Filed under: Performance
Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals:
It’s a well-established method for fitness-oriented goals—to lift a certain weight, cycle a century, or run a marathon in a certain amount of time—and it works equally well in other areas of life. Maybe you want to reach a specific rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Goals aren’t just for dreaming big; they’re for achieving.
- think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
- determine if this goal is a good fit for you;
- measure and track your progress;
- use success-oriented language to think and talk about your goal; and
- break down the end goal into manageable steps.
Feeling stuck in your workout routine? Periodization is a training method that can help you overcome the plateau and boredom from doing the same workout repeatedly. For example, if you follow the same lifting routine for too long, your body will eventually adapt to the stresses of training, and you’ll see little or no improvement in performance. Following a workout routine for “too long” depends on factors such as your age, training program, duration, intensity, and recovery. In order to see improvement, researchers suggest adding a periodization plan to your workout. Periodization works by changing different variables of a fitness routine (such as the amount of weight, number of repetitions or sets, or intensity) every 1–6 weeks. Changing components of your workout forces your body to constantly try to overcome the new stresses and encourages continual growth and increased performance.
Creating a periodization plan also reduces your risk of overtraining. Consult a certified trainer to design a program that can help you overcome any workout plateaus, or check out the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) strength and endurance training series.
Most energy drinks are now labeled with Nutrition Facts instead of Supplement Facts, but that doesn’t automatically make them safe. The most popular energy drinks contain about 80–120 mg of caffeine per serving (8 oz.)—about the same amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce coffee. Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When used appropriately, caffeine can boost mental and physical performance. But each energy drink can or bottle often contains more than one serving, making it easier to consume larger amounts of caffeine, especially if you drink more than one per day. Too much caffeine (>400 mg) can cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heart rate, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks commonly contain amino acids, vitamins, and plant-based ingredients such as guarana (which also contains caffeine) and ginseng. Although these ingredients are generally safe, there still isn’t enough reliable information about their long-term safety or how combinations of these ingredients might interact in the body.
If you drink energy drinks, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how much caffeine (from all sources) is in each can or bottle, and limit the number you drink each day.
- Avoid caffeinated foods, beverages, and medications while using energy drinks. You may be consuming more caffeine than you realize.
- Don’t mistake energy drinks for sports drinks. Unlike energy drinks, sports drinks are designed to fuel and hydrate you during long workouts.
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication but still leave you impaired.
- Find other ways to energize yourself. It’s best to get the sleep your body needs, but you can try other ways to stay alert, such as exercising or listening to upbeat music.
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.
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.
Getting the right nutrients at the right time can give you the edge you need when it comes to performance. Are you drinking the right kind of beverage to keep you hydrated? Do you know what to eat after a workout to optimize your recovery? Find answers to these questions and more in HPRC’s FAQS: Fueling for Performance.
And while you’re there, be sure to check out our other Nutrition FAQs for more answers to common questions we’ve received about nutrition.
Optimal fueling includes staying well hydrated during exercise. Inadequate fluid intake can lead to dehydration that affects your mental and physical performance.
The first key is staying well hydrated throughout the day. If you start exercising with low fluid intake, you’re already behind. To stay hydrated, drink fluids such as water, 100% juice (diluted), milk or milk alternatives throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, a 150-lb warrior should drink 75 fluid ounces per day. Foods with high-water content count too! Some examples of high-water-content foods are fruits (especially grapes, watermelon, peaches), vegetables (zucchini, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes), yogurt, sherbet/sorbet, and soup.
Exercise is when you can lose a lot of fluid, especially if your workouts are long, intense, or in heat or humidity. Dehydration—losing just two percent of your body weight—can lead to a decrease in performance. Drink often and drink the appropriate fluid to stay on top of your game. For more information on what to drink and when, see HPRC’s Hydration infosheet.
You may find it challenging to drink enough fluids, but some simple reminders can help. First, keep a water bottle on hand. Just seeing the water bottle is a great reminder to drink more. Also, always drink with meals and snacks. Sick of plain water? Add sliced lemon, lime, mint, cucumber, or fruit to your water. Or add to a water pitcher and keep in your refrigerator.
Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.
The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.
Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.
Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.
The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.
Perfectionists are driven to do well. And if you’re one yourself, you may have found that it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Perfectionism is a problem when you can’t accept your mistakes, and you either miss chances to fix things or miss other more important opportunities. But being a perfectionist isn’t entirely bad, if accepting mistakes as you aim high is part of what you do.
Taking a test can be a “perfect” example of how to accept that you’ll occasionally make mistakes while still striving for excellence. Let’s say you scored 99% on a test. If your inner critic gets caught up in the 1% you missed, you might lose sight of where you need improvement. Try acknowledging the mistake, trust you’ve learned from it, and focus on what is most important as you move forward.
Don’t let your critical, perfectionist inner voice cause you to lose focus on what you need to succeed. It’s easy to get stuck on what you can’t control, such as the past or thoughts of the future. Perfectionism is a problem when it affects everything you do and becomes core to who you are. If your self-worth is caught up so much in being perfect, failures can feel catastrophic. If everything you do feels like a reflection of your character, the stakes are high!
Remember: Let your actions be what you do, not who you are. Don’t take failures personally; instead, trust them as learning opportunities for how to approach future events.
Healthy perfectionism is striving for your best performance by doing everything in your power to make it happen. Have high standards, accept imperfections, and enjoy (realistically) better performances.
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.