Wisdom Under Pressure: Training Yourself in Decisiveness
Imagine I were to put you into a common scenario – one you know and are not in a hurry to return to. You’re finally at the airport with your family. After hours of traffic and tantrums, your motley crew is finally in line for the TSA security check just in time to perhaps make your flight. You’re distracted, anxious, and generally just pissed.
Now a twist of fate.
What you don’t know at that time is that in just moments a loud explosion will go off somewhere behind you and your family.
How do you prepare to protect everyone you love in a situation like this?
The truth is, there are very few ways to train yourself for situations like these because there are far too many unknowns. Ask any special forces operator what he’d do in XYZ situation and he’ll tell you, that’s just not enough information to go off of to give you an honest answer.
While you can’t prepare for every disaster, challenge, and unknown, you can and should train to be decisive and wise under pressure. NOT Dan Bilzerian at the 2017 Vegas Shooting demanding a cop give him a gun so he can… I don’t know, fire aimlessly into the Mandalay Bay Hotel. And no I’m not going to link that video and contribute to his “fame.”
Decisiveness gives you the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively. A lack of decisiveness leads to indecision, paralysis, squandering your emotional energy, and perhaps making dumb decisions of Dan Blizerian sized proportions.
What stops you from being decisive is regret; a more convoluted version of primal fear where you know you had the power to make the “right” decision and failed to do so. The fear of regret and the dwelling on regret has killed many a man – figuratively and literally.
In the realm of the tier 1 special forces operator, decisions made real-time lead to life or death. And so can be the case for you as well. We simply don’t have time to mull over decisions. We must fall back to the quality of our training in heightening our intuition and decisiveness. We download the information that’s important and delete the rest.
Its all about conserving emotional energy. Emotions like regret and worry do not serve you well.
In my unit, After Action Reviews (AARs) were a regular practice. It was never about ass pats and high fives. The point was to point out any and all mistakes to learn and move on. What could we do better? Where did we fall short?
To mimic this type of training, put yourself in stressful situations and make swift decisive decisions. Notice the changes to your body’s behavior. How’s your breathing? Your nervous system? How are you carrying yourself? Start small, and apply it to bigger and bigger decisions, in more stressful environments. Now go faster and faster.
If you can do this with a group of men together, that’s even better.
Now if you’re one of the many many men out there who doesn’t have a group of best buds in your adult years – I get it. Life gets busy and male friendships are the first to go these days. But as much as we believe we can go about this solo, we need men in our lives who we respect to tell us like it is. The fear of failure leads to inaction and I believe that’s one of the biggest issues with men today.
With a team of men you respect, your psychology learns to be better at dealing with failure as they call you out on your shortcomings. And it doesn’t quite work the same way when it’s your wife doing the calling out… but I don’t need to tell you that.
Finally, let’s talk about the OODA Loop coined by John Boyd, a Colonel in the US Military.
It is a process to observe, orient, decide, and act – without regret.
Image credit: Wikipedia
Now, this is important, and not mentioned is this diagram: Using your OODA loop is not a drill reaction. So, you must remain calm. You must become a master of fear.
We observe all environmental stimuli with our 5 senses. And in some cases, like at work, we’re given implicit guidance and control from our employer which would be the rules placed upon us before the incidence occurs. It is the constraints and restraints that we must work within. Being conscious of that leads to a wise foundation for decisionmaking.
As you see from the diagram, orient it is made up of your personality; everything you have ever been exposed to and including your genetics. This is where life experience, i.e. exposure to as much as possible, helps. This step is done at the speed of thought. The average reaction time for humans is 0.25 seconds to a visual stimulus, 0.17 for an audio stimulus, and 0.15 seconds for a touch stimulus.
You have picked your course of action and now it’s GO time. This is where the warrior archetype must be strong and skilled. It’s your warrior who has grit, perseverance, and the will to move forward. As Ras Aghul says to Bruce Wayne, “training is nothing. Wiill is everything.” This “will” he speaks of is the courage to act. This is where most people have trouble and you’re most people if you don’t deliberately practice. Practice running through some tough life-threatening decisions – whether yours or someone else’s. Make time-sensitive decisions. Again, learn to do this faster and faster and like all things practiced, you will become better.
This is the portion of the loop where it helps to have some skill. If you’re in an extremely complex situation, and you need to do something more than convert oxygen into carbon dioxide, then you’ll still be in trouble. While you can’t master every skill, training your body’s dexterity is a solid place to start.
In order for the OODA loop in unknown situations to be successful, you must go through the entire loop from observing to acting.
Quick disclaimer. If you’re preparing for a known situation, there are shortcuts. The secret lies in drills. If X is observed then you do Y, the action. It cuts out the middle of the loop. Drills are great for many things and not enough people have a drill practice in their lives.
The rest of the time, life provides us with unknowns and new observations daily and so it’s nearly impossible to have enough drills to prepare us for what’s to come. So we must learn to use our OODA loop and we must learn to trust it. The more you trust your actions, the more you’re heightening your intuition.
Which brings us to the last shortcut.
Intuition is knowing without conscious reasoning or proof. This is sort of like taking out the orient portion of the OODA loop. And by “sort of,” I mean we use our unconscious mind instead of having a conscious orient though-process.
The unconscious mind works at speeds much greater than the conscious mind. It can tap into mental resources that the conscious stream of thought just isn’t capable of doing. We’ve all had this happen. A knowing. A decision usually a bit hard to justify. A form of “just trust me” – aka the Captain James T Kirk effect.
In any case, whether you’re using your own techniques, the OODA loop, or intuition heightening practices, the tool that the developed warrior uses most is to remain calm enough to not make impulsive decisions. Impulsivity is not decisiveness. It is definitely not intuition.
All of this to say, my biggest advice for someone who wants to become more decisive and/or less impulsive is through exposure. Epic exposure. The kind that takes some suffering.
As someone in that old good book once said, “…rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”