Changing Context Variables


Last week, we took our training outside and into the night.  It was not completely dark outside; there is always some ambient light.  Nevertheless, it is still a lot different to be training in a parking lot under security lighting than being inside with the bright fluorescent lighting where we can see everything.  In addition, we moved to areas in shadow, away from the street lamps, as well as into grass, between vehicles, etc.  We want to start building into our minds different frames of reference from which we can draw upon in an encounter.


How often do you change the environment in which you train?  Is it likely that you will be attacked in blindingly bright light, or even in the dojo?  I’m not knocking on your training space, by any means, but what I want to bring to your attention is that we all get locked into a comfort zone.  By the way our brains are wired, it is simply in our nature to be creatures of habit; just like the thermostat that governs the heating/air conditioning unit, our comfort set point governs us.  This is why it is so terribly important to train our scenarios in such a way that we change the variables of context AND train with full emotional content.  In a stressful situation, our brain is looking furiously to find a similarity to what it has seen and experienced before, so it can load the proper motor program.  In other words, our brains draw upon what is most familiar.  If the mind cannot find anything familiar to lock into, it is much more likely that we will freeze under pressure, to gather more input: i.e. we become like the “deer in headlights”.  I had gotten out of the habit of training with emotion, aggressive facial expressions, etc.  Now I am working to get back into the habit.  The more we can all make things realistic, on several levels, the more easily we will be able to respond to the threat when our heart rate skyrockets because we took the time to anchor the technique to an emotional state.  What does this mean exactly?  When you analyze your memories, don’t certain events stand out?  The ones that had a tremendous emotional impact on you are probably the most vivid, right?  If you use your mind properly in your training, and can evoke powerful emotions, when you revert to autopilot, it is highly likely those skills will be there for you when you need them.


There is certainly much more to this.  Some people get into terrible situations and have the ability to win even though they have never physically been there before.  What of that?  Not everyone freezes.  Training is certainly a critical component, but so is mental conditioning.  What if we are able to go there in our minds through imagery?  I use the word imagery instead of visualization because not everyone possesses the ability to see pictures in their minds on demand.  I personally have trouble holding onto mental images for extended periods of time.  Some people see absolutely nothing when instruct them to conjure up a mental image.  The harder I work to visualize, the more I fail.  It cannot be forced.  There are other ways to imagine besides visualization!  We have other senses that can be drawn upon: smell, feeling (kinesthetic sense), taste, and hearing.  We can imagine utilizing this sensory information as well.  Keep in mind that there is very little difference to the mind whether the body has been there or not, which is why imagery is such a powerful tool. 


Another factor is this: do you believe you will do what is necessary to win in an encounter?  Have you already made the decision to be ferocious?  Do you have resolve?  Belief is what drives action.  Think of it as your trusty bus driver that takes you wherever you go.  Whatever you truly believe, you will act upon, regardless of what you would like to think about yourself.  If you know in the deepest part of your being, that you will behave a certain way, and you get into an encounter (once your stress reaches a certain level, conscious thought goes out the window and you are left with subconscious programs—autopilot), then that is certainly what will kick in on race day.  If I recall correctly, Dave Grossman calls this the “puppy brain”.  Your survival system is the ancient and primitive part of your brain; it is primal.  When “puppy brain” is in control, the conscious brain, or your inner rational thinker, IS NOT in control.  This is okay, though, because it can react quicker than if you had to puzzle out the problem with your conscious mind.   This puppy can do tricks, no doubt, but you have to train your mind right and you have to be consistent.  I want to get into this in more depth in a later post.  I am currently digesting everything that I learned in a recent performance enhancement seminar with Brian Willis.  He is a phenomenal speaker, and the material he presented on the mind and imagery was outstanding.


The bottom line is, whether you train physically, in your mind, or both, change things up.  Make your mental box bigger (as Brian said this weekend) and use some creativity.  Train in confined spaces, such as between vehicles, or even in a car.  Train in low light and bright light.  Train with emotion, even rage, but take care to protect your training partners if you do train with others.  Train in other spaces, like your house, or outside in a parking lot, the woods, etc.  Where do you think it is a possibility you will be attacked?  Can you physically go there to train?  No?  Can you go there in your mind?  Of course you can.  Your mind, given the right inputs, can go anywhere, and this may take a little research on your part, but possibilities are endless.  I believe Napolean Hill says: “what the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”


As I said, I am still trying to process information from one of the most important seminars I have ever attended.  I believe the information to be an important piece of the puzzle not only for my training, but for my life as a whole.  My original intent in this blog post was to just focus on changing the training environment, but much more crept into my mind that I wanted to share.  More on this in future posts, but I want to get you thinking. . .


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