The USA army is well-known for its rigorous training to ensure that its soldiers are in peak physical condition. Now, specially targeted training has been developed to assist the soldiers  cope better with the psychological demands of combat: training in resilience.


 Imagine a fit, highly trained and very well equipped soldier about to leave with his squad on a patrol in hostile territory. The soldier will need to be totally focussed on the mission, looking for and assessing potential threats and continually devising and weighing options of how to respond. The solder’s safety and that of the other soldiers depend on each person’s ability to focus and think clearly.


Yet in reality, the soldier is also a human being with the same fears and concerns that we all have – worries about loved ones, concerns about finances and irritations with colleagues. Imagine if the soldier had just received a letter from his or her partner ending their relationship, or a final demand for outstanding debt. If this leads to persistent negative thoughts which the soldier can’t get out of their mind during the patrol, it clearly represents a serious liability to the squad’s survival.


To meet this challenge, the USA army has launched a comprehensive soldier fitness program developed by Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Karin Reivich, two of the most experienced experts in building resilience in the USA. The workshop is aimed at the inner world of the soldier, and assists soldiers in avoiding “thinking traps”, by dealing with catastrophic thoughts and putting them into perspective.


A typical thinking trap is to jump to conclusions. For example, not getting through to one’s partner for 5 consecutive phone calls may start the person thinking that the partner is deliberately not taking the calls, that they have found another person in their life, which results in the conclusion that they are being unfaithful. Soldiers are taught how to challenge this line of thinking and also how to choose their emotional reaction to this event. They apply these thinking skills to themselves and also to assist others.


In addition Dr Martin Seligman and Dr Karin Reivich identify the soldier’s character strengths and help them build upon them. In this way they help the soldiers become better at what they already do, and even experience personal growth in the most difficult circumstances.


Here in South Africa, we use similar tools to great effect in our workshops on Building Resilience click here. These tools are particularly useful for people with stressful jobs – teachers, police officers, call centre operators and most middle managers. Our delegates report that it helps them cope better, deal with adversity and live their lives with zest and joy.


For more on the article about the USA army training, click here