8 Mental Skills for American Strength & Unity on Memorial Day

Special Feature from JohnFMurray.com – May 27, 2018 – Palm Beach, Florida – I am neither Republican nor Democrat and register each year as an Independent. In this spirit, I try to evaluate the issues and candidates on my own and try to avoid the shallow expediency of a party affiliation or too much emotion to cloud my choices. I just never believed that relinquishing my thoughts and beliefs to the simplicity of an aisle or partisan stance would produce quality thinking or decision making. Many could say that in not joining a party I am not furthering a cause, but I believe that by remaining neutral I gain a clearer perspective. I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats and will continue doing so based on what I believe is needed at the time.

As a psychologist specialized in the area of “high performance” often called sports psychology, I have been fortunate over the years to contribute my views to several thousand broadcast and print forums as liberal as The Washington Post, New York Times, MSNBC, and NPR, as conservative as Fox News, the Washington Times and the Christian Science Monitor, and some more middle of the road platforms such as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and USA Today. I’m not sure where “The Hill” fits in, but I’ve advised them too with ways to cope with the stress of the political season.  No matter what forum I was privileged to express on, I always tried to steer clear of politicizing issues unless you call a strong message that more mental training is needed in society is political. Some would say that is a very liberal message (after all Hillary fought long and hard for more psychology) while others would say that the power and strength that comes from better mental skills leading to more success sounds more like it is coming out of the mouth of our president. I don’t care. As a scientist and professional I just want people to know about the power of mental skills.

But I digress, and my rare message today is political! Our country is very divided. You cannot post a political message on Facebook or any other popular social media forum today without getting eviscerated by half the crowd and crowned champion by the other half. This bipolar nature of the current American public is not healthy. We know how unhealthy bipolar disorder is within one human being, so why would it be any different in society? When clear and rational thinking and logic is replaced by emotional grandstanding the result is going to be mush. We are so polarized by our stance that we by definition forfeit our otherwise good thinking and reasoning skills to a more mob-like mentality. We try so hard to crush the infidel that wise thoughts and actions are impossible.

We enjoy freedoms in large part due to the sacrifices made on the battlefields. This idea of individual freedom was never a given. It was somewhat novel in history and it was and is still earned with blood. To respect those who have fallen before us to protect our freedoms so that they do not disappear, we owe them and we owe ourselves clear and rational thinking.

Having studied thinking and high performance for many years, and applied this to teams in business and sports, and individuals in many challenging situations, I would like to give America a free sports psychology session in this article. Whatever side of the aisle you are on, or if you are independent like me, you really to need to be using your mental skills when you think about politics and act for what you believe is best politically. It is my view that only clear thinking and logic will lead to better decisions, better voting, and ultimately what is better for our country. So, in this way, I would like to think that I am giving Americans a political advantage.

Here goes:

  • Be Passionate in Fully Expressing Your View: Don’t deride those on the other side of the political aisle, but by all means express your own views with passion and purpose. Steer clear of insults, foul language and personal attacks on those who don’t share your stance, and just let your passion on the issue shine through. It’s like in sales. You are not going to sell much by simply putting down the other brand. You need to be excited about your own brand but with respect.
  • Work Hard to Understand the Issue: Whatever viewpoint you are espousing, do your homework so that you can defend your stance logically and clearly and with facts rather than just emotion.
  • Be Flexible to Change if Needed: Be willing to change your view if after careful analysis you find that the facts support your opposition’s stance.  This is hard to do and it is very rare, but being humble and flexible in this way will pay off in a big way with others. You may also acquire a more solid stance in the process.
  • Stay 100% Focused on the Issue at Hand: So many people get distracted by emotion or insults, and then react in kind. Before long you have a food fight that goes in 5 different directions. Nothing gets accomplished. Keep your focus on whatever the issue is and only change topics when it is appropriate and both parties are willing.
  • Be Confident but Not Over-Confident: Each person has the right to believe fully in what they are saying, but should not let that confidence intrude into blind belief when new facts or a different set of circumstances indicate that their confidence might be misguided. In the game of chess, and life, clear thoughts and logical reasoning always destroy emotional rants. Stay confident but be willing to keep thinking and not foreclose on your belief just because at one point you believed that in the past.
  • Manage Your Emotions: This one is huge. So many people polarize to one side or the other and the game is over. They then make stronger and stronger arguments to bolster their initial view and it often leads to extremely high and uncontrollable emotions such as anger, rage, fury and more. Temper tantrums are a sign of weakness. If you are arguing with someone and they begin blowing their top or using vulgarity, you have probably won the argument. Stay even headed.
  • Visualize all the Way to the Polls: In deciding which candidate to vote for, or how to frame your argument, spend some time in advance playing it all out in your mind. This is a bread and butter technique that I use with all athletes in my sports psychology work, and you should use it as well in your formulation of stances, and in your overall thinking about politics.
  • Know the End Game: In trying to decide who to vote for or in formulating you view on a particular issue, keep thinking about how this will all play out in the end. Rather than just aiming for really short-term goals and objectives, ask yourself how this will impact America 2, 5, 10 and 50 years down the road.

I hope you have enjoyed this mental skills primer on Memorial Day. I will leave you with one more thought. If you are liberal, right now think of one valid viewpoint that is frequently espoused by conservatives. If you are conservative, think of one valid stance mostly taken by liberals. If you cannot do this, then you are by definition on an emotional plane. There is no way in the world that any one side of the aisle has all the correct truths on all the issues. It is just impossible. Try to be more flexible, and re-read the 8 Mental Skills for American Strength & Unity.

Happy Memorial Day!