Police Psychology: How to Create Focus
In police psychology losing focus can be a life or death situation for a police officer. Focus is thus extremely important for police psychology and dealing with police stress. Ever since you started school, all those many years ago, you probably heard the words, “pay-attention!” “you need to focus more!” “stop getting distracted!” These statements, along with many others just like them, have probably become internal voices as you grew up. No longer is your teacher snapping at you to pay attention, nor are your parents telling you to do your homework. Now you are responsible for telling yourself to keep working. Everyone experiences moments of intense focus (even if that focus is directed on the TV screen during a sports game, or on the pages of a book when you’re at an exciting part of a novel) and moments where distractions seem to be everywhere. In fact, everyone’s brains are different, and some people will have an easier time focusing than others.
Types of Distracters
Where to find focus is difficult for many people because they keep getting sidetracked by small things. Some people are all set to power-through and complete a major task, but then they keep getting distracted by smaller jobs they need to complete, like answering emails or eating lunch. Other people have a problem weeding out noise, and they get distracted by things as innocent as a phone ringing across the hall, or a dog barking outside, or even the typing of the individual in the next desk. The worst is when you can’t get something done until you get something else done, and then to get that done you have to get something else done, etc. People have a hard time finding focus because they have other, competing things on their minds, like their marriage, the welfare of their kids, a death in the family, or their pet dog. Others have trouble focusing because of interruptions from external sources, like they keep getting phone calls from their spouse or friends.
Sometimes people just procrastinate their real work, and go to some other task they have to do instead (like taking a lunch break, or updating your social media, or watching YouTube videos. There are many reasons people have trouble focusing, and yet if you give into these distractions, you are preventing movement, allowing yourself to become inactive and unproductive and that will cause you grief later on.
3 Steps for Creating Focus
Here are three steps for helping you create focus in order to increase work productivity and efficiency.
- Determine your barriers. The first step to creating focus is figuring out what is preventing you from focusing. Remember, there is not necessarily a unitary cause for things. You may have multiple barriers, or you may have one barrier that changes depending on the task. Also, they will be different for every person. My clients in police psychology will have completely different distractors than stay-at-home parents. In order to create focus, you first need to spend some time considering what things are your personal biggest distractors.
- Reduce the barrier. Once you figure out what distracts you, you need to reduce the distracters, or reduce your exposure to the distracters. There is no one way to reduce the barriers, but some suggestions include: make sure your work environment is distraction free—put your phone away, make sure your desk is clean, go to a quiet room, etc. It also helps to set up a reward system for when you complete a certain amount of work. If you tell yourself that you just need to finish three more pages and then you can take a break, you are less likely to get distracted during your working time. I used to lock myself in my house with 4 days’ worth of food, put the clocks away, block out the windows and shut off the phone when I was writing a book. When I was hungry I ate, when sleepy I slept. Another thing you can do to reduce your barriers is to set up a schedule for yourself. In this schedule include everything that needs to get done, and everything you want to get done, and don’t forget to leave yourself break times as your reward. Cross off each item as you finish it so that you can see your progress. The technique you use to reduce your barriers will really depend on the individual barrier you have. So, for instance, if you get distracted by calls from your family, communicate with your spouse and children that when you are at work, you cannot answer your phone. If you get distracted by music or other noises in the office, consider wearing earplugs or headphones that block out the noise.
- Set a Reward/Punishment System. There is old research in psychology that says people can be rewarded for a lower frequency activity by a higher frequency activity. Now what exactly does that mean? Simple. If there is something you want to do, make it contingent on completing something you don’t necessarily want to do. This is called the Premack Principle named after David Premack who experimented with Capuchin monkeys who found if animals went “ape“ over something, they would do less desirable behaviors to engage in the desired behavior. By the same token, you can punish yourself with a lesser desirable behavior like working on the retaining wall or cleaning the extremely moldy Tupperware when you have been distracted. It is essentially the theory of relativity applied to “monkey business,” so to speak. Enough of the puns, reward yourself with something you really want to do, punish yourself with something you really hate and that will create focus. People often say if I do “XYZ” I can go on a vacation, and those people get focus. Make your activity a means to an end that you desire.
If you follow these steps, you will be on your way to finding focus in both your life and your work. If you have any other tips, or would like to share your own story, please comment below!
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
To follow me on this blog fill in your email address and click at left of page at the top of the sidebar
Please share this with other people on your social network from down below.
Join me on Facebook or Linkedin (see sidebar).
If you enjoyed this tip, sign up to receive updates for more posts on the latest in police psychology.