Presidia Security Consulting - Emergency Preparedness - The Mental Rehearsal

Visualizations – A Tool for Enlightenment, Sport Psychology & Emergency Preparedness

Stacey Chaney

Many people loath safety training. They dislike it for a variety of reasons. They are introverted. They dislike repetition. They feel the training may or not be adequately suited to their role or job function. But the reality is – some health and safety courses and first aid training is imperative for the ‘just in case’ scenario. What is more often than not been learned skills as a mandatory job requirement – has saved a life from a cardiac event on the rink or a passerby witnessing a neighbor’s fall and identifying the appropriate stroke signs and symptoms. The brain and body reacted because they were trained to do so. The body had rehearsed the event. The brain had been coached to take action.

Visualizations, or the mental rehearsal, is a technique whereby you deploy all your conscious thought to an event and achieving a desired outcome. Often described as practicing without dawning the jersey, it requires the conscious and continued use of imagery. Performance enhancing motivations for most athletes can include perfection in performance, downing opponents or visualizing the win.

The Mental Rehearsal

There are three largely adopted steps to the mental rehearsal:

1. Identify the desired behavior
2. Visualize performing the desired behavior
3. Examine performance enhancing motivations

Now what if we took the practice of visualizations into a conscious effort to train ourselves for a variety of emergency scenarios. For the purposes of emergency preparedness – your motivations are mitigating loss and/or survival. Visualizations bring forth levels of enlightenment to monks. They differentiate the sport psychology of high level athletes from exceptionally high-performing athletes. Why can’t this be part of your emergency preparedness playbook?

Security management involves the continual assessment of risks and the implementation of mitigation controls…yet the cognitive understanding of our own handling of an emergency situation often doesn’t extend beyond the SOPs or into real-world, real-time scenarios. I have had exceptionally well versed, well-intentioned people unequivocally state, post-event that they “could not believe this happened”. We have all seen footage of ongoing emergency situations where people’s first course of action was to document the event, oblivious to their personal safety. The worst of the bystanders, the like-driven causality.

Visualizations are a balancing between what is real and what is imagined. Mentally rehearsing for an event trains your mind and body for the real event. Your brain doesn’t know the difference. But should that event occur, you’ve now trained yourself for the real event. Adopting the steps of visualizations – one can see the applicability of the mental rehearsal to emergency preparedness:

Emergency Preparedness – Beyond the Playbook

1. Envision: the emergency event
2. Identify the desired behavior: survival / mitigating loss
3. Visualize performing: what is needed to do to survive / mitigate loss
4. Check in on performance: Am I confident? Was my desired behaviour achievable?


Allow your visualizations to be vivid and agile. Develop your situational awareness for a variety of landscapes. Insert both personal and professional characters. Allow your rehearsed performance to be flexible and both unique and true to your response type. Remain determined to your desired behavior. In this situational awareness practice of the mental rehearsal, the abbot takes visualizations further: enhancing the motivation and modifying the events, players and scale of the emergency.

Charles Darwin articulated that ‘the species that survive are not the smartest or the strongest, but the ones most responsive to change’. I fully believe most can retrain their passive bystander behavior, without having a dooms-day conviction. A visualization practice whereby your actively take the reins of your daydreaming to survive and help others during a bridge collapse – just may train your brain to take shelter during a tornado. You won’t know until you try. Imagine that.