Prepping: Your “High-Performance Brain”

A young man we know, who is in school away from home, was in a serious traffic accident a couple of weeks back.  He was OK, and so were the two other passengers and the driver of the second vehicle.

The problem?  It was the young man’s fault.

Like anything else in Life, though, there’s a lesson.  I mean the one beyond “Being in a T-boned small Toyota is a quick way to score a mild-concussion.”  Not a particularly smart thing to do with college starting in two-days.

We’ll include a few additional facts, so you get a clearer picture:  Three boys in the vehicle (all sober, no drugs, either) and they were all talking.

The young driver swears “I looked both ways and I didn’t see the van that hit us….

What’s the Lesson?

In a word?  Distractions Must Be Managed.

People generally over-estimate their ability to both carry on a conversation AND operate a vehicle or serious machinery.  The fact is, however, that most people do not know how to handle what a psychologist would call “task-switching.”

That is, how long it takes from doing one thing to getting to another being done at a high level.  There are gaps.

Two-Task Switching Modes

Here:  Let me get out a cocktail napkin and show you how the two modes work:  One we might think of as the “soft-attention-shifter” and the other is the “hard-attention-shifter.”

Males and females do task-shifting differently.  Sorry to say, but cultural roles (and thereby DNA tendencies) have had something to do with it.  The data is coming in and women are better that multi-tasking than men, perhaps as my wife Elaine explains it “Because we have to keep our antennae up all the time to track what the children are doing…”

Men, on the other hand, are much better at being 100% into one task, then shifting to the next task, and 100% then into a focus on that.

This is why, faced with a fire breaking out, Elaine might do something like ask “Is everyone out? Everyone safe?”  I might say “Uh…yeah…er…just let me update this spreadsheet I’m working on first…” Then I’d switch to the new task: “Anyone call the fire department?

As you can  read over here, this gender-wiring of perception shows up in how environmental workplace problems are reported differently by men and women…and that in turn, is a clue to so much more… viva la difference!

Going Deeper

The training of a high-performance mind is a complex matter but management of trivial data (distractions) is key.  I wrote a paper on the importance of the mixed display of a three-color “gas gauge” display in addition to a put digital/numeric display” as a means to adapt to this difference in task-switching regimens.

[Seriously: Ure, G. “Hierarchical Instrumentation”, (PowerSystems World, San Jose, CA 1998, on man-machine interface design.]

We had observed – in product testing – that people reacted to a “red light flashing” on a display much more immediately than just taking in numbers.

Another place where the management of distractions and multiple tasks is critical is in flying an airplane. Although we sold our airplane, this is still a fine example of attention management.

At the high level, the FAA has strict rules on distractions in commercial aircraft operations and it’s called the “sterile cockpit rule.”

“The Sterile Cockpit Rule is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation requiring aircraft pilots to refrain from non-essential activities in the cockpit during critical phases of flight, normally below 10,000 feet (3,050 m). The FAA imposed the rule in 1981, after reviewing a series of accidents that were caused by flight crews who were distracted from their flying duties by engaging in non-essential conversations and activities during critical parts of the flight.

One such accident was Eastern Air Lines Flight 212, which crashed just short of the runway at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in 1974 while conducting an instrument approach in dense fog. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that a probable cause of the accident was lack of altitude awareness due to distraction from idle chatter among the flight crew during the approach phase of the flight. Similar is the case of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009.”

In 2014, the FAA added personal electronic devices which, like idle chit-chat, have no place in an aircraft that is maneuvering.

How is this About Prepping?

Ah, just!  Around UrbanSurvival and Peoplenomics, we hold to the notion that statistics mean something in Life.  Must bed present to win.

So, when we look at Life as a “math problem” we quickly begin to notice actuarial tables and see how there are certain personal behaviors that can get you killed.

Distracted driving, flying, or boating causing your personal injury or death is a much higher statistical probability (for now, knock on wood) than  EMP and for the latter-day version of the Russian’s Invading flick “Red Dawn,”  or some wandering asteroid.

Strangely as it is, people will prepare for EMP all day long.  What they WON’T do is really focus on evolving their personal task-switching speeds and depths.  Despite the data this is much more likely to kill them.  Go figure, huh?

