Filed under: Mind
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.
Take plenty of 30-second microbreaks to ease computer-related physical discomfort. Do you spend hours in front of your computer? Then you’ve probably noticed that your neck, low back, shoulders, and wrists can feel tired and sore afterwards. A great strategy that can help these discomforts is to take “microbreaks”—30-second breaks from your computer. They can help even if you’re just working for 3 hours at a computer—much less a full workday! Some tips to consider:
- Take a microbreak every 20 minutes when working in front of a computer.
- Don’t wait until you feel the need for a break. It’s more helpful to create a specific break schedule than to wait until it feels like time to take one.
- Don’t worry about taking micro breaks and getting less done. For most tasks, microbreaks actually don’t negatively impact productivity.
You can learn to use the same mental imagery skills that elite athletes use to achieve peak performance. Mental imagery 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’s a popular sport psychology technique that service members can take advantage of. You can enhance your usual training to help maintain—or even surpass—your current skill level, even when you’re sidelined.
Some of the benefits of mental imagery include:
- Better decision-making
- Fewer errors
- Improved attention
- Increased confidence
- Reduced stress and anxiety
You can create imagery in your mind for just about any task, such as improving your running time or marksmanship. Good mental imagery uses all of the senses, but it often helps to listen to a scripted audio recording. Use HPRC’s Building an Imagery Script worksheet to guide you through the steps of creating your own imagery script.
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 any of these approaches, it’s important to “feel” yourself executing the skill, even though you might be sitting or lying down. Of course, you don’t have to be sitting still to use mental imagery. Try using it in the setting where you’ll actually perform the skill. You can even incorporate it into existing training protocols.
Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune in to emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. It’s easy to be overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems. And you can make it worse by trying to forget the cause. For example, a service member afflicted with PTSD desperately wants to avoid experiencing certain traumatic events. Ironically, the actual effort to forget can cause him to relive difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or memories. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more. Read more here.
Mental toughness is a psychological edge that some are born with and others develop. It’s a mixture of traits that are important for all who want to overcome adversity and be successful. These traits include a strong belief in yourself and an unshakable faith that you control your own destiny. It allows you to consistently cope with training and lifestyle demands better than those who don’t have it.
If you have these 4 Cs, you’re mentally tough:
- Control: You feel in control of your emotions and are influential with the people in your life.
- Commitment: You embrace difficulty rather than running from it.
- Challenge: You believe that life is full of opportunities, not threats.
- Confidence: You know you have what it takes to be successful.
How to get it? You can gain mental toughness through a long-term process of developing mental skills. Leaders can specifically promote mental toughness by creating a learning environment centered on the mastery of the 4 Cs. They also can help by generally supporting and encouraging service members to maintain positive relationships. Over the long haul, to maintain and improve your mental toughness, you need to constantly hone your mental skills. And finally, you need a self-driven, insatiable desire to succeed.
Routines often can help your performance, but you need to be flexible too. Some of the world’s best athletes have scripted routines that begin with what time they wake up. Top performers find that routines can help shift them from stressful anticipation of how things are going to turn out to focus instead on what’s most important in that moment. In other words, routines can help you reduce anxiety.
But while rigid routines can be useful when the events are predictable, 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 service members 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, visit HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
How we interpret experiences has a big impact on how we react to them. Your personal relationships are especially prone to “thinking traps” that can lead you to draw false conclusions. For example, let’s say you’ve been married for some time now. But recently you find yourself thinking your partner doesn’t love you any more because she or he no longer says so.
One way to address this kind of thinking trap is to ask yourself—or have a friend ask you—questions that make you think about the reasoning or evidence behind what you’re thinking:
- What specifically makes you think your spouse doesn’t love you any more?
- What did he or she do in the past that made you feel loved?
- Are there any other possible explanations that might explain your partner’s behavior, such as job stress, an ailing parent, children acting out, or recent return from deployment?
- When you think back to the beginning of your relationship, how could you tell he or she loved you? Was it something said? Or done?
- Has your behavior toward your spouse changed recently?
Questions such as these can help you gain perspective. Once you’ve gone through this self-questioning process, it’s possible you’ll interpret your partner’s behavior in a different way. Maybe you were just caught up in a thinking trap.
When you forgive others, you let go of feelings that can haunt you, such as anger, hurt, bitterness, and vengefulness. Through forgiveness you also can experience positive emotions toward the wrongdoer, such as wanting the best for that person despite whatever he or she has done.
It’s natural to resist to letting go, so why should you let someone off the hook? When you don’t forgive, you suffer negative feelings too. And what you feel after the fact doesn’t change what has already happened.
Forgiveness is letting go of hurt feelings. It isn’t forgetting, overlooking, or approving of what was done. And it doesn’t necessarily mean restoring a trusting relationship. But it’s hard to let go of feelings. Here are some tips to start the forgiving process:
1) Remember the hurt. This doesn’t mean you dwell on it, but allow yourself to tune into how you really feel.
2) Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is a tough one. But think about the wrongdoer as a human being capable of making mistakes just like anyone else. This doesn’t excuse his or her mistake, but maybe something contributed to being misguided.
3) Consider your own past mistakes. Picture times when you made mistakes. You don’t need to compare your mistakes, but remember how it felt and how you benefitted or could have benefitted from forgiveness.
4) Once you forgive, commit to it. You may feel tempted to give in to the negative emotions again, letting them rule your thinking and behavior. Instead, revisit all the ways in which forgiveness makes sense, and let your emotions catch up later.
Forgiveness probably won’t happen overnight, but if you commit to the process, you may find relief from your own pain.