The “Battlefield Secret” to Staying Calm and Focused

Back at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I had the sense that the world was about to experience something unprecedented.

Knowing that my family, friends, and people like you often look to me for stress-relieving and coping strategies, I began searching for new techniques that might be helpful. 

By coincidence, right around this time, the folks who booked me for my TEDx Talk sent me an email telling me I should check out the work of retired Green Beret Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann.

I spent a few days chatting online with Scott and then invited him to come on my podcast to talk more.

Scott is someone who understands all too well what it’s like to be in a stressful, high-stakes situation. He spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan leading his troops through seemingly endless battles in an extremely hostile environment.

And the things I’ve learned from him have been life-changing to say the least.

You see, Special Operations forces are trained to control their nervous systems to dial back their primal “fight or flight” instincts—allowing them to stay calm and focused while making life-or-death decisions.

And today, I want to tell you exactly how to do one particular nervous system hack the Green Berets use to stay steady in the heat of a battle.

Understanding your “Emotional Temperature”

Unfortunately, your nervous system doesn’t know the difference between a combat zone and a heated political argument on social media. Both situations send your “emotional temperature” soaring. And that activates your body’s fight-or-flight response.

When your fight or flight response is activated, it’s like your body “steps on the gas.” That surge of adrenaline-fueled energy, clammy hands, and racing heart is your body’s way of keeping you safe in times of danger.

When this happens, other important functions “switch off”—especially your ability to think clearly and problem solve.

But if you know how to lower your “emotional temperature,” you can quickly regain focus and composure—even in the face of stressful situations.

Breathe like a Green Beret

Here’s the exercise that Lt. Col. Mann shared with me to help you lower your emotional temperature:

  1. First, close your eyes and take three “lower body breaths.” (Do this by closing your eyes, breathing in through your nose, and expanding your belly on the inhale. Then breathe out fully, contracting your belly button in towards your spine on the exhale.)
  1. Repeat 3-5 times
  1. Then begin the following breathing pattern:
    1. Breathe in for 4 seconds
    2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds
    3. Slowly exhale for 6 seconds
    4. Wait without breathing for 2 seconds
  1. Repeat this cycle 3-5 times or as long as you like.

I recommend “training” yourself daily with this exercise so you can have it ready to go when you need it the most.

I want to leave you with a word of Wisdom from Lt. Col. Mann: “Every crisis ends. And we will have that moment in the sun. But let’s decide right now how we’re going to show up for it. Fear is contagious, but so is leadership.”

I encourage you to show up for yourself and those you love every day.

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.