Let me divert back to attention, distraction, and information management in an airplane a bit more:

There are two ways these days to fly an airplane:  One way is using the “steam gauges” – the assortment of flight instruments clustered in a standard way that constitutes the “six-pack.”  You can fly an aircraft by reading six dials and integrating what they mean – in your head.  Let’s call this odd-duck of a person who gets off on this a “hard tasker.” Because each one of the instruments in the six-pack will call for a specific action.  And in order to be in control, you need an “instrument scan.” 100% on one input, then 100% on the next, assess, then 100% on next…and so on.

By contrast, the “Soft-tasker” is someone who by nature doesn’t like doing the “head-work” that comes with attitude instrument flying.  Their preference is for the Electronic Flight Display (EFD) because it “unloads the pilot” from doing the integrative steps of mentally modeling what the individual gauges are telling ’em…

Going through this instrument flying process can be mentally exhausting…

1. Read Altimeter: Attitude—level the wings on the attitude indicator, both pitch and bank.
2. Read Compass: Heading—pick a heading that is known to be free of obstacles and maintain it. This may be 180° from your current heading.  Get where you’re going.
3. Check Engine: Power—adjust if needed.
4. Read Airspeed—adjust to a climb, level, or descending airspeed.
5. Read Turn and Slip Indicator: maintain coordinated flight so that an unusual attitude will not develop.

There’s more, like the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) and Artificial Horizon…but you get the idea.  Us “hard taskers” love bouncing through an orderly process to get from one thing to the next.  It’s how we construct that world.  But, there’s another way:

“Soft-Taskers” like the Big Picture – it’s more like a video game because EFD displays integrate complex information

(Picture courtesy FAA training materials)

This is critically important stuff:

If you really want to Prep for Life, it means  managing your attentions correctly – all day, every day.  If you don’t?  Things crash.  Our young friend’s car, and tragically, airplanes have, too.

There are ways to shave the odds in your favor, though, not the least of which is managing your attention.

Attention is “How We See World” instinctively.  When it comes to who’s better suited for a combat role – in the extremely unlikely event it were ever needed – hand me my AK and a 12-pound tin of Russian 7.62X39 ammo.  Grim Reaping is a single task.  One can focus on it.

What if the mission wasn’t to see who could “go Rambo” best?

Unless a deaf animal is left in the forest, I would starve.  Because that same laser focus that may work in battle could be a detriment limiting my own perceptions.  Elaine, with her different way of “seeing” – softer, more holistic, and graphical – would see food sources long before me.  Even though she can field-strip an M-16…she sees more globally.

Men, thanks to our DNA, when handed a rifle, thing our “tool as the answer.”  Women?  No, they solve differently.  Put a hammer in their hand and they won’t just look for nails (men do, lol).  They will look for acorns and so on…

If you are a hard-tasker, best to get that straight with yourself sooner than later.  And if you’re a “soft tasker” (and have any accidents to show for it) maybe it’s time to adopt some personal discipline policies (no phone use in a moving vehicle, for example) because too much attention out of the cockpit…well, you know where that ends.  Badly.

Many in the prepping world would focus on reaction-time tests as all that matters.  But, it’s really much deeper.

If you find yourself getting into situations where you need that fast reaction time too often?  You’re running life wrong.  It’s supposed to be fun and not overly-dramatic.

The “High Performance Brain” is managed to its best when task-shifting is run at long-term sustainable speeds and with well-managed consequences.

Write when you get rich,

9 thoughts on “Prepping: Your “High-Performance Brain””

  1. Something that kept me out of at least two very severe accidents…….

    Peripheral vision

    I had a couple of experiences in my twenties on multi-lane expressways where my peripheral vision, linked with intuition/situational awareness, kept me out of multi-car pile ups. I was able to simply back off the gas and take some easy evasive maneuvers and watch horrendous Hollywood-style flying-through-the air and multiple rollovers accident scenes unfold before me.

    When I got home and analyzed how the hell I managed to avoid those pile-ups it came down to simply backing off the gas at the moment a car moving at too-high speed passed me.

    Ever after I have made sure that neither my hair nor my sunglasses temples block my peripheral vision.

    I have to wonder if the rise of screen time has led to a reduction in peripheral vision awareness.

