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The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions
Amerland, David

1. Seeking a Competitive Advantage
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“We tend to infer that something is good based on the bodily sensation of approaching it or bad based on the sensation of avoiding it.”
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The way information is processed inside our heads is revealing. Everything about our design is ergonomic, driven by the need to optimize the use of resources. Our brain accounts for roughly 2 percent of our body weight and yet consumes a full 20 percent of the body’s available energy resources.
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The same centers of the brain that process physical pain, process mental discomfort. The fear of failure lights up the same mental centers as the fear of predators does.
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The tendency of the brain to shut down on us, to seek to numb itself, to transport us somewhere else when things get tough, is a response that those who develop mental toughness have learned to recognize. When it happens they can blink it off, embracing it rather than fighting it, drawing strength from it rather than feeling helpless and weak, emerging from it in control instead of feeling helpless.
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The overused, clichéd, and yet still immortal words of Walter Gretzky, passed on to the world through his son Wayne, tell us so: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Wayne credited his legendary success to his dad’s advice to look into the future, rather than chase the present, and work to meet the puck there. Instead of being a fast reactive player he became an excellent positional one, capable of reading a situation and predicting its development.
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Their thesis is that social media posts go viral when those who created them believe they will.
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Their study shows that the ideas that are destined to spread have a characteristic signature at their origin, one which is, quite literally, within the brain of the idea’s creator.
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All we have to do is work on the message so that it is of value to both the sender (us) and the receiver (our audience).
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Confidence, even when under pressure, has a way of turning an impossible situation into just another challenge to be met.
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Snipers have brains that have been trained to resist the ravages of stress. The mind-set they employ can be broken down into three actionable steps that are of direct use to anyone in either a business or a personal situation: • Control • Analysis • Action
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In order to achieve the three-step sequence of control, analysis, and action they need to establish a bedrock of self-belief, and to do that they use three mental pillars known as the Three Ps. They are: • Passion • Purpose • Persistence
2. Choosing the Battlefield
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However, there is a way to make the task easier and faster. Drop a similar coin on the ground, but now do it directly in front of you so you can see where it is. Look at it, taking in as much of the surrounding area as possible. Then look for the other coin you tried to find before but couldn’t. Usually, as you scan the ground, its location leaps out at you. Scientists call this visual precuing. By dropping a similar coin on the ground and looking at it we are creating both object-specific and location-specific data that is fed into the brain which then uses it to better understand the visual information captured by our eyes.
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THE SCIENCE: Visual information is used by the brain to create a detailed construct of the world. That construct becomes the model which allows pattern recognition to take place. An understanding of patterns is key to success because they guide perception. Perception, in turn, shapes reality.
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Observation requires patience. The careful collection of facts and their verification so that all the variables are gathered and itemized. Even the ones that are mutable and therefore can create surprises. Observation requires detachment when each element that is noted is factored in, weighed carefully even if the weighing has to happen fast, on the fly. Observation creates a sense of detachment because it negates the need for immediate action.
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“You need to know why you wake up each morning. Why you keep on breathing day after day.” This from Bobby B. He answered all my questions on the technicalities of being a sniper: “You create your own record-keeping system. Every shot, every variable, every condition, every mission. You go over each one again and again and again. You play ‘What if’ in your head until it feels like you’re going mental. And then, if you can you try out some of the shots again, changing some of the parameters, it then begins to make sense. You see just how you can make incremental gains that help you go past the limits of what is possible on paper.” He explained his incremental gains strategy. No one shot depends on a single variable or even a set of variables. It is never about things working for or against you. There are always factors doing both. So it is important to know what works well for you and boost that so that you make incremental improvements on all the things you can control:
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simple: Have a plan. Then work it. The trick to this, of course, is making sure the plan you have is the plan you need to have.
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You break down each step into actionables and then focus on executing them. Obstacles you come up against need to be either removed or circumvented.
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“The area you select should make success likely.”
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“I can’t emphasize enough that sniping is not about shooting every day. It’s about hours and hours of observation,”
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“You hide things in different areas, camouflage them. And then lie observing those who observe them or go past them. You need to understand the reasons people might have spotted some and not others.”
