Panic situations, as the brain interprets them, assault us regularly. When I say “panic” I don’t necessarily mean being attacked in a crime. It could be a matter of having 3 different choices thrown at you all at the same time. You stop. Feel a bit panicky and wait while your brain makes a decision.
The other day I was at the grocery store. As I was taking off my seat belt I saw an elderly man just outside of the store crumble and fall to the pavement. I swear it happened in slow motion (more on that phenomenon at a later date). I am sure that I stopped for a second.
I absolutely cringe at the site of people falling. It looks so awful and painful. Anyway, a millisecond later my brain kicked in. Without even thinking, I grabbed my purse, swooped out of the door, locked my car, and ran over to the man to help him before anyone else had noticed. This is a feat when you consider that I’m overweight and out of shape. As I was running up to the man I passed by an athletic young man and an older, robust man who were both substantially closer to the elderly gentleman that I was. Fortunately, the man wasn’t seriously injured, although I’m sure he’ll have bruising later. He simply had tripped on an elevated portion of cement. By the time I helped him up the other two men that I had passed came up to see what they could do to help as well.
So, what was the difference between me and the two men who were closer to the elderly gentleman? I assure you it wasn’t my physical agility—probably doesn’t exist. And I assure you it wasn’t the size of my heart. Both men expressed a sincere concern for this elderly gentleman. The difference was how my brain is trained to respond to scenarios of assistance versus other people in these kinds of scenarios. I’m not super woman by any stretch of the imagination. This scenario doesn’t qualify on the same level as my house being on fire, a gun being held to my face, or a car accident. But it still did require mental input and a response. My brain simply had run through this kind of scenario more often and more intently than the other two men. As a result, I had a faster response time as well as an accurate one. I asked the man multiple questions before trying to lift him to make sure that lifting was appropriate. Whereas the other two men simply asked “are you all right?” In hindsight, I’ve hopefully trained my brain to walk the man to his car or to give him a ride to wherever he needed to go if this kind of scenario were to happen again. The other interesting aspect to this response is that even though I could have cared less at that moment whether or not I had my purse or that my car was locked, I still ended up locking the car and had my purse in tow. Why? Because I’ve trained my brain time and time again to perform that physical response to getting out of the car. It’s the same thing when my husband gets into my car instead of his truck. His hand automatically goes to a non-existent steering wheel shift instead of the one in my car which is down on his right side.
Ok. Hopefully it’s a bit obvious as to why I’m sharing all of this with you. When your brain responds to something it only has two issues. To respond with actual knowledge—which is then called SKILL; or to respond with a default response—which is usually freezing and then fraternizing. You literally freeze while your brain is computing what in the world to do with the scenario. It will then pull the context which best fits your scenario. If you haven’t provided your brain with any PHYSICAL practice accompanied by purposeful visualization, then you will freeze, and then look to fraternize with other people looking for input for your brain, instead of acting appropriately. Those freezing and fraternizing moments can cost you and those around you a great deal—even your life.
Here’s an example of the wrong response your brain can provide you with as a result of the improper input you give it. In Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s book “On Killing” he discusses what an impact training your brain can be. He also shares a story that enlightens us as to the consequences of training your brain incorrectly. He shares a story of how a police officer was trained how to take a firearm away from a perpetrator. This successful process was drilled into this man's brain again and again. He would take the firearm away from his sparring partner successfully, then hand it back to the partner so that they could to the practice exercise again. Unfortunately, when the time came for the police officer to actually take a gun away from a perpetrator, he instinctively did so and then gave the gun back to the perpetrator just as he had practiced!
How we respond to any scenario, whether it’s our kids yelling and screaming, the sound of the fire alarm in a building that causes you simply to roll your eyes and stay put, or how you mindlessly type in your password into your computer—is determined by the information your brain already possesses. When a scenario hits you, your entire body allocates energy to the brain so that it can solve the problem and determine a response. Notice I did not say a “proper response.” I said a “response” period. I’ll say it again. How your brain determines a response is based upon the previous input you’ve provided it. If someone sneezes and you find yourself mindlessly saying “God bless you” that is as a result of previous input your brain has formulated. When you hear mouth noises and it bugs the living cells out of you, it’s because you were raised at a strict dinner table where such chomping, snapping and smacking were not allowed. (Yes, I am very intolerant in this regard. I simply cannot stand it any more than I can tolerate someone not taking their hat off in a church or someone not placing their right hand over their heart during the pledge of allegiance). It bugs my entire being primarily because of the input my brain has previously received. As another somewhat deviating example, I kept praying during a large church meeting the other day that a gal would stop smacking her gum behind me so that I could get more out of the message on “charity.” I guess I wasn’t feeling very charitable in being forced to listen to her cow chomping. So it’s no surprise to me that two days later I asked a woman out loud in the movie theater to stop smacking her gum. Previous brain input. That’s what determines our responses. Our body essentially freezes while we calculate and decide how to respond. Your brain searches for memories so that it can create a context that best fits the situation you’re confronted with.
So, what I’m trying desperately to get us all to think about is appropriately programming our minds to handle as many scenarios as possible. When I was just 8 years old, a small fire broke out in our kitchen stove. I didn’t know how serious it was at the time. All I knew is that my mother had repeatedly told me that if there was ever a fire in our home that it was my job to get the kids outside. As soon as I saw that fire in the stove, I immediately hustled my brother and sister outside and stayed there until we got the “all clear” from the adults. I will never forget the amount of praise my mother showered on me, telling me that I had done a good job. She didn’t say it was just a little bitty fire and not to worry. They didn’t need to call the fire department. It was put out in less than a minute. But my brain responded simply to the only training Mom had previously given me.
The good news is that our brains are such amazing, miraculous tools, that there is not a single serious scenario you cannot train your mind to safely and appropriately respond to. Instead of jerking the steering wheel and slamming on the brakes, we can actually train ourselves to respond quickly to our car being tossed out of control. Instead of jumping under a table during an earthquake, we can train ourselves to immediately crouch next to a large bed or table. And instead of screaming and panicking when someone tries to attack us, we can train ourselves to appropriately and soundly defend ourselves. We can train ourselves to immediately provide our brain with oxygen and then act. All it takes is deliberate, accurate, and fully concluded practice. So, yes, run those fire drills with your family. Practice changing a tire. Practice responding to a startled state with a, deliberate, defensive, forward response instead of a backwards one. While you may never in your wildest dreams be able to anticipate being attacked by a pelican during a live news broadcast, I’m sure you’re brain will come up with the next best solution if you’ve prepared it sufficiently. Literally, the success is all in your head.
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