Choose to Win: Developing the Proper Defensive Mindset

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author John Caile that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 15, Issue 3 April 2018 under the title, “Choose To Win: Get Your Mindset on the RIght Track.” 

Carrying a gun is just one aspect of self-defense. Even if you are an outstanding shooter, unless you integrate a comprehensive defensive mindset into every part of your day-to-day life, you risk not only death or injury but legal and financial ruin as well.

I have a friend who is one of the most generally successful people I know. From an Air Force pilot and accomplished musician to a wildly successful businessman and entrepreneur, he epitomizes the term “winner.” I once asked him what he thought was the single most important quality in achieving success. His reply was immediate and succinct: “Attitude is everything. You have to have the right mindset.”

His comment arguably also applies to those of us who routinely carry firearms for self-defense. Developing and maintaining the proper defensive mindset is vital. But what is a “proper” defensive mindset? Details vary depending on whom you ask, but there are some fundamentals upon which most of us in the defensive training community agree.


As part of the USCCA family, as a member, subscriber or just an occasional reader of CCM, you probably know how strongly we stress the importance of things like awareness and conflict avoidance. The reason is simple: It is far better (and certainly less expensive) to avoid a potentially hazardous situation in the first place than to have to deal with the physical and legal consequences of a violent confrontation.

Awareness doesn’t just happen; it takes practice. Look at the people you see walking, sitting in restaurants or standing in elevators, noses buried in their smartphones. A 700-pound grizzly bear could waddle right up next to them and they wouldn’t notice.

We trust that none of you conduct yourselves in such a fashion. If you carry a gun, you probably tend to pay attention to your surroundings more than most people. You might not realize it, but this is the result of you developing a healthy defensive mindset.

However, not everyone has the same attitude as you. I’m sure you’ve run into such people, perhaps even in your own family. When they find out you carry, they often ask if you are being “paranoid” or argue that your safety concerns are at least somewhat exaggerated. But you and I are not paranoid. On the contrary, we recognize that bad things can — and do — happen anywhere, and we’ve chosen to be as prepared as we can be.

Obviously, being alert can help us see danger coming and thus avoid it. A good analogy is the driver who doesn’t merely focus on the car directly in front of him but keeps a sharp eye on the traffic up ahead, watching for that sudden stream of brake lights. Meanwhile, the idiot who is preoccupied with his smartphone or other distractions winds up rear-ending the car in front of him, which, in a case just this past week in my neck of the woods, was a police squad car.

Avoiding Conflict

Awareness is absolutely essential, but it is only the beginning. All of us who carry also have an obligation to do everything in our power to avoid becoming entangled in conflicts that might lead to violence. And, in today’s world, that covers a lot of ground.

These days, there are certainly a lot of angry people around, the most obvious example being those suffering from “road rage.” It seems we have almost daily reports of some sort of traffic incident that leads to gunfire. But, seriously, who has so little control over his emotions that he becomes hostile over someone else’s driving? Unfortunately, the answer is “too many.”

I was once with a younger co-worker who seemed unable to quell his anger at others when behind the wheel. He spewed a running diatribe for our entire drive, commenting on just about every other driver within proximity. He was yelling things like, “Move it moron!” (as if the alleged moron in question could hear him) and, “Look at that guy!” He also, of course, blared his horn constantly.

I finally had about enough and, since we were ahead of schedule, I suggested we stop for a cup of coffee. Without going into the details of our lengthy conversation, I did get him to finally admit that he “maybe had too short a fuse” and should “probably lighten up a bit.”

Whether he seriously modified his behavior going forward is anyone’s guess; he took another job a few weeks later. But the point is that attitude matters and, if the above story sounds uncomfortably familiar, you might want to think about making some changes in your behavior, because combining a “short fuse” with driving (let alone carrying a gun) is a prescription for disaster.

