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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics
Making it into a Special Operations Force (SOF) is challenging, to say the least; it requires intense physical and mental stamina. A keynote presentation at the 2013 Association for Applied Sport Psychology Conference highlighted what it takes to be an SOF “Tactical Athlete.” It focused on the ability to “embrace the ‘suck’” (grueling experiences) and remain alert during periods of extreme discomfort—hot, cold, wet, or dry—along with heavy gear, noise, and fatigue.
Unlike most athletes, there is no “season,” so SOFs are required to always be on. This means intense training is part of the SOF experience—a selection process where “survival of the fittest” is the rule. Some of the physical characteristics that can help a person withstand the training are endurance, strength, coordination, and flexibility. Those selected to be SOF personnel also tend to possess the following mental characteristics:
- Above-average IQ: Most are brighter than most other people, and those of average intelligence optimize what they have.
- Complex reasoning: They can grasp and reason through abstract concepts.
- Tolerance of ambiguity: SOFs accept when they are not in control and do their best under those circumstances.
- Situational awareness: They can usually remain aware of their surroundings while tuning into what is most relevant.
- Good decision-making: They have good judgment, even in uncomfortable conditions.
- Mental flexibility: SOFs are able to adapt rather than get stuck on certain beliefs.
And in terms of personality, SOFs generally are:
- Emotionally stable: They do not usually experience extreme highs or lows.
- Stress-tolerant: SOFs accept and cope with stress rather than try to escape it.
- In control of their behavior: They act in accordance with their values, keeping their creed in mind.
- Self-confident: They are not consumed with self-doubt or rigidly confined by other people’s rules but possess their own strong moral compass.
- In control of aggression: SOFs are able to use their aggression in a targeted manner.
- Self-reliant: While they can work well with a team, they are also highly independent.
- Motivated: SOFs tend to have a very strong work ethic.
Finally, success with SOF training begins in part with an attitude. Anyone who yearns to be an SOF must above all cultivate an ability to turn attention outwards amidst “the suck.” Grueling conditions become a cue to remember that your comrades are also hurting and that each of you depends on the others to work hard. Taken together, SOFs embrace their membership in this elite group as an identity.
For more information on mental resilience —or what it takes to overcome adversity and grow stronger—check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience section.
Having good social support is beneficial in many ways and can come in a furry package! Pets are wonderful companions, and you benefit by having one (or more) in so many ways: They get you out exercising, increase your self-esteem, decrease a sense of isolation, and help you through tough times. If that’s not enough, there’s a growing amount of research on the use of dogs providing therapeutic benefits to individuals coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Dog owners are also more likely than those who don’t have dogs to meet physical activity guidelines. So if you have a furry creature at home, remember to give them a big pat for enhancing your life. Indeed, one researcher described these relationships as truly “friends with benefits.”
For Warfighters about to be deployed, pets also can come with the added stress of needing to find a temporary home. To get some tips about what to do with your pet while you’re on deployment, check out this article from HPRC and/or this Department of Defense blog.
When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.
Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.
For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
There is a structured technique to setting goals called “SMART.” It stands for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, and Time-sensitive.” Using the SMART technique can help you to jump in to a goal now, fuel your motivation, and help you follow through. Check out HPRC’s Answer “Set SMART goals” to learn how you can put this method to work for you.
HPRC’s Performance Strategies “For single Warfighters coming home” gives you helpful tips for returning home after deployment if you are single. It highlights suggestions that manage your expectations (as well as those of your family and friends), as well as ideas for easing back into “normal” life, establishing an at-home schedule, increasing your support system, and other important aspects to consider.
The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness.
- Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
- Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
- Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
- Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.
Compression garments are becoming more and more popular in the sports world. Back in 2001, NBA All-Star Allen Iverson began wearing a sleeve on his arm to help with bursitis in his elbow, helping to increase blood circulation and reduce swelling in his arm. Similar sleeves are used for clinical conditions such as lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
You can find compression garments as sleeves, socks, shorts, or even full-body suits. There are various levels of compression for garments, but they all have gradient pressure, which means they’re a little tighter at the bottom of the garment and a little looser at the top to help push blood toward your heart and prevent blood from ‘pooling’ or remaining in the compressed areas. Most garments need simple measurements around your arms or legs to make sure you have the correct size.
But can these garments also impact your performance and recovery? It’s been found that compression garments do actually help with blood flow and increase oxygen to working muscles. But whether that translates into improved performance is another question altogether.
Most performance-related studies have looked at the effects of compression sleeves or socks on running. Some participants said they didn’t feel they were working as hard when wearing compression garments on their legs. While the relationship between compression garments and performance is still not clear, some researchers have suggested that this psychological benefit of lower perceived exertion might help athletes train at higher intensity. However, more research is needed to show if this ultimately leads to actual performance improvements.
In terms of recovery, more research is needed too. The effects of compression garments on muscle soreness after exercise have been mixed, but there have been no studies on the use of compression socks or sleeves for shin splints and other leg pain. They are sometimes effective at reducing the muscle soreness that occurs 24-48 hours after exercise. Relief of symptoms from wearing these garments varies from person to person, sometimes with no benefit. And it isn’t clear whether wearing these garments during recovery will improve your performance next time.
That “slow to wake up” feeling of grogginess in the morning has a name: sleep inertia. HPRC asked a sleep expert whether sleep inertia is a real threat to performance, and the answer may surprise you: While sleep inertia is a real phenomenon, the threat it poses to performance has never been seriously studied but probably isn’t as bad as you might think.
However, sleep inertia can be a serious issue when cognitive performance—such as problem solving and decision making—is called for immediately on waking. For example, physicians who are awakened by calls from nursing staff have been known to make serious errors. For most situations, though, it’s better to sleep (and pay down any “sleep debt”) rather than stay awake with the intent of being alert just in case you’ll be called on, our expert concluded.
If your head does need to be in the game quickly after awakening, call on some caffeine to help; it can give you the boost you need to get out of your sleep inertia. Popping in some caffeine gum when you wake up (but only when essential) can produce near-normal cognitive performance within about five minutes.
September is Suicide Prevention Month — a good time to review how you can possibly help someone in need. Rule number one: Trust your instincts. If you’re worried about someone in particular, don’t ignore it—talk to that person about the concern you feel for him or her. Don’t know how? Be an ACE: “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Ask. If you’re concerned, ask directly and without judgment, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” If he or she responds “yes,” determine if he or she has a plan by asking, “Have you thought about ways that you might hurt yourself?” (Note: The more specific the plan, the greater the risk).
Care. Next, care for your friend by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself. Don’t leave your friend alone.
Escort. Tell someone immediately. Take your friend to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.
The recently released report from the Department of Defense, “Supporting Military Families In Crisis,” offers information for families about what to do in a crisis as well as how to prevent crises. The guide focuses on suicide prevention, following the Total Force Fitness perspective, but the information applies to many other areas of military family life, especially the section titled “Building a Resilient Family.” HPRC can help your family with many of their suggestions:
- Keep your mind fit: Check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain for how to go about it.
- Build resilience through coping skills and other strategies: Find information on building resilience in the Mental Resilience section of Mind Tactics.
- Foster a sense of belonging: Try the resources in the Relationship Enhancement and Family Resilience sections of HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
- Train year-round: Find ideas for getting the most out of your workouts from the Performance Strategies in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
- Be aware of your world: Learn specific strategies for coping with extreme environments—heat, cold, high altitude, and more—in HPRC’s Environment domain.
- Eat your way healthy: Learn how to fuel your body for optimal performance with HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
And to learn how to bring all these aspects together for individual and family resilience in the face of any crisis, spend some time cruising HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.