Monday, July 30, 2012

Emotional Skills and The Survival Process

The Opals are the Australian women's basketball team competing at the 2012 Olympics. Liz Cambage is an up and coming star of not only the Opals but women's basketball generally. Given what I've been writing about in this blog and a proposed article on the survival process, a news article reporting on their win over Great Britain caught my eye.
Once again Cambage was struck with foul troubles. She had two inside the opening two minutes and then when she finally reappeared midway through the second got another one which was enough for coach Carrie Graf who benched the centre again.

But the coach has backed the young gun to bounce back.

'She definitely was nervous and that impacted her focus,' Graf said.

'One of her (pre-match) goals was to breathe. I think that indicates where she was with her emotions.

't's good for Liz to get that one under her belt. Now she can buckle down and play basketball.

'She's young, but her emotional skills are still a work-in-progress.'
The 'survival process' is a term I've used to refer to our evolved survival mechanism which is embedded in a survival process. It is evolutionarily designed to promote our survival.

The survival process is comprised of a stimulus that is appraised. If appraised as harm, threat, or challenge, a feeling response is elicited which motivates an urge to action that a physiological reaction prepares the body for. The behaviour associated with the action is intended to cope with the initiating stimulus. All of the components of the process are interconnected. Affect one and you can affect another or them all.

I've written previous posts about tactical breathing. Voluntarily controlling your breathing is intervening in the physiological component that can affect all the other components. Cambage's pre-match goal of breathing is an example of tactical breathing at work. It appears Cambage gets anxious before a game which has deleterious effects on her performance. Controling her breathing controls her anxiety feeling and her appraisal of the situation, which in turn modifies her physiological response (and produces gold for Australia).

Graf's comment regarding Cambage's emotional skills is very telling. Stress training (stress inoculation training and stress exposure training) is described as being training that is designed to counter stress effects. How does stress training counter stress effects. By managing emotion. That fact is obscured by the reference to the ambiguous concept of stress.

Miller (The Mystery of Courage) insightful explains that military training is directly or indirectly a set of fear-management techniques. He suggests that training is the 'grafting of a new set of reflexes onto the more cowardly ones of flight and freeze that nature equipped us with from the start.' Miller has focused on the heart of the issue - emotion. Stress obscures the heart. When you focus on emotion, you immediately go to behaviour which is the initial interest of survival activities. When you focus on stress, you go to the physiological response and possibly the cognitive effects, and their effect on survival and combat performance. The physiological and cognitive effects are of secondary interest. Their is no survival or combat performance if the warrior has fled, become comatose, fainted, or refuses to fight.

While martial arts, etc. tend to focus on technical proficiency, they should understand and pay attention to the emotional skills with equal emphasis.

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