Focus in the midst of chaos- US Special Ops


The US special forces are using mindfulness to ensure that soldiers are better able to focus in chaotic situations – for instance, to avoid civilian harm.

Yet making better decisions when under pressure… and being able to calmly concentrate on the task in hand when there is a lot going on … are skills that would enhance the performance on all of us.

I have previously seen research showing how the US military has demonstrated that  mindfulness helps soldiers to “decompress” after difficult patrols and studies  showing how mindfulness helps soldiers overcome PTSD –  even when the training is given “post exposure to the traumatic experiences” it can reduce the brain activity expended on ruminating about such previous situations and emotions. So I was intrigued then I saw this article in the New York Times here.

The piece explains that Professor Amishi Jha from the University of Miami published a paper last December on the effectiveness of mindfulness among members of the US Special Operation units.  The research shows that the soldiers are “better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and demonstrate  increased working memory function”; plus the soldiers report making fewer cognitive errors than those who are not trained in mindfulness.  Prof Jha points  out that members of the special forces are chosen for their ability to focus and so the fact that they experience an improvement speaks to the power of the mindfulness training.

Professor Jha added: “They ‘re the best and what they are trying to do is the hardest. When the US Special Forces do something not only does the rest of the US military pay attention, the rest of the world’s militaries pay attention”.

I guess while we can see that in a chaotic situation a soldier has to focus upon the relevant information and the decisions to be made. So I am sure Prof Jha is right and other militaries will be implementing their own programmes.  Yet there are many other types of role where such an ability to focus is key…  The ability to set aside emotions and reactions, to take on board the relevant information,  to make operational decisions and to “focus on what need to be done” is a very transferable skill indeed.

Making better decisions when under pressure… and being able to focus on the task in hand… are skills that would enhance the performance of all of us.

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