From Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman's On Killing [emphasis added] --
When people become angry, or frightened, they stop thinking with their forebrain (the mind of a human being) and start thinking with their midbrain (which is indistinguishable from the mind of an animal). They are literally “scared out of their wits.” The only thing that has any hope of influencing the midbrain is also the only thing that influences a dog: classical and operant conditioning.
That is what is used when training firefighters and airline pilots to react to emergency situations: precise replication of the stimulus that they will face (in a flame house or a flight simulator) and then extensive shaping of the desired response to that stimulus. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. In the crisis, when these individuals are scared out of their wits, they react properly and they save lives.
This is done with anyone who will face an emergency situation, from children doing a fire drill in school to pilots in a simulator. We do it because, when people are frightened, it works. We do not tell children what they should do in case of a fire, we condition them; and when they are frightened, they do the right thing.
Interestingly, this hasn't really been applied to individuals much.
On my things-to-do-list now: design myself conditioning exercises so I can handle myself better in stressful and fearful situations.
Err, I had some thoughts about this with regard to my children. Cause I spend a lot of time with them given that I'm doing the home schooling thing.
We are a loud household. Sometimes visitors to our house have to tell us to be quieter because they can't handle the volume. We are all exuberant, enthusiastic, aggressive people. All four of us. We have opinions and we are Happy To Share Them With You.
To some degree, I am consciously and deliberately socializing them to be more "masculine" in presentation because I believe it will be necessary for their future. They are rough and tumble kids. Even though I have two daughters we don't have a whole pair of pants in the house because all of the clothes get wrecked. So much for my "princesses".
One of the things I do with them is I talk about what respect means, both giving and receiving it.
I used to stage manage dance shows of little girls. I had to be able to get and hold the attention of 50 screeching pre-schoolers. I have *volume*. Which can be super intimidating to lots of people. Sometimes people flinch if I don't pay attention and I let my voice get too loud.
My kids are growing up with someone who is kind of prone to shouting. Their response is to blink, look down for a second, then they look up and shout back, "I am not going to listen to you if you yell at me."
Then I flinch, apologize, and we have a conversation. It works pretty much the same way in reverse if they start by shouting at me.
My kids are extremely adept at managing conflicts because of this. They don't take people being extreme towards them personally. They know it is about that person failing to follow the rules of politeness--even if they were obnoxious. They can demand that they be treated respectfully and then abjectly apologize for their behavior that triggered the shouting. It is like watching poetry in action.
I don't think the world is a gentle place. I need for my children to be able to handle a lot of situations. We do drills on what to do in case of fire, earthquake, me getting hurt in a way that I can't help myself... We work on "how to call 911". I start when they are 2. They can sing my phone number before most kids have full sentences.
I have to train my children to be ready for whatever might come. We are all they have, me and their dad. We have lots of friends who are "aunts" or "uncles" but it is on us. No pressure.
Great idea! Common business stress situations include:
I think some of these can be simulated in the street or in a workshop setting.
For example to able able to interrupt the natural response to people shouting near you practice meditation in a noisy bar. Yes it sucks compared to a quiet room but it is like climbing a mountain compared to walking on a flat path. After a few times you get much better at not reacting the same way and being able to proactively think your own thoughts and solutions.
Or practicing speaking with strangers in the street can overcome the fear of cold calling in business.
Practicing to do deep breathing or body posture change on the stimulus is another good training that interupts the usual response.
> For example to able able to interrupt the natural response to people shouting near you practice meditation in a noisy bar. Yes it sucks compared to a quiet room but it is like climbing a mountain compared to walking on a flat path. After a few times you get much better at not reacting the same way and being able to proactively think your own thoughts and solutions.
Waitzkin wrote about this in The Art of Learning -- he used to leave the window open intentionally when it was noisy or bothersome, to get mentally tougher and less distracted. It's a good strategy.
How do you think ahead of what those situations might be? Being an entrepreneur, there are many bad situations that will likely cause a freak-out, what can one do to prepare for those types of situations and condition the correct response? Are there any books or articles on this research being applied outside of life or situations?
It's hard to nail down such tightly constrained situations for the broad civilian world. Flying a plane, fighting a fire, infantry combat-- these all have definite gear and situation. Modulo physical assault and driving, I haven't identified good particulars to train against.
Instead, I have received many returns from attacking the stress/fear/impulse condition more generally through challenge and habituation. I do competitive field athletics, which has been especially good for my "awareness under surprise and pressure". Sparring practice (boxing/fencing type athletics) is great for focus, but the everyday situation I'm aiming to prepare for is "I didn't see that coming". Deflecting, dodging, or rolling with a body running at full speed that you didn't notice but a moment before collision is a handy reaction. And it has to be pressured; if your heart isn't pounding with excitement/suspense, it doesn't link into that midbrain-mode.
I've noticed this doesn't translate well to the intellectual sphere, though, so I've also been doing improvisational theater (my local community isn't nearly as comedy-focused as most, so it's a lot more relevant to serious business). Haven't quite cracked how to convert it to everyday life mode, but I'm cranking on that.
It's both harder to afford the necessary tools for individuals (e.g. flight simulator, flame house) and less socially acceptable in most cases."Oh, the guys you saw in my yard in ski masks on Tuesday? Yeah, I'm training myself to fight in real-life conditions. They're buddies.""...""What?"
Doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, of course :-)
I'm thinking things like practicing getting right back into calling if getting a rude rejection on a sales call, as opposed to makeshift-anti-kidnapping-training-in-one's yard ;)
Fair enough. I wonder if you could get together a group of "rude rejectors" for this -- a bit like Toastmasters, but more with "having a stranger tell you how much you suck." Dunno. Not sure if there's an idea there. But I suspect that having the same few friends condition you wouldn't work well -- I very quickly get used to hearing abuse from those of my friends that would jump at this opportunity :-)
I'm reading "Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger" right now by Peter Bevelin, which is excellent. Author Bevelin is talking about fear here -
Fear warns us of potential harm and keeps us from acting in self-destructive ways. It helps us avoid threats and makes us act to prevent further damage. Fear guides us to avoid what didn't work in the past. Fear causes worry and anxiety, a normal response to physical danger. It activates hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which keeps us attentive to harm since we need full attention to escape from a threat.
The degree of fear we feel depends on our interpretation of the threat and our perception of control. The more helpless and vulnerable we feel, the stronger our emotion for fear becomes.
He goes on to give an example of how your body will react if you're walking down a deserted street at night and hear noise behind you. You'll naturally start to breathe faster, grow more aware, etc. - an instinctive response. He continues:
What we fear and the strength of our reactions depends on our genes, life experiences, and the specific situation. You may react instinctively at first, but if the situation is one that you'be experienced before (since our brain is continuously being "rewired" with life experiences), the final reaction may be to calm down. [...] The more we are exposed to a stimulus, even a terrifying one, the higher our threshold of fear becomes.
As you might be aware, we all have cycles of specific negative emotions that continue to come up in our lives.
Be aware that you have a need to feel the emotions. There is a part of you that feeds on these emotions, and will die if it cannot be fed.
When the negative emotion arises, be aware that you have a need to feel the emotion. The emotion is not caused by the thing that triggered it. Rather the trigger was the excuse or the catalyst that allowed you to feel the emotion that you are addicted to.
Your need to feel the emotion causes your reaction to the event to be disproportionate to the stimulus. This is what happens when people way over-react to small things. They are feeding the addiction to their own negative emotions.
With awareness you will be able to chose how to react to the stimulus. This way you can stop feeding the addiction by no longer over-reacting,