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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Developing Mental Fitness

We all know about physical fitness and what we can do in the way of exercises, diet, rest and the like in order to become more physically fit.  But what about mental fitness - Is it possible for us to become more mentally fit?  Can we actually strengthen our cognitive capacity, expand our mental muscle, and stretch our malleable minds?  There is enough evidence to suggest we can.  But, much like physical fitness requires intelligent and intense effort, so too does mental fitness require this kind of effort.

The past few posts have been descriptions of four basic temperaments  - reduced from the sixteen "personality types" defined in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - that may resemble different kinds of individuals that comprise a student body.  If you were asked to review these descriptions and then choose in order the pairs of students likely to be successful in a school environment, you probably could do it with reasonable accuracy.  Ready? 

Nicole Toth and Ned Truman are programmed for success in the way that school is typically designed.  It's backed up by research (which, by the way, would impress Nicole and Ned).  Here's how;
  • possessing an appeal for abstract concepts and ideas (N = Intuition) may contribute significantly to an individual's academic ability.
  • individuals with preferences in introversion (I), intuition (N), and thinking (T) may have a relative advantage in "school smarts" since their preferences match typical academic tasks.
  • academic tasks typically demand logical analysis and favor thinking (T) types.
  • the range of grade point average mean scores in one study involving over 3500 male college prep high school students from 27 Pennsylvania high schools extends more than one standard deviation from INTJ at the top to ESFP at the bottom.
  • in this same study, INFJ and INTJ had the highest grade point averages of the J types while INTP and INFP had the highest grade point averages of the P types.  The IN (introverted intuitive) types had the greatest natural interest in ideas and symbols, and the ES (extroverted sensing) type had the least.  The latter types had an interest in learning from "real life" experiences and had less interest in "book learning."
Of course, nothing is as clean and precise as research sometimes indicates.  Still, preferences and tendencies may be revealed that could lead to interesting discoveries.  It used to be "common knowledge" that intelligence was a fixed trait and captured on "intelligence" tests.  Many have since challenged this notion, including Howard Gardner of Harvard (multiple intelligences) and Robert Sternberg of (formerly Yale) Tufts (triarchic theory of intelligence).  Intelligence is much more than what may be measured by an intelligence test (or SAT, for that matter - by the way, The College Board actually changed the "A" in SAT from "aptitude" - implying innate intelligence - to "assessment" - denoting achievement).  And intelligence is much more fluid, subject to change, than was once thought.

So, each type/temperament has its strengths.  Each has its weaknesses as well.  Without getting too technical (and long-winded), suffice it to say that all of us possess the potential for developing the strengths inherent in each temperament.  Obviously, it requires effort - intelligent and intense effort.  We can become intellectually stronger, more flexible in our thinking, and we can cultivate the stamina sometimes required in challenging situations.  Repeat - it takes intelligent and intense effort, in the same way that it requires this kind of effort to become more physically fit.  Of course, there are limits to what one may be capable of doing simply because of one's genetic makeup, but there is also a range within this makeup where one can move along a continuum.  The ideal would be for each person to move to the upper limits of this range.  Repeat - it takes intelligent and intense effort to do this.

Students who complete "Do What You Are" (high school version of the MBTI) in Naviance receive a detailed description of their strengths as well as their "blindspots."  It's very useful information that can serve as a workout plan to make one more mentally fit.  Repeat - it takes...

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