Part One of our New Series
Almost every one of us knows what is means to take a deliberate approach to prepping your gear before a mission. It’s an essential and sometimes painstaking task that requires absolute attention to detail. We pack, unpack, repack – check, recheck and do it all again until it’s just right. We naturally give this task the attention it requires because we know that our lives will depend on that gear. We know that one minor thing out of place, one piece of equipment not tied down, or one minor aspect overlooked could compromise an entire operation.
I wonder how much time you devote doing the same for your mental preparation? Five minutes of casual thoughts, twenty minutes of thinking through the mission? I remember as a young private in Ranger Regiment being introduced to a few CAG (DELTA) guys during my first major training event. At the time I didn’t fully understand the 1,000-yard stare that felt like they were looking right through you. Having come to the Army with several years already spent in the fire service, I understood focus, but this was something very different. The initial assumption was that it was arrogance or dismissal of everyone else, a superior attitude. There was this intensity that nothing else in the world mattered at that particular moment expect the mission at hand and it made you feel invisible.
As my experience grew I began to fully understand that this was the process of getting into a mental space where all other worries, thoughts and issues drifted away. These men, in many cases unknowingly, were separating what science refers to as cognitions in a unique form of rationalization. This process is done in order to remove natural conflicting mental processes. They were compartmentalizing the various aspects of their lives – from home and family, to morals, ideals, and what others would consider normal behavior. These men knew, intuitively, that they might be faced with decisions and required to take actions that go against some of the most basic aspects of humanity. What they were accomplishing was the process of building boxes – locking those thoughts into separate spaces in order to eliminate potential conflicts.
Compartmentalization, by definition, is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves). It is the process of compartmentalizing that allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgement and interaction between separate compartmentalized self-states. But what does that mean to us? More definitively put, compartmentalization enables you to separate the idea that taking another life in the course of your duty (justified) and the idea of taking a human life without specific cause (unjustified). When mental conflicts arise and especially when those conflicts are severe, delays in recognition, decisions and action will occur. For us, that results in mission impact, performance fractures and potential failure.
Over the past decade of research, interviews and my own personal experiences, I have found one of the foremost differences between a warrior and the rest of the world is their engrained ability to build their mental boxes, to compartmentalize their life in order to focus at all levels. Over years of training and operations, they seem to intuitively understand the process required to accomplish this, yet even within these high-functioning communities, you will still see issues emerge causing severe fractures in the performance of a team. We walk a fine line in the lives we’ve chosen – our role dictates that we persistently move against normal (logical) human behavior patterns and engage in activities that cross the boundaries of basic cognitive capacities. By nature, the necessities of mental survival dictate extreme measures and those measures can have consequences as Lt. Col Grossman points out in his book On Killing – there are great psychological costs that weigh heavily on the combat soldier or police officer who kills if they are not mentally prepared for what may happen; if their actions (killing) are not supported by their commanders and/or peers; and if they are unable to justify their actions (or if no one else justifies the actions for them).
To express the importance of understanding how the mind works, we look at the term isolation (psychology), which is a process that separates thoughts from feelings. This is the point in which we begin to disconnect from those around us and start shutting down. There are long term consequences when isolation takes hold but when we knowingly focus to compartmentalize and actively separate different cognitions (incompatible/conflicting ideas) from each other we gain a measure of control that enables us to undo that which we have done. Understanding these processes enables us to leverage them appropriately and provides guiding boundaries for when building your boxes turns to isolation or when you didn’t build them well enough and conflict arises. We refer to Isolation as a post-protective state of mind – where actively compartmentalizing is a pre-protective state of mind. To highlight the difference even further, how often does this thought ring true?
“You know, this is how you are with your team and this is how you are with your family. It seems like I could never actually be me, I felt compromised and inconsistent, which made me withdrawal even further from all of them.” – TRN
We see the impacts of isolation and failure to compartmentalize all around us. A good friend of mine, and retired Delta Operator, tells the story of prepping for ops during the first Gulf War – In Country, mission tasked, ready to roll… one of the team members got caught up with issues at home and he allowed it to penetrate his mind so deep it completely took him out of the game. Ultimately he had to sit that one out. Whether your a Team guy, a CAG guy, a Ranger, a cop, a fireman, a security operator, or just happen to function in spaces that are innately high-risk or high stress, if you can’t develop the ability to build your boxes and compartmentalize your life, you could be setting yourself or your team up for failure.
Compartmentalization is one of the skills we have focused on for years in all of our programs and especially in Operational Mindset. We have found the faster someone can acquire the skill, the more focused they become. It bleeds into your ability to recognize what’s actually taking place around you and frees your intuitive senses to allow the “connection” you need to the operational space. It has always been interesting to me in the discussion periods of our Operational Mindset Seminar; some may refer to it as “soft, emotional stuff.” My response has been and will always remain this… “Last time I checked, there wasn’t anything soft or emotional about putting your family in a mental box so you could, without remorse, deal with the threats and stay focused on your mission.”
The reality is we are all humans and come with an engrained sense of humanity, right and wrong, and strong ethics – it all contributes to the life we’ve chosen. Functionally though, these core traits cause disruptions and conflicts in the mind as we move through our operational environments. They are not always obvious and generally do not come to the forefront as an actual question or decision but rather they are left lingering deep in the layers of our minds and are the normal cognitive conflicts that come with being a soldier, a cop, a fireman… I’m a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an American – but I am going to have to do things, see things, make decisions and take actions that in some way may compromise the idea of that person, so – in the boxes they go.
