Archive for the ‘Mastering Thoughts’ Category

Police Psychology | Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Your Life

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

apocalypse-horsemen

How to understand and deal with a mental apocalypse is important for anyone in police psychology to understand. But mental apocalypses are not just limited to people in law enforcement.  Close your eyes and imagine the sun is setting, and beautiful pinks, reds, and oranges light up the sky. Beautiful mountains and glistening lakes surround you. You are sitting next to the love of your life as you ride off on a horse into a beach sunset. Extremely happy?!  Of Course!  But riding at you, with their swords drawn, is danger, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Your Life.  They can destroy you in a minute and ruin any idyllic fantasy.  They are better known as: Denial, Escape, Helplessness, and Blame. (more…)

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Police Psychology | Selective Memory

 

In police psychology, we need to have a pretty good understanding of memory in order to help cops deal with police stress.

Have you ever been accused of having selective memory? Has your spouse ever asked you to do something that slips your mind, and they accuse you of deliberately ignoring that task? Have you ever thought back on a relationship and remembered it differently than the reality?memory dementia Buzzfeed recently made a video about this: one girl who was telling her friend how happy she had been when her ex-boyfriend had taken her on a hike and told her, “I love you” for the first time. The friend quickly reminded her that they had only made it to the entrance of the hike before the ex insisted they turn around, and he had actually said, “Love ya.”

It is very common for us to look back on events and remember them differently (“It was raining!” “No, it was sunny!”), or not remember things that happened to us at all! For some reason, the stories we tell tend to get better or worse each time we recount them. If you’ve ever fallen down and gotten a small scrape, chances are you told all your friends you got injured saving a dog from getting hit by a car. And then that you single-handedly lifted the car up in the air. And then you threw the car all the way down the street. Too much? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that we all have the tendency to remember things inaccurately.  Perhaps Paul Simon said it best in his song Kodachrome:

If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together
For one night
I know they’d never match
My sweet imagination
Everything looks worse
In black and white.

Football Days of Youth

When I was younger, I used to have warts on my hands (I wish I didn’t remember that, I actually used to get them one at a time maybe once a year). One day while I was playing nose tackle in varsity football my sophomore year, my hand wart and all—got caught in the face mask of the center. The guy, (who by the way used to give me rides until I was legal to drive), bit off one of my warts with his teeth. I know, I know, it was disgusting. He was spitting and choking, but when he recovered we had two sides to a great story. In his, he almost bit off my hand he was so mean, in mine he ate my wart and they have not come back since. We told that story to every single person we knew, and to many people we didn’t. The story changed a little, but we both had gotten the maximum laugh from it. About 30 years later when I went back to my hometown and saw this guy again, he said to me, “Hey Gary, remember that time you bit a wart off of my hand?” He actually believed this version of the story—to him, that was exactly what happened. I mean, you definitely can’t blame the guy for trying to change the story in this direction, but what made him do this? Why do we change our memories to fit our needs? And, more interestingly, how do we manage to get away with doing something like this? Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, but how do we get to the point that we actually start to believe that the good story is the truth?

Police Psychology | The Power of Reconsolidation and Repression

There are a number of different reasons we can force figure with ribbonourselves to forget or alter a memory, and we often aren’t even aware of doing this. One such way is through embellishment. When we retell a story, essentially we are recalling it from the place we stored it in our long-term memory. And yet each time we recall the story and recount it, we are only recalling a facsimile of the actual event, a mere picture of the episode. Thus each time we tell the story, it tends to be slightly different than the reality. Further, every time something happens to us, the “event” travels from our short-term memory into our long-term memory in a process called consolidation. If something interrupts this consolidation process, the event will never make it all the way to our long-term memory. Think of it like a train that gets derailed or sidetracked, and never ends up back at the station. Importantly, recent studies on memory have shown that every time you recall a memory (either in your own mind, or in order to recount it to someone else) and then put it back in your long-term memory, your memory reconsolidates. And when this reconsolidation process occurs, any emotion or feeling that you are experiencing in this moment tends to get stuck to the memory. Thus, the next time you recall this memory, not only are you remembering a facsimile of the original memory, but you are also remembering bits and pieces of the last time you brought up this memory, and the time before that. It’s like an internal game of telephone. So, even if we don’t embellish a story on purpose, and tell it often enough that we start confusing it with reality, our minds will automatically adjust the memory slightly every time we recall it. Of course, in police psychology, cops are known as the great embellishers to make stories funny or more poignant, except the incident that gets to them and that gets us to our next change.

