Warrior Mindset:

Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation’s Peacekeepers

By Michael J. Asken, Ph.D., Lt. Col. Dave Grossman with Loren W. Christensen
Warrior Science Group
609 S. Breese, Millstadt, IL 62260
ISBN 978-0-9649205-5-2
254 pages, softbound, list price $22.95

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

The book we review this month is aimed at preventing people who are well trained in fighting techniques from becoming ineffectual when life is on the line. As the book’s subtitle indicates, Warrior Mindset is about mental preparation for military and law enforcement, however most of the information is applicable whether you’re an accountant, a deployed soldier, a police officer or a janitor. Actions start in the mind, and how we control our mental resources is critical during self defense. Warrior Mindset teaches how to develop mental toughness.

This book’s 250-plus pages aren’t particularly easy reading, though the subject is fascinating and the author’s coverage of it is very well done. It includes hundreds of quotes and citations of supporting books and research, and is so full of important information that this review will be a little longer than usual.

Warrior Mindset begins by acknowledging that training manuals and instructors have long called for mental toughness but do not teach HOW it is developed. What is mental toughness? It’s more than aggressiveness and determination to win. “Mental toughness is possessing, understanding, and being able to utilize a set of psychological skills that allow the effective, even maximal execution of adaptation, and persistence of decision-making and physical and tactical skills learned in training and by experience,” Asken, Grossman and Christensen write.

The authors outline how the stress of a deadly force incident influences situational awareness as well as ability to draw conclusions and implement responses based on the situation at hand. This manifests in a variety of physiological and psychological effects, including high heart rate, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, clouded thinking and more (if unfamiliar with this topic, see also Physio-Psychological Aspects of Violent Encounters, a DVD lecture by Massad Ayoob). The degree of debilitation these cause can be mitigated and Warrior Mindset is all about how to do just that.

Psychological techniques to manage these symptoms have been studied for decades. It is known, for example, that part of the solution is a high level of technical skill, coupled with stress-inoculation training to alleviate the surprised deer-in-the-headlights effect. In addition, stress management methods like combat breathing, sometimes called square breathing, have made it into tactical training for private citizens.

Physical fitness has much to contribute to mental readiness, too, the authors write. “Individuals who are not fit have greater sympathetic arousal (stress response), while well-conditioned individuals have shown decreased responses to stressors,” they report. “Overall stress tolerance is greater in well-conditioned individuals; they demonstrate a more stable mood and they show clearer mental functioning under stress.”

The authors define two types of stress. The first is a positive state of increased alertness as one readies oneself to perform (sometimes called being in the zone) and the second, one compromised by fear and anxiety. “The adrenaline dump under stress can have life-saving and performance-enhancing effects, it can also degrade performance to dangerous levels,” they explain. The degree to which stress diminishes performance is dependent on the task at hand. For example, sighting a rifle or escaping from a clinch hold requires very different degrees of control. The authors describe ways in which people control their levels of arousal. That’s useful, of course, for predictable dangers, while not so applicable for the unanticipated ambush-type scenario for which the private citizen trains.