How to be a great MRT: Master Resilience Trainer

The goal of Master Resilience Training (MRT)—or any type of mental fitness, mental readiness, spiritual readiness, or military wellness training—is not for trainees to memorize a bunch of facts and regurgitate them on a test. The goal is for them to live a life of resilience, mental fitness, and wellness. Unfortunately, knowing and doing are 2 different things. When your teaching goal is to make meaningful long-term changes in how participants think, react, feel, and see the world, it can require strategies beyond what’s needed to train a skill such as marksmanship or mobile target acquisition. Resilience training, when done well, can change lives and make better Warfighters, parents, spouses, and people. Here are 4 important tips that are often overlooked when teaching MRT.

Tip #1: Use the power of reflection

If it doesn’t stick, it doesn’t matter. The content must connect to what people care about most. A misconception about resilience training is that if you simply get your participants to pay attention and actively listen to the words you’re saying, learning will happen and the mission will be accomplished. Getting participants to pay attention is a crucial first step, but the deep learning happens when they’re not actively listening to you. The learning really happens when something you say triggers trainees to reflect on how it relates to their own past experiences, current interests, important relationships, or future goals. When a person stops listening or doing and starts reflecting, they’re activating a part of your brain called the “default-mode network” (DMN). Activating the DMN through reflection helps trainees make meaning from what they’re learning. It helps them take the concept or skill they learned and place it in context of what’s important to them and how they see themselves, others, and the world. The DMN helps trainees become more self-aware and more creative, and see others’ perspectives.

On the flip side, when someone is actively focusing on a task or paying attention to a brief, they’re using the executive-control network (ECN) part of your brain. Activating the ECN is important when someone is learning many skills, which is why trainers often overlook encouraging deep reflection when they’re training mental fitness skills. One way to help participants directly reflect on how resilience skills apply to their future goals or past experience is to use practical-exercise worksheets such as HPRC’s worksheets on self-talk for performance and optimistic thinking. However, the following strategies also can have major impact.

Reflection strategy: Think back to a moment where you learned something that had a meaningful impact on your life. Maybe it was from a resilience training, a video you watched or book you read. Where were you when you learned it? What made it meaningful? How did you feel when you learned it? And how has your life improved since?

When you learned it, did you fall into the power of reflection? Did you stop focusing on the task at hand and escape into your own world…thinking about how what you learned applied to your experiences, relationships, and goals?

Did you just stop reading this article and reflect back on that moment? Congratulations, you just activated the default mode network!

How can you can be intentional about activating the default-mode network when you’re teaching?

Tip #2: Use storytelling to make the content real

Great teachers are great storytellers. Since caveman times, human beings have taught one another through storytelling. When you listen to stories or compelling examples, it activates your DMN. Storytelling helps you make meaning out of the world. Stories improve your ability to recall information. And when the storytelling is really good, your brain acts as if you’re experiencing the same emotions and actions told in the story.

Think about when you went through resilience training or something similar. You might not remember the exact terms or the science, but you likely remember a story a presenter or participant told. Great presenters are able to tell stories in a way that the takeaway message directly relates to the resilience skill being taught. The story helps the participant see the value of the skill, understand how it works in a real-life context and motivates the trainee to use the skill in situations that remind them of the story. A good story should paint a picture of an event, evoke emotion, and have a clear beginning, middle, and end. When the time comes to use the resilience skill, the trainee flashes back to the picture or feeling that the story created and can put the skill into action.

Another way great teachers are great storytellers is in how they present a lesson, so that it feels like a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think through in advance why your trainees should care about this skill, and then craft the lesson to highlight how it meets their needs. Ask thoughtful questions to create curiosity, and then build their understanding of the skill step-by-step with layers of new information. Take time to think through your transitions, so it feels as if you’re telling a story as you present the content, rather than just laying out a bunch of separate points. Science shows that when you teach with well-designed stories, your audience learns better and is more likely to apply what they learn to their actions.

Reflection strategy: Think of a story that made a meaningful impact on you—perhaps a story from resilience training, a tale from your childhood, a movie, a family tale, or a moment in history.

