Mental Preparation Can Make The Difference Between Life and Death

As you train and prepare for situations when you may encounter violence be sure to include mental preparation along with all the tactical stuff. If your mental game is lacking, it has a direct effect on your performance, as well as your recovery after the event is over.

Something this week reminded me of Jennifer Fulford, an Orange County (FL) deputy, who answered a call in 2004 that ended up in a firefight. She entered a home containing 3 men in the middle of a drug rip-off. Also inside the house were 3 children that she needed to protect. Fulford was hit by 10 rounds during her shoot-out with 3 attackers. She killed 2 of the criminals, both with headshots, even after her dominant hand was out of commission. Fulford returned to light duty about 6 weeks later and to full duty 38 days after that. A recap of the full incident can be found here.

What do these incidents teach us? Simply that it’s not over until you give up.

The What If

Fulford had trained for just the situation she found herself in. She asked herself “what if” and then trained for it. She not only trained to shoot with her non-dominant hand (stop thinking of it as your weak hand), but she trained to reload and function without the use of her dominant hand. As it turned out, Fulford had to reload after being shot in her dominant arm.

Mindset is Critical

Another thing that Fulford credits for helping her win was the mindset she had developed. Because of her mental preparation, she knew she needed to concentrate, control her breathing and focus on staying conscious. She had learned what to do to prevent shock. Even more important was her determination.

“I remember thinking, ‘This garage is not the last thing I am going to see.’ I had gotten engaged in January. I had spent too much time and money on (wedding preparations). I haven’t had any kids yet … it is amazing the amount of stuff that ran through my head.”

Jennifer Fulford

The Protector Mindset in the Face of Tragedy

Preparation Helps Recovery

Mental preparation can’t be understated. Too often, training focuses on mechanical skills and superficially touches on the mental aspect during and after a critical incident. Retired soldier Dave Grossman helped develop the Army’s program that helps soldiers process what happened to them in combat. Grossman has shown that prior preparation and the proper mindset is an important factor in avoiding PTSD or other post-incident mental health issues.

Train to Win

Another practice Grossman recommends is one that I think has a lot of merit. Back when I was actively training law enforcement officers, you either won or lost in training exercises. We didn’t think about the message it sent. Grossman suggests that participants repeat exercises until they win. They need to walk away with success being that final outcome instead of accepting defeat. That doesn’t mean to make training so easy that anyone can win. But make it realistic and then train to the level where you can prevail. The mental preparation needs to be victory, not defeat.

Protect Your Mental Health

Prepare Now

By definition, preparation happens before the event. Since we don’t know when that event could happen, we should start to prepare now.

Your mental preparation should include thinking about things that could happen during the week. Think those scenarios through to the end. Know that if you get hit it will hurt. Anticipate that if you face an edged weapon, you will get cut and you will bleed. Know that getting shot doesn’t mean you have to fall down and give up. Decide today that it’s not over until you quit and promise yourself, and your family, to never quit.

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