Filed under: Mind
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.
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!
You might have noticed that you can “turn off” your busy brain by watching TV, but did you know there are other techniques that could help quiet your mind? You can download several MP3 audio files in HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos.
- Introduction to Paced Breathing helps you learn to pace your breath and achieve calmness while staying alert.
- Paced Breathing Music guides you to pace your breath once you better understand the timed breathing routine.
- Autogenic Training, a mind-body exercise, shows how to use your mind to warm your hands, while also quieting your mind.
Remember it's okay if your busy brain turns on. But just as easily as racing thoughts creep in, let them creep out—while gently guiding your attention to something neutral such as your breath, or something important such as the task at hand. Whether it’s watching TV or using a mind-body technique, find ways to quiet your mind and be more focused when it matters.
You probably know how good it feels to tap your foot to the beat of a familiar song. But did you know that moving your body in sync with a beat could help improve thinking and learning abilities? It might possibly repair brain injuries too.
Recent hi-tech breakthroughs show that lining up precise, repeated movements (such as hand clapping) with a certain beat could boost brainpower. Similar to how biofeedback helps you use your mind to ease stress and manage pain, this synchronized metronome training (SMT) approach helps to master the timing of these movements.
SMT is linked to improved concentration, academic performance, behavior, and muscular coordination in children diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also a promising treatment for those diagnosed with brain-based movement disorders such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and stroke-related injuries. SMT offers mind-body benefits for active-duty soldiers coping with blast-related traumatic brain injuries (e.g., inattention and short-term memory loss). It’s even helped healthy golfers step up their game.
SMT helps improve fluid movements for those experiencing excess muscle tension. It also enables better concentration for those feeling distracted or anxious. People can learn to complete a task without trying too hard. Through SMT, you can train your brain by “letting” movements happen—key to its success.
Meditation can actually change how your brain functions, building resilience and improving your performance. Much the same way you strengthen your muscles, when you exercise different parts of your brain, you make subtle changes to its structure. These physical changes lead to changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Specifically, it can change those parts of the brain associated with anxiety, mind wandering, mood, fear, stress, empathy, emotion, and pain.
Meditation uses thinking strategies to better manage stress, using your mind to tune into sensations in your body, accept feelings, and observe thoughts without judgment. However, meditation is about much more than just relaxation. It actually creates a state of calm alertness. With the regular practice of meditation, you can bring about structural changes in your brain that make this condition last longer.
If you repeat the same thought or action many, many times, your brain forms new pathways—a process known as “neuroplasticity.” Whether you’re finding your way around a new base, or your children are learning their multiplication tables, skills become ingrained as the brain changes. Meditation helps by affecting the parts of your brain responsible for attention, the ability to think and act with flexibility, and managing emotions. In fact, the emotion regulation center of your brain can grow with meditation, the self-control center becomes more active, and as you become less stressed and fearful, the fear center in your brain can actually shrink in size.
You might not be aware of changes overnight, but persistence will yield rewards. And some meditation is better than none. Just as you get stronger with more time at the gym, the more you meditate, the better your brain becomes equipped to reach that state of calm alertness. To learn more about how to meditate, visit HPRC’s Mind-Body Techniques section.
No matter what triggers your stress, from deployment to late daycare pickup, you can manage your emotions, stress, and focus by repeating a word or phrase that clears your mind. This simple approach can reduce mental clutter and provide a sense of calm. You also may find you can focus better and more easily track your big priorities.
Good news! You can immediately begin learning this skill simply by trying it. Whether you know stress is coming or already feel stressed, or if you’re recovering after stress, repeat your chosen word or phrase to calm your mind. There’s no magic to this. By occupying your mind with a word or phrase, you put to rest distressing or distracting thoughts. Some people prefer to use words or phrases they find spiritually meaningful, while others choose something as simple as the word “one.” Other examples may include “breathe” or “let go.” The exact word or phrase doesn’t necessarily matter. See what works for you. As with other stress management techniques, the challenge is often transforming an interesting experiment into a healthy daily habit.
Taking an active role in keeping your mind healthy and happy can keep you from feeling down or depressed. Staying on top of your mood can help maintain healthy relationships with your family and loved ones. If you’re not sure whether or not you might be depressed, here are some things to look out for:
- lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities;
- significant weight loss or gain;
- insomnia or excessive sleeping;
- lack of energy;
- inability to concentrate; and
- symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Getting the support of a mental health professional is generally a good idea in dealing with symptoms of depression, but even if you’re in therapy, you can play an active role in improving your situation. Try following some of our simple tips found here.
There are exercises you can do to improve your mindset and your optimism, the belief that things will go well for you in a given situation. This is important because optimism is associated with health benefits such as:
- less risk of death from heart attack;
- lower risk of depression following events such as the death or illness of someone close; and
- better personal relationships.
Military training for contingency planning can help you identify what can or did go wrong as part of your important risk-assessment skills. However, when you transfer these strategies to noncombat life you may find focusing on potential problems hurts more than it helps. Balancing optimism and contingency planning can be difficult, but the good news is that you can learn optimism too. Here are some strategies to get you started.
Don’t make things harder for yourself by making excuses or creating excuses in advance. When you set a goal and the stakes feel high, it can be easy to make excuses when you fail in order to avoid negative feelings such as regret, shame, or guilt. Without thinking about why you do it, you may sometimes make tasks harder than they need to be so that ready-made excuses “protect” you from feeling bad. The downside is that you miss opportunities to learn from your experiences and test your “true” skills. This is called “self-handicapping.” Learn how to set yourself up for success instead. Read more here.
The ultimate performance mind state is often referred to as “the Zone,” which scientists refer to as “flow.” It isn’t something you can decide to suddenly experience, but you can remove obstacles and learn mental skills that help pave the way. This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting your progress towards goals.
- Being intense and focused on the present moment.
- A merging together—in the moment—of what you do and what you are aware of.
- Not feeling self-consciousness or anxious.
- Time slowing down or speeding up.
- Your attention focused on exactly where you need it to be.
- Feeling challenged yet taking opportunities even when they’re a slight stretch.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience the Zone in many ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. It can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by doing many hours of deliberate practice and by honing good mental skills.