Reflecting on reflecting

I’ve been thinking of the below exchange between retired General Votel and Joe Byerly from the FtGN podcast over the past couple of days (emphasis mine):

Joe: “You alluded to this idea of reflection. Your career was extremely fast-paced… you took a lot of challenging assignments. And so, I was just curious, did you have time to reflect on your career? If so, did that play a role at all?

Gen. Votel: “I did, and I think you’re raising a really great question…. and that is taking time to think through things. I think it’s a really important opportunity just to be able to — I used to call it the opportunity to have a discussion without the burden of having to make a decision.”

From the Green Notebook Podcast, Season 2/Episode 1

We’re so busy these days, and it certainly feels like we need to build in time for reflection.

Reflection, as an activity, is left undefined. I always thought of it as a kind of mindfulness activity. If I was to set aside some time to reflect (which I don’t), I’d imagine myself sitting at my desk, alone, hands folded neatly in my lap as I think about whatever it is that I need “reflect” on.

I don’t think anyone actually does that.

Conversely, I know my mind is at its best when I’m busy and engaged in a stimulating activity – ofen unrelated to the problem. Exercise – especially running – has my mind churning with ideas. Free-wheeling conversation on a focused topic often generates thoughts I didn’t know I had. Even reading a book, I can become lost in a parallel narrative in my mind while reading the words on the page (this, of course, is disrtaction – but sometimes it too generates ideas).

It does then, make sense to build in time for these types of activities and count them as reflection.

In a military context, scheduling time to discuss a problem or issue “without the burden of making a decision” seems like a good technique to foster reflection – as a group. Important here, is that everyone who is participating understands that. It’s no good to have a discussion on an issue to foster thought and reflection only to have it turn into another “information brief” to please the boss.

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Meditation in the Military

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Dr. Amisha Jha and Major General Walter Piatt were recently on Dan Harris’ podcast 10% Happier discussing the US military’s experiments with meditation practices. I’ve written about meditation and the military from a more personal experience previously.

I don’t think I was aware of the meditation study conducted on returning soldiers from MG Piatt’s (then COL) Brigade. As he put it, they were looking for something to help soldiers upon returning from repeat deployments. He is now the Director of Operations for the Army.

Dr. Jha and MG Piatt seem to be taking a measured approach to both the practical utility of meditation as it relates to the military and a realistic expectation to its likelihood (or unlikelihood) of being adopted. Dan Harris, for his part, hits the nail on the head on the challenges: a culture that might be too “macho” for something as ‘touchy-feely’ as meditation and the backlash from a segment of the population against “militarizing” mindfulness.

Listening to them talk, and seeing the trajectory of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness thus far, this all feels very similar to the introduction of the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP). Initiatives in the Army take an immense amount of momentum to get going, and even more to make sustainable. We’re nearing two decades since MACP was introduced, and it still feels like a niche program in the Army. Integrating mindfulness training at scale in an Army of immense and growing demands will be exceptionally challenging, but not an unworthy cause.

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