We think that we control our brain, but the truth is, it does what it wants. This is why mind training techniques are vital for your success during an extreme incident.
Your brain has been designed by thousands of generations of human existence to prioritize survival.
For example, you might have to go through a test while trying to stay calm and concentrated. But your brain – as part of its survival response – could enter into “stress mode”.
What do you do in such a situation to keep your calm?
Mind training and your subconscious
Our brains often take us to places we do not want, which might impair our functioning during and after an extreme event.
It is difficult for us to grasp just how much the subconscious controls us. It protects us from things that our brain feels may be too difficult to handle at a conscious level.
For example, one of those things is acknowledging our own mortality: repressing the awareness of mortality is a deep and primordial mechanism that allows us to live a normal life.
In an event where people are wounded or killed, you find yourself strongly confronted with the possibility of being harmed. Sometimes, this comes in addition to harm already done to friends or close connections, all of whom are important components to your sense of security.
During such events, you might experience powerful feelings of threat, chaos, and uncontrollability, as well as deep feelings of guilt or shame.
One of the particularities of an extreme event is the strong confrontation between reality and your mind’s own mechanism of denial. The early knowledge that such an event might occur does not prepare the brain for the strong emotional feelings which arise in such an event and does not engage in the denial mechanism.
Mind training: fight, flight or freeze (FFF) & your sense of ability
Regardless of what we want to do at a conscious level, during an extreme event the brain initiates the fight, flight, or freeze (FFF) mechanism. The FFF mechanism makes you (1) lose focus and control, (2) detach yourself from the situation, or (3) not act at all.
The brain rapidly analyzes the magnitude of the threat. It puts the size of the event against your power & ability to cope with it, along with a sum of other individual factors.
This process occurs much faster than the ability to perform a rational analysis; most factors are subconsciously analyzed.
If we go back to the test example where you needed to keep your calm: your brain will analyze the size of the threat along with your desire to excel. You may feel the pressure to succeed – not because of the test itself – but because of multiple contributing factors (childhood experiences is one of the factors, for example). This will affect your perception of the threat and your reaction to it.
Did you know…? Your reaction is influenced by a subjective perception of the threat versus your confidence in your ability to manage the threat. This is called the sense of ability.
To effectively cope with an extreme event you can train your mind to think one of the two: either that the threat is small or that your power is large. If you are experienced in dealing with a particular extreme situation, you will feel powerful when facing it – even if the situation is perceived as difficult or challenging.
Mind training: learn how to dismantle the “black cloud”
To strengthen your sense of ability, a mind training sequence should generate a sense of control and experience in dealing with an extreme event. This will increase your sense of power.
At the same time, you need to learn how to refine and dismantle the “black cloud” (the fear and intimidation you feel every time you think about the event or every time you encounter it). Understanding what is happening during the event is key to dissipating the “black cloud” and obtaining clarity in your thoughts and actions.
How do you train your mind to manage difficult situations?
Any mind training session needs to include a difficult emotional experience accompanied by multi-sensory stimulation and manipulation of the trainee’s emotions. Such a simulation will activate all your senses, as compared to testing just your technical and professional skills.
This enables a controlled processing of the event.
Event processing: a vital part of mind training
Professional processing of the exercise touches your feelings and dives into the depths of the things that trigger you. This raises things from the unconscious to the conscious.
This kind of training breaks apart the inner and outer “black cloud”. It provides you with the opportunity to work on yourself.
Additionally, the role of post-training processing is to make you feel that the experience has empowered you and the threat is now smaller. Now that you know what to do during an extreme event, you have a sense of control even if these events are characterized by confusion and uncertainty.
In Extreme Simulations trainings, thanks to the implementation of a correct mind training process, first-time trainees that are at first confused, unfocused, and frozen greatly improve and become focused, active, and controlling in the situation, even as situations change.
Testimonies from soldiers who participated in tactical activities that included dealing with difficult operations revealed that training and processing helped them to maintain mental stability during real life extreme events.