Mental Strength Training: Going for Goals

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength." If we consider some of the most difficult tests, cadres, deployments and selections a soldier or officer can face in his or her career; in order to succeed in such undertakings, what attributes and attitudes would be regarded as being the most important? Contemplate your selected choices. If such attitudes/attributes are important, is it possible to develop and strengthen such characteristics?

If you answered yes, the final question is how?

Exploring Mental Toughness

A topic of high interest concerns mental toughness/strength; it has become one of the most important psychological constructs related to successful sport performance and as such has attracted significant attention in a military context. Sport psychology research over the last decade has investigated the cognitive and emotional factors associated with athletic achievements in an attempt to identify the personality characteristics of skilled athletes and the mental preparation strategies they use to perform successfully.

Mental toughness has proven to be an important construct within performance domains. In a military context, where the ability to deal with adversity and challenge is essential to success, mental toughness is commonly regarded as the most important attribute that enables an individual to achieve high levels of personal performance.


Developing Mental Toughness

We acknowledge that a Military training environment is replete with opportunities for recruits and soldiers to demonstrate mentally tough behaviour. While individual talent (including physical fitness) is an important variable in performance achievement, it is not uncommon for talented individuals with exceptional physical attributes to fail to perform to their full potential. Indeed, it is recognised that psychological factors are just as important in determining athletic performance, with mental toughness being acknowledged as one of the most important attributes in achieving performance excellence, particularly in contexts where the ability to deal with adversity and challenge is essential to success.


The Issue of Stress, Anxiety and Fear

Problems of stress, coping and adaption are highly relevant in military training, where distractions, anxiety and fear are common challenges experienced by recruits and soldiers, all of which require a degree of mental fortitude and/or various coping strategies. At present, these important psychological competencies are implicit with recruits and soldiers having to rely on their own cognitive functioning and coping strategies to control thoughts, emotions, and behaviour (Thompson & McCreary, 2006). Consequently, while many recruits and soldiers learn these vital mental lessons over time, the remainder will have varying degrees of difficulty acquiring these skills (Thompson & McCreary, 2006). It is, therefore, logical that the variety of applied concepts in sport psychology, deemed so critical to high-level performance in sports (mental toughness, psychological skills), could be further implemented in military training to enhance performance and facilitate coping in stressful situations.

PTI Thompson: “Nothing can stop the man or woman with the right mental attitude from achieving his or her goals, equally nothing can help the man or woman with the wrong mental attitude. Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can.”


Exploring Mental Toughness

Before recommending which mental preparation strategies to utilise, it is important we, soldier athletes understand what mental toughness is and explore the underlying mechanisms associated with it. From a behavioural perspective mental toughness has been defined as, “the ability to achieve personal goals in the face of pressure from a wide range of different stressors” (Hardy et al., 2014, p. 5). The key attributes that characterise mental toughness include coping effectively with pressure and adversity, recovering or rebounding from set-backs and failures, persisting or refusing to quit, being insensitive or resilient, having unshakeable self-belief in controlling one’s own destiny, thriving on pressure and possessing superior mental skills. High levels of mental toughness in an individual has been proven to be related to lower ratings of exertion in high intensity exercise, higher pain tolerance/physical endurance, faster injury rehabilitation, and higher levels of optimism and coping (Crust, 2008; Clough et al., 2002; Nicholls, Polman, Levy, & Backhouse, 2008; Crust et al., 2002; Levy et al., 2006).

In a military context, mental toughness has been shown to significantly predict higher levels of performance over and above that accounted for by individual fitness levels (Arthur et al., 2015) and normative commitment, affective commitment, and recruit adjustment in training (Godlewski & Kline, 2012). Furthermore, mental toughness has also been found to be important for sustaining high levels of performance and success when faced with the stress and adversity of a physically and mentally demanding military task. Indeed, there are many similarities between the performance-related psychological challenges that soldiers and athletes are required to deal with. However, we can also argue that the degree of risk and objective magnitude of stressors experienced by combat soldiers is far greater than that of any athlete or team.

While studies have shown that mental toughness may be related to a collection of unobservable values, attitudes, emotions, and cognitions (determination, focus, confidence, perceived control, thriving through challenge, awareness, tough attitude, and desire for success) (Gucciardi & Gordon, 2011; Jones et al., 2002), mentally tough behaviour is just that, a behaviour. Therefore, the presence or absence of mentally tough behaviour (persistence, effort, perseverance) should be determined before focusing on unobservable predictors (Gucciardi, Jackson et al., 2015; Hardy et al., 2014; Gucciardi et al., 2016).


