In my book, Eleven Bats, I attempt to stitch in lessons I have learned from the psychological challenges of extreme experiences and warfighting. After nearly 1000 days on combat operations, not to mention the decades spent in the special operations teams of the SAS, I have made a lot of mistakes. But all too often, we focus on a the physical, mechanistic mistakes. If we forget to do something as part of a process, or we forget to remember a piece of equipment, or we make a mistake with numbers and math, or we fail to hit a target, or we are too slow, or not accurate enough, we beat ourselves up and are judged on, often receiving feedback. But we also make psychological mistakes, which we can really beat ourselves up about, but we don’t really talk about those?
Many more of us than we like to admit suffer these psychological mistakes. For example, we all have tendency to over-estimate our own ability, and under-estimate others – I see this in business a lot. But another such mistake, that most of us make every day, is to listen to the commentator that lives in all of our heads. That voice of self-doubt and criticism, telling you that ‘they’ think less of you – when the reality is that ‘they’ don’t think about you at all. Or, telling you that ‘they’ are laughing about you behind your back – when you are the farthest thing from ‘their’ mind. Or, telling you that the effort you have given is terrible or not good enough – when your effort was absolutely fine.
And so, in the book I touch on an important cognitive tool I learned during my career, particularly as a Team Commander, the highest calling in the SAS and where the imposter commentator can too often rear their ugly head. The tool I use when he does is cognitive reframing.
Now I was back at home, I couldn’t get him out of my head. That young boy I had been caring for after the suicide bomb attack, visited me in my sleep. Even after I came home, when the rest of my wounds had settled down, I still saw him while I was swimming laps at the pool, or while I was driving to the shops, playing with my kids, watching television, batting in the nets. Bang, there he was. I would feel sadness, guilt, and occasionally depression and anxiety. I would see a psychologist regularly to deal with it. I would only really get over it when the psych told me that my feelings were normal and it wasn’t within my control where that boy was when the suicide bomber detonated; in fact that the boy was lucky to have had me there in his final moments and that he was visiting me to thank me, not to bring me sadness; and that he wouldn’t want me to be depressed, and that I should welcome him and indeed look forward to telling him how I was going now. These imaginary conversations would change a number of things for me, and eventually I would smile and feel glad when he visited me, to remember that in his last moments he received care and compassion from me.
My self-confidence, which had been battered and bruised at the time I’d left, received a boost. I learned a valuable lesson about myself in those days, that the little commentator in my head was the imposter. We all have a commentator in our head—‘Harry’s in from the southern end, bowls on a good length and, oooooooh, just misses the outside edge and the top of off, nice delivery’—but mine is not always positive. My commentator’s agenda during those years was to undermine me by telling me how shit I was. As a psychologist, I now know that many of us struggle with the imposter commentating on our lives. While the commentator cannot be silenced, I have learned to have regular harsh words with him and often put him back in his box.
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique in which we attempt to view situations, events, ideas, experiences, and emotions through a different lens. To do this we must challenge our thoughts, and sometimes change them, generally aided by an interlocutor. I successfully use a psychologist. It can be difficult because humans are notoriously stubborn at changing their minds, even in the face of the most overwhelming evidence. It is a conscious shift, or to use self-help language, a shift in mindset. Reframing is usually associated with a change from a negative to a positive state, though it can be from negative to a neutral state also. It is important to understand that when we experience anger, fear, fatigue, or any type of stress, we can quickly revert to old ways of thinking. This is why we must practice such cognitive tools, because we perfect what we practice.
We are all guilty of over-weighting negative thoughts, it is only human. But next time the commentator sparks up, criticising or undermining you, practise putting him back in his place, where he belongs. For it is the commentator who is the real imposter.
ABOUT ANTHONY ‘HARRY’ MOFFITT:
Anthony 'Harry' Moffitt recently retired from the Australian Defence Force after almost thirty years, most of which was spent with Australia's elite Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment as a Team Commander and Team Specialist. He has served in eleven active deployments, including being wounded in action in 2008. Harry completed his time with the SAS as its Human Performance Manager. Now, he is a registered Psychologist and runs a human performance consultancy, Stotan Group, working with sports teams, the military and across industry. He is the singer/songwriter for original rock band The Externals. He remains a cricket tragic.
11 Bats is available in all good book stores and online such as Amazon RRP $34.99
Visit - https://harrymoffitt.com.au/