Last week I visited a college-lecture by Dai Carter. Based on his book Mental Resilience (mentale veerkracht) he shared stories about his life lessons as a special forces operator and how to deal with adversity. From an educational perspective it was an interesting to observe his preparation, way of story-telling, his interaction with the audience and the content he provided. I like to reflect on his lecture through the format we would use during a class-visit.
The set-up of the stage included one chair, a screen and some military boxes partially covered with camouflage netting. There was no music and turning down the lights was the first que that the lecture would start. With the room in darkness we could hear fast repetitive breathing.
When he walked on stage his first interaction with his audience was to ask all to stand up in military fashion. He asked for everyone’s to ‘be present’, and promised to take us on a mission that would lead to growth and development. Asking the audience to stand up can involve feelings of resistance. It was his metaphore for learning. What it takes to go on a mission successfully are; self-confident, confidence in the team, and whatever specific skills that are required. One powerfull skill that helped him was to be able to label each development step as positive (growth mindset).
After his mission stories he shared with us his learning points by leaving the military and the leaving the identity behind which the military had given him. He described the situation as being stuck in a commando ‘foxhole’, which can also be referred to as the black hole after graduation. The moment in life you’re not sure what to do and where to go. I assume it’s a phase we can all relate to. For him it meant reflecting on all the knowledge and skills he had learned through his 10 years in service which are symbolically now in his backpack. He decided to climb out of his foxhole by the knowledge and tools he had acquired. That’s how he came to construct his concept of Mental Toughness. He engaged with his audience by introducing the question he would ask someone in the audience to repeat his definition. He could ask this to anyone in the room. He showed an image of the model; and went through each of the aspects step by step by providing practical examples of; fysical, cognitive, spiritual and emotional. He did spiritual before emotional because it often raises the most questions. He checked with the audience; some feel connect, many don’t and even more don’t really know how to relate to it. Parts of the presentation were supported with video’s.
Towards the end another lifestory was shared in which during an emotional skills and competency training he was asked in a group to share an emotion. In his case a moment of amazement. Sharing emotions within the group takes courage, and can strengthen the bond and is necessary to for building trust. His own learning point was that there is strength in sharing your own vulnerabilities and its necessary to. Emotions are signals from the body; we cannot shut them down, we can regulate them at best; but the body remembers. There are two types of resilience. Resilience that is needed for the moment (weerbaarheid) to operate under pressure, and resilience ( veerkracht) that is needed to return-to-normal after a period of stress. We need to be resilient in the moment and deal with adversity and be resilient in coping with the aftermath of adversity. A tool to cope with too little stress or too much stress is tactical breathing. He introduced this method with the audience.
He concluded his lecture by inviting the audience to take a picture of his ten commandments on mental strength. It’s now or never.
- Know the power of your physical potency.
- Know the mindset that you are applying in accomplishing your life goals. Are you perceiving things as challenges, obstacles or feedback
- Learn how to apply your mental flexibility; know your own mind-traps
- Learn to express your emotions and research them
- Find connection in spirituality
- Be aware of your ‘now or never’ moments
- Know you power of strength/resilience
- Know when you must be flexible/resilience.
- Discover the power of your vulnerability
- Develop your ability to take action