Jim Windsor is an incredible guy and works with the UK army. One of his jobs is to help get people’s head straight on return from a war zone. The army recognises there are some danger points and will take measures to ensure an individual gets all the help they need to properly readjust.
When you finish your time in a war zone you will be encouraged to spend some 4-8 days on a beach somewhere, just to let off steam. Following that you will then spend 3 weeks back on the UK base – you are allowed to see family then, but you must stay on that base.
To be able to go into a war zone do you think that you need to be ‘associated’ or ‘disassociated’ with that situation? I will explain more below, however, for the present the answer is ‘disassociated’ as your brain will pull you out (disassociate) in extreme situations to ensure you can still function.
At some point, however, you will still need to deal with what happened in that extreme situation and so the brain will start to associate you back to that experience. Apart from the readjustment period mentioned above, Jim told me that it’s the next 18-24 months after the event that is the most important. He explained that only once you have some distance on that situation can you truly start to process the experience. Consequently, the UK Army provides ongoing support throughout that entire period.
To associate or not to associate
What is ‘association’? This is where you experience the thought or situation through your own eyes and you hear and feel everything.
What is ‘dissociation’? This is where you see yourself in the thought or situation and can hear everything but tend not to have feelings about it. (In the moment).
Do you think that in different areas of our lives we would want to be associated or dissociated? Let’s take a couple of examples:
What about a romantic dinner with your partner?
Associated, or you’d be in trouble.
What about if your boss is telling you off?
Do you also think that some jobs would lend themselves to being associated or dissociated?
Yes, it could be either.
So let’s consider the role of an Air Traffic Controller…how do you think this might apply?
Dissociated. Because in that job you would be responsible for 1,000s of people’s lives and you would need to safely guide the aircraft to the ground.
The elegance of your brain
Why would your brain have such a system in place? It makes sense when you think about it.
Association is good for us. You feel the wonders of life in all its glory. You can process negative feelings out of the body by fully feeling them and then letting them go.
Similarly, dissociation can also be highly beneficial, especially when you need to function in extreme situations. To be dissociated would take the emotion out of a situation, e.g. during a visit to the dentist or having your blood taken.
So you can see that it is simple in its elegance, but how could we use this for ourselves?
Sport psychologists know this little secret
One of the untapped resources for improving performance in sport is the use of the mind. The increased use and refinement of visualisation in sport has had a big impact. There are two distinct ways to visualise – yes, you’ve guessed it….by association and dissociation, where both have different benefits.
Association visualisation: this fires micro-muscles throughout the body as you train your nervous system in that activity.
Dissociated visualisation: this allows you to practice without using up energy in your system. You can then copy the movement.
Next time you want to improve in a skill, sport or music for example:
- Spend 10 minutes a day doing associated visualisation.
- Spend 10 minutes a day doing dissociated visualisation.
- Physically do the activity.
You will find that your ability will soar because you are using the same technique adopted by world-class athletes and musicians.
Safety in action
Have you noticed that when someone close to you dies there is often someone who is prepared to take on the responsibility for organisation of the funeral? While everyone else is grieving they just seem to be able to cope and get on with it.
So what’s going on in this scenario? Well the brain decides that, for whatever reason, the person is going to do what needs to be done, dissociates from the issue and just gets on with it. However, it is so important to bear in that this person is going to have to grieve at some point and this normally happens about 3 months after the funeral. 3 months is considered to be just long enough for us to want to start to move on with our own lives, even though most people don’t fully get over the passing. As they start to associate and grieve it’s important to be there to support them, after all, they were often there to support us when we needed it.
Association and dissociation is a truly powerful way to encode the world around us.
The UK Army does an amazing job and often in the most difficult situations. So I for one am very proud of the support our guys receive. Also Cassiobury Court offers free help and advice for veterans who suffer with addiction and mental health problems. For more information, click here.
So practice and apply the technique I have given you in your life. I’m keen to know how you get on, so please do contact me to share your stories and insights on this truly powerful thinking process by posting them below