If you served in the military no matter what branch of service you were in, you learned at some point the importance of having space to maneuver. Whether you were maneuvering pairs of boots, a tank, a ship, or a fighter jet, having adequate physical space was essential to executing maneuver smoothly and safely. Likewise, when we encounter challenges in life, our minds need maneuver space to mentally negotiate difficult moments. This series will highlight each month a different brief cognitive tool that you can use in your daily life to potentially create more maneuver space. Remember having maneuver space, or space to think is a gift in life. Once you create it, use it to your advantage!
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 1
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 2
Event + Response = Outcome
Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help us make decisions quickly in life.[i] Service members learn various mental heuristics throughout their military training. Assembly and disassembly of your rifle is a good example. Heuristics help reduce complex tasks to basic muscle memory. On the battlefield, this can save your life and those of your fellow servicemembers. However, heuristics can also create obstacles in civilian life, where decisions are often layered with emotions. The visual and mental model of Event + Response = Outcome[ii] is potentially a simple tool to help us create more space in our minds to maneuver, and not fall into a potential heuristic thinking trap.
Event: Events happen in life every day around us and to us. Usually, we have little ability to predict, anticipate, or even control these occurrences. Events can sometimes go unnoticed or have a relatively mild impact on our lives. However, they can also have a serious effect on our quality of life and make us feel vulnerable, afraid, sad, scared, or angry. Events can also be triggers for our body, mind, and behavior. For those of us who have been in the military, when events happen, it may often feel like we need to react immediately to protect ourselves. However, this can be a heuristic thinking trap. Life is complex and full of emotions that do not mix well with heuristic thinking. If an event happens in life and we get stuck, or maybe even consumed by it, we might rush to ensure a certain outcome. We often forget about the category that we have the most control over… our Response!
Response: Who controls how we respond to events that happen in our life? We have near-exclusive control over this category. Managing our thoughts, actions, and behaviors are all examples of how we can control the response category. When an event happens, remember that the outcome can only be influenced by how You choose to respond. Most decisions in civilian life do not have to be made at a life-or-death moment’s notice. A good technique to ensure we can embrace the response category is to notice how many alternative ways you can think of how to respond to an event. If you can only come up with one response, think harder! The response category’s left and right range limits are basically as far as our imaginations will go.
Outcome: When we have the space in our minds to think and identify multiple responses to any given event, we generally are conditioned to pick the one that appears to give us the most favorable outcome. Humans don’t usually purposely pick unfavorable outcomes. However, if we get caught up in the event and determine that there is only one preferred outcome, we may fall again into the heuristic thinking trap. Service members and Veterans understand what it means to fight and win, but they can only do this if they control the response category first.
Combat does not normally allow the luxury of emotionally processing events at the moment they occur. Heuristics help service members survive an environment that is potentially volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. But in civilian life, heuristic thinking can sometimes make us get so caught up in the events of the moment that we focus immediately on the outcome. Embracing the response category creates more maneuver space in our mind to think, hereby reminding us that we have significant control over how we respond to events and ideally obtain a favorable outcome. E + R = O
About the Author: Mr. Bongioanni is a licensed mental health counselor who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also a senior leader in the U.S. Army Reserve. His professional interests include human behavior, applied psychology, and military cultural competence. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
[i] Schaubel, S. (2017). Heuristic Bias in Cognitive Processing of Everyday Life: A Military Perspective on Post Deployment. The Military Psychologist, 32 (1), 15-17.
[ii] Adapted from: Canfield, J. and Switzer, J. (2006). The Success Principles How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. William Morrow Paperbacks, 17.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.