We always wonder how some individuals react to situations that make them heroes like the fireman who ran into the burning building orthe ER doctor who operated in the nick of time. Do you think that what separates the ‘men from the mice’ is this ability to control or master one’s reactions in moments of extreme stress and arousal?
If a person has had a loved one stumble and trip into the street where there is traffic, does that person think about grabbing the loved person and saving him/her from danger? No, the person simply reacts, the movement generated by love and protectiveness toward the loved one. Does the mother think about lifting the car off her child? No. She just reacts and lifts something she normally could not and saves the life of her child. How? There is a rush of adrenaline from a strong emotion(s) such as fear and love that enables a mere woman of 130 lbs. to lift a car sufficiently to pull her child out [true story]. In these cases the motivation was love, proving the words in the New Testament that there is no greater love than the willingness to risk one's life for another.
At a U.S. Penitentiary in the South, an alarm was once sounded because a riot had begun. A young guard rushed across the compound without thinking; he was responding to the call, but he was accosted by an armed inmate and was killed. More seasoned guards were slower to respond. Did this first man "master his reactions" in a moment of extreme stress? No. He just reacted; the others reacted more from experience.
Some soldiers who have fought in wars have seen grenades tossed near other soldiers and they have dived upon the grenade in order to save others. Did they think about anything or control their reactions? Probably not; they just reacted. What was the motivation? In The Power of Thinking Without Thinking it is proposed that such reactions and motivations that are controlled are due to adaptive thinking.
In addition, Malcolm Gladwell suggests in Chapter Four that people develop what he calls "structured intuition"; that is, people train themselves to be capable of thinking spontaneously and control their own emotions in stressful situations. Hence, there are the firemen, the ER doctors, and the police; they are trained to answer emergency calls more intuitively than the average person. Even so, there are people who are first and foremost survivors; they look out for themselves first, and they will not run into burning buildings or lift cars or rush to save someone. Rarely do they choose professions such as police work or health care providers, yet they have a structured reaction.