If 100 of us were put in a life-threatening situation…….
…..statistically only 15% of us would make the right decision.
Think about that – most of us would FAIL in the face of adversity.
Are you in that 15%?
Would you like to be?
Then keep reading 🙂
Here are the numbers:
Seventy-five percent of us would be so bewildered we would become mentally paralyzed.
Ten percent of us would become actively dangerous – we would freak out and hinder other peoples' chance to survive.
Only 15 of us would be able to remain calm and rational enough to make decisions to save our lives…….and the lives of other!
Today's article comes down to what to do in a high stress situation and it's based off a question I just got from a gentleman.
I'm going to cover with you what constitutes a high-stress situation and how research has shown people react in stressful situations.
I'll then give you a 5-step plan on how to act in for high-stress situations and prepare yourself for such situations in advance.
1. Stress-filled Situations You Encounter Daily
The gentleman's whole question was:
“Antonio, love the style videos, love the communication and negotiating – great stuff.
But I'm writing this email because this evening I went into a very small mom and pop cookie shop and around 10 PM some friends – basically a guy walked in and I was there with my friends and he starts:
He's drunk, he's belligerent, he jumped behind the counter and he said he was going to shoot or stab somebody.
And I'm just in the situation, I didn't know what to do.
I immediately thought maybe I should run, but this guy is is blocking the exit.
After he left I really thought:
- What if I'd had children?
- What if I'd been there with my family?
- What should I have done in that situation?”
Most of us won't find ourselves in such a situation often so it's not something we may think about a lot.
But high-stress situations are not always life-threatening. Every day you encounter such situations you may not even see as high-stress:
- a confrontation with your boss or a colleague
- an argument with a family member or loved one
- an important examination
- a job interview
- meeting an important deadline
Life is full of high-stress scenarios and often your success in life will depend on your ability to handle them.
Finding Out What To Do In High-stress Situations
I'm going to share with you 5 tips I learned from the US Military on how to handle high-stress situations.
These tips were compiled by going through research conducted by the US Air Force and from my personal training and experiences from serving in the Marine Corps.
I also reviewed information and training used by various special forces and specifically Navy Seal training.
This information is publicly available but the important thing is that this information can help anyone in any crises situation.
My Personal Experience in Stressful Scenarios
I've had the privilege of being an officer in the Marines and serving with some amazingly well-trained people.
Myself and the men I served with were actually deployed – it's not like we just did our training and stayed at the base.
We worked with Navy Seals and I have a number of friends who are Army Rangers and I can assure you that these gentlemen have done things that are pretty amazing.
Finding Relevant Research About Dealing with Stress
We went out and did some research and a lot of what I'm sharing is based on a 2014 research paper the US Air Force commissioned:
While I was reading this I got really concerned just thinking about the research.
I'm a small-town guy but my family and I often go to Chicago together.
For me going to the city is pretty stressful and after reading this study it became clear to me why: In a city environment there are so many more variables that are outside my control.
Thanks to my military training when I get to the city I immediately think about what I can do to control the situation and what systems I can set in place to alleviate my stress.
Both my reaction to a stressful situation and how I deal with it are broken down and analyzed by the study to help the combat airmen the study was undertaken for react in a rational and meaningful way to stress.
After reviewing the study I found that the research could be broken down into three conclusions:
1. Understand that stress does affect you
2. You need to increase your skill-set
3. You should simulate high stress environments
From my experience I found these tenets solid and I think that it is perfect advice if you are military man or single guy.
What Does a Military Study Mean For You?
Some of you are wondering: “What am I going to learn from the Air Force?”
The Air Force divided from the regular army in around 1947 to 1948 and even then these men were impressive. From the modern-day paratrooper to the commandos of the 1944 operations these guys went all out to take care of other people first.
These men deal with incredibly high-stress situations on a daily basis from flying a jet-propelled aircraft to jumping out of an airplane and knowing that at every moment someone else's life depends on what they do right now.
It's the irony of most men in the military that they undergo grueling training to learn how to survive life-threatening situations only to go out and put that training to the test for the sake of their fellow man.
But how does this apply to a normal person and their family that's not going to go through military training?
How can they use this information?
5 Steps To Help You Deal With High-Stress Environments
To answer that question I came up with these 5 tips based off the research we did and my personal experiences:
1. You Need To Be Able to Control Something
The first step to remain calm and rational is to assert your control of the situation even if it's something insignificant to the overall situation.
Let's step back to our situation:
“Drunk, belligerent jumps behind counter and says he's going to stab people, shoot people.”
So what can you control?
There's not a whole lot there.
But there is one thing you can control: Your breathing.
NASA also did some research on this specific issue because astronauts must have one of the most stressful jobs on (and off) the planet.
We're talking about people getting strapped to a bomb filled with rocket fuel and shot up into space that could explode at any second.
There's not much control to be had over the situation when you're being launched into space.
But what NASA's study showed the could control was their breathing so they trained them to control their breathing and thereby control their state of mind.
These astronauts repeatedly practice everything they COULD control in their situation.
Of course if the rocket blew up there's not much they could do.
But by being able to control their breathing they manage to retain control and prepare themselves to deal with any situation they can affect.
Further research was done over in La Jolla at the Veteran Affairs Center in San Diego.
This trial showed that Navy Seals, special ops forces and men with similar training reacted in a unique and unnatural way when put into stressful situations :
Their pulse slows down.
By examining brain scans and research data of these men the study showed that these men were consciously calming themselves down when the stress came on.
