Eliminating Tunnel Vision Under Stress

There’s a belief that in a high stress situation, you’ll have tunnel vision and won’t be able to see your front sight or only be able to see your threat.

And if that’s how you train, you’re probably right.

That’s what happens to most people under stress.

But it’s a myth to think that you can’t do anything about it.

The truth is, people are different and we exist on a spectrum.

People at one end of the spectrum have complete tunnel vision under stress and people at the other end have much wider peripheral awareness.

More importantly, you’re in control of which end of the spectrum you’re on.

Big picture, if we’re going to try to improve peripheral awareness under stress, we need to know why people get tunnel vision under stress.

One of the biggest reasons is that the conscious mind is overloaded and is trying to prune sensory inputs down to a manageable level.

The brain will reduce the sensation of pain, it can block hearing, and it can reduce or completely block vision.

So, how do we reduce tunnel vision and improve peripheral awareness and situational awareness?

Let’s start by talking about two types of tunnel vision…

One is inattentional blindness.  This is where you’re not really in control of where you’re focused and you see it at the exclusion of everything else around you.  Wiring in your brain is in control of when this phenomenon starts and when it ends…unless you take control of the process.

The second is focused attention.  This is when you switch back and forth between a hard focus and soft focus.  Your vision may tunnel in and you may see your front sight, dot, or laser and very little else as you’re pressing the trigger and then vision opens back up very quickly.

When you’re not in control of tunnel vision, it can be a liability.  When you use it as a tool and have the ability to turn it on & off at will, it can be a valuable tool.

There are 3 things you can do that will make a big difference on whether or not you have tunnel vision under stress.

(1) Train Smarter.
If we think about all of the things that we need to do in a self-defense shooting situation, everything has a cost in terms of conscious bandwidth in the brain.

Some things that we know we’re likely to encounter in a self-defense shooting situation is balance, movement, odd angles, decision making based on visual input, vocalization, locating and moving to cover, getting the gun into the fight, stress modulation, and the fundamentals of marksmanship.

The more you focus on these factors in training, the lower the cost in real life and the more bandwidth you’ll have available to process input from a wider field of view.  AND, the more you practice seeing both narrow and wide, the more likely you’ll be able to do it automatically under stress.

Some people think these extra skills mean more practice, but it doesn’t.  It just means practicing smarter so that you get more benefit from the limited training time you’ve got.

(2) Flicking your eyes & box breathing.  If you can get in the habit of flicking your eyes around when your vision starts to tunnel, it will oftentimes open up your vision.

JUST flicking helps, but deliberate flicking where you quickly shift focus and take a second to let your focus stabilize before shifting focus again is even more powerful.

Box breathing (breathe in for a 4 count, hold for a 4 count, breathe out for a 4 count, and (most important) hold for a 4 count) can quickly calm your brain enough that it feels comfortable expanding your vision again.  It’s good to practice this any time you find yourself in a stressful situation.

(3) Expanding peripheral vision in everyday life.
A lot of people think that they will rise to the occasion in a self-defense situation.  Similar to how they think they can avoid the gym for a decade and then lift a car to save someone.  There are instances where this has happened, but you’re more likely to find a pink unicorn cleaning your bathroom.

It’s the same with vision.

It’s very common for people who wear glasses, sunglasses with thick frames, and people who spend an excessive amount of time looking at screens to have a dramatic decrease in peripheral awareness.  Day by day, they’re telling their brains that peripheral vision isn’t important and to only pay attention to a narrow cone in front of them.

And the brain listens.

When people who spend very little time using peripheral vision in their daily lives find themselves in a fight for their lives, the “cost” of peripheral vision goes through the roof.

And they’re left with bottom-of-the-barrel awareness in the form of tunnel vision.

QUESTION:  If you take a few seconds, a few times a day to deliberately expand your peripheral awareness–to tell the brain that peripheral awareness is important and worth spending energy on–do you know what will happen?

ANSWER:  Peripheral awareness won’t “cost” as much and it will become your new normal.

You can decide, right now, that you want better peripheral awareness instead of just settling for bottom-of-the-barrel visual performance when it counts the most.

>THIS< is how you make it happen…

It’s one of the secrets of top fighter pilots, professional athletes, and serious shooters.

