Situational Awareness and the Mind: Re-rethinking Cooper’s Colors
Mistranslated and Misunderstood
Unfortunately, whereas Cooper’s original Color Code is an effective tool to help ramp up to a mental state suited for combat, the “situational awareness” version so commonly used today is essentially useless and misleading. It fundamentally misunderstands how the brain scans for and responds to threats, and thus can harm shooters by leading them astray during training and development of their situational awareness skills.
Duality of Grey Matter
The automatic mind runs the vast majority of what you do. It multitasks and makes decisions very quickly without you ever consciously thinking about them. The deliberate mind, on the other hand, only deals with one thing at a time, and does so much more slowly than the automatic mind. This distinction is critical to understanding decision making, because each system does so via different processes.
Your Script: Recognition Primed Decision Making
When the automatic mind matches the information it’s receiving from the senses to one of the patterns stored in its library, it applies an appropriate heuristic.
The deliberate mind doesn’t even enter the decision-making process unless the automatic mind first notes a problem.
We’re almost always in “Condition White,” because the deliberate mind is busy focusing on the task at hand and not scanning for threats.
We don’t respond properly to threats when:
a) we don’t perceive the relevant information because our sensors are directed elsewhere;
b) our brains don’t interpret that information correctly to alert us to the threat; or
c) our brains don’t immediately know the appropriate action script or heuristic with which to respond to an identified threat.
Thus, training should focus both on building habits that increase the likelihood of the sensors capturing relevant information, and then on building known patterns and action scripts in the automatic mind to correctly identify and respond to potential threats.
Violent encounters often occur much too quickly for the deliberate mind ever to react and make conscious decisions, so we must set ourselves up for success by training our automatic minds to spot threats and apply the appropriate heuristic for that situation.
Codify Your Code
If you don’t have the time and resources for high quality resource training, there are other options. The goal is just to build the patterns and responses into the automatic mind, which can be done visually.
The brain has no mental simulation to judge against during its intuitive decision making process.
As You See So Shall You Compete
These same principles can be applied to competitive shooting, as well as defensive situations.
Many top level competitors, in any form of competition from shooting to martial arts to ball sports, will tell you that the instant you stop to think is the instant you’ve lost.
The Color Code Correct
An interesting note: this mental preparation of the automatic mind before the fight kicks off is pretty much exactly what Cooper intended with his original version of the Color Code. He focused on the psychological difficulty of the decision to kill, but the principles of decision making apply exactly as I’ve described. Col. Cooper spent decades combatting the ineffective reinterpretation of his Code so commonly heard today, because “constant vigilance” just doesn’t work. If you’re going to teach Cooper’s Colors, don’t teach it as advocating a mythical and unattainable concept of situational awareness. Teach it as the man intended: mental preparation for the decision to press the trigger. A tool to set your automatic mind up for success.