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Arousal and Performance: How Stress and Fear Affect Tactical Performance


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I love the suggestions from mindful breathing to visualization:

Practice tactical breathing. Tactical breathing was developed by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It’s a technique that soldiers and police officers use to quickly calm down and stay focused during firefights. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Slowly inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath in for 4 seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale the breath out for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat until your breathing is under control.

Simple. What’s hard is having the discipline to do this when you start feeling stressed out.

Tactical breathing isn’t just useful for deadly force encounters. Use it anytime you’re feeling stressed out and need to bring yourself back down to optimal arousal levels.

Meditate. Studies show that individuals who practice meditation can clear distracting and stressful thoughts (like worry) from their mind more quickly than individuals who don’t meditate. That sort of ability comes in handy in high-stress situations like deadly force encounters.

The U.S. military is actually experimenting withmindfulness meditation training with its new recruits. The hope is that meditation’s stress-reducing benefits will help soldiers stay out of Condition Black while in the heat of combat, as well as help them recover more quickly after the encounter.

There’s not much to meditation. Just sit in a quiet place and focus on your breath going in your nose and out your mouth. Whenever a distracting thought pops up, don’t get flustered. Just name the thought, let it go, and focus back on your breath. If you’re like me, you’ll find that when you first start meditating, you get easily distracted by your thoughts. Don’t get discouraged; with time your mind will quiet down, and your ability to dismiss unwanted thoughts will improve.

Start off with one 10-minute session daily, and slowly increase your sessions to 20 minutes. If you have time, you may consider doing a 20-minute meditation session in the morning and another 20-minute session at night.

Practice visualization. Emerging research shows that warriors who visualize hypothetical high-stress scenarios perform better in actual high-stress situations than those who don’t. For example, officers who take part in visual exercises demonstrate better marksmanship than those who skip this technique.There’s also evidence that visualizing successful management of high-stress situations reduces a combatant’s anxiety and stress response when the events actually occur, thus allowing the fighter to stay in optimal Condition Red longer.

Here are some rough and ready guidelines on performing visualization exercise:

  • Make the visualization as vivid as possible. Incorporate all your senses and emotions.
  • Visualize problems and sticking points, but — and this is the critical part — always visualize yourself successfully overcoming the problem or obstacle. Never visualize failure.
  • Never rely on visualization alone. It’s important to combine it with tactical practice and role playing.

Use task-relevant instructional self-talk. To counter the detrimental performance effects of stress, talk yourself through complex actions as if you were an instructor. For example, many police officers are trained to speak out loud during every step in the gun firing process using the acronym BRASS:

  • Breathe
  • Relax
  • Aim
  • Sight
  • Squeeze

Another example of task-relevant instructional self-talk would be to yell out “Tap, Rack, and Go!” whenever you encounter a gun jam.

Don’t worry if people think you’re crazy. Research has shown that this sort of self-talk can increase performance on both cognitive and physical tasks.

The key with this type of self-talk is to keep it brief and positive.

Stay active and outwardly focused. In the book War, by Sebastian Junger (which I highly recommend), he shares an interesting study done on a Special Forces team during the Vietnam War. The team was stationed at an isolated base along the Cambodian border and knew there was a good chance of the base being completely overrun by a force of Vietcong. Surprisingly, researchers found that in contrast to the officers, the stress levels of the enlisted men actually dropped before an expected attack, and rose when the attack failed to materialize. Researchers offered this explanation: “The members of this Special Forces team…were action-oriented individuals who characteristically spent little time in introspection. Their response to any environmental threat was to engage in a furor of activity which rapidly dissipated the developing tension.” This activity included laying C-wire and mines around the base, which as Junger notes, “was something they knew how to do and were good at, and the very act of doing it calmed their nerves.”

When you’re facing a threat you can anticipate in advance, take a cue from the men of the Special Forces; instead of sitting around navel-gazing, bouncing your leg up and down, and getting your heart rate up before anything even happens, keep yourself occupied with preparations – check your equipment, mentally rehearse your mission, etc.

This is absolutely nothing new.  Eastern warriors used these techniques from the start.   It is the absolute worst karma you can create. 

If I taught meditation to a soldier, I myself would create the same karma as if I killed another with my own hands. 

  1. Slowly inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath in for 4 seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale the breath out for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat until your breathing is under control.

This is 100% plagiarized technique. In fact, if any post appears under psychology, sleep, breathing, meditation, mental powers, etc. that does not refer to Patanjali's yoga sutras then the author of the post is guilty of poor research or willful omission. Many new age practitioners (e.g. MBRS) simply digest traditional knowledge systems without referring to the sources in the interests of advancing their own egos. Dangerous in more than one way.

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