Want to live? Consider a pre-mortem exam

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, an incredible amount of good can come from pondering future negative possibilities, particularly when these mental exercises involve emergencies, disasters and self defense survival situations.

In medical jargon there’s something called a pre-mortem exam, which, in contrast to a postmortem evaluation (a.k.a. an autopsy), occurs immediately before death.  A pre-mortem examination done in organizational, business or tactical shooting terms however is imagining a project, idea or situation has failed or that something has gone terribly wrong–and trying to understand why.

After the hypothetical situation is posed in a pre-mortem exam, the manager or focus group then works backwards to determine the cause of the imaginary failure.  This process helps prevent de facto failure in the future by, hopefully, catching problems before they arise.  It also allows for secondary or alternative planning when roadblocks arise.

This negative style assessment is not even remotely new.  The Stoics called it premeditation malorum, or pre-meditation of evils.  On the tactical level—both the individual and team level—this premortem has also been called pre-determined tactics or simply what-if brainstorming.  It involves individual and team tactics or organizational strategies, both formal and informal meetings, and even quiet brainstorming self-talk, all considering possibilities of both past and future events.

In modern military jargon this is akin to war-gaming.  War-gaming and tabletop exercises are conducted on the strategic level, involving large elements and key leadership personnel.  Although war-gaming may not be completely negative thinking, this process of critical evaluation of potential future risks and successes is a huge part of it and can pay big dividends.

How, you ask?  By addressing the things that we often don’t think about and actually require preparation to address effectively.  Admiral Rickover, the father of the modern nuclear Navy, had a rule, which applies to each of us tactically speaking.  It went something like this:

“Training must be constant and rigorous with a focus upon the high threat/low frequency incidents where there is no decision time.”

Doesn’t that sum up a lethal force survival situation well?  Like someone pulling a gun on you or robbing you when you least expect it.

With mental conditioning and tactical mindset preparation, we ought to distinguish between probabilities (what may likely happen) and possibilities (what is possible, but less likely).  Often, focusing on the latter is what cops do, what military personnel do and what gunfighters and survivalists do.  Sure, nothing may happen—and we’re going to avoid any bad situation if we can help it—but if the bad stuff does go down, we’re going to be ready because we’ve mentally prepared and have a predetermined strategy in place.

When we prepare our minds for worst case scenarios, individually or collectively as a team, we’re gaining a tactical advantage even before it happens.  We envision ourselves responding…and winning.  We envision that even if we’re injured, we can still fight and win.

Remember this truth: we cannot act physically unless we think about it first.  That’s a law of nature.  Fortunately, when we think to prepare, then we can act better than not thinking or training at all.  We are less apt to freeze.  We are less likely to fight when we should flee or flee when we should fight.  In short, our mindset will prepare us for evils and allow us to live.

By regularly performing a premortem tactical exam, we’re keeping ourselves alive and well for when the worst does happens.  And, it’s not just a matter of what-if either, but when.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.

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