    This may or may not have had anything to do with your friend’s accident. However, I like to mention my experience when I get the chance because I think attention span and visual attention range may be narrowing in a population where all of their attention is at close range in front of them. This is a drastic change from hunting, gathering, farming, and animal husbandry of thousands of previous generations.

    • BTDT too. my usable peripheral vision is ~185° — was 220° when I was younger. When I learned to drive distance, I made a habit of scanning each mirror, then horizon-to-near (~400′ or 5 seconds), and repeating this scan every 6 seconds or so. I typically drive “speed limit +4” but when I see an idiot driver (speeder, reckless, reading, doing makeup, texting, etc.) I’ll speed up to +10 and if they catch me, I’ll go to the right lane and to 10 under. My theory is: “This person is going to cause or create an accident. I’d prefer they do it behind me. If I can’t keep them behind me, then I want sufficient distance to avoid or evade…”

      Peripheral vision is not focused, but is much better at detecting motion than focused vision… Definitely helps in these situations.

  2. Well stated George! The FAA at least pushed to standardize the position of the six main instruments on a panel. No such luck with cars. Gauges and even idiot lights could be anywhere, or not even present. Tuning a radio sometimes requires going back to the book, and always requires playing with tiny buttons instead of the old fashioned two knobs and five buttons in predictable places. Most “accidents” can be avoided if you’re always on task, and very few drivers are.

    Regarding steam gauges vs glass panel, we both learned on steam, and it’s like driving a stick shift. After a while it becomes automatic.

    Even then, prioritized focus(aviate, navigate, communicate) is essential.

    One thing not mentioned here is societal inhibition. Before you can go out with the AK and shoot the bad guys, you have to get the idea that it’s OK to shoot them. This is not instantaneous, even in a critical situation. Even with practice and more practice, reaction shooting someone is strongly inhibited in most people. In the rare cases that it’s not, you have news headlines nationwide.

  3. George
    Going to my first ham radio club meeting as a guest next Tues. Also I spent many years in the automobile sales arena. Years ago I had a father looking for a first vehicle for his son. He was looking for a small inexpensive truck. I told him trucks were more expensive than cars. He said he wanted to buy a reg. can two door truck. I ask him why. He said he didn’t want anyone sitting behind his son to “distract” him. Concentration for young males is difficult.

  4. FMRI scans of men and women show very different brain functions. One interesting difference is that most men can “turn off” their alert mode, for example after coming home from work. Most women’s alert mode is in high gear all the time, even in deep sleep.

    I think this is why so many women are better able to relax when not at home. Fewer immediate things to be in alert mode about.

    Th good news is that we can stop criticizing people for being themselves, and start trying to find ways to work with the grain of their design, instead of against it. One example is the downsizing/decluttering/minimalism trends. For certain brain types, it is vastly heathier and more relaxing to live in simple, uncluttered environments, based on hard wired brain function. Easier and cheaper, too.

  5. What really irks me is riding with people who take their eyes off the road for a long time in conversation. One ride is all it takes, then I’ll offer to drive or just won’t ride with that person any longer.

    • I don’t even get in cars anymore because I know how many people like that are coming AT ME – scary!!!

  6. What a great post..
    I for one can associate with that.. I for an example will start out to take the garbage out.. see an important paper I needed to file put down the trash pick up the file head to the file and someone comes to the door.. oops put down the file I have to answer the door.. get to the door answer it realizing that I have to tighten the door handle head off to get the tools.. at the end of the day realize that in the morning I will have to get the trash out first thing in the morning.. LOL

    Just kidding I have my list .. and if i get distracted go back to the list of must do projects. I have seen people drive fifty miles an hour in a twenty mile an hour zone in a busy city dodge in between traffic trying to beat the rush hour and find a channel on the radio or text someone.. this freaks me out..
    most people don’t realize on the daily short jaunts we make going faster isn’t going to get you there any quicker.. I can enjoy my stress free ride and pull in just as your opening your door.. but that is another issue.