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be. “I just meet all conditions, before shooting,” he
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Ascribe a numerical value of importance to each one from one to three, with one being most important and three the least.
3. The Right Tools for the Job
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THE SCIENCE: The neurobiology of peak human performance shows that perfect form and incredible output always come down to the priority in which the brain recruits the different centers required to perform and the degree to which the ego is suppressed so that the performance can take center stage.
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Jordan Muraskin
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The American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor pioneered the idea of time and motion studies in 1911, as a way to optimize and standardize industrial plant production.
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The idea relies on there being only so many ways that are optimal for the performance of a given task. If you can study them all, you can then analyze them and break them down into a formula which can then be applied independently across many different plants.
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The principle also works with mental tasks. The brain has a physiology which follows the laws of physics. Blood can only flow at a particular speed, electrical impulses can only jump across synapses at the speed of electricity, and there is only so much blood sugar to go around to power it all. All this suggests that there has to be a mechanism to thought and thinking. Understand how the brain makes critical decisions and you can understand how you can re-create the state of mind that makes exemplary performance possible for everyone. Critical decision-making can then be democratized, its processes broken down into subsets of mental routines that with proper training anyone can activate.
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The brain is a massive parallel processor that stores information in overlapping patterns of neuronal connections. Single
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neurons can participate in many different memories and processes. This is exactly why our brains are so good at pattern recognition, why one thought or memory reminds you of another, why an odor can trigger a flood of memories.
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however, superior in what it has been trained to do, namely attain that optimal state of performance which allows it to disregard everything but the task at hand.
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Operating with a small sniper team (usually a sniper and a spotter), making judgment calls, channeling all of the brain’s ability to focus on a primary task requires a central precondition that is firmly implied but which we now must articulate: a close correlation between skills and the challenge presented. This is where training comes in. Snipers train to an extremely high degree of physical fitness and mental toughness so that they can actually prove equal to the challenges that they will face irrespective of the magnitude. Similarly, baseball players spend an enormous amount of time practicing their batting and pitching, their throwing and catching just so their skills become automatic on the diamond. Businessmen train in MBA programs or go through a series of practical experiences and apprenticeships where they have the opportunity to directly witness business models in action.
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Skills require personality. A person’s character becomes key to how they use what they learn to become who they want to become.
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One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress. This adds direction and structure to the task. • The task at hand must be clear and provide immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows them to adjust their performance to maintain the flow state. • One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and one’s own perceived skills. One must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task at hand.
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They are by definition equal to the task they are presented with. Knowledge transcends immediate experience and corrects some of our intuitions about ourselves.
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In his popular book Incognito, neuroscientist David Eagleman
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called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game was
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Data is often thought to be information, but that isn’t quite true. Data is a building block. As raw building material, at its point of acquisition it hasn’t yet been shaped, processed, or interpreted. Information, on the other hand requires meaning and context to be useful.
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data. Data is the building block of everything we see and everything we can perceive. As it turns out data is also the building block of cognition which makes it the connecting link between the invisible realm of thoughts and ideas and the visible plain of our everyday existence.
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Empathic and analytic thinking are mutually exclusive. Research carried out at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, shows that when one type of thinking is engaged it represses the neural network that carries out the other.
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Empathy is such a decisive game changer that it resets a person’s moral compass toward what is right as opposed to what is expedient.
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Make it personal • Make it real • Make it credible • Make it actual
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If you want to have a moral compass you can trust, you can develop empathy through an eight-step program often prescribed by occupational psychologists to help people develop empathy at work:
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Making good decisions, quickly, especially in the heat of battle, is not easy. As mentioned, your environment and mental state are two of the biggest contributors. The best decision-making is done without really thinking about it—you process the visual and aural information you have in the moment, and make a decision weighted toward success. This makes it somewhat subconscious—you’re not necessarily going through a decision tree in real time in your head, because chances are by the time you run through
4. Smarts
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My training then took over and I got myself quickly but calmly into the perfect sniping position. We follow a set pattern, placing parts of our bodies in the optimum position in strict order starting with the left hand followed by the elbow, legs, right hand and cheek. Finally we’re trained to relax and to start to control our breathing focusing solely on the target.
