The Big Four: Enhancing Performance and Mitigating Mental Illness

The "Big Four" refer to the practical skill component of the Road to Mental Readiness and are based on a program developed by the US Naval Special Warfare Centre. The program has its roots in sports performance psychology, and applies goal setting, visualization, self-talk and arousal control to mitigate the body’s automatic physiological reactions in situations of extreme stress and fear. The skills are being taught during the classroom component of the pre-deployment mental health briefing in an effort to "train the brain" and thus enhance performance during the actual deployment. As well, these same skills are now included in all leadership training as they can be used to reduce the amount of arousal and physical activation many soldiers experience after a stressful event occurs either in theatre or in garrison. However, like any other skill, they must be taught, mentored and practiced regularly in order to be effective.

Goal Setting

Goal setting can help motivate as well as provide direction - it gives the frontal lobes information to help control the amygdala. Writing goals down and talking about them increases the likelihood of success. This portion of the programming provides practical solutions and guidelines for goal setting that can assist the member in setting up for success in a healthy way.

Mental Rehearsal or Visualization

Mental rehearsal is used to rehearse situations and strategy, and to prepare for the challenge ahead. Mental rehearsal involves mentally preparing yourself for the "what ifs". This is not about being negative and becoming overwhelmed, rather it is predicting possible problems and working out a solution in advance. This technique helps us to see success and motivate us, manage our arousal levels perfect skills and training, refocus and prepare. The military already employs this technique frequently, such as training soldier to see the intended target falling as part of the visualization prior to taking a shot; or the use of drills that facilitates visualization of the plan.


Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either one is probably true. --Anonymous

It is not an event that leads to our emotions and behaviour but rather our thoughts about this event. We continuously talk to ourselves. If these words are negative rather than positive, this greatly undermines our ability to be successful. The key to self-talk is to make the messages positive rather than negative.

There are some common negative thoughts and thinking errors that affect all people and are accompanied by a lot of emotion. Identifying and challenging these can make a big difference in changing the messages.

Arousal Management: Tactical Breathing

Tactical breathing is based on the observation that many people breathe shallowly or irregularly when anxious or tense. These breathing patterns lead to an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, which can cause the physiological symptoms of anxiety. This technique is taught and practiced so the students understand how to manage this correctly and are able to see benefits right away. This is a skill that must be practiced to mastered so the students are instructed how to do this properly and educated on some of the science behind it.

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