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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
The holidays are often a flurry of festivities, a time when we interact with more people than usual while at the same time feeling more stressed than usual. When you feel stress, often one of the first outward signs is how you communicate with others. Watch for an edgy tone to your voice and notice if you stop using a lot of eye contact with people who are talking to you. You may even start forgetting what someone just said. These are common signs of stress. This holiday season, go back to the basics: When someone is talking to you, use eye contact; when someone asks you to do something, repeat it back (it’ll help you remember); and think about your tone of voice and body posture (think open and non-defensive). But if you do slip up from time to time, own up to it, ask for forgiveness, have a good laugh, and focus on moving forward and looking at the bright side.
That mental state dubbed “the zone” by the media is what scientists call “flow.” It happens when you perform at your best easily because you’re performing automatically, without overthinking, focusing only on what’s happening right now.
To help yourself perform better more consistently and possibly even experience flow, consider these typical blocks and how to overcome them:
- Personal demands: It’s hard to focus on the task at hand when there’s personal stuff on your brain. Do what you can in advance, and shift to the present moment with self-talk such as “focus.”
- Mission complexity and ambiguity: If it feels as if there are too many “moving parts” in a task, try to gain clarity up front. Ask questions and use mental imagery to see in your mind’s eye what needs to be done.
- Interpersonal conflict: Everyone replays arguments mentally. Resolve them at the front end or put them on hold during a mission. Routines can help you bring your attention to the here and now.
- Paralysis by analysis: Thinking too hard is another way that people sometimes get stuck. Trust your training and let your best performances unfold.
- Limited control or resources: Deciding what is in your control and what isn’t can help you focus on what’s most important in the present moment.
- Isolation: We all need other people. Be active in seeking support.
- Intense workload: If anxiety about what’s in front of you is getting in the way, try embracing excitement about whatever you’re facing.
- Boredom or underutilization: When you know you need more challenge, ask for it.
Big demands require big resources. Overcome mental blocks to performance by continuing to develop your mental resources.
Many of us have the habit of focusing on the negatives in life and expecting the worst outcome. This tendency can be compounded by military training that teaches you how to assess risks and plan for the worst outcome. If you tend to focus on the negatives in life, you’re shortchanging yourself. Try to appreciate the little things in your day that you may take for granted. Focus on appreciation and gratitude. Try breaking your habit of focusing on the negative for just one day; instead spend it acknowledging and appreciating the ordinary good things in your life.
- When you wake up in the morning, stop and take a moment to say good morning to your day.
- If you are in a relationship, take a few minutes to really look at and appreciate your significant other.
- If you are deployed with your unit, pause to think about how your buddies support and help one another to get through a rough day.
- Before you eat lunch, reflect for a moment and think about something that keeps you going everyday—maybe it’s as simple as the first cup of coffee in the morning, an easy commute, or your buddy’s positive attitude. Take a moment to be grateful for that.
- At dinner, spend a moment thinking about your loved ones. Have you told them lately something you appreciate about them?
- Finally, before you go to sleep, acknowledge something about yourself you’re proud of.
Start again tomorrow, reflecting back to today—did acknowledging the magic of the “everyday” help you have a better day?
For more information on mental strategies, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.
Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.
In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:
- Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
- Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
- Minimize conflict between unit members.
- Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
- Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
- Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
- Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
- Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
- Build resilience at the individual and group level.
Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
With the holidays, sales, and gift-giving (and receiving) upon us, material items may be on your radar more than usual. Thinking about what to get for your significant other, parents, children, friends, and/or coworkers is on many people’s to-do lists. But where should we draw the line with materialism—that focus on the status symbols of money and possessions? And does having more really make us happier?
Ironically, some research has shown that materialism actually relates to feelings of lower well-being. Being more focused on material things can lead to greater feelings of insecurity and “neediness.” Interestingly, this doesn’t depend on personal or household income (though few studies included multimillionaires or the homeless). But it does suggest that materialism is an effect not of wealth but of one’s attitude towards material things.
This isn’t the same as the desire for money or financial success. Believing that money is important can actually improve your well-being. But your sense of well-being can suffer if you link your desire for money with status, image, success, and happiness.
So this holiday season, strike the balance that works for you and your family as to how much you should focus on material items versus other (spiritual, mental, and physical) ways to meet individual and family needs.
Sex experts say that "good sex"—a key ingredient in most intimate relationships—adds only about 15–20% to an already good relationship. On the other hand, "bad sex" (such as one or both partners not being fulfilled) can take away 75% from relationship happiness. That is, when sex is going well, it helps to improve your relationship a little bit, but when it isn't, it can be destructive to your relationship and overall quality of life. Keep in mind there’s no common definition of “good” or “bad” sex. These definitions rely on each person’s perception of sex and a fulfilling sexual relationship, plus how well both partners’ perceptions match.
