Fear 2

Be good or be gone

By Ric Jorge

Originally published 2 June 2014.

In my last article, we defined Fear, Anxiety and their power to run chaos in our mind, and looked at how to Face Everything And Run.

We also looked at Courage and Bravery and how it can be used to direct our focus. Using a progressive ladder approach, we can build one step at a time to raise our awareness and competency at managing these characteristics to where we rock.

Today we will look at Self-Talk and Fixing Erroneous Automatic Recall. ‘Self-talk’ are those thoughts we have without speaking them out loud. They can be positive or negative. Self-talk can ruminate in our minds for so long (maybe as far back as childhood) we take it as truth, which influences our successes and failures. Some people, like Mark Divine of Seal FIT call it Monkey Brain. This negative self-talk can precipitate anxiety.

In order to challenge your ‘anxious’ thoughts you have to recognize they are not necessarily truths just because you think it.

Take the situation of an upcoming training session where the Fire fighter learns from their Training Officer that today’s class is the mask confidence course.

Firefighter does some self-talk:

“Shit, I have to keep it together. I hope I don’t flip out in front of these guys. WTF is wrong with me?”

Of course thinking how hot it is, how dark it is, how confined you feel during the exercise will not help your cause, if nothing else it increases the level of anxiety (psychological arousal).

Conversely if you’re thinking: “I got this, I’ve trained just for this reason. Now I get the opportunity to show what I have learned.” Of course this example allows for the reader to see the comparative nature of self-talk and how it can influence out comes; first one is like a horror movie, the ladder is like describing fire porn!

Anxiety has nothing to do with how tough of a man or woman you are. It can be as simple as falling into thinking traps. ‘Thinking traps’ must be recognized as an unrealistic, unfair, and/or negative ways of seeing things. These thoughts can be many years old, carried from past experiences, and may influence the out come of things we attempt.

Many of you may recognize I frequently use ‘Black Out’ exercises as an example. There is a reason for this. 70% of all the sensory receptors are in our eyes. This leaves us with a deficit of our sensory perception when working in zero visibility conditions. WTF does that mean?

Allow me to elaborate, have you ever wondered why you can successfully work in zero visibility conditions, find fire and extinguish it, or do a search and clear multiple floors while working with a team?

Because you are DOING rather than THINKING! While searching you are staying within voice/vision/touch and focused on using your sense of touch, sound, and imagery to ‘see’ what you are doing in the dark, and identify what you are feeling. Sometimes the action of cognitive processing in depth actually complicates the situation. Keeping it to simple physical tasks can build successes.

While advancing hose, moving it forward, chasing kinks, alleviating pinch points keeps your focus on the task at hand. Tricks of the trade such as bumps to the pumps, or lifting a hose to sound for the nearest coupling, allows for a sense of comfort in stressful situations by familiarity.

Comfort can be a by-product of confidence. Confidence is a by-product of training. Training improves skill levels. Improved skill levels sets the tone for success. Success re-enforces that the devil is in the details, (doing the small things) which cultivates a culture of pride.

Pride is a strong sense of gratification of doing a job well done.

Now for a curve ball, take that same hard charging fireman and place him in a no threat environment, blacked out, on air, no smoke, in semi-tight quarters and just sit there. The reaction has the potential to be completely opposite.

WHY? Because we, firefighters that is, do not teach about self-talk. This skill is key to mental toughness. If not done properly we can compromise self-talk by relying on negative past experiences, criticism through training, and even age.

Previous experiences: Failing or succeeding will determine if you approach something confidently or timidly.

Negative influences: Having an instructor barking that you are lower than whale shit while you are training, and telling you what a disgrace you are to the fire service is helpful?

Age. It doesn’t matter how good of shape you’re in, eventually your body will betray you. Your mind will not be able to make sense of the lack of performance, because it is accustomed to years of previous experience of responses. This is why the rate of heart attacks in the fire service between 45 and 55 is so prevalent, because we push harder until the flux capacitor explodes.

Energy goes where it is directed, and thoughts direct energy. Repeated training creates RPDM, if you are trained properly the outcome will be good, if you are trained poorly your results will reflect this. Why would the thought processing be any different? Realistic thinking is reorganizing the way we think.

Thought processing is the foundation of results, and we are in the business of results.

There is lots of research and writings on positive self-talk, but today we will focus on the fundamentals

Self-talk has two major components: it must be simple and it must be positive.

To keep saying words in your head, they must be simple and utilized on a moment’s notice. Words like: Focus, Power, Engage, Up, Work it, Direct, are all simple yet can be packed with explosives. Using trigger phrases like “I got this, I will make it happen” can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The second component of being positive starts with acknowledging the negative situation. Give yourself permission to be human, acknowledge it as ‘manageable’ or minor setback, and refocus with positive self-talk.

Cognitive scientists have measured that the human brain processes 65,000 to 85,0000 thoughts a day. Directing your brain to stop listening to the random thoughts, and plug in words of choice can turn it into a powerful ally.

Using techniques such as mindfulness combined with exposure training will allow for an opportunity to confront fear/anxiety/panic in controlled situations allowing for restructuring of the thought process in safe environments.

When I train people to recover from panic/anxiety I use the same components, but I incorporate the thought processing by explaining the steps as we go. By explaining it, and directing their thoughts when they get ‘mind drift,’ we are using the law of repetition on self-talk. As the student gets better, and better at this through personal successes, we develop what is known as mental toughness. This process takes time, and patience.

This understanding is not new. Archilochus (a Greek soldier and poet in 650BC) recognized this in his famous quote:

“We do not rise to our level of expectations, we default to our level of training.”

The modern era also recognizes this, from my brothers in Stockton FOOLS:

“Be good or be gone.”

Which should be applied to our thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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