'Warrior's Edge' Gives Vets Mental Health and Performance Training Used by Top Athletes

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(Photo by Mike Morris)

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais founded Compete to Create as a means to help anyone mentally prepare to be their best, every day. To do this, they offer a mental training system used to help athletes reach peak mental performance.

Then Dr. Jannell MacAulay stepped in to adapt it for the military and first responders.

MacAulay is a lot of things; the list is a long one. For starters, she's a retired 20-year veteran Air Force pilot who spent 3,000 hours in the cockpits of C-130 Hercules, KC-10 Extenders and C-21s. But retirement doesn't necessarily mean "retirement" for many vets.

For MacAulay, her military retirement is a mission to bring America's warriors and first responders the mental weapons needed to live a healthy life in a high-stress occupation. As a human performance consultant for military special operators, she would know.

But MacAulay's titles don't stop there. She's a military spouse, a mom and a certified wellness instructor and researcher. She needs to be at her mental best every day.

Dr. Jannell MacAulay is a retired Air Force pilot with 3,000 flight hours. (Courtesy of Jannell MacAulay)

The positions of wellness instructor and researcher are particularly important to MacAulay right now. She believes military personnel, veterans and first responders neglect the mental side of the work we do. She saw it firsthand as an Air Force operational commander.

"I had an airman who went on a deployment," she said. "When he came home, he basically drank himself to death. He was facing a lot of adversity in his return, and he was not equipped to handle it."

MacAulay has spent much of her academic life researching how to create the most effective human weapon system to execute the military's mission. The most powerful aspect of that research was the mind-body connection -- training her mind to live more in the moment.

When she realized how powerful it was, she immediately wanted to share it with everyone.

"I will admit that talking about things like meditation and mindfulness, especially as a military leader, was going against the norm," she said. "There was a lot of fear that I had in doing that. And so the initial way I introduced it was just by leading by example and being a role model."

What started out as leadership by example soon became a method of training one's mind to control its thoughts to stay focused on the present moment. Troops and first responders might think of it as a form of training for the mind, as PT is training for the body.

It's called Warrior's Edge, and it's a partnership with Compete to Create, a mindset training system founded by Gervais, a psychologist, and coach Carroll. It uses community engagement, mindset coaching and habit tracking to train the mind to be where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is shown with Drs. Jannell MacAulay and Michael Gervais. (Courtesy of Jannell MacAulay)

"We have an ancient brain living in a modern world," MacAulay said. "Think of your mind as a flashlight. It can be focused on what's in front of you, but it's also very susceptible to outside stress. The flashlight can start moving back and forth too fast or be entirely focused on other things."

Those other things are the external factors that affect all of us, including political factors, social interactions, emotional stressors and anything else that can keep us distracted from the tasks in front of us. Those things can hijack what drives our actions and, ultimately, our performance. Warrior's Edge helps engineer the way we think to be more focused on mindfulness and job performance.

Where Compete to Create pioneered this engineering for athletics, Warrior's Edge focuses on the military, first responders and government employees. It's a system of online-based courses designed to improve wellness and job performance from the inside out.

Mindfulness is just one of 16 different principles of mindset needed to develop optimum mental health.

"There are 16 things we can train to help us be our best, to show up and perform, even in the most intense, high-pressure moments," MacAuley said. "From focus and controlling our emotions to developing grit and optimism, there are even recovery principles to develop."

The idea is for those in high-stress occupations to develop what MacAulay calls "mental prehab skills," building long-term mental strength, resilience and psychological flexibility that will sustain those in these careers over the life cycle of their work.

Mental Prehab helps those who suffer from post-traumatic stress before they succumb to maladaptive coping mechanisms, like substance abuse or suicide.

A Warrior's Edge training class
A Warrior's Edge training class. (Courtesy of Jannell MacAulay)

Now, MacAulay and Warrior's Edge are doing their part to help combat stress related to the novel coronavirus response. Compete to Create and Warrior's Edge are making the eight-week digital curriculum available free to COVID-19 first responders, around the world.

Through Dec. 21, 2020, first responders can visit the Warrior's Edge site and sign up for the courses free of charge.

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