In December of 2007 a nineteen-year-old deranged killer entered the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, and within six minutes killed eight people and wounded four others before killing himself. Back in 2007, well after the incident at the school, my three children were in their early teens, and like most families with teenagers, we spent a lot of time at the mall. Given what I knew about seemingly random acts of violence, I felt that it was necessary to inform my wife and children about the appropriate responses to situations like active shooter events. “If we’re in the food court and gunfire erupts to the left, where do we go and what actions do we take?” “If we’re entering a store and someone with a knife starts running toward us from the opposite end, what do we do?” The mental rehearsals provided by these what-if games were invaluable because they helped us to better prepare for situations we wouldn’t normally dream of finding ourselves in. Finding gifts for men and unusual gifts is tricky, but have a look online!

My children are all grown now, but to this day they’ll tell you that the what-if games I played with them when they were young have helped them to be more aware and focused in their adult lives. Experts often remind us that “the body will not go where the mind has not been.” Regularly asking yourself, “What would I do if …?” and then visualizing your responses to those various situations, is an effective way to raise your level of awareness and decrease your chances of being caught off guard.

There’s a great story about a man named James Nesmeth that revolves around the power of visualization and illustrates how effective it can be. James was an average golfer. He generally shot in the mid to low nineties but had aspirations of getting his game down into the low eighties. Unfortunately, his dreams of improving his golf game were interrupted by the war in Vietnam. There, Nesmeth was eventually captured and became a prisoner of war, where he spent seven years locked up in a four-foot by five-foot cell. To occupy his time and maintain his sanity, Nesmeth developed a mental routine in which he imagined playing eighteen holes of golf every day. Without the physical space to move within his cage, he would visualize every aspect of the game in his mind.

He imagined what clothes he’d wear. He envisioned preparing his golf bag and loading his car for the drive to the course. When he was on the green, he could see every tree, hear their leaves rustling in the breeze, and imagine how the slight wind would affect the flight of his ball. He would then imagine gripping the club, setting his stance, and taking a few practice swings. Then James would step up to the ball and take his shot, seeing the ball float through the sky until it landed softly in the middle of the fairway. He thought through every step of his game in the greatest possible detail, never rushing and never skipping a step. From teeing off to sinking his putt, each shot was perfect, and every imagined movement was meticulous. He did this every day for seven years.

Eventually, James was released from prison and returned to his home in the United States. Shortly after his release, he decided to go and play a round of golf on his favorite local course. He shot a seventy-four that day, the best game he had ever played. Everyone was amazed that James knocked off over twenty points from his game without actually swinging a real golf club in more than seven years. James, however, knew the truth. He knew that the physical game was the easy part and the rigid discipline of his detailed mental rehearsals was where the progress really came from. Buy someone a funky toilet roll holder for a joke!