14 Jul Psychological and Emotional Preparation for Offshore Sailing – Part 4

Thinking under pressure.

The cognitive domain is obviously were our thoughts, ruminations and decision making reside. And yes, we can train this domain. For example we can train ourselves to hold our focus on our task to the exclusion of all other distractions. This of course requires us to know what our task is at any given moment, and we also need to understand that our task can change multiple times in quick succession. When talking about distractions, of course we include typical things like fear. Fear is something we all face from time to time, and of course with varying reactions or responses. Some people may discover that they freeze when confronted with a stressful situation. Some people stay calm cool and collected and go into ‘rational thinking’ mode. It is important for each of us to learn how we respond and ask simple questions like “is my typical reaction or response helpful or not helpful?” If I realize that my typical response is not helpful, I need to slowly but surely train myself to respond in a more helpful or appropriate manner.

Fear is generally based on our ‘perception’ of an event or the ‘perspective’ we carry into an event. Fear is often based on the unknown. It is human nature to fear the unknown. And this reaction generally comes from our imagination. Our mind consciously or unconsciously creates a story around an event based on piecing together parts of other stories that we have either experienced personally or have read about. Often this fear response is based on fiction rather than truth. Not always certainly, but often. Our minds are brilliant at creating worst case scenarios and if left unchecked we work ourselves into a frightful state about something that has not even happened, or may never happen. For a great discussion on the topic of fear I would encourage you to read a book called ‘The Fear Project’ by Jaimal Yogis.

Enter the discussion on mental toughness. Mental toughness simply is a person’s ability to remain calm cool and collected in times of challenge or adversity or stress. In other words, can I hold it together mentally and emotionally when a situation becomes challenging. These are the mental skills any one of us can learn and develop. The good news, these are not skills any one person is born with – meaning anyone can learn and master these skills.

Another book worth reading on this topic is Chris Hadfield’s book called ‘An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth.’ Chris Hadfield had a brilliant question he would ask himself in preparing for space travel and all the possible contingencies “what’s the next thing that can kill me?” This became an important question for him precisely to manage his thoughts and emotions. This was not a fear based question, rather a question of preparation. The intention of this question is essentially anticipating possible scenarios and then preparing ourselves to manage those scenarios well. A question like this essentially helps us create another check list in this case of mental and emotional coping skills. In the world of Chris Hadfield, the more prepared he was for anything and everything, he was able to remain calm cool and collected when things did get challenging because he had already prepared an appropriate response. The more prepared we are in managing the mental and emotional domains, the more likely we will be to remain calm, cool and collected, if and when we face challenge.

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