Another reason memories tend to get changed or forgotten is due to repression. When something extremely embarrassing happens to us or rattles our cage a little, we may feel like it’s the end of the world, but in reality, the acute embarrassment or shock fades and is often forgotten. That is called repression. If we repress a memory often enough, our minds will actually throw it away, in a sense, permanently erasing it from our memory store. It does this either as a defense mechanism, or because there is so much going on in this world, that we need to get rid of some information if we want to engage in any higher cognition. Think of it as a spring-cleaning—your brain periodically throws away some things that are just don’t sit well or clutter your mind. You need to be extremely careful with this one though: sometimes repressing or removing memories is good for your mental health (in fact, we use this in police psychology to help cops deal with police stress), but if it gets to the point that you become avoidant, that can lead to some really detrimental long-term consequences.

Police Psychology | Cognitive Dissonance

A third reason we remember things differently is due to a concept called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance was a theory created by Leon Festinger based on observations of cult members who believed the earth was about to be destroyed. Many of them sold their homes and prepared for The End. Yet, when The End was not forthcoming, instead of admitting they were wrong all along, the devoted members said the disaster was averted because of the faithfulness of the cult members. Another study he conducted involved having participants do a number of mindless tasks, like stack papers and then unstuck them, and stack them again and again and again. They were either paid $1 or $20 to tell the participants in the waiting room how exciting and interesting the task was. Later asked to rate how interesting the task was, those who were paid $1 said they really enjoyed the task, while those who were paid $20 said it was pretty boring. Why? Cognitive Dissonance, of course!

Cognitive dissonance is when a feeling of discomfort forces you to change your attitude or how you feel. Those who were given $20 to lie about the task being interesting didn’t feel any dissonance or guilt about doing so because they were being substantially rewarded. Those who were given only $1 to lie about the task felt guilty for lying because that really isn’t such a strong incentive to tell a lie, and in order to assuage this feeling of guilt/dissonance, they changed the way they felt and remembered the task. So when you make a big fuss about going somewhere, and your partner has no interest in going but finally agrees to take you there, and it turns out to be a big flop, chances are you will remember it being better than it actually was so that you don’t feel so bad for dragging your partner all the way there. The mind is a beautiful thing!

Police psychology: simple stepsThree Steps to Using this Material

  1. Reconsolidation. So why do you forget that your spouse told you to do something on her honey-do list? It could be that you kept repeating it over and over in your mind and the internal game of telephone morphed it into something like “don’t forget to watch the football game today honey!” She probably won’t buy that, but give it a shot.
  2. Repression. It could be because the memory was connected to some seriously traumatic event and you just repressed it. I mean perhaps cleaning the bathroom has a trigger connection to an errant memory of gang graffiti that almost got you killed when you were a young cop.       SO you just threw the memory away.       That’s probably not going to work either, but it would be scientifically correct.
  3. Cognitive Dissonance. Or you could give yourself permission to realize you got a bunch of good stuff on your mind, and some bad stuff and it just wasn’t the top thing in your priority inbox. Then you fashion a response that you believe your spouse deserves a better job that you could do so you were looking to hire a team of migrant workers to outsource who barely have the porridge to feed their children much less built a school so they will do the bathroom job and make it a sparkling clean. The only problem was the struggling migrant workers won’t be in town until tomorrow. She definitely won’t believe that, but the laugh payoff may work for the cognitive dissonance and let you make it through another day. Sometimes that’s all we need in life.
 Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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Police Psychology | Apples to Orangutans: Life’s Comparisons

 

Police psychology has to constantly deal with comparisons cops make. It is essential to cut them off before they get to be a big problem. What comparisons you ask? “I can’t believe that every day I have to deal with Skylar Police Psychology, oragutanswhining constantly and not listening. You do something about her!” his spouse says as she throws her hands up in the air. The cop thinks about the body he just pulled out of a car and applied first aid until the paramedics came. Or, how hard it was to keep a domestic incident out of the kitchen earlier in the day because that is where the knives are. Or, the three hours of paperwork either one of these situation caused and thinks a little kid whining just doesn’t compare.

