A developed understanding and mind for battle is a major life-line for the Able Contractor. The Able Contractor must be ready to translate a well defined set of psychological skills into a focused product that promotes performance in the field and ensures that the contractor is capable and armed with the needed mental agility and clarity to proficiently handle very sudden and violent events.

The Able Contractor takes the following components and begins the assembly of the needed mental framework to buttress his physical capabilities and manage the field encounters that precipitate stress, fatigue, arousal, and danger; the components include:

Understanding Arousal and Performance. Here’s a basic understanding that all the Able Contractors need to take in from the start – Your performance is central to your survival, and your ability to complete your objectives in the field relies on the outcomes you create with your deliberate actions. Operating in antagonistic environments as Able Contractors do, there will be plenty of encounters that occur where you will be around, but physically exhausted or startled by the speed of violent events. When this happens, duress ensues and your ability to perform and take life-saving measures is impacted due to the triggering of your sympathetic nervous system (SNS).

In the Red Zone, the Able Contractor has to grasp and put to use the dynamic that exists between being aroused mentally and physically in high stress encounters and managing the threats and circumstances in a professional manner. You have to identify and work within your body’s natural capacity to operate under duress, make the necessary survival decisions, and act in a timely and effective manner.

Physiological and psychological changes occur when the Able Contractor encounters or perceives dangerous or threatening stimuli. This arousal affects both a Contractor’s perceptions and his ability to carry out tasks and physically perform in times of danger. Arousal initially manifests in the form of an elevated heart rate that brings on a cascade of physiological and psychological effects. This is a natural and unavoidable response to personal jeopardy that cannot be ignored or avoided.

As mentioned, when you encounter threats, your body responds by engaging the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). When the SNS is activated, it triggers an adrenal response and the body unloads hormones and cortisol into your system. The activation of the SNS induces a chain of events inside your body that increases your heart rate affecting your motor skills, your visual and auditory faculties, as well as your cognitive processes. This all affects your ability to perform in the field and in combat.

The following is a general list of what can be expected from SNS activation when your body is alarmed in the face of danger. It is charted to depict the effects that occur as your heart rate elevates and has been described By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen at length in the ground-breaking book, ON COMBAT– here is a rough sketch of what to expect…

  • 60-80 BPM

    Normal performance expected; resting heart rate range; no real duress

  • 80-115 BPM

    Active and elevated; @ 115, fine motor skill activities begin to degrade

  • 115-145 BPM

    Preeminent range for cognitive and motor skills function under duress

  • 145-175 BPM

    @145, complex motor activities begin to suffer and degrade

  • 175+ BPM

    Vasoconstriction; Cognitive functions degrade; Compounded Adrenal effects in play

Arousal, at its higher levels of activation, can bring on the experience of some of the following effects due to adrenal activity and the mix of chemicals coursing through the body in response to the perceptions and experiences of jeopardy. A limited list of the possible effects and serious impairments you may encounter:

Fear makes men forget and skill which cannot fight is useless.

Brasidas 429 B.C.

Emotions, Fear and Courage. Fear activates duress and puts the SNS into motion. Fear is an ever-present resident of the minds of all those who operate in the Red Zone. It is natural to experience fear. Fear is that palpable anxiety that materializes in times of perceived danger, and uncertainty. It manifests in your perceptions first, then, translates into a more physical being through nervous stress as it couples with the mental expressions of fear as well. If fear is not managed, it will engage the SNS and the very real cascade of effects an impairments depicted in the earlier section can and will result. 

The Able Contractor has to manage fear when it arrives on the scene, and be mindful that fear is not to be avoided, but understood, directed, managed, and put to use. Remember, fear arrives in times of duress and alerts you to the perceptions of danger in your environment – real or imagined. Managing your fear allows you to better maintain your performance, and act on your survival decisions. It is up to you to sort through the experiences of fear and deal with it.

Often, handling fear comes down to personal reserves of courage and tenacity. Courage has both dynamic and static qualities to be put in play by the Able Contractor. Foremost, courage is the quality displayed in action by the Able Contractor when he channels his actions and resolve and moves through the fears he encounters in the Red Zone and in combat.  When the Able contractor acts in the face of fear and danger, dynamic courage allows him to accept circumstance, create a course of action, act deliberately, and face down the peril or problems he is presented with.