Attitudes and Attributes of Mental Toughness

Risk-Taking Behaviour

In the opening question you may have selected the highly relevant attitude of having a willingness to take risks. Multiple studies have found that a willingness to take risks is an important attitude that characterises mental toughness. Bull et al. (2005) found that in order to make things happen (gain momentum), athletes were willing to take risks, and this also extended to taking career risks in order to progress towards attaining key goals. Specific components of mental toughness (challenge and confidence in one’s abilities) were also related to attitudes towards risk-taking (Llewellyn & Sanchez, 2008), therefore mentally tough athletes have a positive attitude to risk-taking.

A further study on mental toughness identified that taking risks at crucial times during performances (as opposed to being conservative) is as characteristic of mentally tough athletes (Coulter, Mallett, & Gucciardi). This has parallels with achievement motivation, in which high, as opposed to low achievers tend to seek out rather than avoid challenging tasks and situations (Duda & Hall, 2001). Similarly, Maddi (2004) emphasizes how risk-taking characterises hardy (resilient) individuals and proposes hardiness as an operationalization of existential courage.

In relation to calculated risk-taking, it was found that when faced with important decisions, by choosing the challenges of the future (rather than stagnation, and comfort), individuals risk ontological anxiety, but as such are more likely to experience personal growth (Maddi, 2004). It is possible that a willingness to take physical risks allows mentally tough individuals to avoid stagnation by facing challenges with the opportunity to learn important lessons about oneself. Therefore, calculated risk-taking can facilitate learning and personal growth inducing situations.


High Levels of Self-confidence

Unsurprisingly, interpersonal confidence was also found to be related to attitudes towards psychological risk (Llewellyn & Sanchez, 2008). Hardy, confident individuals are future-oriented decision makers who seek out challenges, take risks, and approach, rather than avoid potential anxiety. If individuals with low levels of mental toughness characteristically avoid risk, choose to stay within their comfort zone and thus avoid anxiety provoking situations, these individuals are unlikely to develop strategies for maintaining control in challenging and adverse situations. It was found that individuals who are high in challenge seeking and those who have a greater confidence in their abilities have a greater propensity for physical risk-taking (Clough et al., 2002; Crust, 2008). It is acknowledged that a willingness to take risks (approach) rather than avoid stressful situations is vital in learning to deal with pressure or adversity.

With regards to risk (either physical or psychological), research found that rock climbers took calculated additional risks to challenge themselves when they felt confident in their ability to manage those risks (Llewellyn & Sanchez, 2008). It is also important to note that environmental influences were also identified as crucial to the development of mental toughness (Bull et al., 2005; Connaughton et al., 2008).

High confidence in one’s ability is strongly associated with performance and achievement. A study that involved USA Olympic qualifiers and non-qualifiers in men’s gymnastics found that the finalists who were better able to control anxiety and recover from competitive mistakes had higher self-confidence, had more positive than negative self-talk, and used imagery of an internal rather than external nature (Mahoney and Avener, 1977). In addition to this, a further study that analysed the personality characteristics of national and Olympic runners, rowers, and wrestlers found that the more successful athletes exhibited a greater positive mental health profile typified by larger scores of vigour and lower scores in such negative moods as tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion (Morgan, 1980).

Like successful Olympic athletes, soldier athletes should implement psychological skills as part of their training, including imagery, focusing, anxiety control, positive self-talk, and goal setting. In a study of Canadian Olympic athletes, mental skills that typified the successful athletes included total commitment to pursuing excellence, setting goals in training, competition simulation, mental imagery, focusing and coping with distractions, detailed competition plans, positive thoughts, and post-competition evaluations (Orlick & Partington, 1988).


High levels of self-efficacy

Mentally tough individuals have been characteristically described as being highly self-confident, challenge-seeking, and low in anxiety (Clough et al., 2002; Jones et al., 2007). Research in an adventurous training context identified that self-efficacy can influence risk-taking behaviour. Rock climbers were found to take more risks when they perceived themselves capable of managing and coping with specific risks and able to meet specific challenges (Llewellyn & Sanchez, 2008). This suggest adventurous sports participants who have high self-efficacy are less likely to fear failure, more likely to set challenging goals, and take calculated as opposed to reckless risks. To challenge themselves, some rock climbers may set difficult goals and take calculated additional risks when they feel confident in their ability to manage those risks.

