I help men and women train the mental skills they need for when it really matters that they make skillful decisions. When the human condition spirals to its worst, I help prepare people to remain vigilant to their base instincts, to notice each moment, and to respond carefully, diligently.
You don’t always know where the next change agent will come from. Sometimes for me it’s been a slow burn dawning realization, or a building itch, that’s coalesced into me one time up-ending the entire table of my former career in favor of a motorbike and the wide open highway. Other times a new piece of information is the agent, like when I put down the phone after a recent conversation with my boss, and in the wake felt like my head was bursting and struggling to decide what to do next.
Started using mental skills in 1998 as a pilot trainee, visualising every flight over and over before going up. Started meditating in 2000 after reading Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Was initiated into Transcendental Meditation (TM) through Wellington’s School of Philosophy in 2008. Sat my first Vipassana retreat in 2010.
I've been going through a bit of a face-to-face re-examination of my priorities lately, you could call it a bit of cognitive housekeeping. Which is a polite way to say I recently got slapped upside the headagain because I still haven't learned how to set proper boundaries for myself. But let's not rush the joke, follow-along as we take a look at how this all came about.
Warriorship has far more in common I think with what we would these days bestow on our coolest friends, and not the try-hard cool ones either, the really genuine cool ones you want to grow up to be like. The ones you catch yourself reflecting on secretly, all the while wondering how they pull it off. The ones you’d wistfully call a renaissance man. That’s warriorship.
I’ve noticed myself today now beginning to scan my environment for the things other people are doing well. I think this will make me a nicer person to be around and to work with. What a beautiful thing to have happen on a Friday.
I ended up living with my 12-man patrol for six and a half months in a dusty little village called Nayak, at an intersection between trade routes in the Bamiyan Province, right in the centre of the country. Apart from the newest buildings since the reconstruction effort had started only a few years earlier, everything was brown mud-brick construction, with one long main street bazaar selling bottled water, naan bread, and blacksmithing services. One of the guys on my patrol called it biblical.
The workshop I run is time spent together in conversation. The purpose of the conversation is to transform people from being uninterested or uninformed about how to build habits for high performance, to people who are interested and motivated towards building habits for high performance. It is to take people from there’s not much I can do to there’s so much I could be doing right now, and actually, I know how to start. It’s to light a fire, get people out of ruts, and to inspire change.
The point of mindfulness isn’t to get good at sitting on the cushion with your eyes closed. It’s what happens after you get up from the cushion or the chair that matters. So if while you’re running, you’re paying attention to the body and the breathing, focusing, bringing your attention back to the stride when your mind wanders, you are practicing mindfulness. Straight up.
One of the mottoes I love most and sometimes throw ruthlessly at my clients is “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. So I thought I’d better take this opportunity to conduct a goals mapping exercise. A personal audit. Right? Because one of the essential ways we start our decision making process as professionals is to ask ourselves — “what is this for?”
So then as this project washes up I’ve been encouraged to reflect on how I approached this whole thing in the first place. What was it that made me switch automatically into “homework mode” and decide, sub-consciously, that I should first be a good boy and attend to the assigned reading?
I used to fly helicopters for a living and I loved it. Amongst many things it was a highly technical game that could be mastered, in a crewed environment which when it was working well was dynamic, and fun, and close-knit and supportive. I was one of the lucky ones.
In a previous post I talked about how having a toolbox of mental resources is one way to ensure we maintain our wellbeing and resilience. In this post we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the basics of this toolbox, in particular some of the fundamental principles around what psychologists mean when they talk about ‘mental skills’ training.
In part one of this series on Understanding & Maintaining Your Mental Health I outlined one way to think about our mental health and wellbeing - the continuum model. This helps us understand how our wellbeing isn’t permanently fixed, in fact it can vary greatly depending on what’s going on in our lives. In this second part we’re going to look at a way of thinking about keeping ourselves “topped up” via the bucket model of stress and resilience.
I was talking with a mate the other day, successful guy, wife and family, high-flying career and by any measure living the dream. For sure. But as the story too often goes, it came to a point where he realised it kinda just wasn’t working. Nothing really happened, except that slow, dawning realisation.
This could easily degenerate into a rant in amongst all the other rants against goal setting, and given the time of year, against New Year’s resolutions in particular. Look, I’m not against aiming high and missing and landing in the clouds, or however that meme goes that’s serving you up your life advice via your feed. It’s just that goal setting, if that’s all you’ve got going on, won’t work. That’s the news. Happy New Year.
John is the most insightful person I know who is not a psychologist. In fact, he has such a deep and accurate and perceptive view of the world, he should be a psychologist. Or a social worker, or somehow a helper of people through his gift of understanding.
I’m not currently at work. I’m not sick. Not divorced. Not an amputee. Not a junkie. Not depressed, anxious, OCD, injured, not with an undiagnosable condition, tumour, or cancer. Not hated by the media.
I was a grad student in psychology in 2012 while I retrained after a career as a pilot in the New Zealand Air Force. It was such an enjoyable diversion for me, to indulge in the academics and science, the evidence for this way of describing the human condition and that. The whole thing had me captivated and I thought my new career course was pretty well set; Masters, then PhD, post-doc, and eventually lecturer. An academic psychologist for sure.
If I'm honest I think the Black Dog has kind of always followed me around from time to time over my career. I mean I have better language to put around that now, but the first couple of times I think I just did whatever I had to in order to get through it.