Entrepreneurship is legendarily hard on your mental health, but you know what’s even tougher than getting a business off the ground? Fighting a war. Which is why, when founders are in the market for advice on dealing with stress and adversity, they often turn to the armed services for advice.
Nate Zinsser runs the performance psychology department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Basically, it’s his job to teach cadets how to weather the worst the battlefield might throw at them. And now he’s sharing his secrets in a new book entitled The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance.
Bloomberg recently offered a sneak preview of the type of advice on offer (subscription required). If you want to decide whether to pick up a copy, here are a few of the techniques covered in the article — and the book — in brief:
1. Train yourself to relax on cue.
Being able to shut off the chatter in your brain at will so you can actually relax can feel like a mysterious gift some people simply have and some people don’t. But it’s actually a skill you can learn. The Army has long taught soldiers how to sleep on cue, and psychology offers several tips on how to calm your noisy brain and relax even in stressful situations.
Zinsser suggests you teach yourself these simple but powerful techniques and get used to employing them in whatever short windows you have. Even two minutes of deep breathing and relaxation can be useful.
“You essentially rest your brain, with physiological changes in blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen uptake, and blood lactate accumulation,” he explains to Bloomberg.
2. Don’t waste your energy on negativity.
People with addictions are taught the serenity prayer in recovery — “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” — and apparently West Point cadets are taught something similar in training.
Zinsser stresses that negative emotions like anger and fear sap your energy. To help them conserve their reserves of mental strength, he teaches cadets to recognize when negative emotions are unlikely to do any good, and to avoid moaning or complaining at all costs.
3. Fill up your fuel tank.
Even the toughest warriors can’t summon mental strength (or even physical strength) out of thin air. Zinsser instead teaches them to be mindful of what they need to do to “fill their tanks” and make sure they prioritize doing those things.
“Do the things you need to give yourself success and energy in a suboptimal environment,” he instructs, whether that’s extra sleep or extra time to prepare for a tough assignment. Zinsser stresses that often means saying no to other things (like a fun night out or another task) that would stand in your way of that essential preparation.