They realize: “Hey I need to be in control of my faculties” and through an exercise of will they are able to positively prepare themselves.
This goes back to point 1 of the Air Force research:
“Understand that stress does affect you.”
If you understand that you can start to set things up to be prepared.
So control something – even if it's just your breathing.
2. Think Before Acting
I know some guys say you should be instinctive when reacting to a stressful situation but this is simply wrong.
Your natural instinct is to run and this is generally a poor reaction.
If you're with your family you don't want to leave them behind to face the situation without you.
Some of you may be concerned thinking would slow you down but thinking is like any other skill – with the proper preparation and training you can improve how and how fast you can exercise that skill.
The basis for this step was based on some research done with PhD and undergrad students who were divided into two groups.
The two groups were both given an exam and were provided with limited time to complete it.
The undergrads jumped right into the exam with little thought – they immediately took action.
The PhD students started slower, took a step back, thought about the situation and planned their response.
I can remember that while getting my MBA in Texas we ran through something similar. We were divided into separate teams and had to complete a series of games. The teams that took time to better evaluate the resources at their disposal instead of shooting off did a lot better. In a timed situation the planners did better and could make it through to the end of the game.
The same thing happened with the PhD students. Even though they started slower they ended up finishing much stronger and scoring consistently higher than the undergrads.
So start to control your breathing and then proceed to think through the situation:
Look around and determine what you can control to improve your situation.
3. Put Yourself In A Controlled High Stress Environment
This step is not going to be possible for everyone but you can at least put yourself in some of these scenarios.
I was fortunate to go through some training when I was at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Pensacola.
The “Can” – Helicopter Crash Simulation
One of the situations that comes to mind was called “The Can”:
The “Can” simulates a helicopter but essentially you are strapped into a large tin can with 5 other guys after being blindfolded.
The “Can” is then released into the water where it's designed to flip over, trapping you and 5 other guys in it with only 1 exit.
So there you are trapped underwater and blindfolded with 5 other guys and only 1 exit to get out of….
It's when you're put into situations like that that are controlled but very high pressure that you really start to test yourself.
You start to realize you can do more than what you think you're capable of.
It also emphasizes how important point 1 of the Air Force research was (Understand that stress does affect you) since you more directly realize what happens when you're put in those environments.
Another test was Hypoxic training where you're put into a room and they start to pull out the oxygen.
This is done to see what happens to your judgment and vision and other abilities when you get less oxygen.
I know everyone's not going to have access to this type of training but can put yourself in those situations and mentally plan your reaction.
The Value of Martial Arts Training
There is also a whole range of Martial Arts training you can undertake.
Even light contact martial arts will place you in that fight-or-flight mindset so that ultimately you can acclimatize yourself to it and react better in a real stuation.
Once you do this on a regular basis you'll get a better awareness of what you're capable of and get used to that feeling of “maybe thing are out of control, but I can step back and take control”.
Without going into a lot of detail some of the more common types are MMA, Jiujitsu, Karate, Judo, Tae-Kwondo and Aikido.
Another option worth considering is boxing because the objective is to place yourself in a situation that you're uncomfortable with.
A boxer never really gets used to getting hit but when you know what it's like to get hit you can at least learn to take it and know how to react afterward.
4. Stay Up On Your Training
This is actually one of the hardest things to do.
I remember doing the line training in the marines though I've heard that they're moving away from that now.
What they found was we would go through all this physical and hand-to-hand combat training but people would forget it very quickly.
This is a problem with a lot of martial arts and other physical pursuits: If you stop practicing you can lose the ability very quickly.
A friend of mine, Geoff Gonzales, runs a company called Trident Concepts that provides various forms of personal combat training.
Geoff is a veteran Navy Seal down in Austin, Texas
Geoff developed the TacosT System which is a set of cards that help people improve their shooting skills.
How it works is that you randomly select cards and have to do one of 4 drills based on speed, precision and a few other factors.
The reason I mentioned this is because these are almost mental drills.
If you can't get out to the range because it's too far or you don't have funding or it simply won't fit in your schedule you can simply run through the exercises mentally.
Running through physical exercises and scenarios in your head have been shown to have a very strong effect on maintaining your readiness.
A way you can further exploit this fact is to engage in a practice or activity that improves your mental skills.
One of the more common practices are meditation but there are a wide range of activities you can try like journaling (Keeping a journal), visualization or even learning a musical instrument.
There are even specific exercises geared towards memorization like chunking, association and Method of Loci you can try.
You could even pick one of the more “contemplative” martial arts like Tai Chi or Aikido to combine with my recommendation in step 3.
5. Have Some Humor
Making light of the situation will help you deal with it.
Some of the research I was reading was about a prisoner of war who had this imaginary person that was next to him when he was getting tortured.
So this gentleman would be talking to his imaginary friend and his torturers would be going:
“Who is this?”
“This guy's crazy!”
What adult person has an imaginary friend?
During part of his torture they even offered the imaginary friend tea and he had to relay to them that his imaginary friend did not like tea.
By making fun of the situation and having fun with it you can distance yourself from the seriousness of the situation and maintain the mental clarity you need to come up with a way to deal with the situation.
While it may sound strange it's been shown through a variety of training systems like that used for Ranger training and SERE School that if you apply humor to your situation you're more likely to make it through it.
Now that you know what it takes to be prepared for a high-stress situation make sure you do something about it. Have a look at this article to get you started: