I was listening to Jocko Willink recently, talking about an experience in Iraq where he came to a group of his men carrying out an attack on a supposed enemy base. The attack had been going on a while, with sustained fighting, but the enemy hadn’t been overwhelmed. They were at the point of calling in heavy artillery and an air strike in order to get the job done. In the midst of the chaos of war it hadn’t occurred to the commander in charge that they could be fighting anything other than the enemy, after all they were skilled fighters giving as good as they got in return – what else could it be? In Jocko’s training as a US Navy SEAL he had learned the importance of making evidence-based judgements from a point of calm on the inside, whatever hell was breaking loose on the outside, and something about the current situation just didn’t fit right with him. He calmly considered the evidence, while the bullets flew around. He knew the location of the enemy at an earlier point and realised they hadn’t had enough time to arrive at the location where they allegedly were now and to have been fighting for as long as they had been. He also knew he had another group of his own men in the area who were no longer in radio contact, so their location was unknown. He told his men to hold their fire, while he crossed over, gun in hand to the gate of the ‘enemy base’, and to, in the opinion of his men watching, certain death. He kicked open the gate and came face to face with one of his own men who looked at him in disbelief and wanted to know how he managed to make his way through such heavy ‘enemy’ fire unharmed. He told him ‘blue on blue’. In other words, friendly fire. They had been firing at their own men. One man had died in the fight, another injured, and they were minutes away from being wiped out by a bomb-drop. Jocko’s ability to find the eye of the storm within himself and make an evidence-based judgement from that point of calm saved many lives that day. He went on to claim full responsibility for that situation arising in the first place, rather than claiming the glory for saving his men. I’ll talk about that in the next post.
Thinking about this situation might just have saved my life this week. I had run out of one of my blood pressure tablets. I’d only missed a couple of days and thought I’d be fine. I was still taking 2 other sorts and didn’t think it would make that much difference. I was planning to get to the chemist later in the evening when the traffic was gone and parking was free, so I wasn’t worried at all. I started having stabbing pains in my head which I dismissed, as I was busy and had ‘important’ stuff to do. The pills could wait another 8 hours. As I carried on about my business there were more stabbing pains and the thoughts came back to me about Jocko’s experience and his advice to make evidence-based judgements and not assumptions. I had made an assumption that I would be fine for another 8 hours. I thought to myself that I needed to follow his advice and make an evidence-based judgement. So I went and found my blood pressure monitor, and took my blood pressure. To my shock, even after sitting down and resting it was 180/120. I realised that if I carried on with my plans and was very active, that blood pressure was going to rise even further and I was at risk of having a stroke long before I made it to the chemist. I dropped all my plans and went to the chemist to get my pills. Thanks Jocko!
To be able to find the eye of the storm internally in a crisis I need to have become trained in the art of finding it when the stakes are not so high. The same goes for making evidence-based judgements. If I’m used to reacting to circumstances, instead of acting in accordance with the evidence, in the hum-drum of life, then I will not be equipped in an emergency to suddenly apply the principle of acting on the evidence to deal with the crisis. I can start right now, with the next minor decision. I can act according with the evidence, from a place of calm. I can stay in control of myself, if not the circumstances.
Coming next: Owning everything that happens to me