Everyone in the world makes comparisons. She’s prettier than me. He’s smarter than me. Her house is bigger than mine. His kids are more respectful than my kids. She’s taller than me, and I’m taller than him, if she wears heels, I will be embarrassed. We tend to compare everything in our own lives to other situations. It helps us put our own problems in perspective. It helps us rank our own successes against other people. It gives us something to which we can measure applesourselves and see if we come out on top. It even helps us know what to expect in the future. This is a very natural thing to do, and it can even help you improve by demonstrating which areas you need to focus on and which areas are already your strengths. However, there is one major downside to such comparisons (aside from the obvious blow to your self-esteem), your “comparison” scale can become incredibly skewed, especially when you encounter a wide range of situations, each with a different level of concern. Also, you can invalidate another person’s problems and create stress for yourself. Nothing in real life can measure up to a catastrophic world full of people real problems. This is especially the case when it comes to police psychology and police stress.

Police Psychology: Cop Comparisons

Cops make the same comparisons everyone else make: his partner is better than my partner; he gets paid more than I get paid; his gun is bigger than my gun (okay, maybe not so much that). But they also take these comparisons one step further. They look at every problem they encounter and measure it up against previous situations they’ve been in. For instance, a shoplifting case that a cop is confronted with seems relatively trivial compared to the fatal crash he had to solve last week. Dealing with a man who ran a red light seems so insignificant when compared to the rape last night. Because cops experience some of the most extreme situations out there, their comparison scales get completely messed up. The high-end of their scale is much higher than a typical person’s scales. This becomes a significant problem when they come home from work and take the scale with them.

At home, they are forced to measure average, day-to-day problems against the larger one’s that law enforcement personnel deal with. When this occurs, the typical “home” problems definitely fall short. Killing a bee that got into the house is a small problem when compared to the company’s finances collapsing, or the shooting they witnessed that morning, or even the domestic abuse they had to put a stop to. And because of this, it becomes much easier to brush off such a problem, or say no to a request.

This mindset can pose a serious problem both to their mental stability and their home life, creating a lot of police stress. When they compare every single situation at home to a problem they encountered while on the job, of course their home problems will seem smaller. It is important for cops to understand that their spouse and their kids don’t have the same scale of comparison. When your wife gets upset that you left the toilet seat up, and you brush it off as, “no big deal” compared to the other things you’ve had to put up with this week, it sends the message to her that you don’t care about her needs. Or you might hear “you’re not validating my feelings” if they have been watching a lot of TV therapists. You end up belittling the things that she finds concerning. When your kids ask you to pick them up from school, and you forget to get them on time, they can’t brush it off as easily as you can. Sure, a cop can think, “What’s the big deal running a few minutes late?” But to your kids, this can be huge.

In police psychology, we need to understand that this problem stems completely from the fact that cops and other people in law enforcement have an entirely different scale of comparison, not because they lack sensitivity. To them, a “big problem” is a murder. To an average person, a “big problem” is when the pilot light goes off and the heat shuts off so you don’t have hot running water for your shower in the morning, or when you can’t do laundry because your spouse forgot to pick up detergent from the store last night. Because this scale is completely different, it is hard for cops to translate other people’s concerns onto their own scale. While putting the toilet seat down may fall high on their wife’s scale, it would barely make it onto a cop’s scale when put in the context of the rest of the problems he/she encounters. When you can learn how to adjust your scale to account for different degrees of work-problems and different degrees of home-problems, you are taking an enormous step in the right direction for your own mental health and your relationship.

Police psychology: simple steps3 Simple Steps: The Importance of Different Scales

  1. Compare the two scales.  So, sure, when you compare murder to picking up the socks you left on the floor last night, the latter problem doesn’t even seem worth mentioning. But bear in mind, on your spouse’s scale, “messy house” may be high up there if she is a concrete-sequential person. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that really deserves your attention. In order to confront this, cops really need to learn how to adjust their scale to account for “simpler” problems as well. A problem is a problem. On a sheet of paper, create two different scales: your work scale and your home scale. Put down the major problems you have encountered in each setting. Then read them. It will be hard to see the two lists as equal, but you must do that. It can save your marriage.
  2. See the Present, Project into the future.  Brushing your teeth every night may not seem like such a big concern of yours when you compare it to the work problems you have. But, believe me, if you ignore that problem long enough, it will slowly pick its way higher up on the “problem scale.” Things that are ignored have a way of affecting your life.   Look at your list and keep it in the present. Which of these things are affecting your life right now and in the future?  For example a domestic affected your life at the time, but does it affect your life right now. Brushing teeth may have a huge affect on your life in the future. Measuring future impact may change the values of some of the work things you have handle already.
  3. Who am I dealing with?  Before frustration and subsequent anger, ask yourself “is this person trying to hurt me?” Amidst the problem of raising kids and living day-to-day we forget that at one point we picked the person we are with because of certain individual qualities they had. Is their scale of problems really important in the grand scheme of things?    If your answer is yes, figure out how you are going to separate yourself. If it is no, then let them have their tragedies at whatever level they want, and move past it. You will be a better person because of it.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | Memories, May Be Beautiful, but then…Wait! What was I Singing!

