West Point deliberately forces cadets to prioritize by creating a seemingly
endless workload for cadets. Between early morning runs, a full academic and military course load, participation in sports, and navigating campus alongside an estimated 4,400 other cadets, it can be a lot to handle. That’s where the Center for Enhanced Performance (CEP) comes into play.
CEP is West Point’s comprehensive student assistance center, providing all cadets with a variety of individual and group programs, as well as services focused on helping cadets further develop as self-regulated learners and leaders of character. The CEP helps cadets achieve excellence in West Point’s three developmental pillars—academic, physical, and military—through targeted education and training on specific strategies and intangible mental skills that underlie elite human performance across all domains.
“Our goal at the center is to help good people become great by building mental toughness and develop leaders of character,” says CPT John Plumstead, Executive Officer at the CEP. Plumstead explains that his team includes everyone from athletic academic support coordinators and psychology trainers to experts in critical thinking, note taking, and time management.
So what can a cadet get out of the CEP?
The CEP offers one-one-one coaching, classes (ranging from 10 to 40 lessons), workshops, and downloadables available to all students, regardless of if they walk through the door to the center or not. An example of an offered course is study skills, which is a deep dive into the science of performance, performance psychology, and reading efficiency.
“We truly believe that we can help every cadet here at West Point,” says Plumstead. “Last year we did over 7,000 appointments in the CEP. Our goal is to help everyone from the person struggling in a freshman math course to the football player who wants to work on his confidence. My hope is that they can then take the skills we work on here into the world—when they become a commissioned officer and beyond.”
The CEP aims to help students get out of that day-to-day survival mode, where they’re often only focused on tackling the immediate things on their to-do list, and thrive. “If you’re only worried about day-in and day-out you’ll never be your best,” he says. “You have the opportunity to take control of your life. If you come to us for an hour, my hope is that you can get multiple hours back.”
Want a taste of what the CEP can offer cadets? Here, Plumstead outlines three top tips for reducing daily stress:
1. Increase your awareness: Understanding and acknowledging that you’re actually stressed is the first step to moving forward. Maybe you feel anxious, overwhelmed, tired, or angry. Sometimes people aren’t able to pinpoint why their chest is feeling tight, or that they are just performing very poorly. Admitting that you are stressed allows you to accept it, and then make progress.
2. Make priorities: You probably can’t fix everything, but if you can take care of what’s most stressing you out at the moment—that’s a great place to start. There’s a certain culture within top performers that says you should be stressed. Some will think to themselves, “I’ve got 30 hours of stuff booked that I need to do in the next 24.” Well, that’s impossible. Let’s try to help you there. Focus on what you can make progress on immediately.
3. Learn techniques. Everyone has different strategies that work for them when it comes to coping with stress. A top suggestion across the board is take control of your breathing. Typically, the slower you breathe in and the slower you exhale, the more you will relax.