We make about 35,000 decisions every day, and most of those are mundane and don’t even matter, such as what color of shirt to put on or which shoes to wear. Only about 1% to 2% of those decisions are life-changing and life-altering, and most of them are split-second decisions. Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner says if you learn to improve your split-second decisions, you improve your decision-making IQ overall. He joins Alicia Dunams today to talk about how to train your brain to make split-second decisions, looking at the concepts presented in his book, Training Your mind for Split-Second Decisions. Dr. Varner is a Crisis and Decisions Expert, an ER physician, a bestselling author, and a public speaker.
Listen to the podcast here:
Split-Second Decisions: Training Your Mind To Recognize Critical Consequences With Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner
I’m excited to announce my next guest here. This guest is a previous client of mine and a great friend, Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner. Geoffrey has two books. What we’re going to be talking about here is called Training Your Mind for Split–Second Decisions. We’re going to dive into that on our show. Before we even get started, Geoffrey, I’m curious to know why did you write a book?
The success of the first book that you helped me write created a bug in me. The first book was Home Alive: 11 Must Steps for Surviving Encounters with the Police. It taught young boys, especially black boys, how to survive an encounter. Training Your Mind for Split‑Second Decisions, given that I’m an ER doctor and have met several international crises and created my own process, it was a straight shot where it was perfectly set up. Because of you, I got this little writing bug in me. It turned out it was a wonderful thing to do
[bctt tweet=”Knowing what to focus on is key. ” via=”no”]
This is your second book. I know that when you and I worked on Home Alive: 11 Must Steps for Surviving Encounters with the Police. Some people would think maybe we have a problem if we have to write a book like this. What was the basic synopsis or your elevator pitch for that book? Why did you write that book, Home Alive? There was a problem out there. Speak into that, and then we’ll get into your other book.
It’s important to provide context. That book was written back in 2017 prior to what’s happened in 2020. The purpose of that book was because I also have a young black son. Being in the ER, I was fortunate and unfortunate to see what happened to people when they have a negative encounter with the police. Combine that with the fact that I saw what happened when an officer had a negative encounter. Given that I was situated such that I had access to officers, I was uniquely positioned to write a book that was going to be helpful to parents and ended up being a bestseller. There was a second edition, which was a bestseller as well. It was my calling.
You saw both sides being an ER doctor. I want to acknowledge you for writing that book. That only scratches the surface of a bigger problem. Life is complicated. What I love is your focus on the brain and how the brain responds. We will talk a little bit about neuroscience because I love the topic of unconscious bias. It’s something that I speak into in a lot of corporate settings and managing the way that we think. The older I get, I always think life is a management game. We manage our weight, thoughts, emotions and behavior. That’s life because otherwise, the pendulum swings. When we manage, we manage to stay in the middle in the neutral and being able to make tiny corrections. Just as you can manage bias, you first got to be aware of your bias. You’re a board-certified ER doctor and an expert at making decisions. You are on the front lines. You mentioned when you jumped in here for Hurricane Katrina, the H1N1 pandemic, COVID pandemic and also the Ebola crisis. You have been on the front lines. What is it to train your mind for split-second decisions? Why is it important?
Let me set it up. Most of us make about 35,000 decisions every day. Most of those are mundane and don’t even matter, “What color of shirt to put on? What color of pen do I use?” About 1% to 2% of those decisions are life-changing and life-altering. Most of them are split-second decisions. In other words, if you learn to simply improve your split-second decisions, you improve your decision-making IQ overall. Someone said, “What’s a split-second decision?” Those are decisions that we make when there’s a T, time constraint, L, lack of information or C, critical consequences. I also call that the TLC Framework. Understanding the important decisions that you need to focus on is key. The other thing that we’re going to talk about is you only have a certain amount of focus each day, but you’re able to direct that focus. Knowing what to focus on is key.
It’s a TLC approach in terms of split-second decisions. That is super important. In the TLC Framework, when are people utilizing this and making these split decisions? What’s an example? Is it an emergency? For example, if you got in a car accident and flipped and then you see children in the car, you’re not going to say, “What should I do about that?” You’re not going to be in your prefrontal cortex where you’re going to be processing and analyzing. You’re going to be in your amygdala, the most ancient part of the brain. You’re going to run into action. You don’t even think. You go into this survival automatically. What are your thoughts on that?
