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The APET Model
 
The APET model is a way of looking at how the human mind works and it is based on knowledge gained from the fields of neurology and modern psychology.  It is extremely empowering because it allows us to get a handle on what goes on inside our own heads.  Many of the day-to-day skills we can learn, such as how to cheer ourselves up, control our temper and keep our cool in a crisis are tied in to this. 
 
All of these skills are useful in our daily lives as well as in martial arts.  
 
To get an overall view of how the mind works, read through the following story.
 
We'll then have a look at what the letters APET stand for and how this model can be useful to every one of us by allowing us to control our own thoughts rather than having them control us.
 
In martial arts, this is what we mean by mastery.
 
 

 

The Company
 
In a busy city there was a large building, the headquarters of a very successful and long-established business.  There were only a few members of staff employed by the owner of the company: a manager, a secretary and two security guards.  The secretary had access to an enormous database and the manager had access to a powerful computer which could solve very complicated problems.  The security guards had a file containing photographs of anyone who had visited before, each labelled with a tag stating whether they were dodgy or helpful.  There were also a few automated defence systems such as smoke detectors and sprinklers.
 
When anyone arrived at the front doors, the security guards would check their file and compare the visitor with their photos.  If there was not an exact match, they would see which photo the new visitor was most like. They would then quickly send a message to the secretary, who would take in this information about the likely helpfulness or dodginess of the visitor and do a search on the database to see what else was stored there that might be useful in the assessment of the newcomer, and then send all the relevant information up to the manager, along with a post-it note describing the overall "feeling" as to the potential helpfulness or dodginess of the situation.
 
The manager, armed with all this information, would then deal with the visitor appropriately and solve any problems that arose using the super-computer. 
 
Of course, the company had emergency systems in place, just in case anything extreme occurred, and this had saved them from many serious threats and challenges. When danger threatened, the security guards would recognise the seriousness of the situation and tell the secretary immediately.  Rather than waste time telling the manager, the secretary would deal with it alone and then let the boss know what had happened as soon as the danger had passed.
 
This procedure worked very well, which is why the company was so successful and the owner could generally leave it in such capable hands and go off on holiday for long periods...until a certain day when something went a bit pear-shaped.
 
On that day there was a major incident.  It was the worst emergency the team had ever dealt with, and although the company survived, something was different.  The secretary was traumatised and spent a lot of time trawling through the database to try to work out how it had happened and make sure it couldn't happen again.  The security guards were duly informed that now all visitors were to be considered to be a potential threat and only to let in large amounts of ice cream and chocolate.  The secretary was now far too busy to tell the boss about what was going on, so the manager assumed that everything was fine, and had a good rest.
 
Business declined rapidly and the arrival of any visitor triggered a major security alert that confirmed the secretary's suspicions that the world was a dangerous and hostile place and they should shut down all operations until the coast was clear.
 
Then, fortunately, the owner came back from holiday!
 
If you were the owner, what would you have done?  Close the company and give up?  Fire all the staff and get in some new people who knew what they were doing?
 
The owner actually decided to help the secretary to calm down.  The secretary, feeling calmer and more in control now, finally let the manager know what was going on.  The manager then used the big computer to assess the situation, supplied the guards with a more accurate set of photos and ordered the storerooms to be tidied up and emptied of ice cream and chocolate.
 
Business picked up and the company once again became successful.

 

How the Brain Works
 
So is this just a story?  Lets think about it as a metaphor for a human being.  The building is obviously the body.  It has automated emergency systems such as reflexes to pull a hand away from a hot object and an immune system to help prevent infection.
 
The visitors represent incoming information via the senses (the front door).  The security guards are the amygdalae.  We have two of these, one on each side of the brian.  They are responsible for screening incoming information, comparing it with our existing mental maps and finding an exact or partial "fit" to describe it.  This is called "pattern-matching".  So if we eat a new fruit, we tend to say something like: "It looks like a grape, it tastes a bit like a strawberry but it smells more like an orange."
 
The amygdalae then pass the message on to the limbic system, together with an emotional tag to say whether it might be helpful or threatening.  The limbic system trawls the memory bank for any extra information and then offers the lot up to the rational higher cortex where a decision is eventually made about what, if anything, to do with the new information.  There is, therefore, a time delay between the limbic system getting the message and the higher cortex getting to know about what's going on.
 
