Friday, June 15, 2012

Training – Being stressed . . . . And Remaining Vigilant . . . It’s about shoe boxes


My life rolls through cycles – fun times, frustrating times, happy times, sad times, times when life flows smoothly . . . . and times when it seems to struggle through rather torturous terrain. That’s where I seem to be living for the past while – torturous terrain . . . . where frustration and anger flirt around my conscious self. It can be a powerful distraction.

My “torturous terrain” currently is the general climate for my business (nope, it is not firearms training – though that is growing and a change may come in the next couple of years). My customers – through no fault of their own – are finding that their increased dependence on government funding does not always mean that the government will actually . . . you know . . . pay their bills. Or not change the rules part way through the game. Or not simply change the fees they choose to pay to something so low it no longer covers the cost of the service. Little things like that. And, “trickle down poverty” does indeed work . . . . Heavy sigh.

So, I am distracted . . . . bills that need paying . . . . clients that aren’t paying . . . . thoughts of letting a business of 30 years simply end . . . . wonders of what’s next . . . . it can be and has been a powerful distraction. Honestly, this is not meant as a complaint or a plea for an “awwww, poor Bill”, I’ve been here before – it’s simply the nature of owning your own business. It’s not for the faint of heart. That said – my mental state and my level of frustration provide a nice segue into the topic of “Being Stressed . . . And Remaining Vigilant” and my particular solution – the use of “shoe boxes”.

Bad guys do not take a day off. While one may be on the sidelines for some reason (cooling their heals in jail, takin’ up room on a morgue’s slab, or just having a roll in the sack with his bimbo) there are plenty to take his/her place. Threats are real, persistent and continuous.

A few posts back when we were chatting about training while minimizing physical injury I made the point the YOU are the army, YOU are the source of personal protection, YOU are the only one that can respond in seconds rather than the tens-of-minutes that LEOs can take. Therefore, it paid for you to adapt your protective gear to reduce physical damage during training so you remained physically capable of responding to an immediate threat. However, there is another element to the mix as well – your mental game.

When you are distracted – you are more vulnerable. When you are distracted – your reaction time slows because you must first come back to the “present” before you can respond to the threat in front of you. With luck, you can do this in time – if not – your fears still end because the plastic bag the medical examiner zips you in ends all mortal problems in dramatic fashion.

Jeff Cooper’s “Color Codes” do not change – regardless of your mental state. The druggie looking for a quick score does not care you have a sick child or spouse, that you can’t make the car payment, that your grades suck, that you just heard you have cancer, just heard your wife has inoperable cancer . . . they don’t care, they simply want your money. “Fine for you to say Bill – just how the hell can I turn my brain off????” Really, you can’t – but you can manage your worry rather than surrender to it – I use shoe boxes.

More sophisticated folks call it compartmentalization – the ability to take specific segments of your life and separate it away so fully that it no longer affects your emotional state. I like to use boxes – shoe boxes actually. I have a closet that they are stored in – some for as short as a couple of hours. Some have been there a very long time – unopened, waiting for attention. Yet, while the box is there – I simply let go of its contents. There is nothing I can do about it at this moment, so I do my very best not to chew on it.

A couple of examples (you knew I have to tell a story or two, right??):

The life of a soldier – regardless of the branch of service – demands this skill. Worry about a letter from home, the infamous “Dear John”, the sick child, the long distance argument - all can get you dead if you pay attention to your thoughts rather than the road or trail or instrument panel. Loss of focus is loss of life. The vast majority learn this from the “old heads” simply by watching and following their example and then integrating it into their life style. Others observe the tragic result of a team mate worrying about the “letter” rather than the trail as they disappear in a pink mist. War is a crucible that tempers a soul and dispatches learning with brutal efficiency. “Boxes” are a necessary tool to set aside things that are unimportant to the “present”; they allow the soldier to remain vigilant. The box will be there at some future time – to be dealt with when danger is past.

I’m sitting in a waiting room waiting for the doctor to tell me how my wife’s hernia surgery is going. Magazines have been read and conversations with my mother-in-law have given way to a quiet discomfort. A “box” has been started – the contents as yet unknown. The clock ticks on . . . . .

Finally the surgeon walks into the room – his manner brisk, business like . . . and to the point. “Your wife has a tumor, it’s grown down her leg, wrapped itself around the sciatic nerve – I can’t remove it. It looks as though it’s spread to her lymph nodes as well. I’m going to do some exploratory surgery and find out the extent to which it’s spread.” He smartly turns on his heel and return to the OR. No time for questions, no further comment, no word on how long it will take . . . . . and my world ends . . . .

We are just starting in a new community, our daughter is only two, I have a new job, I gotta be at work, how long will this take, will she die????????????, my mom needs to know, where will I bury her, will our little girl ever know her . . . . . . . And, with a strength I had not used since my return to “the world” I gathered my thoughts – opened the shoe box – jammed them in and focused on what was truly important, my wife. It took over 5 years – some painful enough to require their own box – to resolve its contents. Yet – I did, we did and I now relate this looking over 30 years in the past.

Boxes allowed me to focus on the NOW – it was the only thing I had control of, how I reacted at each specific instant of my life. I could do nothing about the future – and neither can you.

As you put your weapon on each morning and head out the door, all you have control of is the instant that is before you. One of the most critical jobs you have for the day is to arrive home at the end of it. The fears that are gnawing at you, the frustrations of the day, the “what-ifs” – are all threats to you, they distract you from observing your environment, the people that are headed your way, the car behind you, be fellow whose eyes have just locked on you and is walking quickly in your direction . . . .

So, take a shoe box from the shelf, open the lid and lay your “stuff” in there until you are safe at home again . . . . . because even though you are, indeed stressed . . . . a “shoe box” can help you remain vigilant.


  1. Excellent post and excellent points... Too many have NO shoeboxes, or anything else, they cannot/will not put things 'down' when they come home. It impacts their lives to such an extent it eventually tears them apart.