What Could Rick Perry Have Done to Recover?

In the Comebacks at Work chapter on brainfreeze, we discussed recent research demonstrating that the mind can hold on to social pain for a very long time.  And, in so doing, can elicit during similar, subsequent situations a fear or freeze reaction.  Perhaps you’ve had such experiences and didn’t realize that they were linked to prior embarrassing moments, such as losing your train of thought during an important speech.  After that, at least for a while and perhaps for a long time, even getting up to give a speech can bring back the mortification you felt.

Whether you’re a fan of Governor Rick Perry’s presidential run or not, it looks as though he experienced brainfreeze when he couldn’t remember the third government agency he plans to terminate should he become president.  This is not the first time Perry has stumbled publicly.  His comeback has been, “If we’re electing a debater-in-chief, don’t elect me,” along with humor.

But it’s likely that he either hasn’t been advised to prepare himself adequately or effectively for debates to avoid such situations or he isn’t taking the advice.  Especially when a topic is introduced with conviction and a major part of a political candidate’s platform, it ought to be on a card and committed to memory in an easily retrievable manner.  The best way to avoid needing a comeback for a “gaffe” is to be so prepared that the gaffe isn’t going to happen.

A lesson comes from Perry’s experience.  You can’t wait around to be a sitting duck if you know you’re subject to brainfreeze.  By now, Rick Perry should know he is subject to this reaction.  And, that it’s likely an entrenched one made worse by the latest “gaffe.”  The lesson for the rest of us is to learn to bypass such reactions.  Sometimes that means changing something about the context so brainfreeze isn’t elicited or relying more on visual aids.  If that can’t be done, focusing on fewer points can be useful.  Here’s part of what we wrote in Comebacks:

If you experience, as most of us do, some semblance of “shock” when verbally attacked (or in some other troubling situation), it’s time to learn how to bypass that reaction.   It’s a matter or rerouting, retraining the brain to see such situations as opportunities or challenges, whichever gets you moving, rather than entrapment… Once you see that social brainfreeze is a chemical reaction, you don’t have to treat it as an inevitable aspect of you.  Just as meditation can slow heart rate and exercise can make us more fit for most of life’s ups and downs, training the mind to see a potential social disaster coming your way and learning how to prevent or deal with it is no different than being a firefighter who knows how to get up a ladder and save a life.  He or she doesn’t do that without a lot of learning and practice.  That’s what it takes to bypass social brainfreeze.

Is there a comeback Rick Perry could have used to save himself from the gaffe that rocked his campaign?  He had gone too far into his list of three agencies he plans to disband to say, “You know, I’m going to stop there and bring the agency issue up in a few minutes.  Let me stick to the topic at hand right now” or “I’m going to leave it at those two and discuss the third agency more extensively in a few minutes.”  But, such responses can work for many situations where memory fails.  Had Perry not introduced the subject of terminating agencies with such conviction, had it not been central to his campaign, a memory lapse wouldn’t have been so difficult to reverse or dismiss.  His best hope is extensive practice and better organization in terms of the notes he has in his hands in the future.  Key topics need to be there with bullet points.  If brainfreeze is part of your experience, it does little good to think it’s not going to happen again.  Better to be prepared.  It probably will happen, but you’ll be prepared.

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