So, reaction, stress management, focus…aren’t like riding a bike? Bingo. Lessons learning while training can stay with you for a long time, but the physical/mental nature of your response varies wildly. I can give you a recent eye-opening experience I went through recently. I was going through an instructor course for the ALICE Institute (if you don’t know about them, look them up here). Briefly, the ALICE Institute provides a training program to increase your survival chances in an active shooter event. I was going through the instructor course as part of my work.
Getting back on topic, we had come to the portion of the course were we would be doing practical exercises (shooter enactments), briefings and de-briefings. I would be the first shooter in what would be the first of many enactments. I’m not the best shot, I’m not an operator, and I’m really just an average guy with some unique experiences. I went into my scenario thinking this is going to be no problem. I was giving instructions to follow and the other participants were giving their instructions as well.
The scenario started and everything was going the way I had anticipated until the course instructor introduced a few new levels of stress. I was still functional, but without noticing, I had completely “zoned out”. I was experiencing tunnel vision and most of my senses were not functioning. Of course, I didn’t realize all this until we were into the de-brief. I was asked to describe my experience in detail and gave a few comments on questions that were asked of me. Needless to say I did not do well in most areas I thought would not be issues.
As the day went on this pattern repeated over and over with the other people in the class. It didn’t matter if they were police officers, teachers, fire fighters or military. Once the stress appropriate stress was introduced we all failed to respond in a manner that would be a “best case” for our survival. In the final phase of our training we discussed how the mind and body work under stress, the OODA-loop and skill/training.
Understanding how your body/mind will respond and how you Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) are great tools and something that one can understand for years. We all failed in our training. Training in and for stressful situations falters and becomes weak over time if not used. Much like a muscle we have to use and exercise often to remain strong. I was reminded of a valuable lesson in those days and I will say better to have been reminded in a safe environment than when action was needed.
We have to stay on top of our training to remain competent. It may come as no surprise to you. It may even sound like common sense. I “knew” that also before going into the class. However, there is no teacher like experience. I would encourage all to practice what you imagine yourself to be capable of. It’s not hard to day dream about how we would react in any giving circumstance, but being face-to-face with the reality of, “man, I’m nowhere near where I need to be” moment that can really get a person determined to improve. We don’t fall to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.