Introduction: Harder to Stop

The will to survive is fundamental to us all. But in a life-or-death situation—when calm, careful planning, and logical thinking are what’s needed most—research shows that most of us will lose our shit.

Being able to navigate your mental and physical response to fear is your number one survival skill.

As the world watched in horror while New York City filled with smoke, a new era of threats rushed in, and with it, new fears. Things most of us had never heard of began making their way into our conversations, words like al Qaeda, suicide bomber, and infidel.

The best way to manage fear is preparation. It isn’t hiding from the things we’re afraid of—it’s facing them head-on, taking responsibility for our own safety, and giving ourselves the tools and knowledge we need to manage any situation that might come our way. It’s about confidence, personal strength, and self-sufficiency.

This book is about teaching you to become your own hero—to not only recognize when fear is rearing its ugly head, but how to control it, reduce it, and even harness it.

If you want to be capable of facing conflict and crisis without falling apart, you must first understand yourself, your fears, and then strategize how best to manage them.

One thing I cannot teach you is how to be fearless. Being fearless is bullshit. It isn’t possible to live without fear, and it shouldn’t be necessary in order for you to live a healthy, successful life. Fear is natural, useful, and it keeps us alive.

You should try to avoid physical confrontation at all costs. But when you do need to fight … I want you to have the conviction and courage to do so.

modern-day bulletproof vest is not made up of one solid piece of material, such as a molded piece of steel. Rather, it’s composed of multiple layers of fabric called Kevlar, which are woven together to create a material so strong it can stop the piercing velocity of a bullet or the slash of a knife blade.

Police officers, bodyguards, and Special Agents usually wear a softer, more flexible type of bulletproof vest that fits underneath their uniform or suit jacket, while military units and law enforcement tactical response teams typically wear a thicker vest composed of both Kevlar and a type of metal or ceramic—worn on the outside of their clothing. These vests are often bulkier and quite a bit heavier, but offer an extra level of protection against more lethal attacks, like bomb fragments or bullets shot from high-powered rifles.

Wearing it gave me a sense of confidence, knowing that it could save my life, but it also gave me something else: a physical reminder that I was not completely safe.

But this book is not only about teaching you what you can use; it’s also about teaching you to recognize what you can’t.

Chapter 1: How we Fear

According to the medical examiner, Agent Dietrich’s cause of death was asphyxia, due to drowning.

Under stress, the agent would have reverted 25to what he knew about seat belts—you push the release button with your thumbs, like in a car. But in a helicopter, the seat belt mechanism is completely different, something the agent most likely couldn’t remember in his final moments of panic.

While I was looking for a way to physically Houdini myself out of the contraption and not drown in the process, the simulation was teaching me how to maintain control of my emotions.

Most people, when in a car accident, will take their hands off the wheel. At a time when logic says we most need to keep our hands at ten and two, panic causes us to take our hands away from the very thing that might save us. And where do people’s hands go? Over their face. In the moments when we most need our steering wheel and our vision, panic causes us to abandon both.

We are born with two kinds of fears hardwired into our system for survival—two fears that scientists call innate: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.

Beyond the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises, all other fears are learned fears.

There is no limit to the fears we can accumulate in our lifetime.

Every generation seems to grow up with some type of societal fear.

Our fears have to do with several things, the first of which is the sensationalizing nature of the incidents by the media.

Additionally, we are genetically predisposed to avoid things that can cause instant death—a big fish with teeth, a 1,000-volt bolt of lightning, or falling out of the sky.

These reactions are called our Fight, Flight, or Freeze responses, also known as the F3 response.

Researchers say our Fight, Flight, or Freeze response activates even before we are aware of it as a way of assessing danger. If it’s a threat we think we can overpower, we go into Fight mode. If it’s a threat we think we can outrun, we go into Flight mode. If it’s a threat where we think we can do neither—we Freeze.

Within the body are competing neurological pathways called the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PSNS). Both the SNS and the PSNS are part of the autonomic nervous system, which means they can’t be controlled voluntarily. The sympathetic—or stress—response is what gets activated when we’re scared. In that moment, our body attempts to become superhuman by flooding itself with norepinephrine and adrenaline. This chemical dump is what makes our 31hands sweat, our hearts beat faster, our muscles tense, our pupils dilate, and our breathing increase—everything we physically need to deal with a threat at that particular moment.

The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, is what helps us calm down, relax, and recover. It’s what goes to work after we’ve eaten and what helps us fall asleep.

The idea here isn’t to respond to every situation in one way, but to understand how you naturally respond. Before we try to learn how to manage our fear response, we must first identify our patterns.

You can give yourself more choices based on your ability to plan and strategize rather than responding unconsciously to a threat (chapters 3–8 will give you some great ideas as well). The more control you have over your F3 response, the better you’ll be able to deal with difficult situations and thrive in the world—a fundamental lesson to becoming bulletproof.