“Where self-reflection is purposefully thinking about and processing our experiences with the intent of learning, rumination is when we think over and over and over about something in the past (or even something from the future) with an associative set of negative emotions and overly critical self-talk.”
I have often found that high-stakes, high-stress environments like the campaign trail, start-up space, and defense contracting world make it easier for rumination to creep in.
“Rumination often manifests itself as “what ifs” as a form of what really amounts to exploration without action. Appropriately reflecting can be about solutions, with a bent toward self-compassion, self-care, and having a plan of action, actively engaging in a positive process. Ruminating involves a much more vicious cycle of re-rehearsing, rehashing, replaying, and getting stuck in frustration and thinking traps, as well as potential depression and self-harm.”
There are lots of things you can do to keep rumination at bay, and the authors offer ways to maximize your reflection time and minimize the rumination.
“Leaders should analyze, recognize, and resolve issues through reflection, fostering growth, rather than just analyzing and repeating whatever happened through rumination. We should also be mindful to be aware of what our teammates and subordinates have a tendency to do (i.e., ruminate or reflect), but also help coach and teach them on how to reflect. Part of it may be just sharing how you approach it.”
I would also add a few more things that you can do to escape a rumination spiral:
Deep, slow, full breathing
At least 45 minutes of exercise
Write down what you’re feeling (use a pen and paper, people!)
Give yourself permission to feel the underlying emotion fully
Call up your therapist or make an appointment
I really appreciate how Military Mentors incorporates mental health into conversations about mentorship and leadership. Good mental and physical health are at the core of being a good leader!
There was a monologue I had to memorize as a plebe (freshman) at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Compiled by Augustus Bell from letters written by the legendary John Paul Jones, “Qualifications of a Naval Officer” was rote fare for prospective officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.
The crux of these qualifications, according to Jones, was that Navy leaders “should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity.”
Jones led a fledgling United States Navy during a time of great uncertainty and volatility. Many characteristics were required during these hard days in our maritime past: toughness, physical strength, a high tolerance for bad food.
It is notable, then, that this revered progenitor of America’s Navy did not cite “hard” qualities, like the ability to lift heavy objects, sprint across the deck quickly, or raise a sheet efficiently. Instead, he focused on what we would consider “soft” qualities: tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, charity.
They didn’t call it this at the time, but Jones was telling his followers that mental health – and managing it among those in your care – was the key to good leadership. He understood that how we deal with uncertainty, fear, and failure were as important as how swiftly we sailed our ships or manned our guns. Maintaining and fostering mental health offers a powerful and vital advantage in times of crisis.
In short: mental health is national security.
And today, America’s is in peril.
According to a 2020 report by the Defense Health Agency, 44% of active-duty personnel reported experiencing “some degree of functional impairment due to psychological symptoms.” This is alarming and indicative of a growing problem in our military ranks. Soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines struggling with untreated mental health issues can lead to increased rates of attrition, decreased morale and cohesiveness, and a diminished ability to execute critical missions.
But it’s not just the military that is impacted by mental health challenges. Civilian leaders and policy professionals are subject to the same stressors brought on by managing uncertainty and navigating complex problems. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the critical importance of leadership decision-making in high-stress situations. The World Health Organization reports that the pandemic led to a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide in 2020 compared to 2019.
Troublingly, the next generation of military and civilian leaders in national security is at risk, too. Higher rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide among American children and teens is both tragic and limits the potential pool of the future defense workforce.
So how can we right this ship? The answer, for both military and civilian leaders, lies in proper mental health management. This starts with establishing systems that promote access to quality mental health care, reducing stigma, and cultivating a culture of resilience.
For the military, we must build upon efforts like the Defense Department’s psychological health programs and continue to ensure that mental health care is integrated into the comprehensive care provided to service members . Encouraging troops to seek professional help when needed is critical in changing the cultural perception about mental health, which promotes preparedness for rapid adaptation to the evolving battlespace. Leaders should talk about how they manage their mental health as much as they talk about the proper push-up form or how to crush it at the gym.
For civilian leaders, fostering mental health starts with prioritizing self-care, destigmatizing conversations around mental health, and normalizing seeking mental health care as essential to maintaining peak performance. Just like physical fitness, mental health maintenance should be an essential part of professional development. And critically, we need to prioritize making space for this instead of packing more work into already-packed bureaucratic schedules.
