Filed under: Performance
That mental state dubbed “the zone” by the media is what scientists call “flow.” It happens when you perform at your best easily because you’re performing automatically, without overthinking, focusing only on what’s happening right now.
To help yourself perform better more consistently and possibly even experience flow, consider these typical blocks and how to overcome them:
- Personal demands: It’s hard to focus on the task at hand when there’s personal stuff on your brain. Do what you can in advance, and shift to the present moment with self-talk such as “focus.”
- Mission complexity and ambiguity: If it feels as if there are too many “moving parts” in a task, try to gain clarity up front. Ask questions and use mental imagery to see in your mind’s eye what needs to be done.
- Interpersonal conflict: Everyone replays arguments mentally. Resolve them at the front end or put them on hold during a mission. Routines can help you bring your attention to the here and now.
- Paralysis by analysis: Thinking too hard is another way that people sometimes get stuck. Trust your training and let your best performances unfold.
- Limited control or resources: Deciding what is in your control and what isn’t can help you focus on what’s most important in the present moment.
- Isolation: We all need other people. Be active in seeking support.
- Intense workload: If anxiety about what’s in front of you is getting in the way, try embracing excitement about whatever you’re facing.
- Boredom or underutilization: When you know you need more challenge, ask for it.
Big demands require big resources. Overcome mental blocks to performance by continuing to develop your mental resources.
There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.
Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.
In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:
- Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
- Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
- Minimize conflict between unit members.
- Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
- Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
- Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
- Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
- Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
- Build resilience at the individual and group level.
Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
Whether on the playing field or on a mission, of course you want to succeed. Dreaming of positive outcomes can drive you to train hard. But you may have noticed that when you only focus on the outcome, you’re distracted from the important ingredients for success. Your successes will unfold more easily if you develop goals centered on what’s in your control rather than how you compare to others. Learn more about setting different kinds of goals in this HPRC article on sport psychology goals.
It’s almost time for the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs! Athletes and teams from each branch of service have already qualified in their respective trials and are set to compete from 28 September through 6 October at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado. The Warrior Games give wounded service members and veterans an opportunity to compete in adaptive sports. For some, this is a continuation of their competitive careers; for others, it’s a new experience and part of the healing process. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to cheer on the athletes—admission is free! Semper Citius, Altius, Fortius!
“Sport psychology” uses the principles of psychology to help optimize performance in athletics. These concepts can be applied to just about anybody (including Warfighters) in any setting where performance matters, so sport psychology often gets dubbed “performance psychology.” Regardless of the name, this focus on the mental aspect of performance fits into a holistic approach to Human Performance Optimization (HPO).
A major focus of sport or performance psychology is mental skills training, building a “toolbox” of mental skills based on sport science and clinical/counseling psychology techniques. These scientifically based methods can be applied to Warfighter performance too. Some basic tenets of performance enhancement within military and sport settings include maintaining high awareness, motivation, and self-control, either by reducing how “amped up” you get or by learning to interpret these feelings as either meaningless or helpful to performance. A well-trained Warfighter can either calm down and think, “I’ve got butterflies, but no big deal,” or “I am psyched up and ready!”
Mental skills are important, but they’re only part of a performance psychology package. Performance psychology looks to fix or improve performance by: 1) training skills to proactively address problems, 2) improving resilience to avoid problems in the first place, 3) enhancing performance, and 4) reducing stigma around getting help with problems after they’ve appeared. In applying performance psychology to Warfighters, training is customized to meet the needs of specific groups, focused on real-life applications, and taught in a way such that skills are learned for optimal functioning both at work and at home. HPRC endorses holistic training programs that include performance psychology, such as One Shot One Kill (OSOK), a platform that helps Warfighters to customize their own systematic training.
We all have goals—to lift a certain weight, to cycle a century, or to run a marathon in a certain amount of time. Of course, not all goals are fitness oriented; maybe you want to climb in rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Action-oriented, and Time-sensitive. Goals are not just about dreaming big; they’re about achieving.
HPRC’s printable SMART goals worksheet will help you to get on target. Using this tool will help you to:
- think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
- determine if the goal is a good fit for you;
- measure and monitor your success;
- pay attention to the language that you use; and
- break down the overall goal into chunks.
And for more guidance on making your goals achievable, you can check out HPRC's Answer on SMART goal setting.
If you’re looking for the latest information on how to improve your sleep, activity, and nutrition, you can find it with the new app for the Performance Triad, an initiative of the U.S. Army Surgeon General. The Performance Triad, which includes technological tools and resources, was rolled out to optimize performance for individuals and units—and ultimately to maximize readiness and resilience. The app is available for free and is available in versions for iPhone, Android, and Windows. Whether you’re a healthcare professional, active duty, spouse, or civilian, you’ll be able to find useful information tailored to you! The app provides tips on how to sleep well, stay active, and eat right. Whether you’re on the go or looking for quick answers, you’ll have lots of great information at your fingertips. This app will be updated frequently, so be sure to keep your eye on it for new information!
Whether training for a mission, an athletic event, or simply to maintain your edge, there are strategies you use to enhance your chance of success, including “rules” such as figuring out where you are before you start and setting up an environment that supports your new plan. Check out HPRC’s new card, “Peak Performance: Rules of Engagement,” to learn all of them. And for even more information, check out the accompanying Performance Strategies.
Prescription stimulants can improve attention and alertness, and doctors prescribe them for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or excessive fatigue. Used improperly and without the supervision of a health provider, these drugs have serious side effects. Some people misuse and/or become addicted to them. Learn more in HPRC’s “Stimulant drugs: use and misuse.”
Good decision-making is crucial to mission success for any Warfighter. Advancements in technology can help build awareness of how people think (that is, how they remember and evaluate information) and even how they feel (recognizing “gut feelings” and what drives them). “Affective computing” and “wearable sensing” are no longer science fiction. Special bracelets or other articles of clothing can sense one’s needs in terms of exercise, diet, and sleep and can even be programmed to communicate physical or emotional needs to others. Optimal training can occur when emotions facilitate learning rather than impede it. And it doesn’t stop with training; “e-health” applications for mental health, delivered via smart phones or other small mobile devices, are promising, especially as the technology continues to advance.