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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships

What’s in the way of your optimal performance?

Learning mental skills can help you meet greater demands, which sets you up to feel more prepared. It can even set the stage for optimal mindset and peak performance!

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. 

Enjoying the ordinary this holiday season

“Count your blessings” isn’t just a saying—it’s a good way to reduce stress and take your mind off the negatives in life. Take a look around for the things in your everyday life that you can be thankful for and take a moment to appreciate them.

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.

Balance your materialism this gift season

Filed under: Families, Holidays
In this season of buying, take a moment to learn about the science behind materialism and its link to your well-being.

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.

Laughter: Great for mind, body, and relationships

Heard any good jokes lately? If so, just remembering them probably has you smiling and feeling better. Did you know there is scientific evidence to support those feelings?

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.

Do mindful people have good hearts?

New research suggests that highly mindful people also engage in healthy habits that protect them from heart disease.

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. 

A military teen’s take on caffeine

Teens may be consuming more caffeine than they (or you) know. Learn from one military teen’s perspective about sources of caffeine and how teens can avoid consuming too much.

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 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. 

Calling all military family support groups

Check out HPRC’s new section with resources for Family Readiness Groups, Family Support Centers, Family Advocacy Programs, and others you can use to support military families.

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.

Anxious or excited?

Learning to transform anxiety into excitement helps you when performance matters. Learn how here!

When performance matters, it’s common to feel amped up—your heart beats faster, for example. How you interpret these physical sensations can change how you feel emotionally, including your overall mindset, and ultimately make a difference in how you perform. Recent research into performance anxiety over tasks such as singing, public speaking, and math gives us some insights about performance anxiety in general.

It’s normal to interpret some physical signs as performance anxiety. When you feel amped up, it may be difficult—or even impossible—to simply “decide” to feel calmer, because it isn’t consistent with what is happening in your body. And trying to pretend you’re calm can actually make you feel more anxious. But because your body has some of the same reactions—increased heart rate, “butterflies,” etc.—when you’re excited, you can actually feel excitement and anxiety at the same time by simply saying “I’m excited!” or deciding to feel excited. This doesn’t make the anxiety go away, but adding a layer of excitement over it can be valuable to how you think and ultimately perform..

Excitement feels good and puts your mind on a different track. When you’re excited, it’s easier to become aware of opportunities instead of potential threats. And this “opportunity mindset” leads to better performance.

So when you feel anxious about performing on the PRT, with marksmanship, or for any other task, remember that it’s normal. Convince yourself to feel excited. Allow yourself to see the opportunities. And in turn, enjoy better performance.

Getting more out of your doctor visits

Learn some tips for remembering your doctor’s advice and getting the most out of your appointments.

Have you ever left a doctor’s appointment only to realize that you couldn’t remember half of what he or she told you? Or that you forgot to ask some important questions that had been on your mind? 

It happens to all of us. Even routine visits can be unnerving. One of the ways you can help avoid these two scenarios is to write things down. It sounds simple, but it can be a helpful habit. Before you or someone you loves goes to a medical appointment, take a moment to jot down any issues or questions that you want to discuss. Have that piece of paper handy to refer to when you see your healthcare provider. Better yet, get a small journal that can fit into your pocket/purse/bag and track all your health statistics and questions in one place over the year.

Remember to jot down your provider’s answers to your questions. And while you’re there, take a moment to repeat back the main points to make sure you understood them correctly. If you are unsure about something, continue asking questions until you understand the issue.

For appointments that are more complex, consider bringing along someone you trust to take notes for you.

Money issues: Bad for you and your family

Money issues can be stressful for you and your family. Learn some strategies for strengthening your financial fitness as a family.

Money issues tend to be a major source of stress for Americans, and military families are no exception. Financial stress can increase your risk for poor health and have a negative impact on productivity and mood. Stress over money can reverberate through your relationships too. For example, couples who are under financial stress are more likely to be hostile and aggressive with each other and less secure and happy in their relationships. So what can you do to reduce your stress over money?

Here are some tips from Building Resilience in the Military Family:

  1. Have each family member discuss his/her financial dreams, how to make money decisions, and who will manage the money. (If there are differences, try the tips on HPRC’s “Making Decisions” card)
  2. Save at least $1,000 for unexpected expenses and, ideally, six months of your total monthly expenses.
  3. Work on paying off debt. Figure out a plan to pay off your debts, no matter how long it will take to get rid of them.
  4. Create and use a budget. This planning tool from Military OneSource can help you make a financial management plan.
  5. Save for retirement. A good rule is to save 10–15% of your gross income in retirement accounts annually.
  6. Check your credit. Knowing your credit history and credit number can help you spot identity theft and/or motivate you to stay (or become) responsible.
  7. Create a will. Setting up a will is important no matter your age.

Think about whether you have the insurance your family needs. Do you have health insurance, auto insurance, home/renters insurance, and life insurance?

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