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Mindware: Psychological Strengthening For Tactical Operations

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Writer: Dr Rupali Jeswal
Self-science is becoming aware of and recognising patterns of responses to various situations and is one of the prerequisites to having some control over reactions and increasing self-direction. Constant need should be there to upgrade the training methods to seek the mental edge for performance factor and to mitigate clinical manifestations that are acquired by the professionalswhile working in high-stress-critical domains. With this structure installed we can “think” the brain and override natural “fight or flee” response and utilise stress as a drive through stress structuring and perception reframing.


Psychological strengthening for Tactical Operations is gaining momentum abroad. To understand the stress response system and enhance the overall functioning of the human design, for professionals in high-pressure-high-stress jobs is through sustainment-resiliency reformative designs installed in standard trainings. A prerequisite for those in mission-critical domains (Law Enforcement, Military, Aviation, Border Security, Fire Fighting, Crisis Managers and Negotiators and other high-stress jobs) is to have a fluid mind that can operate in full capacity regardless of the negative variables in their operational environment. Where stakes are high, physical danger is omnipresent, information is always incomplete leading to poor situational awareness, high emotional stress and time is of essence, requiring the human mind to process cues at high speeds for critical decision-making and transforming it to action. This environment is a non-equilibrium one (Chaotic and Volatile).

This medium demands a faster process of cognition, decision and behaviour. Perception can be influenced by fear, panic, anger and attention problems due to overall stress in a non-equilibrium situation.

 

Self-science Design

Self-science is the process of being aware of and recognising patterns of responses to various situations and is one of the fundamentals to having some control over one’s own reactions and increasing self-direction. As we learn to answer “self-questions” thoughtfully, we come to recognise the relationship between our feelings, thoughts and actions (Emotion-action behaviour). Concept of emotions – one of the most salient characteristics of emotion is the extraordinary heterogeneity of how different individuals respond to the same emotionally provocative challenge. Such differences in patterns of emotional reactivity play a crucial role in shaping variations in individual well-being.

There is a constant need to upgrade the training methods in seeking the mental edge for performance factors and to mitigate clinical manifestations that are acquired by the professionals while working in high-stress-critical domains. The ultimate objective of these trainings is that the individual not only performs with excellence but the "emotional memory" remains functioning despite the negative stimulus in the environment. This can be due to the threat and stress-response factor to ensure the individual is not marked by mental and physiological ailments, which in turn render him / her
disabled and incapacitated.

Jimmy Smits: It's less about the physical training, in the end, than it is about the mental preparation: boxing is a chess game. You have to be skilled enough and have trained hard enough to know how many different ways you can counterattack in any situation, at any moment.

High Performance in “critical-domain” requires that the individual is equipped with a psychological skill set. In recent years focus has been given to brain-behaviour and emotion-reaction aspects of performance for professionals in high-stress-high-pressure jobs. New research in neuroscience, emotion and behaviour has opened up a whole new dimension on how to look at performance and the human factor.

Human beings may be a physiological entity, but fundamentally we are psychological phenomena. By integrating the components of these various scientific fields we are able to understand, predict, regulate, down-regulate and utilise internal mechanics of the human cognitive-emotive and response system, to not only enhance performance but also minimise the affect of the nature of the job. Reducing critical incident stress reaction, aids in self-care of the officer preventing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depressive disorders, sleep deprivation and other various physiological and psychological indispositions.

Neuro-psychological performance enhancement trainings (NPSYPET) are a design and application of this combination. These methods strengthen the mind, initiating execution of apt action through the utilisation of internal force multipliers. It will induce smoother adaptation mechanism in a non-equilibrium environment and will be an asset for decision-making skills, using abductive reasoning, enhancing self-confidence, self and team belief, self-leadership intelligence and navigation quality of the individual and the whole unit. With this structure installed we can “think” the brain and override natural “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response and utilise stress as we drive through stress structuring and perception reframing.