 Fighting Cognitive Dissonance & The Lies We Tell Ourselves By JOHN M. GROHOL, PSYD psychcentral.com
 On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society Lt. Col Grossman (1995)
 Nancy McWilliams, Psychoanalytic Diagnosis (2011) p. 135-6
07 Jan 2013
How often do you tell yourself, “Just suffer through it and hopefully I will eventually accomplish my goal.” The mindset you carry with you, positive or negative, plays a major role in how effective you will be in achieving your results. If you continue to drink the Kool-Aid of others and stay in the mindset of, “It’s not possible” – “I’m tired of trying” – “I can’t do this” – “I’m just going to be out of shape forever,” guess what? That perspective quickly becomes your reality!
We often speak about JUSTONE and the process that is crucial to gaining positive control over anything. When it comes to your health and fitness, it’s no different. I want to offer out five short steps to help you lay the foundation for a mindset that will drive your results far beyond what you think is possible today.
FIVE STEPS TO A MINDSET THAT DRIVES RESULTS:
CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE: We can be our own worst enemies, especially when it comes to our health and fitness. Statements like, “I can’t stick with it” – “It’s too hard” – “I don’t have the time” – “It’s not going to work for me,” plague our existence.
It’s time to find new ways to reframe the most common statements you make like, “I won’t stick with it.” Well, maybe it’s the truth but now that you own it so you can change it. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” No one wants to be in the middle of the pack, try a little self-motivation to separate yourself. “I just refuse to make the time,” gives yourself a bit of a reality check, it’s more than likely the hard truth but if you can’t challenge you, who can?
THINK SINGULARLY: Everyone else would tell you to write down your goals and post them somewhere. Tell you what, write them down or take that piece of paper with them on it that’s been collecting dust and tear it up. Forget your far-reaching goals and let’s just take it one at a time. Think about all the details from making time, to putting on your shoes, to driving to the gym. Look at all the aspects in singular components; you will find a whole lot more control when you approach it this way. If it’s running then run one mile at a time. If one mile is your goal, then go ¼ mile at a time.
VISUALIZE YOUR GOAL: You and only you know your true goals. Maybe it’s a better body, maybe it’s 5 miles in less than 40 minutes and maybe it’s to complete a marathon. Whatever that goal is, don’t just focus on the accomplishment but on the singular components. Doing this will enable you to achieve that goal without even realizing it. In your visualization process, feel your body getting stronger, faster, better. Embrace the process and the results will be fantastic. Form a mental image of each mile marker and be proud to have done more than most people will do you their lives.
CREATE YOUR DISCIPLINE: Discipline doesn’t show up in the mail. It can’t be downloaded or picked up at the store. It’s created for you, by you. It’s a process of owning every step, every mile, every set, and every race. It’s the idea that once you’ve got it, it’s never going back. It’s a mindset that builds upon itself every single moment.
ENERGIZE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Bring it! When you hit a goal, no matter how big or how small, own every bit of it. Bring energy to that accomplishment and allow that energy to drive the next step. Working on every ¼ mile? Did it… Sweet! Onto the next one!
When it comes to your health and fitness no one else has control over it but you. No one has any amount of power over you to limit you or to make you successful. From extreme races all around the world I will tell you that at the end of the day, the only thing you have is your mindset; is the ability to dive deep insider yourself and pull out what you need to put one foot in front of the other. Forget the finish line; let’s focus on the start!
Leadership is one of the most complex aspects of our lives. It is a constant process of evolution, change, learning, self-awareness and self-discipline. The fundamental process of leadership forces you into a place where you have to deal with an constantly shifting environment, changes in requirements and of course… people. We all know serving as a leader in any organization can be the most rewarding position or the most frustrating position you’ll ever know. In many cases it’s a daily balance of both with many highs and lows. The difficulty for the leader is to be capable of not only dealing with their own personal challenges across their lives but the challenges faced by those they lead.
Stepping into your role as a leader every morning requires a discipline beyond the norm. It requires you to be focused, aware, balanced and driven. While Operational Mindset was crafted from the roots of dealing with high-risk environments, leadership itself is exactly that! As a leader, your margin for error is extremely low and so you must bring every tool and resource to the table that supports your efforts. We’ve said many times, leadership is not “natural”, it’s learned. Operational Mindset is another aspect of the leadership development model that pushes your abilities far above the rest.
Reason One: Awareness. In study after study we have seen that the most critical failure point in any situation is the ability to accurately recognize what is taking place both within yourself and in the environment around you. Bringing the right mindset every day is a process of speeding that recognition in a way that improves accuracy, resulting in more definitive assessments, stronger decisions and the ability to remain flexible as more information is captured.
Reason Two. Predictive Posture. As a leader you must exist in a space where you can “see it coming.” You have to be capable of reading the environment in such away that you can forecast potential problems and get to a solution earlier. As a leader it’s about being capable to ebb and flow with the shifting environments but remain several steps ahead at all times.
Reason Three. Decisiveness. One of the most consistent complaints from “the lead” is their leaders’ inability to make a decision or exude confidence in that decision. Nothing will cause a plan to fail faster than indecision. Operational Mindset gives you the clear understanding of how to move through your environment and gives you the tools necessary to find confidence in your decisions because you will be making more accurate assessments with 50% of the information than you have in the past with 80% or more of the information.
There are reasons beyond the three highlighted here but you accepted a role as a leader, you sought the challenge and potentially crave the effort it takes to be a successful leader. It’s now time to take your abilities beyond the norm and push past those who are comfortable hanging out in the “middle.” If you’re not doing it… someone else will.