“We learn from mistakes in training so that we don’t make them when it’s real.”

This is a common refrain heard in training classes. Highly expert instructors share this. And I don’t think this is correct.

Then there’s “Experts don’t train ’til they get it right, they train ’til they can’t get it wrong...”

Once again…don’t think so.

There is no such thing as infallibility in humans. Add stress, add friction, add the “fog of war” and the fallibility rate of course goes up…

More to the point, the goal of training is one of making fewer mistakes, to be sure.

Smaller mistakes, yes. Less consequential mistakes… that is, fewer mistakes we cannot recover from.

It’s  recognizing the mistakes we make as we go, so as to better adapt and recover from them.

And then it’s being able to recover from mistakes in the moment, or in their aftermath, so that we do not let the fact that we screwed up, or concern for the consequences of the screw up  – which in some realms can be severe – override and overwhelm our ability to continue to think and act – in other words our ability to adapt and recover from mistakes.

Once, I knew a man who was everything you would expect a tactical guy to be – big, strong, muscled, buzz cut, oozing tactosterone. He had a major flaw – he could not make a mistake…

Not that he was perfect; I mean that he could not accept that he could err – screw up, make a mistake, fail to do something required in a tactical or training event. He did fine most of the time, and was actually capable of leadership, and even reasonable critique – of others. But the cracks eventually grew. A minor flub on the range, understandable, if not ideal based on the circumstances, and he melted down and literally ran and hid. He “could not screw up like that” in front of others…

Then an unacceptable and embarrassing public incident during a competition…he couldn’t do something and just gave up. Refused the helping hands of even his teammates.

Finally, after a shooting incident – totally justifiable, but events leading up to it being questioned – he gradually spiralled down and away.

When we do not acknowledge that we can make mistakes “in real life,” we do not prepare for their possibility. If we “can’t screw up,” we end up in one of two places – hesitant and doing little or nothing to avoid the possibility of messing up, or flustered and self-hating when we err, or fail. With this kind of thinking, we did not screw up – we are screw ups.

Years ago some trainers posited the idea that they would rather train to “win” than to survive. Training to survive was a lesser goal, even lesser training.

At least that was the implication.

So likewise, the “winning mindset” is all well and good when one is actually winning. But when behind the 8-Ball, injured, hurt, beaten, overwhelmed, etc. – that is when one not winning – what may be found lacking is the survival mindset – that of not losing.

And that can be dangerous indeed.





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