Mental Gym™ is a practical mental training program that helps participants to cope better with stressors and to be able to keep an emotional and physical balance in their everyday tasks. This new multidisciplinary training combines a number of methodologies: biofeedback, neurofeedback, mindfulness, stress inoculation techniques, imagery, and various problem solving and attentional training methods.
After years of working as a psychologist treating veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic stress Disorder, I had a vision to try and develop an effective preventive resilience-focused intervention for soldiers. The aim was to administer this program to soldiers at the beginning of their military service to help inoculate them against the stressors they will encounter.
Mental Gym is a complete methodology that draws on two main sources: Mental Fitness Training, which improves resilience to stress using biofeedback and psychological cognitive behavioral interventions, and structured thinking tools that address mental fixedness and promote creative problem solving.
The program’s main goals are to help trainees reduce errors made due to faulty decision making under stress and to improve their performance under challenging and stressful conditions. This is accomplished by:
- Identifying stress affecting their performance;
- Monitoring their psycho-physiological reactions;
- Acquiring and applying tools for maintaining psychophysiological balance;
- Applying problem-solving tools that address mental obstacles and generate creative solutions; and
- Gaining confidence and proficiency through their command of the integrated method.
The Mental Gym training program creates, in effect, a virtuous circle: The balance and focus achieved through the mental training enables an effective use of the thinking tools, while the problem solving tools themselves support the trainee’s tranquility and self-confidence.
The training in the Mental Gym focuses on several levels of human functioning under stress. Training incorporates considerable psycho-education relating to stress and performance, with examples derived from relevant personal experience. Psycho-education is an important factor since preparatory information reduces the tendency to focus narrowly on threat-related stimuli, thereby diverting mental resources from task relevant demands.
Most of the training is centered on biofeedback-assisted learning of different psychophysiological and mental coping skills that have proved to be efficacious in stress management and stress inoculation programs (e.g., abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive self-talk, visual–motor behavioral rehearsal, goal setting, focused attention, problem solving, etc.). After the skill acquisition stage, trainees apply the techniques while experiencing increasingly elevated levels of stressors including imagery, simulators, and graded in vivo exposures, first with, and later on without, the biofeedback. The Mental Gym model was found to be very helpful in the maintenance and the generalization of self-regulatory skills. In the following section I will describe in detail one of the advanced training methods, which was made possible due to the special setting and the availability of multiple biofeedback workstations.