At times, the Able Contractor embodies a more static form of courage when he encounters and manages a multitude of daily operational difficulties that may translate into failure of a less physical nature turning the matter at hand into a mission show-stopper with potentially bad business results. When this happens, he doubles down on his persistence, puts to use any available tools, and uses courage to get the job done and translate his actions into success. The Able Contractor must be resolute, persistent, and tenacious. Define courage and access it regularly.

Sometimes, emotions become a serious factor in the field as well. You’re tired, can’t remember when you had a chance to eat a decent meal or had the time for a hot shower; the demands of the job and environment are on your last nerve. Like fear, emotions must be handled before they have a negative effect on you and impact your operation.

The Able Contractor must maintain an awareness of his reactions to stimuli and keep careful watch over how his emotional responses help him generate a clear and correct set of actions or create the bed of circumstance for failure. Keep your cool, take an inventory of your feelings regularly, keep a lid on your emotions, and react in a calm, rational fashion to what you encounter. Do not let emotions cloud your judgment or your actions. Being mindful of your emotions will assist you in being a more effective decision maker and actor in the red Zone.

Image, Confidence and Belief. Psychology is a field of interest to be taken seriously by the Able Contractor. From sports psychology in particular, there are many important insights to be gleaned from that directly apply and translate into your given work environment and profession as a whole.

Self Image and body language are of particular importance to the Able Contractor.  The image you present has to be tailored and understood. How you act, your mannerisms, gestures, use of language, and dress all impact the observer whether it is your boss, fellow team mates, your client, the enemy, and even your psychological self.

Image reinforces who you are, what you are made of, and often defines what can be expected from you as you represent yourself as a work product to be measured for success in the office as well as on the battlefield. Your image is a message to all who are paying attention and will translate into signs of weakness and strength to all onlookers.

The Able Contractor must attend to his image and stay aware of the personal and operational impacts it has. How others view you and how you view yourself matters.

Confidence is an absolute requirement. An Able Contractor must foster his confidence to succeed in a caustic and unforgiving operational environment like the Red Zone. Your skills, experiences, and successes serve to reinforce your confidence and embolden you to continue to act in the face of a multitude of stresses and dangerous events to get the job done time and again. Your self confidence will carry the day and bring you results.

The Able Contractor must have his sights set on achieving. He must achieve his objectives, lead others, fight a determined enemy, and still have the personal well of strength to temper his attitude with a mindset built on confidence and positive thinking. Refine your skills, take stock of your successes and experience, and have the confidence to prevail no matter the concern.

Belief is also of central importance to the Able Contractor. Your viewpoint and system of weak or strong beliefs amounts to a personal paradigm about the world around you and your place in it. It colors your actions on and off the battlefield and affects your performance daily.

Your belief system can provide you with the sustenance needed to carry on despite great odds and hardships, or it can cripple you with indecision, if you find yourself conflicted. Make sure you develop a strong belief system that supports and sustains a positive outlook and lends aid to your actions in the field. How you decide to perceive yourself and the activities you encounter and are involved in will be the difference between seeing something as a challenge to overcome or an obstacle that is near insurmountable. As an Able Contractor, you need to foster a belief system that allows you to accept challenges and conquer obstacles.

You have power over your mind- not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.

Marcus Aurelius

Your Performance Zone and Tuning Your Mental Motor. Your mental, emotional, and psychological state of being all combine to create an inner personal climate that directly impacts your behavior and performance. The grey matter between your ears has to be just as fit and sorted as the rest of your body so you can perform well in the face of the adversity you will encounter in the Red Zone.

When duress, fatigue, and a host of combat and job-related factors assail you, you have to stay inside your optimal zone of performance mentally and physically to give yourself the needed edge over your opponents and defeat any obstacles that arise.

Keeping your mental game tuned plays a large part in your activities; labor to find that zone of performance where your mind and body work efficiently to solve problems and support your trained responses to danger. Use the following techniques to keep your mental ‘mental motor’ tuned, ready, and in the zone:

POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE SELF TALK. Everyone has an internal dialogue that is constantly in play and it affects not only a person’s outlooks on life and their social interactions, but their performance as well. The Able Contractor has to recognize the value of this inner dialogue that goes on, and put it to use. Negative self talk becomes a habit. You tell yourself you can’t act or solve a problem, or you ‘doubt’ in your abilities to perform. This kind of negative talk becomes a reinforced habit damaging your performance or inhibiting your best efforts in the Red Zone. The Able Contractor has to put a knife into the heart of this problem and become infinitely aware of what triggers negative self talk and put a stop to the thoughts and dialogue that holds him back.

