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Filed under: Mind

Myths and facts about mental toughness

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Learn some common myths about mental toughness, and then get the facts to help understand what it’s all about.

Mental toughness is often described as a psychological edge that helps people endure challenges, overcome adversity, and achieve more success. There are many common myths about mental toughness that can influence your beliefs about where it comes from and your willingness to work at getting more of it. Big businesses, elite athletes, and now military leaders are interested in mental toughness because it helps you overcome challenges, achieve optimal performance, and maintain readiness. Check out these 7 common myths and facts about mental toughness. Read more...

5 tips for sticking to your goals

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New Year’s Day is behind us, but it’s never too late to revisit your resolutions or make new ones. These simple strategies can help you reach your performance goals.

Whatever you want to accomplish in 2017, those New Year’s resolutions are a good thing. Setting goals can help you achieve optimal performance. Use the tips below (based on recommendations from the American Psychological Association) to help you actually achieve those goals.

  1. One at a time. Trying to do everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time instead: Break your goals into pieces you can build on.
  2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You might be eager to get started, but begin with the more manageable goals and build up to the really challenging ones.
  3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with your family and friends. They can be your biggest supporters. It might help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and it even might interest them enough to join you.
  4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to reach your goals. If you’re struggling with one aspect of a goal, seek out advice and support. You also can get help from HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills, with evidence-based information that can help you progress towards your goals.
  5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is an ever-moving—if not impossible—target, so don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being your best, not perfect. If you make mistakes, recover and get back on track—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead, and you might find it brings your goals even closer.

For more information on how to become your best, check out HPRC’s Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.

Beat to a better (heart) rhythm

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Your heart rate isn’t steady, and you don’t want it to be. A rhythmic, more variable heart rate is good for physical and mental health, plus performance.

Your heart rate varies with every heartbeat. When it varies more, it’s good for your health and performance. Heart rate variability (HRV)—a way to track how your heart rate rhythmically goes up and down—helps you objectively assess your mind-body optimization. HRV measures the time interval between one heartbeat and the next. It can be affected by many factors, including fitness, age, body position, and even the time of day. HRV also decreases during periods of stress. You’ll feel less stressed—and more resilient—when your HRV level is high. Your heart rate speeds up when you inhale and slows down when you exhale too. Breathing at certain paces impacts HRV and—in turn—the mind-body connection and performance. Since you can learn to control your breathing, you also can improve your HRV. Read HPRC’s Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best to learn more.

Preventing veteran suicides

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Learn more about what the VA is doing to help veterans at risk of suicide.

In 2014, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day. And after recently reviewing 55 million veteran records from 1979 to 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determined those who are older, middle-aged, and female are most at risk. However, the VA is ramping up its efforts to help save veterans’ lives.

Suicide rates also are much higher among veterans than civilians. For example, suicide risk among veterans was 21% higher than civilians in 2014. The good news is the VA continues to shape policy and work towards meeting its suicide-prevention goals, including:

  • Expanding crisis lines and telemental health services
  • Identifying at-risk veterans who can benefit from early intervention
  • Improving mental health services for women
  • Providing telephone-coaching support for veterans and their families
  • Deploying mobile apps that can help veterans manage their mental health issues

“Every veteran suicide is a tragic outcome and regardless of the rates, one veteran suicide is one too many,” according to the VA. For accurate diagnosis, or to simply check in with a caring professional, consider consulting a qualified mental health therapist. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website offers good information and helpful resources. Also, Military OneSource offers support and services to improve your mental health and well-being.

If you feel you're experiencing a potentially life-threatening problem, contact the Military Crisis Line online or call 800-273-8255 and press “1,” or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) also has a 24/7 Outreach Center featuring a hotline, email, chat, and phone number. And visit HPRC’s Suicide Prevention page. In an emergency, please dial 911.

Criticism: It’s not all bad

Filed under: Criticism, Mind
Criticism sometimes can be hard to hear, but there are ways to listen and learn from it.

Is it true that it’s easy to dish it out, but not take it? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be tough on anyone—whether you’re at work, on missions, in the classroom, or at home. And for some, it can even provoke anger.

If you think that avoiding or denying criticism, making excuses, or fighting back is the best way to handle things, try to remember when those tactics made the situation worse. When criticism stings, try this instead: Listen to what’s being said, thoughtfully ask for details, and remember that your critic has a right to his or her opinion.

Find a way to use the criticism as a learning opportunity too. Any feedback is useful, even if the lesson simply is that others might see you differently than how you want to be perceived. If you need time to think about what’s being said or time to calm down, try saying “Let me think about what you’re saying” to get some breathing space. And work out a plan to develop your talents and improve your performance.