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THE SCIENCE: The brain is like a muscle. In order for it to function well it has to be primed or warmed up. Priming preloads mental heuristics that allow the brain to recognize potential threats and opportunities and respond faster. The principle applies equally across all situations that generate a heavy cognitive load.
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book Principles of Personal Defense,
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Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation. Cooper was training the
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you. The color code which influences you does depend upon the willingness you have to jump a psychological barrier against taking irrevocable action.”
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What is inside our heads can never be made real if our mind-set is inadequate for its articulation or if we do not possess the tools necessary to make it a reality.
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about the unconscious part of the brain that David Eagleman would make a central character in Incognito
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Moneyball, understood the critical role the mind plays in the game. Assessing what batters did he would write in his best-selling book: “Only a psychological freak could approach a 100-mph fastball aimed not far from his head with total confidence.” Freak is a term reserved for anything so outside our experience that we cannot even fathom the path that would get one there.
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There is a fine line deep within the mind that makes self-belief and confidence, the defining elements between success and failure in any circumstance. How we learn to activate them without running the risk of lying to ourselves is the key that unlocks the superhuman lying dormant within us.
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Visual acuity, both physical and mental, that allows good collection of information • Mental alertness, the result of situational awareness and assessment, which prepares us for action (Cooper’s Color Codes is pivotal here) • Self-belief in one’s training and capabilities, necessary to silence the mental dissonance of doubt • Prior knowledge or experience of the situation and a set of possible responses that can be employed quickly (training) • A personal database of past events with a similar context that can be used to make quick decisions
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Snipers stop only when they are done.
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It’s not the tools you have that make the difference, it’s what you do with them.
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Snipers pick their shots for maximum effectiveness.
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Snipers get the best shot they can get. Not the perfect shot they want.
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Snipers can change the course of battle with just a few shots. Snipers are force multipliers. They have
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behavioral psychology shaping is “a conditioning paradigm used primarily in the experimental analysis of behavior. The method
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used is differential reinforcement of successive approximations.” Unsurprisingly it was pioneered by B. F. Skinner, who also gave us operant conditioning with its binary reward/ punishment structure.
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The principle of shaping is that instead of setting a desired outcome as a task like “become more alert,” it is always easier to break it down into stages, identify how to get immediate feedback so those stages can be assessed, and increase it incrementally.
5. Science
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“bubble compartmentalization”—the ability to block everything out except specific visual and observation skills. The training is designed to toughen you up to the point that the rigor of the battlefield is not something that can easily break you and it has a specific name: stress inoculation.
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The Red Circle
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To understand this we need to discuss the concept of bounded rationality, a valuation we use to make everyday decisions when the data we have at our fingertips is insufficient or overwhelming. Although we would like to think that we are all completely rational all of the time, the truth is that we are only partially rational, part of the time. There are practical, realistic constraints on our time, energy, resources, and on the information we have available to us.
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Bounded rationality however is not a trap without an escape door. It adds a handy, on-the-spot cognitive assessment layer through the use of a mental heuristic (or algorithm) that is called satisficing, whose purpose is to help us reach a reasonable outcome in the decision-making process. Satisficing gets its name from a fusion of satisfy and suffice, which is a direct clue of how it works. Given great constraints on time and additional layers of pressure we face two options: make a decision that we think is optimum in a simplified setting or make a decision that we think is satisfactory given
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To help them speed up the process they do extensive internal modeling and role-play. They run scenarios in their heads. They go over the shots they have recorded that did well and try to understand why. They look at the missions that failed, see how they could have improved them, and apply everything they
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know to everything they see so that they are learning all the time. Over time this helps them build the handy mental shortcuts that greatly speed up their decision-making process. This is where the brain’s cognitive network is activated and the second major decision-making system kicks in. Scientists call this utility-based decision-making. It requires the person making the decision to assess all likelihoods, evaluating every option and assigning a value to it in regard to a likely outcome. Utility-based decision-making is the most rational way to make a decision, but it requires effort and time. It is also subjective. The person making the decision is key to ascribing the value to the variables he is weighing.