 
We can summarise this sequence of events like this:
 
 
            A    -     P    -    E   -   T
 
     Activating Event                Pattern Matching                  Emotions              Rational Thinking
 
          (Visitor)                      (Security Guards)                 (Secretary)          (The Boss/Manager)   
 
 
 
Freeze, fight or get the heck out of there?


As in the story, some situations are just too pressing for all this rigmarole to take place.  For example, if there is a train hurtling towards you and you are standing on the track, a good idea would be to get the heck off the track before it hits you.  Because of the time delay between any message getting from the emotional brain (limbic system) to the rational brain (higher cortex), the higher cortex just doesn't have time to get involved in this decision.  If it did, the story would end right there.  Period.


Fortunately for us, in such a situation, there is a chance that the security guards and secretary can get us off the track very quickly on their own and only let the boss know a bit later on, when we are out of harm's way and the train has passed us by.  We call this the fight or flight response (more accurately: freeze, fight or flight) and it's undoubtedly one of the reasons why we are still around to discuss this! 
 
It stood our ancestors in good stead when they had to fight or run away from ferocious animals and it's still potentially very useful to us in our day to day lives when crossing roads, avoiding muggers or dealing with door-to-door salesmen.  (Even the "freeze" bit can be useful to an antelope when it goes limp and "plays dead" in the jaws of a predator, conserving its energy until it has a chance to get away, though it's less useful when you're standing in the path of an oncoming bus!)

 

The limbic system is very primitive.  It does our thinking in black and white, either/or, fight or flight.  It's not very logical, but it doesn't have to be because that's not what it's for (we have a higher cortex for the logical stuff).  It's just there for our survival and it's brilliant in that role.

Unfortunately, just as in the story, there are times when the system serves us less well, until we get a handle on it and set it back to rights. 


What happens when we get too worked up?


       A   -   P   -   E   /  T
                                                                                                        Excessive emotional 
                                                                                                        arousal hijacks the
                                                                                                        higher cortex and 
                                                                                                   prevents rational thought

When we're out of the path of the oncoming train, things can go back to normal.  But not all stressful situations are like that.  Some stressful situations just go on too long and have us worrying and fretting much of the time.

When we are over-emotional, our rational thinking brain doesn't get a look in and we try to sort things out using the primitive limbic system which tends to distort everything to fit with its feelings and looks for other examples from the past or elsewhere to support its views ("This always happens to me").  It also tends to lose hope and over generalise any negative conclusions. (It's bad here so it must be bad everywhere and it's always going to be like this and it's all my fault.)

The emotional brain may do its best to sort this all out and fix things (rumination) but it tends to dig itself further into a hole in the attempt because "dealing with" scary thoughts produces more scary feelings which cause even more scary thoughts and more scary feelings... making it even less likely that the rational brain will get a look in.

We now know that too much introspection and rumination can lead to disturbed sleep patterns and trigger the cycle of depression.  Armed with this information, we can rapidly reverse that cycle and lift depression.  
 
The most essential skill we can learn is how to calm ourselves down so that the rational higher cortex can begin to work properly again.
 
We can learn how to calm down using simple relaxation techniques such as7/11 breathing (breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11) or we can practice meditation, Tai Chi or Qigong to generally lower our emotional temperature, spend more time being calm and logical, and develop the habit of stepping back into the Observing Self (the Owner, who doesn't have to put up with an incompetent workforce but can retrain them and keep an eye on how things are going).  From this viewpoint, we can take a wider view and find the freedom to make our own choices about what goes on in our heads.

It's worth remembering that our ability to think clearly is sabotaged by excessive emotion.  It's not just fear that does this; it's also anger, jealousy, resentment and a host of other negative feelings.  Knowing this, you can remind yourself not to write that angry letter or pour out that verbal list of grievances until you've slept on it or been for a walk around the block. If you often tend to have a fairly short fuse, you can learn how to damp it down and keep your cool using what we know about the APET model.


What happens if our mental maps are unhelpful?

