29th Feb2012

Combat Mindset and Peak Performance

by A.J.

You are the Master of Your MindsetCheck Your Headspace and Timing

I spent the day with some guys I have worked with over at Magis Group who are without a doubt the leading performance optimization training company for the military and specifically Special Operations. We got to talking about what are some of the differences between a good operator and a great operator. The owner of Magis is a man named Stephen Robinson and it is clear after talking to Steve that there is a lot more to the mental preparation than simply “thinking positively.” The tactical mindset is a deliberate mental state you create through the use of a disciplined mind. Hopefully with some of the info I put down here you can start to develop a methodical approach to increasing you capacity to perform in a tactical environment.


“there is a big difference between being a good shot and being a good shooter”



After a few hours of talking I asked for one skill set I could use to improve how I perform, and I asked if I could share it with you guys and without missing a beat Steve gave me something pretty cool. He called it the “peak performance state.”

Developing a Peak Performance State

Or as I would say a “Peak Tactical Athletic Performance State.” So here it is sort of simplified but, enough to get us started.

1. Develop a ritual

When preparing for combat or just kitting up for training, do it the same way every time. I have a very specific order that I put on my gear, PCI my equipment and load my weapon systems (*ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, LOAD YOUR SECONDARY BEFORE YOUR PRIMARY) before I am ready to go. By doing it the same way you are using somatic (body movement) markers to train your mind and body to be ready. Just as certain body positions can trigger memories a ritual will prep your body for battle. As an added bonus if you do it the same way every time if you forget something it will feel wrong so you can correct the omission.


Tactical Mindset2. Eat for the Mission

Before a mission is no time to experiment with new foods or engage in gastronomical adventurism. The time to try new things is when there is nothing on the line and you aren’t required to perform. Bland food made of primarily complex carbos is probably going to be your best bet, avoid heavy protein and fats right before leaving the wire. Don’t worry the horrible chow hall food will be there when you get back.


3. Use a Mantra

A mantra is a few words that embody how you want to operate or what you expect from your self. The mantra doesn’t have to be a complex set of expectations but it should mean something to you and elicit a feeling state that is congruent with the mission. For what it is worth (probably not much) I always tell my self I am going to be “fast and accurate”, “I am going to engage targets fast and accurately”, “I am going to make decisions fast and accurately.” I know this may sound silly or useless for a few guys out there but I challenge you to try it and see if it works for you. Don’t make a huge scene with your team mates just quietly psych your self up.


4.Get in Character

There is nothing I hate more than when I am out training or on a mission and I know one of the guys I depend on is daydreaming or for some reason isn’t 100% focused on the task at hand. When you head out you are one thing and one thing only; you are a warrior on a mission who will stop at nothing to accomplish what is expected of you! You will have time later to worry about your bills, your spouse and whether you closed the garage door. If you can’t leave that stuff behind then you need to figure out who can replace you on the mission, it may sound harsh but in the real world when it gets ugly I don’t need fathers, brothers, or great husbands all I need are mission accomplishing machines who will stop at nothing to do the job and get the team back safe. Actors in Hollywood say they can get in “character” when they have to so I know the men and women who carry the banner of freedom should have no problem. Part of getting in character is your mental state; think about a time you performed at you best and recreate it in your mind, this should help stimulate your senses and get you motivated to go to work.


5. Be Present

Performance happens in the present, past performance doesn’t guarantee future success and the only easy day was yesterday. If you are in a surreal state of dissociation you can not perform at your peak. Studies have shown that Special Forces and SEAL candidates who try to mentally dissociate from selection have a much lower pass rate than those who just endure the moment and don’t save anything for later. Often times a mission can get out of hand fast, when the bullets are flying you can see it in the eyes of the new guy that he is just barely holding on to reality. One trick I use is I wiggle my toes in my boots and take a deep breath, it places me in the present and readies me to be an active participant in the mission. This can also be used to get other team members who have hit a limit get back online, grab a hold of him and ask him if he is ready to move to the next problem , tell him to take a deep breath because you are depending on him to do his job.



These are skills that many of you guys already do to some degree or another, I know that because I have out briefed hundreds of combat vets and they have told me as much. You may use some of these and not others but, I would ask you to try it out before you discount it off-hand. You should be using this stuff both in tactical situations and non tactical for example: When I get home from work I open my safe and put my guns away (ritual) I get out of my uniform or work cloths and change (get in character) I take a deep breath and release any unneeded mental residue from the day (being present) and I tell myself I am going to go upstairs and be the best husband I can be (mantra) then I say hello to the wife and grab a beer (eat for the mission). As I write this I can actually hear your eyes rolling in your head, but I challenge you to take this approach to anything you want to accomplish and I defy you to come back and tell me it hasn’t fundamentally changed that way you approach your job, relationships and life. I would like to thank you for reading this post and spending time on the site and I would also like to thank Stephen Robinson for his permission to use some of his basic skills to help out other operators. Please check out the “Affiliates Section” to the right and proceed to buy things you would anyway from great sites like Bodybuilding.com because half the proceeds go to awesome charities like the Special Operations Foundation. If you feel you got some value out of this post I would really appreciate any feedback you have to give (I try to respond to them all) and thank you for sharing on your social network of choice.



6 Responses to “Combat Mindset and Peak Performance”

  • James O'Neill

    Well written and on point. I am former military, now law,enforcement. I use these techniques everyday before patrol. Everyday is not gunfights , fistfights and car chases, but it does happen . In training rookies I try to impress upon them that in the real world you Will not rise to the level of your expectations but fall to the level of your training. This includes training your mind.

    • James,
      Thank you for your thoughtful perspective. Mindset is not very sexy but I think it is one of the most important aspects of conflict resolution, violent or not. I hope to provide more in the future and I value your contribution and perspective greatly.

  • DG

    Good pointers…I feel the need to write the basics down, print them out, and hand them out to my troops…

    Switching gears get’s harder as you go up in rank…yer not the one doing all the “grunt work”, but then again, at that point, “Your” performance is based on your ability to “lead” your troops to accomplish the mission. If the mission fails, it’s YOUR fault, not the teams…

    Again, good stuff!

    • If the mission fails, it is your fault; if it could be better, we can improve and if it is great they did a great job.

  • CL

    Another great article! It may be easy for some to discount some of this stuff but I’ve found it had a great impact on my personal performance. Whatever works right! I found doing the same thing every time has a way of eliminating distraction, honing focus, and placing me in the moment. Haven’t used the mantra yet but will get on it and let you know how it goes!

    • Thanks CL,
      I think it is funny that all through basic training and any military training the instructors constantly tell you that the brain is the most powerful weapon, but no one ever really gives you an instruction manual to use it (foreshadowing: I got something coming out soon that should change all that).

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