Avoiding the Trap

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Avoiding the Traps

I was recently introduced to an essay titled “Deadly Mind Traps” by Jeff Wise. The author brings to light some areas that are very familiar to those of us who spend time on the edge chasing life. The most elite trainers of all types understand that a proper mindset is the most important aspect of training. The Deadly Mind Traps discussed are part of that mindset and are real threats to our well-being. My goal is to introduce the most common of those mind traps and apply them to my own lifestyle. As I read the essay, as I suggest you do, my mind went back in time and I saw the traps for what they were.

The essay reveals the following traps in eloquent detail; redlining, domino effect, situational blindness, double or nothing, and bending the map. I am going to focus on redlining and the domino effect as I have seen those traps first hand. These are cognitive errors that take us into troubled waters. As we train and practice our trade we build habits and comfort zones that make extreme activities into normal ones. The author offers this warning “There’s a method to our mindlessness. Most of the time, we’re on autopilot, relying on habit and time-saving rules of thumb known as heuristics” (Wise). For those of us in the tactical and shooting communities we are actually attempting to have this level of proficiency in order to be able to properly execute under stress. We do not however address the mind traps with proper detail or context.


Of the listed traps, I feel this is the most common. Wise describes it as such “Anytime we plan a mission that requires us to set a safety parameter, there’s a risk that in the heat of the moment we’ll be tempted to overstep it” (Wise). We are always pushing our students to move faster. We may not be saying it, but we demonstrate and set goals and standards that are fully and safely achievable for us but are for the most part beyond the student’s capability. As we learned and practiced skill sets we developed internal safety checks and speed limits. While this is needed, we leave it up to the student to stay within his limits with our supervision. The focus on safety often guided our perceived success. Our students generally are out of their comfort zone and near the redline from the moment they arrive. Without conscious effort to avoid this mind trap we could in fact, in order to accomplish the day’s events or curriculum, overstep our or a student’s redline. Once we pass the line, we are in uncharted territory and do not have past experience to rely on for answers and thus are in the trap.

Domino effect

Most of us have seen the domino effect but haven’t seen the potential tragedy. Starting late with a tight schedule with more people than anticipated is a common occurrence. This trap involves losing focus on the long term in order to achieve results short term. Emotions play a big role in the domino effect. If we were to combine the irritation of the late start with a dose of ego and the pressure of maintain good product standards you can see the upcoming disaster. To those in the trap, they continue to attempt to make up time. Rushing the line to clear weapons is a common mistake which results in finding a live round in a chamber while people are in front of it. Losing someone to a gunshot is unacceptable, yet this mistake happens often with very safe and seasoned instructors.

Jeff Wise was able to articulate these cognitive errors that many of us have traveled into. The use of examples of tragedy that occurred for each allows us to learn from this short essay and avoid these traps. We have the ability to learn from others mistakes and with the potential for these same tragedies to occur in our own lives. Furthermore if we do not we will become the next example. Educating our students on trap avoidance is also part of our end state. As trainers we use our schools as a platform to reach thousands of students with skill sets that could possibly be needed in true life and death encounters under the worst of circumstances. The deadly mind traps described by Jeff Wise could have just as much effect on the outcome of that event as speed and accuracy.

Here is Mr Wise’s article


Bibliography: Wise, Jeff. “Deadly Mind Traps.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness Find a Therapist. 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Ash Hess

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