The effectiveness of our national security apparatus depends on its adaptability, its readiness, and its resilience. A “whole of government” approach that ensures mental health is a recognized and supported aspect of national security, will undoubtedly make our nation safer and more prepared for the challenges and uncertainties ahead.
By normalizing mental health with leadership, as John Paul Jones did, we can weave mental health management into the very fabric of national security. It is time we recognize that tending to the mind is as vital as tending to the body in ensuring our nation’s security, both for those in uniform and those in policymaking positions.
We’ve all heard about “The Grind.” It’s the idea that, if you have a big dream or goal, you need to work ruthlessly and relentlessly until it becomes reality. The Grind exists for entrepreneurs, political candidates, and everybody who takes big risks in pursuit of a larger goal.
There are no shortage of blog posts, YouTube videos, and self-help books talking about how you just need to wake up at 4:00 am every day, or how you need to optimize your productivity down to the minute, or how you need to fit 48 hours of work into a 24 hour day in order to be successful on “The Grind.”
This isn’t to say that The Grind isn’t important. At its core, it is a convenient vehicle to describe the need to be organized, persistent, and optimistic about the path that we’re on. But The Grind won’t get us anywhere if it grinds us to a halt instead.
That’s why mental health is so important. And why burnout is so dangerous.
Burnout is like a dark cloud that settles over your life, casting a shadow on everything you do. It’s a feeling of exhaustion that goes beyond physical fatigue – it’s a bone-deep weariness that seeps into your soul. You wake up in the morning and already feel like you’ve run a marathon. Every task feels like an insurmountable obstacle, and even the smallest decisions feel overwhelming. You feel like you’re on autopilot, just going through the motions of your day without really engaging or feeling present. Your emotions are flattened, like someone turned down the volume on your life. You might feel irritable, disconnected, or numb. Burnout can make it hard to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions. It can also affect your sleep, appetite, and physical health. Overall, burnout is a deeply unpleasant experience that can leave you feeling drained, hopeless, and disconnected from yourself and others.
Burnout affects everyone – particularly those trying to change the world around them.
Entrepreneurs often pride themselves on their resilience, perseverance, and ability to take risks. However, entrepreneurship can be a high-stress profession that can take a toll on one’s mental health. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that entrepreneurs are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues than the general population. This is due to the long hours, high pressure, and uncertainty that come with running a business.
Mental health plays a critical role in an entrepreneur’s success. When an entrepreneur is mentally healthy, they can think more clearly, make better decisions, and handle stress more effectively. On the other hand, poor mental health can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and reduced creativity. As such, it is essential for entrepreneurs to prioritize their mental health by developing and implementing a mental health plan.
Likewise, political candidates are intimately familiar with the realities of The Grind. The political landscape is incredibly competitive and can be a source of significant stress for candidates. Political campaigns are often accompanied by intense scrutiny, long hours, and a relentless schedule of fundraising jammed into every aspect of a candidate’s life. These factors can take a significant toll on a candidate’s mental health.
Research has shown that political candidates are more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study by the American Psychiatric Association found that 18% of political candidates reported experiencing symptoms of depression and 11% reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD (and responses to these queries are likely vastly under-reported). The same study found that political campaigns can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues.
The mental health of political candidates is critical on its own, but especially so as candidates become elected officials. Mental health in political public service is a significantly under-analyzed problem in America. Mental health issues can lead to poor decision-making, decreased productivity, and deteriorating relationships with loved ones. This is why it is so important for candidates to develop their own mental health plans, and why they should offer mental health resources to their staff to ensure support is available.
Finally, those working in national security and defense work in high-stress environments that can be emotionally taxing, too. They are often exposed to traumatic events such as violence, terrorism, and war, which can lead to mental health issues such as PTSD. Depending on the type of role, these jobs can also involve long hours in often-sedentary settings.
A 2020 survey by the Government Business Council found that 84% of federal workers in national security roles reported experiencing mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. According to a 2018 report by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, the high stress and intensity of national security work can lead to chronic stress and burnout, which can contribute to mental health problems among government workers.
Burnout is not just an unpleasant experience – it’s a serious threat to your success and wellbeing. When you’re burnt out, you’re not operating at your best, and that makes it harder to achieve your goals. In business or on the campaign trail, burnout can mean missed opportunities, mistakes, and setbacks. You might find yourself making decisions based on survival instead of strategy, or reacting impulsively instead of acting intentionally. Burnout can also affect your relationships, both personal and professional. When you’re feeling burnt out, it’s harder to connect with others, to communicate effectively, and to be a good leader. Overall, burnout is a major impediment to success, and it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.
