Crisis and Decision Making

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Crisis and Decision Making

Our brain is programmed for survival. It can make safe decisions quickly. However, there are some drawbacks and consequences to making these kinds of decisions especially in a crisis situation.  We are all subject to our brains making decisions quickly and sometimes without the feeling of control.  Some professionals that might experience it more than others are security professionals, guards, emergency response personnel, medical professionals and our military. It can be advantageous for all of us to be prepared for a crisis and be aware of how our brains operate and how we might gain some control over it.

The brain is designed to err on the side of self-preservation and not for the greater good of others. It is also programmed to make these decisions quickly and without regard for “right or wrong”.  These types of decisions can be complicated in today’s social environment. The brain doesn’t have complete disregard for social evolution, which can play a small part in the process. However, a majority of the process was not designed for today’s environment.

In dire or emergency situations the body’s first response is to initiate an adrenaline response. Adrenaline responses turn the logical part of the brain off. When production of adrenaline stops the body produces Acetylcholine to normalize function.

When we experience the double whammy of fear and an adrenaline response we are not well-prepared to make quality decisions. Our heart rate soar, our vision is decreased and our brain sends blood to our muscles and limits supply to the brain.

We are programmed to perceive risk emotionally and not logically. Risk is closely related to dread. In dealing with crisis situations we all go through three stages of action; stalling, deciding and action.

Learning techniques can help us make it through these stages and limit the negative impact of making emotion based decisions. Understanding the mechanisms involved in the process is key to learning how to navigate them successfully.

Our natural behavior to stall is an instinct to establish some comfort in a situation we find deeply uncomfortable. It may be interesting to note; fear is not associated with the stalling phase. In the deciding and action phases we experience two primary reactions, paralysis and panic with paralysis being more prevalent. Getting through the paralysis reaction means coming up with a rational, non-emotional, strategy. Being rational at this point can greatly improve our chances at success/survival.

Our decision making will be bad in a crisis situation if we panic. Panic is a strong emotional response that undermines rational behavior. Understanding panic is important even if it is more rare that paralysis because it can help us understand the actions and responses of others and how to engage or disengage.

When preparing for a crisis situation one of the first things we will want to do is create an environment that will reduce stall time. Reducing stall time can be accomplished with simple techniques, but understanding the phycology of the brain in combination with the techniques will yield superior results.

Preforming and practicing drills means having at least some contact with emotion in a controlled environment and applying physical and psychological input to test results. Over time and refinement of proper techniques we can develop muscle memory of what needs to be accomplished in times that we cannot rely on rational thought. The term, “don’t think, just do” came from individuals that have practiced to the point of muscle memory.

The goal is to make rational decision and actions without emotional and chemical input from the brain. We don’t want to be thinking when we are stressed and uncomfortable. We want to have practiced beforehand and have developed some responses to our situations. There is another tier I believe to be even better and that is to combine the practice with advanced techniques that will allow you to think rationally in times of crisis and adapt more easily to a changing environment.

Techniques and practice can be developed to the point of clarified thinking and used to overcome the brains natural obstacles and mechanisms in times of crisis. When we develop these techniques we can reduce and even eliminate the stall process or, at least, reduce stall time. We can also increase our thinking processes and develop critical thinking that will allow for adaptation to a changing environment and better decisions can be made.

We can start simple and through mastery graduate to more complex techniques. Start with breathing exercises, repetition or mediation. These are simple, but powerful methods in combating the brain’s chemical signals. Next time you are faced with a decision that makes you feel stressed or afraid take a moment to breathe; it can make a big difference quickly.

Remember, fear limits our ability to think. You may find it reasonable to run, but most of the time in complex situations we will better prepared to face our situation when we have some tools under our belt. Try not to get stuck in the stalling phase, think and process rationally and act decisively. Once mastered the new you will be much better suited for success/survival in a crisis situation. Sometimes all we get is one chance to get it right.


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