Replace the negative talk that goes on with positive self talk. The Able Contractor has to be capable of confronting a fluid situation and telling himself he’s on track and CAN perform again and again despite great odds and conflict. The Able Contractor has a simple choice- to put optimism to use or allow the negative dialogue to override his success. Decide now to put a stop to negative thoughts and self talk, and use optimism as another weapon in your arsenal.

VISUALIZATIONS, THE USE OF IMAGERY, AND CUE WORDS. Your mind’s eye is a powerful weapon. Cue words and images can be powerful allies assisting your performance. Visual images and vocalized cues can aid the Able Contractor by giving the user a focal point to help prepare for action, change course in a difficult moment, or ralley needed mental and physical efforts in times of danger or fatigue. Prior to deploying on a mission, take the time to develop this tool by choosing an appropriate set of images, words, or phrases to use as mental triggers to bring clarity and focus to your actions and situation when things need to be centered. This is a simple and powerful tool set to add to your store of mental weapons and aides – use them.

POSITIVE FOCUS, GAME PLANS, AND GOALS. Problems big and small can be managed with the right type of focus and a capable plan. To keep your operational ‘ship’ upright, map your actions mentally prior to an event. This will assist you in keeping your focus when confronted by hazards. Use the mental ‘What If’ game and sort out your most likely responses to difficult possibilities, and danger in the Red Zone prior to personal exposure. As well, the Able Contractor can support his performance in the field by setting goals and personal phase lines to mark and map progress. Keeping a log of accomplishments and activities helps the Able Contractor stay on course and remain focused on his objectives and success. Develop a habit of mapping and gaining out your actions and you will find the results positive and remarkable.

AUTOGENIC OR TACTICAL BREATHING. When SHTF, the Able Contractor needs a ready tool to help him manage the responses to SNS engagement; this is inevitable. Things will get physical and keeping your heart rate down will help you self-regulate and control the effects and possible impairments associated with an SNS fallout. Keeping your mind as level as possible during hard actions is necessary for your success in the field.

Here’s how it works:

Tactical control of your breathing is the mind-body bridge between controlling the effects of an SNS fallout and driving forwards in the face of recognized danger. Use what is simple and add the autogenic breathing technique to your mixed bag of tools.

The Able Contractor’s awareness and use of mental tools has to translate into real time solutions. As an Able Contractor, you need to peer into your environment intelligently and produce courses of action that effectively mitigate the risks and hazards you encounter with a strong degree of certainty and confidence.

Machines don't fight wars, terrain doesn't fight wars. You must get into the minds of humans. That's where the battles are won.

Col. John Boyd

The OODA Loop, COA and the Able Contractor. The Able Contractor must harness and put to use the OODA Loop concept. In both military and civilian circles, the OODA Loop is a well documented and known platform- an accepted doctrine to be applied tactically in the field. How you measure and use time, space, and distance impacts every action you take in the battlespace. You want an advantage? Study how the mind works and how thoughts become actions. All Able Contractors need to adopt a keen understanding of John Boyd’s OODA Loop and the role it plays in the awareness and decision making processes we all make. Boyd’s loop consists of four parts:

You want an edge in a confrontation? It is found in observation. Develop a keen sense of awareness and note the disposition of the people, places, and things around you on a regular basis. Observation of threats and potential vantage points is a central priority for the Able Contractor.

This stage reflects the Able Contractor’s ability to harness observation, assess what populates his environment and SEE his place in the fluid scene of events around him. In the orientation phase of the OODA Loop, the Able Contractor seeks any possible advantage or upper hand possible given his environment and dealings with unknowns, threats, and difficult situations.

No fence sitting here. Appropriate choices of action must be sorted through and then one chose as an appropriate course of action. Your decisions will be guided by prior experience, training, personal judgment, and the players and circumstances at hand. There may be a moment of hesitation that makes you dwell well past what is prudent so sort your trained responses to dander well in advance to keep your edge.

You put into motion your decisions, and the loop begins again in a continuous and perpetual cycle.

In general, each one of the steps in the OODA Loop takes about .25/sec. to complete meaning that it will take at least one second to respond to something already in motion. Hence, action beats reaction.

Knowing this, keep in mind how the OODA can be put to your advantage. If you disrupt your enemy’s loop at any single point in the process, it has to start all over again giving you the advantage. This disruption can also be used against you to gain ground or affect an outcome not to your liking.

Understand that your Courses of Action (COA) always follow the OODA Loop process when you are on the ground in the Red Zone. Be aware, be alert, exercise sound judgment, and act.

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