Every day, we’re faced with hundreds of decision points. These decisions range from the simple: “what time should I set my alarm to wake up?” to the very complex: “what long term investment strategy should I choose for my retirement?” Our choices can have an insignificant impact on our day: “should I order a coke or a root beer at lunch?” Or they can drastically alter the course of our entire life: “is now the right time to get married?” If we didn’t have a way to help navigate all of these decisions we would be overwhelmed by choice and very likely shutdown entirely, unable to sort through the tremendous amount of information. But the mind is a powerful machine capable of simplifying the way we sort through this information and ultimately decide how to act or what selection to make.
It’s important to understand that almost all of our daily decisions are not made consciously the way you would approach buying a new car for example. We rely instead on hard wired habits that respond to cues which then trigger routines. These “programs” explain how we can get out of bed, shave, get dressed, make breakfast, and drive to work with almost no real thought involved; even though each of those tasks require a great deal mental calculation and well-coordinated motor function. The same is true in critical situations. Which is why developing the right habits is such an important component of a strong defensive training system.
However, there is a higher level of thought that also plays a role in critical situations and that is best addressed through our Tactical Decision Making Process (TDMP). A TDMP is the systematic approach to the mental process used to consistently determine the best course of action in response to a given set of circumstances. But the practical definition is much more straightforward – a TDMP is how we decide what to do in a dangerous situation based on the circumstances we’re given.
What makes a TDMP different than our normal, everyday decision making process is that it’s oriented entirely around self-defense, self-preservation, or the protection of others. Our TDMP accesses a tool box not normally appropriate for everyday problems. Therefore specific time and effort must be spent in a training environment to cultivate this unique framework of problem solving.
Most everyone in the community is familiar with the OODA Loop. But as a basic refresher, the OODA Loop is a 4 step continuous cycle first described by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd. The loop helps illustrate the step we all take when making a conscious decision. When subjected to a stimulus, we first Observe the situation, Orient our physical and mental faculties towards the stimulus, Decide what to do about it in response, and then Act in whatever way we chose. Using feedback from the result of our action, we repeat the loop again and again until our final observation is that there is no more danger. Colonel Boyd simplified the incredibly complicated process happening inside our minds in the pivotal moments that we’re faced with a dangerous incident. His identification of the loop has greatly impacted the way we structure training and furthered our understanding of human performance in the face of extreme stress. But while the OODA Loop does a great job of explaining the required steps of how exactly a decision is made, it falls short of leading us towards appropriate solutions.
The OODA Loop, in essence, does an excellent job of structuring our approach to generic decisions by showing us how the gears are turning but it doesn’t necessarily help us decide which way to steer the car.
For example, if I give you a scattered jigsaw puzzle and explain that you will be able to put it together correctly by first looking at all the pieces (Observe), thinking about how they fit (Orient), picking up each individual piece to see where it goes (Decide), and finally try to join each piece together (Act), I haven’t actually given you much help in assembling the puzzle. I’ve only explained the steps you’ll take when doing it. And that’s a very important distinction.
The CSC Chain, on the other hand, is more than a process. It is an approach specifically designed to aid in tactical decision making under life-threatening stress. Formally discussed during Comprehensive Situational Control (CSC) academics, the chain implicitly describes the two options an individual has to choose from at any given time:
1) You may try to avoid the situation
2) You may attempt to recover control of it
These two options are linked by your recognition of what is happening. The chain, like the OODA Loop, is a continuous process whereby the decision maker is constantly moving between recognizing what is going on as the situation unfolds and then selecting between avoidance and recovery. In CSC academics, students are armed with the Principles of Avoidance as well as the Fundamentals of Recovery which further support their TDMP.
Now let’s revisit that puzzle through the lens of the CSC Chain. Instead of simply telling you the 4 steps you’ll go through when trying to put the pieces together, the CSC Chain helps you understand that there are only two types of pieces: edges and middle pieces. So when you pick up a piece of the puzzle and go through the CSC Chain you know to ask yourself “is this an edge piece” or “is this a middle piece?”
Taking a step away from the puzzle example, when faced with a critical situation, individuals experienced with Comprehensive Situational Control are constantly asking themselves “can I avoid this situation, and if so then how?” and “is it appropriate to attempt to recover control now, and if so how?”
Critical situations are best overcome with a combination of proper habits and a well-developed, regularly exercised TDMP. These two components while separate are not mutually exclusive. The cue-routine pattern of our habits feeds into our overall understanding of the situation and supports our decision to Avoid or Recover. Once we select avoidance or recovery we then seamlessly respond with the “muscle-memory” mechanics developed in training. This cycle plays out until free from danger.
To illustrate the need for a formalized TMDP, let’s look at some higher level tactical considerations you might evaluate when sitting with your family in a restaurant at lunch. When an aggressor enters with a very agitated look and produces a firearm from a bag he was carrying, your instinct may be to immediately respond by standing up from the table, initiating movement offline, drawing your firearm, and engaging the threat.
However, before your instinctive mechanical response can begin, a strong and deliberate TDMP encourages you to assess elements of the situation such as:
> What is the threat’s distance, orientation, motion, and backdrop?
> Where’s my closest position of cover?
> Are there any other threats?
> Am I overmatched by their firearm’s capability (e.g. they have a KSG12 shotgun and I have a snub nose revolver)?
> Where is my family in relation to the threat?
> Is there a safe route to an exit?
Your assessment of these elements leads you to the main decision:
Should I try to get my family out (Avoid) or should I press forward and neutralize the threat (Recover)?
All of these questions plus how to best answer them are contained in the approach the CSC Chain along with full CSC academics hard wires into users. Without a structured TDMP we’re very likely to miss some elements of a critical situation during our assessment. And we’re equally likely to overlook important components of an avoidance or recovery strategy when prioritizing our actions. Not to mention having a trusted method for making tactical decisions has been proven time and time again to help reduce the adverse effects of the startle and surprise responses that typically accompany the rapid onset of a critical situation. As with all philosophy and TTP introduced in Comprehensive Situational Control academics, the CSC Chain is purposefully integrated into all Modern Warrior training to maximize retention and ensure students can apply what they learn even under extreme stress. So the next time you think about self-defense training, think about finding a company that offers a complete solution. Not just “high speed” techniques you can find online.
One final thought, when faced with a critical situation, you have the rest of your life to solve the problem… how long that is depends entirely on you.