With primordial soup came high human arousal when faced with danger; it is adaptive mechanics to sustain life by making life-saving decisions when exposed to danger. Heightened emotional arousal, high-stress environment and the need for making decisions do come with latent failures as high emotional arousal dampens cognition. Latent failures such as:

  • Autovigilance
  • Task disorientation
  • Loss of situational awareness
  • Poor attention capacity (freeze-frame)
  • Increased adrenalin and hydrocortisone (a typical survival stress response)
  • Peripheral vision is compromised due to increase in central vision
  • Parasympathetic recoil
  • Personal health risk issues (anxiety and depressive disorders, PTSD, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia etc)


Allocation of resources during critical stress to gross motor skills, like running or fighting affects the fine motor skills, such as hand / eye coordination. Increased cortisol due to adrenalin surge in critical stress decreases the hippocampus function (affecting memory), the focus of brain shifts to amygdala to speed-up the survival response. The thinking brain starts to shut down. Therefore psychologically inclined trainings will assist the individual in these critical-stress situations to overcome the natural stress response and keep
the “thinking brain” functioning.

Mental preparation for training and competition is equally important as physical conditioning. Mental preparation develops resiliency, develops intense concentration, self-confidence to perform and have self-belief towards achieving a goal and also helps in coping with anxiety, thereby enhancing performance. Sustainment, resiliency and reformative trainings with focus on stress structuring, re-structuring during critical incidents and stress utilisation have many positive performance affects when incorporated in operational trainings.

Excellence in performance is achieved by training and by making it a regular practice. Athletes to military professionals to musicians have acknowledged the importance of mental preparation. Some famous quotes:

Yogi Berra, American baseball player and coach said, “Baseball is 90% mental  and the other half is physical.”

Thomas Edison: “The first requisite for success is to develop the ability to focus and apply your mental and physical energies to the problem at hand – without growing weary. Because such thinking is often difficult, there seems to be no limit to which some people will go to avoid the effort and labour that is associated with it.”

Carl von Clausewitz: “Two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.”

William Shakespeare: "All things are ready, if our minds be so."

This strategic fabric requires that the organisation is weaved through leadership intelligence, where the assets (employees) of that organisation are transformed through a mind-set that “every officer is a leader”. Great leadership skills and strategy triggers mirroring, which in turn strengthens the entire organisation, enhances performance while minimising latent failures of a various nature – physical, mental, emotional. High definition design uses cognitive and emotional behaviour markers as competencies to improve individual and team performance by empowering individuals to use critical thinking learning systems understanding their own operational capabilities to perform with confidence, improve attention to levels of details, regulate and down-regulate emotional responses during critical stress. Critical stress demands along with the ability to operate, a sense of clarity regarding immediate actions and long-term results, thus producing an individual who is asset based, operating with optimum effectiveness through premeditated mind.

Mental conditioning is often overlooked in standard trainings in many countries. But the 21st century and the environment laden with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) demands we change our way.

Using various techniques and strategies through mind preparation in positive belief will expedite the learning and execution process in critical incidents. Positive attitude works on multiple levels and alters the brain chemistry.

Positive emotion, fear management, situational awareness and stress utilisation are critical features to be instilled in every officer to increase their personal resilience meter. In addition, the adaptation to the operating environment and with accurate processing of cues, internal and external for prompt decision-making and execution of apt action is required.

Stress And Security

Stress is a biological response controlled by the brain as a reaction to a challenging stimulation of a physical or emotional nature. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, said: “Reliance on the intuitive response was the most important part of an astronaut’s training.”  Psychological trainings enhance our intuitive response, brings resiliency and toughens the mind for performance.

From the brain’s viewpoint, everything can be perceived as stress. Crossing the street to a school exam, to meeting deadlines, it all depends on the intensity of stimulation and the level of the perceived threat during that stimulation. A great step toward a healthy attitude in regards to stress is to realise our ownership over our brain and learn to engage our brain intentionally to manage the consequences of the Acute Stress
response (Fight-Flight-Freeze).

