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: Mind Tactics
An eating disorder can impact your performance, both physically and mentally. But you can take steps to overcome it.
Eating disorders are serious conditions involving a person’s attitudes and behaviors toward food, weight, and body image. People with eating disorders eat extremely small or excessive amounts of food and usually feel embarrassment, disgust, and depression.
Eating disorders can be triggered by a number of causes, including genetic, biologic, behavioral, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Service members must meet certain physical requirements and often set even higher expectations for themselves. Pressure to be at an ideal weight or have the best physique can contribute to an eating disorder.
Even the most resilient service members are not immune to these triggers, and female service members are affected more than males. In addition, the number of diagnosed eating disorders in the military seems to be increasing, and many military members with eating disorders may go undiagnosed.
Not getting enough food or not eating healthy, consistent amounts of food means that your body is not being optimally fueled. And even worse, eating disorders can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health, and your relationships.
The key to overcoming an eating disorder is seeking help as soon as you can and putting in the time. (It doesn’t go away overnight.) Research shows that psychotherapy is often the most successful approach, but treatment is complex and draws on expertise from other fields such as nutrition and medicine.
Stress affects your body, and the condition of your body can cause stress. If you have PTSD, you could be so chronically stressed that it contributes to a heart condition. Or if you had a heart attack, you could feel so traumatized that you become anxious. What’s more, stress could have contributed to your heart attack in the first place. This back-and-forth relationship also occurs between physical pain and depression. You physically hurt, so you feel down…you feel down, and so you hurt more.
This link between mind and body is amazing. Sometimes it can feel like it’s working against us, but you can also use the mind-body connection to your advantage! For instance, you can learn to push through strong emotions with mindfulness, reduce your blood pressure with a self-driven technique called autogenic training, or turn on your body’s relaxation response through deep breathing.
There are lots more ways you can put the mind-body connection to work to reduce your stress. Get more ideas by exploring HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.
Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.
Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.
If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.
There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.
Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.
How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this object really adding value to my life?
- Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
- Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
- Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
- Can I imagine myself free from this object?
- Would letting it go mean I no longer care?
Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.
Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.
The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.
Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.
Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.
The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.
Perfectionists are driven to do well. And if you’re one yourself, you may have found that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Perfectionism is a problem when you can’t accept your mistakes, and you either miss chances to fix things or miss other more important opportunities. But being a perfectionist isn’t entirely bad, if accepting mistakes as you aim high is part of what you do.
Taking a test can be a “perfect” example of how to accept that you’ll occasionally make mistakes while still striving for excellence. Let’s say you scored 99% on a test. If your inner critic gets caught up in the 1% you missed, you might lose sight of where you need improvement. Try acknowledging the mistake, trust you’ve learned from it, and focus on what is most important as you move forward.
Don’t let your critical, perfectionist inner voice cause you to lose focus on what you need to succeed. It’s easy to get stuck on what you can’t control, such as the past or thoughts of the future. Perfectionism is a problem when it affects everything you do and becomes core to who you are. If your self-worth is caught up so much in being perfect, failures can feel catastrophic. If everything you do feels like a reflection of your character, the stakes are high!
Remember: Let your actions be what you do, not who you are. Don’t take failures personally; instead, trust them as learning opportunities for how to approach future events.
Healthy perfectionism is striving for your best performance by doing everything in your power to make it happen. Have high standards, accept imperfections, and enjoy (realistically) better performances.
Mindfulness meditation is a mind-body practice that focuses on awareness and acceptance of the present moment. It’s a great tool to sharpen your concentration, deal with tough emotions such as anxiety and stress, and even give you physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure. Not sure how to do it? HPRC’s “A mindfulness meditation primer” describes what mindfulness meditation is and how to go about it, with an mp3 audio that takes you through five minutes of guided practice to get you started.
Noticing whether your hands and feet are running hot or cold is one way to tune in to how stressed or relaxed you are. They’re also useful indicators to change—with the power of your mind—those feelings of stress.
There are many stress-reduction techniques to choose from. Here’s the simplest tool there is: Put on some relaxing music. Choose music that has repetitive rhythms, predictable patterns, a low pitch, and no vocals or percussion. This kind of music can help manage anxiety and pain, change brain activity, and increase skin temperature (similar to the hand-warming technique called autogenic training).
Combining approaches to stress reduction can also help. With this in mind (and simply because it sounds good), HPRC tweaked the autogenic training MP3 that we released earlier by adding music to the beginning and end. It’s a minor change, but we hope it will enhance your autogenic training experience.
Not everyone is affected the same way by exposure to injury and death. Many who do experience psychological wounds, however, come out stronger as a consequence, and so can you. If you’ve experience a traumatic event or experiences, there can be an upside: It’s called “post-traumatic growth” or PTG. It’s about finding a “new normal” that is even better than how things used to be. PTG can mean better relationships, openness to new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change, or heightened appreciation of life. In addition (and researchers are still trying to understand why), if you get PTSD, you’re actually more likely to experience PTG. Nobody wants to experience PTSD, but if it happens, you may have an amazing opportunity to come out the other side with some unique strengths.
If you’ve ever worn a cast, you know that the muscles in that area are weak when your cast comes off. Or maybe you’ve experienced this feeling after being bedridden with other injuries. Muscles lose strength from not being used, but there’s more to it than that: Your brain also “forgets” how to send the signals needed to move parts of your body.
Mental imagery helps your brain “remember” how to move your body. When you use imagery that focuses on the physical (not just visual) sensations associated with moving specific muscles, your brain sends the same kinds of signals actually used to move those muscles. Doing imagery while you’re injured may reduce strength loss.
Does this mean that if your elbow is in a cast, or if you simply prefer couch time to working out, you can get bigger biceps just by thinking about doing curls? No, but it does mean that during any stage of recovery from an injury, even before you are able to move, you can play an active role in making rehab go more smoothly. And it reinforces what earlier research tells us: Mental imagery can augment physical practice, helping your body to learn physical skills.