In the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix, Morpheus talks to Neo about bending the rules of his reality to do seemingly impossible things (like jump across large buildings with a single bound). He says: “You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.”
There is a deeper truth to this of course.
The reality we experience is not as factual as we may think. Let me explain this for a moment. Imagine this scenario taken from The Sniper Mind: You’re a lone sniper in the jungle tasked with taking one particular, high-value kill shot. To do it you need to crawl approximately 1,300m of open ground overseen by enemy machine gun nests and crisscrossed day and night by enemy foot patrols. You have to inch across this space, camouflaged, sleepless, thirsty and hungry for three days and nights. You then need to find the perfect sniping position, take one shot and one shot only across a distance almost half a kilometer long on a target that’s unpredictable in his movements and escape with your life while the enemy’s complex defenses have been activated.
Carlos Hathcock, a legendary sniper embedded with the US Marines in Vietnam, did just that and lived to tell the tale.
It was no luck that enabled him to do it and there was nothing exceptional about how he did it from a biological point of view. Carlos was just like any other person in the military at the time. Where he was different however was in the singular ability of his trained mind to appraise situations and make executive decisions.
The decisions he made depended upon his perception of what he saw. The perception of what he saw stemmed from what he believed. What he believed rose from what he saw and what he saw was filtered through the awareness of a brain trained to understand its capabilities and filter the information reported to it by the senses through a complex, deep knowledge base.
The actions he then initiated were substantially different to those that anyone else lacking his training and awareness would have initiated, despite the fact that the information they’d have access to would be the same.
The reality we create is the direct result of our actions and those actions stem from our beliefs which rise from our perceptions. When we trace this logic path to its natural outcome we can see that ‘reality’ as we understand it to be is a little bit different for each person. As Morpheus implies in his explanations to Neo, fear, doubt and disbelief do have the ability to constrain us and determine what we are capable of and we are not.
Is there a formula? Well, yes, there is an entire book that guides on how to achieve this in a step-by-step way but as a quick fix here are five steps:
- Visual acuity, both physical and mental that allows good collection of information
- Mental alertness, the result of situational awareness and assessment, which prepares us for action
- Self-belief in one’s training and capabilities, necessary to silence the mental dissonance of doubt
- Prior knowledge or experience of the situation and a set of possible responses that can be employed quickly (training)
- A personal database of past events with a similar context that can be used to make quick decisions
Or as Morpheus admonishes “Don’t think you are. Know you are.” enjoy the fight sequence in the sparring program:
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