The Cornered Cat
Big Gains in Personal Safety

Here’s a dirty little secret of the defensive handgun training industry: All the biggest gains in personal safety don’t happen on the firing range. They actually happen inside your own mind.

The big gains come from realizing that your life is beautiful, and worth defending. They come from making the decision to fight back if you’re attacked, and from doing the hard personal work it takes to make sure you really mean that decision. They come from factors such as awareness and avoidance, de-escalation and deterrence. They come from being willing to do whatever it takes to get to safety. Once you have made that decision, you are more likely to avoid trouble, more likely to see trouble coming, and less likely to be chosen as the target in the first place. If you are targeted, the mindset that leads you to take quick and decisive action – no matter how fundamentally unskilled – will likely result in the criminal running for the hills. The big gains are all in your mind.

But here’s the caveat, and it’s a biggie: Without getting the physical skills it takes to back up your mindset decisions, you really haven’t gotten the mindset yet either. At most, you’ve got something I think of as willing-to-be-willing. That’s an excellent (and necessary!) place to start, but it isn’t the end of your journey. Not yet. The next step is getting the skills. Without physical skills you really trust, you can only mimic true confidence. 1 But once you develop your skills, your confidence blooms into something new, something almost tangible. It’s the difference between the little dog yapping at the scary bad thing, or the big dog just watching it silently with one lip curled. Both dogs feel the emotion of confidence on the inside, but which one has the type of confidence that gets respect and caution from the intruder?

After working on physical skills, it’s time to go back and re-assess your mindset. Your improved skills make it much easier for you to maintain your mindset in a healthy way, with much less strain on your emotions, with lower levels of negative emotions such as fear and much higher levels of positive emotions such as confidence, assurance, boldness. Worry gets replaced by the fierce protectiveness a good woman feels toward the weak; dread turns into audacious dedication to doing whatever it takes. Why is this? It’s because when confidence comes from actual ability, you no longer have to pretend to confidence you don’t yet have. Further, it’s a lot easier to muster the willingness to act. Who would want to do anything, if we weren’t confident of our ability to do the things we set out to do? Immediate, decisive action comes most easily to those who know they can carry it off.

In this sense, our bodies teach our minds. And that’s where the big gains really are.


  1. I absolutely am not downplaying the importance of mimicking confidence. See the Wonder Woman post for more about that.

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