Marine Corps Corporal, left and a South Korean marine cross a rope bridge obstacle Aug. 9, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson

I was getting ready for the day recently, and I felt on edge. Ready. Anticipating. I had a lot of stuff to do that day, and I was ready to get cracking.

It was exactly the same feeling I had before the platoon went outside the wire as a security escort.

There is a certain type of live-wire energy, a physical vibration that runs through you when there’s important stuff to do. I stood there for a minute, enjoying it. Reliving it. Then I realized…there’s no life or death here today. It’s phone calls and emails. There’s no do-or-die mission, the world isn’t going to end if something I have planned doesn’t happen. So why am I feeling this way?

It’s the mission focused mindset. My brain is telling my body to gear up to get this done. There are certainly some benefits to this type of mindset, but there are drawbacks too.

You Can Get Things Done with the Mission Focused Mindset

The one thing about being task focused: you get things done. In the military or out of the military, setting defined goals and achieving them was beneficial. Whether the mission is completing the obstacle course in record time, getting through tank gunnery, or getting a college degree, a goal-focused mindset is a huge benefit. Things had to get done when we were in the military, no questions asked. From getting to morning formation to start physical training to completing our part of an annual training exercise, you did the best you could as part of the team with the resources you had.

The mission oriented mindset was ESPECIALLY beneficial when it came to deployments and combat operations. The mission becomes the service member’s entire reason for being. The satisfaction that comes with a job well done is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Combat operations are the ultimate test of individual and collective training, and lives are on the line. Being mission focused is what it’s all about.

The Mission Focused Mindset Makes Us Trustworthy

Many of the veterans I know or work with pride themselves on being dependable. They like knowing that they can be counted on to get the job done. Again, the satisfaction that comes with knowing that, if someone gives me a job to do, then I’m going to do it. We can certainly take that too far, thought; that’s part of the drawbacks of the mission focused mindset. Being dependable, however, is what service members are known for.

I had a First Sergeant at Fort Bragg that took a couple of the best Soldiers in my squad to perform other roles in the unit. I would then get some…challenging…Soldiers assigned to me. When I complained, respectfully, he told me, “You stop trainin’ them, I’ll stop taking them.” While frustrating, it was also satisfying to be able to have the trust of your superiors. It’s the same way in our post-military lives. If you want something done, give it to a veteran. It may not be the way you would have done it, but if the outcome is more important than the process that it took to get there, then a former service member will get you there.

The Mission Focused Mindset Can Lead to Black and White Thinking

One of the drawbacks to the mission focused mindset is that it can cause us to think in black and white terms. Pass/fail. Go/NoGo. Either you make it 100% or you don’t make it at all. In a paper that looks at the types of metaphors that veterans use in their post military life, Patrick S. Foley talks about the mission mindset. Mission orientation is equated to getting from point A to point B, no questions asked. Everything is reduced to whether or not the mission gets done; life is not as easy as that, of course. The type of all or none thinking can make us

I see it in myself. I have what I refer to as a “98%” mindset. There’s an urge to do things at a 98% level (because nobody’s perfect, right?). The challenge is when I get things done at a 90% level, it might as well be like I failed. Because it didn’t meet the goal. I didn’t achieve the standard…one that was probably more strict than it needed to be. On one had we’re telling ourselves to take it easy, it’s not that serious, but secretly we’re pushing ourselves to be better, faster, stronger. Maybe it’s even subconscious. But if we look at life as a pass/fail, black and white proposition, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed. Life just doesn’t work that way.

The Mission Focused Mindset Can Cause Us To Miss Important Things

This isn’t just a “stop and smell the roses” thing, although it might be. In another article looking at veterans in higher education, the mission oriented mindset was prevalent in most veterans. They wanted to get through school, in the least amount of time possible, within the parameters of their GI Bill, and get on to the next task. Again, I saw it myself. “What’s the most amount of credits I can take in the shortest amount of time to check the requirements off the list?” Thinking that way, however, could cause us to miss out on some interesting experiences. It can also lead to burnout, where we lose focus on self-care, or our family and friends.

Serendipity plays a part in this as well. One of the key aspects of taking advantage of opportunities that pop up through beneficial chance is having a mindset that is open to different ideas. We don’t consider the side-paths when we’re in a mission oriented mindset. We don’t pick our head up, look around, and say, “what’s that over there?” Because that would mean that we don’t accomplish the mission in front of us…when we likely put there ourselves.

The mission oriented mindset is certainly beneficial, but like most things in our lives, can lead to negative consequences if not managed. Understanding how far to go with it, without going to far, can lead to balance in our lives.

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Overall ‘Combat Vet Don’t Mean Crazy’ is a very well written, thought-provoking book. As usual, SFC France did a fantastic job! Being a combat veteran myself who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel there’s a lot of powerful information and tools in this book that you can put to use immediately – even as you’re reading this book. Definitely an excellent read on those days of rest and/or distress. – J.C.

Categories: Awareness

Duane France

Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.