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Jack Nicklaus, the legendary championship golfer, used to say that when you’re making a difficult shot, 50 percent of it is the mental picture you create, 40 percent is how you set it up, and 10 percent is the swing itself.
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strength of the connections. Our brains are full of the heuristic shortcuts we use for decision-making.
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The gut, responding to environmental and perceptual data not yet visible to the conscious brain, produces neurochemical signals and enzymes which prepare the body for a “fight or flight” response.
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This, in turn, uses both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to communicate with the CNS. The heartbeat begins to elevate.
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Intuition, itself a mental heuristic, is triggered when the brain knows it needs to decide something fast on relatively little information and needs some guidance to ascertain its threat level. Mental heuristics keep us safe when they tell us not to get in that car and not to take that shortcut via a back alley, or when we enter a place and can “feel” the tension in the air.
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Before you can act you must choose. Before you can choose you must know. Before you can know you must feel. And before you can feel you must be trained.
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Stress destroys our ability to make smart choices. There are two distinct strategies to help us cope with stress and still make good decisions and each activates a slightly different pathway in the brain. Both take practice to perfect.
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Training > Feeling > Choice > Action.
6. Mind
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You’re on enemy ground. You are aware that even tiny mistakes can kill you so you judge everything around you on the help or hindrance it will give you. That’s everything, the ground, people, objects, equipment. Everything has a value to you that can be positive or negative. Positioning is key here. First, if you have made the wrong choice to begin with you will have limited options or greater danger to deal with. Then, you need to be able to reposition yourself without being seen. Positioning gives you a clear advantage. Your thinking is key. You know the mandate of your mission. If you have clear targets you also have a clear plan of action. You know what you have to do. The mission is not the place where you will learn if you are prepared to do it or not. This thinking is done long before. When you are on a mission you know exactly where you will draw the line and do not hesitate as a result. Hesitation can get you killed. An unclear mind will get you killed. Anything that distracts you from the task ahead will get you killed. Your job is to get your task done and not get killed.
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THE SCIENCE: There are specific steps which can condition a brain to activate neurochemical changes that help trigger bubble compartmentalization, which increases focus. This helps it weather stress, fear, worry, and uncertainty, better than an untrained brain.
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The inventor and polymath Nikola Tesla used to say about his brain: “My brain is only a receiver, in the universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
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Perception—This is the processing of information from the senses. What we hear, see, smell, and feel. The telltale signs that let us assess how we are doing. • Emotion—This includes such as the anxiety surrounding the task at hand. Emotion can arise when we perceive something and interpret it in view of the results we want to achieve. • Representation—In long-term memory, our actual memories of previous relevant experiences as well as the memories of our training and the memories of our skills are stored in a representative format that can be retrieved. • Encoding—This is what happens when we enter new information into memory or pull up information from long-term memory (critical if we are going to use previous experience). • Working memory—This is what allows us to hold information in awareness. It’s sharpened by playing mental games like Kim’s Game and it is used when we carry out a situational analysis. It is particularly important if we try to scope out any themes or patterns that are emerging from the situation we’re facing. • Attention—This allows us to focus on specific information, including words and
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nonverbal signals, which then allows us to filter out irrelevant information (such as external sounds). • Executive processes—These manage our other mental events, allowing us to pause before we speak and to inhibit ourselves from saying the wrong thing. They enable us to act on our decisions. • Decision-making—This is problem solving and reasoning which allow us to figure out what tasks we need to perform and how to best apply them in order to reach the outcome we want. • Motor cognition and mental stimulation—These involve setting up responses, mentally rehearsing them, and anticipating the consequences of our behavior (useful for anticipating likely responses to unexpected changes in scenarios). • Language—This is what we use to communicate with both ourselves and others. These ten areas form part of a modular
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Broken down into plain English, the research suggests that a mind that has been taught to meditate has access to neural pathways that are not available to a mind that hasn’t.
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When you’re mindful your senses are enhanced. You’re aware of your breathing and the sounds around you. You’re squarely in the present and analytical cognition is shut down. The brain scans also showed that those who meditated had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. Their brains were wired not just to be more aware but to also make better decisions.