 

We are servicing an aging police population and thus police psychology has to consider topics that figure with ribbonescape younger people. For example, how many times have you put down your car keys for just a few minutes and then you forgot where you put it? Or your glasses? Or your book? Or your cell phone? Or how about forgetting the names of your child or spouse or pet, even just for a second? I can’t tell you how many times I say, “Come in here…um…uh…err…Fluffy!  Yes!  Fluffy! That’s your name!”  (That’s my dog, not my daughter) Am I going crazy? Am I losing my mind? Is it early Alzheimer’s? What’s going on here?

CRS Disease

CRS disease is a common affliction that affects many individuals, particularly middle-aged and older men and women. CRS disease—an acronym for “can’t remember sh**” (or, more pleasantly, “can’t remember stuff”)—is unavoidable. We all will get to a point where we just can’t seem to remember anything. Not the name of our co-workers, or the name of our favorite restaurant, or even the address of our best friend’s home. It is inevitable, it is expected—and it is scary. Imagine a police officer on the stand who has rehearsed what they were going to say 50,000 times, and now can barely remember their name.  I can tell you firsthand that it sucks to remember the name of my favorite actress from my favorite movie one instant, and the next instant forget such a person exists. Where did that information go? I knew it just a second ago! Did it pick some dark recess in the fold of my cerebral cortex to settle down and taunt me? I can all but picture a wiry-looking neuron lying out in a beach chair, telling its friends, “Gary thinks he remembers the name of his favorite actress. Hah! I’ll show him who’s in charge.”

Okay, maybe my neurons aren’t deliberately out to get me. But still, how is it I can’t seem to remember as much as I used to be able to? I used to be able to read something interesting and recall it days later, source and all. I used to remember the names, faces, and extended families of all my co-workers and clients. I used to remember everyone’s birthday or phone number without the use of reminders from my phone. In fact, I used to remember everything my wife told me to do so she never had to ask me twice (okay maybe not that one). Where did all my memory go?

The Causes of CRS

Then I couldn’t find the bathroom and I walked directly in the police psychology, Post it boycloset…. Oh wait I was writing about something else…uh, oh ..memory, that’s right! There are a number of possible sources for CRS syndrome (or as the DSM labels it: “Amnestic disorders”). First, it is possible it is caused by medical factors, like trauma, a virus, or a head injury. When I had open-heart surgery, I had (and still have) a problem with retrieval. I looked at a fan in the corner of my office, and couldn’t come up with the name of the device. Five minutes later I remembered and have not forgotten it since, but first time retrieval after surgery was difficult. In open heart procedures, this is called “pump head,” from being on a pump that keeps your blood circulating. To determine if this is the case, talk to your local health care professional, or better yet talk to others who have been through the procedure. You’ll be surprised what you find out.

Other causes may lie in a relaxed sense of attention or vigilance. In your past, you may have had more energy or more motivation to notice everything. When you put your glasses down, you may have taken a split second to stare at the bananas right next to it on the counter, so when you go back to get your glasses, you have an easier time remembering where you put them. The more energy we exert with focusing and paying attention, the greater likelihood we will remember the information we observe or hear.   Remember, memory comes from rehearsal, playing the event over in your mind, and when you stop rehearsing events in your life, you won’t remember as much. Age takes away that rehearsal that is subliminal, that occurs over and over when we are younger.  And yes, a psychologist practicing police psychology should know this stuff from seeing so many police officers over a career.  But as important, you need to have a grasp of memory if you are working with officers whose work relies heavily on their ability to recall.

