How do you know when you’ve given 100% to an effort? Outside Online writer Alex Hutchinson investigates the elastic boundary of finding our physical limits in his article The Curiously Elastic Limits of Endurance. Perhaps it all boils down to mental toughness? Isn’t it all dependent on how we interpret stress? If so, then perhaps we can focus solely on the mind to push the body to achieve our goals. Alex explains that “With the rise of sophisticated techniques to measure and manipulate the brain, researchers are finally getting a glimpse of what’s happening in our neurons and synapses when we’re pushed to our limits. It turns out that, whether it’s heat or cold, hunger, or thirst or muscles screaming with the supposed poison of ‘lactic acid,’ what matters in many cases is how the brain interprets these distress signals.”

Alex finds a need for caution. “With new understanding of the brain’s role come new— and sometimes worrisome—opportunities. At its Santa Monica, California, headquarters, Red Bull has experimented with transcranial direct-current stimulation, applying a jolt of electricity through electrodes to the brains of elite triathletes and cyclists, seeking a competitive edge. The British military has funded studies of computer-based brain training protocols to enhance the endurance of its troops, with startling results.”

It sounds like we only need to focus on the mind to create performance improvements. Alex concludes this isn’t correct. “I started out with the hunch that the brain would play a bigger role than generally acknowledged. That turned out to be true, but not in the simple it’s-all-in-your-head manner of self-help books. Instead, brain and body are fundamentally intertwined, and to understand what defines your limits under any particular set of circumstances, you have to consider them both together.”

Systems are made up of parts that function together in an interconnected way. Therefore, we can learn by breaking down systems into its component parts to learn more about each part. Then, we build up the system by putting the parts back together again to see how it functions as an integrated unit. We can learn more about the body and the mind by breaking down the system. But, to create improved performances, we look at how body and mind work in an integrated way.

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