To that end, it is clear that a strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment. Soldiers with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in activities. Such soldiers set themselves challenging goals, maintain strong commitment to them and heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. Such individuals quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks; they attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal accomplishments, upholds high morale and fighting power, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression.


High Coping Ability

Studies in a variety of achievement contexts have demonstrated the importance of mental toughness, in which coping has been found to be a key construct of mental toughness (Jones et al., 2007). Definitions of this construct state that mentally tough individuals have ‘‘a high sense of self-belief and an unshakable faith that they control their own destiny and these individuals can remain relatively unaffected by competition and adversity” (Clough, Earle, and Sweell, 2002, p. 38). In addition to this Jones (2007) stated that mental toughness represents the ability of an individual to cope with the demands of training and competition, have increased determination, focus, confidence, and an ability to maintain control, in particular, control and confidence are of particular importance.

Mental toughness has been shown to predict coping ability to be associated with less stress and more control experienced by athletes (Kaiseler, Poleman, & Nicholls, 2009). Coping refers to conscious cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage a situation that has been appraised as stressful (Lazarus, 1999). Lazarus (1999) found coping strategies either change or eliminate the stressor (problem-focused coping e.g. planning), or manage the emotional responses (emotion-focused coping e.g. deep breathing caused by the stressor). Based on this research, we may refer mentally tough individuals as being able to cope effectively.

The question remains on whether mentally tough soldiers differ in the actual coping strategies used in comparison to soldiers that are not mentally tough. Khoshaba and Maddi (1999) suggested that hardy individuals are more likely to show problem or approach based coping behaviour when faced with a stressful situation.

Although mental toughness was found to be relatively stable and enduring, coping (one of its key components) is not. Research with elite athletes showed that coping changes over time (Nicholls, Holt, Polman, & Bloomfield, 2006; Nicholls, Holt, Polman, & James, 2005). Therefore, on this basis it is too early to state coping behaviour as an essential component of mental toughness without evidence.


High Levels of Optimism

Another psychological construct that is related to mental toughness and coping is optimism. More optimistic athletes have been found to exhibit increased effort to achieve goals, in which Olympic champions reported high levels of mental toughness, coping effectiveness, and optimism (Gould, Dieffenbach, and Moffett, 2002). Optimism, in this respect, has been defined as ‘‘a major determinant of the disjunction between two classes of behaviour: (a) continued striving versus (b) giving up and turning away” (Scheier & Carver, 1985, p. 227).

Optimism seems to be a predictor of sport performance. Less optimistic individuals are more likely to withdraw or disengage attempts at achieving a goal. A study found that optimism was the best predictor of performance in elite male and female cross country skiers and ski-marksman and swimmers (Norlander and Archer, 2002). Optimism is also associated with differences in coping behaviour. A study found that more optimistic individuals use more approach coping strategies and less avoidance strategies. Less avoidance strategies showed significant negative correlations with mental distraction, venting emotions and resignation, but not with approach coping strategies (Solberg Nes & Segerstrom, 2006).

There is a common perception that a mentally tough athlete is able to bounce back or resolve issues without recourse to others. Overt venting of emotions can be perceived as a sign of mental weakness rather than strength, as lower levels of emotional control was associated with more venting of emotions, whereas higher levels of challenge, commitment and ability confidence was associated with more use of mental imagery.

The strong association between mental toughness and optimism suggests that higher levels of mental toughness could result in higher levels of achievement. This relationship between optimism and mental toughness has important implications for mental toughness training, as previous research has shown that optimism can be learned (Gould, Dieffenbach, and Moffett, 2002; Seligman, 1998), therefore by teaching soldiers and athletes optimism skills this could enhance mental toughness and potentially result in higher levels of achievement. Venne, Laguna, Walk, and Ravizza (2006) discussed different pathways to increase optimism. They identified successful achievement of mastery experiences, lower levels of anxiety and depression and explanatory style as possible mechanisms.


Psychological Preparedness

Based on a review of the stated psychological characteristics of peak performance, it is clear that athletes use a wide array of cognitive and behavioural skills and strategies for their best achievements, including imagery, well developed competitive plans, goal setting, well-learned coping skills, thought control, arousal management, emotional control, attention control and refocusing. To become successful, the athlete and soldier needs to be committed, dedicated, motivated, mentally tough, and able to pursue achievement goals in a rational way. All these attributes may be developed or improved by using psychological skills.

PTI Thompson: “Training your body to withstand hardship during training will develop a level of resilience in your mind that carries over in all aspects of your life. The mind is a powerful tool that when trained properly, it can control the consciousness.”


