Mental Toughness – (3) Decision making while fatigued

So is this Captain a man with a really big macho ego or is he a man who has not gotten any meaningful sleep in the past 48 hours, is in a fatigued state, and worried that his ship gets through the storm and safely enters the harbor. “In Honor of Army Sgt. First Class David Metzger”, I talked about the mental toughness of Watertribers. In that post I stated that there were fours areas of mental toughness. I want to again state that I am not a psychologist and the thoughts I am sharing are strictly from my prospective. Dr. Nick Hall, who is an accomplished Watertriber in his own right, has probably done the most work in studying the mental side of Watertibers     . The four areas of mental toughness that I have targeted are: (1) Fear management, (2) Pain management, (3) Decision making while fatigued and (4) Resiliency. In my post ” In Honor of  Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Theodore Fitzhenry” I addressed (1) Fear management.  I explained what I go through with pain management in my post “Mental Toughness – (2) Pain management”. In this post I am going to explore decision-making while fatigued. To complete a Watertribe event such as the Everglades Challenge a contestant has to figure they will be on the water 12 to 15 hours at a minimum. Depending on how bad the weather is most folks are pretty tired by the end of the day. This is understandable but it doesn’t take away the fact that a contestant may have to make some pretty important decisions during those late hours. Do you try to make a beach landing when the waves are as bad as they are? Do you attempt to get through an inlet that you know the current is flowing out, there is a sea breeze with a pretty good swell and oh by the way it is at night so you don’t have a good visual on the breakwater. It is so dark you cannot make out the horizon. Hmmm the GPS charts doesn’t appear to be as accurate as the computer screen at home.  Can you figure out a compass heading for that little pass through a mangrove bank. Heyyyyyyy, that Chickee was supposed to be right here on this exact spot. You even checked it on the National Everglades Park map, but there is nothing here. What do you do? The next good campsite is miles away and you are exhausted. Spend time searching around a mangrove area or just keep going.  All the above are real situations that have happen to me when I was exhausted and wanted to get off the water hours earlier. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how I look at it, I have been in several situations both at work and in the military that I have had to function while being tired and sleep deprived. Having been through those events has taught me that when I am in that state I need to keep the following in mind:

(1) Put extra focus on the decision at hand and the decision making process

(2) Double check the facts that I am using to make the decision

(3) Once the decision has been made take two deep breaths and exhale and see if the decision  still seems like the best decision.

(4) Recognize that my chances of making a bad decision in this state are pretty good. What actions do I need to start taking to deal with the bad outcome?

In the 2010 EC I had a choice of going on the outside or going on the inside to get from checkpoint 2 to check point 3. This leg is going through the Everglades National Park and I had obtained a camping permit for a location called the South Joe River Chickee. My plan was to get there in one day, which was going to be a long  but it would give me a great starting point the next day to go straight through CP3 and to the finish. On leaving CP2 the weather reports were that the winds would be out of the east and be pretty strong. With that information I decided to go on the outside hoping the land mass will keep the waves down and I could do the leg paddle sailing. Well it didn’t workout that way. The winds blew out of the east as long as I was going west but as soon as I turn to go south the winds turned and came out of the south south east. I think God was having a good time playing with me that day. Along with the winds came small squalls and rain showers which killed my speed. In hindsight I wished I had gone on the inside. It is longer but I wouldn’t have been fighting the winds. Nighttime arrived and I found myself still on the outside off a place called Highland Beach. I was way behind schedule, and wouldn’t you know it my GPS started to shut down on me randomly. Ok extra focus on this problem – I had charts, they were accurate, I had been in the area before, and I had a very good compass but I also hadn’t really hit the more challenging navigation.That would start about 7 miles from where I was at a place called Shark River. Ok double-check the facts – If you have been in the Everglades at night you know it is dark. Trying to pick out an object or a land mass to take a compass sight off is very difficult.  Fortunately for me there was a camp on Highland Beach and they had a fire going. Great a solid reference point to develop where I am on the map. I just needed to keep a southerly direction which meant keeping the fire 90 degrees to my course ( Right off my left shoulder). There were some waves that night and they were coming on deck which was bouncing the compass around quite a bit but I thought I could manage it. Ok two big breaths and the decision to navigate this way seemed pretty sound. Ok what is my bailout plan – There is pretty good beach access for the next 7 miles. I would just bailout before getting into the Shark River. Well three times I started and three times I found that after five minutes of paddling I would look up from my compass to see that fire on Highlands Beach right on my nose. I was doing circles. The compass was bouncing around too much for me to hold a good course and without a good visual reference I was losing my spacial awareness. I ended up just paddling into Highland beach and camping at the beach that night. Was I fatigued ? You bet I was. Did I make a good decision ? I guess it wasn’t bad. I finished just a day behind my target. Was it the best decision?  No it could have been better. The skies were clear that night and I had stars. All I had to do was pick a star and use it as the reference point. Pretty simple but I couldn’t figure that out. Could have been the same with the Captain who couldn’t figure out the contact was a lighthouse.  So how am I training for this mental state. Really the same process that is used for training physical muscles. Anytime I find myself being very sleepy and tired I try to take on a very complicated task that doesn’t have any negative consequences if I do it incorrectly. Thankfully with the computer I can pull up a chess game as a last resort. Through these experiences I can attempt to put myself in situation where I have to use the principles I have presented. This way I am mentally learning how to deal with it in training so I will be better prepared to deal with it during the event.  For special operations warrior families who have lost loved ones fatigued came and took up a long-term residence. Please consider a donation to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to help reduce the fatigue for the families of our Special Operations Warriors.