Colonel Jeff Cooper founded the Gunsite Academy (American Pistol Institute) in 1976 to develop and teach the art of fighting with a pistol and almost everything that exists today in the world of firearms training and concealed carry goes back in some way or another to Col. Cooper.
One of the things that Col. Cooper came up with was a set of 4 “color codes” that designated what mental state people are in. Cooper’s color codes pretty much laid the groundwork for the general public becoming aware of the concept of situational awareness.
The color codes are:
Condition White: You are asleep or unaware of the possibility of danger. If danger presents itself, the natural reaction is denial and/or bargaining.
Condition Yellow: You know that the possibility exists for danger, but aren’t pre-occupied with it. You have no specific concerns and haven’t identified any threats or serious potential threats. You are ready to deal with threats if they present themselves and won’t be surprised if they do. If danger presents itself, your reaction is action.
In condition yellow, you are relaxed, calm, and alert. Pulse is low, pupils are dilated, blood pressure is low, hands are warm, etc.
Because you are relaxed, calm, and alert, you can remain in this state for long periods of time without fatigue or irritation and can be fully engaged with people around you.
Condition Orange: When a potential threat attracts your attention, you switch into condition orange until you determine that it is a real threat or a false positive. Usually it will be a false positive and you’ll want to switch back to Condition Yellow as soon as you determine that, but people get tripped up by not realizing that they’ve “gone orange” and forget to switch back and calm down.
Condition orange is where you decide on your mental trigger—“If he does x, I’ll do y”
Condition orange is taxing on the mind. If you know anyone who’s recently come back from battle or is hyper-vigilant in a situation where it’s not necessary, it’s likely that they’re in some shade of condition orange.
When you’re in condition orange, a significant portion of your mental bandwidth is focused on identifying potential threats. Fun, humor, conversations, beauty, and the present experience start to be minimized to focus on how to survive what might happen next.
Oftentimes, you’ll know that you’re in condition orange because your body starts preparing for battle and will start showing early signs of stress to one degree or another—shallower breathing, higher pulse & blood pressure, etc. in preparation for a fight/flight.
Condition Orange is a lifesaver when you need it, but can wear you down if you stay in this mode too long unnecessarily.
Condition Red: This is fight or flight time, based on what your mental trigger is/was. This is when you execute pre-conditioned and pre-determined responses…not when you start thinking through things.
So, what’s the myth of condition yellow?
The myth of condition yellow is really a misunderstanding that happens after people learn about the concept.
They instantly understand and appreciate the color codes and try to apply them…even if they don’t have a framework to follow to apply them successfully.
They end up spending a lot of time amped up in condition orange THINKING that they’re in condition yellow rather than being relaxed and alert like you are in condition yellow.
You see, condition yellow is when your mind is UNCONSCIOUSLY scanning your environment for threats…kind of like a backup warning beeper on a car. It’s working and scanning while your conscious mind is doing other things.
When it (either your mind in condition yellow and the backup beeper) sounds a warning, the conscious mind immediately jumps into action, shifts attention, goes into condition orange, and determines whether or not the warning requires further action or not.
In a car, when the backup warning turns off because you put your car into park or drive, you don’t keep staring backwards, looking for threats…you let the sensors do their job in the background while you do whatever you want to with your conscious mind. This is the equivalent of switching back to condition yellow and it’s what you want to do in everyday life.
But with condition yellow and condition orange, 2 things typically happen:
First, people don’t know how to program their mind to minimize the number of false threat warnings. They don’t have a vocabulary or a threat profile in their mind to use for filtering and inner dialog.
And they confuse vague sayings like, “always look for exits” and “be on the lookout for threats,” that create unease with true situational awareness that creates calmness.
Second, people spend way too much time in condition orange for no reason, which is taxing and conditions them to mistrust their instincts and eventually become blind to actual threats.
Some people need to be in condition orange for extended periods of time…like law enforcement driving through neighborhoods where turds are taking pot shots at cruisers, but most people don’t.
The key is to be able to quickly switch back and forth between condition yellow and condition orange as situations present themselves.
And the way to do that is with accurate threat profiles. When you give your mind a short, simple list of criteria to compare potential threats to, it helps you identify threats quicker and more accurately, it helps you avoid false alarms, and helps you live safer and calmer at the same time.
Before now, that was a skill that people either had or they didn’t. There just hasn’t been a very effective way to teach the concept of how to switch back and forth and how to enjoy maximum situational awareness with minimal conscious effort.
This has been complicated by the fact that most of the loudest proponents of situational awareness in the firearms and self-defense worlds aren’t fully aware of how they developed their own situational awareness skills in the first place. And if you don’t know how you got good at something, it makes it very difficult to teach. I know…I used to be a big proponent of situational awareness, but had no clue how to help people get from where they were to where I was.
And that’s why I’m such a big supporter of the Avoid Deter Defend Situational Awareness and Threat Detection Course that retired US Navy SEAL Larry Yatch and his former intelligence professional wife, Anne, put together.
It’s the same skills that Larry used downrange when operating solo and on small teams to protect him from ambush and kidnapping, except it’s been modified to help civilians protect themselves and loved ones from muggings, assault, and sexual assault, regardless of their age or tactical ability.
It’s the only training available today in any form that seamlessly takes you from the pre-fight stage where you use situational awareness to identify and avoid threats, to the fight stage where you defend yourself with whatever training you have, to the post-fight stage where you interact with law enforcement and 911 and go home free and safe that night. Every other training that I’ve seen misses one or more of these stages.
If you don’t have it yet, I want to strongly encourage you to check it out today by going >HERE<.
Thoughts, questions, or comments about condition yellow? Fire away by commenting below.