Mental Toughness Training Overseas

The United States military has already acknowledged the potential value of applied concepts from sport psychology. In an effort to increase the psychological strength and positive performance of its service personnel, and reduce the high levels of combat-related stress disorders, the U.S Army established the comprehensive soldier fitness (CSF) program and the mental resilience trainer (MRT) course. The CSF program is an integrated, proactive approach to increasing resilience and enabling mental toughness in soldiers and the civilian workforce. Personnel are taught a variety of performance enhancing psychological and physical skills to be employed when facing the wide variety of challenges they may be required to face in their personal and professional lives, including combat (Reivich, Seligman, & McBride, 2011). The MRT course is one of the foundational pillars of comprehensive soldier fitness and provides instruction to low-level unit leaders on how to teach resilience and mental toughness (Mathews, & Seligman, 2011). Furthermore, psychological skills training (PST) has been integrated into elite U.S. Special Forces training and selection to facilitate the development of mental toughness in their soldiers. During the U.S. Navy SEAL Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals program, potential candidates receive training in a variety of psychological skills and cognitive strategies that are integrated throughout the SEAL selection program (Robson & Manacapilli, 2014).


PTI Thompson: "Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterwards. You've got what it takes, but it will take everything you've got - optimism is an attitude you can choose."

Developing Mental Toughness

With regards to psychological preparedness training, it’s important to draw attention to a study that examined the impact of psychological skills training on the development of mental toughness on a British arduous military selection course towards the end of the training, and the impact of the psychological skills training on performance. The psychological skills training targeted the four basic psychological skills of goal-setting, relaxation and arousal regulation, self-talk strategies and imagery/mental rehearsal, based on their previously demonstrated efficacy with respect to performance enhancement in competitive sport and military contexts.


Para Training and Selection

For those unfamiliar with the training, Regular Para basic training is a 28-week course, alongside other courses it is known for being one of the most physically and mentally demanding of all infantry regiments in the British Armed Forces. It is designed to produce physically and mentally robust soldiers able to deal with the physical and mental demands placed on soldiers in combat. Due to the highly demanding nature of Para basic training, platoon sizes can decrease by up to 60% before completion. Failure to complete the course is attributable to a variety of reasons, including injury, poor performance, or voluntary discharge.

At week 20 of the course, Para recruits are required to undergo Pre-Para Selection, known as P-Company (Pegasus Company). The purpose of P-Company is to test physical fitness, determination and mental robustness, under conditions of stress, to determine a recruit’s suitability for service in the Parachute Regiment. Although a high level of fitness is required to successfully complete P Company, the various tests are also designed to assess a recruit’s ability to maintain a high level of performance under pressure. Failure results in the unsuccessful recruits being reallocated to a platoon earlier in the training cycle or transfer to another infantry regiment. P Company consists of a series of physically demanding team and individual events that involve carrying personal equipment weighing 20kg or more for distances of up to 32km over difficult terrain with time constraints, a steeplechase assault course, and an aerial confidence course. Two team events require the participants to run with a 60kg log and 80kg stretcher for 2.5km and 8km respectively. P Company pass rates typically range between 40-70%.

See 'An Interview with a Para' for further information about P Coy.


The Impact of Psychological Training on Performance

In relation to performance on P Company as a consequence of the psychological skills training, the recruits’ ability to recognise and regulate arousal levels and reduce the debilitating effects of anxiety was found to be a key factor in achieving optimal performance (Hardy et al., 1996; Krane & Williams, 2011). Furthermore, the recruits were able to use relaxation techniques to reduce pre-performance anxiety prior to each event and regulate arousal levels in order to cope with the extreme physical effort experienced on P Company. The psychological training included all the psychological skills in one package. Overall, although marginally, it was found imagery and relaxation was the technique used most and was regarded as the most important in this context.

An interesting result that emerged was that during the training prior to P Coy, the use of all psychological skills was utilised particularly relaxation and imagery. On P Company itself, the recruits reported using self-talk and goal setting. A reason for this may be that goal setting and self-talk are more naturally occurring psychological strategies than relaxation and imagery. Due to the consequences of failing P Company, optimal performance on every event is arguably more important and therefore more stressful than training. Indeed, previous research has shown athletes engage in greater use of psychological skills during competition than in training because athletes view competition as more important (Frey, Laguna, & Ravizza, 2003; Thomas et al., 1999).


