Every LEO knows one of the most important rules to survival in law enforcement is “Complacency kills!” Remembering it could happen to you is critical to ensuring it doesn’t. In order to keep guard against danger, LEOs wear vests, a duty belt, seatbelts, a badge, as well as professional and tactically sound uniforms. They train endlessly.
Training is a lifelong endeavor to keep our survival skills stay sharp, potent and ahead of criminal trends. LEOs always want to be smarter than The One encountered at a summer festival, on a traffic stop, at a domestic call or pulling up to the armed robbery in progress.
The One can appear anywhere, anytime, and with little or no provocation at all. An otherwise nonviolent person simply not getting their psyche medications refilled for the past week can horribly misinterpret your innocent actions and decide she needs to take you out before you harm her. This is why LEOs train so that when they encounter The One, the LEO wins and the criminal doesn’t. The lifelong pursuit of training keeps an officer’s mind sharp, on edge and current.
This is true their professional lives. But does the same hold true for their personal lives? Can complacency in a personal life lead to poor relationship skills, low morale, addictions, multiple divorces, depression, anger and physical health problems? Can complacency lead to professional and personal failure or loss—or even, in the worst case scenario, death? You bet it can!
In the next few articles we are going to look at how becoming proactive, intentional and involved in the pursuit of creating happiness in your personal life will start to break the stereotype of the emotionally strung out, serially divorced, affair-prone, estranged from kids who hate them as they swing a bourbon bottle from their hip a thing of the past.
The first life skill we are going to look at is happiness. No one just wakes up one day and has happiness. Instead, happiness is created by choice. To paraphrase David Burns, MD, one of the founders of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, put positive behaviors into practice and then the positive feelings will follow. This is key! And this statement, when applied-- it’s really just common sense and logical--is the main principle needed to find balance, stability, emotional safety and an overall contentment with life.
Such an easy concept but so hard to put into practice; it is one that takes intentionality every single day, in every single moment and in all of our choices. If we become complacent in examining our choices such as our reactions, our choice of words, our frustration tolerances, and our relationship skills happiness becomes out of reach.
Also, remember that the opposite is true: Put negative behaviors into practice and negative feelings will follow. As a therapist this is a concept that I have to address with just about every individual, family or couple that passes through my office door.
Most people, and especially those with depression, addictions and anxiety, do what their mood dictates. Instead of choosing based on the motivation to get better and feel better, people are most often inclined to choose what they feel like doing in the moment--even if they know they’ll regret it later.
“I know I need to improve my diet to take care of my heart, but I feel like eating pizza!”
“I know I need to get this project done now or the boss will be on my case, but I feel like putting it off until tomorrow.”
“I know I need to start exercising, but I’m just too tired at the end of the day and don’t want to give up my after work nap.”
Now, here’s the catch: All of us are pretty good at choosing happiness in the moment, but not so good at thinking about long-term happiness.
For instance, Mike has a deep affection for the dollar-menu double cheeseburgers at a certain fast food restaurant with a redheaded spokesperson (who does not happen to be named Wendy). When hot off the grill, he’ll tell you, these particular burgers are unmatched for greasy, salty deliciousness and, being off the dollar-menu, are fiscally guilt-free!
But Mike also has equally deep food sensitivity to monosodium glutamate and he knows for every indulgence he can expect several hours of severe physical discomfort in the form of stomach pain, sore muscles and headache. Throw in his conviction after every time he eats there that the grease is immediately forming an arterial clot that will surely kill him within the year and it’s clear only a fool would deliberately put himself through that ever again. Right? Well, maybe not for a couple months, anyway.
The point is, choosing that which makes us happy is not always the same thing as choosing happiness. The dollar-menu burgers are metaphorical. How does choosing the double cheeseburger--while knowing the pain to follow--hurt you in other aspects of your life? What do you tend to choose to be happy in the moment that might hurt you down the road?
Is it an impatient, Daddy’s-tired-don’t-bother-me-now-go-see-your-mother attitude to your kids’ problems? It may buy you peace now, but at what price later?
Do you put off that dreaded diet, or exercise program or visit to the doctor in favor of a “live for today” philosophy? How tightly will you embrace that philosophy when the tingling sensation down your left arm keeps getting worse and worse?
When your husband keeps trying to talk to you about festering issues in your relationship and you just don’t feel like hearing it (Does he have any idea how hard this job can be? Why can’t he just man up and deal?) Do you back him off with a snarl and then revel in the crisis averted? How much will you revel when you come home and find those unresolved issues finally drove him out?
One of the things I always stress to my clients is that all the good and true things in life require effort--and sometimes hard effort--to maintain. True and lasting happiness requires consistent good choices, perseverance through adversity and an appreciation for delayed gratification.
As police officers you meet a lot of broken, unhappy people. You see the product of ill-advised choices made over and over in pursuit of momentary gratification. You shake your head in pity or disgust at the legacy of “momentary gratification grasped and consequences be damned!!!” You judge others who’ve left their lives in tatters, but are you really doing any better?
Join us next month as we dig deeper into creating happiness. We think it should be an interesting journey.