And with it,

  • You’ll learn techniques that dramatically improve sight acquisition speed.
  • You’ll learn a process for improving situational awareness and peripheral vision so you can detect potential threats out to as far as 180 degrees while looking straight ahead…even if they’re not clearly in focus.
  • You’ll learn how to see trip hazards without looking down, which means you can move and shoot quicker while avoiding obstacles on the ground.

People who use these drills have seen dramatic improvements…sometimes within minutes.

So, if you’re serious about the quickest, easiest changes you can make to dramatically improve how well you shoot, click >HERE< now.

Seriously…Most shooters can improve more with a few minutes of these drills than they can by going to the range every day for a week. (I’ll tell you about the experiment that I’ve run with hundreds of shooters to back up this claim)

If you’re not using this training, you’re simply spending more time and money than necessary to improve your skills. Learn more now by clicking >HERE<

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  • Alan Kerby

    Reply Reply October 4, 2021

    You seem to have left out the most common cause on inattentional blindness during stress: the effects of adrenaline on the visual system in response to a sudden stressor. As you know, adrenaline causes pupil dilation (through its action as an alpha and beta-adrenergic agonist) with accommodation changes, and at high levels is known to decrease peripheral vision resulting in tunnel vision.

    Everyone experiences the effects of the adrenaline dump to one degree or another. This is different from the chronic low or moderate stress that many experience, which is more damaging to our bodies than a single situational stress event. It is actually easier to address chronic stress (where a measure of control may exist) than a more sudden, though maybe anticipated, stressor over which you may have little control. Recognizing how your body responds to a sudden high-level stressful event and learning a few techniques to blunt those effects may be useful. This would include visual techniques to break tunnel vision as described.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 4, 2021

      Thanks, Alan!

      I did not “leave it out” as much as I embedded it inside of the other things I mentioned. I’m trying to use fewer and fewer big words unless they’re absolutely necessary. Some of the inferences to stress induced tunnel vision were:
      “conscious mind is overloaded”
      “the brain…can reduce or completely block vision”
      “you’re not really in control”

      and the 3 solutions for reducing tunnel vision all work when the cause of tunnel vision is being caused because of stress.
      1. The more we train, the more likely it is that our adrenal response will be more controlled AND the more likely it is that the adrenal response will be a performance enhancer rather than retarding performance. Training both reduces the level of stress that we feel in a situation compared to not having training AND it changes our relationship with catecholamines.
      2. Flicking eyes (quick effect) and box breathing (slower effect) both allow us to consciously exert control over the ANS.
      3. This is a model…not an exact scientific statement, but if baseline peripheral awareness for person A and person B are 45 degrees and 180 degrees and both experience a severe reduction in peripheral awareness due to stress induced tunnel vision, who do you think is going to have wider peripheral awareness? The guy who’s peripheral awareness is 45 degrees on his best day or the guy who’s baseline peripheral awareness is 180 degrees?

  • Bill B.

    Reply Reply October 4, 2021

    Sounds great on paper, but how does one integrate “peripheral vision” into the visual picture when wearing glasses with progressive lenses?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 4, 2021

      Great question. It’s a matter of telling the brain that peripheral vision is important and getting it to pay attention to it again.

      There are specific drills for that in the See Quicker Shoot Quicker program (which is one of several reasons why you should get it 🙂

      Here is a quick example…it requires a partner and a book.

      You can be standing or sitting.

      Have your partner stand behind you.

      Hold a book out at eye level and start reading out loud.

      Have your partner extend their hand at eye level, along side of your face, about a foot from your head. As they’re doing it, have them quietly alternate back and forth between making a fist and having their fingers spread, like they’re saying “five.” They determine whether they’re doing it on your right side or left side.

      Again, you are focused straight ahead, reading out loud. When you see motion in your periphery, do not shift your focus, but say either the word “right” or “left.”

      Most people will see a quick and dramatic improvement in performance…several degrees within a few reps. Many will also notice a big difference from one side to the other.

      Over time, you’ll want your partner to switch from an obvious moving gesture to moving slowly and holding up a different number of fingers each time. In this version, you’ll call out the number of fingers that you see. Ironically, accuracy is nice, but the simple act of striving for specificity and granular detail is more important than how accurate you are.

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