    “”Strangely as it is, people will prepare for EMP all day long. What they WON’T do is really focus on evolving their personal task-switching speeds and depths. Despite the data this is much more likely to kill them. Go figure, huh?””

    this is what caught my eye..
    notice anything lately when people talk about prepping..
    years ago.. there was an electrical outage the ice took down the poles. no power for a month… I had a gravity radiant heater..
    refridgeration wasnt a big deal.. but heat.. everyone was scurrying around trying to stay warm..
    anyway someone stopped and was talking about how he would be ok because he had an electric blanket.. OOPS.. big shocker when he turned it on I am sure..
    most people prep for the situation where your things will help you when people should be prepping for is the what if.. and emp.. unless you have a hand pump on the oil well and the ability to filter and process it to get gasoline.. your SOL…the chain saw isn’t anything more than a dead weight.. can you smash up grain and get the oils from it.. if not then an oil lamp isn’t anything more than a jar.. same with alcohol.. do you have a still do you know how to process the grasses in your grove to make wood alcohol.. how about a piece of paper.. want to be wiping with leaves or can you make paper with the raw materials around you.. pencils.. if you cannot make a pencil well communication is really tough to do.might as well talk into a stick without any power or equipment that still works. that is one of the first things I teach my grandkids how to make paper and pencil’s LOL LOL then pens..
    pottery.. a real SHTF scenario you can have all the C onsumer R eadily A accessible P roducts in the world but in a true SHTF scenario most of them will be worthless.. unless you can Modify them to work..
    That is one of the fundamental assessments that was figured by NASA as to why 90% plus of mankind will parish in less than six months..there isn’t any need to worry about a red dawn..anyone that is willing to take it to this level will only have to wait.. if they are still able then come in six months later with equipment and supplies to help those still alive to rebuild gaining their total support.
    the scary part is this would be mutual retaliation from all sides.. there might not be a savior after the long winter.. Just ask Germany how it went when they went into Russia during the winter.. not so good I think..
    Those in the bunkers have ordered enough fuel to supply the bunkers for about ten years depending on the size of the equipment.. most of them are working facilities right now with supplies coming in and going out daily. of course we aren’t invited to them so it is up to us.. can you cool yourself can you heat yourself can you process by hand whats around you..

  7. Hello George,

    Thank you for today’s post. Excellent and a valuable read. I’d like to share a little that I have learned over the years. One of my interests is “awareness”. And that includes all type of “PSI” abilities. In my research, I came across a thin book at the library, maybe 25 or 30 years ago.

    It dealt with ESP and psychic communication. It also addressed the difference in how women and men are different in our psychic makeup. They explained the psychic energy path’s in males are very narrow and if overloaded are subject to collapse. Males awareness abilities work best in quiet conditions where he can focus on one subject, for instance as a hunter, he is in an area of the plains or mountains and he is searching for a game animal.

    Yes women are different. Where a man’s psychic energy tubules maybe 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch in diameter, a woman’s are more like 6 inches to a foot in diameter.

    Women can handle a lot of psychic information input, and they can discern and filter out…THE SIGNAL that is important to them. In ham radio terms, they can have 20 or 30 radio stations all broadcasting on the same frequency, and filter out exactly which station is important and what the message is. And yes, that is because they need to hear the baby and understand its needs instantly where ever they are. Men do not need that level of awareness.

    Another example in a different vein. Here in Tucson we have an internationally known male surgeon who works at the University Hospital. He spoke to the Near Death group here in Tucson within the last two years. His hobby is raising and training horses. And yes, I do not remember his name. :-((

    In his presentation, he commented that because horses are a prey animal. i.e. an animal that mountain lions hunt and kill, that they have a very acute sense of when they are being hunted and stalked. They can feel the gaze of the hunter up to five miles away. And they are very aware of when a HUMAN LOOKS at them. That sensitivity can cause them to become very spooked if they are in a corral or field.

    One other contribution. In years past I had occasion to study with a very fine martial arts teacher. In one of the classes he made a point that at a very advanced stage, a martial artist should be able to mentally bifurcate…that is split their awareness between their immediate adversary and also be aware of the location of each of his other assailants at the same time. In my own experience that can occur both close in, meaning in a circle of about 20 feet in diameter, or if one is in a remote area, if one enters that awareness condition or state one can aware of others at great distances in any direction.

    To be clear, the close in situation is one kind of awareness and the far away situation is a different and quiet state, but yet similar awareness.

    Thanks again. Roger

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