Our pattern-matching equipment generally serves us quite well but when we have an unhelpful mental map, perhaps caused by a past traumatic event,  we can develop phobias or even PTSD, in which any similar sounds, smells or situations may trigger flashbacks which kick off a huge emotional response and make daily life very difficult (which is what happened in our story).

Fortunately, we also know how to change faulty mental maps, using a thing called the "rewind technique" which can be done by any Human Givens Therapist.  This usually only takes about an hour and it involves using a simple guided imagery technique to remove the emotional clout of the traumatic memory.  The therapist doesn't even need to know what the memory is, therefore it's non-threatening and safe and  extremely effective, unlike some previous methods of counselling and therapy which involved reliving the incident, thereby further imprinting the unhelpful mental map and  making recovery less likely!  


How is this information helpful to us in our daily lives?
 
We can  use our knowledge of the APET model to help us to recognise times when we are emotionally aroused and not thinking clearly, which then gives us an opportunity to calm down, step back and do something fairly sensible.

This can help us to avoid depression, keep our cool in difficult situations, defuse our anger or other unpleasant feelings and calm other people down when they behave in ways we find challenging.
 
This is crucial in martial arts.  Our principal aim is to avoid conflict in the first place, therefore to become a master of martial arts you need to cultivate the two essential skills of controlling your own temper and helping other people to calm down when they are wound up and aggressive.

There's a good way of remembering the APET model:  When we are over-emotional, the mind is an APE and out of control: when we are calm it becomes A PET and our rational brain is calling the shots.
 
The owner (Observing Self) is ultimately in control and doesn't have to put up with any more monkey-business!

As the owner of your own mind, knowing the APET model empowers you to monitor and choose its content.  Learning to meditate allows you to develop the skill of stepping back into the Observing Self at will.  As the Observing Self you can "make up your own mind" whether to change the activating events (environment or circumstances), revise your mental maps, lower your emotional temperature, or replace scary thoughts with practical solutions, and then behave accordingly. 
 
This ability to choose what we think, how we feel and what we do is what makes us truly human and is the real meaning of the word "freedom".
 

 
 
When other people are angry
 
In general, stay out of their way until they calm down, if possible. 
 
If the person is likely to be violent, make sure you have an escape route. 
 
If you work in an environment where you regularly encounter people who are angry (for example in a hospital, a benefits office or a complaints department) one of the worst things you can do is to speak in a soft voice and tell them to calm down.  If you have ever had someone speak to you in that way when you are really upset about something, you will know how patronising it is and how much worse it makes you feel.
 
Instead, mirror the person's behaviour to a certain extent, not by becoming angry and getting into a fight with them, but raise your voice to a similar level.  Put yourself at their level as far as you can.  If you are sitting at a desk and they are standing, stand up.  Listen to what they are saying and summarise their concerns:
 
"So your gas bill was a hundred pounds more than you expected this month?  No wonder you're concerned.  Let's sit down and see if we can sort this out together."
 
So now you have a person in front of you who knows you are listening to them.  They know that you care about their problem and will work with them to try to solve it.  Note the word "concerned" rather than "angry".  This doesn't trivialise the problem but it takes the attention away from the anger.  Concern is easier to deal with. 
 
The person will probably feel a little calmer, more focussed on problem solving and more able to access their own rational brain.
 
This kind of approach works with most reasonable people, but then, not everyone is reasonable, especially if they are drunk, on drugs or just a nasty piece of work, in which case:
 
Leg it and call the police!
 
For extreme eventualities, where legging it isn't necessarily an option, you might like to learn some self-protection skills, as described on the rest of this website. 
 
Martial Arts are designed to give you an opportunity to train your mind and body to fight in order to peserve your own life, and/or the lives of others, if there is no alternative.
 
They work by conditioning unconscious reflexes so that you are more alert to potential danger, less likely to freeze in an emergency and have a set of skills that can be useful in getting away from an assailant, using combat techniques if necessary. 
 
By training the mind to remain still and take a wider view, we make it less likely that we will over-react and fuel the situation and we give ourselves a fighting chance of seeing what needs to be done to increase our odds of survival.
 

 
If you have found this page helpful you might also like visit our companion website:
 
 
which provides lots of suggestions on how to transform your life, achieve your full potential and simply be happy.
 

 
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