- AIM7's approach to building adaptive capacity is based on the 5 Pillars - Exercise, Sleep, Mental Fitness, Nutrition, and Community
- Your adaptive capacity is a measure of your ability to adapt to stress
- Your adaptive fuel is a measure of how much stress you can adapt to today
- AIM7 assesses your adaptive fuel to make daily recommendations that increase your adaptive capacity
Every day, we encounter stress in one form or another — that’s life. Each heartbeat and heartache, each workout and work project, is a type of stress that steals a bit of your energy. All stress — whether good or toxic — comes at a cost. As we’ve defined in previous posts, the cost of stress is having less gas in the gas tank to respond and adapt to stress throughout your day.
But without stress, we’d fail to grow, and life would be challenge-less. Who wants that? When framed properly, stress can give life meaning. There’s something beautiful about embracing stress. It’s also essential because, without stress, there is no growth and adaptation.
Though we’ve defined stress, we have yet to define adaptation. Many definitions exist, but one that we like at AIM7 characterizes adaptation as “the process of adjusting our behavior, physiology, or structure to become more suited to our environment, allowing us to thrive within it.”
In more functional terms, adaptation is any physical or behavioral change that is useful for us — emphasis on the word “useful”. Change is happening all the time, but adaptive change produces a beneficial change that allows us to grow and thrive — that’s key.
Adaptive capacity and adaptive fuel
Adaptive capacity refers to your ability to engage with and adapt to stress. Adaptive capacity represents your current physical and mental fitness state. You can think of adaptive capacity as the size of your gas tank, and we all have a finite volume.
You can build up your adaptive capacity — increase the gas tank size — using the 5 pillars of adaptive capacity: sleep, exercise, nutrition, mental fitness, and relationships. We’ll dive into each of these pillars separately in future posts.
While adaptive capacity represents the size of your gas tank, the fuel in the gas tank isn’t the same each day. Your state of readiness — how much fuel is in the tank — can vary daily. Sometimes, you’ll start your day with less fuel in the tank. This could be due to several factors, including the previous day’s physical activity levels, emotional stress, or sleep.
Your amount of fuel in your gas tank each day is called your adaptive fuel, which represents your currency for adaptation. Each day begins with a certain level of fuel in the gas tank — that’s your readiness, or how much adaptive fuel you have to devote to stress adaptation.
To think about adaptive capacity and adaptive fuel in a practical way, just envision a fuel gauge on your vehicle. When you wake up, you have a certain amount of adaptive fuel in the gas tank — somewhere between “empty” and “full”. Hopefully, it’s full, but that may not always be the case.
Each time you take on stress — a hard workout or a stressful encounter at work — you use up more of your fuel. Throughout the day, your adaptive fuel is slowly depleted with each stressful encounter. When you run out of gas, productivity, mood, and coping ability begin to suffer.
This explains why your ability to tolerate even the most minor annoyances might be compromised at the end of the day.
One cure? Sleep. A quality night of sleep refills the gas tank, meaning you can begin the next day topped off, ready to take on the challenges of adapting to stress. However, building up your resilience and adaptive capacity using intentional recovery methods and stress-regulation techniques can also limit your reactiveness to stress throughout the day, meaning they’ll draw less from your gas tank.
Building adaptive capacity
Your gas tank gets depleted by all types of stress, and whether the stress you encounter is mental or physical can affect how it impacts your adaptive capacity. Think of your adaptive capacity as the sum of your mental and physical fitness. Furthermore, you can use different mental and physical training techniques to increase your resilience to each type of stress — more on that in future blogs.
We can generally think of most mental stressors as “energy vampires.” These stresses come at a cost to your adaptive capacity without a significant beneficial adaptation. Think of all the times you sat at your desk and worried endlessly about a problem — real or imagined — that was out of your control.
This stress depleted your fuel tank, but what good came out of it? We stew endlessly on something that frustrated us with a spouse or a colleague, but the positive adaptations to this type of stress are minimal. In the daily stress cycle, you lose fuel from your gas tank whenever you encounter mental stress.
Conversely, mental stressors can also be positive. For instance, when you take on a difficult mental challenge and apply the right tools to a difficult situation — that is when you adapt! You expand your capacity for more adversity in the future.
The key to resilience against the cost of mental stress is to become more responsive to it rather than reactive. This can be accomplished in two ways. For one, you can improve your ability to respond to stress through mindfulness, gratitude, journaling, and other practices. These tools help regulate your stress response at the moment so that you will expend less fuel during a stressful encounter and become more “fuel efficient.”
Therefore, you aren’t committing as much adaptive fuel to the stress. When you become more responsive rather than reactive, each encounter with stress draws a little less fuel from your gas tank.
Second, with consistent practice over time, you can increase the size of your gas tank, meaning you will have a larger adaptive capacity to draw from during the day — think of upgrading that gas tank of a small sedan to that of a large SUV.
Physical stressors, on the other hand, while also associated with a cost, can be thought of as “energy producers” that create a beneficial adaptation. Exercise is the obvious example here. When you train hard and allow your body time to recover, the result is an improvement in fitness. So, although exercise comes at a short-term cost, the long-term gain is an increase in adaptive capacity.
Interestingly, physical training can also benefit your psychological resilience — this is known as the cross-stressor adaptation hypothesis. In short, the stress response activated when you exercise is similar to that activated during psychosocial or emotional stress.
The adaptations to the nervous system and immune system from exercise can be generalized to other non-physical stressors. Your body and your mind get stronger during exercise. How remarkable!
Thus, you can build your physical and mental fitness to enhance your adaptive capacity. At AIM7, we help you do this through data-driven recommendations designed to stimulate growth — not annihilate you.
The AIM7 approach to building adaptive capacity
At AIM7, our goal is simple: to use your personal wearable data to provide specific, actionable recommendations that get you to the end of each day with fuel in the tank. The idea is to provide a sufficient stimulus for growth while not completely draining your tank each day.
This begins with assessing your adaptive capacity. How large is your fuel tank? With this knowledge, we can determine your daily adaptive fuel — your readiness or what we’ve termed the A7 Score.
Your A7 Score is then used to recommend physical activity, mental fitness-building interventions, and sleep/napping recommendations for each particular day. No more cookie-cutter training plans — this is as personalized as it gets.
If you want to adapt, grow and thrive, it’s important that your training routine, whether mental or physical — fluctuates along with your readiness. Imposing training stress that you’re not ready to handle won’t result in growth; instead, it could lead to illness, injury, or burnout.
We are here to help you build your adaptive capacity to respond better to stress and ultimately experience continued growth. In the next series of posts, we will dive deep into the five pillars for building adaptive capacity and hope you join us for the ride.