The human mind is capable of lightning quick thinking (see "Exercise -- Time Distortion"), but primarily when in a relaxed, positive frame of mind. Do you remember the last emotional outburst or argument that you had? Did you get too flustered for a proper comeback? Did you say to yourself later on, "I wish I had said (such and such)?"
When you allow the emotional side of your brain to gain control, the conscious thinking side of your brain is suspended. Quick response is easily achieved when you curb the impulse to flare up emotionally. For starters, exercise discipline over yourself and be silent when emotionally confronted (see "Exercise -- Handling Criticism From People"). This will give you a chance to see how another person blows off steam without getting embroiled in the process yourself. It will also give you practice in achieving more conscious control over your life.
Policemen, bar maids and customer relations officers all practice being 'cool' headed thinkers, because it is their job to handle emotional retorts in a calmer way. Lack of emotional control brings about inefficiency, non-productivity and little progress. Like with other things, practice is the key to improvement.
As an exercise, work with a partner that you barely know. Agree ahead of time that this exercise is only a game, and that the object of the exercise is NOT to get antagonistic with each other over it. Now let your partner act as target, and you start bombarding him with emotionally directed remarks, one at a time. Your partner's job is to keep as cool and as calm as possible, and retort back to you a response as quickly as he can. A split second of clear thinking is all that is necessary, and soon you'll get the knack of it. Afterwards, reverse the roles.
If done in a workshop, it might help to listen to other pairs performing the exercise. Often you'll find a response directed in the form of a calm question will take an emotional person off guard, because to consciously formulate an answer, the thinking side of the brain is needed. With practice, you'll no longer need to fumble for your words. Quick responses will become second nature to you.
One way to get the words to flow quickly when you're upset is to simply read aloud a page out of a book as fast as you can. This is also a good method to use in pulling yourself out of a depressive, hateful or lonely mood (but not for chronic conditions). The conscious effort is so intense to keep the rapid speed going that your emotional doldrums simply pass away as your awareness is shifted to a cortical task. Time yourself for speed and read the same page again, but go faster this time.
To think fast in emergency situations is often a matter of life and death in some cases. How would you handle yourself in a fire, a bad car accident, a robbery or on a passenger liner sinking at sea? Campers have died of cold exposure with packs containing food and cooking stoves. Car occupants have frozen to death in their cars with a half a tank of gas left. People have drowned in 4 feet of water. Panic is a killer. Determined, quick thinking is a life saver. Injured outdoorsmen have dragged their smashed bodies for miles and survived. Women have given birth to children in the wilderness all alone. People have performed amputations or crude surgery on themselves and saved their own lives.
As an exercise, visualize yourself in emergency situations where you correctly choose a creative alternative for survival. For instance, after falling through the ice on a frozen river, you breathe from the shallow air pockets trapped underneath the ice. You bail out of an airplane and your primary and secondary chutes don't open, so you cut a slit in your pack and pull the chute out. While in an elevator, the cable snaps and you grab a hold of the ceiling fan to break your eventual fall to the ground.
By creating visualizations where you are an active participant, you build self-confidence and establish prepared scenarios in your mind to give you a better ability to handle yourself later. Even when totally different emergencies pop up, your readiness for them will produce better responses.
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