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Rationality creeps into our decision-making when the overreaction initiated by the fear response is kept in check. That means that instead of reacting to every environmental stimulus and sensation as a potential threat we can assess each piece of information our brains collect more impassively, with greater empathy. This greatly reduces the stress we experience and introduces a center of calmness in our decision-making that the Japanese call mushin.
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it takes a lot less effort to elicit a flow state of mind than previously thought and the benefits far outweigh the effort involved.
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Mental triggers are external events or circumstances that produce specific mental states. Mental triggers are necessary because they prime the brain to behave in specific ways and form new habits. New habits rewire the mind and enable it to be able to function at peak even when under pressure. Flow or mushin, for instance, can be activated with the right kind of mental trigger. Cooper’s Color Codes is, in a manner
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Now imagine creating, quite deliberately, mental triggers that are positive. Here’s how snipers train themselves to form positive mental triggers: • A trigger can be an event or an action. It is a cue that allows something else to happen, automatically. • A trigger needs to be energy efficient. If we have to do a lot of work in order to activate a habit then it becomes harder and harder to justify the effort. • A trigger should be automatic. There have to be clearly defined parameters in which a trigger is activated. • A trigger should be familiar. Because we will be linking a trigger with a new habit, the trigger can’t be so alien to us that it distracts us each time, nor can it be so removed from the new habit we are trying to form that it is a struggle to associate the two.
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Then I tell myself I am a killing machine. I know how that sounds and it’s how I do it. In my mind I have this picture. The perfect machine. No flaws. No fear. No mistakes. It’s like I am a Cylon Centurion. And my brain goes into high gear. Everything happens more slowly, at a distance. I can see things clearer then. What to prioritize. What to do next, what to do last or leave off completely. And I feel calm. In control. I become the killing machine of my mind, all gleaming chrome and steel. That’s how I get in the zone.
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To them it is always about something small and intensely personal. It’s about feeling empathy for those around them.
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Never wanting to let
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them down. It is about something that conceptually transforms them into something else. What I found fascinating is that being snipers, they all used the same trigger phrase to activate the mental imagery they needed: “Adapt. Overcome.”
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We can all make mental focus a habit by drilling our brain to work in very specific ways. The condition of going through the day in an unfocused manner that allows thoughts to surface at the wrong moment and become distractions is what impairs our performance.
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Snipers are masters at using their training in their everyday lives. In psychology this is called “transfer,” and it is the application of skills developed and knowledge acquired in a specific, bounded area of performance, like a video simulation or a battlefield, to another, like everyday life.
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Pay attention—Being aware of where we are, what we are doing, how we are perceived, who else is sharing the space with us teaches our brains to process information without getting overloaded.
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Look at details—When you are in context look at every detail. Do not assume that everything is perfect and gloss over details as unimportant. Everything truly matters.
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Use vision—Use your eyes to gather information about the world around you. Understand the dynamic principles that govern your environment. Use your mental vision to see yourself in that environment the way you want yourself to be. Understand how perception works, what you have to do in order to be who you want to be or get the outcome you want.
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Create positive habits—Habits allow you to repeat and practice your skills and reinforce your goals.
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Use mental triggers—At some point we all get tired and weak and feel helpless and falter. What gets us through this rough patch are the emotional triggers we have created to help maintain our drive.
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Change your mind—The plasticity of the brain means that we can teach ourselves new habits, new skills, new abilities even. We can use the inner power of our minds to improve our memory and even our eyesight. All changes we want to see in the outside world and our environment start
7. Fortitude
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Every time we make a high-level decision we are struggling against the “elements.” Work will tire us out, stress will deplete our natural resources, uncertainty will make us question our judgment, and fear will cause us to hesitate.
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Dissociation occurs under stress when we see ourselves from the outside looking in. In psychological terms it is the separation of normally related mental processes, resulting in one group functioning independently from the rest. This allows those who experience it to function as if levels of discomfort that are being experienced happen to someone else and not them.
