The Weekly Thread: build a tenacious brain, meet the toughest man alive, and don’t be your authentic self.

I’m sure on some level, we would all like to be considered more tenacious, to be better at rising to the occasion when challenged, to persist and see through our biggest goals. 

My mental toughness is something I probably work harder on developing than my physical toughness, and is an increasing area of focus for me. (Although training for both definitely go hand in hand)

Tenacity is the quality or fact of being very determined, even under immense pressure. 

At the heart of tenacity is an area of the brain much of the scientific community isn’t even yet all that familiar with called the anterior mid cingulate cortex (aMCC). 

The aMCC is uniquely positioned in the brain at the crossroads of multiple neural pathways, creating a seemingly perfect amalgamation for determining your overall tenacity. To read more on the neuroscience of the aMCC, check out a paper titled, “The Tenacious Brain: How the Anterior Mid Cingulate Contributes to Achieving Goals”

Better yet, research has shown that you can train this part of your brain to actually grow almost like a muscle, and thus, improve your overall tenacity. 

There will be almost endless instances throughout your life in which you may want, or need to draw on your tenacity in order to succeed at something, or see a tough time through. 

Just like training your body to be more physically fit, and thus, capable when needed or called upon, the same goes for your tenacity. 

First, let’s get clear on what kind of acts actually build tenacity. 

The Psychology of Tenacity

I’m not going to bog you down with all the neuroscience of tenacity, again, if you’d like to read more on it, I’ve linked to an interesting paper above. My focus will be on the psychology of tenacity, which if you understand properly, empowers you to train and positively affect the actual neurobiology that determines your tenacity. 

Dr. Andrew Huberman, a leading Stanford neuroscientist and host of the wildly popular “Huberman Lab” podcast, describes habit execution as doing the things that are not tough to do, typically things that are part of our everyday lives like waking up, brushing out teeth, walking the dog, et cetera. 

In most cases, these daily habits do not require willpower to perform. Sure, some days you may be underslept and don’t feel like getting up right away, or the weather might not be optimal for walking the dog, so they may require a bit of willpower to do, but ultimately, I’m guessing you wouldn’t describe the execution of these habits as requiring “tenacity” to complete. 

To build tenacity one must do things that require willpower. 

Things that require willpower to do, by definition, are the things you don’t want to do. 

Therefore, to build tenacity, you must do things you truly do not want to do. 

For example, it was cold and windy earlier this week, and the last thing I wanted to do was jump in the lake for my daily cold plunge. 

I mean, in my mind, at that moment when it was time for me to do my cold plunge, it was the LAST thing I wanted to do. 

However, I now know that in these moments is when I have an opportunity to build my tenacity. 

Rather than talk myself out of it, I now talk myself into it. In this case, jumping in the lake. 

I know that the more I don’t want to do something, the more I NEED to do something. 

And I did. 

And honestly, with the way the water was moving, and wind whipping, it was a 5 minute suck fest. Legitimately the coldest cold plunge I’ve ever done. 

But I did it. 

And no surprise, I felt amazing afterwards. 

I’ve written about how cold water immersion can require your brain to improve your mental and emotional health, and the anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits of cold water exposure are well documented, however, there is another benefit to my cold plunge example, and that is getting past the gut punch that is simply getting in the water, or getting in that cold shower, when it’s the one thing you don’t want to do. 

Getting that mental victory trains your brain to become more tenacious over time. 

Think of this approach to training and building tenacity from a neurobiology perspective, as an insurance policy when life sends adversity your way. 

Adversity is when life throws a wrench at you and hits you right in the face. You can’t control what happened to you, or to someone you love, you can only control how you respond to it. 

The more you train your tenacity ahead of time by consciously doing things you don’t want to do, the more equipped you will be to handle true adversity when it comes your way. 

Furthermore, the more you train your tenacity by doing more tough things you don’t want to do, the more that compounds over time. Soon, you’re able to do tougher and tougher things both mentally and physically. 

