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Part Two: Making the Conscious Mind Immune to Fear

In the previous part of this series, we explored what fear is as an emotional state that we experience in a combat situation or a threatening environment.

We’ve determined that:

  • Fear is a sophisticated emotional state that we cannot deliberately shut down in a situation or an environment that generates it.

  • We experience fear with varying intensity, depending on the perceived level of threat to our physical well-being and a range of other stress-inducing factors.

  • One of the three stress responses, namely “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze,” takes over when we experience fear at its extreme.

We’ve also pointed out that:

  • We need to condition our minds to deal with fear effectively.

  • This psychological conditioning work must be done well in advance.

  • The purpose of this work is to prevent fear from undermining our ability to respond to a combat situation and operate in a threatening environment.

Hopefully, you’ve taken some time to read Part One of this series and to complete the corresponding exercise in Tribe 13 Psychological Readiness Center. In case you haven’t, we strongly recommend that you catch up on this introductory part of the psychological conditioning work that we cover in this series.

In Part Two, we get down to business and begin the process of conditioning our minds.

What exactly do we mean when we refer to the mind?

What role does the mind play in a combat situation or a threatening environment?

The Mind: Your Chaotic Master or Your Disciplined Servant

“You are not your mind.” - Eckhart Tolle

Most people go about their lives without distinguishing themselves from their minds. As a result, their minds turn into a constant source of idle inner chatter. Designed to be their disciplined servants, their minds end up being their chaotic masters.

As protectors, we cannot allow ourselves to cultivate that bad mental habit.

In simple terms, without delving into the depths of psychology, the human mind operates on two interconnected levels: the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. Within the scope of this article, we focus solely on conditioning the conscious mind.

Before we continue, there are several important features of the conscious mind to recognize:

  • It houses all mental processes that we are aware of, spanning various kinds of thinking, such as analytical thinking and creative thinking.

  • It’s a place where we finalize our decision-making by applying our willpower.

  • It has a limited psychological bandwidth, which is the capacity of the conscious mind to process information from both our internal environment (our thought processes) and our external environment (the surroundings and the source of the threat in a situation).

This brings us to the purpose of conditioning the conscious mind. We need to minimize the volume and intensity of our thinking and decision-making to allow the conscious mind to focus on the external environment as much as possible. We should free up that psychological bandwidth for operational and tactical decisions related to the combat situation or the threatening environment.

Simply put, we need to get out of our heads as much as we can. We have to avoid paralysis by analysis and overthinking, and we should be more present and mindful of what is happening instead. Every thought process must be helpful and must improve our response to the combat situation or our ability to operate in the threatening environment.

As we discussed earlier in Part One of the series, when there is a real or perceived imminent threat to our physical well-being, the release of stress hormones and the rapid redistribution of blood flow to the limbs negatively impact our ability to think consciously.

So one might wonder. Why bother with conditioning our conscious minds in the first place?

We Still Use the Conscious Mind in Combat

“To the mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.” - Lao Tzu

There are two common misconceptions when it comes to how the conscious mind functions in a combat situation or a threatening environment. While some are confident that they can manage to stay perfectly calm in combat, others expect that they are bound to fail to think clearly when confronted with violence.

In reality, the conscious mind rarely functions in black and white under such circumstances. We almost never get to keep our cool in a perfect way. And we rarely end up completely losing our heads in the process.

We still retain some psychological bandwidth, preserving our capacity to think consciously to some extent. This bandwidth, however, drastically shrinks once the stress of the situation or the environment sets in and fear comes into play.

Therefore, cluttering the conscious mind with unnecessary thought processes and decision-making is the last thing we want to do. Our psychological bandwidth in combat must be focused on one thing only: the technicalities of responding to the threat.

What do we mean when we say “unnecessary thought processes and decision-making”?

Where does this unnecessary clutter in the conscious mind come from?

The Root of All Fear: The Fear of Dying

“I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.” - Epictetus

Most people do their best to avoid exploring so-called “heavy topics” throughout their lives. This includes the topic of having to face death at some point. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of people are mentally unprepared for situations involving the risk of dying.

