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Under the Balaclava: A Case Study Examining Habits Within the Identity of Elite Counterterrorists Open Access

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James’ 1907 essay, “The Energies of Men,” posited that the vast majority live lives nowhere near their full potential. We habitually settle into a life well below an optimal energy level until we decide to test ourselves. Willing ourselves past the comfortable, the test is often met and we find a new equilibrium that we can learn to meet just as easily as the lesser earlier state. The difficult is no longer so; the unimagined is the possible and with time becomes the habitually expected. Although James elegantly described this ‘second wind,’ he had no idea how to scientifically study the phenomenon or how to ‘educate’ individuals and communities to actualize these untapped energy reserves. This qualitative study provides insight into these questions by examining a group of high achievers, the study’s ‘cases,’ bounded by a taxing selection process. At the core of the study the question examined why a few were successful and many others, often equally talented, failed. Developed through an iterative process, the study utilized a narrative identity model based in the philosophical context of pragmatism. The model offers our identity as a temporal paced triadic narrative of distinct but inseparable selves: I (present), You (past), and Me (future). The DNA of the constantly changing model is habits. Habits are categorized into another triad: habits of growth, habits of performance, and habits of self-esteem. Habits were found to carry momentum and to be open, social, temporal, paradoxical and contextual, creative, and tightly coupled with will. Specifically, through their habits, successful agents built confidence they would never quit during the difficult process. Events required a combination of willing within the current moment and forgetting about failures. All faced a crisis that seriously jeopardized their chances of making the team, a time when second wind, their personal narrative, and occasionally outside support was the determining factor of their continuation. When properly spurred, we all possess second, third, even fourth ‘winds’ which are transforming. This study provides answers on how one group developed these transforming powers and insight on how others may do the same.

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