Have a read of 3 of the 13 lessons in the book
I missed a certain edge after leaving the military. I began to run, and with time I was eventually running marathons and ultramarathons. I felt at peace when I ran (and still do), and pushing through the “wall” left me feeling alive—until one day when someone asked me, “What are you running away from?” Ouch! This made me reflect on my running, and from that experience I also pulled together a number of running-related life lessons that eventually formed the thirteen lessons that follow.
Lesson 1 – Pull-Through or a Stoppage
Of critical importance is your regular pull-through, or PT. (As noted earlier, a pull-through is where a soldier pulls an oily rag through the barrel of a rifle in order to clean it.) Keep your barrel clean. Remember that life challenges and whatever else you carry will leave residues. If you neglect to pull through, then you will eventually get a stoppage.
This concept/principle is probably one of the most effective lessons that I use with veterans and those who are currently serving. It’s the one thing that always makes sense to the people I sit with. Whether you are a veteran or a civilian, a husband or wife or anything else, life affects us in either positive or challenging ways. Life, our histories, and ageing will all leave a residue. If we ignore the residue, if we fail to regularly do a pull-through as well as strip, clean, and oil all moving parts, then a stoppage will eventually occur. This stoppage may be a burst of anger, a bout of depression, a panic attack, or overwhelming and high levels of stress. Whatever it is, the common denominator will be that it does not work constructively for you. Good nutrition, sleep, exercise, lifestyle balance, and getting appropriate support and tools to use daily will all support you in keeping your barrel clean. As a veteran, you have learned the importance of cleaning your weapon regularly. It is just as important to learn to keep the many parts of yourself clean and well oiled.
On my website, you will find a number of PT tools that I have used with veterans over the years and that they have found effective. These are tools that I also personally use on a daily basis. I encourage you to have a look at these and to discuss them with the professionals who are working with you. If they support you in using them, then give the tools a try and give them time to have an impact on you. An endless number of tools are available out there. Look around and research them. My choices need not be your choices. But at the end of the day, make a choice and start putting into practice your own daily pull-through.
Remember that a PT consists of becoming informed as well as taking focussed, rehearsed, and disciplined action.
Lesson 2 – OP Mode Can Save Your Skin
At times, you may need to behave as if you’re on an observation post where you simply keep your mouth shut and your head down. Listen, observe, monitor, and learn. Shoot your mouth off, and the double tap you next hear may be directed straight at you. Remaining observant, identifying your arcs of fire/behaviour, and keeping situationally alert can keep you safe. Your relationship with others and yourself depend on this.
“Phil,” a Vietnam veteran, noted that “I cannot tolerate fools. If they’re not doing things the way I think they should, or they’re going about it too slowly, I end up getting frustrated, angry, and reactive. I know that all this is doing is creating tension and stress for me with my kids, wife, friends, and coworkers. I can see myself shooting my mouth off, but I just can’t stop myself.”
This sound familiar? Having a “runaway mouth” will never be constructive. You may have read the chapter on “Operational Neuroscience” (chapter 3). If not, read it now, or here’s a quick summary: When you are triggered, the back of your brain (the emotional centre) will kick up with stress, anger, irritation, and everything else. As a result, the blood flow to the front of your brain (the thinking, planning, and organising part) is reduced. The more reduced the flow of blood, the less likely you will be to think clearly. You will find yourself driven and almost trapped by the emotion. A part of yourself may even know that this is not going to work, but you find you can do nothing to change. You are now just firing on automatic.
When you are in this position, having someone tell you to calm down is not going to work. First you need to bring down the back of your brain to allow you to get into OP (observe, plan, think, and organise) mode. At this point, you need body-based tools such as breathing, tapping (this is a technique where you tap on specific points on the body, which then provides relief from anxiety and stress), drinking cold water, and other tools (see the website). If you need to, go put yourself under a cold shower—that should do the trick and get you out of runaway mode. You will need to learn to create a stopgap between the emotion and the behaviour to allow your body to slow down and for blood to get to the front of your brain. It may be helpful to explain to others that sometimes you may need to take time out to calm down and then return.
Lesson 3 – HE Grenade, Ration Pack, Claymore—Choose Your Tools
Identify what tools you need to help you on your way, whether it’s good nutrition (the “rat pack,” short for ration packs) or learning healthy ways to manage your stress, depression, and anxiety.
I had read lots of books on running marathons and ultramarathons. I had read and created training schedules and eating plans. I’d bought the right gear. It felt good, but what I had not yet committed to was action—getting my feet in the territory and accumulating kilometres, building my endurance, getting dirty and dusty, and developing a good mind-set and ability to hit and move through the “wall.” It’s good to identify the tools you need. I have shared several in this website, from breathing tools to tapping on points on the body, among others.
You should become more knowledgeable and insightful through reading this book, but knowledge is never a substitute for committed and disciplined action. This book may not be enough for you to identify the tools you need. If so, then get the support you need to help you and get on your way. Change will not wait for you, nor will it turn back and come towards you.
Try out some of the tools. Don’t give up on them right away. Change does not happen overnight, and neither do miracles. It takes time. Be prepared to keep doing what you have chosen to do and keep going through the territory where things appear to remain the same.