What was the lesson? How did the story help you learn this lesson? Did the story make you curious, surprised, or feel meaningful emotions? Did the story paint a picture so you could see yourself there?

What stories from your life you can share to teach resilience skills? And how can you craft this story  for your audience to build their curiosity, feel surprised, experience meaningful emotions, and see a vivid picture of the importance of the skill and how to use it?

Tip #3: Use discussion as a gateway to understanding

Great teaching isn’t about what you know or can do, it’s about what you can get your trainees to do. Sharing your own stories is a great way to help your trainees stop and reflect on how what they’re learning applies to values, goals, and past experiences. You know what else is incredibly effective? Getting your trainees to share their own stories!

The importance of discussions is often overlooked because this is when your goal is to say less so your trainees can share. This can be difficult and uncomfortable because, in a sense, you must give up control and then…what if no one talks? But discussion is a crucial tool for resilience training. Good discussions give participants a chance to kick the tires on the skills you’re teaching. Discussions help participants think through the skills in different ways, hear different perspectives on how they can work, learn the cost of not using them, and discover what makes them hard or not effective. Good discussions make the skill real.

Humans are social beings. We learn in the context of our experiences, including our interactions with others, our culture, the groups we belong to, and our personal relationships. There’s something transformative about a deep, honest, and open discussion with others where you get to share your story and hear the stories of others. Resilience training, when done right, can provide opportunities for people to connect and learn from one another’s experiences that are far more powerful than a worksheet or PowerPoint slide.

Reflection strategy: Think back to a time where there was something you wanted to share, but your brain told you to pull back and not say it. Maybe it was an idea in an important meeting, a personal story with friends, or a question you wanted to ask.

What kept you from sharing? Was it lack of trust or connection with the audience? Were you scared of being judged…of being vulnerable? What could have happened to make you more confident to share?

Group or paired discussions during resilience training can be difficult because, to be effective, there needs to be a level of group trust. You must be comfortable to be your true self. As a resilience trainer, one way you can help create group trust is by showing vulnerability yourself. Before you ask participants to share, share your own personal example. Think through what types of experiences would be most beneficial for them to learn the skill, and have your story mimic the change you hope they might experience. Also, think through the depth of vulnerability required. Many trainees often will be only as vulnerable as others before them, so you have the opportunity to set the bar for how deep they’ll go with your initial example. Read HPRC’s article on group trust to learn 3 tactics that can help you build trust during your resilience training.

Tip #4: Have fun

If you have fun, the trainees will have fun. And when people have fun, they’re more open to new ideas, new people, and new experiences. The science of positive emotions proves that such emotions are contagious. Think about it. Have you ever walked into a room where everyone was laughing, and you started laughing too, even though you didn’t know what they were laughing about? By making a conscious effort to enjoy the training yourself, you’ll help trainees want to be there too. Positive emotions help people be open to learning new things, building connections, and trusting one another. And they help people to be more open to share their stories with others.

Reflection strategy: What’s your favorite inside joke you have with another group of people? Do you remember what led to it? Have you ever said it without those people there, and then missed them? Does that inside joke make you feel more connected to the people in that group?

Inside jokes are not only a tool to generate positive emotions, but they also create a sense of “us,” because the people within the group get the joke, while those outside of the group don’t. This “us-ness,” or in-group  shared experience, helps develop group trust.

Take advantage of opportunities to create inside jokes during your trainings. When something funny happens, note it and find ways to bring it up again later. Also, if you have built-in funny moments through your stories or other aspects of your training, find a way to make them a “thing”—something that keeps coming up until it becomes an inside joke.

Bottom line: Don’t make resilience training into “check-the-box” training

These 4 tips will help you do resilience training right. And when done right, resilience training can change lives. It makes better Warfighters, better leaders, better parents, and better spouses. Your passion for the skills—and the people you teach—is vital. You are teaching life skills, and your trainees need to feel that you care about them as well as the content. Have fun, lead discussions, share stories, and reflect. But most of all… care deeply.

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