There are two ways to learn before actually doing to increase the chances of winning when the chips are down in sport, survival, negotiation, or romance. The first practice is mental rehearsal which is also known as imagery or visualization. All of the senses are used to create an event or image in the mind in order to perform it at a future time. Mental rehearsal activates a network of neural responses that triggers physical responses.

The other kind of drill is physical rehearsal where a behavior or reaction is practiced over and over like dress rehearsal. It is a deeper practice than imaging because movement is involved to instill a muscle memory. This is important because the things you practice mentally may disappear in a blur of confusion in a crisis, but a muscle memory remains to react quickly, automatically.

For example, when Nolan Sackett in L'Amour's Mustang Man gets lost in Comanche territory and is ringed by Indians, the chief puts a lance to his heart as Sackett sings an Irish lullaby. He kept on singing, and escaped with this bravo. Remembering, once I was lost hiking in Mexico's Copper Canyon, so big you can drop ten Grand Canyons into it, when an hombre on horseback galloped up, stopped on a peso, and reared the kicking hooves at my chin. He pointed a pistol at my breastbone, as I recited the only poem recalled from high school Spanish, 'I like milk, I like tea, but most of all, I like your eyes'. The cowboy broke into a wide grin as the horse snickered, and they rode off.

Two nights ago, I rehearsed in my mind's eye Jack Reacher's technique in Lee Child's Killing Floor to disarm a man with a knife at your throat. You jam the knife aside with the heel of one hand, and push his wrist the opposite way with the other hand, and the knife drops. So, yesterday afternoon I walked along a gulch into a series of Ironwood branch points, and disarmed them in this manner, leaving a trail of broken branches behind me until the mental had become a physical memory.

As the wash widened, I knelt at a spring beneath a broken windmill. Shots rang, and zinged over my head. One, two … ten bullets zipped 5' overhead, as I went face down into the spring to finish drinking and create a flush profile. Two shooters continued firing semi-automatic rifles, who must not have known I was there, aiming at the windmill blades. I made the link that, two days earlier, a case of rifles was stolen from the nearby Chocolate Mt. Gunnery Range. I crept dripping along a 3' ridge between the spring and shooters, as I'd read in westerns, until I was out of the fire arc, and crawled up the rise, took off my hat and sunglasses, and peeked through a tumbleweed. It was just two guys target practicing, but now I had the physical rehearsal under my belt.

Read enough, and practice mental and physical rehearsals, and you ready yourself to do almost anything.


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