A major problem I have seen over the years with students of self-defense is that a great many of them have no mental toughness. They give up rather quickly and are afraid of getting hurt. Conversely many practitioners of sports fighting have that mental toughness — they wouldn’t last long without it.
The navy seals are reputed to have the toughest mentalities in the world. Their brains are programmed to ignore fear even in the most stressful and life-threatening environments. Inasmuch as they are known for mental toughness, why do so many recruits fail to pass their final exam and dropout?
Several years ago the U.S. Navy hired a team of neuroscientists to determine the cause of the high dropout rate. The seals final exam consisted of a drowning test. That is staying underwater for 20 minutes while instructors turn off their oxygen supplies and rip off their facemasks.
This drill induced so much fear that even some of the best-trained athletes just froze and gave up. It’s a given that all humans have a primal instinct to resist water, we are all hard-wired to resist drowning — not breathing means death. Even though the seals recruits were assured of immediate medical help, many just gave up.
After a long study, the neuroscientists came up with 4 attributes that helped cultivate the mental toughness the seals needed to pass their final exam. They named it “The 4 Pillars of Mental Toughness.” This method can also enhance mental toughness for practitioners of self-defense, since many defensive engagements can quickly become deadly.
The 4 Pillars of Mental Toughness consist of setting goals, these are:
- Positive self-talk
- Arousal control
1. Setting Goals
The research showed that recruits who were successful in their training set very short and specific goals. The idea is to focus on what you are doing now and not to be sidelined by thoughts of all the additional training throughout the day. Switch off the brain and focus on the now.
2. Mental Visualization
Mental visualization has been used by many Olympic athletes for years to hone their skills. While resting, athletes would visualize themselves doing the perfect ski-jump or gymnastic routine. According to neuroscientists, mental visualization is just as important as doing the actual practice itself.
During navy seals training, the recruits that did the best were the ones who visualized the activities they were about to perform. When done repeatedly, mental visualization rewires your brain at a primal level. Combined with actual practice you can achieve a higher level of success in a shorter period of time; Fake it until you make it!
3. Positive Self-Talk
Most people talk to themselves at a rate of between 800-1600 words per minute. If you were to repeat negative thoughts for only 5-minutes you would negatively reinforce 4000 words. The Navy Seals were taught to self-hypnotize themselves with positive words to so they could remain in high spirits; be positive and never give up.
4. Arousal Control
Controlling your mental state is essential in times of danger. Many fights have been lost because of negative imagery. Nature has built in
many automatic responses for times of extreme stress. These include: sweating excessively, dilation of the pupils, the inability to move, feeling frozen in place etc. This is nature’s way of protecting us from danger. These reactions are caused by hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and navy seals were taught to control these hormones.
One method is called the 4X4. When in a dangerous situation navy seals would slowly breathe in for 4 seconds and slowly breathe out for 4 seconds. In a short period of time this action would clear their minds.
For practitioners of self-defense arousal control also encompasses self-discipline such as: exercising more, attending more practice sessions and eating less junk food.