At the heart of behaviour analysis is the ability to be attentive – to notice what you see, hear and smell. When the military or the security services are operational they often draw on a four-level alert system originated by the late Jeff Cooper (ex Maine Corps-US). This is not to be confused with a government’s levels which correspond to the amount of terrorist threat a country might be exposed to at a given time. What is offered below is a model of states from The Emotional Intelligence Academy iALERT framework, which builds on the Cooper approach whilst factoring in a high level where performance can decrease.
There are times and places where risks are low and it may be okay to tune out of what is going on around us. It can be relaxing to lose ourselves in meditation, listening to music, in reading a book or watching a movie. This can also happen when we are absorbed in conversations with family, having a telephone conversation with a work colleague or client, listening to an interesting story from a friend, or immersed in a romantic conversation with a partner. This detachment from our wider environment can also happen, or be compounded, if we are unwell, stressed or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We can also be isolated from reality because we are absorbed in a mind full of inner dialogues about past events or future plans.
Moving from white to green is about being ‘on’, shifting focus to the present moment and opening up our senses to our environment. Maybe by removing one of our earphone buds to give our conscious and subconscious mind a chance to pick-up threats and signals that may be important to our welfare. The green state can be almost effortless if we simply become interested and curious about what is happening now. If we are gifted with all our senses, then we simply need to lift our eyes from the floor and notice the odours, textures, tastes, sights and sounds of the present moment and pay attention to what is around us.
Amber level is an elevated personal state where we are drawn to pay attention to something important to our welfare, or the welfare of those we care about. This can be triggered by a strange noise, a smile from our friend, a tear from a child, an unexpected smell, a large object moving towards us, turbulence on an aircraft, a coiled object in the grass; maybe someone interfering with our goals or compromising our values. The sensations generated in our bodies by such stimuli, within a second of the triggers, are appraised automatically, compared to the emotion alert database that has evolved from our primates, and added to from our experiences. This is often below our consciousness, and will the generate impulses – orchestrated physiological changes in our bodies – to help prepare our bodies to deal with the stimulus. We label these episodes as ‘emotions’ which often serve us well, help us form relationships, save our lives. Though sometimes they can get us into trouble and we can regret our actions if we over, or under, react.
Be careful though of panic-level stimulation. A useful indicator of how you are reacting to a threat is your heart rate. In a life and death situation, a minimum heart rate of 145 beats per minute can be expected. Our fine motor skills – i.e. those needed to dial a phone number or pull a trigger – diminish rapidly when the heart rate exceeds 120 BPM, and are lost to use around 130 BPM. But a faster heart rate can help us, up to a limit, to direct resources to where they are needed in the body, so we operate most efficiently in critical incidents with a heart rate between 115-145 beats per minute. Within this range, we still have use of our complex motor skills, visual reaction and cognitive reaction but at the higher rate the body will start to shut down fine motor skills, we can experience loss of near vision and also loss of peripheral vision. So emotional intelligence, especially the skills of self-awareness and management of our emotions, even simple steady breathing at a basic level, can be used to keep us from entering the less effective red-zone.
Stay vigilant. Stay in Green and Amber and you have a better chance of noticing early signs of malintent so that you keep yourself and those you care about safe.