Unique course gives leaders new perspective
September 18, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- As a platoon sergeant in charge of and involved in the lives of nearly 40 Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Anderson knows that self-confidence comes easier for some than it does for others.
But after a five-day course offered by the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., he also knows that improving confidence can sometimes be as easy as simply setting a goal.
It's one of a myriad of lessons Anderson and 13 other Soldiers from across JBLM learned Sept. 10-14 during the class, a new curriculum the program refers to as its Leadership Development Course.
The course, an initiative by CSF-PREP that Anderson's group was the first at JBLM to take advantage of, seeks to enrich the effectiveness of Army leaders by teaching them to understand and harness a variety of mental skills.
The leaders are given examples of how they can apply the skills both in their careers and at home -- tools such as preserving one's physical and mental energy by letting go of worry and stress wasted on situations beyond their control.
The instructors, called performance enhancement specialists, intend for the sergeants and officers -- some are platoon leaders, some platoon sergeants -- to identify how they can use the skills to improve their own lives and, in turn, their Soldiers' as well.
"We're really giving them a lot of skills to address common performance issues for any person," said Steve Dewiggins, a performance enhancement specialist with CSF-PREP who served as the lead instructor of Anderson's class.
"It may be a physical problem, or a family issue, or it may be some other issue, but now they (leaders) can start tuning in."
Among several other topics, Dewiggins and his fellow specialists teach their students how to successfully manage their physical and mental energy through techniques like deep breathing for relaxation.
They explain to them how to build their confidence by embracing their strong points, focusing on the positives in their lives and using "attitude statements" to give them an optimistic outlook on things.
They teach them to effectively rehearse their physical performances in their heads with the use of mental imagery.
The specialists also show leaders how they can control their attention with the use of cue words and other methods, and how they can turn even their biggest goals into reality through step-by-step plans they create themselves that serve to keep them focused.
"If you have something to achieve, you'll be more confident and committed to fulfill the goal," said Anderson, who most embraced the course's sentiment that having goals can lead to added self-confidence and self-worth. "That would be a driving force to really get those wheels turning to go on to something else and just roll on to the next thing."
Properly setting goals and letting go of the things outside a person's control, Anderson said, are the two lessons he'll definitely make use of back at his unit, the 513th Transportation Company.
"I put a lot of energy into trying to meet the needs of those things that are uncontrollable, when I can put more of my effort, my time, my energy and my focus into those things that I can control," said Anderson, a Charleston, S.C., native, of an epiphany he had during the course that he plans to share with his Soldiers when they face times of adversity.
The leaders in Dewiggins' class started off with a morning obstacle course that tested their physical, mental and emotional resolve against tasks like using a tiny stick to stack small objects on top of one another, performing a set number of pull-ups, and carrying an awkward and heavy assortment of wood planks and other objects as they walked across a wooden balance beam.
Whether pushing the limits of their physical strength or their emotional mettle, the events offered a look at how the Soldiers handled stress before their crash course with mental techniques.
Three and a half days later, after developing their own personal performance plans, they traversed almost the exact same course again, putting to use their newly adapted skills.
And the difference between the group's first and second performances, Dewiggins said, was obvious right away.
"On Monday, we heard the frustration," he said. "We saw the disgust at times -- the 'I don't want to do this' or 'this sucks.' You could see the anger and all these things."
"(On Thursday) They went through quite a bit faster," he added. "They were able to refocus their thoughts and to be more positive."
Dewiggins watched the Soldiers as they recited cue words to encourage and refocus their teammates working to complete obstacles, and took breaks in times of frustration to mentally regroup.
"Attitude is in the mind, but it definitely is infectious, and we saw that spread throughout all these units," he said.
"We applied everything we learned as far as having that confidence, having that drive to really push each other and motivate each other to say, 'hey, you can do it. You've got this,' and just being that positive influence for one another," Anderson said.
Comprehensive Soldier Fitness will host the class every six weeks to a new group of sergeants, officers, and even enlisted Soldiers who haven't yet earned their stripes but have leadership roles in their sights.
The course is new and only beginning to find it's a way in a community Dewiggins said is still largely skeptical to the techniques it teaches. But he hopes to see that change.
"I think there's sometimes a misperception about our program as far as performance and resilience enhancement being soft or making Soldiers soft," he said.
"I think those who are invested in coming and getting our training realize this is actually about making them tougher."