Those of you old enough to recall the early Street Survival Seminars (the old three-day programs that ran from 1988 through 2000) probably remember The Winning Mind block. I had the honor of presenting this block, which ended day one of the program. Even though I’ve been retired from Calibre Press Inc. for almost a decade now and have been retired from active law enforcement for almost twice as long, I still keep the “Positive Self-Talk” card that was included in the registration materials that every attendee received as a part of the seminar. I keep this wallet-sized card tucked between my retired N.Y. lieutenant’s badge and my Florida concealed-carry permit.
The concept behind mental rehearsal isn’t new. It certainly wasn’t developed just for the Street Survival Seminars. In fact, it’s been around for more than 50 years. The link between mental processes and physical skills was first studied back in the 1890s. But it was introduced en masse to law enforcement in 1986 by Calibre Press Inc. co-founder Chuck Remsberg with the publication of his book The Tactical Edge.
In case your partner kept your book, or you’re a “newbie” to law enforcement, cut the self-talk messages out (on p.26) and put them somewhere you’ll use them. I took the liberty of italicizing the key words that are most important to me personally—because the emphasis is on positive. There are no negative words in any of the 13 points. The word “try” is never used. I WILL survive. I AM skilled with my equipment. I KNOW the tactics I need.
Let’s go over the mental rehearsal process.
The Mental Rehearsal Process
I was still a street cop, a uniformed sergeant, when I started teaching for Calibre Press back in 1988. Chuck graciously provided me with a stack of these little cards, which I handed out to the officers under my command.
The theory behind positive self-talk is to concentrate on each message, repeating it to yourself three or more times until you’ve fully absorbed what it means. If you make it a habit and practice doing this frequently, the winning thoughts will become second nature to you.
I kept my positive self-talk card in my squad car even after I made lieutenant. Some officers taped them to the inside of their locker doors, so they’d have to see it as they got dressed for duty. Some of the plainclothes cops, those who got ready for work at home, put them on the mirror above their dressers, and they’d read them while getting dressed. Whatever works for you is fine. Just remember: Breathe deep and slow; focus your mind and concentrate; continually repeat these positive winning messages in your mind. This is the first step in the mental rehearsal process.
Step two is crisis rehearsal. Chuck uses the words “mental movies” to describe crisis rehearsal. That’s a great phrase. In essence, you conjure up in your mind a series of crisis situations and imagine yourself winning and defeating whatever threat you’re facing.
The keys to proper crisis rehearsal are specificity and repetition: Specific threat situations and repetition of the tactics that have you winning those encounters. Crisis rehearsal is both a psychological (mental) and physiological (skills) drill where you’re actually instructing yourself through visual imagery. It’s an integral part of that mind-body partnership you probably learned about in basic academy officer-survival curriculum. You’re just taking it a step further because you now have all the physical skills and firearms expertise to complete the process.
So what’s the benefit? If you combine the physical survival skills you’ve mastered and the crisis rehearsal visualization exercises you’ve perfected, when—not if, but when—you do find yourself in a life-threatening situation, even one you’ve never actually experienced in real life, you’ve been there already. You don’t have to waste time thinking about the tactical moves you’ll need because your body and brain already know what to do. You’ve done it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times in your mind.
Skills training, probably the most important element when it comes to mental rehearsal, is the third step. Positive self-talk and crisis rehearsal aren’t substitutes for thorough training and frequent practice. You must have the physical skills you need to perform the tasks that will get the job done. Without them, speaking a bunch of positive messages to yourself and running through a few mental scenarios in your mind amounts to empty pep talk.
Positive self-talk and crisis rehearsal are meant to complement and enhance your physical skills and firearms training. You must practice your physical skills to the point of mastery for the whole mental rehearsal program to work.
Additionally, crisis rehearsal doesn’t just stop with defensive/offensive tactics or firearms skills. In my home agency in N.Y., we extended the concept to emergency first-aid procedures. Most cops undergo some EMS training in basic academy curriculum. A few are even EMT certified. But, few first-aid classes include crisis rehearsal.
Some trainers don’t want to remind trainees that they might get injured and require self-rescue. This is unrealistic. You can get shot or stabbed while engaging in a life-threatening encounter. You may be seriously hurt. Mentally rehearsing emergency first-aid procedures you might have to perform on yourself after you’ve won the fight and taken the bad guy out of the equation isn’t a bad idea.
You may be asking yourself, “Why does that idiot Grossi still have his positive self-talk card? Is he paranoid—or what?”
The concepts of positive self-talk and crisis rehearsal don’t have to end when you go 10-7. A few months ago, I was in Texas testifying as a defense witness in a police shooting trial. I was the last witness. As I was exiting the courthouse doors, I discovered that the jurors, attorneys, plaintiffs, clerks, court reporter and other court employees had the luxury of exiting via a dedicated hallway that took them to an enclosed parking garage replete with security escorts. But not Ol’ Dave. I was let out the main door and bid a fond farewell. My bags were left with the hotel bell desk; I had checked out that morning.
It was about a five-block walk from the courthouse to my hotel. No cabs in sight. It was getting dark and also starting to sprinkle. Of course, I was unarmed. Firearms and courthouses are not mutually compatible, even in Texas. My retired “N.Y. tin” was the only police ID I had on me. Being in an unfamiliar area, dressed in a suit and tie, carrying a small case file, I used a few positive self-talk messages coupled with some visual imagery as I walked past the numerous bail bond businesses and the seedy blocks of downtown at dusk while heading back to my hotel.
I knew where my pen (an improvised edged weapon) was in my jacket pocket. My dominant hand was wrapped around my keys with the longest key sticking out between my middle and ring finger should an improvised set of brass knuckles (with an edged weapon) be needed.
Paranoid? No. Prepared? Yes.
Duran, Phil and Dennis Nasci, Tactical Attitude, Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc. (Flushing, NY: 2000).
Remsberg, Charles, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High Risk Patrol, Calibre Press, Inc. (Northbrook, IL: 1986).
Here’s a tip that fits in with Dave’s great advice on positive self-talk: Study after study shows that the sound of a siren will cause the heart rate to increase, blood pressure to ramp up and adrenalin to flow. This can work against an officer who must arrive on scene fully capable and clear-minded. Tip: Try invoking the positive self-talk phrases every time you hear a siren. Doing so, you will eventually feel confidence and self-control at the sound of a siren. Moreover, instill this concept early in every trainee and subordinate with whom you have contact.
13 Positive Self-Talk Messages
• On any high-risk call, I will survive.
• I’ve succeeded on dangerous calls before.
• I know the tactics I need.
• I know how to make the physical moves I need.
• I am skilled with my firearms.
• I can stay focused on what I have to do.
• I have options for controlling the problem.
• I can take each call step by step, without rushing.
• I can breathe deeply to control stress any time I become tense.
• I can decide not to be afraid.
• I can defeat any threat against me.
• I can use deadly force to save my life or the life of someone else.
• I can survive and keep on going, no matter what, even if I’m hit.
Please see also an attached pdf of this card available for print and/or lamination.