In those extremes, humans have a way of functioning very well. Those are extremes, but even in that extreme, there is a framework to how to look at it. Keep in mind, I am an ER doctor. While it’s unfortunate that the car turned over and that there are children who are in that car, there are some consequences to you going over there. For instance, do you smell gasoline? Do you even move that child? Because technically, they’re being in imminent danger. You don’t want to move that child. You have to have the framework for saying, “What’s the consequence of me moving that child?” It may not make sense to the audience yet, but it’s a matter of training your mind to recognize what are critical consequences.
[bctt tweet=”Train your mind for a split-second decision because otherwise, you’re just guessing and figuring it out as you go. ” via=”no”]
Let me first provide an example of what a split-second decision is not because a lot of people are thinking, “If you jumped before the car comes, that’s a split-second decision.” No, a split-second decision is, for instance, Alicia, you have an event. Everyone is there. It’s a morning event, but someone might forget to order the coffee. You’ve got your multi-millionaires there. Someone has got to go out and get the coffee. You don’t know where to get the coffee. You got to rush and then get it. While that’s stressful, there are no severe major consequences to that. Those are just quick decisions, not split-second decisions where there are critical consequences. Let’s use an accident. There are multiple split-second decisions that we already talked about. Do you even approach that car? If you do, do you even touch those children? Because you can do worse damage by moving them out of the car the wrong way. Most people, if they haven’t been trained, just jump and don’t think about the whole consequences, information and time.
You distinguished split-second decisions with stressful decisions. Was that with getting the coffee?
I was at a conference and there was a woman. She was handling the conference and there was no coffee. She ran down the street to Starbucks to get the thing. She came back all sweaty. I was thinking about how we raise our adrenaline in stressful decisions for that example. That was what came to mind for that. I want to get some tips on how you help people and leaders train their minds for those split-second decisions.
A lot of it is about mindset, but first, let’s go to the brain aspect. There’s something called neuroplasticity. That is you’re able to change the growth anatomy of your brain without surgery. Let me explain. By focused and repeated actions, your brain constantly develops neurons. Look at it this way. Have you ever gone out and you’re the first personnel when there was a major snowstorm? The first person has to go nice and slow because you’re not sure where to go. The next person can go a little faster and then the next person can go a little faster. Finally, people can go fast. When you go over the same process in your mind over and over, you’re developing neurons such that it becomes an automatic reaction. It’s neuroplasticity. You are laying down purposeful, well-intentioned tracks towards a common goal. An example of this would be a famous study and they looked at basketball players. Half of the players went out to the basketball court and they practiced three-point shots. The other half just practiced in their mind. Do you know which players did better?
I’ve heard about this with Olympians as being able to visualize yourself, passing the finish line. This visualization that the actual practicing in our mind is almost equivalent to being there in our body and doing it.
What they’re doing is they’re simply creating a neural pathway, neuroplasticity. With the more number of times you do would it, the clearer, more rapid and concise that pathway develops. My point is you’ve got to train your mind for a split-second decision because otherwise, you’re just guessing. You’re figuring it out as you go.
Does that have anything to do that we live on automatic? An example I use is when we wake up in the morning and go get breakfast. That’s usually what I do. I don’t think about myself walking. I just walk. It’s like you take it for granted almost. That’s how you can liken that to our biases as well. They happen automatically. If we’re walking and thinking automatically, we are prone to making mistakes if that’s what we’ve trained our minds to do. We’re trained to be biased against certain types of people or people groups just like we’ve trained our minds to walk. How do we not make mistakes in these split-second decisions?
There is more to it. Part of it is on context. I’m going to from the brain to a different part of the brain. It’s about training your mind. None of this happens overnight, but part of it is understanding your emotions as well. While we all think that we’re analytical and objective, 92% of our decisions are emotive. They’re emotionally based. There are 27 different human emotions, but only about six of them impact our decisions. It’s important to learn to manage those six while you’re training your mind so that when it’s time to make those split-second decisions, you already know. It’s already built into the training how those emotions are going to play in and you’re able to adjust for them.
