At the end of the day, we do what we’re trained to do. This applies to everything. When the moment matters, the amygdala portion of the brain takes over and initiates the fight or flight response. The body will fall back to rote muscle memory. If you didn’t train for that scenario, you’ll freeze or do something illogical. Training means exactly that – physically repeating and practicing something. Just reading about a subject and assuming you’ll know what to do is NOT the same thing. This was vividly demonstrated to me last night.
Without opening up a can of worms on a controversial subject, let’s just say that I believe in one’s right to arm themselves to protect hearth and home. I own a number of guns and regularly practice with them (well, before ammo prices skyrocketed). I feel like I am at least minimally proficient and able to handle firearms safely. I am ready to defend myself, my family, and my home should the need arise. All is good, right?
That belief was tested last night. At 2:30 in the morning, Mrs. Troutdog woke me from a sound sleep with the words nobody wants to hear in the middle of the night – “There’s someone standing at the door!”
It was time for my training and preparedness to kick in. So, what did I do? I grabbed a t-shirt and ran to the front door in my underwear. Did I get the gun first? No. Did I even think about the gun? No. Did I grab my phone? No. I looked out the window and had a moment of confusion thinking it was my nephew, who lives in another state, standing on my porch. And then I just yelled, “what do you want?” And then I remember the thought that went through my head… I’d put my t-shirt on backwards. Seriously, that’s what I was thinking about.
When survival mode was needed, I pretty much blanked out on everything. I’ve watched and read a bunch of survival, shooting, and self-defense stuff. In my head I thought I knew exactly how to respond. But because I’d never actually physically practiced or gone through the motions, I had no actual muscle memory to fall back on. I stood there in my underwear contemplating my backwards t-shirt.
Fortunately, it ended up being just a really drunk guy who was at the wrong house. He was so drunk he could barely stand and kept dropping his cell phone. He mumbled sorry and stumbled off into the night. And then I remembered all the things I probably should have done.
The point of this is not some lecture on home defense. It’s training – for any subject. Unless you physically practice something, the odds of you performing well when needed are slim. Driving in the snow. Reading a map when you think you’re lost. CPR. Deadlifts. Cleans. Heavy club swings. Public speaking. Fighting. Self-defense. You cannot simply watch a YouTube video on any of these things and think you’ll be able to do them when needed.
It was a good lesson for me. As an RN, I’ve spent more time than I can count in stressful scenarios. Traumas, bleeding, codes, CPR. Been there, done that. We practice and have to be re-certified every year on those skills. As a result, in those scenarios I’m pretty calm. It doesn’t mean I’ll aways do the right thing, but I have a better than average chance of keeping the thinking part of the brain going and making better decisions. Because of that, I assumed that I’d behave the same in all emergency situations. Clearly, I was wrong.
So now I have to think about my training. I need to create an actual plan for when something goes bump in the night and practice that plan. And then practice some more. You should do the same for whatever things in life you THINK you know what to do. Until you create that muscle memory, you have no idea what your brain will fall back to. It might be worrying about your t-shirt being backwards as your house burns down around you.
P.S. My dog is fired. I have an 80-pound dog who spends his days barking fiercely at anything that moves. The mailman is his mortal enemy. What did this fierce protector do through this whole scenario? Nothing. He slept. Never got out of bed. He will not be getting any treats today.