Different types of imagery have been identified by researchers, all of which serve a different purpose during a performance task (Cummings & Ramsey, 2009). Cognitive general imagery refers to the imagery of strategies, routines, and game plans (mental rehearsal), while motivational general- arousal imagery is related to the arousal and anxiety associated with competition and has been used by athletes to remain calm and relaxed prior to competition (Munroe, Giacobbi, Hall, & Weinberg, 2000). The para recruits were educated in the different types of imagery and their purpose therefore may have selected the appropriate types of imagery.

It also worth highlighting that interestingly research in both elite and regular military training environments have shown transformational leadership to positively impact on a number of performance-related outcome variables (resilience, confidence, training satisfaction, group cohesion) and discriminate between recruits’ success and failure in training (Arthur, 2014; Hardy et al., 2010).

To this end, the study showed how psychological skills training is a useful performance enhancing strategy in a military setting. In addition to previous research, the results further support the value and use of psychological skills training packages in facilitating the development of mental toughness.


Military Mental Training Techniques

It was found that when using a variety of task-related psychological skills (including goal-setting, relaxation techniques, self-talk and mental rehearsal) soldiers performed significantly better on a variety of military tasks (including fitness related tasks) (Hammermeister, 2010). Hammermeister (2010) examined soldier’s use of psychological skills in three psychological skills profile groups (strong skills, weak skills, and fearful focus). Results revealed that soldiers in the strong psychological skill profile group performed significantly better than those in the other profile groups on an army physical fitness assessment. More recently, Arthur (2017) examined the indirect effects of basic psychological skills (goal-setting, relaxation, self-talk, and imagery/mental rehearsal) on military endurance through enhanced advanced psychological skills. The results revealed that goal-setting, imagery and relaxation all had positive indirect effects on endurance via activation, with goal setting also impacting on endurance via overcoming negative thinking. These studies provide further support for the use of basic psychological skills for enhancing performance in a military context.

Low-proficient athletes and soldiers may be helped to learn, refine, and practise mental skills and strategies aimed at gaining personal control of debilitative states and improving psychophysical conditions that facilitate performance. Sport psychology consultants have developed and applied an impressive number of mental training programs across a range of individual and team sports (Dosil, 2006; Greenspan & Feltz, 1989; Murphy & Martin, 2002; Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996; Nideffer, 1992).

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Military Physical & Psychological Fitness Training

We acknowledge that elite athletes due to compete in the Olympics are preparing for the most important event of their careers. In relation to studies that have examined preparation strategies and coping responses of elite athletes, there is ample evidence that expert performers have developed over their careers a variety of idiosyncratic mental preparation strategies to cope with competitive demands (goal setting, arousal regulation, imagery, focusing and self-talk). Athletes tend to adopt personal pre-competition and competition strategies to deal with performance requirements and competitive pressure.

In a military context, all militaries invest a great deal of resources into training soldiers to be resilient in the face of extreme mission demands. One common method of preparing soldiers to be resilient is to ensure that they are as physically fit as possible. Military research has consistently demonstrated that physical fitness enhances physical health, well-being and cognitive functioning, and is critical in buffering the impact of stress.

With respect to physical preparedness, we acknowledge the importance of having physically fit soldiers in a mission-ready status. Although the British Army addresses fitness as a key attribute of combat readiness, another aspect of fitness that has been underappreciated in military training is psychological fitness. This aspect of readiness is surprisingly undertrained, although soldiers in elite units receive training on the psychological demands of high-intensity missions, military leaders have noted there is a lack of focus on psychological preparedness.

To this end, with the recent implementation of Project THOR, this may be a window of opportunity for updated physical training programs to further instil a psychological training component consistent with current doctrine. The impact of psychological demands interrelate over time, therefore understanding the impact of psychological and physical demands in a training environment can help military leaders apply lessons learned under realistic training simulations to ensure combat readiness for missions.


The Importance of Physical Fitness & Psychological Fitness

In relation to toughening an individual, developing physical fitness is one way to promote efficient response and recovery to physical stressors. Toughening has been defined as ‘the strengthening of the ability to respond physiologically in an efficient manner to significant stressors and to recover quickly’. Toughening occurs through the repeated exposure of the soldier to physiological stressors with sufficient recover time between exposures” (Thomas et al., 2004).

