"Fear is the path to the dark side"--Yoda

I was a S.C. State Constable for five years. I was taught to use my service Glock with the “sink or swim” method of instruction. Up until the day I qualified as a Constable, I had always practiced with my Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. I loved that gun. It was functional and compact and it fit my adaptable personality. My revolver and I were a team with lots of dead targets to our credit, killed over many hours of arduous practice with good mentors. However, as we all know, in law enforcement and all other professions, things just happen. On that momentous day, I was unexpectedly handed a Glock to qualify. In shock and with my alien Glock in hand, I followed the instructor as he said to shoot from varying distances, standing, throwing myself on the ground, and with my dominant hand and my non-dominant hand. OK, sink or swim newbie. After the initial astonishment, I was flabbergasted, anxious and ticked off. Then the tsunami hit me!

I had FAILED!!! OMG, I was outrageously upset with myself for bombing and none too happy with the Sheriff’s Department. I had not met my expectations to always be competent—this was completely unacceptable, folks! I felt physically sick with embarrassment. To my immense amazement, my range instructor brusquely informed me that we would stay there until I passed—period. Until Hades freezes--well, you know the drill. This wise man (Thank you, Buddy Hill) realized that I was infuriated with myself and advised me to get over it. In effect, with that statement, he removed failure from the equation. How did he manage that? He told me that we would stay there until I passed. He certainly was not contemplating spending the remainder of his career on that firing range. My ability was not in question. Consequently, confidence restored, I made the necessary numbers without breaking a sweat.

Let’s analyze my experience at the range using the cognitive theory guidelines.

Beliefs lead to emotions and behaviors:

I believed that I must excel at whatever I did, under all circumstances, or I was a failure. When I was thrown into a situation for which I was unprepared my belief that I must excel (no matter what) led to fear of failure and muscle tension.  

Emotions influence our behaviors:

A smidgeon of fear or anxiety can sharpen our focus and increase our likelihood of success—or survival. When fear increases in intensity it becomes a liability. My focus, physical ability and muscle memory were compromised by my fear of failure.

Our thoughts, behaviors and emotions tend to follow a pattern:

My belief “I will fail and that is absolutely unacceptable” led to the emotion “fear.” The emotion fear impacted my behavior— my ability to respond.

I could have simply taken the fear as an internal signal that I needed to be alert to a situation requiring resolution. From there, I could have chosen the response most likely to assist me in reaching my goal—calmly doing as I was instructed. A few deep breaths and reminding myself that this was not a life or death situation might have done the trick. As good luck would have it, the target was not armed and held no malice toward me. My instructor negated the possibility of failure. It was no longer an option. My response was predictable because the belief, “I must not fail or I am a failure” was a pervasive (and illogical) belief. BTW, this is not an uncommon belief. Regrettably, we cannot always assume that someone will be there to save us from the consequences of our irrational thoughts. Naturally, until we recognize the irrational belief is part of our personal belief system we cannot guard against its consequences.

Belief System: the set of beliefs one has about what is right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and not acceptable. These beliefs may or may not be rational or logical. However, they are regarded by the individual as irrefutable facts.

Training our emotions and honing our critical thinking skills is similar to training for a triathlon, it won’t happen overnight. Learning to accept our emotions and just feel them for a few minutes allows us to adjust and make the choices necessary for success. Over time, your ability to tolerate the annoyances of life will expand to your benefit. You can do this, remember, you are not on the normally in a life or death situation.

Be at peace and be aware of your thoughts.