Stretching Your Brain

Smart tips for self-mastery & skills development that any cop can put to use

By Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher  |   Jun 27, 2017

If you’ve ever built anything of consequence, you know it is crucial to develop a plan before proceeding with the project. First comes the mental concept, or a picture in your mind of the desired outcome. This is then translated to the blueprints, which are essential to create a list of building materials. They also make sure the different components fit together optimally. Can you imagine trying to build a home without a set of plans?

Most of us plan our menus, our daily to-do’s, our vacations, and what we’re going to do this weekend, but very few of us plan a vision for our lives. If we want to live a life of value, we must know where we’re going. Therefore we need to have a blueprint.

Setting goals provides the materials to build the future we envision. There are many areas in our lives that can be improved as we strive to reach meaningful goals. In this article we’ll focus particularly on improving our mental capacity.

As human beings, we have the immense gift of being able to think and reason for ourselves. In contrast to other living things, mankind is self-aware, meaning that we can take inventory of our thoughts. Thoughts lead to actions, actions to habits, and habits form who we are. Thus, improving how (and about what) we think can lead to change in all areas of our lives.

To set meaningful resolutions that will positively influence our mental capacity, we must first determine our destination. What do you want to know in 1, 5, or even 10 years? What are you interested in? What skills do you want to acquire?

Once you have envisioned your future self, determine where you are now. Then make specific goals that will get you closer to your desired destination. Goals that are most effective are those that can be measured. Many use the acronym S-M-A-R-T. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Constrained.

For example, let’s say you feel deficient in your knowledge of department policy. How could you make a SMART goal to improve in this area? A simple idea might be to determine that you will read policy for 15 minutes every workday. This goal is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and has a definite deadline. If you completed this goal each day, over the course of a year you would spend at least 60 hours studying. Contemplate what effect that exercise would have on your competence and credibility!

Everyone is interested in something, and someone who knows more than you has written a book about that topic. If you made a goal to read 10 pages a day, you would read 3,650 pages in a year, which equates to about 10 medium-sized books. When is the last time you read 10 books in a year? Think about how much you could learn.

One of our favorite mental goals is writing in a journal. Putting your thoughts to paper has great power in unleashing creativity and creating space in your mind for intentional thinking. A journal can be a place for you to record your thoughts and feelings, inspirational quotes, a life history, plans for the future, etc. Studies indicate that the emotional release that accompanies journaling helps relieve stress and contributes to better sleep. A journal is a place to return when memory fails us. It can also be a treasure for those we will one day leave behind.

We could go on and on. You could make a goal to get a degree, learn a new skill or language, etc.

Not all goals need to be grand achievements. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Advantage, wrote, “By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.” To maximize your chances of success in reaching your goals, we recommend a few strategies in addition to making your goals SMART.

1. Write your goals down and keep them in a place where you can review them daily.
2. Implement a method to track progress. It has been said that if performance is measured, it will likely improve. You can create an Excel spreadsheet or utilize one of the many apps available to track goals and habits. One we recommend is the Strides app.
3. Have an accountability partner. The two of us have been exchanging goals for more than 10 years now, and it helps immensely to have someone who will hold you accountable and motivate you to improve.

In Sum

It isn’t necessary to wait until January 1 to start a plan of deliberate self-improvement. The best time to begin setting goals and planning for your future is now.

Zig Ziglar wrote, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Make a plan, let at least one other person know about your plan, and work to carry it out with their help. Also, make sure you track your progress. Pleasantly or otherwise, you will be surprised when you look at your activity.

Don’t get discouraged if you fall short. A key element of successful goals (or resolutions) is perseverance, and a synonym of resolution is resolve. Setting specific goals and being even moderately successful at accomplishing them will help you take control of your life. So go forth and make some plans for intentional growth!

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Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

Jesse Williams is the Captain of the New Mexico State Police Training & Recruiting Bureau in Santa Fe, N.M. He is a graduate of New Mexico State University and earned Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice and Public Administration. He enjoys applying best practices regarding personal wellness and development. He and his wife, Anika, have been married for 14 years and are the proud parents of five children. Randy Larcher is a Captain with the New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau. He graduated from New Mexico State University in 2005 with a degree in history. He is a student of ethics, productivity, and leadership. He lives in Las Cruces, N.M., with his wife April and their four children.
Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher

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