Not only can sex affect satisfaction in relationships, it can also improve your health! Warm affection, such as hugging and kissing, can improve happiness and well-being, as well as reduce stress. Sex is also associated with greater overall health and satisfaction. As we pointed out in a previous article, sex releases a hormone that helps you feel closer to the other person and makes you feel good.
Being sexually active, having a good-quality sex life, and a healthy interest in sex are related to improved health through middle age and beyond. In fact, research has found that regular sexual activity among older individuals is more normal than previously thought. However, it isn’t clear whether healthier people have more-active sex lives or whether active sex lives improve health. At this point, all we know is that they are positively related to each other.
Laughing can be more than just fun in the moment. It also can also have positive mental, physical, and social benefits. The research into the effects of positive mood, or happiness, includes how laughter and humor affect our well-being. The results show that positive emotions aren’t just superficial feelings. Brain imaging, for example, shows that reward areas in the brain “light up” during positive emotional experiences such as laughter.
A positive mood also can impact your physical health, specifically your heart. It’s been established that long-term negative emotions can damage your physical health. Positive moods, on the other hand, can protect your cardiovascular system. One 10-year study found that those who express more positive emotions (either in words or in actions such as smiling or laughing) have a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Other studies have found that positive emotions, including optimism and a sense of humor, can enhance your immunity and might even help you live longer.
But these positive benefits aren’t just limited to your body. Humor and positive emotions can strengthen relationships, foster communication, and reduce feelings of isolation. However, the key to these social effects is to use humor appropriately. For example, laughing in the middle of a funeral ceremony may not be appropriate, but laughing at a funny movie is.
Share a joke or a smile with someone today.
Being mindful means simply being extra aware, in a nonjudgmental way and in the present moment, of your physical and mental experiences, even during ordinary, everyday tasks. Mindfulness isn’t just a technique you can do or a skill you can learn. It can also refer to a way of being. In other words, some people work on becoming more mindful and others just are mindful.
Mind-body skills—including mindfulness—reduce stress and improve heart health. And mindfulness in particular (both the skills and the way of being) has become a hot topic. Much of mindfulness research has focused on medical problems, but scientists are just beginning to really understand its role in preventing heart disease.
One recent study looked at people who already tend to be mindful, so it’s hard to say that mindfulness causes the good things associated with it, but somehow they seem to be related. However, according to another study, when cardiac patients were trained to be more mindful, they made smarter decisions about nutrition and exercise.
People who already tend to be very mindful, also tend to:
- Not smoke
- Have less body fat
- Have less glucose (sugar) in their blood
- Exercise more frequently
There are a couple factors that impact how mindful you can be in the first place: 1) how in control you feel and 2) whether or not you feel depressed. When you feel in control of your life, you’re able to monitor your own behaviors and change what you’re doing. When you’re feeling down, you might run on “autopilot,” without tuning in to your body’s sensations or your thoughts.
Over time, research will tell us more about how mindfulness affects healthy behaviors and how healthy behaviors impacts mindfulness. In the meantime, there appear to be many benefits associated with training mindfulness if you don’t tend to be mindful already.
Coffee, energy drinks, energy shots, soda—we’re surrounded by these products, and many are marketed specifically to teens. Their advertisements make caffeine seem a harmless and effective boost to help teens meet the demands of school and after-school activities. Three of four U.S. children and young adults now consume some form of caffeine every day.
Teens shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in an average small cup of coffee) per day. That’s enough caffeine to give you energy and help you stay alert. But too much caffeine can be a serious problem. Signs that you’ve had too much caffeine can be jitters, nervousness, increased heart rate, and an upset stomach. For more about the symptoms of too much caffeine, read FDA’s article.
Many drinks and foods that contain caffeine don’t clearly say so on the label. Energy drinks, for example, can contain lots of different forms of caffeine, such as guarana, green tea extract, and yerba mate. Although you might see these listed on the label, you still might not see the total amount of caffeine listed. Energy drinks don’t have to report how much caffeine is in them. So think twice about how many of them you drink, and learn more from HPRC’s article about energy drinks.
And for athletes: Don’t use energy drinks to replace sports drinks for extra energy. The same goes for other beverages with caffeine: sodas, coffee, and tea. Sports drinks are for hydrating and replacing electrolytes and other nutrients lost while exercising. Water is best in most cases!
Just because something contains caffeine doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate it. Be aware of all the different sources of caffeine and try not to overdo it. And be sure to watch HPRC’s “Caffeine & Teens” video for more from a teenager’s perspective.
Based on a blog by HPRC intern Diana Smith. Diana is a military teen and high-school sophomore who is interested in science and enjoys drawing in her downtime.
Attention military family support groups! Want resources to help support the work you do for military families? Check out HPRC’s new section in the “Family and Relationships” domain called “Relationship Toolkit.” We listened to requests from family support groups and programs like yours and created a section that houses many of our family-oriented HPRC resources in one place. They’re grouped according to topics such as building and maintaining strong relationships, exercising and eating healthfully as a family, recharging, and managing emotions. So check out the new section. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for, let us know via our “Ask the Expert” button.