Mental Preparation and PTSD

“I always won in my imagination. I always hit the game-winning shot, or I hit the free throw. Or if I missed, there was a lane violation, and I was given another one.” ~ Mike Krzyzewski

If you listen to athletes and coaches long enough you will invariably find a few talk about the importance of mental preparation. So many aspects of sinking a putt or making a free throw exists between our ears and in hours of preparation before the real competition begins. Athlete after athlete will comment about visualizing the medals placed around their necks, or throwing the game winning pass.

In combat, the preparation is similar, but just different enough to have side effects. As any good leader will tell you, being prepared is an imperative. I remember many a night before a mission reviewing battle drills or nine line medevac requests. I spent hours staring at maps of objectives and playing out the worst case scenarios. Thinking about your Soldier’s getting shot or killed is no picnic. Unlike Coach K’s quote above, the luxury of relative inconsequence in sports is not afforded to a Soldier. ¬†We have to take exceptionally hard looks at negative paths to minimize their impacts.

One of the more difficult tasks as a leader is keeping a positive attitude while staring down everything that can go wrong. I fully believe that over time this task becomes harder and harder. When bad scenarios transform from mental preparation to real world experiences the validation of negative ideas are more difficult to explain away as outliers. When I returned home I had enough reinforcement of traumatic experiences that these patterns of thinking were deeply entrenched. In mental health profession parlance they are “Stuck points”. Contrary to an athlete who is mindful of scenarios but is focused on success as the prize, I don’t know if I ever really emphasized “winning” in combat. The reward for success was having to roll the dice again on another mission, and after more than a few close calls, that eventually didn’t really feel like a reward.

Goodness knows the consequences in my new profession are not nearly as dire as in combat. Still, the need to mentally prepare to face each day does not simply melt away with a job in civilian life and certainly should not be limited to athletes and Soldiers. In the early days of my therapy it took me a long time to work past the crippling effects of those negative patterns. A key to my early small successes was thinking about how I would tackle the next day. However, as my therapy better prepared me to handle each day my habits relaxed. When time is short and the family and work life stack up, making time to prepare is tough. This blog is my mental preparation, especially this time of year. It helps me listen to my inner dialogue and challenge being depressed or moody. I wind down thinking about how to handle tomorrow and it is critical to take one day at a time. I run through scenarios with one conscious change from combat: I think more about winning and success now. I don’t ignore potential problems, but I focus more attention on the positives than the negatives.

This past week I am forcing myself to prepare for the days ahead. I know there are challenges ahead of me. Staying positive and thinking through the definition of success is even more important. I encourage you, no matter your profession, to take some time to mentally prepare for whatever it is you have coming up. Be mindful of scenarios, but be positive in your outlook. I believe it will pay dividends.

Alrighty, 5 posts down. I owe you six. Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Mental Preparation and PTSD

  1. Bryan

    I’m not sure if this a minority view or not, but I actually hate the upcoming holiday. Just this morning, I have already begun to cede to the emotions that are inextricably going to overtake me come Monday morning. I am mentally preparing for it right now. I can’t fully explain it, but I don’t find the holiday particularly helpful in any way other than the truly earnest attempts to thank me. While I always appreciate the barrage of e-mails and calls I know I will get, I just want to be left alone. No one gives a hoot the other 364 days about how utterly broken I am, why do they think one day will make a difference? Let me have a day to give these demons their voice and wrestle with them on my own terms. (Sorry for this bitter comment; I am venting, clearly.)

  2. mikeypiro

    If you cant rant here, you cant rant anywhere :). I am thankful for the day, but at the same time, I saw a few commercials leveraging the holiday this year that did not have the same tactics last year. I think it is because of the late Thanksgiving holiday and as such a shortened shopping season. I will take what I can get.
    I would recommend you get hooked in with a good Veteran’s group. There are dozens that are working year round and build a stronger sense of community. (Team Red White and Blue is my current favorite). I hope you are well. Thanks for reading.

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