Use Down Time & Your Mind to Train Daily

By Calibre Press  |   Oct 16, 2020

We all know the issues associated with training, or lack thereof. Strained budgets, limited manpower, pandemic restrictions, and other departmental issues bumping training down the priority scale all make it difficult for officers and agencies to training as they would like, and as they should.

One thing that can help is to productively use moments of time on and off patrol to mentally practice; to envision various scenarios you may encounter or actions you may need to perform and play your responses through in your head.

In a segment of their excellent book, Deadly Force Encounters, 2nd Edition, co-authors Dr. Alexis Artwohl and Loren W. Christensen point out that these exercises provide you with daily training sessions that can be conducted virtually any time, anywhere. “Mental rehearsal of effective responses has long been known to enhance learning and performance,” they write. “This can range from imagining the smooth, uniform feel of a trigger pull, to rehearsing entire complex scenarios.”

One competition shooter they cite practices for matches while riding the bus to work. “Ensuring he has a window seat, he picks out a target—a red stoplight, a letter on a license plate, a brick on a chimney—and ‘takes aim.’ While sitting quietly with his hands folded in his lap, he visualizes seeing the target in his sights, holding steady on it, breathing naturally, squeezing the trigger, and seeing a hole appear in it.”

Continuing, they point out that many officers on the way to potentially hot calls imagine what might happen and draw on lessons learned from past similar situations. This kind of “refresher imagery” as it’s called in the book, “can reduce surprises and help officers respond more effectively and fluidly.”

Christensen frequently used daily mental rehearsal as a training tool for his work as an officer. While sitting in his patrol car, he would watch people and visualize how he would take them into custody given their position. He would also park near commonly targeted stores and imagine how he would approach if he needed to during a robbery-in-progress call. “These mini training sessions lasted only about a minute, but each one added to his mental repertoire of trained responses.”

Christensen goes on to share insights into his mental rehearsal process:

“There were seven convenience stores in my beat, and each week, one or two of them were held up at gunpoint during my patrol shift. One year, about a week before Christmas, all seven were robbed the same night.”

Although he had “lots of experience” responding to armed robberies and confidence that his tactics were solid, Christensen “wanted to respond more smoothly, as if I had physically practiced at all seven stores. Enter mental rehearsal.”

Physically practicing at the stores was impossible, so he improvised. When he wasn’t on a call, he would park across the street from one of the locations and “study the layout.” Detailing the elements he would consider while reviewing the setting, Christensen lists:

— The volume of customers, inside and out, at different times of the day.

— The number of approaches to the store.

— The avenues of escape.

— What could be seen through the store’s windows.

— Location of the cash register.

— The tactics he would need to use if the suspect was still inside.

— The point in his approach when the suspect would be able to spot him.

— What the backdrop would be should the suspect engage with a weapon.

— Where he would position his backup.

He would also add several variations to the scenarios:

— The suspect was still on the premises.

— It was unknown whether the suspect was still in the store or not.

— The suspect had already fled.

— Dispatch had given him the direction of the suspect’s escape.

— Direction of escape was unknown.

“Once I picked a variation, I would practice one of two types of mental rehearsal,” he writes. “If I was parked where there were lots of passersby looking at me, I would take a couple of deep breaths to relax a little, keep my eyes open, and proceed to rehearse. The entire process played out in as little as 30 seconds. So, in 2 ½ minutes, I practiced my tactics five times.”

If time was more limited, Christensen would minimize the number of variables involved to cut down on time, but still keep the scenario “interesting.”

“After just a few sessions, I found myself responding to subsequent hold-up calls more smoothly and confidently than I had previously,” he says. “All because I had practiced, albeit only in my mind.”

[For more, be sure to get a copy of Deadly Force Encounters, 2nd Edition.]

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