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Drink plenty of fluids—We don’t always realize it, but stress has a strong dehydrating effect. Dehydration also helps increase the concentration of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is called the stress hormone because it is such a strong marker for it. Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. Stress and dehydration exhibit many of the same symptoms such as increased heart rate, nausea, fatigue, and headaches, all of which affect our ability to function effectively. By remaining hydrated we send a clear signal to the body that there is little to worry about. It helps relieve the perception of stress and this
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Affective—As the name suggests this involves a person’s feelings and emotions about a particular thing. For instance: “I can always adapt and overcome any obstacles placed in my path.” Behavioral—The attitude we have has a direct bearing on our physical behavior and actions. For example: “There is no obstacle I cannot analyze in a rational fashion and break down to its component parts so I can find a way to get around it.” Cognitive—This reflects the knowledge we have and the beliefs we fashion from it. For example: “Every obstacle is the direct result of constituent parts and circumstances. This means nothing is insurmountable.” Developing the kind of attitude that leads to success then requires personal awareness, self-control (discipline), and analytical thinking. These are exactly the type of skills corporate executives need in order to successfully lead their teams and respond to the pressures they face. Attitude truly emerges when the three components align so that there is consistency between behavior, beliefs, and feelings. Consistent behavior is desirable because it allows us to become dependable. Being dependable makes us trustworthy. Trust is the component that makes all of our endeavors, societal structures, business undertakings, and personal relationships work. Consistency between our emotions, knowledge, beliefs, and behavior also allows us to trust ourselves, which makes it easier to respond to intuitive cognitive analysis (like our gut feeling). When the cognitive and affective components of attitude do not match our behavior we sense the weakness in ourselves, the inconsistency.
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simple guide of just four steps: Set goals—The setting of goals has been a constant throughout most sections of this book. Given the goal-oriented world of the military, it is to be somewhat expected. This is also what makes the military skill set so transferable to a business environment. Now Navy SEALs take goal setting to new levels. Not only do they set goals, but they break down their goals into micro goals, short-term goals, mid-term goals, and long-term goals.
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Visualize the outcome—Just like Olympic sprinters who actually visualize themselves at the end of their races, crossing the finish line—even before the starter’s gun has been fired—Navy SEALs train themselves to “see” the outcome they are aiming for.
8. Preparation
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One of the four books of Confucian philosophy is called The Doctrine of the Mean. Unlike its three siblings, it is both a doctrine within Confucianism and
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THE SCIENCE: Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reprogram itself through very specific, intentional mental and psychological exercises. It can learn to acquire new habits that become second nature and to learn to behave in ways that increase focus, change behavior, and directly affect peak performance. Key to this is the brain’s ability to create new neural networks and the person’s ability to create extensive social networks.
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There is a deep and necessary element of empathy in their work. Empathy is a key ingredient in developing the emotional stability required to operate at a really high level without feeling isolated and, eventually, lost. There is a direct connecting thread, via the development of the mind, linking snipers operating
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But let’s back up for a moment and say that everything that we do has its origin in the brain. It starts in subconscious processes that activate specific mental centers which predispose us to do certain things and which guide our actions, long before we decide to do them.
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Visualize—This is no “I see myself doing this perfectly and all’s cool” kind of visualization. Go through a scenario in detail. Hear the sounds, smell the smells. See the problems that may come up. Think how you would overcome them. This is mental conditioning. In the service snipers call it “battle proofing.”
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Practice situational awareness—Never be blind. Wherever you are try to guess what individuals around you are thinking. What’s driving them. Notice how they behave and then look for anyone who doesn’t fit in. Try to understand why. This helps you understand the flow of human
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behavior. Look at the place you are in, study its layout. Remember it. Be aware of yourself. All of this brings you into the moment. It anchors you in a very real way that you will know the moment you start to practice
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Have a purpose—Don’t just go through life. That’s how your mind gets blunt. Think about beliefs. Think problems through. Break them down to their basic principles so you can see the dynamic that’s driving them. Be empathetic. You will need this to understand people and yourself.
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Of all the skills a sniper might need empathy seems a little odd, even a contradiction in terms.
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If I had to give advice across many aspects of life, I would ask people to take what’s called “the outside perspective.” And the outside perspective is easily thought about: What would you do if you made the recommendation for another person? And I find that often when we’re recommending something to another person, we don’t think about our current state and we don’t think about our current emotions.
