey matter is waving the white flag. You’re exhausted. You can’t go on. You’ve got no more mental energy…

Well, sorry, but that’s just not true.

In fact, you know it’s not true. When the deadline is in 5 hours, you can work for five hours straight. But when the deadline is next week, suddenly you can’t work for 20 minutes before your eyes are glazing over. What gives?

Oddly enough, we can find an answer in cutting edge research coming out of… Would you believe me if I said “professional sports”? Seriously.

A sprinter breaks a record. The commentators are saying how that competitor gave it his or her all… Really? Did the sprinter use every bit of energy they had? Then why didn’t they die? I’m serious.

Why didn’t their heart stop beating because it had no energy? Why didn’t their brain stop functioning from lack of calories? Why didn’t their thighs muscles snap?

But you’ve never seen an athlete just die from exhaustion, have you? Why not? Something flipped the tired switch before their heart, brain or muscles gave out. Long before.

And that thing is your “governor.” No, we’re not talking about politics. We’re talking “Central Governor Theory.” Something in your brain that regulates energy use in your body — and your mind.

At the end of a grueling event have you ever seen an athlete kick it into high gear? They were wiped, but suddenly the finish line is visible and the afterburners kick in. If they were really out of gas, how could they kick it up a notch in the final moments?

Because they weren’t out of gas. Their governor told them they were tired. But with the end in sight, wily old “G” stopped holding them back.

From Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance:

But when I asked Noakes for the single most convincing piece of evidence in favor of his theory, he said, without hesitation, “the end spurt.” How could the runners at Comrades, after pushing themselves through 56 miles of hell, summon a finishing sprint to beat the 12-hour limit? Conventional physiology suggests that you get progressively more fatigued over the course of a run, as muscle fibers fail and fuel stores are emptied. But then, when the end is in sight, you speed up. Clearly your muscles were capable of going faster in the preceding miles; so why didn’t they?

Your brain doesn’t want your gas tank to ever get anywhere close to zero. It doesn’t want you to blow ligaments or tear muscles. And it also knows that it’s quite the energy hog itself, with your neurons burning as many as 20% of your daily calories.

So it’s a miser. The governor errs on the side of being conservative. And your body and your mind feel tired long before you’ve gotten anywhere near empty.

But can we trick that governor into easing up a bit so we can increase our mental stamina? Sure we can. The answer lies at the intersection of sports science and neuroscience. And it’s not nearly as difficult as you think.

Let’s get to it…

1) Cheer Up

Want to be mentally tougher? Want the challenges ahead to seem easier? Try this esoteric technique called “smiling.”

From Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance:

…known as the “facial feedback” hypothesis, an idea that can be traced back to Charles Darwin: just as emotions trigger a physical response, that physical response can amplify or perhaps even create the corresponding emotion. Related experiments have extended this finding to clusters of related mental states: smiling, for instance, makes you happier, but it also enhances feelings of safety and—intriguingly—cognitive ease, a concept intimately tied to effort.

You get exhausted and you grimace. But when you grimace you make yourself tired. The feedback loop works both ways. So smile. You can trick your governor into thinking things are easy.

Across the board, feeling good increases endurance. Optimism increases grit. Looking at cute animals reduces stress. And that’s not only true in the lab…

What do people with the highest levels of mental and physical endurance say? When I interviewed Army Ranger Joe Asher he said this was the attitude that got him through his incredibly difficult training:

If I can laugh once a day, every day I’m in Ranger School, I’ll make it through.

Navy SEAL Platoon Commander James Waters told me the same thing:

You’ve got to have fun and be able to laugh; laugh at yourself and laugh at what you’re doing. My best friend and I laughed our way through BUD/S.

If you want to be able to endure, be positive. Smile. Laugh. It helps people keep going during the toughest moments in life, including combat and severe illness.

From Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges:

Substantial evidence exists for the effectiveness of humor as a coping mechanism. Studies involving combat veterans (Hendin & Haas, 1984), cancer patients (Carver, 1993), and surgical patients (Culver et al., 2002) have found that when humor is used to reduce the threatening nature of stressful situations, it is associated with resilience and the capacity to tolerate stress (Martin, 2003).

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my bestselling book here.)

Now if that was all it took, high school cheerleaders would win all the Nobel Prizes in physics and go on to be Navy SEALs. So what else does it take to build mental endurance?

…keep reading the full & original article HERE