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The Significance of Procedural Memory for Personal Safety

Procedural memory is part of long-term memory that is responsible for knowing how to do things, also known as motor skills. As the name implies, procedural memory stores information on how to perform certain procedures, such as driving your car, preparing an old family recipe, or something more important – personal protection.


What should procedural memory mean to you, and how should it play a role in your life? Just like the first time you set up a new tent, it’s necessary to read the instructions, lay it out, connect and insert the tent poles. Then, when it’s time to pack up camp, you’ll need to determine the best way fold it neatly back into its storage sleeve. It takes a few times to go through the procedure before it becomes easy. The same process should take place when creating a personal protection plan. This means you must practice. What does that look like? It depends on the scenario, but you definitely need to start making mental notes of specific steps you will take to get yourself safe before any dangerous situation presents itself.



Let’s take a home invasion scenario. Most home invasions happen when a homeowner is on low alert, comfortable, possibly lounging after a hard day’s work. That’s your starting point. Put yourself in that exact position and determine where you will go to get safe, how you will get there, and how fast you can make it. Then, do the work. Practice the drill. Get there. FAST. After your plan is set, practicing will bring forth procedural memory. Continue to study possible situations in your daily life that might include the possibility of danger. What would you do if you were accosted in the grocery store parking lot? (Hint: there is power in your voice. Use it. Your voice could possibly be the one thing that will make the bad guy turn and leave. So? You got it - practice using power in your voice by yelling “STAY BACK!” or “DO NOT COME CLOSER!” or “MOVE AWAY NOW!”)

If children live in your home, it’s imperative they participate with your family’s self-protection plan. Do they have a safe place to go? Have them practice getting there fast. Try creating a code word that represents “get safe now” and spring it on them when they aren’t expecting it. Can they run to a trusted neighbor for help? Develop a plan with your neighbor so they know how to help your children in an emergency. Let your children practice running to the neighbor’s at different times of the day (including in the dark) in an effort to help them set their own procedural memory. A few times is all it takes. They’ll get the idea quick, and they’ll succeed with their own personal safety plan.

Safety isn’t convenient. Bad things don’t happen when you are expecting them to happen. This is why having a plan is vital, and procedural memory is the path to that plan. Start planning and practicing today.

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