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In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,
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Empathy then is valued currency. It allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking, it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen,” and it informs our decisions. A formal definition of empathy is the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It’s our capacity to recognize the concerns other people have. Empathy means “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” or “seeing things through someone else’s eyes.”
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The ability to keep a cool head and to be observant, analytical, yet empathic is sought after in every case peak performance is directly linked to mission-critical outcomes.
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Use situation awareness to maintain a feeling of control. • Prepare emotionally by visualizing how things could be worse. • Monitor your breathing. Do not let your body descend into panic. • Employ empathy. Understand feelings, points of view, and motivations even if you do not identify with them. • Ask, “What advice would I give my best friend in this situation?”
9. Response
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Snipers in particular see the relationships between objects, people, and situations. They see opportunities and the natural flow of dynamics they can use to their advantage.
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Analytical thinking. The breaking down of problems into achievable goals. • Visualization. Using mental imagery to visualize scenarios and their possible solutions in detail. • Self-control. Managing to silence the distracting mental voice that tells us how we cannot succeed. • Positive thinking. Learning to create small victories that lead to larger ones. • Situational awareness. Knowing what’s going on around us at all times. • Self-awareness. Examining who we are and trying to understand why. • Pushing against comfort zones. Striving to overcome physical, mental, or psychological limits. • Constant learning. Acquiring new skills or new hobbies and honing existing ones. • Patience. Learning to not rush unnecessarily as it leads to critical mistakes. • Tolerance of adversity. Taking difficulties and challenges as they come. • Empathy. Being able to see the point of view of others and imagine their situation. • A support network. Having friends to reach out to in times of need.
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THE SCIENCE: The fundamental tenet of neuroplasticity is that there are specific brain training activities that can alter the way different regions of the mind that are needed to help cope with stress and make rational decisions in chaotic situations communicate with each other.
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The pathways through which the mind can reprogram the body are explained by affective neuroscience (the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion), interpersonal neurobiology (the study of mental health via the many different facets of living), and mindfulness (the state of being aware of the present).
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What changes us is the ability of the brain to change its internal architecture, to build more roads radiating out from Rome, if we go with my analogy, and to do that it needs to initially be aware of its own capability to do that. Mindfulness practitioners explain this by saying that meditation is all
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about “cultivating an awareness of awareness and paying attention to intention.” The brain changes in response to experience.
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The SEALs showed more activation in small areas of the brain found in both the left and right hemisphere called insula. Insula play a role in controlling emotion, pain, and self-awareness, and they anticipate stress and prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response.
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Alden Mills, a former Navy SEAL and now the CEO of a very successful fitness company, explains that the trick lies in dissociation. Not the kind of dissociation that needs the help of a psychologist but the kind of dissociation experienced when a trained mind can successfully compartmentalize discomfort, pain, hunger, even injuries and get
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One is transfer and the other one is context. The two are linked. Transfer, as we saw briefly in chapter 6, is the ability of what’s learned in one area to become applicable in another.
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government. It is an instant primer. A mental trigger for activating mental calmness. But let’s get even more specific. When it comes to successfully responding to challenges and developing the mind-set that allows us to respond so that we load the outcome to our favor there are ten very specific, granular steps we can learn to apply:
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Times afterward that is of note here. As he raced to catch his rival, Bolt could easily have panicked. The 100-meter race is brutally unforgiving. It’s over in less than ten seconds, which means that mistakes that cost microseconds can make all the difference. The margin for error in your executive decision-making in that race is precisely zero. This is what Bolt said about what he was thinking as Gatlin accelerated away from him: “I told myself, ‘Listen, don’t panic. Take your time, chip away, and work your way back in.’” Bolt, indeed, caught Gatlin just past the halfway mark and, with less than 50 meters of racetrack to go, soundly beat him. His comment, however, is like he had all the time in the world and infinite space to correct his slow start. Both Bruce Lee and Bolt exhibit, in their approaches, the very traits that govern cool-headed responses to a challenge. A measured approach, great visualization, an exceptional work ethic, belief in themselves and their abilities, and the determination to succeed.