Another cause can be over-stimulation. When we are younger, we have less things going on in our minds. Perhaps all we cared about was playing with our friends outside, or buying that new video game, or doing our homework. As we get older, we are presented with greater stimulation and responsibility. No longer must we just remember our own friend’s names—now we need to remember the names and addresses of our children’s friends, and our spouse’s friends, and our co-workers, and relatives. On top of that, we need to focus on paying the bills, and getting our kids to all their lessons and clubs on time. And showing up to their games. And submitting all our reports to our bosses. And cleaning the house and cooking dinner. And remembering the family reunion scheduled later this week. And the fact that we need to buy more bread and cereal. And who got pissed at us last week because we innocently said something they didn’t like. And…you get the point. There is so much going on in our lives that our brain needs to make room for everything. And it does this by pushing out some information that may not be as important as others. So instead of that wiry neuron lounging on a chair mocking me, it’s probably a disheveled neuron trying to force its way passed hundred of thousands of other neurons in its way, “Excuse me, pardon me, sorry, I need to get by you please. Gary would like to remember the name of his favorite actress.” Packed in between all the other information I store in my brain, it’s no wonder some information gets lost or sidetracked on its way to my mouth. The sheer enormity of everything we need to recall as we get older can have an enormous detriment on our memory processes.

So yesterday, I was talking to this officer and describing the first twilight transitional stage of sleep where you start jerking and have some hallucinations, and how it is what meditation is made of, and you can cover for a lack of sleep if you get there, and I can’t remember the damn name so I start stalling, and he notices and says…”can’t remember the name, huh?” I said “No idea.” He laughed and said, “let’s talk about my kids and we’ll come back to it.“ “Hypnagogic” I said five minutes later. We both laughed as it is not an everyday word. It now had a name and he was halfway to resolving it. With a little hypnosis I was able to change his pre-sleep state. And that’s the key. Move on and let it come back to you naturally. Usually it is a retrieval problem not a “forgot-the-concept” problem.

CRS may seem completely debilitating and disheartening, but don’t forget that you are not alone. We all suffer from varying degrees of CRS disease, and the more advanced in years you are, the greater your CRS is likely to be. Don’t look at it as a negative thing—see it as a badge of honor: you lived through a lot, you survived this long, you deserve a little breather from remembering every little detail. So fuggettaboutit.

Police psychology: simple steps

  1. Relax — This is easy advice to give and not so easy to accomplish. You are joining a large club with many, many members. The CRS clan. You will survive without great retrieval skill and you will get to do some major work. Remember, Frank McCourt didn’t publish until he was well over sixty. Philip Marlowe didn’t appear until the author was well into his fifties, and Mary Wesley was seventy before she got published. It is the same in any field. You don’t lose it all until you stop using it. But the retrieval might be a little slower. You make up for it with other things.
  2. Don’t’ Be Afraid to Use Prompts — Prompting is using outside sources to jar your memories. Find things that are close to the topic of what you have forgotten. Thank heaven for the internet because nine of ten times you can type in keywords and by the bottom of the page you got it. Take your time and get it. Most of the times you won’t forget it again.
  3. Commiserate With Others – There are two types of persons over 40, those that admit occasional memory lapses and pure unadulterated liars. Tell others your best story of forgetting and listen to theirs. It will not help you RS but frankly it will make you feel good about laughing at yourself. Tell your local person practicing police psychology.  Nothing helps a person better than having someone else riding the same journey with them.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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Police Psychology | Can’t Take My Mind Off of You

 

man thinking in different directions

Police psychology deals a lot with obsession.

Police psychology deals with a lot of obsession. Police stress can also be the result of obsession. I am big on obsession (can’t you tell?). I see obsession everywhere (anger, depression, love, hate, writing a blog). In fact, you could say I am obsessed with obsession. Researchers have said that we have 60,000 thoughts a day (and 90% are the same thoughts we had the day before), and obsessive people have even more than that. In fact, obsessives can have as many as 90,000 or 120,000 thoughts in one day. I don’t know how they count thoughts in a day, but those are the numbers they come up with.  This can be both a gift and a curse. You do get a lot done, if the obsessiveness doesn’t drive you crazy.

 

Obsession is not limited to people who have been diagnosed or labeled with this behavior—we all experience obsessions. Whether you are obsessed with a certain song, a specific food, a store, a TV show, or even a person you care about, we all know the feeling of not being able to get something out of our head. I remember a phase my daughter went through a few years ago where she sang “The wheels on the bus go round and round” at the top of her lungs. Every day. Every minute of every day, a wheel on that damn bus! This was bad enough, but it got to the point that I found myself humming this tune even when I wasn’t with her, like while I was brushing my teeth, or in the middle of a session with one of my clients (oops, I’m not supposed to reveal that). We will all continue to have obsessions as we encounter different things in life. Some things just have a way of sticking with you (if you have a female child like me, you’re probably thinking of “Let it Go” from Frozen—I’m still trying to get that out of my head).