In a combat situation or a threatening environment, where the line between life and death becomes as clear as day, this topic pops up in the conscious mind. And as important as this subject is to explore, in combat, doing so makes for an unnecessary distraction.

One’s psychological bandwidth becomes extremely limited. Time is of the essence as well. As a result, it becomes impossible to process this topic deeply enough and fast enough to overcome one’s fear of dying.

Naturally, this impedes one’s response to the threat, making one stuck in a myriad of unpleasant realizations living a life of their own in the conscious mind. One becomes reluctant to act. And this reluctance quickly transitions into an even greater fear of dying, frustration, and despair.

This is not the state of mind in which a protector should end up in.

There are a few ways to become immune to it.

Pre-Deciding: Make the Most Important Decisions in Advance

“That man lives badly who does not know how to die well.” - Seneca

Complacency. A false sense of security. Litigiousness.

Modern lifestyle is plagued with them.

The majority of people have been conditioned to believe that violent things cannot happen to them, that someone would come to their rescue if they did, and that every situation can be taken to court at any time.

As a result, most people believe that it is best not to think about situations where they might have to defend their own lives or the lives of others, that the rule of law will prevent them from having to face such situations, and that responding to such situations may result in a lawsuit.

It’s unacceptable for a protector to have this type of mindset.

When the situation calls for our response, we need to be psychologically ready for decisive action. Our response should be free from hesitation. And there’s a reliable way to make sure that the conscious mind will allow us to perform in this way in combat.

We need to decide what we are ready to do about a certain type of situation before we actually experience it. This way, when we find ourselves in this type of situation, we only have to follow through with the decision made earlier.

This process, which can be referred to as pre-deciding, frees up a massive amount of psychological bandwidth in combat. We no longer have to figure out what to do. We focus solely on how to do what we know we need to do.

Let us take a closer look at how to make the most of the concept of pre-deciding.

The Science and Art of Pre-Deciding

“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.” - Marcus Aurelius

There are three main categories where you must make pre-decisions as a protector.

Each category revolves around who the target might be:

  • You.

  • Your closest.

  • Strangers.

There are three key questions to explore in each category:

  • What are the red lines that you won’t let the attacker cross?

  • How far are you willing to go in your response?

  • How much are you ready to sacrifice in the process?

The first question invites you to determine the boundaries associated with physical and psychological space that you are not okay with the attacker violating. What are you not willing to put up with for the sake of non-confrontation?

The second question has to do with the use of force continuum. From the use of special communication strategies to de-escalate confrontation in an assertive way, to the use of non-lethal compliance tactics, all the way to the use of deadly force, how much are you willing to commit to the protective response if needed?

The third question touches on the cost of your involvement in a situation. From merely wasting your time, to running into a lawsuit, all the way to having to give up your life, how significant a cost of getting mixed up in a situation are you ready to face?

Your answers to these questions may vary depending on the category.

Clearly, it’s impossible to envision every scenario on earth that you might have to manage. And there’s no need to do so. These scenarios range from one individual to another, dictated by the lifestyle one leads, the environments one frequents, and other variables.

The purpose of pre-deciding is to get the conscious mind comfortable with a general idea of what your course of action should be in certain types of situations or environments that you are most likely to come across. Pre-decisions are blueprints for action.

Let us illustrate the process of pre-deciding with a concrete scenario.

You notice that several individuals in your vicinity start closing the distance between themselves and the target. They seem to be under the influence, and their behavior seems aggressive. As they close in on the target, they start splitting into various directions, preparing for an assault.

If you’re the sole target, having spotted the impending assault in time, you may choose to simply escape and evade the threat. Life is not an action movie. In this particular scenario, there’s everything to lose and nothing to gain by getting mixed up in a situation that you can just avoid.

If the target is both you and your people closest, immediate escape and evasion may not be an option. You may be forced to commit to a different protective response that involves the use of countervailing force as high on the use of force continuum as the situation warrants.

If the target is a stranger, how much you get involved may depend on who the stranger is. An unsuspecting elderly person, woman, or child calls for a very different protective response compared with just another drunk guy who is reciprocating the aggressive behavior of the specified individuals.