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thinking about something, but also trying to do it. • Every problem has a solution. We just need to identify the problem correctly and devise a way to deal with it. • The brain can be trained to be better focused and more positive. It takes persistence, patience, and time. • Snipers are masters of methodology. Devise the one that will work for you and stick with it. • Practice awareness of your thoughts and actions. Understand your own motivation for doing something, every time.
10. Structure
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Empathy is required to help you get into the mind-set of the other sniper. You want to determine: Who? Where? When? Why?
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Because all of it matters, when it comes to information, both human intelligence (what other people are saying and doing, and the way they are behaving) and signal intelligence (information that can be supplied independently or intercepted) are important.
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The point that has been constant throughout this book is that everything matters, nothing can be overlooked, and the sniper’s skill is found in his ability to recognize what’s important quickly and deliver relevant signals from the general noise of data his senses report and his brain processes. There are four things snipers do that are completely applicable to businesses of all types: • Do their homework—Snipers
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Choose a vantage point—
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Choose timing—Snipers do not allow circumstances to
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Keep their cool—
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THE SCIENCE: The brain that perceives itself at risk activates specific neurobiological responses that govern the choices that are made and directly influence the decision-making process. There are conditioning techniques that can mitigate the brain’s natural response and the body’s instinctive reaction and they then confer a natural competitive advantage.
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snipers. Just like snipers and their logs, Honnold keeps a detailed climbing journal in which he revisits his climbs and makes note of what he can do better.
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The study also found that neurons in a nearby brain area called the medial basal forebrain became most active after the monkeys made a risky choice but before they learned the outcome of their choice.
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Feeling uncertainty over an outcome leads not just to learning new things but also to retrieving stored memories as the brain tries to find reassuring scenarios in its store of knowledge.
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Uncertainty then can be managed by more actively resorting to knowledge and memories, and everything we fear can be overcome through a managed, persistent, incrementally escalating exposure to the source that creates the fear in the first instance.
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Setting goals • Mental visualization • Positive self-talk • Arousal control Each of these,
11. Feeling
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You’re like God with a scope. So you let your mind take everything in, let your fear ride out, focus on your breathing, listen to your heartbeat. And you do what you have been trained to do because you are the edge of the sword.
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The strength and power of a fully developed sniper mind comes from the ability to harness and control feelings and emotions constructively, creating an empowering, motivational platform from what most people would be demoralized and demotivated by. It’s no mean feat. It means being able to grope into the empty space from which despair should normally spring and manage to pull out hope.
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And a significant part of that training revolves around recognizing, harnessing, and making better use of emotional intelligence.
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If emotions are not to be shut off but acknowledged, managed, directed, and utilized, what is the skill set that will help us do that?
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Wishes bias the resolution of visual ambiguity—In other words our expectation of what we want to see leads us to interpret what we see.
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We can be taught to reduce cognitive dissonance which then changes perception and helps in the regulation of psychological states—
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We can be taught to narrow the focus of our attention on an object of desire and actually bring about the outcome we want as a result—Snipers become masterfully adept at focusing
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What we can see with great sharpness and clarity and accuracy is the equivalent of the surface area of our thumb on our outstretched arm. Everything else around that is blurry, rendering much of what is presented to our eyes as ambiguous. But we have to clarify and make sense of what it is that we see, and it’s our mind that helps us fill in that gap. As a result, perception is a subjective experience, and that’s how we end up seeing through our own mind’s eye.
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That’s all. A reminder to stay focused. To keep one’s mind away from distractions, to engage fully with what is happening, to believe that one’s capability is not restricted just by what one thinks he or she can physically do. To believe in one’s ability to reduce even the most complex task into small, manageable steps that leads to the reward.
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I’m talking about thoughts and feelings and the sort of physiological things that make up our thoughts and feelings, and in my case, that’s hormones. I look at hormones. So what do the minds of the powerful versus the powerless look like? So powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive and more confident, more optimistic. They actually feel they’re going to win even at games of chance. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly. So there are a lot of differences. They take more risks. There are a lot of differences between powerful and
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powerless people. Physiologically, there also are differences on two key hormones: testosterone, which is the dominance hormone, and cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Notice the part where those who feel
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“our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.”
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“Fake it, till you become it.”
12. Performance
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• Plan • Execute • Reassess plan • Execute