We all have them. Things that people say or do. Events or situations or even just objects. Things that get a visceral response out of you. That response can be anger, sadness, happiness, etc… But it’s very hard, if not impossible to control sometimes.
Now this can be good or bad. Sometimes it’s not a big deal, but often times these triggers can control our lives and undermine us. Especially, when we are not aware of them. In terms of self defense, it can literally mean life and death.
A few days ago I was walking with my family through a parking garage. My wife and I got the kids in the carseat, then got in ourselves. right when I closed the car door, a guy walked up pointing a gun into he car. Now, driving away could mean he fired into he car risking the lives of my family. Getting out and trying to undo the kids from the carseat would take forever, would give up my back, all escape routes and put my family at even more risk. So, definitely a shitty situation.
I immediately, got out of the car and began to walk away from the vehicle “flanking him” to make sure his weapon stayed pointed at me and as far away from my family as possible. He asked for the keys and I obliged, but made sure to toss them even further away from the car. At this point I was able to move him about twenty feet from where my family was and had him facing the complete opposite direction. I figured, if this was just a car jacking, this distance could give Kim the needed time to get the kids out, keep him focused on me, and if “leaving” was possible, I could occupy him while Kim and the kids got away.
During this entire situation, the gunman and I were talking. He was giving commands, I was trying to stay calm and non-threatening. I played with getting closer to him with no avail. Dialogue continued. At one point he pointed the gun back towards the vehicle and I said “There are the keys, please don’t point the gun at my family, keep it on me.”
He in return said “They’re my fucking family now.”
It was in that moment I realized he was not just interested in my car, but my family, and most likely taking my life in the process. We all know that in that case the decisions are very limited so my hand was forced. I had to act now and act aggressively.
He had turned slightly away from me to reach down and grab the keys from the floor…. this is my moment… I drew my gun, took an angle and began to fire. Pretty clean hits. He goes down to the floor and I move to cover.
Now… I would love to tell you that the last two paragraphs are exactly what was going through my head. That was focused and clear minded. I mean shit, I am a self defense instructor. I train a lot. I do stress drills. I do scenarios. I shoot. I spar. I mindset. I read.
But in reality, I don’t remember a God Damn thought after he said “They’re my fucking family now.”
In reality all I thought was “NO THEY ARE NOT!!!!” This simple thought was so prominent and so true that not only did I think it, but I said it aggressively to the attacker. I said it a little too soon before I got my gun out. In fact, that pissed off, visceral response warned the gunman I was escalating and I gave away my moment.
did I know that at that moment I had to do something because it was evident he was going to harm my family? Absolutely. Did I draw my gun, move, shoot, and get good hits? I sure did. Did I continue to move to cover? Absolutely. Did my body do all the things I had spent thousands of hours practicing over the last eleven years? Damn straight.
I also took three rounds up the left side. One right above the knee, one in my left hip, and one right under my armpit.
I also moved to my right, which angled him TOWARDS my vehicle and was only pure LUCK that by the time he started shooting I was past the vehicle so his rounds weren’t heading towards my family in the car.
I also was so fucking pissed off at the guy and then at the fact that I let myself get shot that once I knew he was down. I cleared my weapon and put it on the ground before going back to my car. Dafuq?
All because one sentence. One trigger.
Now, as I stand here today writing this article, the bruises are healing but the mind is still racing. I have watched the video 15 or more times and beat myself up over and over again.
This was all just a training exercise. The SIM rounds sting but don’t kill. There are rules and safety gear. Hell, it wasn’t even my real family. But those bruises have very very big implications. If those rounds were real I’d most likely have a shattered femur, a shattered hip, a possible sucking chest wound. All of which could easily have ended with my family losing their father/husband.
But getting shot in that scenario has given me the awareness to save my life in reality. The question is, will I take the needed steps.
You see, triggers, in many cases can be managed and reversed if necessary. Even triggers that bring about joy or laughter can be problematic if we don’t at least have the power to recognize them.
In James Clears book Atomic Habits he talks about a person that used to smoke cigarettes while horseback riding. She eventually gave up smoking and hadn’t been horse riding in years! During that time she never craved a cigarette. Then she found herself on the back of a horse again one day and had an incredible craving to smoke. Think about that. Our mind makes associations between situations, objects, people, and emotions all the time. Sometimes they make sense (threatening my family pisses me off) and sometimes they don’t seem to make sense (horse equals cigarette), but the reality is they exist.
So how do we control them? Well, realistically, control might not be the best word. Adapt or manage might be a better word. Sometimes, you cannot eliminate the trigger itself, but you can begin to manage your response to the trigger.
So first off, start to make yourself aware of situations that seem to create cravings or uncontrolled responses. You can go as far as writing down everything you do throughout the day, then back tracking and looking to see if you can make associations between one action and another, or one action and a feeling.
Once you identify the trigger, you need to figure out whether the response is a bad one or a good one. You may not need to change good triggers. When I was writing the book How to Survive an Active Killer, a glass of water was my trigger for getting up. I put a glass of water next to my bed at night. In the morning, first thing I did was drink that water. If I sat up and drank that glass of water, I was good to go, no matter how tired I was. That said, identifying which are leading to good things and which are leading to bad is very important.
These two steps already are setting you on the right path because if you are aware of a trigger and can recognize it, you can begin to create a gap between the trigger and your response. And the larger that gap is, the more you can fill it with logical thought. The more I do that, the more likely I can DECIDE the action to take, instead of just acting. This is the big takeaway for me in this scenario. I need to be aware that a real threat to my family triggers a visceral response that can be good, but can also cloud judgement. From that awareness I can build a response gap that allows for better action, but only if I take the steps to train it.
Lastly, if you identify a trigger that is a true detriment, the best course of action is most likely to completely remove it from your life or do the best to make its interaction with your life painful.
Don’t underestimate the power of triggers and the weakness of your will power.
In the end, the lesson is this… you should never be “out of control” and triggers can play an important our ability to succeed or our inevitable failure.
Take the time to identify your triggers. Then take the needed steps to adapt and manage your life around them.
I am grateful for my training failures, because they give me the chance to truly learn about myself, adjust, and hopefully perform better the day I really need to.
Be good, train hard, stay safe