By Bryan Gatchell, IMCOMAugust 22, 2014
ANSBACH, Germany (Aug. 22, 2014) -- A friend tells you of his daughter's wedding engagement.
You reply in one of four ways: You insert a few positive words as you nod inattentively, you use his daughter's wedding as an opportunity to talk of your nuptials a year ago, you enumerate the flaws of his daughter's fiancé, or you listen to him with authentic interest and encourage him with follow-up questions.
In the above hypothetical example, the fourth option is what the Army's master resilience trainers, or MRTs, call "active constructive responding." The purpose of responding to good news, according to the instructors of the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness's Executive Resilience and Performance Course, is to encourage further communication and build trust.
Soldiers, civilians and spouses of U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach took part in the CSF2 Executive Resilience and Performance Course at the Von Steuben Community Center, Aug. 18, 2014.
The course taught garrison director-level personnel and their spouses the key competencies of being ready and resilient as well as certain skills such as practicing optimism through "hunting the good stuff," effective goal setting, and active constructive responding.
Tony Garcia, the program's manager at U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, said the importance of the program is to give simple skills to individuals so they can thrive in their professional and personal lives.
"The skills that I teach and that I learned, I actually employ on a daily basis," said Garcia. "I do that not so much because I'm struggling. I'm doing it now because I'm trying to become better. So for those in our population who are actually doing well, there's still something here for you that can help you just enhance your performance."
The course comes in three different lengths: four, eight and 16 hours. The course hosted at the Von Steuben was the four-hour version, which meant that only a few of the skills CSF2 covers could be taught.
Garcia believes that the negativity bias, which is the tendency for humans to ascribe more significance to negative experiences than positive ones, is a challenge intrinsic to human nature, which is why the three skills taught during the four-hour course are designed to enhance optimism.
The skill "hunting the good stuff," requires its practitioners to think of three good things that happened to them during the course of a day, and write it down daily as they might in a journal.
"We are constantly thinking about how to solve our problems, and when we start thinking about problems, it will send us down that negative spiral," said Garcia. "To just take a couple of minutes to think of something positive, we know it will start to change a person's attitude."
As a person develops the habit of thinking of positive things that have happened daily, they begin to recognize more and more positive things as they occur. Optimists, according to the instructional material, are happier, healthier, are better leaders, have stronger relationships, do better in sports, perform better under pressure and are more successful at school and work.
When initially training on active constructive responding module, Garcia felt reluctant. One day, however, a Soldier approached him to tell him about his engagement over the weekend, and Garcia realized the response style's value. He and the Soldier with the good news were closer afterwards.
"We're teaching you so that you get something positive and they get something positive," said Garcia. "And you want to talk about team cohesion? That will build team cohesion, whether it's your office team, your squad or your Family. It is absolutely a very important skill."
"There are ways of making strong, healthy people become stronger and healthier," said Heidi Nemec, the primary instructor of the course. "If you know mechanisms to train that, they can become more psychologically robust and have stronger (personal) connections."
Nemec cited the ease of implementation as a reason why they instruct these three specific modules during the four-hour course.
"These are three of the most easily applicable -- or quickly applicable -- skills," said Nemec. "The idea of goal-setting is so familiar to people, and in a community like this, motivation is a huge question: 'How can I motivate my Soldiers or my family or my coworkers more?' It's such a relevant topic, even if it's not as easily put into action. People very much care about it."
Because there are many other modules within CSF2, Nemec recommended that the best resources for the USAG Ansbach team were the local master resilience trainers.
Gary Sowders, the chief of USAG Ansbach's Ready and Resilient Task Force, is the primary point of contact to learn about training opportunities.
"It's not just about Soldiers, it's about the entire Soldier family," said Sowders. "And that's a great thing. Frankly, as the Soldier goes, so goes the family, and as the family goes, so goes the Soldier."
The garrison has several civilian and Soldier master resilience trainers on hand. Likewise, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade and other tenant units have their own MRTs. The training is all part of the Army's longer term view of training, according to Sowders.
"The Army has learned that it's not just what you're doing now, it's about the big picture -- the enduring picture," said Sowders. "Resilience is all about doing what you're doing today in 20 years, or at least being able to do it again in the near-term. If you're placed in stressful situations, you can recover from them and then be able to be called upon again."
The event itself succeeded, according to its various participants.
"A lot of the comments that were given were insightful and applicable and relatable," said Nemec. "My impression as an instructor was that we were all talking about the same things and giving great, relevant examples of, say, motivation or times when we haven't been great at (active constructive responding). And I think that's a really great sign from the group that they're invested and willing to share with each other."
"This day was fantastic," said Col. Christopher M. Benson, USAG Ansbach commander, after the training session. "I think all of us can take something away from this and improve our performance, improve our lives and improve our relationships."
One of the division chiefs in attendance, Ingrid Misch of housing, found the training useful, specifically the aspect that focused on optimism and interpersonal relationships.
"In the environment where we're working, it's important to have a team -- a good working team -- and a positive team," said Misch.
Likewise, Petra Singleton, a civilian spouse in attendance, found the course to have wide applicability.
"(The course is) not for the military; it's not work-related," said Singleton. "It's for life in general."
"As a civilian, I enjoy being able to teach these skills in the Army community, but the reality is that the changes are only ever going to come from within," said Nemec. "These leaders and the MRTs and the Soldiers that are willing to make changes, that's where change really will happen."
To learn more about Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness or the Executive Resilience and Performance Course, visit the links in the "Related Links" section. To learn more about USAG Ansbach's Ready and Resilient Campaign, select "USAG Ansbach Ready and Resilient Campaign Task Force" in the "Related links" section.