The Biology of Obsession

 

gears in head

Psychologists in fields as varied as clinical and police psychology understand that different sections of the brain control obsessions.

Psychologists in fields as varied as clinical and police psychology understand that different sections of the brain control obsessions. The basal ganglia is one section of the brain that is thought to be responsible for obsessive thoughts. Other areas that play a role are structures known as the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) the thalamus and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These fancy terms are just here to let you know that obsession is not just a behavior, it is biological too; it is built and organized inside our brains. It’s not so important for you to know the names of these parts, but it is important for you to know that these same brain sections are activated in people who are experiencing anxiety and often depression. They can’t get the one thought that is making them miserable out of their head. PTSD is also heavily related to obsession. So is police stress

 

When someone is obsessed with something, they can be dysfunctional—sometimes they can’t focus on more important things, sometimes they can’t get the object of their obsession out of their head. They are, in a sense, debilitated, dependent on something else to function normally. It can also be frightening because you can feel like you don’t have control over your thoughts. And sometimes obsessions can be just plain annoying—I mean do you really want to be singing “The wheels on the bus” as you enter an important business meeting or while you are kissing your spouse?

 

The most important thing you can do for any obsessions you are experiencing is for you to regain control of your thoughts. Remember, focused obsession has been part of the formula for some of the world’s greatest accomplishments. When I write a book, I get obsessed, I spend a week with the windows covered, the doors locked, no sense of time, just pure obsession, and it works. If unfocused, you may end up staying up all night thinking about the person, song, celebrity, show, etc…which can have a tremendous detriment on your sleep and productivity throughout the day. So if taking back control over thoughts is how to avoid getting stuck in an obsession, how can we do this in practice?

Police psychology: simple steps3 Steps for Breaking an Obsession

 

Obsessions can prevent you from movement, they can bog you down in thoughts or feelings that make you feel like you don’t have control over yourself anymore. Use these tips to fight back against these thoughts and regain control over your mind.

 

  1. Thought stopping. The first trick you can do to break any obsession you have is to implement different techniques that stop your mind from wandering to the object/person. One way that I find particularly easy and useful is the rubber band trick. Wrap a rubber band around your wrist and anytime you realize your thoughts are heading toward the object of obsession, you snap the elastic on your wrist. This results in two things: one, chances are that will distract you enough that you will stop thinking about whatever you were going to think about. Two, slowly you will start associating the obsessive thoughts with the stupid little pain of the rubber band slapped against your wrist. This is called classical conditioning, and it works very well. I use it all the time in police psychology, and it certainly seems to help my clients dealing with police stress.  There are many other ways you can implement thought-stopping techniques. Other examples include having an alarm beep every few minutes and when the alarm beeps you have to stop and think about what you are currently thinking about (something called metacognition), and make sure your thoughts are staying away from your obsession. You may want to reward yourself if you are able to go a certain amount of time without thinking about it too (this is operant conditioning-covering all bases today).

 

  1. Organizing the Obsession. Another strategy you can use in order to avoid getting stuck in your obsession is to organize the obsession. Say to yourself, “This is the order in which I will do things. First, let’s focus on step A.” Create order and structure in your day in such a way that you leave very little room for obsessive thoughts to impede. You can also organize the thoughts in your head. There is a concept in memory called the Method of Loci, or the “memory palace.” This technique explores the idea that we can visualize a room where we can “put” different thoughts we have. For example, “put” all thoughts related to work on the top shelf in the room you visualize. “Put” all thoughts related to your relationships in the bottom desk drawer in the room you visualize. This technique is very common among students who need to memorize a lot of information for exams, but it can be used to organize obsessive thoughts too.  In relationships, I make people do a list of “forgets,” things you have to forget to stay married. Same principle, different application.  By making lists you are also using the obsession to an advantage instead of a detriment.


  1. Have a go-to fantasy. Whenever you feel like your mind is wandering to your object of obsession, immediately replace is with a go-to fantasy. For example, become the quarterback at for the Notre Dame football team, or the wing in the world cup, and you’re about to win the game for the whole team. Other fantasies can be that you’re lying on the beach in Hawaii, or at a wine tasting in Italy. Pick a fantasy of your own—one that has some particular meaning or significance to you—and use that as a place to “go to” whenever you want to avoid thinking about the object of your obsession.

 

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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