This trimester I am teaching a very interesting class on Psychology of Wellness at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, IA, USA. For this class, I have planned to provide to my students, hands on experiences on behavioral changes and achievement of a healthier, more fulfilling life in different dimensions of their lives. As we have a whole trimester to work on this material, we are covering the L.O.V.E. program for human growth that I have created throughout many years with my experience working as a clinical psychologist in Brazil, family therapist and executive leadership coach in the USA; added to other theories and techniques which can help each student work more effectively towards achieving a specific goal they chose in the first classes.
Last week, I was talking to one of my students about empathy and the military. During our conversation, he asked me if I had read some specific books and materials about Navy SEALs’ mental and physical training. My honest answer was that I hadn't. So, he suggested me to look at their materials, and so I did right away. I was very curious to understand the process behind their training because the focus should be body-mind connection, certainly based on neuroscience. I was happily surprised to realize that many techniques used by their psychologists, are similar to the ones I have been using for years with my L.O.V.E. method. I have used many different concepts from Yoga and neuroscience to create the approach, but it had never crossed my mind to take a look at what the Navy SEALs were using to train people to control their fear in situations of extreme danger, stress and vulnerability.
As you can imagine, they have countless amazing tools and techniques that can serve us all. Not only to help us deal with our fears, but also to keep focused, disciplined and determined to do what we want to do. I would like to share with you here one specific concept that I found very connected to the L.O.V.E. approach. They have one technique called "The Big 4", mentioned by Dr. Eric Potterat, command psychologist of the Navy SEALs on a documentary about techniques to control fear. The big question they have, which is very similar to the questions I hear from many of my clients daily is: If we are living in a chaotic and stressful environment, how can we manage our fear? This is when Neuroscience plays an enormous role to help us understand our brain functioning and our behaviors. Although it is very difficult to suppress our instinctual natural response to fear, we can train our brains to respond differently to external stimuli.
The main goal of the “Navy SEAL Mental Toughness Program”, designed by neuroscientists, was to help them control and change their natural brains responses to fear and panic in extreme situations. They realized that most mistakes happened because of fear and panic, so they had to think of a solution to help their team adapt their brains to the unexpected fearful situations of the environment, handling stress in a different way than our system normally does and quickly gaining control of their emotions, feelings and actions in the middle of a chaotic situation.
In order to be able to change those natural impulses, neuroscience helps us to understand the functions of important parts of our brains. The amygdala, which is part of our primitive brain, has the primary function to keep us alive. When it senses fear, it activates our body’s panic system to release the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline into our blood stream, changing our breathing, heart rate and increasing our state of alertness. When it happens, our body is ready to either freeze, fly or flight. It prepares our system to survive. It is so fast, that don’t have time to think clearly at the best decision to make at that flash of a second. Why is that? Why can’t we just make a conscious decision at that moment of fear instead of acting impulsively? It is because our logical thinking and reasoning happens in a different part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, the part just behind our forehead. This part of the brain receives the fear information later than the amygdala, so it can only play its role, after the initial survival primitive impulse.
Neuroscientists created the following 4 techniques, which if used regularly, will help the body and brain to work better together, specially dealing with decision making processes.
The first one is “Goal Setting” – This step is to establish a clear goal, which is a function of the pre-frontal cortex, so by using reason and plan, the fear response doesn’t increase its power. This technique is very similar to the “L = Leadership”, when we intentionally create a clear goal we want to achieve, and we observe carefully how we tell and write our story. We consciously create a plan in which fear is not part of. We look carefully for every word we use and eliminate anything that mentions fear directly or indirectly. Once we have the exact story we want in our minds, we visualize it clearly, using all our senses to provide the most detailed picture we can possibly create. We imagine it visually, vivid colors, sounds, textures, temperatures, tastes, smells, and any other sensorial information we can add to make it the most realistic possible. We make the image sharp and imagine ourselves living in that situation. This helps us create a reality in our brains that prepares us to behave in a certain way when the story becomes reality. There are many studies on the power of visualizations. Many sports psychologists use visualization techniques to help their clients when they suffer an accident, for example, and can not practice. By watching past games of their best performances and visualizing what they want to achieve, their system becomes active towards making it happen. It is fascinating!
The second one is “Mental Rehearsal or Visualization”. As I mentioned before, by creating a specific scenario in our mind, when the real situation happens, our body has learned how to deal with it. Working with “L” besides the visualization, I ask my clients to look for a visual image that represents exactly what they want. They can edit the picture to add them in a scenario, be as creative as possible to create a concrete representation of their goals. This helps us create a reality in our brains and makes us motivated to keep moving towards our results.
The third one is “Self-Talk”. This technique is very similar to our “O = Optimism”. There are studies that point that we, humans talk to ourselves between 300 to 1,000 words per minute. That is a lot of talking! We rarely pay conscious attention to the content of those conversations. Our goal with “O” is to become constantly aware and intentionally choose the words to think of. We can select positive words and expression to replace the negative ones. We need words in our stories that carry great energy and will help with our motivation and confidence, leading us to amazing outcomes. We need to develop this level of awareness to make sure we are using words that will lead us closer to our goals and not to our fears. If we focus on our fears, they become our reality, if we focus in our goals, they become our reality. We can make wise choices daily.
The fourth and last one is “Arousal Control” which involves deep breathing techniques to allow more oxygen in the brain, helping us make better decisions. I was not surprised that the Navy SEALs use breathing techniques to control their emotions. Our body has the perfect tools available for us to survive and thrive. One of the best natural ways to control emotions is to control our breathing. This technique is similar to our “V=Vitality” breathing and meditation techniques that we use to increase awareness of the body-mind connection and to help our system regain balance. In L.O.V.E. we dig deep in the topic of breathing because it is such an important aspect of our lives. Very simple, if we don’t breathe, we die. If we learn how to breath well, we have a healthier mental and physical life. Breathing techniques can help tremendously people dealing with anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
I guess, I am adding one more topic on my book. Navy SEALs’ mental training and decision making. I am grateful I had such a nice conversation with my student, which started as a misunderstanding about empathy, and ended up becoming a door that opened space to teach me something new.
I invite you all to observe doors of opportunities that open in front of us all the time, and we miss most of them because we are distracted doing things that don’t really matter.
Thank you for reading my article!
I wish you, your family and friends an amazing weekend.