Filed under: Mind tactics
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.
The “relaxation response” is your body’s counterpart to the stress response you feel during critical situations. As the name suggests, the relaxation response has a calming effect on your mental and physical state, with benefits that include less anxiety, a more positive mood, a sense of calmness and well-being, and reduced heart rate, breathing and metabolic rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Sound good? You can learn how to use your body’s relaxation response for health and well-being. Various mind-body techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai-chi, and qigong all train you to turn this response on. Practicing these mind-body techniques has been found to help with anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.
To learn more about mind-body techniques, check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
You’ve heard the expression about being able to dish it out, but not being able to take it. Is there some truth to that? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be a tough spot for many of us—whether at work or with your friends or family—and for some, can even provoke anger. If you think that avoiding or denying criticism, making excuses for yourself, or fighting back is the best way to handle it, take note of how many times those tactics have made the situation worse instead. The next time you feel criticized, try this: Listen to what is being said, ask for details, agree with your critic’s right to his or her opinion, and use the criticism as a learning opportunity. If you need time to think about what’s being said or to calm down, try saying “Let me think about it” to get some breathing space.
Does your mind ever get in the way of you being your best? Are your thoughts stuck in a negative rut? Do you wish you knew a strategy for trying to get yourself out of these “thinking traps” that we all fall victim to every now and then? Check out HPRC’s downloadable card—“Change Your Mind for Peak Performance”—which highlights some common mind traps and learn about one strategy that may help.
For more information on enhancing your mind, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
You know the positive effects of exercise on your health: how it can benefit every part of the body and dramatically extend your lifespan. But did you know that—in addition to reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension—exercise also can play a role in helping some mental health issues? Physical fitness and regular exercise appear to buffer against depression and anxiety, promote calmness, enhance mood, and help protect against the negative effects of stress.
Exercise also can benefit your brain in other ways. Exercise benefits learning and memory, protects the brain from degeneration, and increases the brain’s ability to adapt after new experiences. Physical fitness and regular exercise promote both physical and mental resilience—something that is important for all to think about.
Two techniques continue to be found to be effective no matter the age of the learner:
- Spread out your learning. When you need to learn something new, don’t cram it in right before you need it. Instead, distribute it over time in order to learn the most—and it’ll help you remember more of what you learn as time passes. So start ahead of time and diligently work towards your deadline. Then when you need the information, you may be able to remember it.
- Be put to the test! Testing allows you to evaluate your knowledge on a subject. Practice tests help you sharpen your skills through direct questioning or applying knowledge or skills in a similar task. So don’t be afraid to put yourself to the test: Use practice tests, flashcards, and/or practice problems to help yourself learn as much as you can and retain what you learn.
Some beloved techniques, such as highlighting and summarizing, may not be as effective as widely thought. Although this research focused on academic learning environments, the same information may be able to benefit military personnel as they learn new topics and skills throughout their career.
There is no one method that is the best for everyone and every task. In fact, combinations of learning methods have yet to be studied. Ultimately, you should judge these techniques according to your specific learning goals and determine what works best for you.
Relaxation, meditation, imagery, and redirection strategies (such as distraction) may be helpful at reducing pain. These mind-body techniques can help you consciously relax your body, slow your breathing, reduce your blood pressure, and improve your sense of well-being. These techniques can also help you shift your focus to other things besides your pain. For more in-depth information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on “Mind-body strategies for pain.”
Tough times challenge you to grow and develop new skills to deal with new challenges. If you find yourself in a tough situation you can’t change, you can at least control how you react while you’re in it. It’s how you interpret a situation that determines how you react to it. Therefore, if you find yourself in a tough situation, pause—think about what you can (and cannot) control, starting with your thoughts. This can often give you strength in new areas. Reflecting, meditating, praying—or in some way connecting to something greater than yourself—is a performance tool that can help you persevere through the challenges you may encounter along the way.
For more ideas on how to take charge of your thinking, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies on “Reframing your thinking traps for peak performance.” And for even more ways to persevere, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for “Optimizing Your Body’s Response.” Finally, for more ideas related to spirituality, check out the Spirituality section of HPRC’s website.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a way to relieve the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that show up as tense, aching muscles. This mind-body practice helps you consciously release muscle tension so that you’re able to function throughout the day and relax during downtime. Using PMR, you learn to release tension and develop deep relaxation by actively tensing and then relaxing the muscles throughout your body. The outcome: You can train your body to relax on command. Check out the description of how to do PMR in the Controlled Response handbook section of the OSOK Total Force Fitness program.
For more information on relaxation strategies, check out the Stress Control resources in HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
The way you interpret what other people say and do affects your performance as a Warfighter. Sometimes you may interpret things in faulty or unproductive ways called “thinking traps.” They can significantly damage your ability to reach your full potential. However, there are methods you can learn and use to develop alternate thoughts that promote productive and positive thoughts—a process is called “cognitive reframing”—that will lead to optimum performance. Learn about how to do it in HPRC’s Performance Strategy on how to “Reframe your ‘thinking traps’ for peak performance.”