It's been three years and hundreds of interviews and many hundreds of research hours since I began the journey that led from an idea to the publication of "The Sniper Mind". In that time I've been asked many times what is the one thing I have taken away from that journey. What is the one thing that I've learnt that has personally transformed me.
In truth there have been dozens of things I've learnt alongside a renewed and profound respect for anyone who joins the military. As a result of the journey that went into writing this particular book, there is one quick, handy tip I apply in my life daily now which has made a huge difference over the last three years.
I seek some discomfort. Whether we're talking about mental, psychological or even physical discomfort is immaterial. The brain uses, largely, the same circuits to process all three types of input, synthesizing it into a seemingly seamless reality. Discomfort, of any sort, disrupts that reality. Experiencing discomfort than forces us to re-evaluate what we know, re-assess what we do and become more innovative in our thinking.
Discomfort is at the heart of the snipers' "Adapt. Overcome." motto. They understand that it is impossible to control everything and an illusion when you think you do. So, when you do not control the world around you the one area where you can exercise control over is yourself. The one way to prepare for the difficulties you will face is through a systematic approach to discomfort. By regularly facing challenges that stretch your abilities and successfully overcoming them you begin to exercise the circuits in the brain that guide decision-making in stressful situations.
In other words the brain becomes hardened to the shock of a difficult situation and learns to adapt to it so that it can successfully respond. This makes it less likely that the centers of the brain that are associated with higher thinking and executive decision-making will shut down (which is exactly what happens when we are under stress) and the quality of the decisions we make will be less guided by emotion (i.e. our instinct to move away from discomfort and towards comfort) and better informed by the information we have in hand.
My, by now, habitual inclination to seek discomfort manifests itself in small but important and, above all, consistent ways. I may forego warm clothes on the way to the gym and back again, in winter. I might not get to bed just because I am tired when there is work to do. I will take the stairs to the fifth floor instead of riding the elevator and, when I really do not feel like taking out the trash late at night, I will force myself to do so because really there is no good rational reason not to.
None of these are immensely heroic acts or moments where the decisions I have to make are life or death ones. Yet, collectively they keep my brain from growing complacent and precisely because there is no good reason to subject myself to any of this, I have to constantly appraise my natural tendency to resist doing any of this and go ahead and do them.
The result is that I deal with fatigue a lot better these days. I let stress flow over me and through me rather than constantly fight against it and, on the odd times when I feel my anger beginning to rise to the point where it threatens to overwhelm my self-control, I can take a step back and actually examine why I feel angry. And that has a totally calming effect on me.
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