When it comes to our own mental abilities we tend to rely on experience over all else.
We have lived with our minds all of our lives, after all, so it makes sense that we would understand our limits, what we can do, and for how long we can perform.
What many underestimate, however, is just how much of a difference can be made through learning, training, and effort.
Our minds, as human beings, are the most astoundingly flexible things on the planet, whether we realize it or not.
Actually taking the effort to modify long-standing behavior is another issue entirely. Whether through complacency, fear or failure, or simple lack of time, many of us become stuck in our ways and regard this as the way we are.
Mental endurance is one of these components which can be massaged into something stronger, offering advantages which benefit us greatly in both our personal and professional lives.
So what is mental endurance really, and how might we better its fitness to new heights?
What is Mental Endurance?
The best way to understand mental endurance is to simply relate it to that with which we are more familiar – physical endurance.
Just as with our bodies, our minds can only last so long before they start to struggle, and from here, their performance will diminish rapidly.
As children, this peak lasts around 7 minutes, though as adults, it can improve or degrade greatly.
Surgeons, for example, can be required to maintain attention for more than half a day at a time at the table, as can poker players at the casino, pilots in a storm, and engineers working on priority repairs.
Surgeons can be tasked with concentrating for more than 12 hours at a time
With bodies, our lack of endurance tends to manifest as direct exhaustion and muscle pain, but with mental endurance, the changes can be much more subtle and difficult to predict, though equally as dangerous.
With mental fatigue comes a drop in cognitive faculties, issues maintaining attention, lowered reasoning skills, and decreased patience and mood.
As we improve our endurance, we can operate at or near our peak for longer, and this is exactly what our goal is going to be here today.
Before we go on to techniques, we need to first ensure that we are properly energized.
As an extension of your body, your brain also requires constant nutrients, without which focusing for any period of time can be physically impossible.
This is why diets can often cause a poor mood – it is not just simple feelings of hunger, it is a lack of energy for your brain.
Getting all your key nutrients can make all the difference in the world
There are many key nutrients which you should keep in your diet to maintain proper brain function, including protein, fatty acids, and antioxidants.
Coffee can also help in small bursts, though too much can have the opposite effect, so be sure not to buy into the miracle drug narrative of film and television.
Getting Started With Techniques
Concentration techniques have been around for millennia, but not all are created equal, and not all will be useful to the average person.
The techniques of a surgeon, for example, are likely too intense for many of us, and techniques adapted to older civilizations will often come with issues when translating to the modern world.
Instead, we will turn to a more relatable modern example – that of modern poker players.
Players of poker games such as Texas hold’em or 7-card stud tend to be more regular people who have mastered the art of concentration, and this makes their techniques all the more applicable to the rest of us.
Poker psychology guides are quite helpful because of this, so we’ll relate some of their teachings like the improvement of C-game back to how we perform in regular life.
The first thing to keep in mind is that astounding progress isn’t going to happen overnight.
There are no easy solutions to real progress, and that in itself can act as your first lesson. Take small steps, practice when you can, build up incrementally, and you’ll see much better results than an all-or-nothing approach. You don’t run a marathon after a 5-k, you don’t jump to high-stakes poker after a few dollar hands, and you won’t become the pinnacle of attention after just a day or two.
Resting is important to good endurance
So take the task in which you want to improve, and make direct and dedicated efforts to slowly increase your time involved.
Keep a log to directly record your success, and be sure to take rest days rather than go in full-bore. Recovery for mental exhaustion is just as important as with physical fatigue, and this cannot be stressed enough.
Next, we need to keep in mind C-game.
For those unaware, this is an idea common in poker which involves becoming cognizant of your mistakes, and then working to mitigate them.
Again, this is where a log book can come in handy. Record wherever a trigger occurred which distracted you, how it affected you, and what you might be able to do to reduce this interference in the future.
It should also be noted that there will be some cases where exposure and building up a resistance to an unavoidable distraction is key, so be sure to keep that in mind.
We can’t shut ourselves off to everything physically, but with practice, we can improve our ability to do so mentally.
You might have noticed poker players commonly using tricks with their chips to keep entertained over long periods, or utilizing sunglasses to help cover their tells.
Both of these are examples of players keeping in mind C-game, and both have proven immensely successful in raising chances of success in long sessions.
Looking Further Into The Poker Example
Remember that, while success is your goal when it comes to concentration, losing, even when the chances of this are mitigated, is going to sometimes be inevitable.
Even the best poker players will lose great hands, and what matters most is how they accept this. Tilting at the first sign of failure will only cascade, and as such, it is important to realize when you feel this coming and fight against it.
Breathing techniques can be amazingly effective here as a form of meditation.
While you might have heard it is best to let the anger out, in real psychology this just strengthens the mental pathways which accept this behavior, so it should be avoided at all cost.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t address it – you should. Just don’t feed it.
Slow deep breaths, count to four on each in and out.
On the other hand, you also need to be sure that overconfidence doesn’t give way to weakness.
Good days can have off periods, and well-trained minds can have lapses if not properly focussed. Just as a poker player must not let a winning high lead them astray, you must also not let sudden progress generate arrogance.
Stay humble, and know that your mind can play tricks on you.
Remember that you don’t just need to eat before a long session, but during. Keep your energy levels up, and you’re much more likely to succeed.
Fuel, Practice, Diligence, And Awareness
With these factors in mind, you can start building your own custom plan to slowly improve your own ability to concentrate.
This might seem silly, but those with the ability to concentrate on the highest level will all beg to differ.
- Take in the right fuel
- Build up your endurance over a dedicated period
- Take notes and rest well
- Stick with it and examine and combat your mistakes
Combine all of these aspects together and within just a few weeks you will start seeing improvements which can really astound you.
Remember that success here is often cumulative, so even minor setbacks or distractions won’t put you back to square one.
Good luck, and all the best.