I had a friend who had a dog that liked to bark a lot. Yelling at the dog didn t work. To a dog, all yelling sounds like is you re joining in on the fun. Bark bark bark shout shout shout bark bark bark. WHACK! Yelp! There s an old adage that says, Pain improves the memory of the slow learner. I agree to an extent.
Part of the true value of pain penalties during reality based training exercises is tied to the fact that animals respond to pain. The normal response is to move away from it. The term used to describe this phenomenon is risk aversion.
This was the big ah-ha for David Luxton and I in the early days of SIMUNITION when we discovered that all of the high priced training systems in use could ingrain inappropriate or tactically unsound behaviors due to the fact that there wasn t a pain penalty associated with inappropriate behaviors. The penalty of hearing a little beeper go off or seeing a video screen flash the words You Lose didn t seem to correct the behaviors.
When recreational paintball started to grow popular, it was interesting for us to observe the players doing everything they could to avoid getting hit with a paint ball. Much of this was due to the risk aversion associated with the potential for a pain consequence. As we observed these weekend warriors improving in their tactical abilities, it was quite striking to see military and law enforcement communities come up against them and lose. This was completely unexpected; it seemed natural for those allegedly trained in skill at arms to dominate those who hadn t.
In actuality, those who had ostensibly been trained in weaponcraft had not been tested in battle a completely different animal. The salient difference was the use of projectiles that caused pain on impact. Pain eliminated questioning a hit and provided an incentive for avoiding projectile impact. This led us down the path of technological development that would permit the use of actual firearms for launching marking projectiles.
However, as projectile-based training developed, I discovered that many of those using the technology began to over-use pain penalties. This moved the process toward a hazing approach in which trainees received an inordinate number of projectile strikes no matter what, coupling the pain of projectile impact with a you re dead proclamation from training staff. Although such training was well intentioned, it had the unintended consequence of potentially programming students for future failure.
This programming for future failure phenomenon still isn t well understood by many trainers inside the military and law enforcement communities, but
it s extremely well understood by psychologists and sports trainers.
What s the point of practicing failure? To my mind, training must always end on a positive note with a win for the students. It s not a give-away, but students are challenged at the appropriate level where they succeed only after earning that success.
No Pain, No Gain?
Some argue that character and toughness are forged in battle. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, the use of adversity to build character and substance has been well tested in organizations such as Outward Bound. Kurt Hahn, one of Outward Bound s founders, believed in teaching through experience rather than attempting to indoctrinate people through education or coercion.
Hahn steadfastly believed It is the sin of the soul to force young people into opinions indoctrination is of the devil but it is culpable neglect not to impel young people into experiences.
Outward Bound emerged from a joint project between Hahn and Sir Lawrence Holt, a British shipping baron. Holt witnessed that many of the older shipmen were thriving better than better than their younger shipmates; and he surmised their life experience and their understanding that they could and would survive hardships fostered their endurance. Hahn and Holt designed a program of challenges to aid the young men in gaining confidence, redefining their perceptions of their personal capabilities, demonstrating compassion and developing a spirit of camaraderie with their peers.
Notice, though, that the experiences were designed to aid young men in gaining confidence. There was a successful and meaningful conclusion. While the hardships and consequences were real, they were constructed within a relatively safe framework to provide building blocks to success. This is a far cry from many of the training exercises I ve witnessed in military and law enforcement where much of the training serves as entertainment for bored training staff.
In situations that are either too difficult or can t be won, trainees simply learn to avoid that type of situation in the future. It s a similar psychological mechanism to that which induces phobias: powerful, one shot, life-long learning where high-level and often irrational fears are installed at the subconscious level. This type of risk aversion is counter productive to law enforcement missions and is often created by the trainers themselves.
The old adage no pain, no gain is only valid if the pain portion of the equation is proportionate to the limitations of the trainee. Too much salt spoils the soup. Making people miserable in training, such as sending people out to train in inclement weather, might make sense given the fact that it s important to be able to function under inclement conditions. But inclement weather isn t the place to be teaching the skills necessary for the specific task fulfillment.
Therefore, a multifaceted training approach is needed. Just as it would be near impossible to teach Hahn s shipmen how to tie knots while the storm is raging and the waves are washing men overboard, it doesn t make any sense to try to teach the necessary skills to win gunfights under inclement conditions. It makes better sense to teach the skills under
relatively stress-free conditions, make it fun and then test the skills under appropriately stressful conditions and in settings and circumstances in which the skills will prove necessary.
Delivering an appropriate consequence for inappropriate behaviors at the right time, with a pathway for success, is a winning model. Using a building-block approach and appropriate stress inoculation will both test and toughen the mettle of your students without crushing them to the point of situational avoidance.
Until next time, train hard and train safe.