Inspirational Reading

by Gila Hayes

This month, deeply impressed with the detail Massad Ayoob brought to answering our questions about how members should prepare for and react if despite their best precautions they come in contact with a violent mob, I decided to run an unusually long lead interview. Even if it takes you, dear reader, several evenings to read and absorb the lengthy article, I hope you will invest the time.

Those who have observed that Massad’s knowledge on armed self defense is encyclopedic are not indulging in hyperbole! I learned so much asking him about defense against mobs that I found myself unable to edit the interview for length. This is a topic we truly need to understand, on which we must strategize, and about which we must invest prior thought to determine what responses best serve our safety and that of our families.

Unwilling to cut any of Massad’s interview, I instead dropped my monthly book review. Since the book I was reading throughout most of July was not about shooting but had much that was personally valuable to me, let me use this column to reflect on parts of Jason Van Camp’s book Deliberate Discomfort: How U.S. Special Operations Forces Overcome Fear and Dare to Win by Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable that spoke to me.

imagesPeople crave “certainty and predictability. The world makes more sense to us when we’re comfortable. The problem with that is simple: the world doesn’t always make sense. The only way we can really make sense of the world is to embrace the chaos and get used to accepting dissonance. If you can get used to this discomfort, you will excel,” explains Deliberate Discomfort’s introductory pages.

The book is a compilation of stories by and about Special Forces officers, detailing pivotal experiences that shaped them as individuals with added commentary written by a variety of experts about applying the lessons to life both inside and outside of the military.

I am generally skeptical of adopting military strategies and mindset for the defense of private citizens–the rules of engagement are too different. Mental toughness, however, is a study from which people of any walk of life can benefit. Make no mistake, training and exercise for optimum mental strength are just as important as doing so for physical fitness. The book’s introduction stated, “Just like physical skills, mental skills such as attention control require intentional and deliberate training through practice and quality repetition over time. In other words, mental skills are learned behaviors.

“If you are to develop any kind of mental strength, you will need to take responsibility for and own your mindscape, no matter what state you find it in.

“Sometimes we can be afraid of what is happening in our own minds. When we observe our mindscape, we can see our personal inaction, negativity, debilitative self-talk, and ineffective focus,” writes mental performance trainer Nate Last in his contribution to the book.

What makes you most uncomfortable and stressed out?

Fear of making mistakes or failing? “Remember that failure is fertilizer, and fertilizer is what you need to grow to your full potential,” advises one officer. Another soldier discusses his greatest fear–failing his teammates–and tells of the heroic actions that fear drove him to perform. “I turned that fear into fuel. I turned that fear into awareness. I trained my guys harder. I did extra work with them. I let the fear serve as motivation. It drove me to train my team harder, and we became faster, stronger, and better,” he writes.

One of the commentators in Deliberate Discomfort is a man who turned two failing companies around and credits his successes to a deep desire to achieve, combined with a willingness to take risks and deliberately place himself in uncomfortable situations. He says, “The reason I am successful is that I embraced doing what other people resent or were reluctant to do.” Van Camp adds, “Voluntarily putting yourself in an uncomfortable position means that you are willing to achieve.”

Do you fear fast-changing, unpredictable circumstances? “When chaos ensues, self-regulation and specifically emotional regulation must prevail… efficiently identify and effectively manage emotional information that will build a foundation to help guide your thoughts and behaviors in an effort to influence an optimal outcome,” writes an expert in the study of emotion. A good long discussion follows about building skills and practicing choices about thought patterns, regulating emotional responses and making conscientious decisions that are in alignment with one’s own value system.

Do you avoid stressful situations? Van Camp has a bullet point list of solutions. “There is no way to remove stress from your life, but there are ways to be prepared for it,” he suggests.

  • You can’t control everything so focus your time, attention and effort on that which you can control.
  • Study, get advice of others, and do homework to know best practices.
  • Use imagination “to create vivid, personal, and powerful images of you executing your performance perfectly before it actually happens. See yourself from both the inside, in terms of what you’re thinking and feeling, and what you want that performance to look like from the outside.”
  • Embrace fear.
  • Set high and hard goals.
  • Strengthen your spiritual nature. “Find what feeds your spirit and do it consistently through quality repetition.”
  • Find a support structure. “You need someone to ‘have your six’ ... Be around like-minded individuals.”

I think everyone has experienced the impulse to give up! I feel pretty inadequate admitting to things that have made me want to give up at various times in my life, measured against the story of a USMC staff sergeant who disarmed explosive ordnance during several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a result was nearly killed and had to learn to live with permanent disabilities. His comments are inspiring.

“For me, it’s all about having emotional strength,” he writes. “It was my ability to compartmentalize things. To put things in a box and set it over there and focus on what’s in front of me. To not let whatever is in that box affect my mood, the task at hand, or the moment. I had too many people depending on me to be sad. I didn’t have the time or luxury to worry. Whatever I had gone through, I had survived it, and it couldn’t control me anymore. I find myself using the lessons I learned in combat in my daily life now. Like all of us, I’ve got a hundred things to worry about. All kinds of things bother me. But I make a choice to not let those stressors affect the next thirty minutes of my life. Or hour. Or day.”

Van Camp closes Deliberate Discomfort with a challenging chapter on facing adversity head on. He first warns about procrastination, and one commentator illustrates how procrastinating and imagining how bad an uncomfortable situation might be is often much worse than the reality. Van Camp quotes a Green Beret colonel who was influential in his development, “Decide to stop being a perfectionist. ‘Perfect’ is a moving target. You will never complete a task if the standard is perfection.”

Another contributor admits that he nearly failed out of the physical aspects of basic training. “I decided to do something about it. I could only control what I could control, and I could control my effort and myself. I decided to simply outwork everyone…Every time I didn’t think I could go on, I forced my mind to take another step. I just kept telling myself, ‘One more step.’ That was my mind-set. I did this extra physical fitness work for the entirety of basic training.

“I would think ‘Small victories’ and then set out to do things that I wasn’t sure I could do and complete them...I loved pushing myself beyond what I thought my limits might be. I learned that the human body is capable of so much more than we realize. Once you start to feel pain, the mind starts to doubt. I learned that the mind quits long before the body does. Once you push past that weak mind-set, you understand that the body can still operate at a pretty high level under incredible physical stress or neglect. You just have to convince your mind to take the next step. I learned that you are in control of your mind and that making the choice to keep pushing through discomfort is the key to moving beyond your limits.”

Deliberate Discomfort is a great personal-growth book. I came away inspired to continue seeking out uncomfortable situations because the dividends in personal and professional growth are too valuable to sacrifice for comfort. In Van Camp’s words, “Choose the path of most resistance.”

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.