Having a When, Then Mindset

This is a guest post by Scott Sylvester

What If or When, then…

In light of recent news events, the massive outbreak of active murder’s (let’s not sugar coat anything by calling them active shooters… they are murderers) going on killing sprees, and the major increase in desperate people (Thanks to the incompetence of our elected officials) we are faced with potential threats every single day.  If you walk through life thinking that no one will ever harm you, and that mankind harbors love for mankind in his heart, you have been deceived and it is time to WAKE UP!when then

When out in public, you should continually operate in an alert state.  Some call this Condition Orange or Hyper-Vigilance.  Whatever term you choose to apply to your heightened state of awareness, I want to cover a few basic concepts to keep you safe, and alive.

In the old days… like the 1980’s, people never heard the words, “Active Shooter,” and “Jihad.”  Terrorism, home invasion, flash mob, gang violence and a host of violent crimes were few and far between.  Nowadays, they are a regular occurrence and anytime you venture into a public venue where crowds gather, you are at risk of being a victim…unless you prepare your mind for where your body is going to go.

A What If Mindset

When serving as a patrol officer, I used to have a “What if,” mindset.  This means I would look at different situations or scenarios and think, “What if (insert scenario) happened, what would I do?”  As I got streetwise I quickly learned we do not live in a “What if,” world.  We live in a “When Then,” world.  What’s the difference?  Allow me to explain.

What if, implies that someday, something might happen and I should think about what I might do if I ever encounter that scenario.  There is a lot of, “if” in that mindset.

When, Then mindset takes the fantasy out of the scenario and implies that someday, bad things are going to happen to me, and When they do… Then I will respond accordingly.  When badness comes my way, when evil darkens my doorstep, I will not be surprised by it.  I will not be caught off guard wondering how this could possibly be happening.  I will be ready and will react based on the plan I have developed to confront this particular set of circumstances.  My plan (though not perfect) will allow me to take action instead of losing the initiative due to reaction.

When, Then

Let’s apply this to our day to day existence.  When a robbery happens, Then I will:

  • Move to a position of cover or concealment.
  • Then I will escape if possible.
  • Then I will draw my weapon
  • Then I will confront the threat and save my life or the life of another
  • Then I will tactically retreat and summon authorities while being a good witness, providing accurate and real time updates to first responders.

When an active murderer enters my office, then I will help others evacuate, hide or fight!

Always try to be the one taking action, rather than the one who is reacting.  In most cases, even law enforcement officers are reactive, but due to training, skill and the proper mindset, they gain the initiative and take actions.


The best example I can tie into the When, Then and action / reaction mindset is USAF Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop.  OODA is an acronym for Observe, Orient, Decide & Act.  While this has been interpreted numerous ways and far more eloquently then I am capable, the principles are the same.

When you enter an area, observe who is present.  Classify them as non-threat, imminent threat, or immediate threat.  Observe the escape routes, areas that will provide concealment, areas that are hard cover, and what objects in the immediate can be weapons of opportunity.

Orient yourself to the immediate threats first, and start formulating a plan of action.  If you have imagined or role-played out scenarios in advance, then this phase should happen quickly.  If escape is a viable option, then orient yourself towards the exits.  If you have no option other than to fight, the orient your weapon into the fight.

Decide what course of action you are going to take.  Decide to move to cover, decide to fight or fire, decide to escape.  This is the “Then” part of the mindset.  This is where we decide what is prudent based on our preparation and then we…

Act!  When it is time to act, do so quickly, without reservation and if violence is part of your action, use the maximum amount of force that is reasonable in the shortest amount of time.  The maximum application of violence will shorten the length of the encounter, will take the bad guy out of the fight before he can maximize or inflict damage to more innocents, and it will reduce your risk of injury as well.

If act by taking cover, then your OODA starts over and you will observe the threat from your new vantage point, orient yourself and decide on the next move and then act… it’s a continual loop until you reach safety or your threat is neutralized.

If you act by tactically retreating or fleeing an area, then once you are safe, you are obligated to report what you observed and direct responders to the threat.  While doing this, keep observing your surroundings, orienting yourself, deciding if it is prudent to stay, flee, etc and continue your OODA loop.

Not Paranoid, Prepared

When thinking about the negatives in the world around you, avoid becoming paranoid.  The only people who should fear the wolf, are those who are not prepared to meet him.  If you have worked your way through several “When, Then,” scenarios, you have already taken the first steps towards personal safety.

When you see the robbery, when you see the active murderer, when you see the nefarious looking members of society, fear not for you will Then…

As always, be safe, Godspeed and remember:  Your mind is the weapon, everything else is just a tool!

Follow Scott on Facebook and on Twitter:  @1weaponanytool


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