Have you ever been in an exchange with someone; heated, barbed or even just harmless banter words… And at the critical moment, you just couldn’t find a witty comeback… but then five seconds later, after you walked away, you think of something genius! But it’s too late…

So I had an insight into that today…

Been listening to a great book, ‘On Combat’ (Dave Grossman and Lauren W. Christensen). It gives some interesting data/research on various physiological and psychological insights into combat and high-performance under stress conditions.

One point it makes consistently is the way stress prompts the ‘fight or flight’ response. As a result, your neo cortex largely shuts down and your ‘labrador’ mid-brain that takes over. The labrador focuses all the body’s resources on what it perceives as the immediate priority of survival.

Fine motor skills go out the window as do a lot of other critical functions. So we see people fumble with their papers when they get up to speak. The lab brain is taking over and messing with their fine motor skills. What remains when the lab is in control are the most basic hardwired actions – like fighting or running… or simply freezing.

The research on this points clearly to the importance of drilling. Drilling make sure the skills you need when your ‘lab’ takes over are available to you – even when your brain is no longer working as it usually does.

The book tells a great story about the cop who drilled in handgun disarm techniques then when he actually faced a criminal with a gun in his face, he performed a lightening fast disarm – then automatically handed the gun back to the assailant – because he’d always handed the gun back in his drilling!

‘Fight or flight’ responses occur far beyond combat and fighting drills, throughout normal life. The reality is, some level of fight or flight kicks in at all sorts of stress situations, so to a degree, throughout the day, your lab brain is taking over and dealing with things in ways that may seem very out of character for you.

So what drills do you do to prepare for your most common high-stress environments?

If you’re stressed in that heated exchange and you don’t come up with the witty come back, it’s because you haven’t drilled it. Fumbled the papers – or the ball – it’s because you didn’t drill. Unless you’ve drilled comebacks under stress conditions, like public speaking or Toastmasters, you’re unlikely to be able to perform. And really it goes for anything.

So take a look at the situations where you need to perform under pressure and don’t kid yourself that you’ll think your way through it. Instead, look for opportunities to drill, then when the stress kicks in, whatever you’ve drilled into your nervous system will carry you through effortlessly.

And the good news is that the drilling you do doesn’t even have to be in real life. Simply putting yourself into high stress situations and performing suitable drills in visualisation have a powerful ability to condition your response, so that when the lab brain kicks in and you’re on autopilot, you respond as you drilled.

Drills make skills.

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