The best way to stave off burnout is to create and implement your own mental health plan. But it’s important to know that a mental health plan isn’t about preventing negative feelings or emotions – that is probably not possible. Rather, your mental health plan is your key to resilience. It’s about how you bounce back and return to the emotional center line despite what is happening around you.
Above all, remember that part of The Grind needs to be about maximizing your fulfillment, contentment, and personal growth, too. Consider that you can achieve results in business, elections, or government and still not feel successful if you leave yourself out of the process. Your mental health is the most important – and first! – consideration when trying to make the world a better place, no matter your role.
Let’s get right down to it. The first question I ask prospective political candidates, entrepreneurs, and national security innovators is both simple and profoundly important:
Do you have a mental health plan?
Mental health is an integral part of our overall well-being, and it affects everything we do. Without good mental health, we can struggle with daily activities, relationships, and our overall quality of life. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of mental health, and as a result, mental health plans have become an essential tool for managing our mental well-being.
I had to learn most of this the hard way during my transition off of active duty in the military and while jumping headfirst into a competitive campaign for the US House of Representatives. I don’t want you to repeat my mistakes.
What is a Mental Health Plan?
A mental health plan is a written document that outlines the steps you will take to manage your mental health. It is a personalized plan that takes into account your individual needs and circumstances. A mental health plan can include various strategies to help you manage stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition. It is an actionable plan that can help you achieve your mental health goals and improve your overall well-being.
The most successful mental health plans are those that are developed in conjunction with a mental health professional. In a future post, we will discuss low- and no-cost mental health resources available to veterans, candidates, entrepreneurs, and more.
Why is a Mental Health Plan Important?
According to the World Health Organization, at least one in four people worldwide will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. Mental health problems can manifest in various ways, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, substance abuse, and even loss of life. Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on a person’s life, affecting their relationships, work, and quality of life. Unfortunately, many people do not seek help for their mental health problems, either due to stigma or lack of access to mental health services.
A mental health plan is essential for several reasons. First, it provides a roadmap for managing your mental health. With a plan in place, you can take proactive steps to manage your mental health and prevent the onset of mental health problems. Second, it can help you identify triggers and warning signs of mental health problems, allowing you to take action before they escalate. Finally, a mental health plan can help you access the appropriate mental health services and support when you need it.
How to Create Your Own Mental Health Plan
Creating a mental health plan can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure where to start. It is also very difficult to create one while you’re in the midst of a health crisis. Here are several concrete steps you can take to make a mental health plan today:
Step 1: Identify Your Mental Health Goals
The first step in creating a mental health plan is to identify your mental health goals. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to manage stress better, improve your mood, or overcome anxiety? Once you have identified your mental health goals, you can start to develop a plan to achieve them.
For those about to begin stressful, vulnerable, or uncertain roles such as startup-founder, candidate, staffer, or even parent, mental health goals can be less about the “ends,” and more about the “means.” When you start feeling overwhelmed, how will you recognize your condition and what steps will you take to put yourself back in a comfortable state of being? How will you frame your performance in a particular role to keep the inevitable volatility of your undertaking in appropriate, healthy perspective?
Step 2: Identify Your Triggers and Warning Signs
The next step is to identify your triggers and warning signs. What situations or events tend to trigger your mental health problems? What warning signs do you experience when your mental health is starting to decline? Identifying your triggers and warning signs can help you take proactive steps to manage your mental health before it becomes a problem.
You might not consider yourself as someone who has “mental health problems.” That is OK! I promise you, though, that in the dark depths of campaign fundraising, startup seed rounds, or defense contract negotiations, you will not feel like your best self. One of my favorite tools to help me identify my triggers and warning signs is to ask the question, “What will I feel like if I feel at this? What will happen to me?” This is a tough exercise, but if I can write down what my potential feelings might be before I begin the journey, I can pair them with effective coping strategies below to help me stay as close as possible to my best self.
Step 3: Develop Coping Strategies
Once you have identified your mental health goals and triggers, the next step is to develop coping strategies. Coping strategies are the tools and techniques you will use to manage your mental health. Coping strategies can include things like exercise, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, talking to a therapist or support group, and more. Choose coping strategies that work best for you and your lifestyle.
