Mindfulness training, or the practice of training your mind to stay in the present moment, offers many benefits, particularly for Military Service Members. These vary from pain and stress management related to post-deployment and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to supporting improved emotional states and emotion regulation. Mindfulness training also can enhance your ability to perform optimally in military environments—in garrison, during training, or in theater.
Mindfulness training cultivates your ability to focus on what’s happening internally in your surroundings. Mind-wandering, worrying about what’s coming down the pipeline, or even trying to evaluate what happened in the past can keep you from attending to details critical for the present. A mindfulness practice also encourages you to experience a situation without judgment (thinking, “This is neither good nor bad”) and with acceptance (thinking, “This is what’s happening right now”).
In garrison or during dwell times, mindfulness can help you cultivate stronger relationships with friends and family and make the most of your time to recover and restore energy. Warfighters lead busy lives, and time with loved ones can feel limited. Mindfulness helps you maximize those precious moments and cope with difficult emotions that can impede communication and intimacy.
Mindfulness during training
In training environments, mindfulness helps Warfighters stay safe while acquiring new skills and tactics. It also aids with their memory and recall on difficult tests and qualifications. For example, Warfighters need to be able to block out distractions and tune into their physiology to obtain optimal performance in shooting tasks for weapons qualifications. Managing your mind-and-body experience of performance anxiety during the evaluative stages is critical for being able to shoot a weapon with accuracy and consistency.
Mindfulness in theater
Your situational awareness is enhanced by mindfulness in a combat environment too. Mind-wandering and judging an experience can create unnecessary stimuli that interfere with your ability to connect with the internal and external resources you need to accomplish your task, avert disaster, or respond to crisis. Warfighters are less lethal and resourceful in combat when their minds wander and they’re unable to fully focus on the situation at hand. Some research shows that mindfulness training—even for relatively short periods of time (for example, 8 hours over 8 weeks)—improves focus in Military Service Members. That is, they’re able to keep their minds from wandering and have fewer lapses in performance during a given task.
Combat environments are often characterized as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA), which can easily lead to sensory overload. You might feel overwhelmed too. Cultivating mindfulness can help increase your tolerance of these environments and impede thinking traps about uncertain outcomes, enabling you to hone your skills of attending to the right stimuli at the right time. Mindfulness training also has been found to be effective for managing and tolerating heat pain for both experienced and inexperienced meditators. In one pain-threshold study, some participants who used mindfulness training were able to tolerate higher temperatures before they reported feeling pain, and they were able to endure heat stimuli for longer durations.
One of the first steps in mindfulness involves pausing, taking a deep breath, and bringing your attention inward for a moment. For more information on how to begin a mindfulness practice, read HPRC’s "A mindfulness meditation primer"