Stress is something all security forces throughout the world are exposed to daily. Embracing it and using it for success is key.  A positive mind-set and a warrior ethos along with a serious focus on psychological trainings should be an ongoing process of skills refinement. From “how” to use stress, shape and reshape combat stress and application of it develops a sense of self-awareness and overall situational awareness, minimises task disorientation and develops “mental-models” to think and act with speed and accuracy.

This sort of response has to do more with “how we think” our “situational awareness” and  “perceptual past memory” than just what eyes and ears are experiencing in the present.

Components of a stress situation:

  • It’s objective
  • It’s your perception of it
  • It’s your emotional response towards it


This is innate human mechanics, that employs our past experience, evaluation and judgement of a similar situation and our behavioural response for action. It uses our physiological and psychological response and ultimately determines the consequences.

The components of stress utilisation will lead to:

  • Self-discovery
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-management
  • Self-effectiveness
  • Self-balance


Mismanagement of stress can lead to:

  • Reduced awareness of environmental cues (loss of task awareness and situational awareness)
  • Increased awareness to signs of anxiety
  • Decreased tolerance for pain and frustration
  • Decreased efficiency in mental processing


Concentrating on components of stress is vital for arousal level and control. Optimal Arousal Level (OAL) is associated with peak performance in many arenas, such as athletics, combat and performing arts. Ability to use flexibility of thought and perception will modulate the psychophysiological arousal level appropriate to the situation and task at hand.

Psychological survival training prepares you to anticipate danger, seize the initiative, react quickly and purposefully, adapt quickly and efficiently and respond with peak physical and mental power to survive and overcome a life-threatening critical incident. 

The peak performer is able to gain entry to a special mental and emotional interior climate conducive to top levels of performance. It is different from our ordinary daily reality and quite different from the relaxation state. It is a state of flow, where the performer enjoys an effortless, focused, relaxed, automatic, confident existence. There is little anxiety, energy seems to be abundant, there is an optimistic outlook, mental focus is sharp and intense, the individual feels in control, physical relaxation is evident and there is a feeling of calm and quiet inside the performer. This flow state was, coined by the psychologist Czikszentmihalyi and his techniques are applied in every field of performance.

Conclusion

A personality is made up of the following:

  1. Temperament – which is of biological and physiological nature.
  2. Character trait – which represents a continual form of behaviour.
  3. Mood – which is the state of mind.
  4. Disposition – a person’s tendency to behave in a certain manner.
  5. Habit – a sort of a conditioned response.
  6. Attitude – a person’s point of view that represents a general set of values towards matters.


Personality to some extent is determined by the individual’s genetic and cultural make-up also.  Human behaviour does change as the individual develops and through the environment which the individual encounters and the kind of interactions an individual has with peers, family, friends and in general the society. Beliefs are the preset, organised filters to our perceptions of the world (external and internal). Beliefs are like ‘Internal commands’ to the brain as to how to represent what is happening, when we congruently believe something to be true. In the absence of beliefs or inability to tap into them, people feel disempowered. As an individual learns to cope with challenges in an adaptive way, a positive spiral develops:  More effective coping leads to a smoother psychobiological stress response and healthy self-belief in his or her own capabilities leading to being more adaptive and less disruptive due to our natural stress-response system. To have a strong mind is to be resilient not resistant and to cope adaptively in adverse situations and become better at responding to crisis and managing it. Strong minds will prevent stress related disorders, they will have the advantage of “metacognition” and “reflection.”

Metacognition is:

  • Awareness: Where an individual is in their personal and professional development process.
  • Evaluation: Evaluating their own capacities, limitations, thinking and feeling styles.
  • Regulation: When an individual can draw upon their own knowledge and skills and direct their internal force multipliers for planning, self-correcting and setting the goals.


Reflection is:

  • Looking back for reference, comparison and evaluation of the present experience.
  • Pulling apart ideas for deeper understanding and methods of contribution.
  • Addressing omission and ambiguities.
  • Considering alternative perspectives and making connections.
  • Drawing conclusions and unravelling questions.


“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.”
– Aristotle


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