Again, it is best to develop these strategies with a mental health professional. It is also perfectly acceptable to have coping strategies that don’t appear to make sense on paper or seem obliquly related to mental health. Some of my tried-and-tested, if rather unorthodox, coping stragies include going to a coffee shop to read a book, taking a hot shower, or even changing my socks. I know, it sounds crazy, but iterate until you find what works for you!
Step 4: Create a Support Network
Creating a support network is essential for managing your mental health. Your support network can include family, friends, mental health professionals, and support groups. Identify people who you can turn to for help and support when you need it.
Without alarming them, let these folks know that things might get pretty rough for you. Let them know what they’re getting themselves into. A support network is an important trust relationship, and it requires real, authentic effort from its members. If someone asks you to be a part of their support network, check in with them regularly and remember to treat them the way you’d like to be treated if the roles were reversed. Above all, know that you don’t have to go through mental health problems alone.
Step 5: Track Your Progress
Tracking your progress is essential for staying motivated and on track with your mental health goals. Keep a journal or use a mental health app to track your progress and note any improvements or setbacks. Tracking your progress can help you identify what coping strategies are working and what changes you may need to make to your mental health plan.
The best way to track your progress during a busy campaign, start-up, or contract pursuit? Attend regular meetings with a mental health professional!
Step 6: Make Adjustments as Needed
Creating a mental health plan is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that requires regular evaluation and adjustment. As you track your progress, you may find that some coping strategies are not as effective as you thought, or you may encounter new triggers that you need to address. Be open to making adjustments as needed and be willing to seek help if your mental health condition is affecting your daily life.
Step 7: Don’t Forget About Your Physical Health!
In this post, I’ve separated mental health from physical health, but the two go hand-in-hand. Your overall health includes appropriate exercise, rest, and growth for your brain as well as your arms, legs, and lungs. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete, run long distances, or lift heavy weights. But almost every study on the subject has shown that maintaining a consistent physical health routine improves both our mental health and our professional productivity. A physical health plan is just as important as a mental health plan and must be safeguarded throughout your campaign, contracting, or business journey.
It is no accident that the first detailed post on this site is about creating a mental health plan. This concept will underpin everything we talk about in the posts to come, from innovation and starting a business to military service and political campaigns. It is also one of the most overlooked, under-utilized concepts in modern professional life.
Creating a mental health plan is an essential step in managing your mental health. It’s an actionable plan that can help you achieve your mental health goals and improve your overall well-being. By following these concrete steps, you can create a mental health plan today that is tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.
Remember: mental health is just as important as physical health, and taking care of your mental health is a crucial aspect of living a healthy and fulfilling life. If you’re struggling with mental health problems, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional or support group. With the right support and a well-developed mental health plan, you can manage your mental health and live your best life.
Welcome to my new corner of the internet! If this were a bar, now would be about the time I slid you over a frosty mug of your favorite beer.
I am excited to engage with you on this platform to talk about the intersection of mental health, politics, defense, and innovation. My goal here is to provide thought-provoking content that sparks conversations and inspires action.
I have long believed – since I was a young boy growing up in rural America – that building bold things is essential to creating a better world. Whether it’s a new defense technology, a policy proposal that advances mental health, or a political movement that actually delivers policy results, we need the spark of boldness to drive change.
But building bold things isn’t easy. It requires risk-taking, vulnerability, and perseverance. And while we celebrate the accomplishments of those who build bold things, we also recognize the toll it can take on mental and physical health.
That’s why I am committed to creating a space where we can talk openly and honestly about the challenges of building bold things. We will explore how mental health intersects with politics, defense, and innovation. We will discuss strategies for self-care and resilience. And we will showcase examples of people who are building bold things while prioritizing their well-being.
I want this site to be a resource for anyone who is passionate about creating positive change in the world. Whether you are a policymaker, an entrepreneur, a researcher, or an activist, I hope that this content will inspire you to think bigger, take risks, and prioritize your health.
In the coming days, I’ll be publishing articles, interviews, and opinion pieces that explore the themes of mental health, politics, defense, and innovation. Together, we’ll talk about the challenges and opportunities of building bold things in these areas, and I’ll offer concrete tips and advice for staying healthy and resilient while doing so.
I hope that you’ll join me on this journey. Together, we can build bold things and make a difference.