Book Review: The Sniper Mind – Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty and Make Better Decisions


The premise of the book written by David Amerland is that, if we can all learn to create the same synthesis of hard and soft skills in our own lives, well will be better at our jobs, in our relationships, and in our executive decision-making. To achieve so, each chapter  presents a particular skill set that snipers possess. It explains the science behind it and then how it can be acquired and applied in a business environment. The author claims that, “if you are in business, if you are running a company, if you are a solopreneur, if you are looking for a way to employ the wealth of knowledge the military has built up over centuries to simply improve your own skill set and your own abilities so that you can become a better version of you, then this is the book for you.

The twenty takeaways I got out of this book are:

  1. Businesses face an incredibly fluid, challenging marketplace which demands a high degree of capability, initiative, focus, and ingenuity from their staffs.
  2. Becoming familiar with just five of the variables that make up each shot helps understand the context that snipers face: impossible conditions (weather is too hot or too cold, there are crosswinds or updrafts, there is glare or the visibility is poor); high stakes (lives are bout to be lost); a ticking clock (time is never on the sniper’s side); changing variables (as if having to calculate all the variables that can affect the shot is not enough, the variables themselves keep on changing); and distant targets.
  3. There is a Rydyard Kipling poem called “If -“. It was written in 1895 and is an inspirational poem about enjoying a natural competitive advantage through discipline of thought. Its opening stanza goes: “If you can keep your head when all about you are loosing theirs…
  4. Impossible is not a fact. It is an opinion” – Muhammad Ali. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. If impossible is an opinion it can be overcome through self-conviction.
  5. Snipers have brains that have been trained to resist the ravages of stress. The mindset they employ can be broken down into three actionable steps that are often of direct use to anyone in either a business or a personal situation: control, analysis, and action. To accomplish them, the `Three Ps` mental pillars are required: passion, purpose, and persistence. The key here is identity. Without it, self-belief, the knowledge can despite the odds you can succeed, becomes impossible. Forging an identity is a very, very old practice, but we shall start with self-belief
  6. Three P`s in business: 1) Passion – arguably one of the most misused words when it comes to business, it has to stem from a deep identification  with the job of the person; 2) Purpose – everything we do is part of a complex pattern of interwoven relationships which mix personal and professional life; and 3) persistence – never stop doing what you are doing. If it is part of who you are and what you do then every obstacle placed in your path is just another challenge to overcome.
  7. Temet norse – latin for `know thyself´. It has its origins in an inscription over the forecourt of the temple of Apollo in Delphi, Ancient Greece. Without knowing who you are and why you do what you do, you can not hope to control your present or choose your future.
  8. Multitasking is a complex cognitive process that usually results in at least one of the concurrent tasks being performed more poorly than when it is performed alone. Effective multitasking requires that two complex cognitive processes co-occur gracefully while sharing at least some common infrastructure. The scientific questions concern the nature of the co-occurrence: How is competition between the two thoughts processes for shared resources solved?
  9. A sniper, appearing to be super cool under pressure, is capable of controlling his anxiety and fear so that his heart rate and breathing don’t interfere with his targeting. Three primary points to accomplish this are: the brain works as a network; senses and movement are tightly integrated in cognitive processes; and the more demanding a task, the more resources the brain will allocate to it.
  10. Three steps to give a sense of control: do your homework (understand what it is that makes your business tick); manage your presence (when you understand the dynamic principles that guide your business you are better positioned to stave off being disrupted by developments which you could not see before); and have clear goals (when there are no clear, feasible goals that can demonstrably tie into a greater, overall strategy, energy is wasted achieving very little). Use the right tools for the job: learn what you need to use, when, where.
  11. The brain is a massive parallel processor that stores information in overlapping patterns of neuronal connections. Single neurons can participate in many different memories and processes. This is exactly why our brains are so good at pattern recognition, why one thought or memory reminds you of another, why an odor can trigger a flood of memories. On the other side, here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also do not develop them – ever.
  12. Data is often thought to be information, but that is not quite true. Data is a building block. As raw building material, at its point of acquisition it has not yet been shaped, processed, or interpreted. Information, on the other hand requires meaning and context to be useful. The singular form of the word – datum – actually means `something given´.
  13. Think like a sniper: snipers stop only when they are done; it is not the tools you have that make the difference, it is what you do with them; snipers pick their shots for maximum effectiveness; snipers get the best shot they can get, not the perfect shot they want; and snipers can change the course of battle with just a few shots.
  14. The science on decision-making: critical decision-making under pressure operates on a bounded rationality principle where time, resources, and information are limited. The quality of the decisions can be significantly improved by applying an algorithm approach in tandem with the utility model of decision-making to prescreen some choices and arrive at much better decisions.
  15. We all make bad decisions, all the time. There is another way to look at this sentence: We all fail to make good decisions.
  16. The four-step process to better decision-making: 1) frame (decide the scope of the problem you are facing and then accurately detail the resources you have in relation to the resources you need in order to deal with the challenge you are facing); 2) find (decide on the kind of decision you need to make quickly. Is it a major decision or a routine one? Major decisions often are very specific, one-time events involving high personal commitment and a considerable investment of resources. Routine decisions are not quite as energy intensive and their impact on your ´missions also likely to be minimal); evaluate (weigh all options available to you. Consider cost, time, commitment level required, and desired outcome); and apply (detail each of the actions required to deliver the outcome that is needed. Be thorough in laying them out and also describe what each one entails).
  17. Develop an attitude: affective, which involves a person’s feelings and emotions about a particular thing (´I can always adapt and overcome any obstacles placed on my path); behavioral, where the attitude we have has a direct bearing on our physical behavior and actions (´There is no obstacle I cannot analyze in a rational fashion and break down to its component parts so I can find a way to get around it); and cognitive, which reflects the knowledge we have and the beliefs we fashion from it (Every obstacle is the direct result of constituent parts and circumstances. This means nothing is insurmountable).
  18. Top performers in the military, like snipers and Navy SEALs, show neura patterns during fMRI scans that are similar to those of Olympic athletes: analytical thinking, visualization, self-control, positive thinking, situational awareness, self-awareness, pushing against comfort zones, constant learning, patience, tolerance of adversity, empathy, and a support network.
  19. Six approaches to decision-making (p. 300): the classical approach, the human resource approach, the quantitative approach, the systems perspective, the contingency approach, and the technological advantage approach.
  20. The four pillars of mental strength: setting goals, mental visualization, positive self-talk, and arousal control. Also, the four branches of emotional intelligence: how we perceive emotion, how we use emotion to facilitate thought, how we understand emotion, and how we manage emotion.

The world we are in right now is challenging. Things are changing extremely quickly; what was true yesterday may not be so today. We are required to be flexible in our approach, adaptive and adaptable in our mentality, responsible in our disposition. We need to be capable of displaying critical thinking under pressure, and to always be learning in our lives. We are, in short, being asked by our challenging times to be nothing less than exceptional. The Sniper Mind is a book about how to be exceptional.

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