My Competitive Profile: The Psychometrics of Mental Toughness and Why It’s Bumming Me Out

By Whitney Dean

I recently started tracking the macronutrients of my diet in an effort to change my body composition, an experiment to see if I can improve my weight-to-power ratio. In the years before CrossFit, my interest in losing weight was primarily aesthetic, a preoccupation with skinny. I had an uncle who used to say, “You can never be too rich or too thin,” and I suppose that I accepted that to be true. But I’m a few years into this CrossFit thing, now, and what really concerns me is how many pull-ups I can string together, unbroken. Priorities, people. Priorities. So, maybe if I’m leaner, I can do more pull-ups.

Dr. James E. Loehr, a sports psychologist, wrote a book titled, “The New Toughness Training for Sports,” a guide to achieving greater mental toughness. Dr. Loehr’s programming begins with a moral inventory, of sorts, self-reflection to establish a base. How do I identify as an athlete, and how do I qualify that identity? How mentally tough am I, and how do I measure that toughness?

Know thy enemy, know thyself.

Dr. Loehr developed the Competitive Adjective Profile (CAP), a list of 26 adjectives that can be applied to athletic prowess and fortitude. On a score of one to ten, I make judgments of where I stand on the spectrum between one polarity and another. Am I quick or slow to emotional recovery? What is my coachability? Am I aggressive or passive? Do I take risks or leave them?

One CAP assessment examines my problem solving aptitude. I recall one workout in which the palm of my hand tore while doing pull-ups. I took off my shirt and used it to protect my hand while I finished the workout. Yes. Mental toughness. Clearly, that deserves a high score. Quickly, though, I recall all the other workouts in which hitting my shin on a box or burning my skin on a rope swiftly rattled me, overwhelmed me, consumed me. Clearly, not as high of a score. A score of 8 for one instance; a score of 2 for ten instances. My Competitive Adjective Profile is murky, brackish water.

I know there’s value in keeping record of my habits and behaviors, particularly at the whirlwind pace in which I live my life. For instance, I’ve considered myself to be following a Paleo diet the last few years. Then I tracked my dietary intake for a week and found that 45 percent of my diet was made up of fats, most of that fat coming from almonds: almond butter, almond milk, almond creamer, almonds. I imagine my early Paleolithic ancestors, bellyaching beneath the deciduous flora of the almond trees, having had nothing better to do all day than smash the hull of almond seeds for the edible drupe inside.

If 45 percent of my diet is fats, what if I’m operating in a ketogenic state, burning fats for energy rather than carbohydrates the way the body does naturally? This is critical information to have. A ketogenic diet is sometimes used to treat epilepsy due to its effects on the brain. Is it necessary, healthy, that I produce energy in this way? Maybe. I’m clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I use anti-seizure medication to regulate moods and suppress mania. Maybe a high-fat diet is doing more for the function of the amygdala in my brain than I realize.

“Amygdala” is derived from the Greek word for almond.

Junot Diaz, one of my favorite authors, once wrote: “If these years have taught me anything, it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.” I recognize that any good decision or progress I’ve made in this life came from a place of introspection. So, maybe it’s Dr. Loehr’s adjectives that are tripping me up. The qualifying and quantifying of my character feels superficial to me, restricting. I prefer a meditation to an inventory. Why do I perform optimally in some instances and not others? What is emotional recovery, anyway? What might be the reason behind a “slow emotional recovery” and will it improve the quality of my life to try to change it? Investigating the root of fear or ambition or confidence or frustration demands some mental toughness in and of itself. Intellectual curiosity can lead to really hard truths, sometimes.

So I ask myself the hard questions: If my new low-fat diet results in full-blown bipolar manic episode, can I blame Chris Bossom for putting me on this macro-conscious flexible dieting? I think I can.

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