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HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics
The “relaxation response” is your body’s natural reaction against the negative effects of stress; it shuts off the “stress response” when the need for it is over. Recent research has shown that the relaxation response can decrease the harmful effects of chronic stress even at the gene level. Learn about your body’s natural stress and relaxation responses, when they are and aren’t helpful, and how to control them when their natural operations fail in HPRC’s “Influence Your Body’s Stress & Relaxation Responses.”
Hypnosis is a trance-like state produced from a heightened sense of focus and concentration. Like other mind-body strategies, hypnosis can sometimes provide temporary pain relief for many pain conditions. Learn more about what hypnosis is, the research on what pain conditions it can help, things to be aware of, and its relevance to the military in HPRC’s “Hypnosis for Pain.”
As we’ve highlighted before, pets bring special benefits to their humans. But is there a “logical” explanation for why the human-animal connection is so rewarding? Some scientists think that physical contact with your pet (especially a dog)—such as stroking or holding the animal on your lap—as well as having a relationship with that animal (that is, knowing and caring for the pet) are two components that make the owner-pet relationship therapeutic. It appears that these can lead to an increase in a “feel-good” hormone (oxytocin) in humans. (Check out last week’s post to learn about oxytocin and its impact on human relationships.) As little as five minutes of stroking a dog can result in a measurable increase in oxytocin levels. While it works for most people with any animal, the effect is stronger if the animal is one’s own pet. In fact, the closer the relationship (including affectionate behavior), the more oxytocin is released. Researchers caution, though, that this effect doesn’t work in those who don’t like animals, a finding that needs more research.
Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.
There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.
For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Think about your feelings of connection in an intimate relationship, or the last time you were physically intimate with your loved one, and how you felt afterwards. Did you feel a flood of happiness, a feeling of closeness, or a sense of bonding? There is actually a physical reason behind some of these sensations: the hormone oxytocin.
Your body releases oxytocin into your blood and brain in response to sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, as well as everyday behaviors such as touching and stroking—usually in trusting relationships. Oxytocin promotes social bonds; that is, it makes you feel “close” (emotionally) to another person, and it makes you feel good. Specifically, it increases eye contact, your ability to remember faces, and feelings of trust, generosity, and empathy. Other benefits of oxytocin include reduced aggression and stress and increased bonding, especially maternal bonding after birth. In fact, oxytocin is so effective at making you feel good and loving that it’s often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle drug.”
With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, many of you have love on your brains. So now you can think about it from a deeper perspective: how oxytocin plays a role in your love life.
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
Routines often help performance, and some of the world’s best athletes have scripted routines that begin with what time they wake up. This type of rigid approach can be useful when the environment is predictable. Top performers find that routines can help shift them from the stressful anticipation of how things are going to turn out to a focus on what’s most important in that moment; in other words, routines can provide an escape from anxiety. But overly rigid routines can morph a helpful tool into a superstitious or obsessive ritual. The best athletes regard flexibility and adaptation as crucial to their own, often finely honed, routines. With Warfighters, for whom crises are part of the job, the best teams are able to go “off-script” when needed in order to work together most effectively.
For more information on mental aspects of performance check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
A popular sport psychology technique Warfighters can use is mental imagery. This is the practice of seeing (and feeling) in your mind’s eye how you want to perform a skill, as if you were actually doing it. It can augment your usual training and help you maintain—or even surpass—your current skill level, even when you’re sidelined.
Some of the ways that imagery helps performance include:
- Better decision-making
- Fewer errors
- Improved attention
- Increased confidence
- Reduced stress and anxiety
You can generate imagery in your mind for just about any task (improving your running time or marksmanship, for example). Good mental imagery incorporates all of the senses, and it often helps to listen to a scripted audio recording. You can create your own and/or work with a CSF Prep Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert to develop one.
Watching others can also help. In fact, being a spectator can boost learning even more than mental imagery by itself because you’re viewing what you’d like to accomplish rather than conjuring up images with your own mind. Both methods of learning are effective. Observing can be in-person or by video, but you can also combine video/imagery approaches and potentially get even more bang for your buck.
With either approach, or with the combined approach, it is important to “feel” yourself executing the skill, even though you might be sitting or lying down. Of course, imagery doesn’t have to be done while you’re sitting still. Try using imagery in the setting where you’ll actually perform the skill. You can even incorporate it into existing training protocols.
Watch HPRC for future posts where we’ll explain how to create your own imagery. Until then, check out other mental performance skills located in Mind Tactics.
Misinformation abounds regarding ideal nap lengths for optimal cognitive performance. You need sleep to function at your best. If you do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, then napping can help. Learn more in HPRC’s Answer, “Nap to be at Your Best Mentally.”
Over the last seven weeks, HPRC has run a series on tips for keeping the happy in holidays this season for you and your family. We highlighted many strategies, such as being a gratitude hunter, how to be more optimistic, and how to accept things you can’t control. We also highlighted tips for your relationships, such as setting appropriate expectations, identifying possible friction points ahead of time, and celebrating your family and friends. Look back over these in our Mind Tactics and Family & Relationships domains over the last seven weeks to review.
In wrapping up, our last tip is to remember that you know yourself best. Try a combination of the tips we highlighted each week to see which ones work for you, the ones that fit your strengths, and those that suit where you are right now in life. Ups and downs are common during the holiday season, but if you keep your perspective, stay realistic, make time for fitness, and foster new memories with your loved ones, this just might be your best New Year yet!