How to improve your reaction time with mental athletics

Law enforcement and security spend most of their time training on the Decide / Act part of the OODA loop and do not have the skills of Observation or Orientation

Imagine being able to react faster than your opponent or having the skill to see and react quicker during the complex and dynamic situations you may encounter. This was the goal of the late Col. John Boyd when he flew his jet aircraft and became known as “John '40 Second' Boyd.” Boyd developed a strategic system that became known as the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act).

In 2006 after returning from a counter terrorism training mission to Israel with SSI (I highly recommend this trip as it was life changing), I was convinced that the Israeli’s were as good as they are in dealing with terrorism and security because of the continual training they do and that training is the key. The trip inspired me to develop a personal mission to create training programs for law enforcement and security professionals that would be “performance-centric” to develop the skill sets that will enable them to outpace adversaries.

As I studied Boyd’s OODA Loop I dissected it to see where the training gaps were. What I found (see chart below) was that law enforcement and security spend most of their time training on the Decide / Act part of the loop and have not spent much, if any efforts developing the skills of Observation or Orientation.

First, A Foundation
Although training on the Decide / Act side is critically important, I theorize that if you don’t get the Observe / Orient piece rapidly and accurately, your chances of getting a good decision or action are greatly reduced. What if we could accelerate the skills of observation and critical thinking? Could we more rapidly outpace our adversaries? What if? What if? What if? These were the questions that kept pushing me forward as I watched the number of line of duty deaths and mistakes in weapon vs. object identification increase, as well as the outrageous sums paid in law suits and distrust in law enforcement.

During World War II, the United States military was having a problem with pilots shooting down their own and friendly aircraft. A psychologist name Samuel Renshaw devised a system using a device he called a tactistacscope to flash images at high speeds of friendly vs. enemy aircraft.

The program was so successful with the pilots that were trained using this system that no further identity mistakes were made. I believe that because the system was difficult to administer due to the equipment involved that it was not developed further. Some speed reading programs used the technique which was where I first became aware of it. I decided to research and explore this methodology and see what I might be able to do with it to increase observation skills for cops and security professionals.

As I pursued my quest I felt I could create a program on a personal computer. I went to the Apple Corporation which I am most grateful to, as they helped me develop a program that could be used to train using the methodology used by pilots.

During the past five years I’ve developed and refined the program training and testing hundreds of officers. The results have been spectacular. To determine the effectiveness I first tested using a Laser simulation shooting system to see if target acquisition could be increased pre-RTR training and post training. The methodology has consistently showed between a 20 to 30 percent improvement in as little as an eight-hour class. What I also found when training high level performers with firearms or martial arts skills was they would anecdotally report they were increasing their skill levels.

Developing Brain Plasticity
Although I had proof of concept with these results I wanted to know from a scientific standpoint how the brain was able to accomplish this. Through an incredible sequence and very serendipitous chain of events I had the honor to meet Dr. Michael Merzenich who is the world’s leading authority on what is called Brain Plasticity. Dr. Merzenich explained to me that the human brain is incredibly adaptable and flexible.

He said, “as neurons wire together, they fire together therefore the brain is “plastic’.”

He said to me, “I don’t know how you intuitively figured out what I have spent the past 40 years researching, but you are right on target!” Although that was a nice pun for what I am trying to do, I jumped for joy. Dealing with threat recognition is not like other topics because life and death are on the line. I wanted to be sure what I was doing was the right thing and that this training would scientifically be helpful in saving lives.

What I ultimately learned is that brain plasticity is the most important discovery in brain science in the past 400 years. What this means is that our brain changes constantly and can literally be re-wired when challenged much like physical exercise to increase capacities such as speed, critical thinking and motor skills. Everything that we are as humans is controlled by the brain. What we need to do is challenge it and practice, practice, practice!

In today’s tight economy where training budgets have been slashed it has become more and more difficult to provide classroom training sessions for more than a day, yet at the same time threats and line of duty deaths have significantly increased.

Even though the results of the Rapid Threat Recognition eight-hour class have been impressive, it is a skill that needs to be developed over time so I’ve created a DVD where a student can practice the skill sets at their convenience through short bite sized lessons. All a student has to do is watch the images and try their best to record what they see. Through the almost magic of brain plasticity, new neural connections are made and soon they are seeing and reacting faster than ever before. You figuratively “Reboot your brain through mental athletics”

Sounds like a no-brainer!

John Demand's new four-disc DVD program is available for purchase here. Demand is offering the DVDs for a special police price of $79.00 (regularly $140.00) which includes an accompanying workbook. Students attenting the eight-hour Rapid Theat Recognition Program receive the DVDs and workbook for continuing practice.  

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