Learning Optimism Is a Battle Drill
Sgt. 1st Class Rich Stowell
Soldiers are on the hunt… for good stuff. “Hunt the good stuff” is just one of the techniques they learn in what they call “resiliency training.”
“Resiliency is a critical skill to mission success,” said Capt. Jacob Stephenson, commander of Headquarters Support Company of the 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. His job is to make sure the Soldiers in his company get the training they need to be successful on any mission.
Every month, they attend classes where they learn skills like optimism, self-regulation, and mental agility. Its official name is Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF), a program that the Army instituted around 2008. Training is typically led by master resilience trainers like Maj. Ken Francis, a behavioral health officer in the 204th. “Classes consist of a trained expert who presents material using a digital presentation and often handouts,” said Francis. “They are designed for Soldiers and civilians of every type to learn coping skills.” Class topics include goal setting, thinking traps, energy management, and “Hunting the Good Stuff.”
The classes are beneficial because they give me tips on how to manage stressors,” said Cpl. Aurora Chappelle, a human resources specialist with the 204th. Chappelle hasn’t deployed. But the Army began resiliency training for Soldiers of all ranks and experience backgrounds for a reason. The curriculum was designed in part by Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist who pioneered the positive psychology movement.
CSF is “not meant to replace existing efforts to diagnose and treat mental health problems,” according to an article co-written by Seligman in 2011. “Rather, it is proactive, providing soldiers the skills needed to be more resilient in the face of adversity.”
It is based on five areas of readiness: Physical, Emotional, Social, Spiritual, and Family. Trainers deliver lessons and ask Soldiers to think about their own situations while practicing resilience techniques. “Like when we talked about the square breathing technique,” said Chappelle. “Being able to control my breathing and not let a situation overwhelm me to the point where I am having an anxiety attack– that's super helpful.”
They are skills, according to Francis, that any Soldier can use in a variety of situations. “The real magic of resiliency training comes in the form of increasing self-awareness, self-regulation, mental agility, while being more optimistic, and connecting with others,” said Francis.
Francis is assisted by resilience training assistants, like Master Sgt. Justin Cordero, who began learning more about resilience because he wanted to get more involved in the unit. “I volunteered to go to those [resiliency] courses so I could become more proficient at the skills and have a positive effect on other Soldiers,” said Cordero.
Cordero also said that every unit should have a good resilience training program to show Soldiers that psychological readiness is just as important as physical readiness. “Just like physical strength training, our minds benefit from learning and doing healthy exercises to lift heavy burdens, push through challenges, and focus on important tasks,” said Francis. That’s why Capt. Stephenson designates time every month for unit resilience training. Francis says there are very good reasons the Army requires resiliency training prior to deployment. “First, it promotes cohesion between Soldiers to better support one another through validated techniques and strategies. Second, units that actively utilize resiliency skills during deployment have better outcomes and higher success completing the mission,” he said.
Francis says that Soldiers who are resilient are more ready for the challenges of Army missions and deployments—and life. “One of the takeaways for me was how to find things to relieve stress to bring your stress levels down.” Chappelle.
“I love that resiliency is something anyone can use in typical daily situations,” said Francis. “The skills are easy to apply on the fly when stressful situations come up.” “For me personally I have learned to prioritize what matters, the art of taking a tactical pause and the value of an optimistic mindset,” added Stephenson.