Regarding my comment in your thread on Self-defense Tip, here is a somewhat expanded explanation:
First off, I can claim no true expertise in these matters beyond my own study and experience. I’m a former infantry team leader, current psychology student, so this is really the intersection of my academic study and military experience. I’ll try to explain the terminology as I go along, please bear with me if I miss some.
I’d like to disabuse the average gun owner of the aspiration to the sort of extreme watchfulness you find in career law enforcement and military veterans. Quite simply, this is the result of trauma, and the average civilian does not have and should not want that sort of thing. The phenomenon is known as hyper-awareness and is considered by the mental health profession to be a symptom of PTSD. By itself, it is not a mental disorder, but it is an indicator of trauma, it is what happens to normal brains under stress (I’ll get to the mechanism in a moment). The stress or trauma has to either be very large, or very repeated (we call the latter training).
Our brains are efficiency machines, which means they take shortcuts. When you go out to your car, you do not so much see your car as you remember it. You’ve seen it a million times, your brain fills in the gaps, and on you go. We all do this constantly, unless something interrupts that normal flow, and trauma is what does it. Extreme repetition in training can help build neural pathways for this sort of thing, but the best way is for an extremely traumatic event to bypass normal higher thinking, which happens in the forebrain, with the midbrain, which is the source of instinct. Basically, the more primitive sections of our brains have the ability to get around our higher brain function. This is a survival mechanism.
When a bear shows up, your forebrain may want to think of all the things it knows about bears, but the midbrain dumps five grams of adrenaline into your bloodstream and shrieks “RUN!” Trauma creates a new overriding cutout in this primitive section of the brain, a deep and instinctual terror of being surprised which results in constant watchfulness. This has its advantages in a violent conflict, but most of the time, it is a giant pain in the ass. Take it from me, hyper-awareness in day-to-day life is fairly exhausting.
So to sum up the point, absent a serious personal tragedy, extreme watchfulness is neither likely nor particularly desirable for the average person. Your brain is not going to let you be on guard all the time, and that is a good thing for your mental health. The question then becomes what you can do to increase your ability to respond in a violent situation.
Let me start here by explaining some terms, Conditions White, Yellow and Red. I really don’t know where they come from, I learned them in a PSD class in the Army, and I’ve seen them in several books since then. Basically, White is unaware, focused on your task at hand. This is how most of us spend most of our days. Yellow is guarded, watchful. Think walking to your car at night through a bad part of town. Red is imminent violent action. Your goal in self defense should be to learn to enter condition yellow at the appropriate times, and practice it enough that it becomes habit. It takes work, but the work is mostly mental.
It’s been talked about on the site several times about high-risk times in the daily routine. Entering/exiting a vehicle. Gas stations, that sort of thing. If you’re serious about this sort of thing, train yourself to be consciously watchful as you go to your car. Look around first, approach the car at an angle that allows you to see behind it, check your six again after unlocking the car, before you get in. Use your weak hand to operate the key and door, and re-lock the door once you get in. When you arrive somewhere, don’t turn off your car immediately, look about first, then kill the engine, unlock the door, get out, look around again, lock up (weak hand), then be on your way.
Your goal is not to be constantly guarded, but to slip into that condition yellow at the high-risk times, then back into white. What you consider to be “high-risk” may vary, but much like carrying a weapon, this sort of mental training only works if you do it all the time. Murphy’s Law has a way of catching you when you are in a rush, or distracted.
Lastly, one needs to learn to act when encountering a potentially violent situation. The first thing is detection. You will not (hopefully) be precipitating the violence, so you are already behind the curve. You need to learn to recognize the situation and orient yourself to it. I like to think of this as a condition Orange. I’ve noticed a potential problem, and I’m maneuvering to be ready in an advantageous position in case something goes badly. Like prostate cancer, early detection is key, but you should still be ready to do yourself some good even if surprised.
My original comment was in response to a story about a confrontation at a cigar shop titled “Self Defense Tip: Don’t just sit there”. Good advice, and if I may critique the author, his problem is that he was still in condition white, in his comfort zone, and not thinking in terms of violence until it was too late. A better response would have been to immediately become more watchful when a belligerent man showed up, then to get up and put himself in a useful position once the yelling started.
Keep in mind, this is the sort of thing that you’ll probably do ten thousand times without ever once having to actually be violent. But if the worst should come about, it will save your ass. The rest of the time, it’s just inconvenient. Your brain will want to take shortcuts, tell you that the situation isn’t going to escalate, you don’t need to worry. Your rational brain is lazy. You have to consciously override it, and make that a habit.
Most of the self-defense discussion on this site is about what happens in condition Red. Well, I’ll tell you what happens. Everything goes wrong, nothing works as planned, and your brain stops working correctly. You operate on pure instinct and training. All the armchair theorizing beforehand won’t be of any use at all, but being on your feet behind cover with a free hand will be. People want to debate the best gun/caliber/accessory all day, but that is the smallest part of self defense. Your weapon is more reliable than you are.
What is important is that you be able to recognize threats and respond to them. And the ground work of that is to “over-react” to thousands of potential threats. It may seem weird, it may be tiring. Carrying a gun gives you the tool, but mental preparedness will allow you to utilize that tool if you have to. Just realize that there is no magic technique, no video that you can watch, no training course you can take that will provide you with this skill. You have to do it, every day, every month, every year, forever.
I’ll be happy to answer questions, but be advised, the answer may well be “I have no idea”.
(Formerly Sgt.) J.S. Grabow, a.k.a. “Tarrou”