There has been three noteworthy studies on the impact of stress fitness in toughening an individual with elite military and paramilitary units. One study examined the extent to which physical fitness affected responses to a physical challenge and to a psychological challenge, and another study by Wittels et al (2002) examined stress responses after exposure to emotionally stressful and unrehearsed military tasks of commando training. The studies found that physically fit individuals effectively deal with the physical demands and physical fitness conditions individuals to handle psychological demands (Spalding et al., 2000; Wittels et al., 2002). Physical fitness thus improved how individuals responded and recovered from psychological challenges. In order to ensure soldiers respond and recover optimally from all forms of stress, these results provide further support for the development of training in coping with psychological demands incorporated into existing training programs.

We’re aware that personnel in elite units train for highly dangerous missions and contingencies involving intense physical and psychological demands. To understand the effects of extreme stressors encountered by elite military personnel, Morgan (2001). examined how military personnel attending an Army survival training course responded to intense psychological stressors. Findings showed that exposure to the training resulted in significant physiological changes that predicted psychological dissociation and performance scores. Although all soldiers in the training were physically fit, Morgan also compared the responses of elite soldiers with general infantry soldiers. Elite soldiers were found to respond to the acute, uncontrollable training stressors with fewer psychological symptoms of dissociation that did general infantry soldiers. Termed “stress heady”, these elite soldiers were selected for their ability to tolerate high levels of stress, were well trained and prepared for such stress.

It would be expected that when soldiers are trained as they fight and “toughened” to confront demands consistent with what they experience on real-world missions, the stress response would be accompanied by an efficient physiological and psychological reaction and rapid recovery. However, even highly trained soldiers may find themselves in situations that they have not encountered before in their training that are physically demanding, psychologically demanding, or both. In the case of unrehearsed physical demands, highly trained soldiers would be expected to acclimate quickly because their training and physical fitness generalizes to these demands. For example, physical demands such as prolonged sleep deprivation or intense physical exertion would not necessarily be unrehearsed and are more in line with typical solder training. Thus, we would expect an effective physiological response and recovery. In contrast, without specific training and preparation, psychological demands such as being taken captive, encountering civilian casualties, or handling dead bodies might not be expected or rehearsed for, and subsequently may elicit intense psychological responses and slower recovery time. It was demonstrated that an unrehearsed and stressful commando training task led to a significant emotional activation. This emotional activation declined with repetitions to the task, even though the tasks were presented after 3 days of intense survival training (Wittels et al., 2002).

There is also evidence that psychological training for extreme psychological stressors can be effective. One study which looked into what type of coping technique would be most effective in handling exposure to simulated abduction and 4 days of captivity. It was found that the soldiers who were trained in more emotion-focussed coping strategies exhibited lower levels of behavioural problems during captivity than did participants trained in other coping strategies (Strentz & Auerbach, 1988). The results suggest it is possible to train soldiers to cope emotionally with intense psychological stressors, just as it is possible for physical fitness to be a benefit for those individuals facing physiological stressors.

The study showed that soldiers encountering unrehearsed training had heightened physical and psychological demands. Soldiers recovered quickly from the physical demands and tended to recover less from the psychological demands. The results provide support for the distinction between physical and psychological demands and the importance of being trained specifically for both.

Although both physical and psychological demands tax the resources of elite soldiers, soldiers recovered more from the physical demands than from the psychological demands. The physical demands of the training were something for which the soldiers had been previously conditioned, whereas the soldiers had no previous conditioning in meeting the psychological demands of the training. In addition to this, elite soldiers recovered rapidly from physical demands (Morgan et al., 2001). Consistent with previous findings, Spalding (2000) reported that physical training is not enough to create the same type of recovery pattern from psychological demands.


To conclude, it is clear that training for psychological demands is valuable for producing mission-ready, combat effective soldiers. The difficulty lies in implementing training designed to address psychological demands as the stress of extreme physical demands is relatively specific and easier to replicate in training. Psychological training must also respect limits created by ethical and legal standards as well as grapple with the inherent difficulty of creating a training scenario that appears realistic (see Driskell and Salas, 1991). It is clear that given the unconventional nature of recent combat operations faced by soldiers, a broad spectrum of preparation is critical.

PTI Thompson: “The Navy SEAL’s have a saying, “get comfortable being uncomfortable”, we can’t get stronger if we stay in our comfort zones all the time. Developing mental toughness can be the armour that protects us from life's blows and a powerful weapon of strength. Mental strength is like muscle strength—no one has an unlimited supply. We can build strength but we need weights to lift, the challenges we face head on are those weights. Therefore, take control of your mindset and go for them goals; the mind is our most powerful asset.”

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Views expressed in this training article are of the individual only. Active discussion and debate on the topic in question is welcomed.


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