Any life threatening event will spike your heart rate, be it an auto accident or self defense setting. The problem with a high heart rate is not solely limited to physical performance, but mental clarity.

Cracking Under Pressure

We have known for some time, the more physically fit a person is the more resilient they are under pressure. Yes, being stronger, faster or meaner on the battlefield goes a long way. The real benefit is in the decision making and by that I mean making the best decision in the shortest time frame possible. Not easy under normal conditions, put your life in danger makes it even more complicated. Being able to manage stress goes a long way towards improved decision making. In these situations the calmer you are, the better your choices.

Reflex Response

Of course, this flies in the face of physical performance. We are always trying to automate our skills to the point they are reflexive, almost instinctual. It makes sense, you will have little to know time to think about what you are doing. I am all for the automation of most hard skills; whether drawing your gun from concealment or managing the trigger. The more you can rely on muscle memory the better outcome you could expect. To get to this level, the subconscious, competent level, requires years of training and practice. It is not an easy task, but well worth the effort. The question remains, have you done anything to improve your decision making in conjunction with the automation of your hard skills.

Preparation & Planning

Most of the time, the two actions fail to get equal attention. We put so much effort into the automation of our hard skills we forget or flat out don’t realize the importance of the soft skills. Making decision an equal skill to develop is the first step. Part of the decision making process is knowing what you will do in advance. Having a better idea of your available options. Going through each of these to better understand their value in addition to their outcome will improve your decision making. The more you consider your force options in advance the more likely you will be to choose the right one.

The Fog of War

Making the choice is the hard part. It is such a thin line often skipped. There is the hard skills and the soft skills, but what triggers the decision making process? In addition, how do I increase the accuracy of my decision making, the correct decision under pressure. About the only time you can expect to be under those types of conditions is when your heart rate is elevated outside normal range. When your heart rate exceeds a certain level your cognitive ability will be severely degraded. Severely degraded is code for not likely to make the best decisions. The longer you stay in those dangerous levels the more likely you will continue to make bad choices. Is there a way to train to be able to make better choices. Maybe, maybe you have to increase your heart rate on a regular basis to the point it is more familiar to you. Maybe you need to force yourself to be in those elevated heart rate conditions when you have to make choices, preferable choices that don’t have high negative outcome. Maybe you just need to put in those situations so you recognize them for what they are, an obstacle you need to work at overcoming.

Fitness doesn’t solely improve your quality of life. It improves your decision making, particularly under high stress.

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