“Don’t go off half cocked!”- Unknown
Being reminded that we shouldn’t go off half cocked is one of those expressions that we’ve all heard, been reminded of the dangers of doing so, and did it anyway, all the while having no idea what the expression meant. We knew all along it wasn’t good to be half cocked, we kind of knew we were half cocked, we did it anyway, and of course there were consequences.
What is half cocked and why are so many of us functioning in half cocked mode much of the time? Half cock is a term used to describe the safety mechanism that existed in firearms during the days of flintlock weapons. In those days the shooter had to pull back the hammer partially in order to ready the weapon to fire. These guns required setup time in order to be fired, making spontaneous shooting difficult and in some cases impossible. There was a notch on the weapon where the hammer could be set in an intermediate position, neither half closed nor open entirely, the position being referred to as “half cocked” position. The term “going off half cocked” came from the failure of the half cock mechanism to prevent the gun from firing unintentionally, thus making going off half cocked a bad thing.
Today, when someone goes off half cocked, it refers to irrational behavior that usually occurs from an ill thought out decision to act or say something without thinking it through before hand. We usually respond too quickly without thinking about what the consequences of our actions could be, and what impact our behavior may have on ourselves and others. Anger, violence, verbal abuse, and overwhelm are some of the consequences of a person behaving is a half cocked manner. “Don’t go off half cocked,” is intended to be a reminder to think things through and make a conscious decision on how to act in the face of an emotionally triggering event. Failure to do so could be, in some instances, just as damaging as that musket that misfired during the War of 1812.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term, action oriented type of psychotherapy that focuses on thinking patterns and behavior in order to allow a person to more consciously choose the results that they get. There is a simple cognitive behavioral strategy that can prevent you from going off half cocked. It involves a simple, four step process that is simple to remember because it rhymes:
⦁ Name-give what you are feeling some descriptive words. This can be done internally or out loud depending on where you are and what is triggering you. If you are in a volatile situation, it may be helpful to take a deep breath first. You need to know exactly what you are experiencing before you can make a rational decision on a course of action. Name the feelings. What’s going on for you at that moment? Describe it. This advice may sound trite, but it is critical. You cannot act rationally if you are not fully aware of what is going on for you. The triggering event could be something that is instantaneous, such as being cut off in traffic, or some unpleasant situation that is unfolding over a long period of time, such as losing a job or a significant relationship.
⦁ Claim-accept your feelings, don’t deny them or pretend they don’t exist. This is that therapeutic cliche that one needs to “accept responsibility.” You’re not necessarily accepting responsibility for the outside triggering event, what you are accepting responsibility for is what you are feeling. Don’t be too judgmental about your feelings. Feelings are not literally real, they are internal representations of an outside event. They serve a purpose in that they give you an indicator that a triggering event is unacceptable to you at that moment. Feelings serve the same purpose for the emotions that pain serves for the body; they let you know that something is wrong and give you the opportunity to make things right. Feelings are not facts. They are however experienced as very real to the one who has them. Make sure that you are not exaggerating your feelings importance or making more of the situation they have it requires.
⦁ Tame-now that you figured out what you are feeling, it’s time to make a conscious decision on whether or not to take action. Taming the emotion allows you to attack the situation, if that’s what is required, with a rational and clear head, fully aware of what the consequences of that action might be. There are many strategies that can help you tame whatever it is that you’re feeling such as deep breathing, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive restructuring, and defusion techniques. You can refer to the “therapies” tab to the right of this article to get some helpful ideas. Start with http://mindbodycoach.org/is-your-thinkin-stinkin/
⦁ Aim-after you have gone through the first three steps you are more aware of how you want to cope with the challenging event or events. You may want to shoot to kill, fire a warning shot, wave the weapon menacingly, or not even draw your weapon at all. The important thing is that you are in control, fully aware of what you are feeling, less reactive, and more rational. You may decide to use actions, words, nonverbal behavior, silence, or even choose to ignore responding at all. When you have thought through your options and choose to ignore responding you are not being passive, you are making a conscious response that you have decided is your best option at that moment. What’s important is how you feel about your choice and whether or not it gives you a better chance of getting a result that you are looking for.
This four step process, Name, Claim, Tame, and Aim can slow things down just enough to allow you to make a decision that you are more comfortable with. Whether the event is in instantaneous confrontation to your ego or a challenge that builds over a longer period of time, this four part strategy will keep you from shooting yourself in the foot. Practicing this strategy on a regular basis, combined with a practice of exercise and meditation could be what it takes to make you that mellow and thoughtful person that you’ve always wanted to be.
“The fascination of shooting depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”- P.G. Wodehouse
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