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NOTE: As a thank you for reading this blog post, we are providing you with a free excerpt from Dan Castro’s book CRITICAL CHOICES THAT CHANGE LIVES.
You will probably never be the captain of a military ship called upon to make a decision to fire missiles or not, but this story illustrates the First Law of Critical Focus. Our experience almost always determines what we focus on.
The First Law of Critical Focus is also demonstrated by a story told by journalist Peter Godwin in Zimbabwe. Godwin tells of a critical decision he made while trying to escape the military police of Zimbabwe during his efforts to expose the government’s civil rights abuses. He knew the military was looking for him. As he was making his way out of the “prohibited zone,” he saw a soldier of the dreaded Fifth Brigade standing in the road, flagging him down. Godwin quickly ran his options through his mind. He could turn around and head back at full speed. He could dump the truck he was in and run for it into the bush. Most of the soldiers weren’t terribly fit and it would take them too long to summon air support. Or he could put his foot down on the accelerator and drive straight through. As his options raced through his mind, so did several important questions. Was this a proper stop, with a stronger roadblock fifty yards beyond this lone soldier, or was it a shabby roadblock that he could get away from? How many soldiers were there? What weapons would they have? Did their radio work? (Many troops had faulty radios.) Had this particular group been alerted about his presence in the “prohibited zone”? Images of being captured and tortured flashed through Godwin’s head. That’s what he was focusing on.
In the remaining seconds, Godwin decided to go for it. But, as he slammed down his foot on the accelerator, he noticed something that prompted him to double-check his perception against reality. The soldier didn’t have a weapon. The Fifth Brigade never moved without weapons, especially in the “prohibited zone.” Godwin slowed his truck. Then he noticed that the soldier was smiling and that his movements were not “commanding” enough. He brought the truck to a halt in a cloud of dust. The soldier turned out to be a 2nd lieutenant looking for a ride. Godwin offered the officer a ride and told him he was a local farmer. A few miles down the road, they came upon a real roadblock, with spikes, a machine gun, and a proper radio antenna shooting into the air. A sergeant of the Fifth Brigade sharply saluted the lieutenant in the truck as they approached and explained that they were looking for a young white man who was helping the dissidents. They were under strict orders to stop any white man, to check IDs and to question them. It was Code Red. No exceptions were to be made.
The lieutenant got out of the pickup and went to talk to the sergeant. The remaining soldiers had machine guns pointed straight at Godwin, ready to shoot at the blink of an eye, while the lieutenant spoke with the sergeant. After a few minutes, the lieutenant came back and said, “Let’s go.” Godwin couldn’t believe it. The lieutenant told Godwin that the sergeant suspected Godwin of being a journalist spy. But in order to avoid a delay, the lieutenant had convinced the sergeant that the white man he was with was a local farmer that he had known from a long time back. He told him that the two were “old friends.” With that, Godwin made it out of the “prohibited zone” safely, and he later wrote a story that eventually helped put a stop to the civil rights abuses.
Godwin almost made a critical mistake. His most recent experience determined what he was focusing on. What he was focusing on determined what he believed. What he believed determined what he expected. His expectation was that soldiers would be looking for him. When he saw a soldier, he saw what he was expecting to see – a threat. But, Godwin was smart enough to shake off the blinders of his expectations and truly examine the evidence before him. He chose where to put his focus despite what was going on in the world around him. That’s when he noticed that the soldier was not carrying a weapon. He saw what most people would have missed.
Godwin compared his original perception to the actual evidence. He quickly sniffed out the clues. He made use of all of the available information as well as his quick wit. He didn’t panic. He analyzed all the information he had within the amount of time he had. He asked himself all the right questions, and the answers gave him what he needed. He saw things he hadn’t seen at first. This is what made him a hero. Then, he made a decision that saved his life—several miles down the road. If he had sped past the lone soldier, he would have run into the real roadblock down the road with no ally at his side.
Godwin followed the principles that apply when you are in a critical situation. Here the decision behind his decision was to stop, even if for only a second, to check reality against what he was expecting to see. That’s what made him a hero. Likewise, you have an internal choice to make before you make your final choice. Will you stop and consider the possibility that what you are seeing may have been influenced by your most recent experience and what you were expecting? Will you choose to stop and double check the evidence? Or will you plunge forward unchecked? Even when there is a true emergency and time is of the essence, you have the option to stop and quickly check your perception against the tangible evidence around you.
Sometimes all of our options seem perilous. There is no clear choice. No matter what we do, something could go wrong. The crux of the matter is that whatever we do, we must be willing to live with the consequences of our actions, whatever they are. Remember, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. Can you stand the memory of what you are about to do? Could you recommend it to your children as the best course of action if they were to ask you for advice? Do you want this to be your legacy?
THANK YOU FOR READING THIS EXCERPT!
Remember, if you are buying or selling real estate in Austin, please call Rose Castro at EXIT: Options Realty.