FORT BLISS, Texas (March 2, 2016) -- Wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans competing in the 2016 Army Trials received tips, tools and strategies to support their transition as they return to duty or civilian life as part of Career Day at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 2, 2016.
Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Experts (MRT-PEs), who serve as mental coaches for the athletes participating in the trials, which are scheduled to run from March 6-10, hosted a "Transition: Beyond the Medal" workshop and talked about finding and maintaining motivation for their goals.
"Yes, I signed up for the military, and I understand what comes with it, but I never thought [this injury] would happen to me," said Spec. Stephanie Morris, an active duty Soldier currently assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Morris is one of more than 100 Soldiers and Veterans participating in the 2016 Army Trials.
The workshop was designed to help Soldiers and Veterans like Morris think through ways they can transition successfully and be fulfilled in the next phase of their lives.
"We want to help these athletes identify what motivates them," said Kelsey Erlenbaugh, an MRT-PE leading the workshop.
Erlenbaugh says there are various sources of motivation, both internal and external, that can be effective, but it is the internal sources of motivation that these athletes need to identify and pull from as they look toward the future.
"External sources of motivation, like rewards and punishment, or shame and guilt, might work in the short-term, but eventually that kind of motivation will go away. The reason is because external factors tend to wear off over time, therefore the behavior is not sustainable. Your internal motivation, or your values and beliefs of who you are as a person, will keep you motivated in the long run," Erlenbaugh said.
Identifying internal motivation is one of the first steps in the Goal Setting process, which also includes creating a plan to meet a goal, and establishing commitment and tracking strategies that support goal attainment. Use of internal motivation when working towards a goal is shown to decrease anxiety, enhance concentration and fulfill a need for autonomy. All Soldiers who are part of a Warrior Transition Unit receive targeted training in Goal Setting from the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program to support their recovery and transition.
Morris finds her internal motivation from her friends, family and battle buddies. "My family and friends have always been there to support me through the good and bad," Morris said. "I do have ups and downs, and the good days outweigh the bad days, but when I do have bad days, my family and friends are always there no matter what."
Morris says she's expanded who she considers to be family with the athletes she's met at the Army Trials. "In a setting like this, it makes things a little easier because everyone has a story, and they've dealt with some of the same things you've dealt with, and you can relate in more ways than one." She says Soldiers and Veterans are "always family, because that's who you served with, and that family is always growing whether you're a Veteran or still serving."
During the workshop, Erlenbaugh led an activity meant to provide a visual for the athletes on how the Army Trials has grown their support network. She wants the athletes to see that once the Army Trials are over, these athletes will always have their teammates to support them. "They have similar experiences and can lean on each other. These connections are so important," she said.
Erlenbaugh also encouraged the athletes to prepare for challenges they may face along the way as part of their transition.
"New careers can be challenging. If these athletes develop and plan, and, as part of that plan, identify obstacles they may face, when that obstacle does happen, they'll already know what they need to do. The obstacle won't knock them on their rear, rather, it's something they can run at headfirst because they'll already know how to get at it," Erlenbaugh said.
Morris, who was injured in June 2013, says she has learned to adapt and find her new normal, but acknowledges that it wasn't always easy.
"For the longest time I thought I would be able to do things like I used to, that it would just take some time. But things change. You always have to be open to change because change is going to happen and you can't stop that." said Morris, who credits the Army for being able to adapt to change. She says that throughout her service, the Army has taught her that not everything will go her way, and that change can be good.
When facing change, you have the opportunity to see that change as something bad that's happened or see it as an opportunity, Erlenbaugh says.
"These athletes have an opportunity to decide who they want to be and what passions they want to develop," Erlenbaugh said. "By simply talking about motivation, and realizing the skills and resources they have available to them, they can adapt and start focusing on how they will get there."
Morris is looking forward to working towards a new career in nursing, and sees her injury as what provided her with this opportunity. "My injuries have changed me, but I won't say it's completely bad because I have so many opportunities now that I wouldn't have had if I didn't experience [my injury]," she said.
For other wounded, ill and injured Soldiers facing transition, Morris tells them: "No matter what, don't give up on yourself, keep pushing yourself; Be open to change, and willing to take direction from somewhere else. At the end of the day, you can be better than where you were before."
To learn more about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, visit csf2.army.mil