Conflict avoidance starts with something as simple as being polite and respectful to everyone you meet, which is a good rule to live by anyway. But active conflict avoidance means that we constantly monitor our impending choices before we do something we might regret.

A friend of mine who is a lawyer and a firearms instructor has a question he advises all of his students to ask themselves before they do anything even potentially problematic: “Is this really a good idea?” He said that if most of his clients had asked themselves that question in the first place, they might not have to be sitting in his office, hearing him scream at them, “What in the hell were you thinking?”

Your Words Matter

Obviously, we need to watch what we say in public, but we also need to be aware of what we are posting online or in social media. Check out some of the statements made in the “comments” sections of some internet stories involving guns, especially if they are reacting to a recent court decision involving guns or gun owners. Many are simply silly, but a few are genuinely disturbing.

As a side note, it is wise for all of us to remember that, should any one of these folks find himself or herself in court one day, copies of his or her online comments will likely be read to the jury. Think about that before you bang out some inflammatory internet message. And I shouldn’t have to warn you about watching what you say in tweets and Facebook posts.

But, hey, none of these people sound like you, right? We certainly hope not. But are you sure? Self-criticism, if it’s honest, is usually uncomfortable and can even be painful. But occasionally taking a good hard look at yourself in the mirror is an important way to gauge your internal mindset and see if it needs an “adjustment.”

Another good way to check yourself is to ask those closest to you — family or close friends — for their honest opinions. If their descriptions differ substantially from your own, you might want to give the matter some serious consideration.

Legally Speaking

An effective defensive mindset must include preparing for the possibility of defending yourself in court. You do have an attorney’s phone number programmed into your phone, don’t you? I am still amazed at the number of people who carry regularly but do not have a lawyer. This is like skydiving without a reserve parachute. If you do not have an attorney, get one. Or check into the USCCA’s Self-Defense SHIELD. Better yet, do both if you haven’t already.

Keep in mind, though, that having the best defense attorney on the planet will be of no use if you conscientiously followed every self-defense tenet in the book (or at least believe you did) but then babbled to police without your attorney present. This is one of the most frustrating realities that lawyers who handle self-defense cases face: knowing they could have helped had their clients just kept their mouths shut and let them do their job.

If you intend to carry a gun, you should already have undergone some serious education on the complex legal ramifications of self-defense, especially all of the common-law principles governing the use of deadly force. This should include the rules concerning dealing with police in the immediate aftermath of an incident. Memorize them and then follow them religiously.

Training is Crucial

While not the primary focus of this article, I would be remiss if I did not strongly suggest that a true defensive mindset should include a commitment to regular firearms training. And “I don’t have time” doesn’t cut it. Like losing weight or getting in shape, no matter how busy you are, it is up to you to make the time in your schedule.

And remember that defensive firearms training is not limited to going to the gun range, which, ideally, you should do at least monthly. It also refers to dry-fire exercises and practice in drawing from concealment, both of which cost nothing and can be done at home almost daily. The more you train, the more intuitive your reactions will become. Why do you think Navy SEALS and other military operators train so constantly and exhaustively?

In every field, developing the right mindset is what separates winners from everyone else. We sincerely hope you choose to be a winner.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Fuzzy1949 October 3, 2019, 7:58 pm

    The proper defensive mindset is to be offensive in appearance and attitude. If you look and act like trouble the bad guys WILL leave you alone. I would suggest a bit of kick ass training first so you CAN back up the attitude with action.

  • ronald grogg June 28, 2019, 4:58 am

    i have been able to teach my wife to always be in condition yellow. we also do not have stickers or signes on our truck or home and are careful what we ware when out in public as to not give any one any reason that we are armed or have any arms in our home. i was asked by a friends wife if i was expecting trouble because of the gun on my lamp table by my chair and i told her no its for trouble i do not expect. she didnt understand. i ask if she had a fire alarms in her house , she said ofcourse , when asked if she expected a fire and she said no. enough said..

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