How post-traumatic stress affects your brain

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Understanding how your brain works might help you better understand post-traumatic stress. Learn more about effective treatments.

Sometimes just understanding what’s going on can help the process of recovery. If you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it might help to have a better idea of how your brain functions and how the various parts are supposed to work. This also can help you understand the treatments used to help “rewire” your brain, so it can work properly again.

PTSD is a mental health condition stemming from traumas—experienced during combat, disasters, or violence—that impact brain functioning. The alarm system in your brain, that normally helps ensure your survival, malfunctions; it becomes triggered too easily. In turn, parts of your brain responsible for thinking and memory stop functioning properly. When this happens, you have difficulty comparing what’s happening now with safe events from the past. Read more...

Nootropics on your mind?

If you’re looking for cognitive enhancers or “smart drugs,” you may want to think twice.

Many dietary supplement products are marketed as nootropics—substances intended to improve memory, focus, and overall mental performance. While some products contain vitamins, minerals, and plant-based ingredients, others contain drugs that are not legal dietary supplement ingredients. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about nootropics to learn more about these products and whether they are safe and effective.

Not all ingredients found in dietary supplements are legal, so read product labels carefully. For more information, visit FDA’s Dietary Supplement Products & Ingredients.

How do I improve focus?

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Filed under: Focus, Mind, Mind tactics
Break free from distractions and learn how to improve your focus.

When working to build your concentration on one task, consider fixing problems and/or embracing new techniques. Ask yourself whether you’re trying to restore a level of performance that you previously achieved—or if you’re trying to boost your performance. Physical injuries, pain, medications, sleep deprivation, and addiction could distract you from the task at hand. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can negatively impact your ability to focus too. Through successful treatment with a trained medical provider, your attention skills could likely be restored to previous levels.

If you’re aiming to enhance your focus capabilities and perform better than ever, you might want to try some mental performance techniques. These skills include goal-setting, self-talk habits, mental imagery, energy maximization, and organized routines to steer your attention. When developing a routine, you can become more aware of where your attention could go, and practice regularly guiding it to where you want it to go. As you develop practical habits, stay flexible and allow yourself to be spontaneous and adaptable when appropriate.

Face fears and imagine success

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When fear of failure takes hold, explore it—and conquer it.

Fear of failure can prevent you from performing your best in many situations including combat, work, relationships, and daily life. Worry can take a bigger hold when you push it aside. For instance, while preparing to give a presentation and thinking, “I can’t be nervous,” you might actually feel more nervous!

As you face your fears, understand that fearing something will happen doesn't mean that it will happen. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:

  • Why do I think I can’t be nervous? If I’m nervous, I’ll give a horrible talk.
  • So if I’m nervous, I’m guaranteed to give a horrible talk? No, I’ve given good talks while nervous before.
  • If nervousness leads to giving an awful talk, what’s the worst thing about that? I’d be embarrassed and people would walk away without having learned important material.
  • What’s worse—embarrassment or people walking away without learning? I’d survive the embarrassment. People need to learn this stuff.
  • Is this their last opportunity to learn? No, I’d take more steps to make sure they got it, despite an initially awful talk.

Once you fully consider the failure scenarios, spend more time imagining a positive outcome and accomplishing smaller goals that lead to success.

Sleep is a performance asset

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Filed under: Mind, Performance, Sleep
We need sleep as much as we need food and water for health and performance. Yet there are some training myths about “getting used to sleep deprivation.”

Sleep is vital. Think about it: sleep loss causes performance to suffer, but getting plenty of sleep results in better performance. Most people wouldn’t consider going without food or water, and sleep is no different—it’s a necessity. Lack of sleep is equivalent to being drunk. In fact, after being awake for 18–20 hours, you’d function as if you had a blood-alcohol content of .1% (about four drinks for a 150-pound man). Little or no sleep affects your eye-hand coordination, reaction time, and multitasking abilities—and how you remember important sequences, remain attentive, and stay organized. If you’re tired, you may be able to learn skills and work well enough, but training while fatigued might impact your ability to do your best.

Many people believe that they can overcome being tired or “get used to it.” But evidence suggests sleeping only 6 hours can jeopardize your resilience, health, and well-being. As people become more sleep-deprived, they become less aware that they’re impaired. When someone says, “I’m used to being tired,” they’re simply used to having impaired awareness and judgment. When possible, sleep more to help boost your energy level, thinking ability, and readiness!

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