Thursday, March 19, 2015

Warrior Mindset: Mental Focus

In the first installment of The Warrior Mindset: Train the Brain, I attempted to define what a "warrior mindset" was as it seems there are several definitions used depending on how the term is being applied. In this write-up, I'll discuss the topic of mental focus and how it pertains to a warrior mindset, along with a couple of proven techniques to help you "train your brain" to develop the skill.
Warrior Mindset‘ is more than aggressiveness and determinationit is about over coming challenge and adversity. It’s about possessing, understanding, and being able to utilize a set of psychological and physical skills that allow someone to be effective, adaptive, and persistent. It also allows someone to use optimal decision-making, psychological techniques, physical and tactical skills learned in training and by experience."
Focusing on behavior if you want a "Warrior Mindset"
How can someone truly pay attention when they are distracted?  The answer is they really can't, not totally anyhow. Next time you are with your friends, family or co-workers, take a look around. The odds are pretty high that you will see people starring at their palms, bypassing the real world to check in on their online identity via a smartphone. The human brain is wired to adapt to what the environment around it requires for survival, but with the technological advances of the last few years it seems that we are headed in a direction where we are re-wiring how the way our brains function; essentially tuning out the environments we live in. We've already become hyper-connected slaves to technology, de-tuned and unfocused with the actual environment around us. While being connected to a powerful global communications device is great for finding a local pizza shop or gas station, it's not great at determining potential threats in your immediate environment - which is obviously not optimal for situational or spatial awareness. Human brains in their natural state however, were designed specifically for identifying threats.
Have you ever seen someone walking down the street wearing headphones while looking at their phone the entire time? Talk about living in a bubble! Some people think that they can still pay attention while doing a complicated task, but it's just not how our brains work. Human ability to pay attention or to maintain focus is a behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating. Many people just chalk the behavior up to the changing times due to technology, or to the concept of multitasking. Sure, multitasking means we can get more done, but it also makes us more prone to making mistakes. It makes us more likely to miss important information and cues about our environment, and makes us less likely to analyze information, which impairs problem solving. 
Regarding the word ‘multitasking,’ cognitive, behavioral, and neurological sciences are moving toward a consensus that such a state does not actually exist in the human brain. We may make many quick ‘thoughts’ in succession, but human performance in any activity that is done without focus (often termed ‘multitasking’) is of significantly lower quality, including an absence of quality and consciousness. The word unfortunately perpetuates a false ideal of the human capacity to perform and succeed” - Annette Liska.
So, what does any of this have to do with having a "Warrior Mindset"? As we covered in The Warrior Mindset: Train the Brain, real warriors have always been encouraged to train and accumulate physical strength. But what good is strength and physical skill without a sharp focused mind to guide it? Before you can develop a 'Warrior Mindset' you will need to have a healthy mental state and you'll need to exhibit behavior that allows you to focus. As a 'Warrior' you will need to control the direction of your attention and focus your attention on your intention (try to say that three times fast). It's difficult to remain fully-focused on the task at hand in the face of distractions at times, that's just life. The human brain continuously scans our internal and external environments, even when you are focused on a particular task (to a certain extent). However, we always have distractions lurking around every corner (anyone with kids will tell you this). Some of us cannot pay attention to tasks because of thoughts, emotions, sounds, or interruptions. Fortunately, the brain is capable of instantly stopping random thoughts, unnecessary actions, and even instinctive emotions from derailing you and getting you off track. Below are two simple techniques you can start to improve your focus - on your own.
“Be Here Now”
The secret to performing at your best under pressure is to control what you’re paying attention to in the moment. If you want to be able to focus in a high stress environment, you'll need to tame your 'frenzy'. Frenzy is an emotional state where your emotions take over, making you feel fear, anger, out of control, etc. A popular phrase that is proven effective in training your brain to focus is “Be Here Now.” Corporations have used it, and school teachers have recommended this popular, yet super simple, technique to their students who find it hard to concentrate. Every time you find your mind wandering elsewhere, tell yourself, “Be Here Now.” This deceptively simple strategy is probably the most effective as it gently brings your attention back to where you want it. It allows you to clear your head of all the distractions, so that you can attain the power to focus.
ABC Technique
So how can you calm your frenzy and clear your head when there are distractions? Distractions can be anything from sounds to objects in your immediate environment that redirect your attention on to something that your brain perceives could be potentially dangerous. However, many of these distractions are false alarms. Fortunately, you can train your brain to automatically stop them from derailing your focus. To be able to do this, you must utilize your brain’s brake pedal—which can be done by using the ABC technique below.
“A” stands for awareness, which allows you to pause whatever you’re doing at the moment and recognize the distraction. Become Aware of your options: you can stop what you are doing and address the distraction, or you can let it go.
“B” stands for breathing deeply and reflecting on your options. Breathe deeply and consider your options.
“C” for choosing mindfully and deciding on what to do with the distraction—either you deal with it or dismiss it. Then Choose thoughtfully: Stop? or Go?
Where Attention goes Energy flows; Where Intention goes Energy flows!” ― James Redfield
Now, think about this, how many times did you get distracted or get your attention pulled away while reading this article? If you didn't get pulled away, excellent! If you did get distracted, I would urge you to direct your attention to the techniques above. One thing humans can do that some other animals cannot due is direct their conscious focus. Remaining fully-focused on the task at hand in the face of distractions demands that you control what you pay attention to. That is the secret to performing at your best and developing a true Warrior Mindset.
Stay alert. Stay alive.

This article originally appeared in the Combat Trade Craft blog  and is re-posted here with the permission.

© 2014 The Ballistic Blog


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