As you continue to increase your ability to do tougher and tougher things, the more your imagination of what you’re capable of grows, and as that grows, the goals, and subsequent achievements get bigger and bigger. 

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that you’d like improve your tenacity, here are the two things I’d recommend you start doing:

  • 1️⃣ Think about the tough things that you are avoiding doing that you know would benefit you, this can be both mentally and physically, and start doing more of them.  
  • 2️⃣ Work on being more conscious of the moments when you are talking yourself out of doing something tough because it is tough. As you develop this behavioral recognition within yourself, you will begin to develop the mindset that you know the more you DO NOT want to do something, the more you NEED to do it. 

I’ll close this segment with a sentiment I like to remind others of from time to time…

You are POWERFUL. Act accordingly. 

David Goggins aka “Goggins” is a former Navy Seal, world record setting endurance runner, holds the moniker of the “toughest man alive”.

It is also rumored that he has the largest known anterior mid cingulate cortex (aMCC), a muscle of sorts in his brain that he undoubtedly has trained and grown over time.

His story is too crazy and insane to get into here, as I wouldn’t even know where to begin with only this brief segment to write about it. 

Instead, I’m going to make some recommendations if you want to learn more about the toughest man alive, and see for yourself the direct correlation between the nickname “the toughest man alive”, and the actual neurobiology of his tenacious brain. 

First, I cannot recommend his books on audio enough. Even if you like to sit down and read, I highly recommend listening to his books, because in the audio versions, he does a short podcast style interview with his co-author after each chapter, where they discuss the respective previous chapter in more depth. It adds a truly unique, personal element to the stories being told. 

His first book is titled: Can’t Hurt Me: Master your Mind and Defy the Odds

His follow up, which is just as good: Never Finished: Unshackle your Mind and Win the War Within

I’ll also link to: Dr. Andrew Huberman and David Goggins: Using Willpower to Slow the Aging Brain

Goggins has also been on the Joe Rogan Experience a couple times, and you can also find a great podcast with him on the “Huberman Lab” podcast, as well as endless YouTube clips if you search his name. 

Don’t be your authentic self. 

You’re always told to “be your authentic self”. 

Sure, that may make sense in a lot of situations, especially when it comes to pursuits or hobbies you are passionate about, determining the people you keep close to you, or the energy you put out into the world. 

But what about all the tough things you don’t want to do, that you know you should, because they’re good for you?

What about the times when it’s important you show up for something, or for someone, even if you’re not necessarily in the mood?

In these instances, if you were being your authentic self, you’d skip the cold shower for a hot shower.

You’d maybe just not go into work some days because your “authentic self” didn’t feel like it.

You’d skip the weight training session because if you’re being authentic, well, lifting heavy things is tough. 

Trying to achieve a goal of some sorts, or just better yourself as a whole?

What do you do when you’re not feeling motivated to pursue that goal? Cause that happens real quick. 

Do you listen to your “authentic self” who would rather just sit on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat pizza because you’re not feeling “motivated”?

Or do you go do the thing you know you need to do to better yourself, and achieve your goal?

Oftentimes, if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, myself included, our “authentic self” just wants to make excuses.

It’s 8:30 am on this Friday as I finish typing this. I’ve been up since 3:30 am working on final research and typing this week’s Weekly Thread.

After I finish, I’m going to go jump into an icy cold lake. 

My authentic self would’ve loved to have just slept in. 

But I also know, it’s important I show up each week, regardless of how busy my week has been. 

At my core, I love writing this newsletter/blog, I love doing the research and sharing it with you, as it benefits my life as I become more knowledgeable and apply what I’m learning, and I hope that in my own small way, I’m also helping to empower you to take greater control of your own health: mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

That’s truly what matters. 

Sure, in the short term, if I listened to my authentic self in the moment telling me I’d rather just sleep in, well, then I’d sleep in, and in the process, lose sight of what’s most important. 

To keep the bigger picture in mind, to achieve goals, to better yourself; often means you need to be your inauthentic self. 

And on that note, I’m going to go be inauthentic and jump in that icy cold lake.