You get the idea.

Ultimately, the purpose of making pre-decisions is to prevent the conscious mind from either getting stuck in so-called paralysis by analysis or getting too amped up. We don’t want to remain indecisive. And we don’t want to overreact.

Pre-deciding is a useful mental habit for a protector to cultivate. Using one’s imagination and studying records of assaults can provide a range of scenarios to explore. This goes a long way in decreasing the risk that the conscious mind will be puzzled in combat.

A Life of Meaning: Your Antidote to Fear

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” - Leonardo Da Vinci

Finding oneself in imminent danger of dying often comes with a sudden realization that one’s life has not been spent in a meaningful way. Once this unpleasant thought creeps in, it causes a great deal of frustration, impeding one’s ability to handle fear.

One may start feeling desperate to get a second chance at life. One may also get overwhelmed by a deep sense of despair. Both of these states of mind end up feeding one’s fear of dying, and the growing fear for one’s life in turn feeds these states of mind.

You must sever the root of this self-perpetuating source of the fear of dying.

You can do so by finding what gives your life meaning.

One time-tested way to do this is to identify the values that you deeply resonate with and to live your life consistently in harmony with these values.

To illustrate, as protectors, we naturally gravitate toward the value of loyalty in our lives. It is the value that transcends many other values like faith, humanity, and family. Our devotion to the people and principles that we choose to protect drives us in training and combat alike.

In fact, loyalty is also an amazing way to free up some psychological bandwidth. It does so by minimizing the need for decision-making in combat. Having chosen to stand for someone or something well in advance, we know exactly what types of situations deserve our involvement.

This is just one example of a value that can add a lot of meaning to one’s life.

Many other values can do the same.

How do you know you’ve discovered what gives your life meaning?

You’ll be more afraid of failing to live up to what gives your life meaning than you are afraid of dying. As a result of living your life in this way, your attitude to dying will evolve. You will start seeing the prospect of giving up your life as a conclusion to a life of meaning.

As a case in point, this is exactly the reason why fanatics of all kinds are so dangerous in combat. They have the innermost belief that what they are fighting for is worth dying for. And they are more afraid of not living up to this belief than they are afraid of dying.

Loose Ends: Leave None for Your Fear to Dangle

“Do not fear dying. Fear living without life.” - Marcus Aurelius

Thoughts about having anything unfinished in life are another major contributor to the fear of dying. Such thoughts have the same effect on the conscious mind as the realization that one’s life has not been lived in a meaningful way.

Some common areas of the proverbial unfinished business include:

  • Relationships that you wish you had invested more time and energy in.

  • Relationships that you wish you had stopped wasting time and energy on.

  • Grudges against someone that you wish you had gotten over.

  • Grudges against you that you wish someone had stopped holding.

  • Ideas that you wish you had given a chance, experiences that you wish you had tried, activities that you wish you had spent more time doing.

  • Bad habits that you wish you had broken, bad past experiences that you wish you had stopped letting have control over your life, activities that you wish you had stopped wasting time and energy on.

These are just a few ideas of the areas of life where fear may have some loose ends to dangle.

Identifying these areas in your life and resolving to do something about them takes commitment and consistency. There’s a lot to gain from going through this process. Not only does it make one more immune to the fear of dying, but it also brings peace of mind in daily life.

Keep It Sharp: The Conscious Mind Is Your Blade Against Fear

“Rule your mind, or it will rule you.” - Horace

All the methods to make the conscious mind more resilient to the fear of dying that we have discussed are not something that you do just once and never worry about again. Making the conscious mind conditioned to be minimally affected by fear requires constant practice.

Treat your conscious mind as a blade that you can use against fear. You must keep this blade sharp and combat ready at all times. This way you can rely on this blade when it’s time to slice your fear before your fear ends up slicing you.

3 comentários

a day ago

Shawn Coleman
Shawn Coleman
11 de mai.

I've found the subconscious takes the wheel when defending someone you truly care about. Great article. Thank you.


Excellent information Brother

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