Grit is disappearing…and it’s an epidemic.
Your grandparents practiced grit daily…it was called living a hard life. Now, we have too many conveniences and easy buttons so our brains are becoming mush; where motivation is nonexistent and pushing ourselves is rare.
The truth is…
If you can master your brain you can master getting ANY of the results you have EVER wanted in fitness.
So how can you regain control of your brain, improve its performance while building your mental toughness? Keep reading…
Let’s start by getting all the mental toughness cliches out of the way right now…
- Pain is a weakness leaving the body.
- Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
- The only easy day was yesterday.
- Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.
Blah, blah, blah…When is the last time a 5-word quote or 3-minute YouTube video gave your lasting motivation or mental toughness?
Motivational stories, quotes, videos or songs are all great in the shot-term; they treat the “symptoms” of not having your brain where you want it to be, not the root cause. These stories, quotes, videos and songs are like having a cup of coffee. Sure, it gets you going for a bit, but what you really need is to look at the big picture, change your diet and get some freaking sleep!
This is what we need to do with your brain – fix the big picture.
If you want to truly change how you see motivation, mental toughness and how you push yourself, you need to change your behavior. You can’t keep treating the symptoms, you need to treat the cause.
What’s the cause?
It’s simple. The cause is an untrained brain.
The fact is, you can build up your mental toughness, your grit, your will power, your brain power, your focus, or your cognitive function by taking small steps to improve it everyday. If you don’t, your grit will vanish. For some, maybe it already has! Let’s get your grit back (or improve on what you’ve got)!
The principle you need to keep in mind for this article is…
- OWNING your brain = The ability to push yourself harder, the ability to stick to diets, and the ability to have that long-lasting motivation.
Ready to own your brain? Ready to get to work?
Challenging the Brain
First, we need to go right to the root of the problem. The problem is that with our day-to-day lives we are border line drones. We do the same things everyday, we eat the same stuff and we maintain the same habits and patterns.
I’m not preaching here. I am no different! I get in my car and drive to work and next thing I know I am in the parking lot at work and vaguely recall the drive. And it’s the same reason I can’t remember if I took my multivitamin 10 seconds after I TOOK my multivitamin. Sound familiar to anyone (…I hope I am not the only one)? We need to stop starving our brains and start challenging them!
To challenge our brains we are going to change neural pathways and synapses by changing behavior and environment. Your brain is capable of this; it’s called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is not “snake oil”, the next “big thing”, or any sort of placebo-effect. It’s just how the brain works. An abundance of studies are starting to show just how beneficial training your brain can be as you age, and it turns out the adult brain is not a static organ; it is now clear that the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience or learning.
Now, we are going to go over how you can do this in your daily life depending on how serious you want to get and how much time you have.
Getting Started…Taking Control of Your Brain
These things may seem TOO easy, but give it a try. I know when I first started doing these things I felt not only more aware throughout the day, but my brain was actually a little bit fatigued from the simple training.
Quick and easy brain challenges:
Brushing Your Teeth – This one is the easiest. Simply try brushing your teeth with your opposite hand for the next few days. Over the course of a few days you will notice how challenging it is at first and how it kind of wakes you up and keeps the brain from wandering as it is forced to focus on developing this new neural pathway. But it will learn, adapt and get better.
Writing – Memorize a small passage, nothing epic, maybe just a short quote. Every morning when you get to work try writing this passage from memory and with the opposite hand. Same principle as above, notice how on day one you want to rip up the paper you are writing on, but over time it gets easier as your brain grows.
Driving – Take a new route to work. Drive a different way and force your brain to think about what it is doing as opposed to repeating the same exact thing you do everyday.
Changing Routine – On top of brushing your teeth with your opposite hand, try changing up your morning routine. Whatever you do to get ready in the morning i.e. breakfast, shower, clothes, coffee, etc. Just change up the order. Shower first, or shower last, whatever that case may be try doing your morning routine in the opposite, or random, order.
After you start to regain control of your brain, we can increase its power.
Increasing Your Brain Power
After you do a few of the simple ones and realize it is working, you may want to take it a bit further. Here’s how…Learn to juggle!!
In my post, 51 Health and Fitness Rules for My Son, #6 says “Learn to juggle, it helps more with athleticism than you think,” and I have gotten a few emails asking how does juggling help?? Here’s why you need to juggle:
Juggling is a complex motor skill that requires accurate bimanual arm movements, grasping and visual tracking in the periphery.
And there are studies now showing that it can actually change the density of grey matter in your brain! Grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. More grey matter for the win!
It is also thought to change the structure of brain white matter; which actively affects how the brain learns and functions.
That’s right! You can completely change your brain through juggling! This is not to say it HAS to be juggling. Learning skills like double-unders or a new Olympic Lift will have a similar effect, but the benefits are not documented to the extent of simple juggling practice.
Want to take it even further? Want to really OWN your brain?
Let’s do it!
Applying Brain Power to Mental Toughness
A few weeks of writing with the opposite hand, driving new ways to work and juggling practice will really start to open your eyes to how the brain can adapt and perform better. But now it is time to get to the Mental Toughness side of the house, or how this is all applicable.
You want to know one of the biggest ways to support brain plasticity? WORKING OUT!! Yep, working out is one of the best ways to improve your brain. You see, working out creates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is actively involved in both your muscles and your brain and it helps prevent, and even reverse, brain decay as much as it prevents and reverses age-related muscle decay.
BUT working out is just like the rest of your life. If you just go through the motions, your brain is hardly challenged and the benefits are minimal.
YOU NEED TO GO THERE! YOU NEED TO PUSH YOURSELF!
How do we do that?
Loading a heavy bar and putting it on your back, or sprinting at 100% are great ways to wake up the central nervous system and to get the whole body involved. But for some “going there” is the hardest part of this whole working out thing.
Here are some quick tips on how to really push yourself in spite of pain:
Visualize – If you actually visualize what you are about to go through it helps your brain tremendously. It is not visualizing the pain, but rather the event. Actually walking yourself through the entire thing. Simple visualization builds neural pathways as we discussed earlier. If your brain feels it has already done something, you will be more prepared and better able to cope with exertion pain.
Remember the big picture – There HAS to be a bigger reason that you are working out. For your health? For you family? Whatever the case may be, you need to focus on that when it gets tough. It will help!
10-second Goals – When you are in a tough workout, do your best not to think past the next 10 seconds. ONLY focus on your next two reps or the next 10 seconds. Worry about the other reps and other seconds after this 10-second period. Nothing else exists. Breaking your workouts down into small, micro-goals will help you maintain intensity you never thought possible for longer durations.
There is no doubt that working out is one of the best ways to promote brain health, but you will only get out what you put in. Pushing yourself to the limit will really pay huge dividends. Mental toughness doesn’t come easy, but it can be trained just as any other aspect of fitness.
So there it is! Simple ways to regain control of your brain you can start today! What do you think? Do you think training your brain is just as important as training the body?
Let me know in the comments!
Harnessing neuroplasticity for clinical applications, Physical Exercise Boosts Your Brain Power in 20 Minutes Helps Stop Brain Shrinkage, Visualization of exercise-induced muscle MRI signal enhancement