Increase your Self-Defense Awareness: Buy a Kitchen Timer & Head to the Bookstore
A common comment among my students, both at the university and in my Five Star carry classes, is “But I am not a reader.” Perhaps you have said “I am not a reader” yourself (but I do gently point out that you are reading a blog post). It is much more likely you were told “you must not be a reader” long ago by some parent or teacher who was frustrated that you did not read what they expected you to read or you did not enjoy reading what they enjoyed reading. Enough excuses.
I am going to suggest two things to help change that. First, you need to start reading what you are interested in learning. Second, I am pretty sure your brain has been programmed to not enjoy reading. Fortunately, that is fixable.
I will NEVER read the instructions for the installation of a surround sound system. I am not interested in wiring, but if you are an engineer you probably keep your installation manuals to reference from time to time because you are interested! My recommendation is that you find something you are interested in reading. I have a list of suggestions related to gun ownership and self-defense below.
As to my second point, I would like you to do a little experiment in the privacy of your own home. When everyone is gone (do not do this in a group because they will make fun of you) turn on your favorite TV show. Then, turn off the lights and turn your back to the screen. For about five minutes count how many times per minute you see a change in the light or flicker off of a nearby wall. What most people see is that every 2-3 seconds their brain receives a new visual stimulus. Do you ever get bored watching old movies? Try this experiment on an old Western or Groucho Marx movie. You will see latencies of 10-20 seconds between stimuli changes.
Now for the control condition in this experiment: pull out a book and begin to read. How long until your mind wanders? How often do the visual stimuli change? Here is the important part. Your brain is infinitely trainable and right now if you only look at electronic media your brain is expecting to be visually stimulated every 3-5 seconds. The result of our experiment: your brain has been trained to expect something that reading doesn’t produce – rapid visual stimulation.
My recommendation to my students is equally simple. Buy a kitchen timer and sit down to read. Set the timer for two minutes. When the timer goes “ding” go do something else. The next day when you come back to read set the timer to four minutes. When you can read for five minutes start bumping up in five minute increments. You know your attention span has been changed when you get irritated that the timer is going off in the middle of something that you just have to finish.
Like you, I live in a world of texts, emails and constant interruptions so I find myself having to retrain my visual attention span every few weeks. There is a Radio Shack kitchen timer on my desk, and yes, I’m using it to write this blog. By the way, I once read an article about using binoculars to scan for wild life that gave the very same advice – practice going slow, then practice doing this for longer periods of time and practice seeing what is not forcibly jumping out in your field of vision.
The bottom line: find something interesting and train your brain to pay attention.
Enough fussing at you about your brain. What have I been reading that is fun? Mainly I have been reading books that will help me teach about “bad people.” Or if you want to make the logical extension I am reading about the people you and I are trying to protect our families from every day. I teach a forensics class and so I need to know how to describe and help my students predict dangerous behavior (news flash: it is not like on TV!). So, take that gift card you got for Christmas and track down one or two of these books. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Suggested readings (in no particular order).
- School Shooters by Peter Langman (2015). Langman catalogs and organizes decades of school shooters. I have my students read this book because media outlets present school shootings as a chaotic and unpredictable problem that can only be eliminated by removing all risk or fearing the mentally ill. I ask my students to make up their own mind after looking at the facts.
- Without Conscience by Robert Hare (1993). A classic study of the psychopath. You should be afraid of these people but you probably are not.
- I Will Find You by Joanna Connors (2016). Tale of a rape survivor who presents an excellent portrayal of the assault and the aftermath.
- On Combat by Dave Grossman (2008). Grossman is good at explaining the universal human phobia and how we react to it. You will think differently about your self-defense after you read this book. Grossman also has a book titled On Killing that some might find interesting.
- What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro (2008). Navarro is an FBI trainer who will tell you how to begin to read people. This book is not exhaustive but a good starting point. Grossman and others want you to be aware and this book tells you what you are looking for as you scan your environment.
- Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists & Other Sexual Offenders by Anna Salter (2004). A classic study of sexual offenders. Again, you will be surprised by what you don’t know. I can only read this book in small chunks because I find the information disturbing.
- Columbine by Dave Cullen (2010). What you thought you knew about what happened at Columbine High School and what really happened will surprise you. One lesson I have my students take from this book is that the full conclusion from most tragic events can take a decade to untangle so we should be careful about rushing to judgment.
I am one of those people with five or six books going at any given time and this is just a partial list of the books on my bookshelf. For other recommendations see the list in the November/December 2016 American Handgunner article by Tiger McKee. You also cannot go wrong with anything written by Massad Ayoob.
You get the picture: buy a kitchen timer and head to the bookstore.