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,