Let’s go back to your example about your mind being automatic. That was a great example, but that’s what’s needed. I’m going to move to a different space here, but I’m going to go back. The reason why your mind being on automatic is key is because you need to save your decision-making capacity for later. There’s something called decision fatigue, which interferes with our split-second decisions and it’s really short. Decision fatigue is your brain getting tired because of the 35,000 little decisions that you made prior to that big decision. The one way to adjust that is to have a routine team for the mundane stuff where you don’t have to think about it. Your brain doesn’t even get tired.
[bctt tweet=”While we all think that we’re analytical and objective, 92% of our decisions are emotive or emotionally-based. ” via=”no”]
That’s why our brain wants the automatic to take over because it’s easy and the brain is almost lazy. It wants the automatic to take over because if we had to analyze a banana, for example, if every day we have to say, “Should I eat it? What is it?” There was this whole analysis or decision around it and it wants to be automatic. Do you mind sharing what those six emotions are that lead to those split-second decisions?
I won’t go through it all because I need to leave some stuff for them to enjoy, but fear is a very important emotion. It pervades and invades our decisions on many levels. It even invades how we go about life. Learning to manage and even if you’re a fearful person, there’s a way to manage that just by being aware that fear is playing a role. The book walks you through subtle ways to help minimize that. I didn’t say fix, but just to help minimize.
Any tips you want to leave the audience with in terms of training your mind for split-second decisions?
We almost touched on that. The decision fatigue that we talked about and the TLC Framework all come to a head with blind spots. A blind spot is a polite way of saying implicit biases. What it does is it opens your audience up because if it’s a blind spot, then you’re free. You’re not offended. You didn’t know. You’re off the hook. The reason why that’s so important is that people may not admit to it, but implicit bias has become a term that puts some people on the defense. By wrapping around blind spots, it allows them to open up and listen. All of this is saying, “Based upon your experiences in the past, what you’ve read and how you interpret things, you may have some blind spots which are causing you to be biased.” The beauty is that you can fix that. Recognizing it is a step towards fixing it.
I call that radical self-awareness. Recognizing it is the first step in fixing it. Being in that awareness is important. Geoffrey, where can people find out more about you, your books, your next speaking opportunities or how to hire you as a speaker?
[bctt tweet=”Fear is a very important emotion. It pervades and invades our decisions on many levels. ” via=”no”]
They can go to SplitSecondDecisions.com. They can follow me on my YouTube channel at YouTube/DrGeoffrey.
It’s been great to have you here, Geoffrey. Thank you for sharing your insights on the show.
Thank you very much.
- Training Your Mind for Split‑Second Decisions
- Home Alive: 11 Must Steps for Surviving Encounters with the Police
About Dr. Geoffrey Mount Varner
America’s Split-Second Decisions Expert, Geoffrey Mount Varner is a multiple Best-Selling Author, International Speaker, Harvard-educated Master of Public Health Administration and Executive Leader.
He holds degrees and has training from the following schools: Hampton University, Harvard University School of Public Health, Wayne State University, George Washington and Johns Hopkins Universities, respectively.
Dr. Geoffrey is an experienced Crisis and Decisions expert:
- Currently works on the frontlines in the Emergency Room, battling the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and serves as an adviser to multiple government Covid committees
- Appointed by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. as the Emergency Services Medical Director and Assistant Chief to lead the emergency response of the Ebola crisis of 2014
- Delivered hands-on crisis management as the chief of a large urban ER during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, successfully leading the hospital through the crisis
- Served on the front lines of the Hurricane Katrina natural disaster while deployed with the Maryland National Guard as a physician leader in 2005
Dr. Geoffrey is a member of the National Speakers Association, the American College of Emergency Medicine Physicians, the International Chief of Police Associations, the American Psychiatric Association Culture Competency committee, and a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Dr. Geoffrey has trained and educated thousands of students, residents, leaders, executives, first responders and parents on split-second decisions. He is the original creator of the Split-second decisions framework and has written extensively on split-second decisions for interacting with police officers.
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