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Compartmentalisation and Being ready

Client NA lives in Germany

He’s just back from a visit to his home in the US and has been asking me many questions about dealing with Jet Lag.

I’m going to gloss over the Jet Lag thing, because what I really want to talk about is this last question he had for me.

He has a Rugby match this evening.

So the question is, what strategies should he be implementing in order to not be so tired that he can’t perform in the match.

In truth, there really aren’t any. You’re going to be tired.

The main strategy we need to implement is what we call “compartmentalisation”

This is akin to having a filing system in your brain and only accessing the files you want or need to access at the appropriate time.

It’s a strategy that comes naturally to all who have spent time in any of the uniformed or emergency services.

These service folk see some things that really don’t fit well into everyday culture. Those engaged in a use of force service may even do things that don’t fit into the normal societal rules.

These things that you have seen and/or done, well they can’t really be brought home to your wife and kids.

Nor is it suitable for you to be thinking as a parent in your professional duties.

In relation to NA’s question, emergency service personnel also work shifts, sometimes long shifts and are very often required to react at a moment's notice at any time during that shift.

This means, one of the things we may need to file away is our personal mental state or any feeling of fatigue.

When the adrenaline hits because a call has gone out, it does easily become second nature to do this.

You develop a mindset of “always ready” probably best described as “Code Yellow” in Coopers colour codes.

Col Jeff Cooper was a military man who developed a colour code system to describe a soldier's mental state. It’s been adjusted to become a simple tool to help describe general states of awareness.

Here’s a very quick overview, use the Google tool if you want more info.

Code White: "switched off", unprepared, relaxed and comfortable

​Code Yellow: Relaxed Alert. Aware of your surroundings but relaxed and calm, able to have fun, do work etc, can ramp up easily if needed.

Code Orange: Alert. You’ve spotted something that requires attention and are ready for whatever you need to do.

Code Red: Action. You’re now doing the thing that needs doing, anything non urgent is put aside.

This isn’t the exact way Cooper created his code system, he was after all military man so his goes along the lines of:

White: I don’t have to kill anyone

Yellow: I may have to kill someone today

Orange: I may have to kill that person today

Red: I am killing that person.

We don’t want to be killing anyone, so we change and interpret the code system to suit our real life needs.

So how does this relate to compartmentalisation and you dealing with stuff?

Like the gears in your car, you need to switch through the codes, up or down, as appropriate to the situation at hand.

If you’re moving from Yellow to Orange, you can’t be thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner tonight, or why “John” said that thing to you earlier on in the office, or the fatigue in your quads from the squats yesterday.

Those are all White/Yellow thoughts.

Moving to Orange means boxing those thoughts up, closing that box and focusing on the task at hand.

Kind of like how we minimise tabs on our computer screen in order to focus on just the one or two.

Red, is when there’s just one tab open.

In NA’s case, he needs to put his jet lag, his fatigue into a box for the duration of the game.

His tools for doing this are the prep prior to the game.

So his time in Code Yellow, relaxed aware, “I may need to kill someone today” can be his prep time.

He hydrates.

He carbs up.

He may decide that to transition to Orange he will do some exhale dominant breath work, something akin to Wim Hoff breathing to ramp up his arousal level.

He then will start his warm up, maybe start slower than usual and warm up a little longer than usual, so that by the time he’s done, he is well and truly in that Orange mindset, all non essential thoughts are put away, and he’s ready to go Red when the whistle blows.

As he climbs the ladder from white to yellow to red, he is putting away non useful thoughts, boxing them up and putting them away for later. This is compartmentalising.

While at the Rugby field, he is only accessing the compartments that make him a Rugby player, the compartments containing the travel fatigue and jet lag are closed.

Here’s where this process can become problematic and requires some attention.

In chatting to a former Ambulance Paramedic, he told me that the divorce and alcohol abuse rates in his job were sky high.

I know several ex soldiers who are, shall we say, a little delicate mentally. And I mean that with affection, these guys are friends of mine.

I’m an ex Doorman, there is a fair amount of drink and drug abuse among the doorman community, as well as some very rocky homelives.

Compartmentalisation stops working if the boxes stay locked.

Once you climb back down that ramp, come back from red to orange. Orange to yellow. Yellow to white. Those boxes will need to be opened again.

This is the value of the debrief in the uniform services. It’s the value of the team around you. The family at home.

When you finish the task, you go back to the relaxed you and allow yourself to once again think about what you’re having for dinner tonight etc.

NA will then think about his Jet Lag and what he needs to manage it. Namely get onto the local clock and reinstate his local routine.

You MUST open every box you close, otherwise compartmentalising can become toxic and those boxes fill up with problems that never saw a solution. The “orange or Red” version of you can become the forward facing version of you, not allowing yourself the opportunity to tone down and deal with the softer stuff.

This is typified by that Type A personality, and presents a lot in anxiety and depression cases.

It’s why people turn to self medication, be that through alcohol, drugs, food and even exercise. It kills relationships, mostly because the first relationship to fall apart is the relationship with yourself.

That said, if you use compartmentalisation and the Cooper Colour Codes well, you will work through the right boxes at the right times.

You’ll deal with the softer stuff in Yellow and White. The harder stuff is Orange and red and you’ll keep the compartments opening and closing as appropriate, at the right times, in the right places, with the right company.

Code white is the perfect place to sit on the sofa and sigh everything away, chat with a confidant and feel safe in doing so.

Hope this helps you live as a better human animal.

If you have questions, please get in touch.


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